Forever Flight - Running Competitively at 43 and Beyond
We love cheering on fast masters! These athletes are consistently pushing the boundaries of what we think is possible as we age. Christy Peterson is no exception: crushing the masters scene and excelling at distances from the 800m to the half marathon. When is she going to stop running? Read below to find out!
Whenever I’m asked, “how long have you been running?” I say, “forever”. The question often comes after a conversation regarding my current laser focus on masters running. In my 43rd year, I have competed at a high level in at least 18 races so far which have included local and national races in distances ranging from the 800m to the half marathon.
My forever flight began when I was a little kid chasing my dad around the gym which he jogged around daily. My competitive streak showed up in grade school during the President’s Physical Fitness test. I remember the nerves and desire to win to this day. That test made it obvious to everyone that I should run in cross country & track for Park Falls High School. I was blessed to have been coached by hands down one of the best all-time high school cross country coaches. My Freshman year, I managed my way onto the varsity team and we had an incredible year that took us to the State Championships. That race was a very defining moment for me. Somehow, I went from ranking in the middle of our team to leading the team in that race, ending up 9th place and beating everyone from our conference.
After high school, I ran cross country & track at University of Wisconsin La Crosse. A similar story happened in cross country. I made my way onto varsity and was middle to back of the pack on our team. Then at a meet my junior year (after getting hurt early my freshman year and taking off my sophomore year) my coach approached me during one of our conference meets my parents were attending. He said, “Today I want you to just run as hard as you can the whole time. If you bonk, you bonk… I don’t care. I just want to see how fast you can run. You always look so comfortable.” So, I followed the order and just like that from that day forward I was the front-runner for the team.
After college, I ran a decent number of local races and eventually put in more miles. A marathon seemed like a fun idea and I had about 8 weeks to get ready for my first marathon in the fall of 1999. I was able to qualify for the Boston Marathon on that first try and yes like most 1st marathons it was UGLY. Next, came a 10-year break when I prioritized work and fun above running. I ran almost every day but never competed. I enjoyed running with friends but went out of my way not to mention much about my competing in the past; I was afraid I would be expected to live up to that. I had a friend who would constantly egg me on to run the Indy half. In the Autumn of 2009, I caved. I ran the half in 1:29 and change. That changed everything. I had a new spark… I wanted to compete, I wanted to be fast, I wanted to achieve impossible goals. I then worked to find the most fiercely competitive races I could and did what I could to squeak into the front as a sub-elite runner. I was 35 and I had a sense of urgency… I wasn’t going to be young for much longer.
A couple years into this focus I remember asking an elite runner friend, “would it be weird if I wanted to compete and have a coach like this forever? Can I do that?” She gave me a funny and almost disapproving face and said “I guess you can… if you want to?” At that point, I realized that desire is probably not all that normal. I remember panicking a bit inside wondering if I would have to stop at some point… or be considered weird. Around the same time, I started noticing masters teams and masters runners. For some reason, it seemed kind of weird to me. I wanted to compete forever, but not as a masters runner. Wasn’t that a demotion?
The year before I turned a master was the best racing year I had ever had from the 5k through the half marathon. I did many things I had always thought impossible like breaking an hour for 10 miles, breaking 1:20 for a half and running in the low 17s for a 5k. It was surreal hitting all those goals I had thought impossible and wondered if I could ever pull off those types of performances again.
My first masters event was the half marathon in Indy. The half went well and I was bouncing off the walls excited about winning my first masters scored event. It was now evident that masters running was not a demotion. Instead, it was my ticket to help me run forever! My first marathon as a masters was my fastest marathon by about 5 minutes in 2:47:59… but I was fourth masters… wait what?! Who are these crazy fast old people? I was shocked. That was the realization that masters running isn’t easier, the same talent level is there. Once again that fire of competing, wanting to win, wanting to beat my times boiled up just as strong as ever. I found myself again searching out the fiercest masters competition and racing I could find.
Three years into masters running and being competitive, I start to sweat a little thinking about all the talented runners just turning 40. However, I still have insane goals. These goals cover all distances, but one clear goal is in the mile. In September, I ran a 5:04 mile at the 5th Avenue Mile in NYC. Had I run that time a month later on my 43rd birthday, it would have been a world class time for my age. I just have to run that time again this year.
The forever flight is not for everybody as it definitely becomes more challenging. One of the toughest things for me as a masters runner has been my asthma. I’m not sure if it is a problem that will stick around, but it has really tested my resolve. My lungs are ok and it’s not as if I’m in a life-threatening state. However, the struggle and discomfort I have are insane at times. This week at an appointment with my pulmonologist, he started asking questions about all of the running. He works with amazing athletes, but I think a Masters runner is something he hasn’t dealt with before. His last question to me that he prompted with somewhat of an incredulous look was, “how long are you going to keep this up?” Without pause or any thought at all I responded as if it should be obvious to anyone, “well, forever!” We just stared at each other a little awkwardly him with more of a surprised look and me with fire in my eyes. And it hit me, that I have never just stated it without thinking. I have thought it deep down and joked about it, but now I realized it to be true. I have every intention of running and competing as fiercely as I can for as long as I can, whether it is normal or not. I have already plotted out my goals for my 60’s and even 90’s.
The forever flight will not get easier, but I’m not going to stop.