Cindy Marcotte of Bear River is the fastest 55-year-old woman in Canada.
Try and get her to say it out loud though.
“I’m running pretty fast for a woman of my age,” is the most she’ll say. And she feels funny saying that.
But the fact is, she beat the 52 fastest women in her age category last Sept. 22 in Toronto to win the Canadian National 10k road race championships.
“A lot has happened for me very quickly,” she says. “A lot of positive experiences with people and with running. I need some time to process it all. I know it’s a big deal, but well, it blows me away.”
Marcotte has been running for just nine years. It started as a way to stay connected to her athlete son Owen after he left for college.
Up until last year she just ran three or four days a week.
“My goal was always just to enjoy running,” she says. “I want to be able to continue to run, compete at local events and see my friends and enjoy the camaraderie.
“I was afraid [if I trained more] I’d end up hurting myself and not be able to participate and enjoy what drew me to running in the first place.”
But last year she took her running a little more seriously and set her sights on qualifying for the national championships.
To make the Nova Scotia team you have to enter at least four of the seven Timex series races.
Marcotte entered 12 races last summer and won her age category every time. She often was second or third woman overall.
Before last year she had only run races in Digby, Yarmouth and Annapolis.
Last year she ran in Greenwood, New Glasgow, Pictou, Liverpool and Metro.
The Lung Run 5k in Halifax in April is the season opener and was an eye opener for Marcotte – the crowds, finding the race, parking, getting registered.
“There’s a lot to a race, just getting to the start line,” says Marcotte. “It was a lot to take in in a short period of time.”
Highlights of the season include finishing third overall in Pictou in 42.10 despite feeling tired and not well from travelling to Ontario for a wedding.
A couple weeks later, in Yarmouth for the Sheila Poole 10k, she ran a personal best of 41.11.
The Dartmouth Natal Day 6 miler (9.6 km) on Aug. 6 is the last qualifier and is worth extra points – points Marcotte didn’t need.
Still she went for the weekend with her daughter Rosie and stayed in the dorms at Dalhousie. She ran the MacPass Bridge Mile on Aug. 5 finishing just seconds behind five girls in their 20s and 30s.
And on Sunday, after running a 40.35 for 9.6 km, she heard officially she was going to Toronto.
“I was thrilled,” she says. “Proud to be part of a team to represent Nova Scotia. It was all a bit surreal.”
Marcotte says the six-week gap until nationals seemed a long time.
“You’ve been racing for months, you see improvements, you’re ready, comfortable, and every couple weeks a race and then all of a sudden a gap, I was afraid of losing momentum,” she says. “You just have to try and maintain that level of fitness to carry you through to nationals.”
Her son Owen told her “the hay was already in the barn” meaning she’d already done plenty of training.
He told her she had already accomplished a lot just by qualifying and to relax and enjoy the experience.
“Realize that you are now the key masters female runner in Canada,” Owen wrote to his mother days before nationals. “Stay healthy and happy and your running career will have much longevity and rewards.”
She carried the letter with her to Toronto and says it took some pressure off.
“Just being there in the presence of all these elite athletes and being treated like an elite athlete, I was very nervous,” she says. “I was nervous about the whole process, the big city, the crowds of people.”
She says she had learned a lot and reached a comfort level after the 12 races in Nova Scotia.
“But Toronto was Nova Scotia times ten.”
Total registration for the race was 2,800. Marcotte was in the front corral with about 250 people.
“Once I was in my spot, with members of my team around me, I felt good,” says Marcotte. “All I could see in front of me was daylight so I didn’t have to think about all the people behind me.”
The national course winds through the Oasis Zoo with lots of hills and sharp turns, which also made it easier for Marcotte. She could only see small stretches of the course and other runners at a time. She had no idea who or how many people were ahead of her.
She felt good and relaxed throughout the race but the highlight came just past the 8 k mark. She says she had been so focussed to that point on running she hadn’t noticed any animals.
Spectators started telling her to look and then she saw and heard them; four “huge” arctic wolves, their snouts in the air howling.
“It sounded so fantastic, so wild it just lifted my heart,” says Marcotte. “I knew I was near the end and there was a big hill coming. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
When she got to the top of the hill, the announcer was calling her name and she knew she had won her age category.
Marcotte was 103rd overall.
“Next year maybe I can be in the top hundred,” she says.
Yes she is already thinking about next year. Winter training is all about building the aerobic base she says. Her long runs are up around 16, 18 km—mostly on the railbed running from Smith’s Cove near the lighthouse to Tideview in Digby and back.
She’s logging between 70 and 80 km a week, often running six or seven days a week. A couple times she has run 15 days straight without a break.
“It just happened without me realizing it,” she says. “I’m starting to get hooked. Now I’m aware of what a person is capable of doing. I’m not afraid to test the limits a bit.”
Marcotte says the biggest lesson of the past year is learning just how fast women her age can run.
Goals for 2013? Marcotte at first says she wants to “shave a few seconds off her time.” Then in her next breath she mentions Diane Legare of Quebec. Legare holds dozens of Canadian age category records. In her 50s she ran 10k in 38.50—almost three minutes faster than Marcotte is running now.
“I’d like to see how close I can get to the Canadian records,” says Marcotte.
Running in Beartown
Cindy Marcotte lives in a runner’s paradise. Endless quiet country roads surround her little home in the woods beyond Bear River.
She has most of them measured in her head – if she turns around at this intersection it’s 8k, if she runs to that big hemlock it’s 12.
Her favourite long run was a cottage road to one of the local lakes until things changed for her last fall.
For 30 years she has lived in the woods.
She has seen bear cubs on the side of the road, even coyotes in clearings. She knows people trap coyotes in the woods around her home.
“I have never felt uncomfortable out here,” she says. “But I’ve been hearing stories and it makes you think.”
Marcotte carries bear spray when she runs, mostly, she always thought, for stray dogs.
Last fall she had reached her turn around spot on her long run when everything changed.
“It was early evening, a calm evening,” says Marcotte. “I was feeling fantastic and was nearing the end of the road when I heard one.long.howl.”
A coyote. Near the side of the road.
“I really picked up the pace,” she says. “I was thinking if I could just get to the corner where there are houses and buildings.
“I had my spray out and I did my test shots. I don’t think I’ve ever sprinted that fast. I was just waiting for this animal, I was sure he was right behind me.”
She never did see that coyote but she says she felt its presence. Since then she hasn’t done that run.
She uses the Riverview Road some and for her longest runs she uses the rail bed from Smith’s Cove to Digby and back.
She still does shorter runs near her house and hopes to return to the longer runs there too as the days get longer.
“I can’t stop running out here,” she says. “I cant let them dictate or restrict me in what I love to do back here.”