There’s a competitive mortality to life as a masters runner.
Renee Tolan gets that. She’s just old enough to compete in the 40-and-over division, just young enough to excel in it.
“I’m one of the few people who was really excited about turning 40,” she joked.
“But I’ve got a short window. I’m 41. I know I can’t ride this masters wave forever.”
For now, though, Tolan is making the most of her ability and health. A Galway native and a 1996 Siena College graduate, Tolan lives in Clifton Park and teaches social studies at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School. Fresh off an overall win Monday in the Memorial Mile in Glens Falls, the mother of two young girls — 9-year-old Sydney, 6-year-old Addison — is one of her division’s favorites in Saturday’s Freihofer’s Run for Women 5K in Albany.
“Getting a win there will be tough, but last year I was fifth,” said Tolan, who had won four masters races this year prior to the Memorial Mile. “I’d really like to be top three, but I don’t want to exclude myself from the possibility of winning.”
By no means should Tolan be counted out. After a high school running career ended with an injury to her right Achilles tendon, she ran for a couple years while at Siena. Adult life took her to Washington, D.C., after college to work for Congressman Gerald B.H. Solomon, back to New York to work as an aide for Gov. George Pataki, then to New Jersey with her husband, Mike, where she initially went back to school at Monmouth University to become a teacher.
She stayed fit during all that, but was in no way training. During her D.C. years, her major athletic activity was playing for her office softball team.
“So I did stuff, but I didn’t race or anything,” she said.
That started to change once she went to work at New Jersey’s Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in 2001. As a new teacher, she got asked if she could coach the school’s cross country team . . . and, as a new teacher, she obliged.
Running with her team got her back into the swing of the sport. She still rarely competed, running a small race here or there. That started to change after taking her team to watch the 2003 New York City Marathon. Tolan and her squad went to cheer on a local masters runner, and the trip ended with her team convincing Tolan to take on a marathon. She ran the Philadelphia Marathon the next year and the Boston Marathon a couple years after that.
Her kids started arriving around the time she moved back to the Capital Region in 2006. After a year teaching in the Scotia-Glenville district, she started at Burnt Hills in 2007. Several years later, she took her running from recreational to competitive. Nowadays, she runs between 50 and 60 miles a week, does yoga, swims a few days a week and takes part in TRX strength training.
“People ask what prompted that and I really don’t know,” she said of her 2011 decision to go all in on a second act as a competitive runner. “I just missed it.”
Tolan had some success as an open division competitor, but became a national-level runner upon turning 40 in November 2014. She was the top female masters runner in the 2014 Stockade-athon and was accepted into the Saucony Hurricane program, which sets her up with running gear and helps her with race finances. Since the start of 2015, Tolan’s competed in 22 races and has been the top masters runner at 15 of them. This July, she’ll head to Oregon to compete in a 14-person elite masters 1,500-meter invitational as part of the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
She said she wants to keep running as long as her body will allow. Tolan thinks the long hiatus she took from competitive running has left her legs fresher. With each race, she said, she feels stronger.
“At some point, that’s got to stop,” she said. “But who knows when?”