They say sixty is the new fifty. But if you ever met US Masters sensation, Barb Broad, age 62, you’d think otherwise. In Barb’s world, sixty is the new thirty. I know firsthand.
It’s a Tuesday night in Kent, Ohio. We toe the line of lane one to begin our workout, 8 x 400 meter repeats to be run in 88 seconds. Coach hits the stopwatch and almost immediately she settles into a comfortable cadence, a shortened stride with a quick exhale in between each step. I am right there with her, hoping to help pace her for this workout as she prepares for the United States Indoor Master’s Championships, held this coming weekend in Landover, Maryland.
“A little too fast, ” I tell her after crossing the line in 84.
She looks at me with a wide smile, “Whew, yes, too fast.”
On the next repeat, we are still stride for stride. Again, you guessed it. ”85, but if you feel good, go with it,” I tell her. I, on the other hand, am not sure I can hang on.
The third repeat is another 85, for Barb. How does she do it? I wonder. “You’re doing great,” I tell her with a high five.
She’s catches her breath for a few seconds, then looks up and smiles. “Thanks, this is a tough one.” Not only is this a tough workout but it epitomizes her running career. She just keeps getting faster.
For the last year and a half, I’ve spent my Tuesday nights at the track with Barb, a devoted wife, mother of three, and grandmother of three, who works as a Speech Therapist. She’s easygoing, carefree, and joyful; traits that I think contribute to her running success. Also contributing to her success? Coach Glenn Andrews, a coach that is not only confident in his athletes but one who has overcome his own barriers throughout life to find success. He was a standout 800 meter runner at Kent State University who grew up during the Civil Rights Era and was on campus when four were shot dead in Ohio in 1970. The two of them together are a winning combination.
Under Glenn’s training with the group Cleveland Elite Development, she has become one of the fastest women in her age group from the 1500 meters up to the marathon. In 2011, she was the USATF Masters Track and Field Age Group Champion in the 1500 meters and 5000 meters. In 2012, she was the overall (both men and women) age graded champion of the USA Masters Marathon Championships. Her 3:18 personal best marathon age-grades to a 2:22.
It is truly an honor to share this interview as Barb teaches us to not fear aging, but rather to embrace it.
Salty Running: Tell us how you began running.
Barb Broad: I began running in July, 1989, just before my 40th birthday. Prior to this time, I was taking exercise classes that were offered at the Jewish Community Center (JCC). I think I was ready for something else though when a friend suggested I start running, so I bought a pair of running shoes. I soon began competing in local races and loved the camaraderie. There were many female runners in their 40s and I enjoyed socializing and competing in my age group. My first marathon was in 1995, The New York City Marathon. I loved every mile of it, and 22 marathons later, I’m still going strong.
SR: You currently run for Cleveland Elite Development, a group a middle distance and distance runners based out of Ohio. What’s it like training with this group?
BB: Our coach is extremely dedicated to bringing out the best in each of us, mentally and physically. He develops our training plans year round and has high expectations. I am also motivated and inspired by the other members in CED, especially when we are together Tuesday evenings on the track. They show me what it means to “get out of my comfort zone.”
SR: Having had the privilege to join you on a few long runs, we’ve talked about sometimes experiencing feelings of regret for not starting running earlier, like say, in high school. How do you handle these feelings?
BB: I’ve often wondered if I had the opportunity to run in high school (pre-Title IX) how things might have turned out for me. I remember I was a tomboy and I sometimes got included in baseball games with my brother and his friends. I also remember having the fastest female time in the 50 meter dash in the 6th grade fitness test. But I stopped dwelling on what might have been and focused my training on staying healthy and competitive in my age group. Masters and Seniors can get better with age and age-graded performances offer runners tangible goals.
SR: Last year you had the opportunity to be a tour guide for Joan Benoit Samuelson at the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. I bet that was an amazing experience! Can you tell us a little bit about that?
BB: I received a call from the race director of the marathon, asking me if I’d like to volunteer on race day. He told me, “I have the perfect volunteer job for you, Joan Benoit Samuelson’s ‘escort’ for the weekend.” I was speechless (literally!). While waiting for her at the airport, I was very anxious. Not only because I was meeting this woman icon of the running world, but her itinerary over the next three days was overwhelming. I needed to get her where she needed to be on time, every time. But everything worked out as planned.
One afternoon, I dropped her off at her hotel so she could relax then one hour later, she said, “I need to get in a quick four miles. Do you want to run with me?” But I didn’t have my running gear in my car! OMG! There went my chance to run with an Olympic Gold Legend! However, the highlight of my weekend with Joanie was getting invited to the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame for private tour with her.
SR: You keep getting faster, even as you get older. Do you ever think about the day when the PRs might stop?
My goal in training is to keep the negative effects of aging to a minimum and to quote elite octogenarian, Earl Fee, “age slower than my competitors.”
BB: My race times in each successive marathon over the past four years have improved from 3:28 in 2009 to 3:18 in 2012, the result of consistent training year round with a knowledgeable coach. I also work with a personal trainer. I do think my race times are going to slow down, as there are definite physiological changes that take place with age. I’m a competitive person though and I like competing against others in my own age-group and against myself as well.
SR: Part of our Salty Running Manifesto is to love your body for what it does and not what it looks like. Having aged ever so gracefully yourself, what advice do you have for other women runners and their body image?
BB: Well thank you for the compliment. Body image is an issue that confronts many female athletes. Growing up, I was always very thin. I lost some weight after I began running though. Looking back at that time, I don’t remember looking “too thin” but things changed in my mid-fifties, when I began weekly track workouts and increased my mileage and intensity. That’s when my husband told me I looked anorexic, although he knew I wasn’t. Friends then asked if I was running too much and not eating enough. Then I took a long, hard look in the mirror, and I had to admit it, I was SKINNY! And even though I felt good and had a lot of energy, I did not like how I looked. I made an appointment with a sports nutritionist and registered dietitian. After she did an analysis, she recommended I increase my daily calories and gave me suggestions about enhancing my diet. That’s when I also began working with a personal trainer to build up some lean muscle. I felt better and saw positive changes in my body image. Some of my friends who are non-runners still think I am way too thin but I know better.
My advice for other women runners who have doubts about their body image is to ask yourselves what it is that you’d like to change. Find a sports nutritionist and an exercise physiologist and get an assessment. Once you have a good idea of your present health status, you can focus on the specific issues that you want to address.
SR: What are your goals for the US Masters Indoor Championships?
BB: I am competing in three events on successive days: the 3000 meters, 1 mile, and the 800 meters. My goal is to do the best I can and hope for a victorious weekend!
SR: You’ll also be running Boston as a training run, right? What number will that be? What do you love most about Boston?
BB: I’ve done seven Boston Marathons and placed 1st in my age group in 2009, 2011, and 2012. This year, the focus of my training has been on the indoor championships but I still love Boston and just being in the city on marathon weekend is a rush of adrenaline. The course itself is absolutely terrific, yet challenging. And the spectators line the streets for all 26.2 miles!
SR: Any final words of running wisdom?
BB: Train consistently and incorporate interval training and tempos into your weekly running plan. I recommend joining a running group as running with others, especially those faster than you, keep you motivated and help increase your speed. If you really want to take your running to the next level, find a coach. As an older runner, one has to work harder to maintain their race times. For me, it’s all about pushing myself for the love of the sport!