I was privileged to interview Colleen de Reuck on a rainy Boulder morning, a week after she’d placed first in her 50-54 age group at the Kona Ironman, which included a 3:19:09 marathon during the hottest part of a very hot day.
I immediately recognized the slight runner with her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, reminiscent of photos of her determined stride to first place finishes. Colleen was in recovery mode, her entire body fatigued from her recent Herculean effort; yet she didn’t look like she’d competed for over 10 hours only a week before. She’s the consummate professional.
Colleen is gracious and humble. The day after her success at Kona, Deena Kastor broke Colleen’s almost ten-year-old US masters marathon record at the Chicago Marathon. When I asked her about it she simply said, “Records are made to be broken.”
Colleen set the masters marathon record with her 2:28:40 in 2005. Deena’s new record is 2:27:47, which she ran mere weeks after tying Colleen’s 5k masters record. Colleen only had positive things to say about her competitor, characterizing Deena as a phenomenal, consistent athlete who is a role model for the sport.
Here are some more excerpts from my interview with Colleen; hard-working, talented, and almost, but not quite, the woman next door:
Colleen started running in sixth grade with her school’s cross-country team. Running ran in her family: her father was a marathon runner, even finishing the nearly 90k Comrades Marathon. She went to college on scholarship, but it wasn’t until 1992, when South Africa finally permitted its citizens to compete internationally, that Colleen’s running goals kicked into high gear.
She wanted to run for her country at the 1992 Olympics. She missed competing in the 3000m by two seconds and the 5000m by one second. With only the marathon distance still available, she threw her shoe in the ring, so to speak, and qualified, crediting talent and luck, as she hadn’t trained for that long a distance.
Beginning in 1993, Colleen and her husband began racing internationally. She had many successes, including at a variety of races in the US, like the Boston and Chicago Marathons, among many others over the years. She seemed to win most every distance with aplomb, garnering national and international titles in the marathon distance, almost too numerable to list.
Eventually, the De Reucks moved to the US where they found the opportunity for international competition and prize money that wasn’t readily available to them in South Africa. They became permanent residents and then US citizens in 2002, and now call Boulder, Colorado their home.
4x Olympian and 2x Olympic Trials Qualifiers as a Master!
Colleen represented South Africa in three Olympic games. In 1992, she placed 9th in the marathon in Barcelona. Then in 1996, after setting her lifetime marathon PR of 2:26:35 in Berlin, she placed 13th in the 10,000 meters in Atlanta. In 2000, she again ran the women’s marathon in Sydney, but placed 31st.
After becoming a U.S. citizen a week before her 39th birthday, she won the US Olympic Trials Marathon in 2:28:25. She ran in her fourth Olympics and her only on-Team USA, placing 39th in Athens. As a masters runner she qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials where she placed 35/152 with a time of 2:38:52. Most recently she qualified for the 2016 marathon trials with a 2:39:22 at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.
Training for the 2016 Trials
When asked about training for the upcoming Olympic Trials in February 2016 compared to prior Olympic Trials, Colleen recognized that her triathlon training likely takes away from her running prowess. Then again, maybe the emphasis on bicycling and swimming counts as important cross-training!
She has noticed a change in strength, power, and endurance between ages 42-50, likely due to menopause which causes testosterone levels to drop in women. This often results in diminished athletic ability which is critical to muscle repair and strength. The competitive advantage of younger runners is evident when considering some of these physiological factors.
Colleen is realistically excited to participate in another Olympics Trials. Historically, she’d run 100-mile weeks when training for key races but she’ll probably keep her maximum mileage weeks to 80-85 miles. She does tough, short, fast runs on Tuesdays and on Thursdays she does tempos and sustained faster-paced runs. She also does overall body strength training two times per week, aiming for 45 minute sessions, and longer runs on the weekend.
Like a number of elite women runners, Colleen’s husband, Darren, is her coach. While she’s tried other coaches, he knows her so well that they easily incorporate a casual relationship into the training, so that she is comfortable that he has her best interests at heart.
They have two daughters, one in college, the other an eight-year-old. When her older daughter was young and both parents worked, Colleen squeezed running into early mornings or evenings, sometimes at lunchtime. These days, since Darren works from home, he can watch their youngest daughter while Colleen trains, making it easier to integrate training, motherhood, and working.
Colleen hasn’t run a stand-alone marathon since she qualified for the Olympic Trials in November 2013, so there are more unknowns for February 2016. Yet she’s approaching the Trials with her long-standing strategy: “Be in your own race.” She focuses on her training plan, her intended pacing, her own strengths, and weaknesses.
To Colleen, the first twenty or so miles of a marathon don’t really count. It’s the last 12-15k that are critical to winning the race. Her advice to new OTQs or OTQ hopefuls: “Listen to your body.” Clearly, this mantra has worked well for her!
Why does she still compete at the Olympic Trials?
Like other elite runners, Colleen is passionate about the community of runners with whom she’ll share the roads of Los Angeles in February, the prestige of racing with the best of the best, the history of that particular race, that day, in that city, with the unpredictable factors that affect any race. She appreciates that all runners, regardless of time or likelihood of placing in the top three, are treated well at the Trials. Her target race time is her OTQ time; I hope she is successful.
This and That
Colleen’s successes are so well known, it makes a fresh interview a little difficult. Still, her longevity in this sport, her passion to run with friends, her joy in coaching all levels of runners through Boulder Striders, her racing with the Colorado Racing Club, and her continued accomplishments in the triathlon all point to a talented, hard-working, grounded woman, who one hopes to meet on the trails, at a local race event, or even at the grocery store.
Colleen’s philosophy is endearing: At the end of the day, you have to enjoy what you’re doing. She might take a break from one sport, then get inspired by another one, then perhaps revert back to a prior activity. Running is her first passion and what she loves most about it is its simplicity. Running doesn’t take a lot of stuff, it’s easy to do, and you can run and chat with friends! We can all relate to that!
If you had a chance to talk to Colleen what would you ask her?