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Fast Females: A 45-year-old and a Filly Plunder Expectations and Find Victory

September 8, 2009 – 9:35 PM

NHRR

By Laura Pappano

That blur you see is a 45-year-old woman breaking a record. (OK, snapping with an iPhone enhances the effect in this case).

That’s right. Yesterday at the Stratton Faxon New Haven Road Race — which was also the Men’s and Women’s 20K National Championships — Colleen DeReuck set a world record for women over 45 when she crossed the finish line at the New Haven Green on Temple Street in 1:07:19.  While the cool, clear weather didn’t hurt her cause (although the breeze near the waterfront was stiff), DeReuck’s victory — like the victory of filly Rachel Alexandra at the Woodward Stakes the same weekend — should force us to, not just to cheer, but to think.

Much of how we view sport is about expectations. We have comfortable notions of what female horses ought to be able to do against (allegedly stronger, faster) male horses. And we have notions about what 45-year-old female runners ought to be able to do against younger runners (especially over a distance that is not an ultra marathon, but a relatively quick 20K).

It is hard to know if we are in the midst of two impressive, but isolated athletic feats by a woman and a female horse — or if we have been so duped into believing that age and gender are barriers to winning that we are surprised by such performances. If we look back to the Boston Marathon, we can recall DeReuck leading the pack at mile 17. Rachel Alexandra has been 8 for 8 in the winner’s circle. Both can clearly run.

Given the relatively brief history of women’s distance running (women weren’t permitted to run the Olympic Marathon until 1984) and what appears in Rachel Alexandra’s case, an owner interested in breaking with convention, this may be less a blip for the history books than a new plateau upon which others may follow.

And, by the way, while the focus surrounding DeReuck was all about her victory over younger, elite women, please note that she beat an awful lot of younger, elite men, including her 44-year-old husband, Darren (he finished in 1:08:22).

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