Colleen De Reuck and the Secrets of Longevity
Interview by: Duncan Larkin
There aren’t many runners like 45-year-old Colleen De Reuck. When she seized the lead at the 5-mile mark in last year’s U.S. 20K Championships and ran unchallenged to the finish, she made history—becoming the oldest woman to ever win a U.S. road championship race. The second-place finisher that day, Serena Burla, was nearly two decades younger than De Reuck.
Who says older runners can’t win races?
Originally from South Africa, where she started her running career, De Reuck became a U.S. citizen in 2000 and began to represent the United States, winning a three medals at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in 2002 and 2003. She’s a four–time Olympian and the owner of the U.S. masters record for the marathon (2:28:40).
When not training to beat runners half her age, De Reuck is busy caring for her two daughters, Tasmin (15) and Tara (2). She is married to longtime running coach Darren De Reuck and lives in Boulder, Colorado.
RunNow.com: When you won the 20K U.S. Championships last year, was it a surprise or had you been expecting to run so well?
Colleen De Reuck: No. That was a surprise. You know, there were a lot of top girls that weren’t there. I nearly got caught. But no, it was a total surprise.
Did you know you were that fit going into the race?
Well, I was training for the Twin Cities Marathon. I had been doing miles and everything. I was fit, but I wasn’t sharp, because I had been running miles and everything was geared for marathon training. In the race, Magdalena [Lewy Boulet] took it out hard. I knew that I couldn’t run that pace. Then we caught her. I kept running my pace, and when I got to 5 miles into the race and was in the lead, I just decided to go with the flow of things. I told myself, “This is how I feel now. I feel comfortable.” So I kept on running. I didn’t want to be in the lead that early in the race.
After that race, have you had younger runners come up to you and ask you how you are able to run so well at your age?
They don’t ask me what I can teach them about that race. It’s more that they tell me that I’m an inspiration. They say, “We know that we can race for a long period of time in our career, because you have showed us.” They are impressed that I have kids and work part time.
You mentioned your family and your work. How do you strike that right balance between your professional running and your personal life?
If I can’t get a run in the early morning, then it’s hard to get it in. But at the same time, sometimes I have to go at lunch and do my workouts, because I couldn’t go in the morning. Darren [Colleen’s husband] is out of town. My daughter has an orthodontist appointment. So you just try and put it in somewhere.
So would you say then that your running comes in second compared to these other responsibilities?
Yeah. Running has always come second, really. Since I have had kids, it’s always come second. It’s a big part of my life. Obviously, it’s important and that’s how I made my living. But then there are days when you get caught and you can’t get in a run. And that’s just the way it goes.
What are some factors to which you attribute your ability to race so well for so long?
I have a very supportive husband, Darren. He’s involved in running as well. It’s a part of our lives. He’s a coach. He likes to keep fit and healthy. So you know I have to try and keep up with him. I train hard, but I also take downtime throughout the year. I train hard for a race and then take some downtime and then I train hard for another race and take some more downtime. I can’t keep going for long periods of time. That’s helped too. There are definitely times when I am like, “Ok, I definitely don’t want to do this anymore. It’s too hard.” Darren will then say, “That’s good. Take some time off.” Inevitably, after you take time off, you get motivated again. You want to get back into shape; because our whole lives we’ve been fit and healthy. And it is such a great feeling to be fit and healthy that you want to sort of stay in that area.
How are you approaching your training and your racing now as opposed to when you didn’t have a lot of these other life factors like a husband and a family?
It’s a lot less pressure. You know, I don’t have to perform. I don’t really have sponsors to please. So I just go and run races that I want to go and run—races that I enjoy. And that’s it. I think it’s just a lot less pressure.
As a masters-level runner, is your weekly mileage any different?
Not really. It’s just a tad less. If I am training for a marathon now, normally I will do like 90 to 100 miles a week. In my heyday, I would have done like four weeks of 100 miles. And now I will do like two weeks of 100 miles. I’m hovering now around 90. So it’s a little bit less. I’m not as fast as I used to be. My workouts aren’t as fast, although the effort is as hard, but the times are much slower.
Do you give yourself more time to rest between workouts?
Yes. I do a workout on a Tuesday and on a Friday or a Saturday.
And how is that different from the past?
I used to do three workouts a week, up to the 2000 Olympics. Then I switched to two workouts a week—from three to two. I did that, because at altitude I needed more recovery time.
Are you getting more rest than you used to?
No. I’d like to, but I don’t. I must admit: We just had a very busy weekend with our daughter who plays volleyball. We’ve been getting to bed at midnight. On Monday afternoon, I put my little one down for a nap and I myself crashed for two hours. You have to eventually keep up. Yeah, you do need more time to recover. My easy runs are a lot slower than they used to be. If I do a workout on Tuesday, my mid-week long run is definitely slower than it used to be. I definitely feel that after a race. The day after a race, I have to go very easy.
What kind of pace are you doing for those mid-week long runs?
The first mile is like 8:15. Then I build up to like 7:00, maybe even 6:50.
So you are doing a progression run, then?
No. I think as you get older, you start out slow and then it takes your body a longer amount of time to warm up. It’s not that I’m meaning to do a progression run. Darren just bought a Garmin and we saw that I was running like an 8:15 first mile, and I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is how I’ve always run.” I think it’s because you are older and so you start out a lot slower and then eventually get into your pace. When you are younger, you can just jump right into it.
As a masters runner, are you ever concerned about doing super-fast workouts, like quarters or 200m repeats, because of the potential for injury due to the intensity of those workouts?
I don’t do those workouts, because I’m training for a marathon. I haven’t been training specifically for a 5K lately. Marathons are much longer and slower.
What type of cross-training do you do?
I do weight training. I try to get in two weight sessions a week. But like this week, I haven’t gotten in any, because my husband is out of town. I used to do Pilates, but I’m just trying to get back into it now. I’m trying to fit it in, but it doesn’t always work out.
Did you ever think you’d be putting forth the performances you are at the age of 45?
Oh, never. I just take it in every year as it comes. I wasn’t planning to make my career this long. You obviously enjoy it, otherwise you couldn’t do it. It’s good to have some goals. I don’t think I’d run very hard if I didn’t set the goals.
In last year’s Boston Marathon, the pace was ridiculously slow for a large portion of the race. You decided to lead the race early on. What was your take on that race?
When you get into shape for a marathon, you think you are going to run 5:45 to 5:50 pace. And then when you run the first mile and it’s downhill at 6:10, it was like, “Wow!” I don’t know. My theory is on race day, I’m going to run as fast as I can. I don’t try to make it too tactical. That’s what the girls were trying to do that day—making it too tactical. You’ve got to have a good race. You get paid a lot of money to run. So on that day, the pace was very slow. I was like, “I can run this pace.” It was a little breezy. No one wanted to take it out, so I went and ran in the front. I don’t mind. It was such an awesome experience. The girls would pick you up and drop you like that. You know they can run like a 5:10 mile. It was just a wonderful experience. I enjoyed it.
What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Houston won the Olympic Trials Marathon, so I’d definitely like to go there and be part of that, because I missed the last one. That’s what I’ll aim for. Maybe I’ll take a little bit of downtime in-between there. I have qualified, because I ran Twin Cities and that was a one-day window. I have run the U.S. Half Marathon Championships there and they always do a fantastic job in Houston. In ten years’ time, I’d like to hope I can still run and keep in shape. That’s about it; nothing fantastic.