May 20, 2023 4 min read 7 Comments
By Ray Glier
The generations communicate in a language that is unspoken, you bet they do. One of them, who is older, defies the customary. The next one coming up defies the customary, too. They have a similar toughness, but’s it’s not DNA. It's just a thing.
So it was that Tom Patterson, 94, fell out of his truck and the wheels rolled over him breaking three ribs and his daughter, Sue McDonald, 60, set world records this spring in the 800 and 1500 meters (W60) with a labrum tear, just figuring it was one of those injuries athlete’s deal with.
How is that for not customary?
“The more I'm around him as an adult, the more I realized how much I got from him, definitely,” Sue said of her dad. “My mom's (Margaret) a pretty competitive person, too. She used to play ping pong and she was really competitive in that.
“My dad was not an athlete, but he would race boats. So, yes, I get some toughness from him. And perseverance.”
The truck, by the way, that rolled over Patterson was an F150, not that it mattered what model of truck. The docs said Tom had fractures in his back, but he said he feels fine. So he survived a truck, though now he has Covid. Good luck Covid beating this roughneck.
His daughter, meanwhile, keeps truckin’.
McDonald broke the outdoor world and American record for the 400 at Cal State Long Beach in The Beach Invitational on April 15 (1:03.71), according to masterrankings.com. It’s her favorite event and she thinks she can run even better, at least 62 seconds, which is remarkable at 60.
On May 6, Sue did the remarkable and broke the world and American record (pending ratification) in the 800 at the Oxy Invitational in Los Angeles in 2:22.52. Understand, in 2019 in the W55-59 division 2:22 was the world indoor record. McDonald did 2:22 outside. Again, she’s 60.
“My workouts indicated I was getting stronger aerobically and getting faster, my coach does a really good job in keeping in touch with my speed, but then also bringing along my aerobic capacity,” McDonald said.
In the Oxy race the college athletes, 20-23 years old, all had times of 2:18 to 2:16. They were dumbstruck at McDonald's speed for her age.
“I knew all I had to do is follow them, and just latch on," Sue said. "And, as it turned out, I actually beat two of them. I impressed my coach (Terry Howell) and it’s never easy to impress your coach."
Sue flew the first lap at 68, which was her fastest first lap as a Masters runner. She had to keep her cool and not push on that pace, but near the end of the first leg she understood what was happening.
“I was finally reaching my potential,” McDonald said.
That Oxy race set a bar for McDonald and every other 60-plus female runner in the world. It might be time for marketing professionals to hang a billboard on her and give her a few bucks to run in Masters track and see just how good she can be.
It can be expensive training and traveling and competing. What distance and middle distance runner Kathy Martin did in endorsements for Humana, the insurance giant, McDonald could do for …well, McDonalds, the hamburger chain. You know, golden arches.
She could work for any number of fitness companies, or shoe companies. This woman is lightning right now and has the characteristics of an influencer for a generation that will latch on to what works.
What works for McDonald is a discipline to deal with injury and not fold easily. She was a high jumper for many years (before that a pole vaulter) and tore a hip labrum in 2015.
She competed and tried “figuring out what works” with the injury, but then came a cascade of compensation injuries to her hamstrings and glutes and other body parts.
Then, a few weeks before Poland and the 2023 World Masters Athletics championships in March, McDonald started working with David Grey Rehab, a company based in Ireland. He gave her three exercises and she was dutiful as athletes can get at following through on the advice. The labrum pain calmed.
McDonald, who is from Santa Barbara, California, and turned 60 during the WMA championship, ran a W60 world-record time while competing in the W55 Division of the women's 800. The 2.25.72 was good for a bronze in the W55 race, but it still beat the existing W60 record by more than four seconds!
The gold medals weren’t necessarily the goal. It was the world mark and improving.
Because of age requirements, McDonalds also had to run the 1500 in the W55 in Poland. She was third with younger runners, another bronze, but any times transfer up and sure enough, she grabbed another world mark with a 5:08.88 (W60).
What should be remarkable is how McDonald favors the fast-twitch 400 and still excels at the 800. If she can get 68-72 seconds on the first lap of the 800 and have that feel easy, what’s next for the 800? McDonald is fast, but also prudent. If you see a 68 on the board, do you freak out and go for a 1:16 like you are a kid again? And then hurt yourself, or crash the last 20 meters?
McDonald plays these mind games over and over as she reaches for the next shelf in her Masters career.
“I want to see what my potential is at every age and stage of life,” Sue said. “My motivation is 'how good can I be'? Train hard and see just how fast can I be at this age. That's, that's my motivation.”
Here’s the deal with McDonald. She is getting faster as she gets older. You and I know that is freakish and not supposed to happen. It is her diligence, sure, but training techniques and science are making a difference. And the pluck she gets from dad and mom sure don't hurt.
The Olympic athletes are doing all kinds of mind-boggling experiments with workouts. I don’t expect fitness experts to sink millions into 60-year old runners, but maybe a few thousand. I wonder what kinds of limits can be stretched for the rest of us when we tag along behind Sue McDonald?
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