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It’s never too late

A commonly held belief among runners over the age of 40 is the importance of running smarter, as getting faster is unlikely.

Then again, there are some runners who get a late start in racing and improve as they get older, such as former Nevada County Teacher of the Year, Sue Madigan.

Last month, at the California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento, at age 56, Madigan ran her fastest time despite a bizarre occurrence that cost her several minutes.



Madigan gives much of the credit to the coaching and motivation from her husband, Bill, also a local teacher and competitive marathoner, who helped get Matt Tyrrell started on his successful running career (The Union, Dec. 25, 2003).

In part due to its simplicity, Madigan started running to keep up with the active lifestyles of her husband and four children, all of whom were involved in sports.




“I was not an athlete as a child. As an adult, I tried swimming and belonged to the gym for awhile, but all those things took a lot of preparation, like packing the gym bag,” she said. “I finally thought, when you run, you just put shoes on and go out your back door.”

She began running after she turned 40, logging two or three miles several mornings a week before school, with no desire to ever run a race.

Madigan ran alone for three years, until the day she was attacked by a dog.

“That lasted until I got bitten by a dog and decided I didn’t want to go running alone anymore,” she said. “Then I started getting up earlier so I could run with Bill.”

The decision to run her first race came in a less painful manner.

“My second son, Joe, called and challenged Bill to run the California International Marathon (26.2 miles) in 1998,” Madigan said. “Joe wanted to run a marathon and asked his Dad if he’d run with him. I never dreamed I could run a marathon. I hadn’t run anything more than five miles! Plus, competition, the starter’s pistol and the fear of getting trampled at the start scared me.”

After getting his parents training for the marathon, Joe ended up not running, but was support crew for his Mom and Dad during the race.

Despite her trepidation about racing, Madigan, as part of her training for the marathon, ran her first race in Nevada City at Run Through the Colors in October of ’98, getting her first taste of age group success by finishing second.

Then came the big day.

Madigan approached her first marathon with the appropriate goal of many first-timers, which is to finish. With her husband pacing and running alongside, she started slowly, stopping to change shoes and walking when necessary, and finished in 4:05:24.

“I loved it! I absolutely got addicted,” she said. “After finishing the first one, you have amazed yourself that you can run 26.2 miles. I feel terrific the whole rest of the day after I run, and the longer the race, the longer I feel terrific.”

Even though she’s primarily a marathoner, in August of 2001 Madigan ran her fastest 5K in a race in Sacramento, winning the 50-59 age group in 23:19.

Interestingly, she didn’t even know she had won until being interviewed for this story, as she left before the results were posted to see her newly born granddaughter.

Citing a certain workout in Alta Sierra as a very memorable run, Madigan said she once found a purse lying on the road with several thousand dollars of cash inside, which she returned to the owner.

These days, Madigan’s goal is to run one marathon a year, usually the California International Marathon because it’s close proximity to home, while juggling full-time teaching and building a house.

In this year’s CIM, Madigan ran her best time of 3:53:06, taking second place in the 55-59 age group, only two minutes behind the winner and over nine minutes ahead of third place, boosting her into the “regional class” age-graded category for the first time.

Madigan credits her coach, who is also her best friend and husband of 34 years, Bill, and using the Jeff Galloway (a former U.S. Olympic marathoner) training method for her dramatic improvement. She feels she could have run under 3:50, if not for an extremely frustrating situation that occurred near the end of the race.

“Around the 25th mile marker, a group of about 30 runners came to a corner, and down came the Union Pacific railroad crossing barrier,” she said. “The train was so long, that if you looked both directions, you couldn’t see either end. We were stopped there for about three minutes. As the train’s final car passed, everyone ducked under the barrier. I remember hoping another train wasn’t coming! I ran the last mile as fast as I could, and it killed me. Some people couldn’t even run anymore and had to walk the rest of the way in.”

Madigan can take consolation in knowing that, even with having to stop dead for several minutes after racing 25 miles, and then having to start up again, she ran her best time at CIM by almost 8 minutes. She can feel confident that future races could bring even faster times.

With the stresses of building a house, Madigan feels she is in survival mode, keeping in shape until her busy life calms down. At that point, her goal is to travel and run marathons.

In 2001, Madigan ran the famed Boston Marathon, and said she would love to run one in Dublin, Ireland. A few years ago, along with her husband, she ran under the Eiffel Tower in Paris in the morning when no one else was there.

Madigan feels that the best part about running is the people that she’s met who are associated with the sport, and the beautiful locations she has run.

Given her continuing improvement in the marathon, who knows what times the future will bring, and what places races will take her.


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