AUG 2015 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Residence: Clifton Park
Profession: Social Studies Teacher at
Lake High School
Family: Husband, Mike, and daughters,
Sydney (8) and Addison (6)
Primary Sport: Running
Leisure Activity: Reading
By Christine Bishop
Running has many advantages and one of its greatest joys is entering a new age bracket. When this bracket coincides with a new division, things are really golden. So when Renee Tolan turned 40, an age that makes many women run for the wrinkle cream, she was ecstatic. Her birthday gift propelled her into a new age group, and the USATF Masters 40-plus age category, where she can really excel.
Renee received another birthday gift when turning 40. Saucony chose her to be one of 50 members of their Hurricane Program across the USA. This is the first time she has represented a company and she cherishes the experience. As an ambassador, she is clad head to toe in Saucony sportswear, a company she has always admired. She is required to do six races a year for which she receives a stipend with race reimbursement. In addition, she must keep the company informed about her races and community activities. She is coached by Jeff Goupil of Ballston Lake.
Renee did not reach her running peak until her late thirties. She distinguished herself as a runner at Galway Junior/Senior High School, but her dream of running at Siena College was shattered when she ruptured her Achilles tendon in the last months of high school, requiring major surgery and a long recovery period. When she finally could run at college it was not competitively. In her junior and senior years, her studies and internships in Washington, DC, became her major concerns. After graduating, she worked for the governor of New York, where she met her future husband. While working in politics, she decided that she really wanted to teach and attended graduate school for a master’s degree.
With a degree in hand, she was offered a great teaching position that also included a coaching job for girls’ cross country team. It was as if this job opportunity was predestined. The teaching job was rewarding and the coaching position led her on the path to running again. Renee learned of an elite masters runner in the town where she taught who would was competing in the 2003 New York City Marathon. She took her cross country team to see the race and it was here that she had an epiphany as the runners whizzed by that she could do this too. She contacted a coach from another school with whom she was friendly, and they decided to run the Philadelphia Marathon together.
Although they trained for their first marathon, it was not with the intensity she does now. They ran side by side and both qualified for the Boston Marathon. At Boston, they ran well enough to qualify for the next year, but that was not to be for Renee as she was pregnant with her first daughter, Sydney, in 2007, who was followed in 2009 by another daughter, Addison. Renee did not take up running again until January 2011 when she decided that it was time to test her mettle and become truly competitive. She determined to make the HMRRC’s Mohawk Hudson River Half Marathon her comeback race. Her resolve was so great that she registered on the first day, which unlike today, registration remained open for weeks. She trained for a time of 1:30.
As the workouts proceeded, Renee realized she could do even better. On race day, much to her surprise and that of others who did not know her since she moved recently to the area, she came in second place in a time of 1:23. She ran other races in 2012, but she again did the MHR Half Marathon in 2013, and came in second this time with a “slow run” of 1:24. In 2014, once again she came in second, but this time with her PR of 1:22. Interspersed with the HMRRC half marathons, she has distinguished herself in other events. In 2013, she did the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, DC, and came in fifth out of 20,000 runners! She also ran the 1812 Challenge Half Marathon in Watertown, and came in sixth place overall, and second for women. Surprisingly, her favorite distance races are 5K and 10K, and she has done well here. In the Freihofer’s Run for Women this year in June, she came in 28th out of 3,194 runners, and placed in the Top 5 of Masters 40-plus in 18:07.
Renee’s method of staying in shape and running as if she is decades younger is well thought out and fun. She now does things she didn’t do before. Once a week she does hot yoga, and feels it makes a significant difference, with her hamstrings and hip mobility in general. As a person gets older one of the first things to go is the stride length, which then changes your cadence, and she believes hot yoga combats this problem.
She used to do strength training with weights, but now uses the TRX resistance bands and stability balls, and for core work uses kettlebells of 15 pounds or less. Heavier weights gave her sciatic issues leaving her legs feeling dead. Her body was sending her strong messages that she heeded. She now faithfully treats herself to a sports massage each month at Back in Balance Therapeutic Massage in Clifton Park. The results have been phenomenal. No longer is she plagued by hamstrings issues.
Renee’s children and her teaching profession influence her training. She finds that if she wants to lead a “normal life” with her children, she must get up at 4am to train – this is her time. Later in the day after school, she will take her kids to Girl Scouts, soccer, dance and swimming. She does her long runs on the weekend for the sake of time. In total she runs 50 miles a week. Her husband, Mike, is very supportive but not a runner. He does TRX training and engages in mixed martial arts boxing regimens. Her children are active and have run in kids’ races. Sydney is on the swim team at the Southern Saratoga YMCA. When her daughter goes for evening practice three times a week, Renee swims in the open lanes. If her daughters take up cycling, a triathlon could be in Renee’s future.
In this mix is Renee’s other commitments. She is on the Grand Prix Committee for USA Track & Field Adirondack, which examines their GP races to find areas for improvement. She is glad that the USATF has opened the committee up to runners like herself to add their voices to the program. She also is a faculty advisor to her school’s student council. This responsibility requires Renee to be at many activities the council sponsors such as homecoming, dances and sports games, where teachers play against the students. When asked if the teachers used “extraordinary” means to beat the students, she smiled knowingly, saying that certain things were necessary to even the playing field.
Renee’s plans for the future include running prominent masters 5Ks. The USATF Masters 5K Cross Country Championships was awarded to the Saratoga Cross Country Classic to take place on October 18 at the Saratoga Spa State Park (saratogaxcclassic.com). She doesn’t like running on trails, but since this championship was dropped “in her backyard” she feels she should try it. She also has been toying with doing marathons since this is the one distance she has not run competitively. However, marathons present enormous challenges in training. If she does one, she feels she should shoot for under three hours.
Her advice to runners is that as you’re getting older there are obvious changes, yet there still is much that is good, and you can be a strong runner. Running is one of the only sports in which this is possible. Listen to your body and follow what it is telling you. She also thinks that treating yourself to things like hot yoga and massages are beneficial since “you need to invest in yourself.”
The year of 2015 has been pivotal in Renee’s career. She joined Team Kinetic out of Saratoga Springs this past spring. Turning 40 has opened up many doors. Her future is promising as she runs down a path that will lead her to many more successes and adventures. Make sure to check these pages to see if she runs marathons, does triathlons, or competes in 5Ks with her children. Renee is definitely a master of her ever-expanding universe.
Christine Bishop (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Schenectady is a retired media specialist who loves running, photography and bird watching.