The champ

This training pays off. Diane Leonard, 77, had the fastest time in the woman’s 75-79 age bracket

A Kelowna woman came first in her age category in last weekend’s New York City Marathon.

Diane Leonard, 77, had the fastest time in the woman’s 75-79 age bracket. She completed the race in 4:46:09, more than 20 minutes quicker than the second-place finisher, and five hours faster than the slowest competitor in the age group.

Leonard has competed in 28 marathons and she says last weekend’s, which drew more than 50,000 entrants, was one of her most challenging. Temperatures hit 24 C Sunday in New York, making for the hottest marathon since the race was moved from October to November in 1985.

Great weather for tourists. Not so great for long-distance runners.

The overall front-runner collapsed at the 21 mile mark, hundreds of runners were treated for dehydration and other heat-related injuries, and more than 3,000 runners did not finish.

“It was a tough one, really toasty,” Leonard said Tuesday in an interview. “I sure saw a lot of runners who were pulling off to the side or going to a medical tent. A lot of runners I talked to said it was just too hot for them to keep running.”

Leonard’s pace-per-mile was 10 minutes, 55 seconds. She ran the first five kilometres in just over 30 minutes, and her pace had only slowed to just over 40 minutes/5K toward the end of the 42 km race.

It was the first time competing in the New York Marathon for the retired nurse, who took up long-distance running in her mid-40s. Over the decades, she has placed first in her age category several times, including twice at the fabled Boston Marathon.

“I’m pretty lucky that I’m still able to run in marathons at my age,” she said. “I really don’t have any joint problems, so I just feel blessed to still be out there. I’ll run as long as I can.”

As an older runner, Leonard doesn’t have to look very far for inspiration. One of her Kelowna friends, 83-year-old Liz Borrett has run marathons in Chicago, New York, Berlin, Boston, and London, and has plans to run a marathon in Tokyo next year.

“Liz absolutely is an inspiration for me – not that she’s that much older than me!” Leonard said.

Leonard’s next marathon won’t likely be until the spring, in Wenatchee, Wash. But she’s not leaving her running shoes on a shelf for the winter.

Leonard runs several times a week, of distances between 15 and 30 km, to stay in shape. Now en route back to Kelowna, she’s already checked the weather forecast and knows what’s in store for the next few days.

“Minus eight, that’s okay, I don’t mind that for running,” she said, adding with a laugh: “I’m looking forward to some cooler weather.

“For me, the perfect running weather is 10 C,” she said. “Not 25 C, that’s for sure.”