Remember Zola Budd? She of the unfortunate collision with Mary Decker in the 1984 Olympic 3000 meter final? (History shows that Mary clipped Zola's heel before falling, but Zola got the boos and the bad press.) She's now Zola Budd Pieterse, lives in North Carolina, and is 42 years old.
Zola faded out of the running world a few years after the '84 Olympics, but I'm not here to write about her early running career. According to a Runner's World article, Zola reemerged in the running world in her new home, shortly after arriving in the U.S. in August of this year. She won a 5K in Florida in 17:43 in August, then won the Asheville, NC Half Marathon with a time of 1:25:12. She had begun training for and running marathons in the last few years, and finished one in South Africa last year in about 3:10.
She's now training to run in Sunday's New York Marathon, hoping to finish around 2:50, and perhaps faster next year.
Obviously Zola has her genetics, her innate skills, and her past (as well as present) training to help her achieve running times, even past the age of 40, that most of us could never dream of. In some ways she'll never be like you and me. But in other ways, she is just like me, or at least you. She's married, has three kids (a 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old twins). If you saw her in the grocery store, you would probably never guess that she's still an amazingly fast runner. In a race, she would probably look like any one of us—if this picture from the Blue Ridge Cross Country meet on October 17 is any indication*—until the starting gun went off and she took flight.
Zola, as an elite Masters athlete (and an all-around competitor in many ways), probably cannot hope to outdo her youthful performances. But for the rest of us, her non-elite peers who were never track stars in our youths, there is every opportunity and every possibility to set our own records, even as we pass 40 and even if we have a little roll around our middles (see Zola's picture, too!).
For me personally, all my PR's have been set this year (5K, 10K, 15K) except for the half marathon (which is still a delicate subject). But I still have an opportunity to do that this year, and if I don't, I'll do it next year. Even though I'll be a year older. Let's call it a year better.
*Runner's World picture.