Winning gold at the British Masters Athletics Championships 2006
Most of us can only dream of becoming a world-class athlete. For regular forumite Ceal (aka Cecilia Morrison) though, life as one of the global elite is a day-to-day reality.
Her performance at last year’s British Masters Athletics Championships was outstanding. She took gold in the 5,000m (23:06:26) and silver in the 1500m (6:23:40) track events – placing her fifth and ninth in the world (respectively) for her age group. Meanwhile, a string of enviable road race times have earnt her the title of premier LV65 (Ladies Veteran 65+) over 10K, 5K and half-marathon in the UK.
Three months from now she will be toeing the line in Italy for the World Masters Track and Field Championships, where she will battle it out for the 5,000m and 10,000m international titles.
A natural success
One of the most remarkable aspects of Ceal’s achievement is undoubtedly the speed with which she’s risen to the top. Indeed, other than training for a half-marathon with a younger friend in 1985, she’s only been running regularly from the age of 61. A life-threatening skiing accident left her with a recurrent knee and shoulder problem that hampered her tennis form, and forced her onto a treadmill as part of her rehabilitation.
Before long, she’d signed up for a revisit to the racing arena – a five-miler in rural Northamptonshire – the memories of which are as vivid as ever. "I hadn’t run the distance. In fact I’d only run outside a couple of times," she admits. "The marshals kept telling me I was nearly there – what a lie! I thought I was going to die."
Leading the pack on the track
On reflection, Ceal – who will be celebrating her 67th birthday this month – admits she probably won her age group in that race, but more importantly it instilled within her a love for competitive running. Close friends and family may well have foreseen such an outcome. Beneath her soft-spoken, poised exterior lies an incredibly self-driven, fiercely determined character, who thrives on working towards performance-oriented goals.
"I’ve been through phases when I haven’t achieved," she says, "and it isn’t always about winning, it has to be about my own accomplishment. It will be interesting to see what happens when I stop getting PBs because at the moment I still am. I have a feeling I’ll quite happily carry on running, but entering a competition and not doing well is a different story."
Others might well shy away from the high demands Ceal places upon herself, but it is clear she possesses an acute awareness of her own physical capabilities which, together with a steadfast strength of resolve, enable her to continue achieving. "Sometimes in a race I do catch myself wondering why I’m doing it, but it would never make me slow down and not bother," she says. "You just have to keep going. The only way to look at a negative experience in a race is to think you’ve run faster than you would have if you’d been running on your own. That’s going to have some training benefit for the next time you race."
Ceal's Top Training Tips|
"Running isn’t a short-term thing. If you’re just starting out, you probably won’t get fast very quickly. Think of it as a long-term activity and to begin with, focus on running more, rather than running faster. Run-walk schedules can be a good way of getting started."
"Consistency is the most important factor, no matter what you’re training for. Whether you only do fast sessions or only do slow sessions or anywhere in between, if you don’t go out on a regular basis, week-in week-out, then you’re not going to do well. So be committed to your running – don’t stay in because it’s raining."
Exercise your core
"Strengthening your core muscles helps avoid injury. When I get back from a run, I’ll do either upper or lower body exercises, alternating from one day to the next. They don’t take long, but have real benefits."
"I think that when you get older, stretching becomes more important. Running makes your body stronger, so you need to stretch just to keep the flexibility you already have. I don’t have a naturally flexible body like some people so I have to work really hard at it."
Tune into your body
"Listen to what your body tells you. If it’s aching, or your muscles hurt, then rest or do something about it. But don’t confuse feeling mentally tired with physical exhaustion – it’s easy to use lethargy as an excuse not to run."
Strength in numbers
Joining the RW forum shortly after her first race only added to Ceal’s enthusiasm for running.
"I have to say the RW forum has been my inspiration (other than doing well at competitions)", she says. "Everybody understands me here, whether I do well or badly, quite unlike my non-running friends, many of whom just haven’t a clue! The only race as far as they’re concerned is the Flora London Marathon."
"Some of the threads are pretty zany but there is a lot of very good, consistent training advice from dedicated runners too. Ask them a question and you might be given three different answers to choose from."
A regular poster for more than five years now, Ceal is known among forum friends for her kind and encouraging words. "I think it can help to know that you needn’t be limited by your age, and that you can always achieve. There are so many benefits to running – your hair gets shinier, and you soon begin to feel better about yourself. And no matter what other people might say, or what you think you might look like, you’re doing something that most people in their 20s aren’t doing. Even at my age I get hooted at by young men in cars and vans and that’s a big boost for my ego!"
The high esteem in which they hold her is evident in the numerous messages posted on her very own congratulatory thread, started shortly after Ceal scored a remarkable age-related grading of 92 per cent. "I do hope I can be an inspiration to help people along the same journey to goals that are achievable," she says in response to the thread, "but you do have to do the right training too."
And make no mistake, Ceal trains hard. Has she had to make sacrifices? "Yes I think so. My social life certainly. But is it a sacrifice? I’ve gained other friends from the forums, very valuable friends whom I wouldn’t have had otherwise. In fact, I think I’ve gained much more than I’ve sacrificed – I’ve more independence now, I feel like I have a purpose and I’m probably fitter than I’ve ever been."
Now fully recovered from her debut Flora London Marathon – where she was second to cross the finish in the LV65 category – representing Great Britain at the World Masters in Italy is currently the main focus of Ceal’s training. But before heading to Riccione, she may first choose to defend her current rankings in the British Masters Track and Field Championships in Birmingham this July.
"All the time there are ladies coming up to my age group," she says. "Sue Lambert [a Serpentine runner and the 2007 FLM LV65 winner] has recorded times that are very close to mine, and there is a lady who came up last year who is faster than me. It’s definitely not all cut-and-dry."
All smiles: Ceal and her BMAF gold medal
Ceal may have her work cut out, but overall the number of female vet runners is actually considerably smaller than that of their male counterparts. "Often the last recognised female age-group in a race will be LV55 [when the last male age-group is MV60 or even MV65]. Maybe it depends on the club organising the race and how many older runners they have, but you’re not given any incentive to go on to 70 and you should be, even if you are the only one."
"At one particular race too, it was announced that I’d won my age-group prize, and in the same breath that I was the only runner. I took great exception to that," she says. "My time was actually the second fastest in the UK for my age group that year. I knew it was a good time, but if someone else had been told they were the only runner so that’s why they won a prize – well, it’s humiliating."
For Ceal though, hanging up her racing shoes is still a distant prospect. In fact, she’s already lined up her next target after the World Masters – competing as an LV55 for her club (City of Portsmouth Athletics Club) in the National Road Race Relays next May.
"I will have to rethink my goals soon," she admits, "but I think even just running to stay fit is a good way of life. Plus if I was to stop (heaven forbid) then I’d lose all my forum friends. That wouldn’t be good!"
What are age-related gradings?|
Age-related gradings are a means of comparing runners’ performances without age or sex bias. They are calculated by comparing an individual’s finish time at a particular race distance to an ‘ideal’ or best time achievable for that individual’s age and gender.
For example, if a 55-year old male were to finish a marathon in 3:02, his age-related grading would be about 80%, since the ‘ideal’ marathon finish time for someone of that age and gender is roughly 20% faster (2:26:22). A 27-year old completing the same distance in 2:47 however would score an age-related grading of just 75%, since the ‘best’ time for someone in his demographic is 2:04:55.
How do your race times compare?
Calculate your age-related grading for different distances, or see how your race times today stack up against those you ran five years ago (and those of your friends) with this interactive calculator.