60-year-old Elizabeth Waywell’s 3:07:56 marathon, age graded, would be the overall Canadian women’s marathon record (by a lot)

When Elizabeth Waywell ran her first marathon in the late 1990s she now admits she didn’t really know what she was doing. “I did very little training or running,” she says. “Now that I know a bit more about running and about marathons, I am surprised I finished.”

It was a few years before she ran a second one.

Twenty-four marathons later (and one ultramarathon), the 60-year-old from the running hotbed of Guelph, Ont. Set a Canadian 60-64 age group record with an astonishing 3:07:56. That time also makes her one of the fastest 60+ women globally, ever. And when put through an age-grading calculator (which figures out what a performance would have been at an optimal age for the fastest time), Waywell’s time equals a 2:24:38, which crushes the current Canadian women’s marathon record of 2:28:00 (set by Lanni Marchant at the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon).

But Waywell didn’t discover her speed until her 40s. “I ran a bit in my 30s,” she says, “but aside from running a few races for which I was not prepared, I was really just exercising my dog.”.

In 2004, Waywell started keeping track of her running in a more conscious manner, documenting her training in a log with daily entries. At the time, she worked as an attorney, and was only able to peak at 60 kilometres a week in her build for a marathon. “I stopped practicing about 10 years ago, but my mileage was still only about 75 kilometres a week, until I got a coach,” she says.Now, her usual mileage floats around 110-120 kilometre weeks. She’s also focusing more on marathons as a central part of her life. “It is only recently that I realized I need to pick my races, then schedule my life around them,” she says, recognizing that it’s still not always easy, as running isn’t always the only thing going on in her life. “When people tell me I must be very self-disciplined to run so regularly, my response is that it doesn’t require much to do something you enjoy,” Waywell points out. “One needs self-discipline to do the tasks one doesn’t enjoy.”

DistanceTimeYear (Age)RaceAge-graded TimeAge-Graded Score (%)
6K23:432016Sunset Shuffle, Toronto19:1692:69
8K33:342018Robbie Burns 8K, Burlington, Ont.26:2291.16
10K41:242013Jamesport, NY34:2888
Ultra (90.18K)8:12:362018Comrades, South Africa6:19:0690.83

But her times didn’t improve much until she got a coach in mid-2012. Now she trains with the Guelph Victors and John Marsden. When she turned 60 this year, Waywell began to focus on the Canadian W60 marathon record, set 20 years ago by Diane Palmason at 3:16:26. She selected the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon because it is record-eligible, close to home, and has a deep, competitive field. “It has enough people that I never have to feel like I am out on my solo long run,” she says.

She started her first year as a 60-64 age group runner by setting the national W60 8K record in January, then the half-marathon in February. She capped off a strong spring by winning her age group at the Boston Marathon in April, but battled some of the worst weather the race has ever experienced. Waywell still ran 3:20:18, less than four minutes off the time she would be targeting in Toronto in the fall.

To celebrate entering into a new age category, Waywell also decided to try her first ultramarathon, heading to South Africa for the Comrades Marathon in June, a notoriously hilly 90K road race. “My goal was simply to finish,” she says. She also managed to win her age group by over an hour.

Training for Comrades also functioned as a way to motivate Waywell to put in more mileage than she normally would have leading into a typical 42.2K marathon. “I ran about 110-120 kilometres most weeks,” she says, but in early May, she ran 160 kilometres in one week. “That was my highest mileage week ever.”

Waywell admits that she does pay attention to records now (she also holds the W55 national 30K record) and is motivated by them, but doesn’t take for granted how hard some will be to achieve, especially the marathon. “I know from trying to better the Canadian marathon record for my previous age group that being trained and ready to race doesn’t mean I can make it happen that day,” she says. “I still believe I can run faster and that is what motivates me. It helps to see that other masters runners in my age group and above are still running fast.”

When asked about what her enduring memory will be of her record-breaking run in Toronto, she says it’s not so much that achievement that will resonate, but instead: “crossing the finish line, knowing that I had run a new personal best.” And when asked what advice she would like to pass along to anyone thinking about running STWM in 2019, her mantra is simple: “Go for it.”