Longtime championship-winning runner Christine Kennedy added three more gold medals to her impressive collection while competing at the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMA) in Sacramento earlier this month.
The Los Gatos athlete says she is proudest of her WMA 5K win in the 55-59 age division, because she beat longtime champion, Kathryn Martin, the favored runner in the July 6-17 event.
Her winning time was 19:36.56 against Martin's second-place time of 19:58.74. That's remarkable, because Kennedy hadn't competed in a 5K event ever since She has won numerous distance events in the U.S. and Europe, and last April, Kennedy in her age division.
The 5K event, Kennedy explains, is a fast, competitive race, only 12½ laps around a 400-meter track totaling 3.1 miles. So how did Kennedy accomplish such a win?
"It was tactical," Kennedy says. "When Kathryn went to the front of the pack, I decided to stay back for eight laps, since I wasn't sure how she would respond."
Kennedy then made her move.
"It was about believing in myself and saying, 'I am as good as she is,'" Kennedy says.
Once she passed Martin, Kennedy remained in the lead—in the 93-degree heat—all the way to the end of the race.
Nine days later, Kennedy won the gold medal in her age division at WMA's marathon with an impressive time of 3:00:48; nearly 19 minutes ahead of the silver medalist. She clocked the third best time in the marathon overall. Kennedy also earned a third gold medal at WMA since the USA team ranked first overall.
For Masters competitions, all entrants have to be at least 40 years old. Kennedy is 56 and has had to overcome her share of physical challenges.
About seven years ago, the petite, blond powerhouse was suffering from severe back pain that doctors and sports medicine specialists diagnosed as disk degeneration and herniation.
She stopped competing and used biking to stay in shape, but some experts advised her to end her running career. By chance, she met Harry H. Ho, a chiropractic sports physician and rehabilitation specialist, who specializes in treatments such as Active Release Therapy (A.R.T.) for overused, injured soft tissues, such as muscles.
Kennedy, skeptical at first, decided to commit herself to the therapies so she might have a chance at competing again. Ho also included sports psychology as a treatment to help her overcome a strong fear that intense pain might strike her again if she ran.
"I went from zero to race-competitive with his help," Kennedy says.
About a year later, she won the 2005 Big Sur International Marathon and has been nearly unstoppable ever since. Today, Kennedy pays closer attention to signals from her body and continues therapy with Ho.
"She has become proactive in her spinal 'pre-habilitation' rather than spinal rehabilitation," Ho says.
While events such as the WMA and marathons rank participants by age divisions, other championships have "age-graded" events, where men and women of all ages compete against each another. Winners are ranked through a formula that assigns points based on a runner's finishing time and age.
In June, at the age-graded 10K event in Michigan's Dexter-Ann Arbor Run, Kennedy came in second.
"A Kenyan man [Mbarak Hussein, age 46] won the race," says Kennedy, who stands just at 5-foot and a half. "Afterward, he came up to me and told me, 'I was really worried about you, because if anyone was going to beat me in an age-graded race, it would be you."
Kennedy's next championship will be on Sept. 5, at the age-graded USA Track and Field (USATF) National Masters 15K Championship in Buffalo, NY, where she will again face Martin.