BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Any injury can make an athlete question his or her ability to come back, to reach full strength again.
For a masters runner, that question looms larger. That’s what Renee Tolan faced earlier this year, back in the spring when an injury to her left Achilles tendon cost her six weeks of training.
“At 42, you do begin to question if you can get back,” said Tolan, a Clifton Park resident who teaches social studies at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School. “I know I’m not ready to leave the scene yet, but you’re not sure if you can make it back. After six weeks of downtime, it takes a lot to come back from that.”
Tolan, it turned out, had it in her.
Like, in a big way.
In her second major competition since coming back from an injury that had her in a walking boot for four weeks just months ago, Tolan won this past Friday’s USATF National One Mile Masters Championship race in Flint, Mich. with a time of 5:25. Tolan, competing for the Albany Running Exchange Racing Team, outpaced the race’s second-place finisher by five seconds to win both the overall and the 40-44 age division titles.
“It was a very tactical race. Nobody wanted to take the lead at first,” said Tolan, a Galway native and Siena College alumna. “We all knew the first half of the course was tougher than the back half, so we were all waiting to see what the others would do.”
Tolan had run faster times in previous mile races, but was content to stay with the pack for most of the race.
“I went out there wanting to win, knowing that winning was a good possibility. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but that it was possible,” Tolan said. “I knew if I was in the mix, that I could kick.”
For the last quarter of the race, Tolan separated from her competitors to pick up the win, similar to how she did in this past July’s GNC Live Well Liberty Mile in Pittsburgh. That race was Tolan’s primary tuneup competition prior to this past Friday’s run, and Tolan won in Pittsburgh with a 5:21 mark that had her 14 seconds clear of the second-place finisher.
Tolan’s win in Michigan would have been satisfying regardless of what she had to overcome to get there. She credited her coach John Kenworthy — a Gloversville native who coaches cross country and track at Siena — for making it possible for her to go from a spring without racing to a summer with a national championship win.
“He developed the training plan to get me to Flint, to get me there healthy,” Tolan said.
Tolan’s next major race comes Sept. 10 when she’ll be a part of an international field for the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile in New York City. The day before that race, though, is a special one for Tolan, as she will participate — lightly — in the Malta Business and Professional Association’s eighth annual 5K road race along with her husband Mike, and daughters Sydney and Addison.
“Everyone is going to be in that one,” Tolan said. “The whole family.”