Gwyn Woodson races at the Saskatoon Field House.

Two weekends, two races, two Sask. age group records

When Gwyneth Woodson lined up for her first indoor track meet — an 800m at the Saskatoon Field House last month — she was so “absolutely nervous” that she false started. But when the race finally got underway, everything clicked for the 71-year-old masters athlete.

“I was running as hard as I could, because I didn’t know what my capability was,” Woodson recalls. She completed four laps of the track in 3:31 — a new Saskatchewan W70 record for the distance by six seconds and one of the fastest times in the world for that age group in 2022.

“It was good. But I thought: ‘I can go faster,'” Woodson said — and she did, running 3:29 a week later at the Larmer Friendships Games in Regina.

Woodson, ever humble, describes running back-to-back Saskatchewan records as “pretty neat.”

Gwyneth Woodson competes at the Saskatoon Field House. Photo by Louis Christ.
Gwyneth Woodson competes at the Saskatoon Field House. Photo by Louis Christ.

Her success isn’t a complete surprise; while Woodson’s new to the world of indoor track, she’s been running in some capacity for more than four decades ever since picking up the sport in her early 30s when she was a mature student at the University of British Columbia.

“I really wanted to have a life that was interesting intellectually as well as physically and I met a bunch of people at UBC (who were runners) and started running the trails there,” she says.

At first, Woodson felt painfully self conscious whenever she laced up her running shoes. She’d never been active before — “I didn’t see that I could be an athlete or that I could be empowered or strong” — and sought out routes where no one would see her. But her friends eventually encouraged her to run a marathon, and then another.

“For me, it was so empowering. It opened my life,” Woodson says.

Though Woodson enjoyed training for 42.2km, she frequently struggled with injury and so turned her focus to shorter road races. In her 40s, she switched to triathlon after meeting women who were competing in the multi-sport event. Years later, she ran some 5,000- and 10,000-m events at outdoor track meets when her children trained with the Victoria Track and Field Club.

Woodson ran casually for much of her 60s, a period during which she retired and moved to Saskatoon from B.C. to be with her partner. The first couple years in Saskatoon were hard and lonely, but things turned around when she met a woman from the Saskatchewan Senior Fitness Association (SSFA) who invited her to the group and also connected her with the Top Notch Athletics masters track club.

Gwyneth Woodson (far right) with Top Notch team mates at the 2022 Larmer Friendships Games in Regina.
Gwyneth Woodson (far right) with Top Notch team mates at the 2022 Larmer Friendships Games in Regina.

“All the people in the club there were just so welcoming,” Woodson says. “It was a savings for me.”

Woodson signed up to compete in indoor track meets this winter because it seemed like something new and exciting. Plus, Top Notch Athletics founder Judy Warick continually encourages members to chase masters records.

Though Woodson had never raced anything as short as an 800m before, the distance seemed the least likely to make her dizzy on the small track — and it seems to have suited her.

As special as the records are, Woodson says the true joy has been being part of the indoor track atmosphere where she sometimes gets to race alongside women young enough to be her grandkids.

“They all shake your hands and wish you good luck before. And then after everybody stands around and shakes your hand, says congratulations. It’s really, really cool. It’s a real female connection,” she says. “No matter your age you just feel that respect related to all these women that are doing the same thing you’re doing.”

Since abandoning marathon running all those years ago, Woodson’s been relatively injury free and hopes to continue that streak by listening to her body and putting on the brakes when she needs to — advice we can all stand to heed.

“I love running so much; it would just be counterproductive to try to push through an injury and then have it last six months or eight months and then you’re not running at all,” she says. “I learned that the hard way.”

Woodson hasn’t thought much about goals for 2023, but is looking forward to a few more races on the track as well as lacing up at the Saskatchewan Marathon race weekend this spring. Eventually, she’d like to compete at a World Masters Athletics indoor and outdoor meet.