Mary Dunn Stands Tall Among Her Peers
By: Mike Gyulay for hitekracing.com
mgyulay@yahoo.com



If you’re a woman racing the Connecticut roads, chances are you’ve had a good look at Mary Dunn’s back. In fact, you probably had several opportunities to study it in 2001. Dunn made her presence felt from the 5k to the marathon as she turned 50 last year, leaving younger competitors shaking their heads. She rode the age-adjusted curve to the top in the process, earning a number one ranking in USA Track & Field/Connecticut’s age-graded Grand Prix standings. That means no runner - regardless of age or gender - performed as well in the series by that measurement.

Not surprisingly, Dunn also stands tall among her age-group peers: Running Times gave her an honorable mention for master of the year in the 45-49 category, while New England Runner named her the top Connecticut master and 2nd in the 45-49 group for the region.

The highlight of her season was a 3:00:31 clocking at the Greater Hartford Marathon in October, a PR and good for 5th place. "My time proved to me that I still have the capacity to improve, get faster, and race as well as I ever have," Dunn says.

She was no slouch at the shorter distances either, with 2001 bests of 18:22 for 5k and 30:28 for 5 miles testifying to her versatility. There have been faster master marathoners in the state, "but no one carries it through the year, at all distances, like Mary does," says training partner and race director Marty Schaivone.

Although she realizes age plays a role in athletic performance, Dunn refuses to be defined by it. "The fact that I continue to improve and still rank up in the top percentiles of men and women overall" is a big part of what drives her out the door in the morning, she says.

"She does not train to be the best in her age group, she trains to be the best…and though she may not always do so, she runs believing she can win overall," says Schaivone. "I think she absolutely will not give in to thinking that age will slow her down or change her performances from the past."

That confidence is apparent on race day and is an integral part of Dunn’s makeup, according to training partner George Dickerson. "I think that when Mary gets on the line, it’s a very positive experience for her," he says. "She looks at every race as an opportunity to do really well. I think a lot of people step on the line and look at it as an opportunity to fail. That’s what I think the difference is. She doesn’t freak out in intense situations. Mary is the runner that wants to take the foul shot with two seconds left."

"I toe the line with no excuses or complaints and I put the pedal to the metal," Dunn says.

Dunn’s work ethic is another key to her success, according to Dickerson. While others might find an excuse to pass on a run when things get hectic, "she never misses workouts," he says, even if she has to fit them in early or late in the day to accommodate her schedule. "She has a level of discipline that I’ve never seen three people have. Because of that she’s been incredibly consistent" with her performances, he adds.

In addition to some training staples - hill work, speed work, long runs - Dunn draws upon her extensive multisport background to bolster her regimen. She has plenty of experience in that department: she was the national duathlon amateur champion from 1993-1995, amongst other accomplishments. She is currently cycling about five hours a week and rowing three times a week. "I believe cross training keeps you physically healthier as well as mentally more astute and less likely to get bored or break down," she says.

Poised on the cusp of her 50’s, Dunn has plenty on her agenda for ’02 and beyond. "I am totally challenged by the marathon distance and am convinced I can still break the three-hour barrier," she says. She also wants to dip below 18 minutes in the 5k again (her PR is 17:24) and compete in more duathlons and triathlons if her schedule permits.

"I think anyone who continues to be successful athletically has to be mentally tough, strong in body, and confident in spirit," Dunn says. "Long-term future goals are to keep training and racing, strive to continue to get better, faster, and stronger, and stay healthy," she adds. "I figure if I keep running fast enough, maybe that middle age slump that so many people fall prey to won’t catch me."


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