Colleen de Reuck, a four-time Olympic runner and 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon champion, has made quite a transition to triathlon. But she’s still a runner at heart.
The 51-year-old native of South Africa and longtime U.S. resident and American citizen won her age-group division at the 2015 Ironman World Championship on Oct. 10, her first time competing in the triathlon’s most famous race in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. She finished in 10:30:41, landing her in 642nd place out of 2,367 competitors and 47th among 662 women in the field. More notably, she was the top female finisher in the 50-54 age group.
Although it was her second full Ironman (she raced Ironman Arizona in 2014), she said she was a bit freaked out by the open-water ocean swim—especially swimming in water that was as deep as 60 feet in places—even though she turned in a strong swim split, and had a tough time battling the wind during the bike section. Naturally, she ran a strong marathon split to finish the race.
“Winning (my age group) was a bonus,” she said. “My goal was to be top five in my age group. I’m not so good on the bike. It takes a few years to get good on the bike. It was so windy. Even on the downhill, I was in my small chain and I was holding on to my handlebars as tight as I could.”
Now that she’s successfully completed Ironman, De Reuck, a Boulder, Colo., resident for more than 20 years, is switching up her training back to her running roots to train for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles. She earned a qualifying spot by winning the 2013 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in 2:39:22.
While De Reuck had an amazing running career before she turned 40—including marathon victories in Honolulu and Berlin, two world records on the road, a bronze medal at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships and three Olympic berths for her native South Africa and another for the U.S. in 2004. But she turned in some of her best results as a masters runner after turning 40. She set 10 American masters road race records in the 40–44 and 45–49 age groups, times ranging from a 15:48 5K at age 40 to a 1:16:19 half marathon and 2:30:51 marathon when she was 46.
Ironically, the day after the Ironman World Championships, 42-year-old Deena Kastor—a teammate of hers on the 2004 Olympic team—ran a 2:27:47 at the Chicago Marathon to break De Reuck’s U.S. 40-and-older masters marathon record of 2:28:40 that De Reuck set on the same course in 2005.
While Kastor could be a contender at the 2016 Trials race if she chooses to enter, De Reuck just wants to race it before getting back to more triathlons.
“For now, I’m still recovering,” she said recently after a hard workout in Boulder. “I won’t be running as fast at the Trials as I have in the past, but I’m looking forward to racing it. I’ll keep biking and swimming a bit, but only a little during the winter because I’m definitely a fair-weather cyclist. But then after the Trials marathon, I’ll get back into triathlon training.”
De Reuck, who first turned to triathlon in 2012, won an Ironman 70.3 age-group world title in 2013 in Las Vegas, running a 1:23 half-marathon section after the 1.2-mile swim and 56-mile bike efforts. In Hawaii, she swam 2.4 miles in 1:09:33, biked 112 miles in 5:53:14 and ran the 26.2-mile marathon portion in 3:19:09—a pace of 7:37 per mile. Her run split was the 18th fastest among all women in the race, fourth fastest among age-group women competitors and fastest in her age group by 18 minutes.
“It was the hottest marathon I’ve ever run and one of the toughest races I’ve ever done,” de Reuck said. “The heat and humidity were really tough. Every other marathon I’ve run has been in the morning, so it never gets that hot. The only exception was the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens, which was in the evening. But that was nothing compared to this.”
“In Kona, you’re trashed by the time you start the run. Seven miles into the run, I didn’t know how I was going to finish. My hamstring had been cramping on the bike. At seven miles, I was digging deep just trying to finish the marathon.”
Although her best Olympic finish came in 1992 (when she placed 9th in the marathon for her native South Africa), De Reuck also competed in the 1996 (13th in the 10,000-meter run) and 2000 Olympics (31st in the marathon) before gaining U.S. citizenship in 2002. She continued to run strong into her 30s and 40s, earning the bronze medal at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships in Dublin, Ireland, in her first big race as an American citizen. She won the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in St. Louis in 2:28:25 at age 39 and went on to place 39th in the Athens Olympics later that year.
De Reuck starting getting into triathlon three years ago, not long after missing the chance to run in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon because of an injury. She found a good training buddy in fellow Boulder athlete Joanna Zeiger, who was just ending a long triathlon career and was interested in trying her hand at competitive masters running.
They began training together, mostly running workouts and long runs. She also trains with her husband and coach, Darren De Reuck. (He also competed in the Ironman World Championship, finishing in 11:10:50 with splits of 1:15:38 for the swim, 5:24:15 for the bike and 4:21:36 for the run.)
“I don’t know that I got her into it, but we kind of transitioned into new sports together,” said Zeiger, 45, a 2000 U.S. Olympic triathlete and 2008 Ironman 70.3 world champion. “Right when I was getting out of triathlon, she was starting to get into it, so we ran a lot together. I always tell people, ‘Nobody knows Colleen’s ponytail better than I do.'”
Zeiger figures de Reuck will only continue to improve and excel in triathlon for years to come.
“She’s amazing. I’m not surprised because she’s just so talented and I trained with her enough to know that she was really fit going into Kona. Colleen is a smart athlete and knows that to do well she has to learn from people who have been there. I gave her as much advice as she was willing to take from me and she was receptive.”