Cindy Connolly can't wait to turn 40. Most folks aren't crazy about that particular birthday, but runners are a different breed some of them actually look forward to it.
That's because once you turn 40, you enter the "masters" division. For runners who have stayed fit and competitive throughout their 30s, it's kind of a fresh start, a chance to do battle in a new age group.
And Connolly, who will turn 40 on Sept. 20, is certainly in top shape. Consistently notching age-group wins in local races throughout her 20s and 30s, she recently found a new gear, setting a personal best of 18:47 for the 5K at the Chuy's Hot to Trot race in May.
Next, she intends to test her newly minted masters legs at the San Jose Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon on October 3.
"I've run that race two times before, and they have cool weather out there," said Connolly, a commercial litigation attorney. "And I like the course."
Connolly gives credit to her longtime coach, Carmen Ayala-Troncoso, for keeping her running up-to-speed and balanced.
"I've trained with Carmen for 15 years now," said Connolly, a mother of two. "She's such a great example for teaching how to compete for a lifetime. She doesn't let running rule her life, even though she takes it seriously and competes at a high level. And she's an inspiration for those of us progressing into masters years. She's 51 and still setting national age group records. It's great to know we can still compete and may even compete better."
Just two weeks away from her birthday, Connolly has some big plans for running in the masters division. Following the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon, she's looking to run a fast marathon, and with 30 marathons behind her, she believes she can top her best time, a 3:06 run in Houston 14 years ago.
She's targeting the California International Marathon in Sacramento on Dec. 5 — known for its fast course — and her training, which is up to 60 miles a week, is going well.
"I figure by December, I'll have five 20-plus runs in, and I'll go up to 24 for the last one," she said.
Connolly recently ran a 5:18 mile, and if you plug that time into the online race performance predictor calculator at runtex.com/tools.asp, it predicts a sub-three hour marathon. So if the weather is right in California in early December, she could set a personal best for the distance.
"Cindy is an extremely hard worker," said Catherine Barrera, 43, a training partner and fellow competitor. "And she's great at balancing her life between kids work and running. Carmen gives us great workout plans, and if you follow them, they work.
"And she does the speed-work needed to run a fast marathon. I have no doubt she'll run her best marathon as a master. There's no question in my mind."
Note: Team Texas Running Company — consisting of Keith Pierce, Derek Yorek, Curtis Bixler and Scott Kimbell — won the Zilker Relays on Friday. Each team member ran 2.5 miles around Zilker Park, completing the 10-mile relay race in 47:12. Coming in second in 52:40 was the Gazelle Foundation — Zerihun Ayele, Kelly Simmons, Michael Madison and Ashish Patel.
Jennifer Harney, Chris Kimbrough, Niccole Crank and Jill O'Neal of Team Lucky 13 were the first women's team in 56:49.18, followed by Cindy Connolly, Shannon Presley, Laura Mitchell and Amy Baker of Team Speedsters, who took second in 58:46.60.
CASA 5K, 8 a.m. at Johnson Park, Marble Falls. See www.casa5k.org/kingsland for more information.
Gruene 10K, 8 a.m. at Gruene Hall, New Braunfels. See www.athleteguild.com .
Run With The Heroes 5K, 8 a.m. at Southpark Meadows Shopping Center. See www.runtex.com .