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27 Nov 2019

Sally Smashes World Record

Sally Smashes World Record

Author: Page Admin  /  Categories: News  / 
As one of New Zealand’s most prominent masters athletes, Sally Gibbs boasts a proud record of success. The Katikati-based athlete chats to Steve Landells about her recent world W55 10,000m record (to be ratified), which adds more sheen to her hugely impressive CV.
 
After making her first steps into competitive running only ten years ago, it is a little hard to comprehend what the now 56-year-old Sally Gibbs has achieved in her time in the sport.
 
Defying the sands of time, the masters athlete has claimed national senior women’s titles over 10,000m (three times), the half-marathon and marathon. She won the Oceania women’s marathon crown in Gold Coast in 2012 and two years later claimed victory in the 50th edition of the Rotorua at the age of 50. Sally has also represented her country at several World Masters Athletics Championships and World Mountain Running Championships. Yet the one thing previously missing from her astonishing record of achievement was a world record.
 
That was until the Agency Group 10,000m meeting at Wellington’s Newtown Park earlier this month - when the Tauranga Ramblers athlete scalped almost seven seconds from the world W55 record for the 25-lap distance. 
 
“I entered the event in September with the intention of trying for a record, though I honestly didn’t know whether I was back to that speed,” explains Sally. “A world age-group record has been one my major goals since I turned 55 almost 18 months ago, but I missed virtually the whole track season last summer due to injury (plantar fasciitis). There aren’t many 10,000m races around, so the Agency Group meet was a great opportunity I wanted to make the most of.” 
 
Paced with metronomic precision by New Zealand World Trail Running representative Tim Rabone to a target time of 36:40 (3.40 per kilometre), Sally went through the first third of the distance feeling “very comfortable.”
 
But as the race progressed the challenge became increasingly tough.
 
“Despite Tim staying exactly on the pace it took progressively more physical and mental effort to stay behind him – and he only pulled out near the finish,” she explains. “I remember our pace group gradually dissipating, and finding it harder to stay on pace – but as the finish got closer, so did the possibility of a record. So I had plenty of motivation. The trackside support was fantastic, even if I was too zoned out during the final laps for it to fully register.”
 
Sally crossed the line in 36:46.96 for the world record (subject to ratification) – to better Silke Schimdt’s four-year-old world record mark of 36:53.81.
 
Sally also bettered Bernie Portenski’s 13-year New Zealand W55 record of 37:22.37 – likewise set at Newton Park.
 
“It was so satisfying to go under the record time – in the first close-to evenly paced race I’ve run in my life,” she explains. “And it made amends from the same event last year, which I ran thinking my foot condition wasn’t serious – finishing with a PW [personal worst] and an injury aggravated so much that I didn’t race again for over seven months.”

The world record performance represented another landmark moment in her impressive career, which only began by chance 10 years ago.

The local newspaper she was working on at that time, sponsored a 10km race on Waihi Beach. Taking up the challenge to write about her experiences from a participant’s perspective, she ran the race and enjoyed the experience.

The mother-of-four grown up children – and now grandmother-of-three – made her marathon debut in Rotorua the following year, running a time of 3:31. Bitten by the running bug, she joined Tauranga Ramblers and so she began her serious athletics journey. 

Initially coached by former New Zealand cross country representative Barry Ellis, who gave her a great “foundation” in the sport, this year she has connected with octogenarian Auckland-based coach Barry Magee, the 1960 Olympic marathon bronze medalist and Arthur Lydiard disciple. Sally said she feels very fortunate to have been guided by the pair.
 
“Both men have a lot of wisdom, with their own experience to draw on,” she says. “They care about their athletes as people, not just runners. Plus they have the essential coaching qualities of patience and a good sense of humour.”
 
Sally logs most of her training kilometres solo, straight from the door around the roads and cycleways around Katikati, so she loves any opportunity to run with friends and Tauranga Ramblers clubmates. Dependent on the time of year, her training week might typically include a couple of long runs, a couple of tempo runs and some shorter distance reps or speedwork.
 
Despite her late introduction to the sport, Sally has inevitably slowed as the years have advanced. Her 10,000m PB of 34:45.21 dates back seven years with her most recent PB set in 2015 for 3000m of 9:54.31. So how has she managed to slow down the regression?
 
“I’ve slowed a lot; more than I imagined I would,” admits Sally. “Getting the best results possible takes commitment to doing the best training I can, for which I really depend on and have to trust my coach. I think I’m getting better at listening! In conjunction, I’m trying to focus more on recovery, including nutrition, massage, regular physio and strength exercises, and sleep. I definitely need more attention to body maintenance and recovery. In training, I find tempos in particular are more difficult (than in the past).”
 
In terms of her future ambitions, Sally would like to attempt “some more records,” with the historic Boston Marathon also on her future bucket list after injury forced her withdrawal this year.
 
Fortunate to have the support of husband, Brendan, she is delighted to have embraced the sport of athletics which she believes has aided her mental and physical wellbeing, introduced her to some amazing friends and clubmates and taken her around the world.
 
But does Sally – given her outstanding record since taking up the sport aged in her mid-forties – wished she had started the sport at a younger age?
 
“I’d do things differently but I don’t really think about ‘what ifs’ – rather the unexpected blessings I’ve had,” she explains. “I’ve had opportunities in running to do far more than I ever thought would be possible. I’m firmly on the plus side – which really helps when there are setbacks – and I’m very grateful.”

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