Three times in less than a year, Comox Valley runner Keith Wakelin broke a long-standing B.C. age group record in the three-kilometre steeplechase.
Wakelin had never run the event before competing in the Americas Masters Games in Vancouver in August, 2016.
“I’ve always been intrigued with the steeplechase, but had never run one before the Games, mainly because it’s a unique event and the opportunities to run them are limited,” he said.
The 3k steeplechase is just over seven laps of the track with five 36-inch barriers positioned evenly around the track, including a water jump each lap. In total, there are 35 barriers to clear. The water jump contains a pit filled with water right after the barrier, which is tapered down to a 24-inch depth.
“I practised with my own homemade barrier for weeks before the Games, but never got a chance to practise the water jump, so in my first race, the first water jump was quite intimidating, but I got over it, got wet and carried on,” Wakelin said. “That first race was a lot of fun and extremely challenging. I was hooked!”
He ran 13:19, breaking the B.C. 55-59 age group record by 35 seconds.
Wakelin’s second attempt at the event was in Nelson, New Zealand in March at the New Zealand Masters Championships.
“The main focus was the World Masters Games in Auckland in April, so I entered the NZ Champs as a warm-up,” said Wakelin, who hails from New Zealand. “It was a pretty good race and I ended up with the gold medal and breaking my own B.C. record by 13 seconds.”
In Auckland, Wakelin needed a faster time to place in the top three. Training had gone well and he was confident of a good race.
“The World’s was competitive and I started in the back of the pack,” he said. “After three laps I could tell I was having a great race. I was clearing the barriers well and I began passing runners who had started too fast. On the final lap, I knew I was going to have a fast time, so I ran as hard as I could. I had eight family members cheering at the finish line. It was exhilarating.”
Wakelin finished fourth but again broke his record, this time by 39 seconds, running 12:27.
During six months in New Zealand, he competed in three other events in his hometown of Rotorua, a famous geothermal area. The first, in November, was the Tarawera 50k Trail Ultramarathon, which features a start line next to a geyser and a finish line at natural hot pools on Lake Tarawera. Wakelin finished third in the 50-59 age group in 5:39:36.
February was the Tarawera 63k Trail Ultramarathon, which is part of the Ultra Trail World Tour. In his first attempt at this distance, Wakelin finished 27th overall, winning the 50-59 group in 7:08:30.
Then in April came the Xterra Trail Half Marathon, where Wakelin finished 13th overall. He was the fifth person over 40 in 1:36:23.
All three events took place on trails where he trained as a boy.
Next year, when Wakelin turns 60, he will attempt to break the Canadian age group record in the 2k steeplechase and the 50-mile event.
“Running has been good to me and I feel blessed to be able to continue competing at a high level for my age,” he said.