The subject of failure typically isn’t a good one, and certainly not when Scenic Middle School teacher Suzanne Ray is involved.
Ray currently teaches seventh grade language arts and leadership at the school, but it wasn’t the failure of any of her students that put her on her heels, it was her own.
Already a record-holder in the age 55-59 division for USA Track and Field American Masters 30-kilometer road races at 2 hours, 11 minutes and 58 seconds, Ray set about seizing the age 65-69 record following a five-year hiatus last January.
That didn’t go so well.
Unseasonably warm temperatures in the 70s made for challenging circumstances in California, and a head cold that came upon Ray just days before the race didn’t make it any easier to try and run down the record of 2:27:54 seconds set by Barbara Miller in 2004.
“With the combination of the heat and my head cold, I failed miserably,” said Ray in no-nonsense fashion Wednesday. “It was awful.”
Fortunately, as Ray undoubtedly preaches to her own students, she did not give up on her pursuit and, this past Saturday, the 66-year-old runner scored her second age-group national record.
With the help of cooperative and encouraging race directors and fellow racers, as well as more ideal conditions for the Alaskan-born standout, Ray cruised through the course at the Oregon Road Runners Club 30K in St. Paul last Saturday in a time of 2:22.48 — breaking Miller’s record mark by five minutes. She finished 12th overall in the race.
“It was a wonderful experience, I have to say, and to do it in Oregon instead of heading off to California or somewhere else was special,” said Ray of the Champoeg State Park event. “It’s hard to find certified 30K events and when I started looking after trying last year I was thrilled to find one in Oregon.”
Ray said race directors went above and beyond in her record pursuit, from contacting the USATF to make sure the event was sanctioned and everything was in place for her to make a run at the record.
“The only problem with that,” said Ray with a laugh, “is that when I show up, everybody knows I’m trying to do this and if I fail it’s not like I can slink off quietly.”
Leading up to the race, Ray said she had “100 percent doubt” that she could pull it off, mostly due to “the specter of how miserable that failure was a year ago.”
“On paper I was confident, emotionally I was not,” said Ray, who turns 67 in May. “But it was a beautiful day.”
Needing a pace under 7:50 in order to challenge Miller’s record, Ray ran at a 7:40 clip and was spurred along by peers who learned of her pursuit during the race and offered to run with her to keep that timeframe so she could just concentrate on the running part.
At the finish line she was all smiles.
“It means extra when you had to work for it a little longer and harder than you thought you would for it,” she said.
Next on Ray’s radar is the marathon record for the age 65-69 division, and she may give it a go in January 2020 in Sacramento, California. A marathon is 26.2 miles, while a 30K is 18.6.
“Right after I set the record, I was considering trying the marathon record,” she said. “It’s pretty tight but one of those things that on paper it’s an eight-minute pace and I ran the 30K at 7:40 so, come on, I can do eight more miles and slow down 20 seconds.”