© Copyright – 2019 – Athletics Illustrated

Keith Wakelin representing his Comox Valley Road Runners club while winning his 60-64 age-group at the 2019 Comox Valley Half Marathon in 1:29:06. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Keith Wakelin of Courtenay, BC took the national 60-64 age-group record in the 50-mile (80.46K) distance ultramarathon in May of this year. He ran it at the national championships that took place on the outskirts of Victoria, BC.

Wakelin finished the eight-lap course at Elk-Beaver Lakes in rural Saanich in the time of 7:43.57. Although he was aiming for a much faster time, he improved the record by 22 minutes.

Originally from Rotorua, New Zealand, the former business owner moved to Canada with his family in 1974. The Lydiard Foundation Level II Coach went back in 1986 for four years and returned in 1990.

Tongue firmly in cheek he said, “I plan to work less and become a professional runner, granted without pay.”

Personal bests: 

400m – 55.6
800m – 2:07
2000m steeplechase – 8:08, (age 60)
3000m steeplechase – 12:25, (age 58)
5K – 16:25
10K – 33:44
21.1K – 1:14:22
Marathon – 2:37:21
50K – 3:28
50-mile – 6:51

Christopher Kelsall: let’s talk about that national championship ultramarathon from May of this year. What led to that great performance?

Keith Wakelin: Literally decades of training both mentally and physically. I’ve been trying to break Canadian age-group records for 50 miles for awhile now and knew that my best chance was when I turned 60. The record times seem to slow dramatically from 50’s to 60’s and beyond, but I still seem to be able to maintain a decent level of fitness after all these years.

CK: Not only did you win your age-group national championship title, but you set a new national record with your 7:43:57. What time were you aiming for before the race started?

KW: I always set myself a very ambitious time goal for ultras. While I may not achieve them, I try as hard as I can to get as close as possible. My goal was to break 7 hours.

CK: The time of 7:43.57 is strong, but if your goal was sub-7:00, are you disappointed to have missed it by nearly three-quarters of an hour?

KW: The disappointment was fleeting because I still broke the record by 22 minutes, which is significant, so I can’t be disappointed really. Though I believe I can go faster.

CK: So will we see you on the start line in 2020?

KW: Actually no. I don’t like running 50 miles so my next one will be five years from now when I break the Canadian record for 65-69. It will be my goal to beat my time from this year.

CK: How about gnarly courses, like the Knee Knackers or Finlayson Arm Ultras?

KW: Funny you mentioning the Knee Knacker. I have run it 26 times and won it in 2001. I love the course and it’s organized extremely well. Basically, I want to break the course record next year for 60-plus, so I do not want to run another ultra in May and not have enough time to recover and build up again for KK in July.

CK: At Elk-Beaver, your first 10K lap was 50:10 and you seemed to hold that for nearly four laps. You slowed progressively, but the wheels never seemed to fall off completely. Do you think that if you ran 55 in your first lap and held that pace to half-way you may have run close to seven hours?

KW: I don’t believe so. There comes a point after 50k where the body has had enough regardless of the pace. In my experience in 50 miles, I need to treat it like a 50k race and then a 30k cooldown.

CK: Did you end up talking out loud to any of the trees or park benches during the final two laps? Apparently that is a thing in the ultras at Elk-Beaver Lakes.

KW: Not really. There is one rock on the trail around the 2k mark, where each time I ran over it, I would say to myself, “I’m feeling great on this lap”. I remember years ago on the same course, I was running the 50 miler and someone had placed a hat on a tree branch. The first few laps were fun seeing it there, then it just got annoying and I wanted it removed.

CK: Should have put it on.

KW: Haha! I like lap courses, but sometimes when you pass by the same things hour after hour, certain things can get to you in unexpected ways.

CK: What sort of toll does racing an 80K (50-miles) race on a relatively flat and firm course do to a 60-year-old body? How long did it take for you to get the bounce back in your step?

KW: I took six days off running, then built back up to 115k per week after three weeks. I have a unique ability to recover quickly. At my age, I am extremely grateful.

CK: Any thoughts on challenging Ed Whitlock, Herb Phillips or Maurice Tarrant’s records in 10 years?

KW: Those records are insane and in order to get close to them I would have to get considerably faster than I am now, then maintain into my 70’s. I would be shocked if it happened. However you never know, so I’m just excited to see how it goes for me in the next 10 years.

CK: With retirement, the Comox Valley environment and a good-size Cemetary to train around, you never know.

KW: OMG! I know people are dying to get into the cemetery but it’s a bit creepy. I’ll stick to my usual trails and mountains.

CK: Your brother runs. You are from New Zealand. You grew up during the second Lydiard wave with Rod Dixon, Lorraine Moller as well as John Walker, Dick Quax and others all performing well. Did these athletes inspire you to take up running?

KW: I started training in a structured way and racing at the age of 10, 1968. Before that, I had always run daily, because I ran to and from school and always running around at lunchtime. It wasn’t like the Kenyans, but I figure I was running about 6k per day from the age of 5 to 10. Of course, Arthur and all the Lydiard “boys” were an inspiration, but the person who had the most effect on me was Jack Foster. He was in our running club at Rotorua and we used to go on pack runs with him as the leader. He was just one of the guys and easy to talk to. He just happened to be the world record holder for the marathon for masters. 2:11 at age 42. Also, he won the silver medal in the Christchurch Commonwealth Games marathon in 1974. 

CK: I think he came very close to the world 50 record of around 2:20. I believe that was the year Rod Dixon ran the Aukland Marathon with him in preparation for his New York City Marathon win in 1983 in 2:08:59. Did you see either of those marathons?

KW: I watched Rod at New York on tv and literally lost my voice yelling and screaming. It was one of the greatest marathons I’ve ever seen. That scene with him at the finish with his arms and head raised with Smith on the ground behind him is iconic. Rod is one of my idols and I’ve had the privilege to meet and speak with him on a few occasions.

CK: Are you hungry for more? If so, what’s next for you?

KW: Oh yes, the hunger will always be there. My next goal is to defend my 60-64 title at the Victoria Marathon. However, I feel like this is a new beginning for me as I put more emphasis on my training and less on working. I have hundreds of running goals, from track, steeplechase, roads, trails, FKT’s, marathons and ultras.

CK: Victoria marathon is just a few weeks away. Do you have a good handle on your fitness and goal time? Will you positive split, with an aggressive start?

KW: No to an aggressive start. The marathon is a completely different animal to 50 miles. To avoid the wall even splits is the key. Based on my current fitness level and training, I believe I can get pretty close to 3 hours. Realistically around 3:05, but if everything goes well on the day, hopefully, faster.