CANTON Hundreds of runners spanning ages 18 to 86 compete annually at the Syracuse Festival of Races. But only one has been on hand every year since the Festival began in 1993, and, surprisingly, that individual is at the far upper end of that age span.
She is Cantons Nancy Auster.
In fact, Auster captured the U.S. Masters 5K championship last year in the Salt City and will return on Sunday to defend her 85-89 age group title.
Auster, a former SUNY Canton distinguished economics professor, began running at age 51 and said she could barely make it 51 yards her first time out. Now, at age 86, she estimates she trains 20-25 miles a week, runs scores of races each year, and says the sport and her running mates are what gets her going each morning.
I meet with a group of women at St. Lawrence University three times a week at 8 a.m. to run and this is part of what really motivates me, Auster said. This is what gets me out of bed, even on cold wintry mornings.
Dave Oja is the Syracuse Festival of Races founder and race director and marvels at Auster.
For someone in their 20s this would be an impressive streak, Oja said. Its an unbelievable accomplishment to not miss a single year. Its a great feat of endurance and longevity. Nancys situation is a combination of discipline, determination, health, fitness, lifestyle choices and family support.
That support includes Nancys 89-year-old husband, Don, who used to join his wife in running (now the two walk together), and her daughter, Ellen, who will be with her on the East Colvin Street starting line on Sunday morning when Auster readies to tour Syracuses Meadowbrook Drive with nearly 1,000 other runners.
Having my husband run with me in Syracuse for many years and now my daughter has been very special to me, she said. lve had great support and Im very fortunate Ive been healthy enough to be able to run this race every year. I look at this race as a great finish to the summer running season.
Auster also has competed in numerous 10K races, duathlons, triathlons, marathons and half marathons over the past 35 years. She estimates she has run more than 400 races overall.
At last years race, Auster completed the course in 45 minutes, 33 seconds to win her age group and the USA Masters title, certified by the U.S. track and field organization.
Eight members of Austers Canton running group will be on hand on Sunday to compete themselves and to cheer on their mentor,
One member of the group, Teresa Stone, began running with Auster when she first moved to Canton and Stone now teaches a senior fitness class.
Nancy is our matriarch, shes a real inspiration, Stone said. Shes proven how important exercise can be. Its amazing her commitment. She really is the first lady of north country runners.
Auster offers advice to those who are thinking about starting to run at a mature age.
Start walking and then move on to easy running, she said. Attempt a short race like a 5K and see how energizing it can be. Youll want to do it again.