BENNINGTON — Earlier this year, as winter turned into spring, Ed Doucette ran the Bennington Road Race 3.8-mile race in 52 minutes, 31 seconds.
Now, as summer is fading into fall, the 86-year-old Doucette ran at the national championships an astounding 16 minutes faster.
Doucette, a long-time road racer, competed in the U.S. Masters 5K Championship on Sunday at the 24th annual Festival of Races — finishing second in his age group (85-89) with a time of 36 minutes and five seconds.
"One of the things I enjoy the most about hosting [the championships] is that I have the opportunity to give athletes like Ed a place to demonstrate to themselves, younger running colleagues and the world in general that distance running is a lifetime activity and a genuine lifetime sport," said Dave Oja, the race director for the Masters Championship. "It shows people that one can paticipates in athletics, not just a recreational jog, to test their psychological and physiological limits."
The race is put on by USA Track and Field and serves as the National Championships for runners 40-and-over. The event took place in Syracuse starting and finishing at the Manley Field House.
"Over the past nine years, we have seen the limits become extended as people age," said Oja, who established the Festival of Races in 1993. "We've had many records set here, including Libby James, who took the American record for the 80-84 age group from 29:26 to 25:11. It shows those who look at longevity and geriatrics to stop and say, maybe the limits we thought aren't the limit and start revisiting those limits. It's why I enjoy being a part of this."
Doucette was 22 seconds behind the age group winner, David Rider, from Lewis County (N.Y.).
"I call him the new Bob Matteson," said Bennington Road Race director David Newell, referencing another Bennington resident who set many running records before passing away nearly two years ago. "[Ed's] performance is truly remarkable
Two years ago, when the Snowshoe 10K championships came to Prospect Mountain in Woodford, Doucette, then 84, finished the tough course in just over two hours.
"He did the 10K and man, if he didn't steam right on, it was astounding," Newell said.
Pat Zemianek, the wife of the late Mount Anthony track coach Steve Zemianek, the namesake of the Bennington Road Race, said she sees Doucette running up and down Grandview Hill many times training.
"It's not just getting from the bottom to the top once, it's many times," Zemianek said. "I lose count how many times he's up and down the hill."
Bennington's Tim Van Orden ran the event as well, finishing in 15 minutes, 58 seconds and taking the bronze in his age group. His time classified him as a World Class runner.
Van Orden has won the Bennington Road Race the past handful of years, sometimes by as much as four minutes, but he had a ton of praise for a runner nearly twice his age.
"He won the silver medal which is pretty amazing at his age," Van Orden wrote in an email.
Oja agreed, saying that it was Doucette's first time at the event, brought in with some other Masters runners from Rensselaer, N.Y.
"From a personal perspective, I've gotten to meet and become friends with some remarkable runners, who are retired from great professional lives and engaged in the sport of distance running," Oja said. "The runners have responded in high numbers and it's a symbiotic thing. We are giving 40-and-over athletes something that's missing a little bit. We had more than 250 runners this year, the second largest field ever. It says everything about the dedication of the athletes."