Rollins Keeps Rolling: Nancy Rollins Leads U.S. Masters Women in Sacramento

August 2nd, 2011 in Articles by 3 Comments

One woman defies the universal belief that getting older means getting slower. Nancy Rollins is 64, but nearly anyone younger will have trouble keeping up with her in a long distance race. She is one of the best in the world in her age group in events including the 10K and marathon, and she has no intentions on taking it easy any time soon.

Rollins has been running more than 30 years and has an impressive résumé. She placed fourth at the Masters World Championships in Sacramento in July in the 60-65 age group 10K – with a time of 45:57. If that wasn’t enough, two days later she took silver in the marathon and was the first American woman in her age group to cross the finish line.

“I viewed the 10k as a bit of a warm up,” said Rollins. “I wasn’t worried about it. I used it as a springboard for the marathon.”

She finished the marathon in 3:36:15, losing to one other woman in her age group: 61-year-old Luisa Rivas from Chile, who ran 3:23:23.

“I had one of those days where I didn’t go out too fast and I found my zone,” said Rollins. “I didn’t know until I crossed the finish line that I was second overall and had the silver medal.

“The race was a joy, and I felt really strong up until the end,” she said regarding her performance.

Rollins credited her success on pacing herself. “The woman that finished third made a strong move on me at five miles,” she said. “I just ran my own pace and eventually passed her later. Sometimes you can expend energy trying to catch somebody when you really need to run your own pace. I keep learning every time I run another marathon.”

Rollins has run nearly 60 marathons and runs about two to three every year. As a girl, she was athletic and into sports. When she was younger she climbed trees, and hung out with her two older brothers. She played tennis in junior high and high school. But after graduating, Rollins went straight into nursing school. In her twenties, she stopped exercising for a full decade.

“My twenties were very busy, and I was very active in many ways, but I stopped being active sports wise,” she said. It was at the age of 30, when she went through a divorce and started to date a guy who liked to jog, that she was inspired to take up running herself.

“I could barely run a half mile,” said Rollins. “I couldn’t even imagine running in the winter.”

Even after Rollins and her jogger boyfriend broke up, she kept on running. In 1980, two years after she started, she ran a 10K, a 5K, and the Chicago Marathon. She finished her first marathon with a time of 3:35.

“I was such a novice, I didn’t know that the time I ran was even good,” said Rollins. “I had no idea how to train.” Two years later, on a bus to the 1982 Boston Marathon, Rollins met her current husband. (They have two sons – Jeoff, 26, and Chris, 23 – and her husband and sons run as well.)

“Each time I had a baby I ran faster,” said Rollins. “I ran through my pregnancy. A year and a half after having my second child, I set all of my current PRs.” In 1990, at age 43, Rollins ran her bests: 18:30 in the 5K, 38:40 10K, and a 3:02:22 at the Chicago Marathon.

When Rollins isn’t training for marathons, she works full time as a psychotherapist.

“I have to be very efficient with my time,” she said. Rollins runs early in the morning and runs five days a week. She typically logs 40-50 mile weeks when she is training for the marathon. “However, when I ran my PR for the marathon I was only running 30 mile weeks,” she said.

She does a track workout once a week, and it usually consists of a tempo run. “I try to vary the pace and not always run the same distance,” she said.

After running a marathon, Rollins usually takes five days completely off. “Once I started doing that I stopped getting injured,” she said.

Walking however, is allowed. “After the World Championships, I climbed a mountain outside of San Francisco with my son,” she said. “My legs were a lot less sore than usual. Walking really flushes out your legs.”

Rollins has seen a great amount of success as a Masters runner. At times she wonders how fast she could have run if she started at a younger age.

“Who knows,” said Rollins. “Sometimes I think ‘wow, what could I have done if I started running in my twenties?’”

There will always be some “what ifs,” but Rollins is nonetheless grateful to have running in her life at an older age.

“My peers that do not exercise are mentally, physically and emotionally so different from me,” she said. “If you say, ‘Oh I’m getting older, I need to slow down,’ you will slow down. What gives me longevity is my passion for running and the camaraderie with my fellow runners,” she said. “We are not making a living doing it. It is our hobby and passion.”

Although Rollins’ times have slowed a bit since she was 43, she is still one of the best women in the world at her age. She has a birthday coming up, and she will be moving into a new age group. Although her raw times may be slowing gradually, her ambition and accomplishments aren’t. Once she turns 65 she is setting out to try and break some of the national records in the 65-69 age group.

“There are some records that are in my reach,” she said.

Paige McAtee writes the regular “Your Silly Road Race” column for Faster Than Forty. She is a sophomore journalism major at Rider University and competes in cross country and distance events.


Author: FasterThanForty


Great article, hearing this woman’s story is inspiring for me, I definitely want to keep running until I die!

Jillian Bryson


wow!! What an amazing story and inspiration! I love the way this article was written.

Glenda Gomez


hearing inspiring stories like this makes me inspired to keep getting more in shape! thank you!

sarah s.


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