Sasha Gollish was still catching her breath after the women's 5,000 metres at the Canadian track and field championships when a younger runner approached.
"You're so inspiring," the runner told Gollish.
Gollish had just raced to bronze in the women's 5,000 metres, edged by 21-year-old Gracelyn Larkin and Maria Bernard-Galea in a three-way battle down the homestretch.
It was one of the more remarkable performances of the meet. Gollish is 40, and her time of 15 minutes 52.09 seconds smashed the Canadian 40-plus age group record, the latest in a string of records she's rewritten.
"It's really cool," the Toronto native said of the post-race praise. "I never set out to be anyone's hero. Watching how inspiring the next generation is, it's almost magical, right? And it inspires me to keep going too."
Gollish, who is an engineer with a PhD, came out of retirement at 32 after a decade away from running and has since competed for Canada at numerous global events.
Since turning 40 in December, she's eclipsed several masters records including the world indoor and Canadian outdoor records in the 1,500.
"We have this idea in our heads growing up that at 40, you put a business suit on, you go to the office and fun time's over," Gollish said. "Choose the things that are important to you and chase after them.
"Age is only the number you let it be. I'm 40. On paper, it says I'm 40. I think we've used that as a limiting factor as opposed to embracing it."
Gollish isn't the only Canadian 40-something running fast. Natasha Wodak, who's 10 days older than Gollish, broke the Canadian 40-plus half-marathon record recently. Wodak, who ran the marathon at last summer's Tokyo Olympics, was in the stadium on Friday cheering on her friend.
"I just kept repeating in my head: believe that anything that's impossible is possible," Gollish said of her race. "And just get in the game and see what happens and just have a lot of fun out there. And I caught myself taking a deep breath and letting it out and smiling, because the last few years we haven't been able to do this (due to COVID-19) and what a privilege it is to be here and have people in the stands -- like Tasha's voice, I was excited to hear that every lap."
Malindi Elmore was ninth in the Tokyo Olympic marathon at age 41, 17 years after her previous Olympic appearance. The mom of two shattered the Canadian marathon record when she was 39, in just her second race at that distance. And Krista DuChene, a mom of three, was 41 when she raced to third in the Boston Marathon in 2018, and is currently chasing 45-plus records.
"There's just so many inspiring women . . . we just all need to let go of age being more than a number," Gollish said.
Gollish, who's raced at every distance from 600 metres to the marathon, is a perfect example of that, Elmore said.
"As long as you keep the body healthy, respect recovery, follow good training principals, love to train and compete, athletes can continue to run at a high level well into their 40s and beyond," Elmore said. "I have been very inspired by Sasha's range and attitude -- she is seizing every opportunity she can to compete and throwing down some impressive performances."
DuChene said she draws motivation from wanting to inspire young girls to be active.
Plus, "there's nothing to prove, (so) nothing to lose."
Gollish has raced every weekend since late April. She won the NACAC half-marathon championships by over two minutes last month in Costa Rica, leading Canada to victory in the team category.
Five days before racing to bronze in Langley, she was second in the Canadian half-marathon championships in Winnipeg. She's won medals in all four of her national championship races in 2022, including silver in the 10,000 on the track and bronze in 10K on the road.
She crosstrains to help avoid injury, cross-country skiing in the winter, and cycling in the summer. She's a huge fan of Nils van der Poel, the Swedish speedskater who won a pair of Olympic gold medals in Beijing. Van der Poel is known for his crosstraining including long runs and six-hour bike rides.
Gollish, who credited running with helping get her through an emotionally tough winter of leaving her job, said running makes her feel grounded.
"Why wouldn't you chase the things in life that let you have fun?" she said. "Someone said to me 'This must be so motivating for you to run faster,' and I said more than anything, it's grounding. There's something really powerful about being content all the time, because then joy comes in. Contentment is this bonus, because it opens up more opportunities for super joyful moments."
"I just feel really grounded right now with where I'm at in process."
Gollish isn't sure what's next on her running calendar. Finding her legs, she joked-post-race, was her immediate task.
"I think I left them out there somewhere," she said waving toward the track. "I feel pretty terrible. My legs are really tired. But totally worth it, because this will pass, right? I'm excited for what comes next."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.
The Canadian Press