It can't be easy to figure out where you stand against your competitors in the masters division of the Broad Street Run. With so many runners, how do you know who is over 40?

"I totally know," said Linda Hawke, 46, of Malvern, last year's masters women's top finisher in this race. "I know the competition. I know them all. Most of the competition is on my team."

The Athena Track Club is a nationwide organization with a local affiliate, established in 2006 for elite female runners in masters competition. It's not exactly invitation-only, but most of the runners in it were asked to be in it.

"I was at a race two years ago, they approached me," said Abby Dean, 42, of Phoenixville, one of the favorites in the masters division of Sunday's Broad Street Run. "You know who the good runners are around here. Once they turn 40, they try to recruit them."

Dean, for instance, finished 29th in the 2008 Olympic marathon trials, at age 36. Plenty of runners in their 30s finished high - the winner was 35 years old - but only one female runner older than 36 finished ahead of Dean and her 2 hours, 41 minutes, 25 seconds. (Asked on a Broad Street Run questionnaire about a career goal, Dean listed: "Qualify for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials.")

Athena doesn't usually train as a group, but the members sometimes travel to races together.

"They're some people I've met who I train with that are in the area," Hawke said. "That was one of the benefits for me being part of the team. Having people at my level."

The mother of four boys, ages 10 to 15, doesn't expect to repeat. Hawke is still on the upslope after a hamstring or groin injury eventually caused a stress fracture in her ankle, putting her in a boot all winter.

By the time you hit masters competition, you kind of understand the difference between pain and an injury.

"Even that race," Hawke said of the 2013 Broad Street Run, "the last mile, I pulled my hamstring. I would have been under an hour."

Her winning time was 11 seconds over that, fast enough for the then-45-year-old to beat anybody who was 35 or older. (Dean was second in the over-40 masters competition, in 1:02:16; 6ABC meteorologist Cecily Tynan was third in 1:02:19.)

Hawke said she didn't start competing as a distance runner until she was "hitting 40," and figures that might be an advantage. She has put less stress on her body. It's hard to stop now, she said.

"It becomes a habit, and it's a hard habit to break," Hawke said, noting that's how she ended up with the stress fracture. "Mentally, I feel like I need this."

Dean understands all that. She didn't get into running until after college. She had hamstring surgery in 2009, she said. After she healed, she struggled with hamstring tears. She's in form now. The day before the Boston Marathon, she finished second in the masters division of a big 10-kilometer race in Dedham, Mass.

So the masters division is one of the competitions within the competition Sunday on Broad Street. Hawke touts Dean as the favorite.

"It's not like it's unfriendly," Hawke said. "If you have other people who are pushing you, that's how you get better. It's good."

And to win her division, as she did last year, "that was a huge thing," Hawke said. "I felt like I had to run it a few times first. There's a big learning curve to learning how to race. There are so many mistakes you can make."

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus