Three years ago, I ran my first track meet since high school. It was a blast, and I caught the Masters track bug. Technically I’m a “senior,” being in my 50s. I did a few meets (mostly indoor, my favorite) and joined a track club called Mass Velocity.* It’s a club of Masters sprinters and everyone else; I’m one of the everyone else. Unlike road racing, which attracts a wide range of athletes who run for fun, fitness, t-shirts and charity, track is serious business. I can beat most of the runners in my age category in a local road race but only the really fast people seem to compete in track meets. Whereas I was a mediocre high school athlete, the Masters track folks competed in college and many were elite athletes. The times they run are mind-blowing: low to mid 50 seconds for 400 meters, and 4 minutes 30 seconds to 4 minutes 40 seconds miles. However, everyone is encouraged to participate and made to feel welcome.
I learned there is a yearly national Masters championship for indoor and outdoor track and this month, the meet is in Boston. Unlike the open championships, which have qualifying standards, any Masters athlete who belongs to USATF (USA Track & Field) can compete. OH YEAH! I’M GOING TO NATIONALS.
I planned my training: longer road races in the spring and summer of 2013 to build a mileage base; cross country in the fall for strength; and a season of indoor track to sharpen speed. Visions of breaking six minutes in the mile kept me motivated. (I ran 6:02 two years ago). Sure, I would likely be lapped during my race, but that’s okay. Plus, in most of my adult running career, I have trained by doing my normal running with just a few faster runs. Imagine what I could do with some speed work. In addition, I would be 55 years old at the meet. Most of the age groups are split into 5 years (55-59) making me a relative youngster. With all this training behind me, I figured my times would make me competitive, well, maybe for the 70-79 age group range, but again, that’s okay. I’m going to Nationals!
I should have paid more attention to the omens last spring. I was part of a team, running a five-and-a-half mile leg of a marathon relay last May. It was really cold and raining, and I had to wait a couple of hours before starting my leg. Luckily, I didn’t freeze to death. Anyhow, I’m three-quarters into my leg, trying to stay with a group of runners who were in their 20s and 30s, and I’m running flat out, just killing myself. The people around me are chatting and looked relaxed. We ran by a woman and her young son who were waiting for Dad to pass by. The dad was running the full marathon. I heard the child say, “Hey Mom. Look at that old guy.” I started looking around to see who he was talking about and there wasn’t anyone old in our group. The guy next to me looked at me, and sheepishly said, “He means you.” UGH! GROAN! DAGGER TO THE HEART! Deflated, my pace slowed a bit and I finished my leg. I ran by Bill Rodgers** who was anchoring his team and waiting for his teammate at the exchange zone. Well, at least I wasn’t the oldest person out there.
Two days after the race I went for a slow jog. A couple miles into the jog my calf seized up and I could barely walk home. Undaunted, I cross-trained by swimming, spinning and starting to aqua jog. I stretched, iced it, heated it, saw a PT and finally had acupuncture. The acupuncture allowed me to jog, but not to run fast. It slowly improved over the fall, and by early winter I could run reasonably well. Although my training schedule had been destroyed, I thought a few weeks of intense work could increase my fitness enough to compete.
You guessed it; I got injured again with a strained tendon near my ankle. Heavy sigh. “W-e-l-l” (sounding like Ronald Reagan), there goes Nationals.
All of a sudden, it occurred to me. “Track” is really track AND field. I could do a field event. In high school I triple jumped. Unfortunately, I can’t jump as far now and may not be able to reach the sand pit. The notion of landing on the runway, in spikes, and breaking both legs didn’t sound too good.
I can’t hurdle or shot put. Scratch those from the list.
Sprinting. Definitely not. That’s how I got into trouble in the first place.
Pole vault. I could learn to pole vault. How hard can it be? I’m not talking 18 feet, just 7 or 8 feet. I contacted a local pole vault club and they invited me to try. Unfortunately it was too late to train for the meet. We’ll put pole vaulting on the back burner for now.
Long jump. I never really could do this well. My “hop and skip” in the triple jump was much better than my jump. However, as bad as I am, it would at least get me in the meet. I started practicing. I even made 12 feet and I wasn’t expecting to go 10 feet. With a longer approach run, a bit more speed, I could make 13 feet.
You guessed it; I tweaked a hamstring (just a little).
High jump. Ugh. I learned how to do the old “forward roll” over the bar in high school, but three years ago, when I tried it again, I only managed to clear 3 feet 10 inches. Some of the competitors soar well above 5 feet and some are close to 6 feet. Not clearing the opening height would be pretty bad. Just as gloom struck, I checked the meet information. The opening height is 2 feet, 9 inches. TWO FEET, NINE FREAKING INCHES. SIGN ME UP BABY!
My son’s school track coach agreed to give me a lesson. No forward roll for this athlete, I’m going to learn how to do the “Fosbury flop,”*** where you go over backwards. On my third week of practice, I cleared 4 feet 4 inches. It would have put me in 6th place last year (admittedly, a lean year at the meet) and scored a point for my team. A quick sip of water, a chat with the coach for a couple minutes and I was ready to try for 4 feet 6 inches.
You guessed it. My approach wasn’t very good and I hit the bar. The bar landed on the mat and I landed on the bar. Oh crap. I felt a sharp pain in my rib cage after landing on the bar. I haven’t had it X-rayed but am pretty sure I broke a rib (the crack in the rib is palpable). The first week was pretty tough but Ibuprofen, Tylenol and menthol pain patches helped a lot. I didn’t get shortness of breath and it has improved enough for me to spin on the bike and jog slowly on the treadmill. Sneezing still hurts, but the one advantage of a really cold winter is no pollen. At least I can laugh about it now without wincing too much.
“W-e-l-l” (more Ronald Reagan), there goes Nationals.
I’ve decided to volunteer at the meet and cheer on my healthier team-mates. It’ll be fun. And safer. Besides, I did set personal bests for the two jumps. Once the rib heals up, it’s back to my old training style. Running in the back of the back in a track meet is better than not running at all.
Though I wonder…How hard can pole vaulting be?
Richard Galgano, D.O.
March 1, 2014
* Mass Velocity, https://sites.google.com/site/massvelocitytrackclub/
** William Henry Rodgers, Famed marathoner and Olympian http://www.runningpast.com/rodgers.htm
*** Fosbury Flop, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Id4W6VA0uLc