Monday, January 30, 2012

Masters Track and Field

My husband Rich doesn't just write about sports, he's still a competitor. I know that's a good chunk of the reason why so many sports readers relate to the characters in his novels. He's been competing in track since middle school,through to state and national meets in university, and he hasn't stopped. (Now he competes in masters track.) So it was no surprise when I'd asked him what he wanted to do on his 55th birthday yesterday, and he'd said "to compete." But what was surprising for Rich, as it always seems to be, is why I'd be interested in coming along.

I've learned over the years from him that running is more than just going fast: it's about the process, the daily commitment and struggle, until finally, you triumph.(Which no longer means winning, I'm told, but accomplishing your personal best by surpassing your previous personal bests, and if that means winning the race, then okay.)

Masters racers compete against themselves, against the misconceptions about what they can accomplish--those thoughts of self doubt that needle the brain--often brought on by society, or even youth. I've seen them watch in horror sometimes, waiting for their high school meets to start up later in the day, mumbling, "How can anyone go that slow?" instead of being filled with admiration or amazement at what an 80-year-old athlete is trying to accomplish. And no, that old man isn't having a heart attack, he's 70 years older than you.

It's true that the clock is against masters track athletes from the start.
Maybe that's why the personal victories are so sweet. And, don't get me wrong, there are masters track and field record holders close to 70 who race faster than peers 20 years younger and keep shattering the world records. They defy what old men are thought to look like by being ripped and fast and younger-looking than many middle-aged men. But the majority of masters track athletes are not former Olympians,nor have they ever competed for their country in national events when they were young.A good chunk of them have torsos that resemble a turtle's more than an athlete's, but just as many train hard--like Rich--who gets up at 6 every morning to run.

There are also nights when Rich will say to me that he's going for a run, and I know it's also to work out a story-line, a character, or a conflict he's seeking an answer for. I suspect that other masters runners do the same, knowing those logged miles can be like an old friend or a new one(some masters athletes have taken up their sport at 60 or so), and something they can depend on, or hope to, for as long as possible.

So, after knowing all this, why wouldn't I want to see Rich race?

I know if you asked masters competitors, they'd say they do this because it's fun. But what I think they really mean is, they do this because it's a part of who they are, and if they didn't, they wouldn't feel quite the same. From all my years as an observer sitting in the bleachers looking out at the cluster of events and the competitors they attract, it's become evident to me that it's more about tapping into that feeling and challenging yourself to dig it up, than kicking butt.

Sometimes they do this in dusty track shoes instead of spikes, wearing their favorite t-shirt, circa 1965. And those heavily-crested track jackets from the 50's are surely a badge of honor and now, courage. Then there's the runners who've finished their heat but linger by the finish line to cheer the others on, signaling a mutual understanding of why they're all still doing this in the first place.

And when Rich raced across the finish line of his 200 meter heat in victory,(he's now the USA Masters Track & Field East Region Champion), it must have resurrected that old feeling from his university days. And yet, when he came up to the stands to give me a hug, he whispered, "This is why I do this. To feel what it's like to run fast. And to feel like I could keep going."


  1. SO very well captured! Thank you for understanding us!! You got a new fan today. It also doesn't hurt that we have a rescue dog and a dog named Lucy.

    Here is the story of my daily "struggle" -

  2. Bubba,

    Thanks for the kind words.I just read some of your blog posts. The photo of the 8 foot vault you took from the mat was really impressive. And scary.While Rich can run anywhere, unless it's a really bad snowstorm in New England (not this year... yet),finding training space for what you do can be daunting. I always enjoy watching your event at meets because of how much harder we all have to fight gravity over time, and yet masters athletes achieve the floating effect every weekend, with much hard work and grit.

    1. Hey Sandra:

      I didn't know we were sitting behind a "celebrity couple"! :) Thanks for the write up. I can't imagine a better way to celebrate a 55th - or any other - birthday! Congrats to Rich on his win. There are so many wonderful stories in Masters track. Thanks for sharing yours/Rich's.

  3. Glad you liked the essay. I didn't know we were sitting in front of the eastern region co-champ in the 60 m. Congratulations. It's really nice having family there to share in the experience too, isn't it? Yes, there are many wonderful stories in masters track, and I enjoy watching them unfold from the bleachers.