Monday, July 18, 2011

The True Masters of Track and Field Competing in the Marathon at the World Masters Athletics Championship

As luck would have it, the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships, an annual international IAAF track and field event that pits the best masters athletes age 35-101+, was hosted in Sacramento, CA, this year, so I signed myself up for the marathon. Although it wasn't my best day, I had a great time donning the stars and stripes and running with a field of exceptional athletes from around the world.

(At the start)

(Jean Pommier, far more awake than me)

(Poland, UK, France, Columbia...from everywhere!)
You could tell from the 5am starting line that this event was going to be pretty special. A few hundred runners were warming up in the unusually cool morning, with another couple hundred "track nerds" lining the course start to cheer on their countrymen and women. Flags/singlets from the world were everywhere - Italy, Columbia, Poland, Brazil, Canada, Japan, etc. - and their languages filled the air with universal tones of encouragement and support. Some athletes were former Olympians, while others had joined the sport later in life. Most were already friends, passionately speaking of events from the previous week, like M80 phenom Ed Whitlock winning three events (including an age group world mark in the 1500m) or Neni Clark setting a new age group world record in the hammer throw, or 101-year-old Trent Lane doing the throw pentathlon. Honestly, 101 years old and throwing the shot put?!? That's insane. It's impressive enough just to BE 101 years old. Track nerd-dom is definitely an international phenomenon, and this is the perfect way to celebrate it!

(M80 Ed Whitlock crushing the 1500m)

I went through the warm up motions, already showing signs of unusual fatigue and sore spots from a wonderful 2,500-mile family road trip over the last three weeks. On top of that, I had a grand total of nine hours sleep in the previous three nights. Well done, Scott, nice prep! But it's tough to create excuses when the three guys warming up next to you are in the highly competitive 70-75 age group. Can you imagine the kinks and sore spots they are working through? Crazy. So I figured it's best to just go out fast and make the most of a PR-possible course of five loops along the American River. Luckily, I ran into ultrarunner Jean Pommier, fresh off getting 8th in his age group in the 10k a few days earlier, and knew that I could just hang onto his shoulder for the first half to be in the 1:18-1:20 range. Jean looked like he was going for 100k with his handheld water bottles, but I suspect he would be a contender for his M45-49 age group for sure. If I needed to slow a bit, ultrarunner Annette Bednosky would certainly be in the 3-hour range (I know this because she said "3:10'ish", and she usually comes in faster than expected).

We made a quick loop around the CSU-Sac campus before getting onto the American River Parkway, and the pack quickly split up with a few dozen running sub-2:45 pace. The Bay Area's Tony Torres, very capable of a 2:30 marathon, was up front and feeling good that neither the Ethiopian or Kenyan marathoners (posting sub-2:20 qualifying times) could make it. I hung on with Jean, who was going fast enough that our conversation was sparse at best, citing only the deja vu of running this bike trail in the dark (a la the American River 50 or Helen Klein 50). By the time we completed the first lap (mile 5), the sun was illuminating the cloud filled sky. Just as predicted, Jean was pulling us at a 6:09 min/mile pace with ease.

(Early AM on the course)

(Jean takes us over the footbridge to finish the first lap)
I got a better view of the runners around me in the light, and we had five continents represented in our little pack. Cool! You could really tell when we hit one of the bridges full of spectators who would shout out in more languages than I could count. When Jean and I came by, it was "go USA!" from everyone, and that little boost of pride kept out strides going quickly. Such fun to represent your country!

(77-year-old Mogens Dam from Denmark going strong, and wondering what the hell I'm doing with a camera)
At mile 9, I had to (quickly) stop for a bio-break, while Jean stayed on pace. One thing about his water bottles is that he never had to slow at an aid station! My right shoulder was nagging me (that's the deltoid responsible for holding 4-month-old Quinn), as was my right heel (the gas pedal foot!), and I chuckled that I hadn't properly recovered from all that driving. Ah, life as a 40+ year old! You even need to recover from driving. I slowed the pace to 6:30 min/mile to let my GI tract find some balance, running along with 50-year-old Hector Juarez from Alcapulco, Mexico. We found a good rhythm, trading off the pace making and hitting the 13.1-mile point in 1:22:01.

We began lapping the slower runners quite regularly at this point, and I was really impressed with how fast they were going. M80, F75...nobody was walking, not even on the climbs. They were all true and trained athletes, and to be honest, I was jealous of all the hardbodies. Boy, I sure wish I can look that good in 30 years! Most of all, I loved seeing the smiles on all of their faces. There is no place any of them would rather be.

(80-year-old Michio Kumamoto smiles on his way to Gold for Japan in 5:56)
I took another unexpected-but-demanded bio-break at mile 20, and my body gave me a colon shiver as if to say "go ahead and try and keep sub-6:30, and I'll show you some stars and stripes...stars in your head, and stripes down the backside of your legs". Ahem...duly noted! I slowed up to 6:40 min/mile, counting on Hector to pull me along if I slowed too much. Although we didn't share a language, he was always there to say "come, come!" if I slowed on the climb, and I did my best to reciprocate on the flats where I was a bit faster. We picked up Sally Gibbs from New Zealand (F45) along the way, who was happy to have someone else pace after leading her little pack for 20+ miles. She was comfortably in first place among all women.

Hector pulled me all the way to mile 25, then kicked it up a notch to sprint to the finish and urge on one of his teammates. I came in 26th place in 2:52:04, not bad for an off day. Jean did great, coming in 2:47 for the bronze in his age group and securing the age group win for Team USA, as did Annette who won gold in her age group with a PR 3:01 (see what I mean?). Nice! I got some hydration and cheered on the runners, simply astounded by some of the finish times. USA's Terry McCluskey finished less than a minute behind me to win the...gulp!...M60-64 age group! Damn, that's quick. He didn't think so, and pointed out that the whole M60-64 podium would go sub-3. Whoa! Columbia's Hernan Rio clocked at 3:17 at the ripe age of 71...and our very own M40 Tony Torres won in 2:32 (all results). Everyone brought their "A" game for sure.

(Some of Team USA members chatting at the finish)

(Hans Heidelberger goes 3:01 at age 57...and sacrifices a nipple for his country)

(Team Mexico had some great finishes, like Meliton Bautista Carba's 3:05 in the M65-69 age group)

(The man who set the pace for me nearly the whole race, Hector Juarez, after his 2:51:58 finish)

(Top Masters women - the hilarious Verity Breen from Australia, USA's Sara Gigilotti, and winner Sally Gibbs from New Zealand)
I hopped back in the car to head home, honored and inspired to have been a part of this unique event. How could I not be? The passion for running is deep all over the world, and the WMA's show that champions can be made, or even remade, at any age. Heck, I might even be competing here in my 70's while my Dad is in his 100's, both of us wearing the stars and stripes. How cool would that be? Uniquely inspiring.

The next WMA is in Brazil if you are interested. Thanks to all the great volunteers and officials for a fun event!

- SD


  1. Awesome job, Scott! How cool to be part of such an international event. I really wanted to make it down there to spectate - My coach from college won the weight pentathlon (M55-59)- but I was busy pacing 100 milers. I love track and field though. Nice work representing team USA, and great photos as usual!

  2. Ed Whitlock's times are insane. He did a 10K in 42:?? at age 80. He ran a sub 3:00 marathon a few years ago in his late 70's. Just when I think if I can hang on another 30 years,oops, I still couldn't do that. Wait, I can't do that now....

  3. A few hundred runners were warming up in the unusually cool morning..Good to know that,people were interested in that marathon.

  4. I always appreciate to all the seniors who are engaging themselves in this kind of marathon.

  5. That nipple picture really hurts to look at.

    I saw something similar at last weekend's Headlands 50m. Painful every time.

  6. What a great two weeks of running! Ed Whitlock was amazing, Grace Padilla was...uh...a hottie ;) , and the senior women were exciting as anyone else.
    On to Brazil!

  7. 101 yo...I will be telling this fact to anyone who is trying to have me stop exercising.

  8. Awesome...I ran in the world Masters XC championships in the early 90's in my early 40's and it was memorable. Finished in the top 50! ;-) Would love to get back into that sort of thing after watching Blake Wood last Spring, but I'm afraid something would rip!
    Congrats on a very fast run after such a long trip and no sleep..

  9. Was great to run the first lap with you, Scott, I was sorry to hear at the finish about your GI issues (I spent 4 laps wondering when you were going to come back on me...). Hard to believe we are part of the "old" guys, but at least it's cool to have our own age groups! ;-) Take care and see you soon.

  10. AMAZING! Simply amazing! I am inspired!!!! Running certainly binds and units people together, whether you speak the same language or not! :) I truly hope to be like you all some day!!!!! With my piddly mileage and speed you guys blow me away- figuratively and literally ;)!!!
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  12. What a splendid post Scott! Great photos too! Thanks for sharing and way to hang in and "wear the flag!" Congrats!

  13. Nice run Scott,
    tried to hang with you and Jean early but it was not to be. It was also not lost on me I was chasing a guy with a camera and one holding two large jugs of fluid either : (
    It was fun to mix it up with all the international uniforms present.

  14. Some athletes were former Olympians, while others had joined the sport later in life.

  15. They were all true and trained athletes...its good.

  16. I just bumped into your blog. I too was one of the runners in that elite group of former opympians and other true and trained runners. But I was not that well trained to match the pace of even F60s or F70s.
    But it was an amazing experience to be among them and to be back to WMA after 19 years.
    Enjoyed your write up and relived the WMA marathon. Thanks. See you in Brazil. Mala, India.

  17. I am so proud of these athletes!! I wish I could have been there!


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