Friday, March 27, 2015

USATF Masters Indoor Nationals 2015

              Fan or athlete – what’s more fun?


You like Olympic track and field sports?   The more local USATF National events, be it for the youngsters or the Masters, are the little cousins of the BIG event.  One can find the same anticipation, nervousness, energy, and love of the sport as at the Olympics.  Sure the fan base  is smaller and you won’t find the same marks as at the Olympics (though the Juniors and non-Master events can come close) but one can still get wrapped up in the enthusiasm and competition.

I attended, as both an athlete and fan, the recent USATF Masters Indoor Nationals held at JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, N.C.  The site itself is fabulous.  The track has a Mondo surface (the only spikes allowed are ¼ inch Pyramid) and is great to run on.  Large enough to host a national event as well as many NCAA events, the track retains its homey atmosphere.  Fans are up close and there is no bad seat in the spectator section.  Even for the Nationals, there was plenty of room for the athletes on the other side of the track, and though the warm-up area was foreshortened to make room for two high jump sections, it was sufficient for warm up.


On March 20th, after my own event, I was volunteering in the high jump area.  What a well run event.  The officials were right on in terms of keeping the competition moving.  Usually, there would be two queued up, one that approached the jump from the right side and another who preferred coming from the left. The styles, both just before the jump and the jump itself, varied as much as the competitors.  One fellow backed up as far as he could into the two track lanes coned off for these guys while their event was on.  (Only the longer track races were scheduled at the time so runners were able to cut into the inside lanes just prior to this area.)  Then the jumper loped in from the right side and side jumped over the bar.  Another fellow mentally practiced his jump while waiting – talking to himself, rocking back and forth and moving his arms.  Almost slo-mo dance motion.  One man approached the jump at a decent speed, only to slow just prior to his leap, then push off and up.  At times, I was surprised that some of these techniques actually worked. 



While there, I was able to observe the women’s 3000m.  As such, I saw Sonja Friend-Uhl (W43) as she passed by on the back stretch. Right off the bat she took the lead and from that point on it became a race of who was going to be lapped next.  I saw her talking to herself (or the other runner?) as she passed one competitor.   Peter Taylor, announcer, indicated that she was closing in on the existing American record of 9:51.60.  When Friend-Uhl hit the final home stretch, (Peter: And here she comes!) she put on an astonishing burst of speed and ripped down the track to the Finish. Fast enough to set a new, to be authenticated, American record time of 9:50.37.   

Irene Obera, the Phenom

Over at the long jump arena, Irene Obera, the phenom 81-year-old, jumped 2.72m.  Elegance in motion.  I saw her in subsequent days obliterate fellow runners in the 60m, and the 60m hurdles in the pentathlon (running in mixed age group.)

Announcer Peter Taylor before the fun began March 20th
On Saturday, I was thrilled by the final push by Piedmont Pacer teammate “Carl” Dixon Cook (M67) on the home stretch of the mile run to overtake Gary Patton taking third by 26/100th  of a second, with a time of 5:45.02.  (Since Ken Hamilton, who finished second, is Canadian, Carl ended up with the silver.)  After I ran the 60m, several of us hung out near the Finish line and watched the younger crew run 60m.   Jane Barnes, running her first event since a devastating injury to her foot in late September, ran down the lane at almost her old winning speed of yore, coming in second (9:35)!  Amanda Scotti (W57) tore down the track in 8.86, almost a second ahead of the nearest competitor. (At the time, I recognized the name but did not know why! i.e. National Masters News) The W50 group followed with a tight race to the line, so fast and close it was hard to tell who actually won until looking up at the result screen.  Sandy Triolo (W53) beat Sue McCarthy (W51) by 5/100th of a second! No wonder the eye could not tell!  The men’s 60m with Oscar Peyton (M62) and Damien Leake (M62) was set up by their incredibly close preliminary, in which  1/1000th second separated them.  In the Final, Leake won by 12/100th second. I love watching speed!

One lady I took note of was Rose Green (W76).  She set a new American record in the 60m, though I could not tell from my vantage point at the time.  Later, she came close to breaking the record in the 200m as well.  (Jeanne Daprano (W78), the pro, took her in the 400m.) However, on Sunday, I saw her running in one of the relays (in the W60-69 herd) as she rounded the back stretch corner.  Wow!  She was fast! I can’t wait to see her run with Kathy Bergen, who has now entered the same age group.

 The only problem with also being an athlete is that one misses an awful lot while warming up or hanging out by the check-in area.  I guess being both fan and participant means one can’t be satisfied! 


 After loading up on vitamins and a protein shake, I left for Winston-Salem Friday morning March 20th.  I had decided to commute the one and 3/4 hour drive each day and was thankful that our snows and lousy weather had departed for the season.  I had no problem finding parking at JDL Fast Track (on any of the 3 days.)  Once inside, I had my spikes checked and was able to declare for my first event, the 400m.  I found where the Piedmont Pacers were located, but before I warmed up, I felt a twinge in my left calf.  Huh?  Not expected.  Well, okay, then.  I eased into my butt kicks etc and slow trots and I was fine.  Previously, I had checked the list of other competitors in my AG in this event.  I knew that Mary Robinson would be a tough and fast competitor and I took note of Marie-Louise Michelsohn’s listed mark and knew she was in a class above. (Like running with Kathy Bergen again – who, btw, was not at Indoors.)  Reading about Michelsohn, I saw that she was far more disciplined than me in training and certainly in distance. Of my three races, the only one Michelsohn wasn’t in was the 60m.  Though Barbara Hensley’s listed mark was a bit slower than I’d run at JDL in February, that was no guarantee of anything.

As I trotted around the track , I met Marie-Louise, recognizing her by her sun glasses.  She had gone to Bronx High School of Science, a school I had wanted to go to so we talked about that.  During our trot around, she told me that in December, she had broken her femur.  What! And she was here running?  She said she was in France at the time and that on Christmas Eve she was having a screw put in her leg.  Good God Almighty!  Not quite three months ago.  She was not limping or favoring her leg.  Amazing!

Starting area officials
I went outside to do my warmup, going slowly, using some of the Camp Gladiator exercises before slow jogging.  My stamina was, as usual, lacking in the beginning.  I kept at it until the roughness began to ebb away before returning inside to add some speed attempts.  I found some pals, along with Mary Robinson, and we all tried to stay loose before the race.  Angela Staab was there despite water on both knees which she has been fighting for awhile, but was intent on competing nonetheless. 

I was assigned Lane 5 for the 400m, Marie-Louise was in 4, and Mary in 3, with Angela in 1.  I’m not sure where Barbara Hensley and Jane Simpson were   I only know about Marie-Louise and Mary because they both came up on me once the race began.  Marie-Louise caught me before we were even half way up the back stretch during the first 200m.  Mary then moved up close as we rounded the bend and the cones ahead which denoted when we could move from our starting lane assignments over to lane one.  Marie-Louise moved over, I started moving in from lane 5 but Mary was faster and was right there and into lane one before I had my act together.  We were too close for me to get into lane one without cutting Mary off, so I stayed in lane 2 going into and around the back stretch. Duh!  Why did I not think of at least moving over to 1?  Being behind Mary in lane one would be better than being adjacent in two!  As we approached the final turn, I think I mentally conceded.  No way would I catch Marie-Louise nor Mary. This little mental glitch probably slowed me. I did not push to exhaustion, though I then moved to lane one. Why?  Probably slowed me even more.  Hah!  And that is how my 400m went.  Third, and still breathing.

Saturday the 21st brought the 60m.  I followed the same routine as regards warm-up, but adding practice starts, since my non-block starts are so-so (but better than my standing starts.)  I learned a new stretching technique from Jane Barnes (let’s hope I remember it!) Using my Fitbit, I checked my pulse rate out of curiosity. It was 93.  Ann Carter who has beaten me in the past wasn’t there and that was a disappointment (turns out she has bronchitis and was just doing her favorite events – the jumps).  Another listed competitor, one I did not know, Marilyn Mitchell, did not show.  So there Mary and I were, assigned adjacent lanes, sitting on the queueu bench while those older (and some faster!) ran ahead of us.  And, gosh, the older ones used blocks (Irene Obera, of course! And others.)  I checked my pulse rate: 106.  Just sitting!   Then, it was our turn.  Mary was to my right and Jane Simpson, to my left.  I remembered which knee to put down and where, and at the “Set” to swing the correct arm up.  (This was an improvement over February when I remembered everything incorrectly!)  Bang!  No thinking needed in the 60m. Just go as fast as one can.  And breathe. As expected Mary led us out and I had to play catch-up.  I reached her and we ran side by side down the short runway, seeming to cross the Finish line together.  Exhilarating!  Mary thought it might be a tie.  I had no idea, but felt good that I had run all out.  Mary won by 1/100th of a second.  It was a great, fun, race.

Mary Robinson Angela Staab Barbara Hensley LG 4x200
Mary had discovered that no “non-club” 4x200 relay record existed for our age group. Angela Staab wanted to run it as did Mary, so we got Barbara Hensley to join us.  The race was to go off at 15:30 (3:30), so we twice practiced passing the baton.  It was sort of funny because Barbara, who was going to pass to me, was also carrying her water bottle.  I gave the local TV photog, standing at the railing, a laugh when I blurted out to Barbara to put that dang (well, the word began with a D but it wasn’t “dang”.) water bottle down.  Had our club, Piedmont Pacers, had enough women, Angela and I would have also tried to run the club age group relay. (Kathy Jacobs was now on crutches having  strained her ham string. Besides  - she was in a younger AG any way.) We were the only ones in our age group, club or non-club.  It didn’t matter how slowly we ran this race.  I, as anchor, could probably have crawled to the Finish. (Is that legal?)  Mary led off, passing to Angela of bad knee fame, who then passed to Barbara, who passed nicely to me.  Our finish tine was 3:12.64.   

And now comes Sunday.  Again with the warmup.  Angela decided to pass up the 200m, saving her knees for the 4x400 (she was going to do the 800m “for the team”!)  That left five of us in the 200m: Marie-Louise Michelsohn (who had run her legs off these past few days by running the 400m, 3000m, mile, and 800m and the 4x200m relay with the 65 year olds!  All, after her December leg injury.  Guess it is never say STOP!) Mary Robinson, Barbara Hensley, Jane Simpson, and me. 

The night before I had imagined that I might end up running with Marie-Louise on one side and Mary on the other.  After being passed  in the 400m, I had only one recourse: go all out from the git go and hope to hold on to the end. Probability was that I would lose steam just after 100m, but so be it.  I was assigned magical lane five again, Marie-Louise Lane 4, and Mary Lane 1. While awaiting the starting process, I tried to calm down and get my breath.  There are times when I feel as if I am not getting enough air.  It is a crazy thing and the feeling is only satisfied when I can feel the air at the back part of the throat, deep down.  Not easy.  This time it did not happen.  Not a good sign. I needed a distraction. I looked at the starter in her red shirt (she was also the lady who kept track of runner laps in the 4x400m later), the infield, etc.  Then it was time.  Into my crouch I went, at the Set I took a breath and at the gun took off and ran at maybe 95%.  Whatever it was, it was faster than I normally start off.  Towards the end of the back stretch along comes Marie-Louise.  Oy!  We round the bend and proceed next to each other.  I’m hoping to not go poof and lose either energy or have my legs turn to rubber. Mentally, I’m determined not to slow down. She is right on me!  I pumped my arms faster.  I’m going all out, the Finish line is approaching.  It seems she may have an inch on me.  We hit the Finish and I have no idea who won until I have sense enough to look up and see my name at the top.  Mary steamed in right after us.  I won by 4/10th of a second.  A step?

200m race to the line
The video of the race:

Marie-Louise said her leg (not the previously injured one) had buckled and this had never happened before. (well, shoot, look at all the events she ran!)  Mary said she saw it too.  That is probably when I got my step lead.  (Looking at the video it is hard to tell.  I see her arm shoot up and that’s it.)  She was okay after the race, but I know these things happen.  Sometimes in practice I’ve felt as if a leg is going out from under me. In Marie-Louise’s case it could be that she is unconsciously putting more pressure on that leg, compensating for a residual problem with the other.  Plus all the prior races. 
4x400 LG Barbara Hensley Angela Staab Mary Robinson
And, yet, she also ran the subsequent 4x400 relay with her club’s next lower age group!  

Our non-club relay team wanted to run it as well.  I forced myself to endure the horrid 400m again (could be worse – they could have wanted to run the 800m!) There is an existing American record for our age group (I am not sure if it is club or non-club) of 7:21.  I figured with Angela’s bad knees and the rest of us not excited up to running a fast 400m, there would be no way.  We ran in the same order as the earlier relay.  I was surprised by how well Angela handled her portion.  The end result was that we ran it in a time of 7:48.09  Not the record but not bad.

Gathering them for the Relay
The Indoor Nationals was well run.  Peter Taylor did his superb announcing job.  Sure, he is familiar with many of the runners, but not all, and yet, he is right on in knowing who is where in a race!  You’ve got runners on the back stretch, partially blocked from view by the infield netting, but Peter can still tell who is who.  And, in case one was not paying attention to the ongoing race, he gets one’s attention and makes it exciting, building the tension, even if it is not a close race.

Nolan Shaheed waiting for baton pass
While watching the relays, I got a kick out of the officials.  Especially the one who had to herd, corral,  the various competitors into their proper waiting queues.  At times, especially with the Senior men (not the women!), she worked hard to get them to pay attention and in position to receive the baton.  Worse than herding cats!   I was fascinated by watching how the two women officials managed the longer relay events: one keeping track of who was on what lap and communicating with the other to queue up the next baton recipient.  This could be tight when more than one team was coming in to pass the baton at the same time.

There is no end to the excitement to be found in a National event. Having all these athletes, 30 years old and up, competing in multiple disciplines, makes for non-stop days for the venue staff, officials, and variety for the fans.

One week later, after a week of Camp Gladiator, and two social runs, my legs need a rest. But come Sunday, a track practice awaits. No doubt, I will be a slacker!   


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting account of nationals, Louise. You taught me some things about your races -- there were 238 races during the 3 days, and thus I do not remember all of them. Regardless, it is most enjoyable to read your personal accounts of what you were thinking before and during the events.

Peter Taylor*

* The best announcer you know.