Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 19 Sep 2000 09:06:53 -0400

Down Through the Ages

(from RC 322)

How's this for an endurance test? It doesn't measure your running stamina but how long you can sit and watch others run.

At the U.S. Masters track meet in Eugene, the 5000s ran in nine sections. They lasted from early morning through mid-afternoon with only enough breaks in between to take care of hunger, thirst and other needs.

I don't know what this says about me, but that day at the Masters was heavenly. Watching these runners was like living life in reverse.

Real time never moves backward, and running times seldom improve after 40. But here the 5000s started with the oldest and slowest, and the runners grew younger and faster as the day progressed.

Runners from many stages of my life made appearances on the track:

-- John Brennand, who'd directed the second marathon I ever ran (at Santa Barbara in 1967).

-- Peter Mundle, who went to the 1968 Olympics with my tour group (and who this morning overslept and missed the start of his 5000).

-- Jim O'Neil, who raced ahead of me in the early 1970s and hasn't missed any of the 34 national masters meets.

-- Mike Pinocci, now in his mid-40s, who used to visit the Runner's World office as a high school kid.

-- Walt Schafer, 61, who twice invited me to speak at a race he directed in Chico, California.

-- Joan Ottaway, who at the 1989 World Championships on this same track starred in an age group two below the one she ran in yesterday.

These masters and others keep going. They run up through the years, even as they gray and slow.

And the watching is better at the track than on the roads, where all ages and both sexes blend together, then disappear from sight for most of the distance. On the track you see all, and I love watching all that they do.

MORE THAN ONCE at the U.S. Masters Track Championships, I was asked, "Why aren't you running here?" My answer, given only partly in jest: "Because I don't belong here with you athletes."

My running was born on the track. I ran hundreds of races there, until I didn't need them anymore -- or, more to the point, didn't care to train for them anymore. Now I can watch the oldsters race on the track without wishing to be out there with them.

Another question came up as I sat in the bleachers last week: "Do you still run?" Yes, of course. I even run in some races, just none like those we watched at that moment.

"This isn't road racing," I said to someone seated beside me. Everyone has a place there, and everyone can hide in the crowd out on the course. That's why all my races are now on the road.

Track is different. Everyone is visible here, every step of the way, and runners who aren't competitive look out of place.

The Masters meet has never used qualifying standards and never wants to impose them. But runners seem to self-select based on ability.

If I can't stay within a lap of the leaders in races as short as 1500 meters, I don't belong on the track with runners my age. Nowadays I'd rather cheer them than chase them.


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