By Douglas Thompson
Athletic performance breakthroughs are rare. For masters athletes, they may be even less common, since the athlete has already tried many approaches to improve their performance, and because time is constantly eroding what is possible.
I seem to be experiencing one of these rare breakthroughs. It’s exciting, but I’m still not sure it’s going to last, and that makes me nervous.
I am sharing my story in the hopes that some of you will share your own, and give me some perspective and insight into what may be happening.
Since I began running track at age 44, I have been consistently good but not great. I met the All-American standard in the 800 meters in my second year of competition, and naturally looked to improve from there.
Surely with some additional experience and effort, I thought, I would climb in the world rankings. But in spite of a serious approach and a lot of work, that never happened. Every year I met the All-American standard for the 800, but never cracked the world top 25.
Arguably my best year was 2014 – I placed fifth in the 800 at U.S. outdoor nationals, and my 800 time was eighth in the U.S. and 27th in the world. I was even 43rd in the world in the 400!
Then, beginning in 2015, I had a series of injuries, including plantar fasciitis, a sportsman’s hernia, hamstring pulls, a broken toe and finally two meniscus tears. My record from mastersrankings.com shows two mediocre 800 race times from 2015, and then nothing, until this year.
I tore my left meniscus (the lining of the knee joint) in early 2016, and didn’t realize what I’d done until later that year. All I knew is that it hurt to run more than a mile or two, and I couldn’t train seriously. I had surgery in November, and then, while rehabbing my left knee, tore my right meniscus in early 2017.
I was finally able to resume training in the summer of 2017 and, needless to say, I was really slow. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to return to competitive track.
Due to my knee injury, I wasn’t able to run more than a few miles without my knees swelling and aching, but sprinting didn’t have the same effect. I was able to run all out without bothering my knees, and that’s what I did. It was a lot more fun to train as a sprinter instead of an 800 meter runner, and I made rapid progress.
By the end of 2017 I was running 13.5 in the 100, 27.8 in the 200, 62.6 in the 400 and 2:36 in the 800. Not great times, but I was confident that I would once again run competitively.
By spring 2018, I had exceeded all of my goals and expectations. By the end of April, I had run 12.85 in the 100, 26.5 in the 200 and 59.2 in the 400, but only 2:30 in the 800. My FAT race times were a little slower: 13.17 in the 100, 26.95 in the 200 and 59.82 in the 400.
To give some perspective on these times, I hadn’t run under 13 seconds for the 100 in 10 years. I had only run under 26.5 for the 200 meters once, in 2008 – 10 years ago. And my 2014 400 time, my fastest since 2009, was 59.7 – slower than what I am now running in practice.
In summary, I am now running faster in the 100, 200 and 400 meters than I have since 2009, although much slower than I ever have in my former specialty, the 800 meters. And here’s the part I’m really excited about: If I can just maintain my performance until October of this year, when I turn 60, I should finally crack the top 25 in the world rankings in the 100, the 200 AND the 400, and possibly the top 10 in the 400.
The question is: WHY am I faster now? The answer is: I don’t know. It could be because I always had more potential in these shorter races, but that my focus on the 800 meters kept me from training to my potential. It could also be that my three-year, injury-enforced break from competition has given me “fresh legs.”
Or that my unique genetics are causing me to lose speed more slowly than other people on the rankings list.
As I mentioned, I’m nervous. I’m months away from age 60, and I’m worried that I’m going to be injured, or fall ill before I get some official marks in the record.
Recently I’ve had a period of low energy that I believe was caused by dehydration, and then some heart flutters that concern me. I hope that I can continue to perform well, and even improve, long enough to enjoy the fruits of this breakthrough.
Have any of you experienced something similar? What was it like, and did the improvement last? Do you have any ideas about what could be going on and how to keep it going?
Welcome to Guest Essay, our latest feature. If you’d like to submit your own and reach thousands of people, write me at TrackCEO@aol.com and include a photo of yourself (preferably in competition). All essays are unpaid and subject to light editing.
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