This past weekend, I decided to participate in my first-ever Tennessee state Senior Olympics in track and field.
I did not do that well, but chalked it up as some positive experience gained from at least attempting a physical challenge – if not exactly conquering it.
I had actually first participated in the local track competition of the Senior Olympics exactly 10 years ago when I was about to reach the eligible age of 50.
Unfortunately, I did not do that well running in the 200- and 400-meter races then, either.
In fact, I was surprisingly so tired after the 200, the first event, that I paced myself in the more grueling 400 not for a strong finish, as is the usual strategy, but just for any kind of finish! I did not do any better and ended up writing about the experiences then, and tried to laugh it off simply as the repercussions of growing into middle age and losing whatever athletic skills I once had.
Well, 10 years later, I still consider myself an eternal optimist, so I decided to try again, since I would be moving into the 60-to-64-age range where I would be a relatively younger competitor again. I also hoped that the older accomplished sprinters had finally started slowing down.
And this time I wanted to try the shorter sprints. If I did not do any better, I would at least not be as tired, I thought to myself.
Being a natural competitor like most people, I had also realized long distance racing was obviously not my forte and wanted to try a sport or distance that seemed to fit better my skills, if any talents by chance still existed.
In the four or five road races of 5 kilometers or slightly more I have competed in yearly over the last few years, I usually have not done that well. Of course, it is primarily because I am competing mostly against runners who are not only younger than I am, but also skinnier. And they seem to smile more than I do after the races, too.
But with those cross country road races, I am usually happy just to finish before heading off to eat a guilt-free breakfast at Hardee’s or Bojangles’ after burning so many calories.
Of course, the latter has contributed to the middle age paunch I have.
With all that in mind, I decided to compete in the local Senior Olympics qualifying one weekday morning last fall at Girls Preparatory School. Although some of the different age groups were put into the same heats due to the fact there were no more than 30 or 40 overall competitors, I was uplifted a little in that I finished close to the middle of the pack in both the 100 and 50.
So, with at least that small positive thought to hang my proverbial hat on, I headed up Saturday to the burgeoning Nashville suburb of Franklin to the Battle Ground Academy track. One qualifies for the state simply by competing in the district games. A certain finish is not a prerequisite.
After checking in at the track, I began trying to loosen up and noticed a late afternoon dark cloud move across the sky. As a result, race officials decided to delay the start of the first event – the 100 – by about 15 minutes.
That disappointed me, and I quickly realized I was more in the mood to get the event over, rather than wanting to cherish the experience. I was also not conversing a whole lot with the seemingly jovial group of fellow competitors, either, and realized for whatever reason I probably wanted to be somewhere else.
I guess the fight or flight syndrome had overcome me, and I was wishing for the latter.
I also glanced at the high jump and pole vault landing pads and was glad I did not also have to take the time to compete in those events, even though I loved high jumping as a youngster. I guess whatever ounce of competitive juices I still had in me regarding athletics had long departed. I was now simply an armchair quarterback.
The time for my heat of the 100 finally came, and as we went down the track after the gun sounded, I was surprised at how I was able to pick up some speed, or at least what felt to me like speed.
To train for this moment, I had completed an extensive regimen of one sprint of anywhere from 40 to 100 yards during my daily jogs.
Unfortunately, several people – well, all of them in my heat, I believe – were ahead of me. There was one person next to me who was just barely in front of me, though. I tried to pick up the pace, but could not catch him and realized my afterburners had at some point in my life left me.
However, I was just happy to at least not embarrass myself or, even worse, get injured. But I did manage to inflict some physical pain due to the exertion. I never thought of the 100 as a grueling race when I was young, but it evidently is now. And I also realized I had to pace myself and use strategy!
The man whom I had finished close to seemed real friendly and we started talking afterward and I realized he was from Chattanooga, too. He seemed to have recovered nicely, while I did not feel that great and was just hoping I did not fall over from pushing myself too hard while he was enthusiastically talking to me.
Within a minute or two, though, I felt better, so I took a little jog afterward on a farm-like field next to the track to burn a few more calories. And before I got back to my hotel room, I took a few calories back in at Zoe’s restaurant, a chain I used to enjoy when we lived in Knoxville.
As I sat there and ate, I had a feeling of overall satisfaction in having at least given it the old college – or maybe advanced middle age -- try.
The next morning, I got up and headed out to the track early, ready not to continue enjoying the spirit of competition, but simply to complete my final event – the 50.
I was thankful the distance this time was only half as far, although I admittedly felt quite sore from the day before as I tried to jog a little and loosen up.
The race soon came, and I was down the track and hit the finish line before I knew what had happened. Unfortunately, the results were not any better, as I finished fifth out of five competitors in my age group and had a time of 8.90 seconds. I would have just barely beaten the Olympic competitors if they had been running 100 meters and started 50 meters behind me.
However, I saw one Knoxville area coach I used to see regularly, and he complimented me on what he called still being able to have a high lift when I ran.
So I took that small positive home with me, even if I did not have any medals to go with it.
Regarding my future as a senior sprinter, I might still try to run the local Senior Olympics again this fall if I can get my nerve back up. But I am probably retiring from the state Senior Olympics and will maybe use my hotel money on something else.
However, I must say that the other competitors were nothing short of inspiring. That included everyone from nonagenarian Charlie Baker from Chattanooga, who was the only male competitor in his age group, to all the others closer to my age, who impressed me at how fast they could still run.
One person who won the 800-meter race looked more like a college runner as he zipped around the track twice. Hey, maybe they should check his birth certificate! Just kidding.
I was also impressed there were several fellow stocky runners competing, all of whom did well, although one appeared to pull a muscle and stumble toward the end, causing a brief hush among the onlookers.
As for me, I am just thankful that as I near 60 years old, I am still able to walk up to a starting line and move when the starter’s gun goes off.
The overall good experience quickly took me mentally back to those high school track and field days of my youth 40-plus years ago -- even if my body did not take me physically as swiftly down the track as it once did!