June 8, 2003
I had gotten word about a track (and field) Masters event at Orange Coast College. Even though Masters are technically anyone over 40, they also have a few Submasters categories once you pass 30 (since essentially there are not a lot of people that age that are still vying for international renown). Unlike most of the other events I have seen in Southern California, this event was ‘whatever you want to run for $12.’
I am not really a short distance runner (‘short,’ in my mind, meaning less than 5K; though in track parlance, Mile or longer is called “Middle Distance.”), so I was opting for the 5K Racewalk, because I have always wanted to try racing a 5K as a racewalker (I did a ‘version’ of racewalking at a Candlestick Park run in the 90s, when I didn’t really run.). I was also hearing a rumor of an unusual distance to be run – the 20K. This is not a distance that is run much of anywhere, but Dave Parsel (of the Boeing runs) had noted in the USATF record books that the M45-49 record was 1:40 and change (and he felt he could beat it). So… I decided to sign up for both the 5K Racewalk and the 20K.
The race organizers wanted to run the two races concurrently, but are unable to do so because of me. Instead, I run concurrently with heats of the 100-meter dash. By the way, I am the only one in the race. At least they give me the inside lane, but that also means that on a couple of occasions, I get a snootful of starter gun smoke. I become the So. Cal. Champion Racewalker with a time of 33:28.14 (about 10:30/mile).
Immediately (maybe 2 minutes), they start the 20K. No recovery, and doing the 20K is going to require slightly different muscles. Racewalking is a different animal. It isn’t simply walking fast; there is a technique, and there are rules to follow.. Your lead foot has to hit the ground with your leg locked straight, and cannot bend until it passes vertical. This rule is the reason why you will see racewalkers swaying so much; otherwise, the movement would be super-awkward. If you are following this rule, then the other rule is virtually impossible to violate – keeping at least a portion of one foot on the ground at all times. The really good racewalkers can almost do a running speed, and they barely have partial contact with the ground.
So, I have just finished 12-1/2 laps with this very specific movement at a decent rate of speed, and now I must switch gears to run 50 laps around the track.
Before the race, a spectator in the stands asked me how I thought I would do (before I even ran the 5K). I thought for a bit (because I only have one 20K under my belt and it was a trail race… and also I did not racewalk a 5K immediately before it), and answered, “I don’t know about time, but I am hoping not to be lapped more than 10 times by the winner.”
The person said to me, “Oh, c’mon, be positive!”
I said, “I AM being positive. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
There were 5 competitors in the race – Dave Parsel, John Araujo (also from Boeing), Paul Cook (the 50-something coach from OCC) and his friend. Because at least Dave is vying for the National Age Group record, they need to have a dedicated person for each of us to count and record the time of each and every lap.
I am not able to mount much of a pace (the wheels are coming off) and I keep getting lapped by my competitors. Dave is averaging 83 seconds per lap for most of the laps and finishes in 1:11 (the record). Paul Cook runs 1:13 and also sets the record. Dave laps me 18 (!) times, Paul laps me 16 times. The only person left is John Araujo, who had already run several shorter races and is tired. He only laps me 10 times, but he also runs the last 12 laps in his socks.
My timer somewhat drops the ball for me, but it’s not like I am going for a record. After about 33 laps, my counter says he doesn’t know how many laps I have left. To stave off boredom, I have been saying the lap count I am on, out loud (OK, maybe it doesn’t help with the boredom, but it does help to remember the laps). I can’t tell you what my average laps were , but it was considerably slower than everyone else (especially if they all lapped me at least 10 times). I finish in 1:58, which is a good 26 minutes SLOWER than my best half marathon… and this race is 0.7 miles shorter!
The best part of this event, besides becoming the M30-34 Champion in the 20K and the So. Cal. Overall Champion in the 5K Racewalk was the picture they snapped at the finish line. I wish I had this picture to share with you. See, when you do a track race, they snap a photo automatically when each competitor crosses the finish. This ensures photographic proof, in case it is a photo finish.
In a 20K when the competitors essentially do not finish within seconds of each other, but in minutes (and in my case, 10s of minutes), the picture is laughable. But what makes it classic is that the camera is set to catch normal-heighted people finishing. By the time I came in, I was running in the inside lane and the top of the camera is at the top of my neck, so I am captured as the headless finisher.