By Bill Tharpe
About ten years ago I casually remarked to a former track coach that it would be really great if there were track meets for older competitors. He agreed, but little did either of us know at that time that there were, indeed, such opportunities.
In the summer of 2003, I went out to Maclay track to check out the GWTC Summer Track program which I had read about in The Tallahassee Democrat and rediscovered the excitement of competitive sprinting. Since then, I searched the internet to find out when and where other track competitions take place. For the past couple of years I have identified, traveled to and competed in such competitions.
The major forums for track and field athletes are the Masters Track & Field competitions. These are for athletes 35 and older who compete in five year age groups. That is, 35-39, 40-44, etc. Although you may actually compete against younger or older competitors in a race, your place in the race is based on your times measured against those in your age group. Almost every state will have these meets. Florida has a number of them in Clermont in the spring and early summer, including a Florida championship meet in June. Beyond that, there are regional meets, like the Southeastern Masters T&F Championships meet which includes about 10 states. Last year it was held in Savannah and this year it will be in Durham, N.C. on Duke’s track. There is also a national meet in August of each year. Last year is was in Hawaii and this year it will be in Charlotte, NC. Finally, every other year, there is an international meet. This past year it was held in San Sebastian, Spain. In 2007, it will be in Riccione, Italy.
These are first class meets with USATF officials and electronic timing systems. The best thing is that you don’t have to qualify to compete in any of these meets, even the national competition. Just register in advance and compete in the preliminary/semifinal heats in order to make the finals. Outdoor Masters meets typically include: 100M, 200M, 400M, 800M, 1500M, Mile, 100 and 400 M hurdles, 5K run and walk, and usually some relays. Field events include: long jump, high jump, shot put, discuss, pole vault and javelin.
In addition to Masters meets, every state offers Senior Games competitions. These are for athletes over 50 and, like Masters, you compete in five-year age groups. Sports from swimming and biking to badminton and archery are on the menu. The track and field events are well officiated with electric timing. To go to the state championships in December you must qualify at a regional by finishing in the top five in your event in your age group. The closest regional is in Gainesville. There is a national championship held every other year which takes the top 2 or 3 runners in each age group event from each state. The 2005 Nationals were in Pittsburg. Beginners might want to start with Senior Games where levels of competition are easier. In contrast, masters competition pulls in elite runners from all over.
For Masters Track and Field competitors, there are top 25 national outdoor rankings in all events and age groups. Here are only a few examples.
100 meter Men 65-69: 12.83 to 14.40 Women 14:48 to 22.13
200 meter Men 40-44 21.49 to 24.15 Women 25.89 to 32.40
1500 meter Men 45-49: 4:01 to 4:41 Women 4:55 to 7:36
5000 meter Men 55-59: 17:09 to 20.15 Women 20:42 to 28:38
These rankings, competition opportunities, race results links and more can be found at www.MastersTrack.com. Locally, we have our GWTC Summer Track Series at the Maclay track beginning in June. Come on out and try you hand, er, feet. It’s fun and relaxed. You might find, as I did, how much fun sprint competitions can be. See you at the track.
[Bill Tharpe is 57 years old and has medaled in the SE Regional and National Masters Championships in each of the last two years, winning gold in the SE Regionals and silver medals in the 100 and 200 meter sprints in Hawaii last year. In the 2005 World Masters Championships in Spain, Bill made the finals in both the 100 and 200 meter sprints, finishing the 200 in 7th place with a personal best 25.43 seconds]