Saturday, July 18, 2009. Day two of the Canadian Masters National Track Championships. I'd worked towards this day for months - the day I was scheduled to race 400meters - 2:45pm start time. It was only 9am as we left our room in Sun Peaks and headed for the track in Kamloops, BC, but already my stomach was "clutching", my heart beating faster. We arrived at the track in time to see the 100 meter runners struggle into a blustery wind. "Oh no", I thought. "Not another 400 into a head wind up the finishing straight". No time to worry about that - and nothing to be done about it anyway. Time to finish up my Vega energy bar, take some more sips of Vega Sport, and get started on my warmup. Usually, beginning this well-grooved routine helps to quiet my nerves. Not this day. As the clock ticked toward the time by which I had to "declare", that is confirm that I was present and ready to race, I'd made at least three trips to the washroom. "Hmmm - nerves in full force today" I muttered to myself.
Check in at the Accreditation tent, have my spikes inspected, confirm that my number was on the back of my singlet. Then join the 400 metre runners in all the other age categories as we went into the final stages of physical and mental preparation. So much adrenalin in that tent! "Why do I put myself through this" I pondered. "I'm 71 years old, I've been racing in masters athletics since 1975. Why don't I just join the spectators. A much more pleasant way to enjoy a track meet!"
"All women in 60+ and up running the 400 metres - ready to proceed to the start" called the volunteer. Seven of us collected at the gate leading onto the track: two in 60-64; one in 65-69; two in my 70-74 category; and two in 75-79. I knew from our "seed" times - the times we had submitted as likely results at the time we entered the meet - that only one of these women was likely to be ahead of me: 62-year-old Avril, a very experienced 400 metre runner and former holder of both national and world masters records in several age categories. As we lined up for the staggered start, I was in lane 5 and Avril behind me in lane 4. These last few minutes are the hardest of all. Try a few starts. Take a few deep breathes. Focus. Then the traditional three-command start, the last command being the starter's gun. Time to "GO"
My strategy was to "go out hard" and try to hang on. "Forget about the wind", I told myself. So I did. As I expected, Avril had made up the "stagger" within the first 150 metres. 250 to go, and I was working hard. I fixed my gaze on Avril's bright orange singlet and hung on. Off the bend and into the straight with 100 metres to go. I wasn't catching her, but neither was she runnng away from me. Sometimes "the bear jumps on your back" (a "favourite" expression for 400 metre runners) at this point. I eluded that bear ALMOST to the finish line. He got me with 30m to go, and I was struggling. But I hung on - over the finish line, with Avril not that far ahead of me, and all the others well behind.
I was down on the track - not just because I was exhausted, but because I had to get my sprint spikes off and rush them back to loan to a team-mate who would be running his 400 metres in a few minutes. Then we waited for the results. Avril first in 60+ then "winner in 70+, with a new Canadian record of 77.14 seconds, Diane Palmason". The record I had broken was only my own from my first season in 70+ the previous year. But this meant that I had run faster at 71 than I had at 70, and into a strong headwind.
Oh yes - I forgot to mention the wind. I didn't even notice it! It was there, but so was my focus. When I thought about it afterwards I speculated that on a calmer, cooler day I could run even faster. When's the next track meet? Hmmm - maybe the "high" I felt as I shared my results with my coach and team-mates is the reason why I'm still doing this - and will continue to do it in the years to come.
Time to go back to the motel and have my recovery special -a full serving of Vega Optimizer (berry flavour!). Then on to the Athletes banquet, where I was taken totally by surprise when the president of the Canadian Masters Athletic Association (CMAA) announced that the CMAA Female Runner of the Year for 2008 was me!. What a great way to start an evening in which I mc'ed the induction of eight of Canada's top older masters athletes into the CMAA Hall of Fame. These are athletes now in their late 70s, 80s, and 90s who have had world-class careers on the track, with four of them still "at it". They're my inspiration as I think about races and meets in the years to come (while forgetting all the nerves and stress of the morning).
Other results that weekend? I also broke my own Canadian 70+ record in the 200 metres with a 33.70, a time that would have placed me #1 in the 200 metre rankings for 70+ in 2008. It's looking good for my participation in the track meet at the World Masters Games in Sydney in October.