Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The birthdays keep coming

This blog started because I was about to turn 60 and it was my way of coping with this milestone event. On Monday, I hit 61 so I guess I survived turning 60, and I'm now well into this decade that I feared . . . So should I change the name of my blog?

It's been an interesting year. Work has been extremely busy because of the election and I'm also continuing my venture into throwing the shot and discus. It's my way of staying in shape. I competed in three tracks meets this year -- Stanford in April, Manteca in May and Long Beach in September. I missed most of the summer meets because of my work schedule.

Surprisingly, I won a second-place medal in the shot put at the masters track meet at Long Beach State in the 60-64 category. I didn't ask how many people competed in the shot. I was fourth in the discus, just out of the medal category. I threw better in both events in the two previous meets.

My technique definitely needs improving. I learned this from the photos that a photographer took at the Long Beach meet. I can see that I'm not throwing either implement the way I'm suppose to throw, and that limits my distance. I'll post some of the photos when I get them scanned into the system.

I also need to get stronger, which means more time in the gym with weights. So it's back to training.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's so hot

Over the weekend, I split up my training routine for the shot put and discus. I usually do both events at the same training session. But it was so hot this weekend that I decided to throw the shot put on Saturday and the discus on Sunday.

It took a little extra time, but I got through both workouts without fainting from heat exhaustion. My performance was OK, but I noticed that I had "tired legs" when I was throwing the discus.

The heat reminds me of a column that ran in The Fresno Bee on Sunday from David Mas Masumoto, a San Joaquin Valley farmer/philosopher. Mas repeated one-liners, using the theme "It's so hot" to tiem them all together.

Here are a few examples:

It's so hot that ...

-- You burn your hand opening the car door.

-- You learn that a seat belt makes a pretty good branding iron.

-- The AAA Rescue Team had to "unstick" you from your vinyl car seat.

-- You discover that in July, it takes only two fingers to drive your car

-- You find out too late that you can get a sunburn through your car window.

-- The best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance. This becomes a serious sport.

-- Your car overheats before you drive it.

-- You realize that asphalt has a liquid state.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The loneliness of a discus thrower

I've found that I like the solitude of throwing the discus and shot put on our recent pleasant Fresno evenings. For about an hour, I'm locked in on my goal of doing better -- a few inches at a time.

I relax as I throw each implement and then go fetch them. It's part of the learning process. I throw and then figure out what I need to do to get better as I walk back to the throwing circle. I think a lot during this process, although not quite enough judging by my incremental improvement. The shot put is about strength and explosiveness at launch and the discus is about strength and a bit of ballet as you try to get most out of the toss.

The proper technique is crucial in both events. I've been watching the best in these events on YouTube videos. My technique leaves much to be desired.

While I like the solitude of practice, on some days I wish I had someone to spot my marks and then help measure them. I usually eyeball my distance and then pace off the number of yards to where I think it landed. It's not very precise. The shot put is easy to mark because it makes a big dent in the pit. But the discus is a little tougher because the throw is longer and it lands on grass.

It's time to throw the discus and the shot. Anyone out there want to catch them for me?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Trekking up 99 for a seniors track meet

I got up early Saturday morning for the two-hour drive to Manteca for my second seniors track meet. As I bounced along on the pockmarked pavement that poses as a 21st century freeway, I focused on my goal of getting better at every meet.

I pulled into Manteca's Sierra High School, and the organizers were just beginning to set up. My first event, the discus, was at 9:30 a.m. and I wanted to make sure I got there in time to warm up at my own pace. I could have slept in another hour before heading up the 99. At age 60, I've wasted a lot of my life getting to places way too early.

I finally found the official in charge of the field events, and he said he would have to measure my implements. Excuse me? "Your discus and shot put," he said. "They have to be weighed and measured to meet specs." What a relief. For a moment, I thought I was back in 7th-grade P.E. and dreading showering with the older kids. It's been awhile since my implements were measured.

My 5K shot put (about 11 pounds) and my 1K discus (about 2.2 pounds) were certified as usable in my age group -- 60 to 64. Now for a little stretching, and then the wait for the first call for the discus. I brought my favorite newspaper and read until the public address announcer said it was first call for the discus. That gave me about 15 minutes to throw before the competition began.

It was a good meet for me. I threw a PR (personal record in track parlance), with 87 feet on my first try. There were four rounds, and the best I could do on the next three tosses was 84 feet. My first meet last month at Stanford had a dismal best of 72 feet, so this was a big improvement. My goal was 90 feet. I was a bit short of that mark, but I'm pleased with 87 feet.

The shot put competition was at 11:30 a.m. and my goal was 27 feet. I missed it by this much. I had a best toss of 26 feet, 10 inches. I was two inches short of my target. Not bad, though. But for the shot, I need more weight training, and more explosiveness across the 7-foot ring. I worry about fouling and that limits me.

I didn't place in either of Saturday's event, but I had a strong personal performance. Right now I'm just competing against myself. Most of the competitors are very friendly, but the top throwers are somewhat aloof. They've been doing this for years so I wrote that off to them hanging with people they've known for awhile. I'm the newbie, and I need to prove I'm cool, just like in junior high.

A couple of the mid-range throwers gave me some tips, and one suggested trying the Lake Tahoe meet in two weeks. "The air is thinner up there," he said with a wink. "Yeah, right," I responded. "I'll be Al Oerter at Lake Tahoe. . . the air is so thin." That even brought a chuckle from one of the top competitors.

I said so long to everyone and walked to my car. Because there was a Bass Pro Shop in Manteca, I had to check it out before heading back to Fresno. I swung by this mother of all sporting goods stores and was impressed. A two-story indoor waterfall, a trout pond inside stocked with the biggest trout I ever seen, and row after row of merchandise. The place was packed and people were buying.

I spent about an hour looking at the stuff. I bought a couple of things, including a Spider-Man fishing pole for my new great-nephew. Finally, it was time for this one to go home. Fresno was beckoning. I had a few sore muscles, but it was a good day, all things considered.

Now, do you really think the discus will fly farther in the Lake Tahoe air?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Maybe a little coaching would help this old guy

With a week away from the Manteca Seniors Meet, I need to make some progress in my performances in both the shot put and discus. I'm at the point where I'm not making significant gains in my distances, and that's frustrating.

I went to the Fresno State track this morning to work on the shot put, and the Bulldogs "throwers" were practicing in the discus/hammer cage. I asked if the shot put pit was available and throwing coach Lisa Misipeka said it was wide open. Fresno State has been very generous with their track facilities.

I began warming up, and a few minutes later one of the Fresno State athletes walked over to ask if I needed some tips. This wasn't just any athlete. It was Rosie Sanchez, one of the nation's top shot putters. Rosie will be in Ruston, La., next weekend to compete in the WAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Louisiana Tech. She has the second-best throw in the WAC this season and she said she's going to this weekend's meet to win the conference championship. I'm rooting for her.

She gave me several suggestions, including pointing out that I don't launch the shot from the right spot. I act as if I'm trying to throw it, and I should have it closer to my chin and then push it. She also said I need to lead with my hips to get an explosive launch. I tend to start my glide in a strong position, and then lose momentum as I reach the toe board and push the ball.

I have noticed that I can almost get as much distance without the glide, so it's clear that I'm not talking full advantage of the seven-foot ring.

Rosie gave me several drills that should help (if my 60-year-old brain can remember them).

I'm going to work on the discus this evening. Unfortunately, I'll be my own coach, and we've seen how far that's gotten me so far.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Practicing on a Sunday afternoon

The weather was perfect this afternoon so I headed over to Fresno State to practice the discus and the shot put. There were only a few people on the track and the discus cage and shot put pit were open. Sometimes when I go to Fresno State, the track team is practicing and the facilities are not available, and I have to drive to a high school looking for a place to throw.

I was in luck this time. I started with the discus, my weakest of the two throwing events that I'm doing. I think that's because I just started throwing the discus and I'm still developing my technique. I'm not much of a dancer, and there's sort of a dance move to the discus spin just before launching it. But the discus is a fun event.

I'm also trying to get used to my equipment. My practice discus is made of rubber and my competitive discus is a hard plastic with a metal rim. (I just got the competitive discus by UPS on Friday). Both are 1 kilogram (which is what's used in my age group), so you'd think they'd be the same. But I get a much better grip with the rubber discus, and better distance. The competitive discus slips out of my hand and the flight is very wobbly.

One thing I've learned in my short discus career is that you must throw the discus so that it has a smooth flight for maximum distance. My tosses too often aren't very aerodynamic. I call them "Joe Kapp passes," if you are familiar with the old Cal and NFL quarterback who didn't throw many spirals.

In my first meet at Stanford last month, I only threw the discus 72 feet. That's bad. Very bad. It was raining off and on, but the conditions didn't hurt my performance. I just needed more practice time. I'm consistently in the 90-foot range now, but I need to be in the 100s. So I'm in the vicinity of mediocre right now.

But I hope to reach the 100-foot mark by the Manteca Senior Games on March 15. That won't get me among the top competitors, but at least it won't embarrass me, either.

After practicing the discus Sunday afternoon, I headed over to the shot put pit. I felt good, and hit the 27-foot mark on a few tosses. But I need to throw the shot at least 30 feet to be competitive. I'm several months from achieving that mark. I need more weight training, especially lower body to become more explosive at the launch.

Friends and family are a bit surprised I'm doing this. But I enjoy the competition, and it helps me relax. It's often difficult for me to unwind from the intense world of newspaper opinion writing, with its deadline pressures and dealing with the people who don't like my opinions. It's getting very nasty out there. Agreeing to disagree and respecting differing opinions are concepts that not many folks embrace these days.

The throwing events also are helping me get into better physical shape -- always important when you're 60 years old. I might even decide to throw the hammer, although I think I could get hurt in that event.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Venturing into a competitive event

It was not exactly the best weather for my first shot put competition, and there was the possibility that the event would be canceled because of heavy rain in the Bay Area. But the shot put officials squeezed in the competition this morning at Stanford University's track stadium. It was one of many events in the two-day Bay Area Senior Games at Stanford.

The shot put circle is made of concrete and was very slippery as the rain came down. Most of the competitors were a bit tentative as they participated, not sure whether they would fall if the put all their effort into a toss.

After a short warm-up period, we got four throws in competition. My first two attempts were from a standing position. I wasn't ready to glide across the ring in the rain. I just wanted to get a mark without fouling or falling on my rear end.

My first two marks were in the 25-foot range. I had set a personal goal of 27 feet, and was not sure how the elements would affect me. I kept a towel over the shot put to keep it dry between tosses. With about 14 competitors, it took awhile for your turn to come around again, and I was not completely warmed up early in the event.

On my third and fourth attempts, I decided to get some momentum behind the tosses. My third attempt was the best. It was recorded at 29 feet, 2 inches. I think it was much shorter because I have never thrown that far in practice. The rain pounded down on my fourth attempt, and I threw with my warmups still on and with a hooded sweatshirt over it all. It was not a good toss. I was fourth in the 60-64 age group, which sounds good until you find out there were only five competitors in that category.

On Saturday, I competed in the discus. I had not thrown it before and decided to give it a try a couple of weeks ago. Since I was going to drive to Palo Alto, I might as well try a second event.

My goal was 75 feet and I threw it 72 feet. I'll take it because I know I can improve with a little help on my technique. The discus competition was delayed about an hour because the soccer matches at the Senior Games were going on at the same time. Whoever laid out the field did not realize that the discus throwers would land their tosses well beyond the goalie. We were supposed to get six attempts, but they cut it back to four so we could get the competition completed more quickly. I could have used those two extra attempts.

The weekend was a good first competition for me. Too bad the weather didn't cooperate. But I had fun, and I can't wait until I can compete again. There's a competition in Manteca next month and I will see if I can get into it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The serious training begins

On Saturday, I began training in the shot put at Fresno State's Warmerdam Field for a meet next month at Stanford. I have been putting off the actual competition because I'm not hitting the marks to be competitive. But decided to just jump in. So I'll be at a seniors meet at Stanford.

I met Tom Marsella for the day's workout. Tom is the guy who last year talked me into competing in seniors track and field. He's done very well in the competition over the past several years. It was a beautiful morning, and the field was mostly empty.

We had the good fortune to run into Bob Fraley, the former head track coach at Fresno State. Bob, always the teacher, began giving us tips on the shot put and discus. Bob even ran home to get some reading material for us.

When he came back, he said every track "thrower" needs a stick of chalk during training. Then he took his chalk and marked a big "L" and "R" in the shot put ring and told us to put our feet on the marks and work on our technique.

When you throw the shot, Bob said, you push it right through a 7-foot-11 guy standing in front of you. I'm starting to get the hang of it, and I'm improving my distance some, although still not in the range I want to be. I'm even thinking about throwing the discus. I bought a beginner's discus and I'm trying to perfect the spin coming off my hand. . . It seems I'm throwing a "wounded duck."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'm back and ready to throw the shot put

After the winter layoff, I started again throwing the shot put this evening in my backyard. The change to Daylight Savings Time made this possible after work. I'm into intense training for a Seniors meet at Stanford University on April 11.

That doesn't give me much time to train, but I figure I need to get accustomed to real competition in the 60-64 age group. I'm using this meet as a warmup for a June statewide meet in Pasadena. You don't really have to qualify. You pay your entry fees and you get three tosses in the preliminaries. And then on to the finals if you do well enough. We'll see.

I threw the shot about 24 feet in my makeshift pit in my backyard. Not bad for the first tosses of the year. My best last fall was about 27 feet. I need to hit about 32feet to have any chance of placing in my age group. I'm not sure I can add eight feet in 27 days. Maybe I should call Mark McGwire to see if I can get some artificial help since he's through with the steroids.

The backyard shot put pit was overgrown from all the weeds that sprouted from the heavy winter rains and the nurturing of the now sunny weather. I created a path to throw, and will have the backyard mowed tomorrow.

Funny thing. The 12-pound shot put ball that was silver last fall, is now a reddish brown. Yep. Rusted over the winter. But a few evenings of tossing it should bring back the luster. If not, I'll take some steel wool to it.