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.