Derek Larner is one of the fittest runners in Cayman and that was confirmed when he won a bronze medal in a 3,000 meters steeplechase masters race in the United States over the weekend.
Larner was third in the gruelling race at the United States Amateur Track and Field Masters Outdoor Championships in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Friday.
It was a hectic three days of racing because the 50-year-old insolvency accountant with BDO also ran the 800m in 2 minutes, 13 seconds. He came second but it was only good enough for ninth overall out of a field of 18.
He also ran the 1500m on Sunday. His back was still in pain from a heavy fall in the steeplechase but he had a massage beforehand and did not want to pull out.
“I tried to stay with the leaders but they were much quicker,” Larner said. “Still, I ran 4 minutes, 42 seconds and came eighth out of 14.”
Both the 800m and 1500m times were his fastest since his recent comeback so he was pleased.
The steeplechase winner was American James Wooldridge in 11 minutes, 15.82 seconds and Steven Chilton (11:26:85) was second.
Larner finished in 12:01.14, almost 17 seconds ahead of the next competitor.
Going into the event the Englishman, who coaches some of Cayman’s finest middle-distance youngsters, was looking for a fresh challenge but was not that confident considering the 3000m steeplechase involves a 3-foot high hurdle fives times per lap, one being a water jump.
It is over 7.5 laps and tackling the hurdle when running as fast as possible is incredibly draining and difficult, involving immense concentration and stamina.
“The thing is, unlike normal hurdles, these things don’t move,” Larner said. “If you misjudge one, it stays where it is and you fall over. Having had no steeplechase hurdle practice, I was more worried about looking like a right muppet than what position or time I ran.”
Initially he started at an easy pace. Once the race settled down, he scrambled over a couple of hurdles on the first lap but his first water jump was a disaster.
There was water on the approach and he slipped and just about got on top of the hurdle and dropped into the water, albeit on his feet.
But at the next hurdle, Larner misjudged it completely and tumbled over, landing heavily.
As he was falling, he could hear the officials gasp because it was not a soft landing.
Adrenalin and instinct got him back up and into his stride again, despite the pain and thoughts of pulling out.
“My left hip was out of line and my elbow had taken the brunt of my fall, which had jarred my back, which is still hurting.”
There was no time to feel sorry for himself because the next hurdle was fast approaching, so he had to grit his teeth and try to get his confidence back.
It took about three hurdles later before he regained his rhythm and this time made a much better effort over the water jump. By this time, Wooldridge and Chilton had broken away from the 11-strong field and the best he could realistically hope for was third place.
The pace was well within his limits but he did not want to approach the hurdles too fast and end up on his back again or worse still, upside down in the drink.
For the next five laps, every hurdle was a challenge, just to focus and get over each one unscathed, whilst trying to block out his back pain from the fall.
However, he stayed the course, pulled away from the rest of the field and has a well earned bronze medal for his troubles.
A regular on the Cayman road running landscape, Larner is a competitor and organizer of events through his company Race Caribbean.
His prime reason for entering this masters competition was to inspire the kids he coaches. “I wanted to lead by example,” he said. “I’m very proud of what the distance runners have achieved and wanted to show them the old man can do it too.”
Larner trains nearly every day but he is not really specialized in track events, more road races from 5k up to full marathons.
“Next year, I may concentrate on track only and try again. I had not ran a steeplechase since I was 23. We don’t do steeplechase in Cayman as the hurdles are missing so I wanted a challenge – and certainly got one.”
In the few years he has been coaching, the youngsters have improved considerably.
“When I first started coaching them, they used me as a rabbit, but now they are faster than me so I’m the one chasing.
“There is a bunch who rarely miss a session all year round, such as Tiffany Cole, Tahj Lewis, Kiara McLaughlin, Marlena Williams, Delano Callender, Dominic Dyer, Will Edwards and Jayda Rae-Smith.”
He added that there are others who use running for fitness between activities and they are also extremely talented, such as Alex Logvinov, Mykel Mills, Sherlock Brooks, Fabian McCallum, Marc Thomas, and the younger members of the group, especially Claudina Morgan, Jude Reynolds and James Crooks.
“I am hoping that at least eight of them will qualify for CARIFTA next year.”
Larner is perpetually in motion. His next project is this Sunday, helping Derek Haines with the charity 6k he is organizing at Camana Bay from 7 a.m. Haines will be running the San Francisco Marathon at the same time as part of the $1 million Hospice Challenge.
Larner said, “I will take a break from organizing in August but in September I may be required to time the Fidelity Series and, of course, in October we have Halloween 10-10-10 relay and the Cayman Islands 30k solo run.”