When Derek Larner formed the Middle Distance Running Club five years ago to teach talented youngsters, he thought his track career was over – yet last weekend, aged 51, he won two silver medals at a masters meet to prove the veteran legs are not gone yet.
As Larner’s club kids got older and faster, just to keep up in training and races, although no slouch, he had to become much fitter himself.
It led to a comeback to serious track racing last year at the United States Amateur Track and Field Masters Outdoor Championships where he won a 3,000 meters steeplechase bronze medal, despite falling heavily early in the race and injuring his back.
Last week Larner went to another masters meet, this time at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. He entered the 800m and 1500m winning silver, both times finishing behind Alan Wells of New York.
These championships are only held every other year and apart from athletics, include many other sports, such as archery, badminton, cycling, golf, swimming, triathlon, tennis, basketball and softball along with unusual events like horseshoes, pickleball (mini-tennis), bowling and shuffle board.
The two 800m semifinals were on Saturday with the final on Sunday. Larner’s previous 800m best as a senior athlete came last year in a time of 2 minutes 13 seconds at the US Masters. He ran close to it in the semifinals this time. In the final, Larner smashed that time and ran 2:11.58 and had to tough it out as he was overtaken just after the first lap and another runner was closing in and he could have ended the race without a podium finish.
“I have trained very hard over the last couple of months with the MDRs and didn’t want to waste all of that training, so gritted my teeth, pumped my arms and let my legs go all out,” he said. “The winner was a level above the rest of us and he finished in 2:06.44 so about five seconds ahead.”
The 1500m was on Monday and a straight final with 16 runners. Larner’s previous best senior time was a few weeks ago at the Truman Bodden track in 4 minutes 37 seconds. In the final, he was pushed all the way by Matt Guild, a runner from Virginia and was made to run 4:33.56 with a strong finish.
“It was tough because there was a wind down the back straight and any track athlete can tell you how much the wind can sap your energy, and Matt used me as a wind shield whilst I battled through.”
The video is on Facebook and Guild clearly tucked in behind Larner from start to finish. Thanks to some very tough speed training with the MDRs, particularly Tahj Lewis, Delano Callender, Sherlock Brooks, Victor Maghalaes, Dominic Dyer and William Edwards over the past few weeks, Larner had the ability to out sprint him over the last 200m for his second silver. Wells won in 4:28.27.
“Three races in three days is not easy, but no time to rest as I have more races to come,” he said. Larner said the meet was “very well managed as one would expect from an event of this magnitude.”
He added, “The registration process was simple and all starts were on time. All athletes are split into five year age groups so athletes of a similar age competed against each other making it much fairer and better competitions.”
He next competes in the USA Masters, starting this Thursday, in Jacksonville, Florida. This is normally a much tougher level of competition because it is run every year and is only for track and field athletes. Apart from the 800m and 1,500m, the Englishman from Blackburn, Lancashire, has entered the steeplechase and will try not to fall down this year.
“I’m also entered in the World Masters in Lyon, France in August and will race in the 1,500m and the 3,000m steeplchase. This is gonna be very tough and I will be lucky to qualify for a final, but will give it my best shot.”
He added, “The MDRs love it when their coach wins something. When I perform well in a race I hope it inspires them to achieve more themselves and believe that the hard training produces the results.”