Derek Larner is one of the busiest athletes in the Cayman Islands despite being 51.
He has a day job, trains with and coaches youngsters who are talented middle-distance runners during the evenings and weekends, organizes races and is an excellent competitor himself. He ran three races at the USA Track and Field Masters meet in Jacksonville, Florida, over the weekend. In each race Larner finished in a higher position than last year and he also ran two personal bests.
His weekend didn’t start that well, though, as Larner’s flights were delayed because of poor weather in Miami. After a 12-hour wait in Miami International Airport, the flight finally took off.
“Had I known I would have to wait that long I would have hired a car and driven there,” Larner fumed.
He eventually arrived at his Jacksonville hotel around 1:30 a.m., but had to be up very early to find his way to the stadium, collect his competitor’s package and warm up, ready for a 9 a.m. start of the 800 meters event.
Not the best preparation, and to make matters worse, there were two finals for the 800m, with the places decided by time. Being in the faster race is obviously an advantage, but Larner struggled and didn’t have the energy to push as hard as he wanted.
Although he ran a couple of seconds slower than at the Senior Games a week before, he still finished in fifth place out of 16, in 2 minutes, 13.97 seconds, so was happy enough, all things considered.
The next day, Friday, was the 1,500m. After a good night’s sleep and an hour-long massage, Larner was far more rested and felt the energy return. Last year he came ninth in 4:42 and wanted to improve.
The start was delayed because of poor weather with lightning close to the track. When they were ready to go, they combined two heats and had 25 runners on the start line.
With that many runners, he didn’t want to get tripped or boxed in, so when the gun went off, Larner sprinted and went to the top half of the running pack.
“What I did not realize is that six of us quickly drew clear of the others and set a hot pace of 70 seconds for the first lap,” he said.
The same pace continued for a second lap and the group was down to five. He had to work extremely hard on lap three just to stay with this group. With a lap to go, there was a little daylight between him and the leaders.
“With all the energy I could draw on, I pushed the last 400m and finished fourth in a new best time of 4:29.89.”
The toughest challenge was yet to come: the 3,000m steeplechase, a race not for the fainthearted as there are five 36-inch hurdles per lap, of which one is a water jump, and the distance is 7.5 laps of the track.
“Many spectators are fascinated by this event, if only in the hope they may see someone fall down, as I did last year. This is why many athletes don’t compete in this event,” Larner said.
With only eight runners starting, Larner hoped he could get on the podium again and perhaps improve on last year’s bronze medal.
The gun went off and after a couple of laps it was a three-man split from the group, which soon became just two runners, Larner and last year’s winner James Woodridge.
“The problem I have is that my hurdling technique is very poor and instead of clearing them, I jump on them and off,” Larner said.
In contrast, Woodridge was much more fluent. Over each jump he would be a step ahead of Larner, especially at the water jump where the Brit landed in the deep end while Woodridge cleared it and simply surged ahead.
“It was tough to catch him each lap,” Larner said. “Cheered on by my wife and No. 1 fan Laura, I stuck with him for most of the way, but he was able to push with two laps to go and I realized I was going to win a silver medal providing I stayed on my feet.
“I did finish and improved my time [and the Cayman national record] to 11 minutes, 53.61 seconds.”