April 29, 2023 5 min read 2 Comments
Carroll Blake running a leg of a World Record in the 4X400 in 2014 (M60). Photo courtesy Carroll Blake.
By Ray Glier
It wasn’t even close. Dr. Carroll Blake stormed around the track in Louisville in the 400-meter dash (M70-74) in 1:03.08. David Craig, a terrific athlete with the So Cal Track Club, pulled in second at 1:07.04. That’s a lot of daylight between first and second in a short race.
It wasn’t close because it wasn’t fair.
Blake came into Masters track 22 years ago as a 800 guy and merely dabbled in shorter distances, like the 400. For years, he had built stamina in the 800 and now the 400 was a hop and a skip, comparatively. On the sidelines of the USATF Indoors Masters Championships that afternoon in Louisville, competitors just shook their head marveling over Blake’s dominance.
He would have beat everybody in the lower age group (M65-69), except Ben James (1:01.95).
It’s disappointing to say, but Blake would have won the gold medal in the World Masters Athletics Championships on March 20 with his Louisville time of 1:03.08. The gold in Poland went to Mario Soru of Italy at 1:03.20. Carroll decided not to go to Poland because he felt he wasn’t ready yet for a world stage.
He’s ready now. And this much is clear: when you find your true path, no matter how late in your Masters career, you blaze it, like Blake.
This is the lesson Geezer Jocks. You don't have to dig too deep.
From the National Institutes of Health this is a key takeaway on the wave of older people finding a groove:
According to current population forecasts, the number of elderly will increase worldwide from 6.9% of the population in 2000 to a projected 19.3% by 2050. In parallel with this overall increase in older adults, the number of middle-aged and older (‘Masters’) athletes is expected to increase as well.
This is an interesting sub-demographic of adults because many individuals in this group express a highly unique physiological phenotype that could be termed ‘exceptionally successful ageing’. Masters athletes strive to maintain and, in some cases, improve upon the performance they have achieved at younger ages. Indeed, the peak exercise performance of Masters athletes continues to increase each year.
Carroll Blake is running faster now than he was two years ago.
Blake will be in Sweden in 2024 for the world outdoors, polished up for the 400. He will run this season in various USATF events and The National Senior Games and it will be a challenge to keep him off the top spot on the pedestal.
Carroll is an academic—the retired assistant superintendent of Boston public schools—and he relished the “thinking” behind the 800. But he was miscast as a middle distance guy. He had the power and fast-twitch of the 400 in him, all along.
“In the 800, you got time to think and you do your strategy that says ‘Ok, move up on people here, lay here’, he said. “So it's constantly thinking.
“In the 400, you’re just out there, you do some strategy, but it's quick, you don't want to make any mistakes. When I switched over to the 4 from 8, my times shot up.”
Blake was part of a 4X400 world record in 2014 so he has some training for the 400, but he never felt devoted to it. He felt like a stand-in and miscast because he had been brought up on the 800.
Blake actually ran the 400, but he didn’t consider it his specialty. Nonetheless, in 2015, he ran three 400s outdoors and one of those times was the best in the world that summer for M65-69 (58.69 Bay State Games, Medford, Mass.).
“This year I told myself I’m just really concentrating on the 400 and that this was gonna be a year that I was going to focus on it and not take it lightly,” Carroll said. “I’m doing two days a week with a personal trainer and working out at the Reggie Lewis Track and then Harvard with younger guys on the weekend.”
Now he cannot find competition, except when he runs with men in their 60s. The younger guys are juice for Geezer Jocks who have outstripped their competition. But Carroll has a remedy for not finding competition in his own age cohort.
“I've been able now to run the race in my head and what that first 200 should be,” he said. “I think once when I get the muscle memory, I'll be fine.
“What’s funny is that, in some races, I’m running faster than I did three years ago. I think I can go still faster.”
It’s not funny. The science is starting to take notice of Geezer Jocks finding another gear.
There is nothing coincidental about Carroll’s determination to run faster as he ages. His grandfather was a sharecropper on the eastern shore of Maryland and the family farm of some livestock and vegetables was modest. There was work to be done with the idea of farming not his future.
Carroll did not attend school with white children until the ninth grade in 1965 when he moved to the Black section of Roxbury in Boston. His experiences—including being called “N---er” while he waited for the bus in Boston—taught him to climb over walls.
“I went to segregated schools early on and the advantage was I had teachers who told me ‘You can succeed’,” Blake said. “By the time I got to high school I didn’t have low expectations. I had high expectations because of all the mentors in the segregated schools.
“There was always the idea of trying a little bit harder and trying to a do a little bit better because you were African-American. That was my mindset, anyway.”
Blake went to college at Northeastern and his first job was with Upward Bound. He had a mentor, John Bryant, who would yank him back to the straight and narrow whenever Carroll veered toward the ditches all around him in the city. Carroll took on the same mentor responsibility when he was older, he said, with “black and brown boys.”
We are missing that in society today. There are not enough Dr. Carroll Blakes to go around, for Black kids and white kids.
And this devotion to others and belief in yourself is a trait vital to how you train in your mid-70s to be a world champion:
Strength of character, not just strength in legs.
“The 400 is one of the toughest races out there, it’s painful,” Carroll said. “But it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to going faster and at least running my age.”
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