October 28, 2023 5 min read 2 Comments
Photo by Ken Stone.
By Ray Glier
Getulio “Tony” Echeandia slept on the subway cars of New York City bouncing around the boroughs as a nine-year old. He wasn’t homeless, he just had to get places, and a kid has to grab a nap along the way sometimes. Tony had a certain spunk and would stick his nose into things and one time had that nose flattened at a basketball camp, a Puerto Rican boy mixing it up with Irish Catholics.
His youth was an audition.
To run the 400 meter hurdles at 59 years old and try like hell to run that race at your age, 59 seconds, takes spunk and enterprise and a dash of ego. The great hurdler Edwin Moses reportedly tried to run his age in the 400m hurdles and couldn’t.
Echeandia (Ay-chee-en-dee-ah) is the world record holder in the 400m hurdles in the men’s 55-59 age bracket. He turns 60 on May 15, 2024 and has a few more shots at 59 at 59.
Tony insists he is not trying to light a fire under other Geezer Jocks by doing this preposterous and precarious duet of fast running and fast jumping while approaching 60 years old. You do you, he said.
Echeandia is not after status, either. With respect, he knows the aging German Guido Muller is the kingpin of Masters hurdling. Tony erased one of Guido’s world marks, the race at USATF Masters Outdoors Championships in Ames, Iowa in 2019 (57.73) when he was 55, and he’s proud of that, but records don’t seem to be a motivator to Echeandia.
So why this earnestness? Well, Tony is like you and you and you…and all of you who pour yourselves into something.
“I deal with a lot of mental stress at work, and some physical stress, but my work can’t boss me around while I'm on the track,” Echeandia said. “Tax time can’t run my life while I'm on the track. When I’m running nobody can touch me, nobody can bother me.
“I can tolerate the pain and push past that on the track because it is an escape. I love to get my work in.”
Tony is in construction and builds out spaces for the fashion houses, like Cartier. He lives in Miami Beach, a epicenter of high fashion on the east coast. The fashionistas have to be innovative and Echeandia has to be innovative right along with them and hit deadlines for shows.
In that regard, Tony is like many other Geezer Jocks in their late 50s and 60s who are still working. His hurdling is your long bike ride, or your long walk, or your 5K under 35 minutes, or striving for a 5K under 30.
Where he might be different is intensity.
Tony has a workout where he will put everything he has into a 400-meter flat ground run and then blow through that for another 100 meters trying to keep up speed. He wants 57 seconds over the first 400 and then 14 seconds over the last 100.
He will rest 12-15 minutes and then try it again. That's fast. That’s intense.
“I haven't seen a lot of guys that are able to do that,” Echeandia said. “Definitely, not a lot of people want to do that workout.”
Says his friend and Masters athlete Karl Ross, “I've been trying to keep up with him in his training since he moved to Florida back in 2015 and it gets increasingly difficult. There are no short-cuts or hacks to success other than love of the sport, sweat and, with hurdles, blood.”
Here is the deal with these elite runners at 59, or 60, or 63, or 70. They creak when they walk onto the track. I’ve watched these guys, like sprinters Damien Leake and Allan Tissenbaum. They walk in their sweats to the check-in table and you say to yourself, “Man, no way he can be fast anymore.” And then they go fast.
Echeandia is the same way. He called himself “an old man” one time in a Facebook post. He surely creaks with herniated discs, calf muscles barking at him, and an Achilles stretched nearly to rupture. And then he goes fast, too, the unsafe agreement with his body holding up for one more race.
Tony said he learned as a teenager how to manage muscle regeneration after a strenuous workout. His coach is the legendary track man Remi Korchemny.
Remi is serving a lifetime ban from USA Track & Field for providing performance enhancing drugs to athletes as part of the BALCO scandal, but it is important to note that Echeandia started setting 400-meter hurdles records in Masters track after Korchemny was outed. A repentant Remi still helps Tony design workout regimens.
(Remi, 91, is his own story. His father was executed by firing squad by the Communists in Russia in 1937. He is Ukrainian and was an athlete and coached Soviet Olympians. He defected to the U.S. in 1975).
Korchemny, who was coaching in New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s, put Tony through a rigorous plyometric workout one afternoon. Echeandia woke up the next day and was sore top to bottom. He shuffled out of the house to a workout and Remi coached him through the day-after discomfort with “light jogs.” The pain wore off. Echeandia grew as an athlete.
Tony considers himself a custodian of Puerto Rican feistiness, which makes you think he has a chance to erase another of the great Muller’s marks next summer.
Muller’s time to beat in the 60-64 cohort for the 300m hurdles is 42.31 seconds. (When Masters hurdlers hit 60 years old, the distance goes to 300 meters and the height of the hurdle shrinks from 33 to 30).
Tony has run two 300s, once in high school and another almost 20 years ago. You would think he has to focus on the 300m hurdles with the threat of sailing slowly over a hurdle because muscle memory thinks he is still trying to clear 33, instead of 30.
Nope. Tony is still going for the moonshot of 59.9 seconds at 59 over 400 meters and 33-inch hurdles. The competitive streak runs deep. Echeandia revels in the story of the Puerto Ricans who struck back at the Spanish colonizers in 1868 in his ancestral home of Lares. He is not hunting records, as much as he is hunting challenges.
If Tony goes 59.9 in the 400-meter hurdles and he goes 42.30 in the 300-meter hurdles to best Muller and then gets in the top three in the world in the 400 on flat ground for M60-64, it will be a magical year in 2024. It won’t be as magical as the six world records set by Californian Sue McDonald in 2023, but it will be a hallmark year nonetheless.
After all, running your age in the 400m hurdlers will be a singular feat. And Muller’s mark in the 300m hurdles will be 25 years old in May.
Tony will be competitive in the flat ground 400m (60-64) later in the summer. Echeandia currently ranks 4th outdoors in the 55-59 age group in the U.S., according to www.mastersrankings.com.
“When I came back to running (at 40), and beat young men half my age, that was interesting,” he said. “I said to myself ‘hurdling can be a skill that I can master’ and I got into it.”
That was in 2005-2006 and there are no other Americans who started with him still beside him in the world rankings. Echeandia has out-lasted them all.
Tony’s audition as a street-tough kid in New York got him ready for what comes next in 2024.
Tony finishing his 2019 world record in the 400m hurdles (55-59). Photo courtesy USA Track & Field.
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