January 06, 2023 4 min read
Barb Horvat does not let emotion or nerves ruin her 200. Photo by Rick Riddle, Villages Track Club.
By Ray Glier
Barb Horvat refuses to be tangled in a mental knot running races. She is 67 and finishes 2022 ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in the 200 meter dash (W65-69) because it is “just running” and Barb makes sure it is nothing more mentally challenging than that.
“If you're gonna come out here and tense up and grind and just want to beat everybody, you're going to use too much energy doing that instead of just running the race,” Horvat said.
When she ran the 32:55 in the 200 last April 24 that stood briefly as No. 1 in the world outdoors, Barb said, “It was one of those rare days where it was being a kid again.”
That is the crystallized intelligence that is the essence of Geezer Jock. You are able to reach back and throw off the shackles you put on yourself...and do more.
Horvat certainly goes through the adult process of trying to get faster with workouts three times a week, but track does not make her a fanatical, besotted athlete. She is ranked 11th in the world by virtue of that 32:55 (www.mastersrankings.com), which she ran on her home track meet in The Villages, the senior community in central Florida. That’s good enough, for now.
It is not false modesty, or fear of trying and failing that curbs Barb’s ambition. She proves it to you when she says simply, “I just don’t want to travel more than a day to do this.”
Her son, a high school track coach in Wisconsin, has prodded Barb to step out on a national stage at USA Track & Field events, or the World Athletics Masters. But Horvat wouldn’t so much as drive 4½ hours to the National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale last spring because the prelims were too early in the morning for her age group and required she go the night before.
So what’s the point of racing?
Nothing, except to be fit and enjoy the moment breezing around a curve. Not everything has to be win-at-all-costs.
Make no mistake, Horvat does not do track casually, as if it is easy-come, easy-go. At The Florida Senior Games on Dec. 10, her coach, Rick Riddle, stopped an interview she was doing so Horvat “could do what she needed to do to get ready for the race.” The gun going off to start the 200 was still 30-40 minutes away, but Barb went to track to stretch and be alone with her thoughts.
She won the gold medal in 34:15, which was a slight disappointment to her. Barb won a bronze medal in the 50 (8.49) and a bronze in the 100 (16.26).
“I think about what I have been trained to do and make sure I’m mentally prepared,” she said. “If I do it correctly the rest takes care of itself.”
“The rest” is what she has learned from Riddle at The Villages in the last nine years. Horvat calls it “the Part B of running.”
“There is just this whole mental aspect to running that I have been enlightened to,” Horvat said. “There is a plan, whether it is straight 50, or 200.”
The 200 is the step-child of sprinting. The 100-meter folks get the “wows” and the 400 folks get the respect for a long sprint at seemingly full speed. That Horvat gravitated to the less glamorous deuce suits her personality.
Barb has put it all together in sprinting the last two years: the start and then to the “drive phase” where she can maintain that speed until the end of the race.
Where Barb excels in a race is the last 20 meters. It had to be pointed out to her that her accelerator was kicking in late.
“I think they were trying to make me run that speed sooner and it just really doesn't work for me,” Horvat said. “I'm afraid I'll be 20 meters from the finish and not be able to get there. So my personal philosophy is get to just past that comfort zone and hold a little in the tank, and then try and dig it out.
“All the squats, stretches, and weights that prepare your muscles. But there is whole intellectual part of the race that you have to learn and you will do much better.”
For many years, Barb did 5Ks. A herniated disc in her back drove her to the sidelines. Horvat was working for a surgeon at the time and he told her to give it six weeks because the body can reabsorb the damage. After that, she could consider surgery.
Barb declined surgery and took a year off from running in her late 50s. When she returned, she couldn’t get her stamina back. That’s when Horvat joined The Villages track club.
“I had spent enough time in the bleachers,” she said. “I just fell in love with it. It’s a good group of people. Everybody supports everybody else and they are cheering you on.”
The move to sprints didn’t start well. Barb developed shin splits. After that, she said, Riddle and others helped her develop a plan. Horvat has had no other injuries.
What is cool about Barb is that she does not fabricate an aura as the race approaches. There is nothing braggadocios, no hopping around, or a steely look at the competition. It’s just running and that is an ingredient other Geezer Jocks can learn from.
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