November 05, 2022 5 min read 1 Comment
Photo by Kathleen Riddle.
*It can take 3 years to make national-caliber Masters sprinter.
*The exercises and drills pay off in higher quality life.
*Any Geezer Jock, fast or slow, can benefit from Riddle's insights.
By Ray Glier
If you come to Rick Riddle, a sprint coach, and say "I want to go fast", Riddle will tell you, "First, you have to go slow."
You are not a hot-tech start-up, something to be pointed toward the Start Line and let loose. You are, in all likelihood, a mid-60s enthusiast eager for some later-life joy as a national-caliber Masters track sprinter.
It might be disappointing for some, but Riddle is going to play fair with you.
“Three years,” he will say.
“It will take three years. You need patience for the process.”
It doesn’t mean you can’t enter track meets and have some fun along the way, Riddle said. It just means to be on a medal stand in Poland, Finland, Toronto, or USA Track & Field nationals, wherever, you better strap in for a long haul.
Michael Kish, 71, the best 100-meter and 200-meter Masters man in the world (70-74), told Geezer Jock his was at least a three-year process to a world gold.
This is what you get with Riddle, pragmatism, no stumbling over a trip wire. He can give you a granular approach to Masters sprinting because he wrote the book on it. Actually, he co-authored the book with world champion Bill Collins.
Riddle has ranked as high as 3rd in the U.S. in Masters 100 meters and 200 meters and 4th nationally in the 400. He was part of two world-record 4X400 relay teams.
Here is the thing about Coach Riddle, who has lived in The Villages in central Florida since 2016 and has run on the Masters circuit for 19 years. He comes armed with more than track vouchers. He comes backed by data and research.
Riddle, 71, has studied the science behind sprinting, or just trying to run fast. He doesn’t start with the basic fundamental of sprinting, which is running 100, 200, or 400 meters with complete dorsiflexion.
His fundamentals are deeper knowledge than that. What is striking about Riddle’s Lesson 101 strategies for running fast are that they include important benefits for daily life.
Well, yeah, like running fast to get out of the way of an oncoming car.
Not just that. How about just getting out of the car. Period.
“When we're sprinting, we're activating type 2B and type 2A muscle fiber, which is a huge benefit to being able to move and be more active in space as we age,” Riddle said. “Those are the first muscle fibers that begin to atrophy in an aging adult. And that’s why you would see an older person moving their feet so slowly, maybe having trouble getting out of the car, and slowly lifting their foot up onto a curb.
“That slow motion is caused by the atrophy of those two muscle fiber types.”
We don’t suddenly need to lace up some Keds and head to the high school to activate those muscle fibers, but we do need some resistance training, which is essentially what sprinting is. It is landing with targeted force on the track to propel you to the next step.
“Research shows, unequivocally, that resistance training leads to improvements in cognitive function, and also delays cognitive failure,” Riddle said. “A lot of people don't know that. I make sure that I tell my athletes when they come out there that resistance training is one of the best things you can do for yourself.”
This next Riddle tip reminds me of the story of John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, assembling his team in the locker room on the first day of practice. He needed to show them how to properly put on their socks. No kidding, the Wizard of Westwood actually did this. He said it would help prevent blisters.
The Wizard of the Villages, Riddle, does something nearly as fundamental. He assembles his sprinters in a circle before every session and goes through balance drills.
“Most falls come from balance issues,” Riddle said. He is talking about everyday life falls, not a stumble over a painted line on the track.
Last life look-in, before I get to some track stuff.
“A bit of new research shows that introducing voluntary adversity will release hormones from the adrenal glands, which is a fascinating thing to imagine that you could build, or increase at least, your testosterone by introducing some voluntary adversity,” Riddle said. “What they mean by that is putting yourself into situations that your body reacts to.”
Like a cold shower.
It could also mean fasting, Rick said.
Now, about the track workouts from Riddle. This is what he teaches and why it will take three years to make you into world-class. This is what Riddle starts with.
“The first thing we have to do is put a lot of force into the track. We’ve got to deliver on the ball of the foot with lots of force into the track.
“And then the second law involves how quickly can we cycle the legs and bring that force back. It’s what we call switching speed, or switching, which means just basically changing the leg. So how fast can I bring that next ground force into play?
“The third thing we have to do concerns hip mobility. Even if I put a lot of ground force down, and I switch legs quickly, if my hips don't move, sort of visualize them as a hinge or spring, they're only going to extend out as far as they're able to. So I could waste ground force, and I could waste quick-switching speed by not being able to get my hips open.”
Riddle knows what he is talking about. The weather has become more agreeable in Florida, so the flock of track athletes has grown to 45 or so for three days a week. Half are sprinters.
“They're expecting me to know what I'm talking about and, I suppose for any person who has looked at like that, that's a little bit daunting to imagine that they've come to you to sort them out and tell them the absolute truth,” Riddle said.
The truth is Riddle makes sure these ambitious Geezer Jocks know he can coach them just three days a week. They have to coach and motivate themselves the other four days, which means getting themselves stronger with deadlifts and other weight training. He is not a baby-sitter.
“It's a double edged sword because weights are going to help them as a sprinter and help ward off sarcopenia, which is as we age, we start to lose muscle mass and atrophy,” Riddle said.
There he is again, throwing everyday stuff at us when talking about sprinting.
Riddle may have to put out a shingle beside the one that reads Sprint Coach. This one might read Getting Around On My Own Coach.
Trust him on this stuff.
“I don't think I want to live to be 100,” Riddle said, “but I darn sure know I want to be the best me I can be for whatever years that are ahead.”
Rick Riddle works on the explosive start of The Villages' Barb Horvat, a world-class sprinter.
Copyright © 2022 Ray Glier
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