By Major Serge Faucher, RCAF athlete –
Over the next few months, the Guard will feature a series of articles on the track and field athletic discipline, more specifically the 400-metre sprint. Major Serge Faucher is a long-time, multiple record-holder and medal-recipient Canadian Armed Forces athlete. He has been a strong advocate for the sport at both national and international levels and is in the creative process of writing a book on the subject. This is the first article of the special feature.
The sport of track and field dates back to Ancient Greece, making it one of the oldest practiced disciplines. Nowadays, it is one of the most riveting and entertaining sports to watch, especially come Olympic Games season. While it’s evolved over the years, its core principles remain the same and can be applied to most distances and sports in general. Throughout the series you will find out about training, cross-training, weight training, recovery, plyometric exercises, injury management, nutrition, race tactics and much more.
Flying under the Radar
As my brother Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Claude Faucher, 17 Wing Winnipeg CWO, and I gained some local media exposure after winning medals in provincial, national and international Masters track and field competitions over the past ten years, we were often asked questions about workouts, nutrition and physical fitness in general. The most frequent question being “Do you run marathons?” It seems that in Canada, the term track and field may be used to refer to other athletics events, such as cross-country, marathons and road running, rather than strictly track-based events.
Some of you may have only heard about track and field through news stories covering a 103-year-old running a 100m race somewhere in Canada or the USA. While it is a commendable achievement, it is more of a novelty for viewers and does not fully represent what we do as athletes.
Being a Masters Athlete
While it varies with each sport, track and field Masters are individuals 35 years and older. The World Masters Athletics (WMA) organization defines age groups for both men and women in five-year increments, e.g. the W45 category comprises women aged 45 to 49. The WMA is designated by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) to conduct the worldwide sport of Masters (Veterans) and Athletics (track and field). There are currently over 4,000 Masters registered with Athletics Canada or one of the provincial track and field organizations.
Never Too Late to Start
Karla Del Grande (bib 468) has been a member of the Canadian Masters Athletics (CMA) organization for 16 years and is now competing in the W65 age group. Since she started to compete at age 49, she has set numerous Canadian records, currently holding 24 individual and 10 relay records. She has broken 11 WMA records and still holds 8 of them. She has won 25 gold and 5 silver medals in individual events at WMA Indoor and Outdoor Championships, as well as several relay medals. Her age-graded scores routinely reach over 100% with some as high as 105%. Individuals like her inspire the rest of us to keep training and compete as Masters.
Like many others, I got into the sport late in life. I was encouraged by my brother to give track and field a shot at age 45; this was 10 years ago. Since my brother had some success as a teenager and young adult in distances ranging from 800m to 5000m, he thought I would do well on the track as we share the same genetics. So without any proper training and knowing very little about this “new sport,” I decided to race an 800m at the Max Bell Arena facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba. After much suffering due to lactic acid buildup, I crossed the finish line in 2:32 minutes, which is not too bad for a “rookie” but far from being competitive with the university “kids”. Despite finishing dead last in that particular heat, I was hooked on the sport and never looked back!
Following this first and very painful race, I concentrated on the 800m and 1500m, as these distances made sense for a former 5-10 km runner. As I gained a little more experience, I decided to try my luck at the 400m distance. I was totally unprepared for the quick start and fury associated with that distance! Nonetheless, I really enjoyed it and looked forward to the next one. As I became aware of an online tool called the Age Grading Calculator, it was clear that I was better suited to run the 400m/800m combo. Analyzing my performances with this tool meant changing my training program, and adding more speed to it. A few more years went by and I once again readjusted my focus, this time on the 200m/400m races as my age-grading score in the 200m was always higher than the 800m. This move also helped me get faster in the 400m, which became my distance of choice. One thing I’ve learned is that you should focus on one distance, and train for it in order to perform at your highest level. In my case, I train for the 400m, but I’m able to move up to the 600m or down to the 200m and still be competitive.
Beating the Genetics Odds
The requirements to be a successful Masters athlete essentially boil down to a complex mix of nature and nurture. For starters, your genetic makeup is determined by your parents, and there is nothing you can do about it. Now does that mean you stay on the sidelines, and simply not bother if you don’t have the right physical or genetic attributes to run track events? Not at all! In fact, there are plenty of examples out there of athletes who have beaten the odds and accomplished great things despite being too skinny, too short, or having the wrong body composition for their specific sport. For example, while most top 400m runners are over six feet tall, some much shorter runners manage to perform at the highest levels. At age 50, German athlete Meinert Moller ran 53.58 seconds and Italian athlete Francesco Dagostino ran 53.99 seconds in the Finals of the 2016 World Masters Championships in Perth, Australia. Meinert is 5’8” at best, and Francesco is no taller than 5’4”! They finished 3rd and 4th respectively. I was right behind them placing 5th in that race at 5’11”.
Using the Age Grading Calculator
I mentioned the Age Grading Calculator earlier as a good tool to see where you may have affinities at a specific distance. Age grading uses tables of “age factors” and “age standards” to put all runners on a level playing field, regardless of age and gender. Those tables allow performances, no matter what the runners’ age, to be corrected to what they would have been achieving in their prime years, thus allowing valid comparisons to be made between people of different ages.
- Over 100% = World record level
- Over 90% = World class
- Over 80% = National class
- Over 70% = Regional class
I usually encourage newcomers to the sport to plug in several distances in the tool and see where they perform best, which can be quite useful in choosing their main distance. My brother Claude, the Chief Official for the CAF Running Program, has successfully implemented the WMA age group percentage approach (based on the Age Grading Calculator) for road races at the CAF Nationals. This revamped the old Qualifying Standards and now brings fairness and parity to all runners across the various distances, as well as not discriminating against gender.
Mind over Matter
As teenagers, my brother and I never made it to the Canadian Nationals as we were limited in good coaching and support, and most likely never had the genetics to perform at the highest levels. We trained on our own and essentially just went out the door and ran with a rudimentary understanding of running. I didn’t know about the different types of training or energy systems that need to be developed until I was in my early 20s.
Over the years, we learned a great deal through personal research, as we both managed to close the gap with the top sprinters and middle-distance runners of the world in our respective events. While some of these athletes are loaded with talent such as Olympian Paul Osland (see caption) and are in essence more genetically gifted than the rest of us to begin with, my brother and I now make up the difference through disciplined training, good nutrition, excellent all-around fitness, attention to details, and what I believe is the most important attribute of all, drive. You have to be willing to pay the price every time you step into the gym or onto the track if you want to achieve greatness.
I look forward to sharing more information in the coming months, starting with an overview of the fundamentals when it comes to training and cross-training for events such as the 400m and 800m. Until then, happy running!
1st Photo – CWO Faucher (bib 890), CAF Running Chief Official, 1500m at World Masters Athletics Championships 2015 in Lyon, France
2nd Photo – The great Karla Del Grande – Newly inducted in the CMA Hall of Fame in 2019. Running in the 2019 Outdoor Ontario Masters Athletics Championships.
3rd Photo – President of Athletics Ontario and former Olympian Paul Osland demolishes the field winning the M50 800m Semi-Finals at the WMACi in Daegu, South Korea in 2017
Pictures courtesy of Doug “Shaggy” Smith | Title image: Adobe Stock
This post is also available in: Français (French)