By John Bassetti
The definition of a golden ager is an elderly person, specifically, one who is 65 or older and retired.
Terry McCluskey, 62, is retired, but he doesn’t meet the criteria otherwise, except in an athletic sense.
As a winner in the marathon at the World Masters Championships in Sacramento on July 17, McCluskey owns the gold medal for men ages 60-64.
“It’s practically a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” McCluskey said of the championships that mimic the Olympics, except that they’re held every two years and are for age groups starting as young as 35.
What started at 5 a.m. that day ended 2 hours, 52 minutes and 42.20 seconds later to seal the Vienna resident’s personal milestone.
“It’s about as big as you can get for non-professionals,” McCluskey said of the level of achievement as an amateur in his age group.
Ten days before the marathon, McCluskey ran in the World Masters Championships’ 8k cross country event and placed third.
“You can compete in as many events as you want, but the more you compete in, the easier it is to wear yourself out,” McCluskey said of spacing his two distance events 10 days apart. “I wanted to pick something that wasn’t too close, so I’d have time to rest and recover and be ready for the marathon, which was my focus.”
Along the 26.2-mile marathon route that hugged the American River, McCluskey started in a field of 350 or so, both men and women of all age groups. The field included approximately 30 men in McCluskey’s 60-64 category.
Although the championships were contested from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. most days, the marathon started early because of the anticipated July heat.
Beginning at Sacramento State University, the marathoners followed a 5-mile long hike-and-bike trail.
“Think of a big rectangle with a bridge at each end,” McCluskey said in describing the course’s layout. “We did that five times, plus another mile-and-a-half, more or less,” he said of the loop with flat terrain.
Terry had two main competitors: 61-year-old Antoni Cichonczuk of Poland and 60-year-old Mario Vargas of Chile.
He said that the three went out together and ran side-by-side for the first 6 miles.
“We were watching each other and feeling each other out and figuring out what we were going to do,” McCluskey said. “After 6, I felt that the pace was little too slow and I wanted to push it and run a little bit harder and little bit faster. When I picked up the pace, they didn’t challenge me, so I kept going and slowly they fell farther behind.”
McCluskey finished four minutes ahead of Cichonczuk and eight minutes in front of Vargas.
McCluskey’s 2:52.43 was 28th overall. That was slower than his 2:48.38 earlier this year at the Boston Marathon, but McCluskey said he wasn’t running for time.
“The goal is to get medals or win and not necessarily run a fast time,” he said.
The Olympic-style awards ceremony was special for McCluskey.
“When you’re the winner on the podium and they put the medals around you neck and you hear the National Anthem, it’s very emotional and moving.”
He was able to share the moment with a close female friend, who also ran, and a cousin and uncle who live out West.
McCluskey remembered Vargas from Boston in April, 2011, when he won his age group and Vargas finished third.
“His [qualifying] time supposedly ranked him as the No. 1 seed at Boston in our age group, but when we got there, I was surprised that I beat him easily. So, I felt that I could beat him at the Worlds. He has run some good times, but I didn’t think he would be a problem for me. I had a lot of confidence [in Sacramento].”
No standards or qualifying times were necessary for entry into the World Masters Championships.
“Anyone who reached the age requirements and was a USA track and field member qualified, provided they could get to Sacramento,” said McCluskey, who most likely won’t make the next World Masters in South America in 2013.
“It became possible for me to compete this year because of the location, but, it would be too difficult, otherwise,” he said. “Usually, you run against local or national people, but this was nice because it had an international flavor, people you don’t normally run against.
“It’s like the Olympics, but for those over 35 — those who are best in the world in their age group. We’re too old to compete in the regular Olympics — that’s for those in their prime.”