As Omar Van Noten peeked over his shoulder on almost every other step of the last 200 meters, it was hard to tell if the 42-year-old Belgian was expecting to be caught by father time or the sprinting Australian, Gary Hand.
In the end, Van Noten held on to beat both, winning the men's 40-44 10,000-meter race in 31:57 on the opening day of the TAC/USA National Masters Track and Field Championships at San Diego State.
"I got very, very tired," Van Noten said. "I got in here at two in the morning after hiking the Grand Canyon yesterday. I only slept in the bed for four hours."
Van Noten, who had built a 100-meter lead with about 1,000 meters to go, lost most of it on the bell lap and won by just 10.
"I was coming at him pretty quick, but I just didn't have enough time," said Hand, who finished in 31:59. "I thought he might come back more, but he didn't."
Less than a year ago, Hand, who holds Australian Masters record in the 10,000 meters and the marathon, had surgery on both his Achilles tendons. He was running his first 10,000 since he set the record, a little over a minute faster, 18 months ago.
"I felt good, but I'm nowhere near my best," Hand said. "I think I was trying to run a marathon pace rather than a 10,000 pace."
When Hand left his hometown of Canberra four days ago, the temperature was five degrees below zero.
"This is quite a shock to my system," he said. "The heat wasn't so bad, it was the humidity that killed me."
Terry Munro of Australia won the men's 50-54 10,000 in 36:15.60, beating Bent Lauridson of Denmark, who finished in 36:24.72. Jimmie Tennison of the U.S. took the men's 55-59 race in 39:22.71.
In the women's 10,000, Shirley Brasher of Australia won the women's 60-64 age group in 45:32.39. Brasher's time would have placed her a close second in the women's 50 race and fourth in the women's 40.
The oldest Masters competitor, Tom Lane of the U.S., was entered in the men's 95 age group. He threw 3.95 meters in the shotput, which was better than 90-94 winner Mikko Salonen of Finland, who threw 3.70.
Jim Bachelor, some 65 years younger than Lane, was using his first Masters as a proving ground. A former college decathlete from Cortland State in New York, Bachelor said he was looking to be encouraged enough to continue his track career by a strong showing in the pentathlon, and he got one, finishing first in the 30-34 bracket with 3,478 points. He had best marks in the long jump, javelin, 200 meters and discus.
"I only trained six weeks for this, and I basically took a crash course," said Bachelor, who now lives in El Cajon. "At 30 though, I don't feel like I'm losing anything. In the last year, I've had (personal bests) in five events."
But Thursday, Bachelor was not looking for personal bests.
"I was just excited to compete again," Bachelor said. "The journey along the way is what I enjoy. The feeling you get and enjoying the competition."
Bachelor said he will test himself again next March at the Masters Indoor Nationals in Wisconsin.
Today's events begin at 7 a.m. with the 5,000-meter race walk at Balboa Stadium. All other events will be held at San Diego State beginning at 8:05 a.m. with the 300-meter hurdle heats.