Like many runners past their prime--but not yet over the hill--Frank Shorter looked forward to the day he would turn 40.
The big four-oh, Shorter thought, would mean new challenges, new goals and, in relative terms, new accomplishments. It's what masters competition is all about.
So just before his 40th birthday rolled around a little less than two years ago, Shorter did what many other fit 39 1/2-year-olds would do. He tried to get in his best shape--fast.
There was a problem, though. Shorter could no longer handle workouts designed for a 20-year-old body.
"My advice to anyone about to turn 40 is to start (getting back in shape) at 38. Don't try a crash course," Shorter, 41, said.
This isn't to say that Shorter has spent the past decade or so lounging in his easy chair. Since he won the 1972 Olympic marathon at Munich, and placed second four years later at Montreal, Shorter, a resident of Boulder, Colo., has kept an impressive training schedule, averaging about 10-12 miles a day with solo speed work once or twice weekly on the track.
But it was that magic number, 40--along with invitations to run against the likes of Jim Ryun, Peter Snell and his old nemesis, Bill Rodgers--that lured Shorter back into serious training.
Although he managed an impressive performance in the Runner's World Elite Masters Mile in February, 1988, indoors in New York--his 4-minute, 21.95-second mile, eight seconds faster than Ryun, was good enough for third-- and ran a 5K road race in a respectable 14:40, Shorter broke down with injuries soon after.
So he did what he had done so many times before--got on a bike and rode, rode, rode.
"I've used an exercise bike to maintain my fitness for the last 10 years," Shorter said. "Cycling is nothing new to me."
And so, whether he realized it at the time, Shorter was preparing himself for what would soon become his next athletic venture . . . biathlons.
Sunday at Brea, Shorter will compete in the Coors Light Biathlon Series event.
The 14-city series features a 5K run, a 30K bike and a 5K run.
Sunday's race, which starts at 7 a.m., will be Shorter's fourth biathlon, and his third of the Coors Light series. In February, Shorter took his first attempt at the sport at the Desert Princess World Biathlon Championships in Palm Desert.
That race, which featured longer stages--10K run, 62K bike, 10K run--had Shorter battling former cycling great John Howard for the masters championship.
After a 31:33 first 10K split, Shorter was passed by Howard on the cycling portion. But going in to the final run, Shorter trimmed Howard's lead gradually, finally passing him with less than a half mile to go for the victory. Out of almost 1,000 entries, Shorter finished 23rd.
In early July, Shorter won the masters division of the Coors Light race at Denver, but he was not happy with his overall finish, 24th and more than 10 minutes behind the overall winner, Ken Souza.
Last Sunday at Dallas, Shorter again won the masters division and also placed seventh overall, less than eight minutes behind the winner, Souza.
"He's really improving, I think he'll be in the top 10 a lot from now on," said Souza, 24, who lives less than two miles from Shorter's home in Boulder.
Those who were hoping to see some great masters road running duels between Shorter and Rodgers, also 41, might wonder whether Shorter's entrance into biathlons is just a way to avoid Rodgers, who is running well these days.
But Shorter--who raced, and lost to, Rodgers in an informal five-miler this year--says no way.
Shorter said biathlons have given him an opportunity to train hard every day, without overdoing. He usually runs 10 miles a day, and rides an average of 30-40 miles a day. In between that, he manages his business, the Frank Shorter Clothing Company, as well as working several special broadcasting projects for NBC.
Asked to compare his biathlon racing to running, Shorter said the satisfaction is the same.
"It's a different kind of effort in that it's a blend," Shorter said. "The fun part is trying to figure out the balances (how much riding to do compared to running). But the nice thing about the biathlon is I can only get better."
So is Shorter ready to drop his masters running career in order to improve in biathlons?
"No," he said. "The intent isn't to give up running. The offshoot is to use cycling to help my running . . .
"Bill (Rodgers) is running well right now. I'm hoping this other training will get me back up there so I can beat him in the run. Once I get in shape, I'll find a race."
But until that duel, the dual action will have to do.
Hee-Haw: The Mule Run Ultra 50K will begin in at 7 a.m. in Bishop Saturday.
The race--named for Mule Mountain, the last-gasp steep climb on the 31.1-mile course--starts at a 4,500-foot elevation and climbs to 8,200 feet before the finish.
Race conditions are often very harsh, with mid-day temperatures sometimes reaching the 100s. Trails are rocky and steep in parts, and the course crosses many streams and gulches.
Last year, Earl Towner of Laguna Beach and Laura Knebel of Trabuco Canyon were the first male and female finishers from Orange County. About 30 county ultra runners are expected to duel the Mule Sunday. Entrants include Towner, Knebel and Fred Shufflebarger, the 1987 Mule champion from Laguna Beach.
Marco Ochoa of Anaheim was the first Orange County finisher Sunday at the America's Finest City Half-Marathon at San Diego. Ochoa, 24, was ninth overall in 1 hour 6 minutes 22 seconds. Mexico's Alejandro Cruz won the race in 1:03:56. Maria Trujillo of Scottsdale, Ariz., was the women's winner in 1:13:41. John Scott of Irvine won the men's 50-59 division in 1:16:19.
Today: College of the Canyons 5K cross-country series. College of the Canyons, Valencia. 7 p.m. Very challenging cross-country course. Call (805) 944-2511 for more information.
Paramount Ranch Cross-Country two- and three-mile Gran Prix, 6:30 p.m., Paramount Ranch, Agoura. (818) 992-6219.
Legg Lake 5K Evening Turtle Run, 6:30 p.m., South El Monte. (213) 949-0394.
Saturday: Signal Hill Rotary 5 & 10K Runs. Begins 8 a.m. at Hinshaw Park, across from Signal Hill City Hall, 2175 Cherry Ave. (213) 437-1279.
American Style 4K & 8K Cross-Country Runs, Ventura. Starts 8:30 a.m. at Arroyo Verde Park. Take Highway 101 to Victoria, north to Foothill, left a half mile. (805) 643-1104.
Sunday: Santa Monica 5K, Half-Marathon and Marathon. 7 a.m. Starts at Santa Monica City College. (213) 458-8311.