At the international level, landing on the track-and-field podium is an impressive feat, and breaking a record in the process is even more remarkable.
Earlier this month at World Masters Track and Field Championships in Tampere, Finland, Mark Pinckard did just that – and did it all with a combination of borrowed gear and items he bought last-minute at a Finnish mall, after his airline lost his luggage en route to Europe.
“Luckily, I took my track spikes in my carry-on bag, which was good because they’re sort of irreplaceable – you can’t just go and find them at a store in Finland,” he explained to Peace Arch News, a few days after returning home – still without his bags.
“I had to borrow a singlet, and go out and buy some shorts and socks, and even some running shoes to train in. I had enough in the end, but it was a bit of frustration – a challenging thing to deal with before a championship.”
In the men’s 60-64 year-old division at Worlds, Pinckard, who lives in Tsawwassen and trains with South Surrey-based Ocean Athletics Track and Field Club, won a pair of medals – gold in the 800-m and bronze in the 1,500-m. In the latter race, the 62-year-old’s time of four minutes, 33.19 seconds set a Canadian men’s masters record.
“It was great. The competition went better than expected,” he said. “Going into the 800-m, I was considered one of the favourites, I think, which did add an element of pressure – I’ve never come into an event like that in that position before.”
In his gold-medal 800-m race, Pinckard noted that “the race went just perfectly” with good weather, too.
“The race just unfolded perfectly in front of me,” he said, noting that he could have probably clocked a faster time, but he chose to let another runner lead for much of the race, hanging back until making a push for the lead in the last 100-m.
“I just had to hold and stay behind the runner, then just wait for my time to pass… In a championship, it’s not about time. It’s about being smart and strategic. You don’t want to go out too quickly and then crash and burn – everyone has learned that lesson at some point.”
Pinckard, who is a member of the Delta Sports Hall of Fame, didn’t start running competitively until his mid-40s when, looking for a new challenge and something new to focus on, he ran his first marathon.
“I ran track and field and cross-country when I was much, much younger, when I was a kid, but I gave it up when I was about 16,” he said. “Then the marathon led to trail races and road races and eventually led back to track and field when I turned 50.”
The Finland meet was Pinckard’s fourth experience at World Masters Track and Field Championships, having also competed at previous events in Sacramento; Lyon, France; Malaga, Spain and Daegu, South Korea.
Originally, Pinckard trained with the Richmond Kajaks, but after his coach moved away, he decided to join Ocean Athletics about five years ago because he knew coaches Lynn Kanuka and Ted and Maureen de St. Croix.
With the Semiahmoo Peninsula group, he often trains with teenagers – youth athletes make up the majority of the club’s membership – which Pinckard said has been a lot of fun.
“There’s not a ton of middle-distance masters runners in B.C. right now – for whatever reason, we’re few and far between, so I end up running with the high-school group a lot, and it’s great. The kids are fantastic. They have such dedication – the kind that I certainly didn’t have when I was their age,” he said.
However, because most of the teen runners are faster, Pinckard pointed out that his training runs often feel like solo time trials, because he’s not with the main pack. That said, the odd time that he can reel in one of his younger competitors on the track “is a bonus, for sure.”
There are two more major meets on the summer master’s calendar – Canadian championships in Regina, Sask., and later in August, B.C. Masters Championships, which are slated for Surrey’s Bear Creek Park. And while he’ll “definitely” be at the provincial meet, he said he was leaning towards passing on a trip to Saskatchewan for nationals.
“I still don’t have my luggage… so I’m just reluctant to get on another plane right now,” he said.