Benefield: No slowing down for Santa Rosa masters sprinter, 75
FORESTVILLE — Larry Barnum doesn’t look like your typical sprinter.
Reeling off sprints Thursday afternoon on the El Molino High School track, Barnum has to uncork his 6-foot, 3.5-inch frame from his starting position before leaning into the curves. Another of Barnum’s big numbers? His shoe size. One foot squeezes into a size 14 shoe and the other a 15 — numbers which make it tough to find racing spikes. But of all Barnum’s numbers that are atypical for a sprinter, the most eye-popping is this one: His age. Barnum, a mostly retired psychotherapist who lives in Santa Rosa, is 75 years old.
As a masters sprinter, Barnum — a former 800-meter specialist when he ran for the Gauchos of the University of California at Santa Barbara — is a five-time world masters champion and a 12-time national champion.
And how about this number: At the World Masters Athletics Indoor Championship in Torun, Poland in March, Barnum won gold in the 400 meters with a time of 1:07.55. He took silver in the 200 meters with a time of 29.72.
At the national meet in March, Barnum won both the 400 meters in 1:09 and the 200 meters with a 29.70.
“Running fast feels really good,” he said.
If running really fast feels good, it begs the question of how it must feel to run as fast as Barnum does.
“Speed thrills,” he said. “It just feels fun.”
And for Barnum, to run his best, to get his fastest result, means competing.
“To run fast you need to run against either a clock or someone,” he said. “Most of my goals are not necessarily winning the race but trying to get a good time.
“By the time it kicks in, it’s a drug,” he said. “You get the dopamine, the adrenaline, all that brain chemistry. And there is a sense of mastery. There is an immediate feedback loop. I have played golf; you do get that sense after a nice shot, but you don’t get the same brain stimulation.”
But Barnum doesn’t poo-poo the idea that sprinting, and even running in general, isn’t for everyone. It’s just that it is for him.
“In all of these things, it’s more of what works,” he said. “Running has worked for me.”
After his collegiate career, Barnum ran for the Southern California Striders. But work and life slowed his track pursuits down considerably as time wore on. Naturally lean, he said he maintained fitness, ran a 5K or 10K occasionally and rode his bike, but nothing serious.
He got the bug again in his mid-50s.
“I started back into track when I was about 56 and I had this idea that I wanted to run my age,” he said.
In track-speak, that means he wanted to run the 400 meters in the same number of seconds as the number of years in his age.
Turns out it’s a thing in track and it’s a major milestone among masters runners.
“I realized that there are other people that actually do this and I got inspired from that and got the bug,” he said. “I kept running and broke my age ever since.”