John Hurd is an elite track and field athlete who started competing at age 61 and is still competing at age 91! After seeing a friend competing in it, John rediscovered his love for sprinting and entered the Senior Olympics. Despite not having a coach or trainer, he trained himself to become a sprinter and has since won 169 gold medals, including nine at the national level. John faced a health scare when he needed a pacemaker, but he has adjusted to it and continues to compete. Discover what successful goal setting looks like at any age on Search and Replace.
More about today’s guest:
- Get to know John Hurd at jhurdsr.com.
Explore these related stories:
- JOHNNY RUN LATELY: The Life and Adventures of a Latter Day Sprint Champion, by John Hurd.
- A Sprint to The Gold: How I Won the National Senior Olympics Without a Coach or Trainer, by John Hurd.
- The Florida Senior Games, an annual event, brings together top senior athletes from all over the state to compete in a variety of sports.
- Jenny McCoy shares tips for setting realistic fitness goals.
- Tips for older adults to get started with exercise.
- John Hurd competing in the Senior Games.
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[00:00:10] Joe Taylor Jr.: What if you finally decide to follow through on your childhood ambitions – after you turn 60 years old? I’m Joe Taylor Jr. This is Search and Replace.
John Hurd is an elite track and field athlete. Let’s just let him describe the collection of hardware he’s racked up over the course of his career.
[00:00:31] John Hurd: I have 169 gold medals and nine of them are at the national level. Three of those over were with relay teams and six of ’em were individual. I’m gonna sound like I’m bragging. That’s where I’ve been for the last 30 years.
[00:00:46] Joe Taylor Jr.: You didn’t hear that last part wrong, he said last 30 years. It turns out John didn’t enter himself into a competitive event until after he turned 61 – and he recently turned 91.
So in a sport where most athletes age out right after their college years, John’s been excelling. And it all has to do with rediscovering something about a sport he admired in his youth, but hadn’t yet learned how to master.
[00:01:16] John Hurd: I was so tiny, I wasn’t invited to any athletic teams, especially one that required long legs. I’m 15 years old, I’m five feet no inches, 92 pounds, 10th grade of high school. That was something I would like to have been able to do. I used to go out and watch the track team practice, sprinters especially.
In 1992, I saw in the paper where a friend of mine from college who was a sprinter and a world class record holder, he was still running the in competitive events with five-year age brackets called the Senior Olympics; technical name is National Senior Games Association. I thought maybe if I could get in shape, I might be able to beat some of the people that have been sitting around on the couch with sore knees and things like that. And Jim’s three years jogging me so I won’t have to compete with him, but two years out of five.
So that’s what got started. And I thought maybe if I can condition I might, sooner or later, win a state medal. So that was my initial motivation.
[00:02:20] Joe Taylor Jr.: Another big difference between John’s athletic career and that of a typical high school track star, not a lot of support – or really no support.
[00:02:30] John Hurd: I didn’t have a coach or a trainer. That’s what sets me apart from people that have been running since school and all of that. So I looked all around the bookstores for books on running, and they’ve got scads of them, but they’re all about endurance running, which is totally separate from sprinting. So I found an ad that Carl Lewis had for a DVD on how to sprint. Well, that helped a lot. But being a sprinter, you’re not part of a group unless you’re a school team, which means you’re going to be training by yourself.
So I started training five days a week. I’m down to three now, but that was 30 years ago. But I’m still doing it.
[00:03:08] Joe Taylor Jr.: John has led an especially active lifestyle, but that hasn’t meant escaping all of the effects of aging, especially one hurdle off the field that threatened to end that medal streak.
[00:03:19] John Hurd: The need for the pacemaker built up over several years because of a mix up in two prescriptions that I had before I started running. One of the doses I was supposed to have was a half of a pill of a beta blocker. I found out that I’d been using the wrong one under that name, taking six times the dose that was prescribed per day.
It started affecting me on the track in 2001. I would start warming up, getting real vigorous, and just fall. And it would happen even off the track.
So four years ago in the 2019, they put one in and it’s a wonderful invention, but I wouldn’t call it seamless, especially for an athlete because one of the things they do is they set a minimum pace for it, and in my case was 60 beats per minute and it won’t just automatically increase when you started exercising right away.
So I had to learn, when I started, I would run a fast dash and when I’d get through I’d have three or four seconds of an uneasy feeling simply because it didn’t catch up whenever my heart would miss a beat.
So what I had to do to adjust to it, and that made this up on my own after the doctors told me, if your pulse is increasing it’s you doing it. You still have that capacity, but it’s not the pacemaker that initiated. It has to catch up with you. So when I’m getting ready for a race, when they call me to the starting line, I’m still bouncing up and down and running in place and doing everything I can. ‘Okay. Pay attention. Cause I’m about use a lot of oxygen in the next few seconds.’ And I find that made a difference. So now when I cross the finish line, I look around, I feel good it’s working.
[00:04:55] Joe Taylor Jr.: John’s the first to admit that his obsession with competitive sprinting might not be the ideal hobby for every. However, he’s got advice if you are thinking of finding something new to take on in your life.
[00:05:07] John Hurd: Pick something that you’re going to enjoy. Not just endure, but enjoy it. And if it’s physical and you feel like you’re a little old for that kind of thing, check with your primary care doctor and get his opinion on it.
And above all, start out easy. Don’t try to outrun anybody the first day, or don’t try to set the world on fire. Whatever you’re going to, picture a vision, an end result, and make some goals. Write them down and track your progress.
One of the things that made a big difference for me, and I think it’s important for whatever you’re going to achieve in life, set some goals.
[00:05:46] Joe Taylor Jr.: That’s author and championship sprinter, John Hurd. We’ve got links to John’s books and to more information about his accomplishments in our show notes and on our website at searchandreplace.show.
Also in our show notes, Jenny McCoy from Self Magazine rounded up a team of New York’s most accomplished personal trainers to uncover how to set some realistic fitness goals.
Maybe you are not as competitive as John, and you’re okay with just getting off your couch instead of winning dozens of medals. And that’s just fine according to Jenny’s panel. They say, setting a modest measurable goal of your own is the best path forward for most of us.
Also in our show notes some resources from the National Institutes of Health who remind us that older adults really need at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity physical activity every week. That could be three days a week of brisk walking or dancing, or two days a week of muscle strengthening. They agree, starting slowly and writing down some early modest goals will help you make the longest lasting change to your overall fitness.
We’ve got those resources and more over on our website at searchandreplace.show.
Today’s episode was produced by Nicole Hubbard with help from the entire Podcast Taxi team. I’m Joe Taylor, Jr.
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