The first time Susan Adams Loyd tried to run track, she was one of three girls trying out for a spot on the boys’ squad.
She wanted to be a sprinter.
As the track season went on, however, Loyd was surprised to find there wasn’t going to be much running training for her. The coach made it clear: Girls weren’t welcome on his team. He made them do burpees and other drills instead of fostering them as track athletes.
Rather than go where she wasn’t wanted, Loyd decided at age 13 to focus on figure skating and leave her track dreams behind.
That dream came back to life at a friend’s retirement party more than a decade ago when Loyd was asked whether she had any past regrets.
An untouched box deep in her soul burst open and she passionately blurted out, “I always wanted to be a sprinter!”
Her friend was puzzled, but encouraged her to go for it, if she felt so strongly. He told her that there’s “track and field for old people.” Everyone laughed.
But Loyd was immediately hooked by the idea.
“I remember thinking, I have to leave. I have to go find these people who are doing this,” she said. “If they are doing this, then I want to do it, too.”
Now 57, Loyd is a national champion masters sprinter who’s represented the U.S. at the World Masters Athletics championships. This July, she’ll compete in her fourth National Senior Games — a biennial competition for athletes 50 and older, sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee — hosted for the first time this summer in the Twin Cities.
Pushing the limit
In the early days of her late-start running career, Loyd wasn’t sure where to begin, so she bought a pair of road shoes and gave it shot — running roughly the length of a football field.
She’d always been active and fit, but it frightened her how hard it was.
“To sprint, you have to run fast … as fast as you can,” she said. “When you haven’t done it for a long time, you’d be shocked at how hard it is: How can my brain say, ‘Yes!’ and my body say, ‘Nope, not gonna do it?’”
With time and training, it got easier.
When she began competing, Loyd’s goals were admittedly modest:
- To beat her own times
- To not injure herself badly
- To not embarrass her children.
In her first few years of competing, she wouldn’t do more than the 100-meter dash.
For her first try at the National Senior Games in 2009, Loyd took four days off work and flew to Palo Alto, Calif. Her goal was to make it past the preliminary round to the semifinals.
“When you think about it, I took off four days of work, bought an airline ticket and hotel and rental car to run 15 seconds,” she said.
She made it to the finals of her first national event, held at the Stanford University campus, and placed fifth.
Of all the titles she’s accrued since then, that one stands out because it symbolized a shift in how she viewed herself as a competitive runner.
“That’s when I felt like the door opened for me,” she said.
Another proud moment?
When her daughter, now 22, posted a photo of her on Facebook wall to show she was proud of her mother, rather than embarrassed or worried her mom was having “some kind of midlife crisis.”
Loyd’s first goal, to improve over her own times, is the epitome of what the National Senior Games seeks to encourage — a philosophy of achieving a “personal best” — an attitude of: “It’s never too late to get in the game.”
As her sprinting career has progressed, Loyd, who lives in Edina, hired a coach and trainer and joined a team of sprinters based out of Boston called Mass Velocity.
Her Tempe, Ariz.-based coach, Dean Hebert, thought she had more potential as a 400-meter sprinter.
Loyd said learning the 400-meter was one of the biggest challenges she’s ever faced.
Hebert, who specializes in mental preparation techniques for all kinds of athletes, helped her overcome mental roadblocks.
“Susan is about as strong as an athlete as you can imagine,” Hebert said.
The issue wasn’t her strength or ability — it was about making the event less intimidating.
Loyd would hit a wall, mentally, at 300 meters, he said.
Hebert helped demystify the flow of the race.
“As you feel these feelings, work through them,” he told her.
“You get to the point where you can say, ‘Been there, done that. I can handle it and race to the finish,’” Hebert said.
Now, she’s learned to cope and the race is one of her best events.
In 2013, Loyd won the indoor national championships for the 400-meter.
“You can’t love it because it’s so hard,” she said of the notoriously difficult race. “But what I love is that it’s daunting and I stand up to it and I face it.”
Loyd — currently president of the Twin Cities division of Clear Channel Outdoor and formerly the general manager and vice president of WCCO TV — has also held numerous high-profile volunteer board positions.
But the confidence she gained from that 400-meter victory has spilled over into all aspects of her life.
Training with a coach
Loyd trains year-round at the University of Minnesota.
Her routine typically involves one to two hours of exercise each day.
The majority of her workouts don’t even include sprints — it’s too hard on a sprinter’s knees to constantly run that hard and fast. Instead, she focuses on weight training to build muscle, yoga for flexibility, swimming for light-impact cardio and some biking.
But she “eats, sleeps and exercises” with track and field in mind.
Her Mass Velocity teammate, Jim Schoffman, trains with her, usually on Saturday mornings.
Schoffman, of Fridley, is also a sprinter. He runs everything from the 100-meter to the 800-meter.
Though the two met in Minnesota doing local charity events, their team is based out of Boston because there aren’t many sprinters at the masters level in the Midwest.
While they have different times and paces, Schoffman said it’s good to train with someone for motivation and to keep each other accountable.
Since Schoffman was a high school and college runner, he said Loyd often picks his brain for tips — and chirps them back at him when he complains.
“She’s really become a student of the sport,” Schoffman said.
Never too late
In senior athletics, Loyd meets competitors from all walks of life dedicated to their sport.
Many are lifelong athletes who have continued training or who didn’t have time for their sports anymore because life got in the way.
While Loyd exercised regularly while raising her two children, her life was filled with kid activities. As they grew up, Loyd said she yearned for something more to do and that training gave her a strong sense of purpose.
Other women like Loyd in the “pre-Title IX” crowd, never had the opportunity play the sport they wanted in school and have now found it as adults.
Some friends were never athletic until later in life.
Schoffman was a sprinter in college at Saint Johns University in Collegeville, Minn. After he graduated in 1975, it fell to the wayside. Schoffman, now 61, picked it back up again about 10 years ago.
The camaraderie he’s found in senior athletics is what makes it special, he said, adding that he hopes to coach after he retires in a few years.
Most of the runners Hebert works with are competitive at the masters level, which is for athletes 35 and older. About two-thirds of those runners are 40 and older.
His advice for anyone looking to discover or get back in touch with their athletic side?
“It’s never too late. It’s only in your mind,” he said. “You’ll never know if you’re telling yourself you can’t.”
Cali Owings is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.
Watch the games
What: More than 10,000 athletes ages 50 and older from across the nation will gather in the Twin Cities for an Olympic-style competition. Athletes will compete in 20 sports, including traditional track-and-field events, swimming, horseshoes, pickleball, golf, tennis and shuffleboard, among others.
When: July 3–16
Where: 18 venues in the Twin Cities
Info: Check out the full schedule of events at www.nsga.com.
Volunteer at the games
The organizers of the 2015 National Senior Games are seeking 2,500 volunteers to work two four-hour shifts each during the games, July 3–16 in at 18 venues in Bloomington, Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Training, snacks, beverages and games-branded apparel will be provided to volunteers.