My first indoor track meet was a bit of a blur. It was about 1977 when I traveled by bus to NYC for a meet at the The Armory with a new team. I was jumping well that year of high school and was invited to join a "track club" (a club outside of my public school) called the Gazelles, which included some really serious high school athletes who were competing during the indoor season. I was excited to be included in this group of athletes and traveling to NYC seemed like the big leagues.
What I remember most about that particular bus trip was that about half-way to NYC, we stopped in a rest area and the coach gave the new athletes on the team their uniforms to put on. As I excitedly pulled out the fresh, new uniform in a stall at the rest stop, it was a case of looking a second, and then a third time, through the bag, to see if somehow I had missed the REST of the outfit. This red number was nothing like the blue cotton t-shirt and shorts our high school track team wore. It was panties (to my mind) and a singlet. Not much.
I get that now. You don't want anything to interfere with clearing the high jump bar. But at the time, I was shocked and felt a little uncomfortable when it came time to take the sweats off at The Armory and reveal our teensy uniforms and jump in that indoor meet.
In 2015, I jumped in my first Masters indoor meet -- the 2015 Southeastern USATF Masters in Winston-Salem, NC. Though much more comfortable in my uniform at this age, I was very uncomfortable at an indoor track. Outdoor track runners run and jump under a big sky. Grass is below, sky is above. Very simple. But, in this indoor meet, I couldn't seem to get comfortable with my steps -- a high jumper's nightmare. I was very distracted by the angles of the ceiling beams, the brightness of the lights above and seeing the high jump bar and standards backed by bleachers. Getting my bearings was difficult. Was my vision faulty? How far was I from the bar? Was that higher or lower than I remembered? Are my steps right? As I ran on my approach, it felt like the bar was coming up really fast.
I jumped. And won. But it was interesting to learn, later, that age affects our proprioceptive awareness. That is, our subconscious awareness of the movement and position of the body and its limbs. Independent of your vision, your sense of awareness is gained from sensory input and your vestibular system. As we age, this system is less reliable. It's one of the reasons older people fall and hesitate to climb stairs and ladders. (And maybe high jump?) No wonder I felt so disoriented. My system wasn't able to judge space and time as well as when I was younger.
But, there's good news. You can work on your proprioceptive awareness. Gym work, dancing, high knees, yoga...all these things help improve your awareness of your body and of where you are in the room.
This month, I am doing as much indoor training as I can in preparation for a possible jump at the 2016 USATF National Indoor Masters in March. I'm trying to get used to the subconscious weight of a ceiling, the visual distractions of crossbeams of a structure and the odd, static feeling of the air as you run. And the feeling that there will be no wind blowing across my face. If my training and family schedules allow me to compete, I should be less freaked out by an indoor facility this year. And, I'll get to choose my own shorts, too.
Thanks for reading and following my journey...
Julia Curran-Villarreal is a three-time USA W55 national masters high jump champion. After a 35-year break from her favorite high school sport of track & field, Julia returned to competition in 2013 at the age of 53. Follow her journey on @juliajumping on Instagram and @juliacurran on Twitter.