Running the ultimate race: life

Runner Vance Jacobsen pauses during his training at the Bainbridge High School track.  - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Runner Vance Jacobsen pauses during his training at the Bainbridge High School track.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

Vance Jacobsen excels on the track at 57, to great health benefit.

Hitting your 50s doesn’t mean you have to slow down and take it easy.

For 57-year-old Vance Jacobsen, age is nothing but a number when it comes to running – both on the track and in life.

“There is no greater feeling than running track,” he said. “Once it gets into your blood, it’s hard to get rid of it.”

Jacobsen recently competed in the 2005 USA Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, Hawaii.

He brought home four medals: gold in the 4x100 and 4x400 relay as the anchor; silver in the pentathlon, which includes the javelin, discus, long jump, 1,500-meter run and 200 meter dash, in which he placed first, despite a 12 mph headwind; and a bronze in the open long jump.

Jacobsen medaled despite less-than-stellar conditions, with the temperature in the mid-90s and the humidity 85 percent or higher, and stiff competition in nearly every event.

“The pentathlon was grueling,” he said. “There wasn’t a suitable venue for the javelin, so we had to be bused over to a local high school. We had just warmed up, but we got cold so we had to warm up again.

“Running the 1500 (was) difficult due to cramps in our calves, and that’s usually a sign of dehydration.”

Jacobsen also brought home ribbons for a fifth place finish in the 100 meter dash, fourth place in the 200 and fifth in the high jump. He scored 46 points overall in helping his club team, Fleet Feet Racing of Sacramento, Calif., to a championship.

“You are going up against some people that have an array of different skills,” he said of his opponents. “Many of my competition have been decathletes or pole vaulters in college.”

Jacobsen also medaled in the Masters Indoor Championships at Boise State University earlier this year, winning gold in the long jump and bronze in the high jump.

It’s his best year in medals since 2003, when he won two golds, two silvers and a bronze at the Pan Pacific Games, and a bronze in the pentathlon at the National Masters track championship before a hamstring injury ended his run.

Jacobsen was born and raised in South Dakota. He didn’t develop his love of track until he was introduced to the sport as a freshman back at Rex Putnam High in a suburb of Portland, Ore.

There, he competed in the low hurdles and the 200, 400 and 800 along with his brother Allen, now deceased, who was all-state in the 400.

“I had a coach that introduced the passion of the sport to me,” Jacobsen said. “I’ve been hooked ever since, to varying degrees. It changed my life.”

He walked on at the University of Oregon in 1966, where he was part of a national championship squad.

The program was led by the late Bill Bowerman, a legendary track coach who would go on to invent the waffle sole and help revolutionize the sport, co-founding Nike with Phil Knight.

“I ran behind a lot of famous people,” Jacobsen said. “I had very little in accomplishments, but a lot of education in track and field.”

After he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business, he did a stint in the Army, where he was a platoon leader and did long-range reconnaissance in Vietnam.

He was later transferred to a finance office and found time to run for the Army track team.

When he was discharged, he returned to Oregon to earn a master’s degree in business. Aside from fun runs and casual jogging, he didn’t compete in a single track event until he turned 50 in 1998.

That year, his sister talked him into participating in the World Masters Games, which were held that year in Portland at his alma mater’s track.

“I hadn’t run with electronic starting blocks before, and I hadn’t run at that level of competition before, so I was a little intimidated,” Jacobsen said. “But I came home with a fourth place finish in the 200 against a 1968 Olympic medalist from Australia, so I felt I had done all right. But what it had done was, it had created an obsession.”

It took him a while, but his obsession helped him become competitive by 2001, and he hasn’t stopped.

He’s competed in the U.S. Masters Championships or the World Masters Championships every year when time and money allow – he won’t be able to attend the upcoming World Masters Championships in San Sebastian, Spain – as he juggles a family and being the chief operating officer of his management consulting firm, Jacobsen, Betts and Company.

The human resources firm has clients in 35 states and a half- dozen countries.

With all the travel and working out he does, Jacobsen said competing for the Masters turns into a part-time job.

“That’s the tough part about Masters,” he said. “It does take a bit of work. If you travel on business, you need to really plan out your work week to be able to accommodate the training. But I think any adult that has a family and a job, it takes (a) pretty good commitment (to train.)

“So if you miss a day, you’ve got to not forget the workout that you were supposed to do that day and be very diligent about sticking with your plan.”

He’s stuck with it, training three or four times a week. Jacobsen has also found time to help the Bainbridge High School track team at their meets and help coach others, including his son Bryan.

The benefits have paid off for him physically, as a recent physical revealed he had lowered his blood pressure by 20 points on both sides and lowered his cholesterol by 70 points.

He’ll take some time to relax, then get back into his training schedule as he develops “strength over speed” with weight training and gradually works his way to next year’s National Championships at the University of North Carolina.

Then it’ll be the champtionship year after that, and the year after that, and so on until his body gives out or he passes on.

“I don’t ever see myself quitting,” he said. “It’s been such a big part of my total life that if you did let go, you would be missing a huge part of who you are.”

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