Runners always have been well-known for trying to psych out their opponents.
And when you're talking about an older breed of runner, the mind games become even more prevalent.
"I'm 37 years old, and I can't wait till I turn 40," Nolan Smith said, smiling. The smile didn't mean he was kidding.
"When you get to be like 40, you're like a bunch of fishermen telling stories," said Smith at the Southern California Striders Meet of Champions Saturday at Golden West College.
"When you're like us, you have to make up for what you don't have physically with what you have mentally," he said.
With Smith, however, the con is that he would even need the con. He is one of the top sub-masters runners in the country at 800 and 1,500 meters. At Golden West, his afternoon amounted to a relatively simple workout as he won the 1,500 in 4 minutes and 5.5 seconds and the 800 in 2:01.8 in the 35-39 age division.
For him, the times aren't that impressive. Smith is behind his usual schedule because he helped coach track at Bassett High School in La Puente, which cut into training.
But running against people his age isn't what made Smith a top-notch runner in the sub-masters category. The Pasadena resident attended community college there and ran on the track team for a short time last spring, beating his teammates with ease.
"The coach would say, 'Don't let this old guy beat you,' " Smith said. "I'd say, 'I'm not going to let you beat me.' We had a lot of fun. I'd tell them stories about traveling with Count Basie, Marvin Gaye and Phil Collins."
Smith played lead trumpet with the Basie group for a couple of years in the mid-1970s and has gone on tour with many other prominent bands.
"I'm able to work out when I'm on the road," he said. "I write songs in my head. It's pretty easy to do when you're running for an hour and a half with nothing else to think about.
"But when I turn 40, it's going to be great. Then, I'm really going to work out."
An explanation for his eagerness to age: At 40, Smith will move into the masters division, in which he feels world records will be easier to attain. However, there are obstacles in that division, also, as more and more former Olympians have decided to stick with running into their 40s.
"For us older cats, it's getting more and more popular," Smith said. "The old legends that are turning 40 keep running. Like Jim Ryun, my all-time favorite hero."
Really, though, world records aren't the primary motivation for most of the athletes who were competing at Golden West. To put it simply, getting in shape is.
Ross Carter, a 73-year-old from Eugene, Ore., took up throwing the shot and discus after 35 years of basically doing nothing.
"I was allergic to exercise," he said.
Before Carter took up field events, his last significant athletic experience was when he played guard for the Chicago Cardinals football team in 1936-39. Earlier, he played for the University of Oregon.
Oddly enough, Carter's quest to return to shape resulted in age-group records in the 70-74 division. At the world games in Rome in 1985, he placed second in the shot and third in the discus.
On Saturday, Carter won both events in the 70-74 division, throwing 129-3 in the discus and 43-11 in the shot. Then, he offered further testimony to the benefits of track and field.
"I feel better today than when I was in my 50s," he said.
In other action, Larry Stewart set a world record in the 40-44 age group with a 221-0 throw in the javelin. . . . There were approximately 200 competitors in the second annual meet. The first meet was also held at Golden West College, but organizers said a new site, either UCI or UCLA, is being considered in an effort to find a faster track. . . . Chelsey Unruh, 80, competed in the 5,000 meter walk, finishing in 37 minutes and 0.4 seconds. He was the oldest competitor at the meet.