Essex sprinter gets better with age

Roger Pierce is a man on the run. And at 65, he shows no signs of slowing down; in fact, he just might be getting faster.

Last month, the Essex sprinter competed in the World Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships in Kamloops, British Columbia, and returned with two gold medals and a pair of silvers. He earned gold in the 400 meters, as well as running a leg with the 4x200 USA relay team, and silver in the 60 and 200. His runner-up finishes were photos and totaled less than half a second.

Nonetheless, Pierce was pleased with his showing, and now he owns 13 golds in World Masters competition to go along with his 27 indoor and outdoor US national golds. He’s won his other world titles in various age groups in venues in Australia, Spain, Austria, Puerto Rico, and Italy.

Not bad for a man who didn’t start running seriously until he was 39, because “I was upset with myself for not staying in shape.’’

He was very much in shape, though, when he competed at Beverly High in the early 1960s and then as a walk-on at Northeastern in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Both those schools eventually found room for him in their Halls of Fame — Beverly in 2004 and Northeastern in 2008. The USATF also inducted him into its hall in 2008.

“Sprinters were pretty much done after their college days back when I competed,’’ recalled the 5-foot-5, 139-pound Pierce. “There were no programs or age groups back then, so no matter how hard you trained, you were always going to get beat by the younger guys. As age groups developed, things started to get more interesting and more inviting.’’

Pierce was an assistant track coach at Stoneham in the early ’70s and then head coach at Beverly in 1993. He taught English in the Woburn school system before leaving that job to concentrate on music. He became a master on the 12-string guitar, turned professional, and still performs at pubs and coffee houses in the North Shore area.

His return to competitive running came in 1984. One day, he stumbled across a masters track meet in Waltham. He was 39, ran in the 30-39 age group, and finished third behind two men in their early 30s.

“It was at that point I decided to get into shape and compete on a serious level,’’ he said. “At 40, I won the 50-yard dash at the Eastern Masters Championship and after that I felt good enough and motivated enough to continue. I knew if I stayed in shape I could compete on a high level. I pretty much stayed local until I discovered there were national and world championships out there for men my age and older.’’

Pierce said training is the key to his success, but that it can’t be overdone. He trains every other day doing intervals of walking and sprinting and figures he averages just 2 1/2 miles a week.

“I’m not trying to be 18; I am who I am,’’ said Pierce. “I want to be the best I can at the age I am and that’s 65. I want to challenge myself. People are always asking me when I am going to run the Boston Marathon and I always tell them I’m not. I’m a sprinter. If I can’t see the finish line, I’m not getting into the race.’’