Smoking the Competition - October 2019 Athlete of the Month

James Jackson, 53, Denton, Texas

It’s rare for a runner to win best overall times in both the 5K and 10K road races in a National Senior Games. It’s only happened four times in our 32-year history, most recently in 2011. Now, James Jackson of Denton, Texas joins that elite group with his performance at the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana.

Many runners in North Texas have been reading the number on his back since he was a two-time high school All-American. “I competed through my early 20s and had qualified for the Olympic Trials for the 5,000-meter race, but I got injured shortly before the trials,” he recalls. “The plan was to go back to training and try again, but life started happening with a baby on the way. Next thing you know it was 15 years before I got serious again.”

James, now 53, had continued with jogging for exercise, but it wasn’t until his son Cameron rose as a high school elite runner that the competitive juices started to flow again. “I had a little beer belly and my initial goal was just to get back in shape. But after some time running with him, I lost the weight and got back in at 42. I’ve been at it ever since.”

He has chalked up numerous masters level wins and once he turned 50, his sights set on adding his name to our record books. “Two weeks prior to New Mexico, I had run over a minute faster than your overall-time record in the 5K, and a month before I ran 33:08 in the 10K, so I was thinking I could get both of those records,” he says. “I know I had the altitude thing going against me being from Texas, but that was my ultimate goal.”

However, his first two days of practice jogs in Albuquerque were difficult, and on the morning of the 5K there was a smoke and haze alert due to forest fires in neighboring Arizona. “I felt horrible before the race, and hesitated to go out at a fast pace, but after a mile I felt I could pick it up. I was so surprised when I looked back and thought ‘Oh my gosh, where is everybody?’” His 5K time of 17:39 landed him third on NSGA’s all-time list.

James felt better for the 10K race but encountered a challenge. “At the split I was just a few seconds off my 5K winning time, so I really went after the 10K record. But with a mile to go, I started cramping in both calves,” he recounts. “I freaked out about not finishing, so I backed off a little. At that point I just wanted to get to the finish line in one piece.”

Like most highly competitive athletes, despite finishing far ahead of the entire field twice, the professional personal trainer and running coach was somewhat disappointed about missing his goals. “I was thinking the altitude had something to do with it, so I was excited to find out the 2021 Games in Fort Lauderdale will be at sea level. I might also run the 1500 on the track.”

“I’m enjoying this more now than I ever have,” he observes. “There’s the challenge of staying injury-free as I get older, but I plan to do it as long as I can. The National Senior Games was one of the neatest experiences ever. I’m super competitive and want to go for as many records as I can get.”

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