Pentathlon hopefuls continue to train

8 Aug 2003 | Army Spc. Melissa Walther

In the oppressive heat of Iraq, two men here are training for a grueling test of endurance, speed and power.

Army Sgt. 1st Class James Barr, an information operations officer with the 11th Psychological Operations Battalion (Tactical), based in Washington, D.C., and Maj. Ray McFall, First Marine Expeditionary Force future operations planner, have begun a training program for the USA Masters' pentathlon event.

"I didn't know there was a Masters competition program until we got to talking about running in the office," said McFall, a resident of San Diego.  "I looked into it a little, and it sounded like something I wanted to do.  I used to run track in college and I still run cross country."

Barr, a resident of Arlington, Va., also got his start running track in school.

"I used to run in high school and college, but I had to concentrate on academics," Barr said.  "After college, I started watching some of the matches and thought I wanted to get back into it."

Now a two-time National Outdoor Master Pentathlon winner, Barr is planning to try out for the Olympic javelin team when he returns home to Arlington, Va. Barr won his second national pentathlon title at the 2002 USA Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships last year in Maine.

Events of the pentathlon vary for indoors and outdoors competitions.  Indoors events include the 60-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump and the 1,000-meter run.  The five outdoor events are the long jump, javelin, 200-meter dash, discus, and 1,500-meter run.

Both Barr and McFall have plans to compete in both events.

"It's good to have a professional to train with," McFall said, referring to Barr.  "He knows all the right techniques and he's a good coach."

No stranger to coaching, Barr is the coach of a women's running team and a track club at home.

"It's really good to have a partner to train with," Barr said.  "It makes it easier and a whole lot more fun."

Barr calls it fun, despite the fact that temperatures in southern Iraq have hovered around 120 degrees for the past few weeks.

"Training here actually hasn't been that bad," McFall said.  "It took some time to get acclimated, but we try to pick the cooler parts of the day to train."

It's not just the heat the duo has had to deal with while training.  Some of the events such as the shot put, javelin and discus require special equipment that they just don't have here.

"We've got to improvise a lot of the equipment out here," Barr said.  "We were throwing an engineer stake as a javelin, for a while.  (The) only problem was it was just too heavy."

Training for more than two months now, McFall and Barr said they could tell there had already been improvement.

"We had a test when we first started training," Barr said.  "Then, just a week ago, we had another test to see how far we had come."

The progress was noticeable, according to McFall.  For example, using marks on a wall to record their vertical jump, the men noticed that they had improved more than two feet compared to their first markings.

"It's good to see the progress," McFall said.

Using an exercise plan, McFall and Barr cycle through the five main areas needed for the strenuous contest: speed, endurance, power, strength and technique.

"There are very few guys who can do it all," Barr said. "You've got to have technique. You've got people with raw speed and power, but without the right technique, it's all lost."

"When you're a multi-event athlete you've always got to have something left in the tank," he added.  "You've got to have that endurance to finish."

Although Barr and McFall live on opposite sides of the country, according to them, they plan to get together regularly.

"We're going to put on a 'Back From Iraq Pentathlon' in Arlington, Va., when we get back home," Barr said.  "We'll also see each other at the different meets, like the Nationals."

According to them, they both believe they have a good chance at winning the 2004 Nationals.

"We'll be in the same age group for the indoor competition," Barr said.  "It'll be good competing against each other.  He's better at things like long-distance running and hurdles, and I'm better at things like the javelin and sprinting.  It'll be interesting to see who comes out on top."

McFall is confident both will do well.

"I think we could easily take silver and gold there," he said.  "We looked at the last results on the Internet, and I think we have a pretty good shot at making it."

Neither is doing for the glory, however.

"We do it for the love of the sport," said Barr.