SAYING GLYNN WOOD missed setting the national masters mile record by four days seems to be a cruel joke about an aging runner.
However, for the 43-year-old Wood, the 4:17.6 mile he ran April 19, 1974, four days before his 40th birthday, just gave him more reason to look forward to that often depressing milestone.
"I was very pleased with the race," Wood said. "I thought for sure I'd run it again in a week. I was happy to turn 40. But it never happened again. I don't know why."
Wood still managed to hold a share of the masters 40-44 mile record for two years with a 4:24.3 before the present standard-bearer, Ray Hatton of Pocatello, Id., clocked 4:24 even.
Wood has not been able to crack that barrier, though he has been close and has dominated the national 40-44 group this year. He captured the U.S. Masters indoor mile in 4:26.6 and two-mile in 9:48.2 and later took the outdoor 1,500-meter championship in 4:07.4.
Wood also holds the national marathon record for 43-year-olds with a time of 2 hours, 28 minutes, 28 seconds.
Many runners over 40 have taken it up with the recent physical fitness boom, but Wood has been running continuously since high school.
"In my generation, you turned 21 and quit. You played golf or something," he said. "There were only about half a dozen or so who kept running right through. Now they're coming back. You have a hundred 40-year-olds at a meet."
Wood saved his career-best mile for when he was 38. In a meet at Georgetown University, used basically by college runners to tune up for the Penn Relays, Wood raced to a 4:15 clocking, seven seconds better than his fastest time as a collegian.
"There were these two Olympic-quality guys from Georgetown - Garth McKay and Joe Lucas - who were just running slow," recalled Wood. "I stayed on their heels for three laps and went out to pass them. With 220 (yards) left to go, I came right up beside them. They just laughed at me, kicked out and left me."
Wood attributes much of his late success to working out with the American University track team, particularly his years with Gary Cohen and Dave Reinhart, both of whom have since graduated. A government professor who recently became dean of the School of Government and Public Administration at AU, Wood works out twice a week with the school team in addition to his daily workouts.
"I've always kidded the kids if they want to win the conference in cross country, they'd have to have six guys who could beat me," Wood said. "Any college kid who can't beat me on the hills isn't going to place in the conference.
"He was always pushing us with the-old-man's-going-to-beat-you stuff," remembered Cohen, who just returned from winning the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races in Israel's Maccabiah Games.
"He loves to run," Cohen said. "He says he's never going to quit. I think one day it's going to hit him. He's going to wake up and he won't be able to break five minutes."
AU's new track coach, Steve Lurie, thinks Wood could get down to 4:18 or better in the right race.
"I haven't run a competitive race in three years," said Wood, who has lost only once in masters competition. "If the competition shows up, it rains . . . The record's not as important as having good competition. I'm close enough where if the day goes right . . . The 4:15 was such good luck, I don't think I'll ever come near that again.
Competition is even more important to Wood than winning.
"I think most people who run for a long time would rather finish second in that super race than win an easy one," he said. "I think the fantasy is to break the tape in 3:59. It doesn't matter if there are three guys ahead of you. But winning the mile in 4:40 is a bad day."