When Raynah Adams III was growing up in Henderson, N.C., his family was the only black one in a small white neighborhood. He mixed freely with friends until the bells of segregated schools beckoned each to his "right place."

So when young Adams reached school age and his white former plamates shunned him, the 6-year-old began hanging around with imaginary playmates.

He played football in the back yard with Charlie (Choo-Choo) Justice, the All-America tailback from the University of North Carolina. There were baseball games with Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson and golf with then collegian Arnold Palmwe with clubs Adams fashioned out of tree limbs.

Perhaps the imaginary playmates who inspired him most were Barmey Ewell, Harrison Dillard and Andy Stanfield - black sprinters who were college headliners across the country and, for Dillard and Stansfield, bound for international glory at the Olympics.

Adams followed their every move in the Daily Morning Herald, his "secular Bible" that told a youth who had never been north of Richmond about breakthroughs blacks were making in sports.

"It was either imaginary playmates or no playmates at all," Adams recalled of his elementary and high school years, much of which were spent training for the Olympics with his friendly ghosts.

Adams never made the Olympics. But today, at age 40, he is a world class sprinter in Masters competition, the holder of three national gold medals and a medalist in international competition. Masters events are for people aged 40 to 70 years and competition is set by 10-year age brackets.

Adams returned last week from Goteborg, Sweden, site of the World Masters Championships in track and field. He ran in eight races in five days, winning two medals.

He took a bronze in the 200-meter race with his personal best time of 23.0 seconds and a silver as part of the U.S. relay team in the 4x400-meter event. His was the fastest split (51.3). It was the relay (the Americans clocked 3:29:2) that Adams liked best because of the "honor of representing my country."

Larry Colbert from Glen Arden, another world class sprinter, also ran on that relay team, clocking 52.9 for his split. Colbert also placed fifth in the 200-meters with a time of 23.4 seconds. Warren Crutchfield, another area world class sprinter won a bronze medal in the 100-meter, 11.2 seconds.

Adams qualified for the World Masters after winning three gold medals at the National Masters in Chicago in July. The only competitor to clinch three golds, he won the 200-meter (23.1), the 400-meter, 11.2 seconds.

Adams qualified for the Worlds Masters after winning three gold medals at the National Masters in Chicago in July. The only competitor to clinch three golds, he won the 200-meter (23.1), the 400-meter (52.1) and the 800-meter (2:02:3).

Those competitions were preceded by a number of local and regional Amateur Athletic Union meets over the past year and by a vigorous training schedule under which he ran from three to 14 miles a day.

A deacon at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, Adams said he turned to sports because his parents "always encouraged me to do things that were constructive rather than destructive. So I've tried to embrace things which help me get through this troubled world."

He turned to track, he said, because "there's a natural high from sprinting. I can feel my muscles ripple and know my body is in very good condition. I can do what an 18-year-old does and I'm old enough to be his father."

Because of his conditioning and eschewing smoking, coffee, liquor and fattening foods that might be harmful to the body, the 5-foot-10 Adams is the same trim 155 pounds he was which he was 18.

In high school he began running seriously and thinking about making the Olympics. But only the white high scholl had a track and a coach. "The penalty for getting on the (white school's track) would have been a juvenile jail record," he recalled.

So he ran - with Ewell, Dillard and Stanfield - along the 450-foot driveway from his father's house to Rte. 1. He wanted to go to UNC with his idol Choo-Choo. "They wouldn't let me go there unless it was as a porter or kitchen help."

He enrolled at Virginia Union University, only to find it had no track coach or track facilities. Still eyeing the 1960 Olympics, he transferred to Central State College in Ohio. He discovered, in meets, that he lagged considerably behind other college runners who had been training for yaears with experienced coaches and equipment.

He joined the Air Force and was stationed here as a presidential guard. Later, he became a government statistician and insurance salesman before joining The Washington Post in 1969 as a retail advertising salesman.

His track career had been fairly dormant until he saw a notice in The Post about track and field competitions for masters and submasters (30-39 years old) two years ago.

He joined the Potomac Valley Senior Track Club and began basic conditioning under the guidance of Adrian Dixon, the women's track coach at Coolidge High, who praised Adams for his self-discipline and desire to compete at age 40.

Running in local bimonthly meets, Adams said he would not have known how much he was improving unless he ran against Colbert and Crutchfield. "There are very few men at 40 who can outrun us. You don't see many 40-year-old football players around," Adams said.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect about his participating in the World Masters Championship, he said, was competing with former Olympians who might possibly have been a teammate or foreign competitor if he had made the U.S. Olympic track team as a young. And learning he could beat them.