I heard a great interview on the radio this morning with the great Dr Steve Peters. Sadly it won’t be there any more by the time you read this, so I haven’t posted a link.
Readers of this blog will probably know Steve. He’s a great guy. He’s THE sprinter in my Masters age group. I’ve raced him many times, and spent hours with him in places like call-rooms, waiting to race at championships. I handed him the baton for the final leg of the World Masters 4x100m relay in Finland in 2009. I’m proud of that gold medal, one of three relay golds I’ve won alongside Steve.
I was also struck that in the interview, Steve’s World Masters wins at 100m, 200m and 400m in 2009 were picked out as his big year. Why did this strike me? Because two of these races – the 100 and 200 – were probably also the high point of my own track career to date. I was 5th in that 100m and 4th in the 200m. I blogged about these races at the time and have mentioned them since.
The pressure I also heaped upon myself in life and training after those results was, again as I have said before, what I believe to have been one of the defining factors in my slide into depression. Put simply, in the pursuit of even repeating that sort of result, and possibly improving on it, I beat my self up pretty mercilessly. Physically and mentally. No, I didn’t reach the point of actual, commonly understood, “self harm”, but I hurt my body and my mind nonetheless. Steve Peters would fully understand if I describe it as having totally lost any sense of perspective about what I was doing. To the extent I would have described as obsessive? Maybe, but it would have been called sadistic if someone had inflicted it on me. To call it “masochistic” almost seems to suggest I might occasionally have enjoyed it. No. My mind saw it as a necessary evil, not anything to be savoured.
When you train alone, as my lifestyle then and now tends to dictate as necessary, you inevitably spend far too much time looking inwards at yourself. I used to say that I could never be bothered anyway with other peoples training problems, such as you’d encounter working as part of a group. But what you don’t get, training alone, is some of the necessary challenge and comparison. Solo, looking inwards, you can kid yourself you’re progressing. Maybe by comparing how badly something hurt the last time you did it, for example. The only way forward from that becomes doing it again until the same distance, time, weight, etc, hurts more. That, or you continue to do it in the hope that, by the time it hurts less, you’ll have made the progress you were seeking. That’s all folly, of course. You’re more likely to have burned out a few fuses in your physical and mental systems instead by then.
At the time, I felt I was fortunate during that period of late 2009/early 2010 to have remained relatively free of injury. Looking back, of course, I can see that, while an injury might have been frustrating, it might also have been exactly what I needed to regain some sense of perspective. As it was, staying free of significant strains was just part of the mix that was convincing me I was doing things right, or at least, doing the right things.
My blogs from those days are not on this site, but here. I switched to the site you’re reading this on in early 2010. As I read them now, I can spot clues in what I wrote. It’s clear that kidding myself was occasionally part of the game. I’m particularly struck by my apparent fear that my training was “behind schedule”, though I’d be hard pressed to say what the schedule actually looked like!
I’m not qualified to say whether the pressure I imposed on myself, coupled with other things going on around me, over those months, was itself the trigger for the resulting damage. It seems such a short period. However, I can also see it in the context of pressure that had been ramping up for maybe a couple of years previously. I’m coming to see these as “dark days” containing memories I seldom revisit, and I’m not about to start.
But back to Steve Peters and the interview that triggered off this blog. At one point, talking about sport and sports-people, Steve said “were just entertainers really”. We’re what? “Entertainers”? I’ve just had a huge dose of perspective poured over me.
Go well, Steve.
Yes, my title’s a music reference again. It’s a track from Van Morrison’s fabulous “No Guru, No Method, No Teacher” album. Sort of ironic, that album title, eh?