The Last Laugh

January 27, 2019

I was once told that there was an old Yiddish saying that “the way to make God laugh was to tell him your plans.”. How true that might be, I have no idea, but if he is a regular reader of this blog, it will have provided plenty of amusement.

I always seem to be starting with an apology, these days, that I’ve neglected the blog for a while, of something. This time, that’s not quite down to indolence or indifference (honest), but because I’ve been waiting for some good news that I can share with you, along the lines of how well my winter training has been going, etc. Well, there’s no point in waiting any longer for that good news, or you’ll be thinking I’ve given up or something.

My focus this winter has been on getting race fit by the last week of March, so that I could take advantage of having gone up a Masters age category just two days before the World Masters Indoor Championships begin, in Torun in Poland. I have good memories of the 2015 European Masters held there. I made the 60 metres and 200 metres finals (I think I was fifth in both), and our GB 4x200m squad won gold. I ran the first relay leg “blind” from the outside lane, but handed over the baton in first place, and there we stayed.

Last time here, I reported on life as a photographer at the World Masters Championships in Malaga. That was all I did there (ha – “all”, he says!) because I’d torn my right hamstring just a week before travelling to Malaga. Keeping extremely active and on my feet in the warm Spanish weather seemed to help the injury heal fairly quickly, and I was back training in October. I’ve felt nothing since then to suggest the hammy hasn’t fully recovered. I’d decided I’d focus on racing in Torun and, if I was fit and in racing form when time came to travel out, I’d leave the cameras at home, and just race. Easy decision in some ways – if I was running well, I could find myself racing on every one of the eight days of the championships except one, and time to work as a photographer would be hard to find, as well as being a distraction from the main purpose of being there.

I managed to get into a decent winter training routine pretty early on, too. However, what passes for “my day job” these days had been going unusually well, so my sessions were squeezed in amongst work and several other recurring commitments. It was often hard to keep proper momentum going, and I often had to be pretty creative to schedule training around those disruptions. Session planning was very ad-hoc (latin for “make it up as you go along, far too often”), and it was easy to fall into the trap of doing familiar, favourite sessions a lot of the time, when I really ought to have been pushing the envelope a bit more than I was. It’s now late January, and I can spot a lot of lost opportunities back in November. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing.

Real life really did get in the way from November, however, in the form of a load of pre-planned DIY and other work on the house – re-roofing the garage, having new double glazing fitted, a load of redecorating, etc. One straw that nearly broke this camel’s back was remedial work to manage a major leak in our home water supply until it could be completely replaced. We hadn’t anticipated that! The DIY work on the garage was all simple enough, and the weather stayed good for the whole time I was working on the roof, but the job itself was physically far more strenuous than I’d anticipated, and placed a lot of stress on my knees and back, shinning up and down ladders, kneeling on boards while replacing sections of the roof, etc, and it was all done solo, including the lifting and carrying. I suspect I ended up with a dose of old-fashioned “housemaids knee”, amongst other ailments.

My left shoulder, injured in 2016/17 also chose this time to play up again. I’m getting regular treatment for the impingement syndrome which seems to be the long-term consequence of the original damage. The treatment has been mostly to try to maintain and improve the range of pain-free movement in the joint. Even now, it has very well-defined no-go areas. Worse, however, is that it remains extremely weak in a number of planes of movement. In practice, this has made most weight training and load-bearing work difficult or self-defeating. I’m winning, but it’s, literally, painfully slow going.

A pre-planned week in Florence, returning a day or two before Christmas, was a highlight of December, but yet another interruption to my training plans.

A further bout of redecorating in early January, after the window replacements and water works, rather became the killer blow to my racing ambitions. With a month to go before I was supposed to begin racing indoors, I had four weeks to rescue things. It was then that, without much prior warning, I began having considerable knee pain while walking downstairs. I’m waiting for a proper diagnosis, but it seems all of the kneeling down etc doing the most recent painting and decorating has caused my right knee, in particular, to rebel. The associated pain appears to point to some kind of inflammation to my ilio-tibial band. I can manage most day to day things, (providing I avoid the stairs!), but now, unfortunately, training has become even more restricted still.

A great deal of the life of a Masters athlete, particularly one approaching his mid 60s, seems to involve leaps of faith. As I was finding out this winter only too well, real life has an awkward habit of thwarting plans. Some time ago, I’d been obliged to book accommodation and flights for the World Masters Indoor in Torun. I’d managed to put off committing myself to specific race events scheduled for February and March, in the build up to Torun, while trying to work around my succession of injuries, so it was beginning to look like I might be going there in poorer form than I’d hoped. I couldn’t foresee that then, a bit out of the blue, I’d get the chance to spend a week in March in Venice, working as a photographer. I said yes before making any assessment of the implications. It’s long been my favourite city, after all, and I’ve visited twice in the last year.

However, the trip obliges me to be in Venice until the day before the Torun championships. Today I bowed to the inevitable: I’m letting the closing date for Torun entries pass, and I have also cancelled my accommodation and flights there. I’m insufficiently confident that I’d be in proper race form anyway, and the diary clash is the last straw. Sure, at a acost, I could probably work around it, but I found myself asking my reflection in the mirror how badly I wanted to do so. “Not enough” came back the answer.

Priority now is to get the knee problem sorted, and continue making progress with the shoulder. Without that, there might be no summer competition for me. Fingers crossed.


How The Vest Was Won

September 25, 2018



I recall this photo being taken in Malaga, but sadly, not who took it.

(I usually write a blog after returning from a big event, like a World Masters Athletics Championships. Not competing in the latest one meant I needed to write about something slightly different to usual. I’ve chosen to share a few thoughts about what it’s like to be a photographer at an event like this. Please excuse the pun in the title, though I’m sure there were times when we felt like calling in John Wayne as reinforcement.)

The “we”, in the context if this blog, are myself and the finest group of trackside photographers you could ever want to work with at an event like a World Masters Athletics Championships. Two Brits, two Yanks, and a Canadian with dreadlocks. We’re proud to be amongst the most experienced in the business, with a body of work between us that really shows that experience counts for a great deal. (End of press release.)

The World Masters Athletics Championships is huge. The event in Malaga, Spain, over the first two weeks of September this year, underlined every day just how big. There were over 8,000 entrants, aged between 35 and 101 years of age, competing in five year age bands. 14 age bands, men + women = up to 28 versions of each track and field event. Multiply that by the need to hold qualifying heats and/or semi-finals in most events, and you have one massive programme. I do find it a very life-affirming thing, however, when, say, the men entrants in the 80 to 85 age group are so numerous that even they need heats and semifinals, to whittle the numbers down to the eight finalists.

The organisers had decided to spread the Championships over four stadium venues, and a separate cross-country venue. This was always going to make it very hard for photographers to cover it properly. Oh, and all medal presentations were held at an entirely separate sixth location, which I never found, and as yet, ten days after the end of the Championships, I have yet to see a single podium photograph posted by anyone. Bad decision, that. On one day of the fortnight, a whole unbroken day from 10am to 9pm was needed in one stadium solely to accommodate the heats of the 100 metres. The steeplechase events also occupied one stadium for a full day. Ditto the 200 metres semifinals/finals a few days later.

The more regular daily programme usually began at all of the stadiums around 9am and frequently ended close to 8pm. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later. However, on most afternoons, events simply ceased for up to five hours! I’m sure part of the theory was that this allowed, say, a semifinal to be held in the morning session, and a final in the evening. However, this benevolence broke down a little in practice, because many athletes (and this photographer) had hotels etc that were some long distance away. To return there in the afternoon would have then meant setting out back to the stadium after only about an hour of rest. However, none of the stadiums had anywhere competitors could realistically rest up during this afternoon “siesta”. Two of them also had no facilities for a meal, or even a snack. One of these was the main Malaga stadium, whose catering was limited to an occasional coffee bar. Whose idea was that?

Three of the stadiums were linked by the excellent Malaga Metro service. However, the organisers’ promise to provide free transport proved in reality to be a much more limited offer. And we event photographers didn’t qualify for any free travel at all.

Successive organisers of the biennial World Masters Athletics Championships (the organisers actually being a local organising committee (LOC), as contractors to World Masters Athletics themselves) have never got a proper handle on how to manage trackside photographers. Almost every LOC has subcontracted the high volume, on-site photography, and local print sales service in the stadium, to a local company. Over the years, several of these appear to have been selected without ever submitting a portfolio of track and field work. Some have been sports photography generalists, but at the World Masters Indoors in France in 2008, for example, the chosen photographers were wedding specialists. Their photographers simply didn’t have a clue what they were doing when races etc were taking place, but they made a good job of of the post-race group shots!

There has always been a small group of photographers, eg those working for specialist magazines, national athletics bodies, or freelancing to service the needs of the sport, who have worked alongside the LOC’s sub-contractors. That’s usually been a mutually satisfactory arrangement, unless, as has happened a few times, the contractors or the LOC adopt the view that somehow the freelancers are “stealing” “their” business. Resolving this was occasionally a real muddle. In the USA in 2011 I was twice threatened in emails with being taken to court by one particular contractor, despite me being an officially accredited photographer by the LOC. It wasn’t until five or six years ago that World Masters Athletics (WMA) itself realised the need to harness and encourage the expertise of the best of the non-LOC photographers. Eventually, having a small group who were working under a WMA flag, alongside those working to the LOC, became a workable compromise. That was the basis that we believed had been agreed when we set off for Malaga.

As has been observed in many areas of reportage, the rise of digital photography seems to have encouraged almost anyone owning a camera to think they are a suitably qualified photographer. Thankfully, WMA has recognised a small, well-experienced group as meeting its needs, but the arrangements for accreditation of photographers by LOCs has usually remained inconsistent and unsatisfactory. Broadly speaking, the main need nowadays, aside from the obvious one of getting a good photographic record of an event, is a) to manage the numbers who are competent to work trackside, and who can also shoot field events such as hammer throw, discus and javelin safely and well, and b) keep the rest away.

Successive LOCs have tried various ways to respond to the number of photographers who ask them for accreditation. Their solutions have varied from the one extreme of trying to exclude any photographers except their own subcontractors, to the other of time-limiting accredited access to the event arena for photography to, say, a day, a morning, or even just an hour. The chosen evidence of that accreditation being awarded has usually been a brightly-coloured lightweight vest. Managed properly, this works well. Stadium security and officials can distinguish accredited photographers from other wannabe snappers by their vest, and act accordingly.

For reasons now probably lost to bureaucratic time, the LOC for the recent World Masters Championships tinkered with the mechanism of accreditation. They asked each national governing body for Masters Athletics to name any photographers they intended to send with their team. This had the effect of encouraging many governing bodies to nominate at least one photographer when they previously would not have done so. Thus, instead of needing to deal with little more than the small expert WMA group plus their own subcontractor’s team of photographers, there were suddenly also more than seventy others who had been led to believe that they would be allowed to work at the Championships! And most of those understandably believed that this meant working trackside in the stadium.

The key need was realistic control of the numbers wanting to work on the track and infield. There was no need to impose much in the way of restrictions on photographers happy to shoot from the stands or perimeter fences of stadiums. The latter could have an accreditation vest of one colour, and the small group for whom track access had been agreed would have one of a different colour. The recent Championships initially settled on yellow vests for those not permitted on the track, and white for those who had permission. So far, so good.

And so, we reached the start of the event. Nominated photographers presented themselves on the first day at the media office, to collect their accreditation card – and were automatically given a white vest, regardless of where they would actually be working! So many white vests were given out that day, that most of those for whom the white vests had originally been intended arrived to find there was not one available for them to wear. This significant error led to some unpleasantness and confusion, which, to the LOC’s credit was fairly well handled, once the scale of the problem they had created was understood. Retrieving the white bibs that had been given out in error was a different matter, however. Sadly, a few photographers who ought to have received them still had not done so, even  by the start of the second week of the Championships.

The error also revealed that a few people, at least one of whom had no prior connection at all to the sport, had discovered the Championships were happening, and simply written to the LOC asking for trackside access, which had been granted, along with a white vest. This completely circumvented all other prior accreditation processes, and by-passed any nomination by individual national Masters Athletics governing bodies. I hope it is something that does not happen at future Championships.

By five or six days into the Championships, an uneasy equilibrium had been reached. Most (but not all) who were intended to have white vests had obtained them from the LOC. Unfortunately, amongst the photographers who had received them in error were a few whose inexperience of working in a busy athletics venue quickly became apparent and required some monitoring by venue safety officers. Equally unfortunately, it also occasionally became clear that some stadium officials were inexperienced at working with photographers.

[As a complete aside, unconnected with anything else in this blog, I was occasionally quite amused by the event organiser’s choice of stadium music between events. On the evening of the 100 metres finals, this included the theme from “War of the Worlds”, “A Fistful of Dollars” (as if, eh?) and various other “spaghetti Western” movies. For the steeplechase finals the following evening, the choices of the theme from “Jaws”, and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” were hilarious. Anything was better than the regular performer at one of the stadiums: a guy who was presumably a beach DJ in real life, who ran up and down in front of the spectators (“crowd” would be overstating it), endlessly calling into his over-loud microphone for “Claps, claps, claps! More claps, people!” After a couple of hours, this became irritating and very wearing on the nerves.]

Then, without prior warning early one morning, the WMA group of photographers were amongst those to be sent an email from the media office announcing that they needed to present themselves at the main Championships stadium to collect a new, blue, distinguishing vest. Only one of the WMA group had been scheduled to be at the main stadium that day, but the media office helpfully delivered these blue vests to those at at least one other stadium. Why other photographers than the WMA group were included in this new arrangement was never made clear.


Photo courtesy of Fiona de Mauny

I felt it was worth turning some of these experiences, and those gathered from earlier championships into a few specific recommendations, in addition to those implicit in what I have already written.

No photographer or contractor will ever get rich photographing Masters Athletics. However, the sport itself is very reliant on presenting proficient, accurate and informative images of itself to the wider world and the sports media. The sport also needs to have access to a properly managed photo archive to track its fascinating history, and to help promote the benefits of an active lifestyle, help counter stereotypes about older people, etc. In addition, a good photo archive also fulfils the basic need of helping Masters Athletics celebrate its participants, champions and heroes. Allowing accreditation to competent, connected photographers helps ensure these outcomes. It also helps contribute to the safety of events, by reducing the risk that inexperienced, unwary people will be permitted into areas of the stadium where they might put themselves, athletes and officials at risk of harm.

Press photographers, for news media local to where the Championships are being held, for example, are another demand on access to some major masters events. Their interest in local athletes is understandable, but quite often, the interest they have is just a fascination to see the very oldest athletes compete.


Photo courtesy of Andy Gannaway. It can be a lonely job sometimes!

A good media office working for the LOC might occasionally be able to meet local media needs via accredited photographers already working at the event, and not need to stretch accreditation arrangements to press and tv crews. However, where that cannot be achieved, those with press access should not be given priority and access privileges over other accredited photographers.

Furthermore, I believe it would be reasonable, for at very least the health and safety reasons sketched out earlier in the piece, to stipulate that short-term press accreditation will only be given to photographers/journalists who are already familiar with the environment of an athletics stadium during competition – particularly an understanding of the “no go” areas created by electronic timing systems and throwing events. There is a general etiquette to non-participant presence on an athletics track that needs to be understood and respected.

Anyway, we survived this Championships, and, ever the optimists, want to believe that the next organisers we have to deal with will have learned something from what has gone before.

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down…

August 29, 2018

Yup, that’s what’s happened, I’m sorry to say.

This chapter of my occasional blog about the life of an older athlete is going to be as much therapy for me in the writing of a chronology it, as anything. I need to get a few thoughts in order. I’ll share the order of events with you.

A couple of weeks back, I was pleased to be racing at the Masters London Grand Prix – one of two Masters GP events this year. The other was in Sheffield in June, and marked a point in the year for me when I realised I was racing pretty well. I was particularly pleased to be racing at the London event, at the breezy Lee Valley Stadium because I’d had a nasty run-in with vertigo in the previous weeks. I’ve suffered from this for a while. Vertigo isn’t what the media often refer to it as being. It’s not “fear of heights”. That’s acrophobia. No, vertigo is a condition affecting the balance parts of your inner ear, causing all manner of sudden instability, plus sick feelings etc. Mine is triggered by an eczema-related ear infection I suffer from now and again. It’s usually well under control with creams, but just occasionally and without warning, I get struck. I was going to say “I get struck down”, but with severe and sudden vertigo, concepts like “up” and “down” are meaningless. I can recall once lying on the floor, holding on to the carpet in case I fell off it.

Well, the vertigo caused me to miss some training and two planned mid-season competitions, so I was glad to be racing well in the two 100 metres stints I did at Lee Valley. This, owing to missing stuff, was the real start of my “road to Malaga”. It was going to be abrupt, because the only other events on that short road were at the British Masters Championships the following weekend, in Birmingham.

Like I said, I ran well at Lee Valley in my own events. I should have walked away at that point. However, I let myself get involved in organising a squad in a sprint relay at the end of the day. I didn’t warm up very well for this, if I’m honest. As I ran lead-off leg, from nowhere with no warning, the back of my right thigh began to tighten up rather painfully. It seemed I had a small hamstring pull.

Several days of icing, and a chiropractor visit, plus two gentle sessions at the gym, that were spent mostly trying to avoid testing the leg had me feeling it would be ok for racing on at the rapidly upcoming British Championships. The added advantage was that I could get my leg examined by one of the British Masters medics beforehand, and have it taped if necessary.

Cut to the Saturday morning in Birmingham, and that’s what happened. Claudio gave me a workover and a cautious green light, and taped my hamstring and calf. We agreed that, with the Malaga World Masters Championships in sight ten days away, if I had any pain at all when warming up for my 100 metres race later that afternoon, I would pull out of it. We’d already agreed that racing a 200 metres in what was likely to be be pouring rain on the Sunday was a bad idea, and I’d withdrawn from that. The Saturday afternoon was warm and sunny, however, with virtually no wind. Warm up went well, without pain. I took longer over it than usual to ensure everything was properly loose and warm. I also realised, looking at the list of those who were there for the race that, on the basis of recent performances, I had every chance of winning my first ever British Masters outdoor title.

All the pre-race rituals went fine. I set up my starting blocks, and my practice run-out from them felt good. When the gun went for the race, so did I. It was possibly one of my best starts of the season. I’ve included here a few photos of that start, taken by my friend Peter Davey. That’s me in the middle.


But, dear reader, you’re probably ahead of me by now. At 20 metres out I felt really good and, just as I was getting the power down on the track, bingo! My right hamstring simply failed on me. Completely. I stumbled and hopped to a standstill, as the rest of the field raced on. The event was won in a time quite a bit slower than what I’ve been running most of the summer. I still believe it would have been mine to win. But there was me, a lonely figure, limping off the track back up near the start.

I found the ice machine and had a quiet hour in a corner somewhere icing the injured area, while mentally beating myself up about a) running in that relay a week ago, b) not pushing the leg slightly harder in warm up, and c) the realisation that any chance of racing at the World Masters in Malaga in ten days time had just flown out of the window. I limped back to the car park, returned to my hotel, and first thing next morning, drove home. Given how wet it was at the track on Sunday, it was the only good thing I did all weekend.

I’m writing this on the Wednesday after. I still have pain, and a bit of a limp. This time next week, as I write, I’d be due to be taking part in the World Masters 100 metres heats. That is now most definitely not going to happen. I’m still going to Malaga, but only in my capacity as a photographer for World Masters Athletics. Believe me, it is going to be really tough being there as a “non-combatant”. I harboured a fantasy for a few hours yesterday, that all would be better by the time the Worlds reached the sprint relays, and that my form this year would get me into the squad again. But who’s going to take the risk on me? Not sure I would.

My season is over. It started with injury in my first 2017 race, following an injury enforced year out in 2016. I overcame that to have a successful mid-summer – better I think, than I’d really imagined or expected it would be. I’m now going to be a mere bystander for what ought to have been the high point of my competitive year.

If you’re a sports-person who is or has been injured, you’ll understand all this stuff.

Never Too Late

July 11, 2018

I promised a follow up blog a few weeks ago, to pick up on some thoughts towards the end of the last one. Sorry, life got in the way a bit, but here’s that follow up, nevertheless.

First an update. I’m in one piece, nothing much hurts any more than it should. I’ve settled in to my racing calendar for this summer, and it actually seems to be going ok. It’s been a little strange at times, especially when I think back to what I was doing this time last year. If you recall, I wasn’t racing. I was busy with rehab work on a damaged left shoulder, and had opted to take the whole year “off” so far as competition was concerned. Thus, when I think back in terms of whether my current racing is better or worse than this time previously, I’m looking back to 2016. Two years back, and I’m two years older. Like this year, 2016 was a World Masters Championships year, but I’d opted not to go to Perth, a) because of the cost, and b) because there was no way I could have remained in proper race form until October. I also had a major photographic exhibition organised for November 2016, and a trip to Perth would really have come at the wrong time.

So, update, I said. What’s this year looking like on the road to the Malaga Worlds in September? Well, not bad, if I’m honest. I’ve spent most of the summer in the top five on the UK rankings for 100 metres for my age category, and just scraping in to the top ten at 200 metres. I’m very much enjoying my 100 metres racing. I have to confess that I seem to have become a little afraid of 200 metres. Mostly something to do with bad experiences last winter when running that distance indoors.

Now, follow up. I was critical in my last blog, of a report that basically claimed the only way to run fast was to train at 90%+ of race speed. My view was that, for most older Masters sprinters (and I’ve bounced the thought off quite a few since then) that was unrealistic as a goal, because of the probability that gains would be more than offset by increased time spent unable to train due to injuries. My counter-view was that, while some fast training was, of course, a must, there were important additional gains to be had from numerous small improvements in other areas.

Those positives are, I guess, a bit like the much publicised Sky cycling team mantra from a few years ago, of the “aggregation of marginal gains”. My year out gave me a lot of time to think about technique while rehabbing. I was also fortunate to do well in the 60 metres competition in the European Masters in Madrid, in March this year, and to be able to see numerous photos of me in action, and at speed. From these and other experiences, I’ll offer you three things I’ve learned.

Two are related to where so much of any sprint happens – at the start.

I think it was watching some top athletics on tv that first made me reappraise my starting technique. I realised that, probably for years and years, when rising into the “set” position on the starting blocks, my hips were not rising far enough, and instead, I was moving my trunk and shoulders forward. I was still getting a good start – something that has been a characteristic of my sprinting for a long time – but it was not as good as it could be. I wasn’t optimising the drive off the blocks, and my body was at too steep an angle to the ground to be able to drive my legs fully effectively. There are advantages to “staying low”, but I was too low, and risked losing my balance on occasions. Improving this is now a piece of work in progress.

The other starting issue was an insight that hit me from who knows where. I like to breathe in as I rise to the “set” position. This allows me to create what, in weight training terms, is, I think, called a diaphragm block, necessary to maximise the application of power when the gun goes. The insight was that, in preparing for this, I had become too focused on my breathing while settling on the blocks and waiting for the starter’s “Set” command. More focussed on my breathing than on listening for the gun. As a sprinter from a few years back famously said, “You go on the ‘B’ of the bang!” I think I had become a bit too accustomed to going at the point at which those either side of me went.

To most sprinters, these are simple enough things. To an older sprinter, re-examining and dealing with them was part of realising how set in my ways some aspects of my racing has/had become.

My third example was particularly spurred on by photographs of me approaching the end of a fast, close race. I am blessed with good peripheral vision. I am therefore adequately aware of what is happening either side of me in a race, without needing to turn my head. However, I was, I think, tending to concentrate more on where I was in relation to others, than where I was in relation to the finish line. I was preparing for a dip finish too soon, and not concentrating on keeping my sprinting going at full speed until past the finish line – something that would often have made a dip finis unnecessary. Photos showed this clearly. I was maybe losing up to a metre in relation to opponents at times. Sorting this out sounds easy – just keep looking straight ahead, and ensure you don’t stop sprinting until you’re past the finish line. However, it is another of those “old habits die hard” issues, and initially easier said than done.

I have quite a lot more competition coming up over the next few weeks. August can be a quiet month in the Masters calendar. Not this year, with its build-up to Malaga’s World Masters Championships, which start on 5 September. I plan only to race the 100 metres in Malaga, and hope to be in good enough form to make it to the sprint relay squad. I will be working right through the Championships with my camera, and I decided that doing that, and trying to do the 200 metres just would not work for me.

So, in all probability, my next blog will be just before, or just after, Malaga.

Ride On

May 30, 2018

My indoor racing season this year was, as you will have seen from the previous episodes of this blog, fairly short, and fairly fraught, although eventually not a lot less successful than my best hopes. After a full year away from the track owing to injury, I see now I made the big mistake of simply starting up again as if nothing had happened. This wasn’t much of a conscious thing – apart from putting key dates in my diary and tweaking my training, I’d never really thought through the process of making my return. It’s water under the bridge now, and I’m not going to bore you by rehearsing the thoughts I perhaps ought to have had, but didn’t. Suffice it to say that I am very aware now of the things I took for granted when I resumed racing.

One of those things is that, when you’re 64 years of age, racing hurts! As a sprinter, racing is, of course, 100% effort. That’s to be expected. By and large,  I’ve never encountered any such thing as a tactical sprint race -not even in heats and semifinals – so for me it is all 100% effort. When you break it down to its most basic, running at speed consists of constantly pounding the ground, rising into the air, and being sucked back down again by gravity. All those impacts jar the body, sending shockwaves from toe to tip. 

Something I read recently said that the only way to train-in proper running speed is to do all sprint training at 90%+ of full race speed. That also equates to getting on for giving it 90% effort, and receiving pretty much 100% impact, gravity being a pretty constant force. 

Now, my 64 year old body can only take so much 100% impact without complaining. As a younger athlete, I probably had the resilience and recovery powers to train at something like 90% of race speed, pretty much 100% of the time. Not now. Definitely not now. I think that “90%+” theory is flawed where most Masters athletes are concerned.

As a deliberate choice, therefore, I do quite a lot of “low impact” work in training, ostensibly to keep at bay the pain and repercussions from the jarring and rebound of running fast. I heard a great interview not long ago, with Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, in which she commented on the main difference between cycling and wheelchair racing, and running. The wheeled events, she said, are principally about overcoming inertia and friction, while running is nearly all about trying to escape from the forces of gravity. Having once spent a lot of time cycling, I can fully grasp the accuracy of that.

What this brought home to me was that there was at least a case for saying wheel-based training is fundamentally incompatible with training to run as a sprinter. Some say all training needs a high degree of what’s called “specificity” – a very high correlation between what is done in training and what needs to be done in competition, if it’s going to work. Thus, put simply, runners need to run, cyclists need to ride a bike, and sprinters need to sprint.

I don’t ride a bike on the road any more. I decided quite some time ago it’s just become too dangerous. Nevertheless, if you’re a regular here, you’ll know I am fond of working out on a spinning class bike at the gym. You’ll also perhaps have followed my adventures during my year away from the track, with a Wattbike. It’s still the best device I have ever used in training for helping achieve a high, and measurable power output that can be correlated to things like heart rate. At the risk of stating the very obvious, there are very obvious postural differences between running and riding a bike. Running is what I’d call a “whole body” activity, while cycling is heavily weighted to the lower body. And then it has a near-total absence of that painful pounding, and little or none of the impact related injuries that I was so keen to avoid. There’s no way of getting around some more fundamental physiological differences between the action of overcoming inertia/friction through cycling motion, and of trying to overcome gravity through running. Actually, the more I think about it, the greater those differences become!

I’ve just had a year when what had previously been something like a 70/30 ratio of running-type to cycling-type training became closer to 80/20 in favour of the cycling-type.  I’m pretty sure that the lower leg problems I has while running (and not even necessarily running at full speed) upon my return to the track in February were in good measure down to having failed to keep my legs properly accustomed to the jarring and rebound action necessary to sprint. However much aerobic and muscular fitness I accrued from the Wattbike work (and it was a lot), it was a necessary evil while my shoulder could not cope with the pendulum action of running, let alone the rapid arm driving motion of a sprinter. However, the Wattbike demanded my leg muscles work in a very different way to running. There’s a much slower and progressive transition, as just one example, from concentric to eccentric muscle activity and back again when cycling, when you compare the exercise to running, let alone running fast.

To be honest, I appreciated this was the case at the time, to a very great extent. I just wasn’t prepared to let the grass grow under my feet while injured, and I went for something that could force me to work hard, albeit differently, to maintain fitness. I just didn’t factor in the counter-effects there would be on an ageing body once the constraints on running were lifted and my sporting  life returned to normal.

Regrets? None at all. It’s all learning. Will I stop using the Wattbike etc? No way. Low impact work like that is something everyone should do as part of their normal routine. It beats being constantly plagued by lower leg injuries. The key seems to be getting the transition right, before exposing my legs to the rigours of competition.

I’m not finished with this train of thought yet. Probably another blog to come shortly, which will also bring you up to date on the up-side of the story, because, as I write this, I’m sitting at the top of the UK 100 metres rankings for my Masters age category! You see, whatever the shortcomings, I do seem to have found something that works, at least for me, and at least at the moment!

Return (Part 2)

March 30, 2018

Only to be read after Part 1, the previous chapter of this blog!

Part 1 of this two-parter left you in suspense as I awaited the morning of my 200 metres heats at the European Masters Championships in Madrid. You need wait no longer.

My only two races up to this point in 2018 had been at 200 metres, so there wasn’t the same sense of “journey into the unknown” for me that here had been with the Madrid 60 metres competition. However, I was tired from three hard, explosive races in two days, and apprehensive about the 200s. I’d made a European Masters 200 metres final a few times in the past, most recently in Torun in March 2015. I knew competition would be tough. The best of the 60 metres athletes would be racing again, and the 400 metres specialists would have had a couple of days to recover, if they fancied something faster.

Mid morning can be a bad time to race. Early from bed, have a light and usually unsatisfactory breakfast, and join rush-hour travel to the stadium. I was stiff from the previous evening’s 60 metres final, and my warm up was tentative. The draw for the heats had put me in with a good chance of a semi-final place, but I’d need to run well, nevertheless.

And so it was. I had the outside lane, which I like when racing 200 metres, and a fairly fast Italian immediately inside me. I started relaxed and fast, before easing off a little at about 130 metres. The Italian guy was on my shoulder, looking over to me and clearly wanting to make a race of it. I sensed we were both well clear of the rest of the field, and with the first two in the heat certain to qualify for the semi-final, there was no point in wasting energy. I eased back some more, and finished second. Job done.

The heat had taken place at 10.30 in the morning. The semi-final wasn’t scheduled until about 9pm that evening. I returned to my hotel for a couple of hours sleep, and came back to the stadium around 6pm.

It was here I broke my own rule. I’ve realised that, as I get older (Did I mention that the events described here took place on my birthday?) it becomes harder and harder to race at an event and also work as a photographer the rest of the time. Therefore, the rule is that on race days, the cameras stay in the hotel. However, I had missed two days of photography, and there were some early evening events I particularly wanted to shoot. So I brought a camera back with me, and spent about 90 minutes working on the track, before going off to warm up for the 200 metres semi-final.

I knew beforehand, and certainly know all the more now, that an hour and a half on my feet is not a good precursor to racing an international level 200 metres semi-final. In warm up, I felt stiff and wooden, and found it hard to get properly warm. The warm up area, although indoors, was cool anyway, as Madrid was experiencing unseasonably cold weather, and the air was extremely dry. To be frank, I wasn’t confident I’d qualify for the final anyway, and I couldn’t even get nervous about the semi-final. I was also drawn in what would be a fast and highly competitive race, up at the sharp end.

Out on the track, I felt quite calm. Someone false-started, but as I left my starting blocks, I realised that if I had any “go”, it had gone. The race began for real, and initially looked ok, as a photo below shows, but after literally no more than 50 metres, it felt like my legs no longer belonged to me. There was no pain, but not really any other sensation, either. At this point, with hindsight, it would have been best to stop and walk off the track. However, I’ve never had a “Did Not Finish” against my name on any results before, and I carried on, in a kind of stumbling, uncoordinated stride, right around to the finish line. I really wish I hadn’t. I didn’t need to. It wasn’t pretty, and it did my head no favours. Unsurprisingly, I was the slowest finisher out of all the runners in the semi-finals. It didn’t help to know that I’d been in the fastest of the semi-final races, and wouldn’t have qualified for the final anyhow.

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All calm at the 200m semi final start

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Away well and running hard

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Dead last. Literally!

And what did I do next? I picked up my camera and began working again. It was gone 11pm when I headed for the hotel.

The next day was race-free for me. Rather than languish in bed, which my body ached to do, I got to the stadium quite early, and got a really good, reviving leg massage, from Paul of the British Masters Medical Services team. Lifesaver. I then relaxed for an hour or so over a coffee, and started work photographing the events on the track. There were lots of these, courtesy of a Championships timetable that stacked almost every day from early morning to late evening, without a break. This was the consequence of cutting a day out from the total length of the Championships, presumably on the grounds of cost.

I felt fine, and at the end of the afternoon, returned to the hotel. There was no way that I could have stayed to shoot the evening action too.

The following day, Saturday, the last day of the Championships, was 4×200 metres relay day. I love running relays. In recent years, I have been the lead-off runner for our squad. We won gold in Torun in 2015 and silver in Ancona in 2016. We’d lost a key member of our foursome, however, when he fell and hurt himself in Friday’s 200 metres final. On paper, we’d looked good for at least another silver medal, behind the always-strong Germans. Now it looked like we’d be in a battle. Clem, our reserve, was strong, but he’d taken part in the pentathlon on the Friday. Not good preparation for a sprint relay next day.

I felt very good in warm up. I’d got both legs taped, as my left calf had begun to ache badly, but some of the spring that had deserted me two days before had come back. Our main opponents, Germany and Spain, were in the lanes immediately outside us, which was helpful for me on the first leg. Someone to chase!

The officials didn’t hand us the batons until a few moments before the race began. I therefore had no opportunity to practice my start properly. Racing from starting blocks with a metal baton in one hand is awkward at the best of times, and as I went down to the blocks for the race itself, I found that with the damaged middle finger on my right (baton) hand taped almost rigid, I had to go to the “set” position with my knuckles on the ground. The photo shows this. Very unstable.

Bang! I was off. It felt good, as relay racing aways does to me. I made ground on the Spaniard, and felt extremely comfortable. The last 50 metres seemed longer, perhaps, but I handed over the baton in second place in the race, and we held on to that to the end. Silver medal. Same as Ancona, two years before. I felt so relieved not to have let the other three guys down, and very delighted that we’d get our few moments on the podium.

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Relay start

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The Squad


Silver Medallists

Then, predictably perhaps, I picked up the camera and started shooting the rest of the day’s relays. Well, rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?



Return (Part 1)

March 30, 2018

Well, well.

That’s really all I can think to say, to begin this latest blog.

Last time we met, I was on the point of pulling out of the British Masters Indoor championships, in order to rest my injured right calf, ahead of the European Masters in Madrid, beginning a week later. I did indeed pull out of the British championships, though I needed to force myself to leave my kit and shoes at home, in order that I didn’t change my mind when I got there.

I grabbed a chance of a very thorough leg massage by one of the British Masters Medical Services team before photographing the Sunday competitions got underway. I was told that if I’d torn something in my calf, I’d have hit the roof during that treatment. As I hadn’t, what I had was more likely the result of some kind of cramping syndrome, which would probably be helped by careful application of some kinesio tape when (if) I raced in Madrid. 

I spent all that weekend on my feet, photographing the events , and had sore legs anyway when I’d finished, but I think it was the right thing not to race. Events proved me right, as you’ll see if you read on.

I can’t say I really saw much improvement in the four days between the British and my departure for Madrid. I had a useful session as usual with Jesper, my chiropractor, and got some good advice about protective kinesio-taping my leg. Jesper confirmed that it was his view too, that I’d not actually torn anything in the calf. That was encouraging.

Madrid was in the middle of its coldest spell of March weather for 20 years when we arrived. On the Sunday that I went to the excellent Gallur Stadium to register for the Championships, get my numbers, etc, I took the opportunity, along with a dozen or so other athletes, to use the track’s warm up area for a practice run-out. I felt this would be “make or break” because I was due to race two days later. I’d taped my calf, and generally felt pretty comfortable. The warm up area was much colder than the name would imply, but I went through a complete pre-race warm-up drill, followed by half a dozen practice starts using starting blocks.

To my surprise, nothing hurt. I seemed to be able to run comfortably, in flats and in spikes. Rather than tempt fate, I stopped and returned to the hotel. I was due to race at about 5pm on the Tuesday, in the heats of the 60 metres. If I ran well (BIG if), the semi-final was just after 10pm that same evening. Ah well, at least I’d get most of the day to rest in the hotel.

Actually, I wasted that opportunity, and visited the huge Prado art gallery and museum on the Tuesday morning. Culturally, it was a great experience, but probably not my wisest move, if I was wanting to play things safe. In the back of my mind, there was the constant nagging thought that the last time I’d raced at 60 metres was two whole years earlier, at the European Masters in Ancona. I’d not had to run fast out of starting blocks since August 2016 either. Suffice it to say that warm up for my 60 metres heat was a nervous time.

I had lane 2 on the track, with no one in Lane 1. I got a brilliant start, and at 30 metres, there was no one in my peripheral vision. I finished second in the heat. The guy who won it set a Spanish national age group record to beat me! I’d qualified easily for the semi-final, and was overall 5th fastest of all who had raced in the heats. Better than expected? You bet!

(One photo below is by Bob Douglas, the other by the stadium photographers)

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Five hours later, at a time I’d usually far rather be in bed, I was warming up again for the semi-final. This was crunch time. I ran well from Lane 6, although I was so focussed that I wasn’t entirely sure where I’d finished. The big screen flashed up a list of names, and mine had a 6 against it. I was really disappointed, because I thought I’d done better. However, just as the eight of us in my race were being escorted from the track, the screen changed. What they’d shown first was simply a repeat of the lane draw, not the race result. I’d actually finished 4th in the semi-final, and had done enough to make the final next day! Wow. After a whole year away from competition!

(Below: 1) A good practice start in the semi-final. 2) Me looking very unsure where I’d finished. 3) The moment I realised I’d made it to the final.)Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 14.27.21





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I re-ran that race in my head endlessly that night. I knew I hadn’t really sustained my running right through the finish line in both the heat and the semi-final. Some video my wife had shot confirmed this. Nevertheless, here I was again, in a European Masters 60 metres final, where I’d been in both of the two previous European Championships. 

We were due to race at 6.30 on the Wednesday evening, and everyone had timed their warm ups around this. However, some other events in the stadium unexpectedly over-ran on time, and when we reported, at the required 20 minutes before race time, the call-room officials turned us away and told us they were not able to say when we’d be racing. Highly unsatisfactory. We all mooched around the warm-up area, trying to hold a balance between being warmed up and not over-doing it. We were finally admitted to the call room, but then told there would be a further delay. At least the call room was warm.

Some time after 7pm we were eventually led out on to the track. I’d got lane 2 again, once more with no one in lane 1. Well, it had been lucky for me in the heats…

Someone false-started, but we settled down, and the race went at second attempt. I felt that I flew – for 40 metres at least – and video confirms I got another great start. However, Europe’s very best were too strong.

As I ran through the line, a glance to my right suggested I’d finished 6th. I was disappointed to begin with. I’d been sixth in the 60 metres in Ancona, two years before, in a race where one hundredth of a second had covered third place to sixth place. This time, I was a bit further adrift of the action.

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However, there I was, standing with the others in the line for the obligatory group photos. Still nothing hurt! I was sixth fastest in Europe in my event, and more than a few demons had suddenly been conquered.

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No rest for the wicked, as they say. The next morning the 200 metres heats were due to begin. I needed to get a meal and a good night’s sleep, and come out fighting once more.

To be continued….

Pain or Paradise?

March 6, 2018

Right, it’s about time I updated this thing. My title is taken from an Albion Band song, and matches how I felt a few weeks back.

I left you in suspense last time (two months ago, it pains me to admit) as I began my preparation for my return to racing, after an injury-enforced lay off in 2017. Well, sad to relate, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

It actually began as farce. As a result of a completely chance exchange of tweets, I discovered the date I had in my diary for my first event was, in fact, only the closing date for entries to that event, The competition itself was not happening until two weeks after! Now, if I tell you that I only found this out on the Friday immediately before the Sunday on which I thought I was racing, you’ll realise how close I came to the embarrassment of turning up a fortnight too early for the event. That would have seemed a bit keen, even for me! Thanks for saving me, Mike!

There were consequences though. I’d tapered off from the fairly heavy regime I’d been pursuing through January, and suddenly found I had two weeks training still to put in before I really began back on the track. I was a bit lost as to what to do, and things drifted a bit, if I’m honest. I could probably have done a good week, and then rested, but I did two not very good weeks, instead.

Another shock was the belated discovery that I now faced four weekends of racing in succession, followed by four days at home before travelling off to the European Masters Championships. I thought I was going to have a competition, two weeks off, then three weekends racing. Just a bit more palatable. Thus, if anything were to go wrong, there was a risk it would all go wrong.

First race meeting was the Southern Counties Masters Championships. I’d won the 60 metres and the 200 metres here in 2106. These championships are unusual in that they put the 200 metres on before the 60 metres in the day’s programme. I have always hated that. Well, I was quick to get back into some semblance of my warm-up routine. I found that during my year off, I’d somehow forgotten my usual starting block settings, so I had to scramble to rediscover these by trial and error, before heading out for the 200 metres.

First race indoors since early in April 2016. First time in my racing spikes since August 2016. First time on the steep and hard banking of the Lee Valley track since March 2016. I set off well, and felt very relaxed. I overtook the two guys in the lanes outside mine pretty quickly, and while this was reassuring, it meant I then had no one in my actual or peripheral vision to give me any indication as to how well I was actually running. Reassuring calls from spectators at the start of the second bend suggested all was going ok, though. Then, at the crown of the bend, with about 60 metres to go, my right calf began to tighten up significantly. Injury, not fatigue, it was clear.

I went flat-footed on the right leg, to take some strain off, but as the track’s banking swung downhill almost immediately, this was hard to maintain. I was later sent a video of the whole race, and I can see exactly the spot that the calf trouble began. My knee lift diminishes almost immediately, and I must gave scrubbed off a fair bit of speed. Well, I pushed on, and I won the race, but there was little pleasure in doing so. Misfortune had found me again.

Half an hour later, it was painfully clear that I wasn’t going to have any chance of racing in the 60 metres. It was a bugger that there was no ice available in the stadium, too.

Next day, I was hobbling. The spot that hurt was easy to locate, and didn’t seem very deep into the muscle, so icing it was straightforward. I had an exploratory visit to the gym to see how much movement I had in the calf without pain (not much) and then headed for a conveniently pre-arranged chiropractor session. I’m well-disposed towards acupuncture, and it usually does me some good. Jesper’s needles eased some of the tension in the calf, but even so, it was a simple conclusion to draw, next morning, that I’d not be racing that coming weekend. It was all going pear-shaped a bit soon.

The week that followed saw some of the worst winter weather down my way for quite a few years. I went for a few walks in the snow with the camera, but the gym had to close early on a couple of days, and much of the rest of my time was spent shivering indoors, doing business admin, editing photos, etc. As rehab, it wasn’t much. I had a plentiful supply of ice, though!

The weather had relented by the time that the Masters Inter-Area match came around the weekend after. I still had to dig the snow out of my front drive the day before travelling to it, however. I was due to be photographing the event, and as many people couldn’t or wouldn’t race that day (a week before the national championships, you see) I’d felt pressured into taking to the track a bit before I thought I was ready. I warmed up at Lee Valley, with an industrial quantity of kinesio tape on my dodgy calf, and some on the other one, “just in case”. To my surprise, my 200 metres race went well. I took second place, felt smooth, and pain-free.

I probably didn’t use the hour or so after the race, very well in terms of keeping my calf mobile. Then, to close the match, there was the 4×200 metres relay. I ran last leg for a team that knew it had little or no chance to shine, and I took over the baton when we were plain last. No point in pushing it, so I just ran the lap at a steady moderate stride. And wouldn’t you know it? At precisely the same place on the track as two weeks before, my calf began to complain. This time, I had the opportunity to slow right down, and crossed the finish line almost at walking pace.

And that brings you right up to date. I’m back to icing the leg, hoping for a miracle, and things like that. I am supposed to be racing in the British Masters next weekend (as I write), when my events both look likely, from the entries on paper, to have heats and finals. I am not at all convinced I’ll be lining up to compete, and even less convinced that I should, because it’s then only a few days before I travel off to Madrid for the European Masters. In Madrid, whatever happens, I am simply not going to be competitive, but I’d like to give a couple of races my best shot, even if I do get eliminated in the heats, which is highly probable. Further damage to my leg next weekend would screw my chances of that totally, I think. Having written it down, it’s a no-brainer really, isn’t it? No miracles for 64 year-old sprinters.

I’ll let you know how it went – or didn’t.

(Update: Well, the British Masters Indoors didn’t “go”. I made a last-minute decision to scratch from both of my races, and try to save my leg for Madrid. I’ll know in a week or so if that was the right move.)

Getting there. An update.

January 9, 2018

Well, to be honest, I was surprised that it’s only three months since my last blog here. It’s been busy, but all along, I’ve felt rather mindful of the risk of tempting fate by writing about how things are going, what is coming up, etc. So, it seems better to base this largely on a bit of reflection on the last few weeks and months in the life of this elderly sprinter,  instead.

Last time we met, I had a finger in a very solid splint, and was coming to terms with how this was going to impact on the key period of my winter’s training. Well, it did impact, and the impact was pretty severe, in that it basically stopped me doing very much at all that I’d normally have done. However, I got around that pretty much from the outset by deciding to do it all differently anyway!

For starters, gripping to lift or pull on anything was simply impossible with a middle finger that was splinted out straight, was completely inflexible, and needed to be protected from further damage. I’d been told that the finger needed splinting for eight to ten weeks, and that I was not to bend it at all during that time, particularly when the splint was removed for washing, etc. Tendons, it seems, take far longer than bones to heal, and even small movement was going to damage the scar tissue that was attempting to join both ends of the broken tendon back together. I was advised not to try to sprint, because, even with the splint on, flinging my hand around quickly was not going to do that re-joining process any good either. I was a good patient and did what I was told.

Thus, I needed an alternative to the (mainly) strength-based training I’d usually hope to be doing in the last few months of a more typical year. I’d decided while rehabbing my damaged shoulder earlier in 2017, that I’d spend time and focus this year on developing my basic fitness in both aerobic and anaerobic terms. I am a huge fan of it, but you can read about my love-hate relationship with Parkrun (as a runner, but not that kind of a runner) in several earlier blogs, where you’ll also see some stuff about what I was doing with a Wattbike down at the gym. Before damaging the finger, I’d reached the point where my bad left shoulder was largely pain-free and generally stable, but now needed strengthening. However, in practice, the kind of strength work I needed to do for it was impossible without using my damaged right hand to help keep the strength work from becoming very lop-sided. I found various things I could do with bungee cords etc, and built them into some of my gym routines, but the big differences were always going to come from that complete change of emphasis towards basic fitness work.

By the time I reached October, running a 5k Parkrun every Saturday morning, and doing two high intensity sessions a week that included work on a Wattbike, was beginning to show benefits to my overall fitness. That’s to say, I no longer felt quite as dead at the end of a Parkrun, or quite so close to losing bladder control (yes!) at the conclusion of a particularly intense Wattbike workout. However, while running in my local Parkrun’s Halloween fancy-dress event, I was overtaken by a runner dressed as the Grim Reaper, and I could not suggest any better metaphor for how I was feeling at that moment! It was good to learn that one’s fast-twitch muscle fibres are amongst the major beneficiaries of training at a very high percentage of maximum heart rate. If that’s the case, mine have had a great time of it lately.

Nevertheless, I was feeling able to push that little bit harder in Parkrun, and was a little more comfortable than I’d expected at higher power output on the Wattbike. I never did reach my notional target of a 1,000 watt peak burst on the bike. I was pleased with over 900, though, given that the thousand has been plucked from the air anyway. I did also get within about half a minute of my 2014 Parkrun personal best. I was quite satisfied with that, and had several weeks of consistency in what I was running.

However, that’s ended now. I have about 4 weeks to go before I return to the track and put in (I hope) a full indoor season before going to the European Masters in Madrid in March. I have stopped running Parkrun, and imposed on myself quite a tough regime of circuit training to take its place. Somewhat unexpectedly, the circuit training delivered the worst two days of delayed onset muscle soreness I have ever suffered from. Fortunately that coincided with two rest days, during which I really felt older than my years, and probably looked it as I shuffled about, struggled with the stairs, etc!

So, that’s where I am now. Apprehensive about my return to racing? Of course I am. I last raced in August 2016. Put off by the thought of it? Not at all. For me, there is no greater motivation.

The Damage You’ve Done

October 3, 2017

Well, if you’re a regular here, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s largely been the case that “no news is good news”. Well, up to a point. I’ve not really had much to report, so I’ve not blogged.

With hindsight, I can say that I am really glad I took 2017 as a “non-competitive year” on the track. It hasn’t only allowed achieved the target of allowing me to focus very diligently on getting my injured shoulder properly fixed. I’ve spotted two other good gains:

While not racing or preparing to race, or recovering from racing, a number of other niggling injuries have also had proper time to heal. Well, ok, I did gain a new achilles tendon problem this year by going for it a bit too hard to soon on my return to adding running regularly at Parkrun to my training. That seems to have settled down quickly, thank goodness. More persistent has been the elbow problem I seem to have picked up doing the remedial work on my shoulder. I’ll return to this in a moment.

Not racing, preparing to race, or recovering from racing has also put me in a position I don’t recall ever having been in before during the summer months. I’ve been able to crank my summer’s training up to its highest level for several years, and sustain this for several months. Normally summer would be made up of building for races, tapering before the important races (yes, even Masters sprinters like me do tapering!) and recovering from recent races. Racing is hard, and it doesn’t get easier as I get older. What’s more, the effect is quite cumulative. In a normal summer, I race often, and spend a lot of time and energy trying to walk the narrow line between racing often enough and racing too often.

I think there is an extent to which my added training efforts this summer have been a (barely) subliminal substitute for not racing. I’ve regarded some of the hardest work I’ve done on the Wattbike, for example, as an occasional surrogate for racing. Trying to advance my maximum peak wattage output has often felt just the same as chasing “season’s bests” on the track.

The elbow problem has been a bit of a bugger, I’m afraid. It began as a very precisely focussed area of pain, completely consistent with all the symptoms of tennis elbow. Like many repetitive strain injuries, it hasn’t responded to acupuncture, deep massage, or even to an elbow strap. It’s moved on to become a more general soreness in a larger part of the elbow and forearm.

I added an “up to a point” caveat to my first paragraph. Sure, I’ve become probably as fit this summer as I’ve been for a long while. I’ve been really looking forward to starting winter training, and preparing to begin competing again in 2018. I took a small holiday to the French Alps in early September. For reasons I don’t need to go into here, we’ve not had a proper “big” family holiday this year, so the opportunity to escape with just me, on my motorbike, and visit a part of the Alps I don’t know very well was welcome.

The journey out there was fine. It’s 1,000km from home to where I was staying, and needed a couple of overnight stops. On the morning after my second stop, I was pushing clothes into a bag, ready to load stuff on to the motorbike, when the middle finger of my right hand went “pop” quite audibly. There was no pain, but when I looked at it, the top joint of the finger was hanging downwards. Although I could straighten it with the other hand, the joint was pretty much hyper-mobile and would not stay straight. I could not straighten it by moving the finger in the usual way. I thought I must have dislocated it in some way, but the absence of any pain or swelling caused doubt on that point.

I needed to move on to my destination, so I taped the joint straight and as rigid as I could make it, with surgical tape. It could get my bike glove on, although it was awkward to ride the bike with the finger like that. I managed a few hours of riding through a downpour of biblical proportions, before needing to stop for petrol. While it hurled it down with rain outside the petrol station’s warm and welcoming coffee machine area, I went online to see what I had possibly done to the finger, and what I could do about it.

Immediately, it became clear that I almost certainly had “mallet finger” – caused by a snapped distal tendon. That’s the one that runs over the front of the knuckle joint, and controls straightening of the finger. It would explain the “pop” and was apparently occasionally known to happen without causing pain or inflammation. Remedies? Get professional help as soon as possible. For the moment, the best I could do was to use two halves of a plastic sugar stirrer and a fresh application of surgical tape to splint the joint straight even more firmly, while I completed my journey. Improvisation, eh?

I reached Bourg Saint Maurice late in the day, and after settling into the apartment I’d rented, I looked up the local hospital. I was in luck. Bourg Saint Maurice has a hospital with international fame for its orthopaedic work with skiers from the numerous nearby winter ski resorts. I was there at Reception at 9.30 next morning.

I was the only person in the casualty waiting room. I was seen by a triage nurse within three or four minutes, and by a doctor fifteen minutes after that. She confirmed a probable diagnosis of mallet finger (same word in French) and arranged for x-rays. I had these after just half an hour more. Last time I’d been in casualty in a UK hospital, it had taken five hours to get this far! The x-rays showed no fractured bone, so the injury was definitely a tendon snap. I was fitted with a plastic splint to hold the top finger joint straight and motionless, and taped up. I was then given some stern warnings about not allowing the joint to flex – even a little bit – for the next 8-10 weeks! The complicated process of changing the tape and keeping the splint and finger clean was demonstrated to me, and I was sent on my way. Total, around two hours at the hospital. There was just one other person in the waiting room as I left.

I’d not mentioned to the doctor that I was out in France on a large motor bike. It really slipped my mind more than anything, but I was glad that the splinting left a pretty good range of movement in the middle joint of the finger, and that the splint fitted pretty well inside my bike glove. Riding was occasionally clumsy, but I managed.

I’ve certainly found, whenever I’ve hurt myself, or had to have something bandaged, plastered or splinted in the past, that our human bodies certainly have no “spare parts”. That’s to say, it is amazing how often you find you need to use the very piece of you that you’ve injured. I am very right-handed. Some years ago, I broke a finger badly in stupid fall in the mountains, and had to have it plastered up to the elbow (see photo!). So much of life was so very restricted until that plaster came off.

Well, splinted middle fingers are not a whole lot more accommodating. The first cup of tea I picked up with finger and thumb simply pivoted downwards, spilling its contents everywhere. One of numerous such incidents subsequently.

It poured with rain for a great deal of my trip away, leaving me just two days to go out into the mountains in the best of the bad weather. The good news is that I felt fit and strong on my walks. The 1,000km bike ride home was basically boring. The injured hand worked tolerably well, but a compensatory tighter grip on the handlebars by my left had quickly triggered a nagging and increasing pain in my poorly left elbow.

Now home, it seems that this injury, modest though it looks, is going to prevent me doing any work in the gym that requires gripping, pulling or pushing. I can’t risk bashing it again, and for extra safety when exercising, I need to temporarily tape three fingers together. A real bummer.

I’ve also discovered that the elbow and hand problems together are conspiring to prevent me working as a photographer. The left elbow hurts too much to support my usual camera. The plastic splint on the right hand makes using the camera shutter almost impossible. Happily, work is light, and some of it could be postponed for now. I can use a camera supported on a tripod, but I don’t do much work involving that. I’m just glad I’m not a professional piano player!

While I was writing this, I got the news that my favourite rock musician, Tom Petty, had died, aged just 66. My title is the title of one of his classics. Seemed appropriate. Rock on, Tom!