And Still It Goes On

July 17, 2019

This blog is really a continuation from the previous episode.

Spurred on by the fact that my latest back problem didn’t seem to have affected my racing too badly, I stuck with my plans to race at a local League match two weeks later. I’ve been a big fan of Kent Masters League for nearly twenty years now. Although my own squad are only a Division 2 team now, and constantly struggle to get a team together, I try to support it as often as I can. The quality of racing can be high.

I’d not expected the “ambush” I experienced on this occasion, at Tonbridge. It was a windy evening. No electronic timing, so no wind gauge, but take it from me, it made a difference. I had a great 100 metres, despite the wind. It would have been an even higher-ranking time in my national age group without the wind. I won by quite a distance, too.

As I turned to go back and collect my gear from the start, I was aware that the announcer was saying something about me, other than that I’d just won. I was suddenly surrounded by friends and team management (the two are the same) while the announcer shared with everyone there that I’d now been a member of Blackheath and Bromley for 50 years. Actually, that milestone had passed last December and it’s something I am very proud of – even more so because I am one of a very small number of athletes indeed in the Club who have reached their 50th anniversary of membership while still competing on the track. That was particularly why the Kent League match had been chosen as the opportunity to present me with the glass trophy that all members reaching 50 years continuous membership receive.

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Photos were taken, and the match continued. I finished the evening running a very fast first leg of the sprint relay, which we won on this occasion. My back hadn’t troubled me excessively once I was warmed up, but I was looking forward to a few weeks off to get it properly rested and sorted.

That was a Friday evening. I don’t quite know what possessed me to make a last minute decision to enter my Club’s open graded meeting the following Monday evening. It was one of those it was possible to enter on the night, which I quite like doing, as it saves gambling entry fees on how I might be feeling a few weeks in advance. I also love the open graded meeting format. You declare a target time for your event, and get seeded into a race with others declaring a similar ambition, be they men, women, boys or girls. It makes for amazingly close races most of the time.

Warming up, I felt fine. My back was a bit stiff initially, and my knees had developed an occasional twinge, but hey, 65 year old athlete, and all that! I got a very good start too, and was running hard when, at about 40 metres, I suddenly felt a very unfamiliar pain on the inside of my left thigh. Two strides further and I knew this was something bad. I stopped as fast as the pain would allow. I realized what it was, pretty much immediately – an adductor tear, most commonly known as “groin strain”.

I was given some ice and spent a miserable 45 minutes in the changing room, as the realization hit me that I had yet another injury to contend with, and one I had never experienced before. Why? How?

A bit of reading when I got home clarified for me the probability that my sore back had led to more general mechanical malfunction all around my left hip. The muscle that had been put under greatest stress from this was my adductor.

I gave it a week, as recommended, before seeking sports massage, to sound out how extensive the problem was. Mike got right in there, and said he didn’t feel the tear was too bad. He said to continue regular icing, and take it easy. Right in the middle of the season leading up to British Masters championships in August, followed not long after by the European Masters, “taking it easy” had not been on the agenda. I’m usually a good patient and did as I was told. The bruising in my adductor began to come out a few days later. I always like that stage of an injury – it gives you visual evidence that you weren’t imagining it!

However (and these days, there always seems to be a “however”), while resting that left thigh, I began to realize that the pain in my knees (right knee in particular) was becoming more of a problem; particularly walking up and down stairs or after sitting still for a while. I’d had some more minor knee pains and instability earlier in the year, after repairing my garage roof, and shinning up and down a step-ladder while doing front room decoration, but they had seemed to go away fairly quickly. Fortunately I had a chiropractor appointment in the diary.

Guess what? I have patella-femoral pain syndrome, caused mostly by an inflamed patella-femoral tendon, and probably triggered by over-training, and poor mechanics in the knee joint. It’s commonly given the rather dismissive name “runners knee”, but that covers a multitude of sins (or is that “shins”?) and almost implies that not running will sort it out. What I was finding, by jogging on a treadmill at the gym as part of warm up for a stretching session, was that I could actually run fairly comfortably, and without knee pain. This was good, because it was helping rehabilitate my back and my adductor. The knee pain came back later, and was getting steadily worse, unfortunately.

I also think I found the reason for the sudden onset of the knee problem on this occasion. Worried that I was losing out on aerobic fitness etc, I had done a number of spinning bike sessions at the gym, because they didn’t hurt my back and were relatively low-impact (I thought). I like these sessions, because I can switch off my mind, and just work. Now, I’m somewhat splay-footed. I have been all my life. It got me given grief at school. The toe-clips and straps on the spinning bike were holding my feet straight forward, and my knee joints were the points around which my legs were “adjusting” things, leading to my knees not “tracking” correctly. I’ve done a lot of hard training on a WattBike (see earlier blogs) and not suffered this. That’s because my good old cycling shoes have cleats that fit the WattBike pedals, and they have a degree of what is called lateral “float” in the movement as I pedal. The pedals on the spinning bikes at the gym don’t allow me to use those shoes, and hold my feet more rigidly. I specifically wanted to work part of my cycling sessions standing out of the saddle, and the WattBike doesn’t accommodate this. “Catch 22” for my knees.

Cue several more chiropractic sessions to diagnose what was going to suit the knees best for recovery. The answer was a significant amount of stretching exercise, aimed at triggering the muscles in the thigh to hold the kneecap in proper alignment, and to tone up the leg generally. As I write, this is in full swing, occupying about an hour and a half of every day. Fitting this into and around other routines and responsibilities is hard. A simple “runners knee” strap is helping make warm-up, etc relatively pain-free, although I am trying not to become dependent upon it. Kinesio-taping seems less useful at the moment.

I’ve had to face two other realities: the further loss of training is not going to help me be competitive at the British Masters Championships in a few weeks from now. Nor are my knee problems going to be helped by working on the track for two days as a photographer if I don’t run. So, when It came to time to book my accommodation for them in Birmingham, and pay an entry fee as an athlete, I simply didn’t.

The other reality is that this is not the build-up I need for nearly two weeks of racing at the European Masters Championships in September. So, I’m not going. Simple as that.

It might be a while before I blog here again. Hopefully. That will mean things are proceeding “uneventfully”. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know what I mean.

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Back to bad old ways

June 1, 2019

A couple of weeks ago, I did an extended spell of gardening. Nothing creative or energetic – just basically tidying up fallen leaves and stuff. I sat down for a well-earned cup of tea afterwards, and when I stood up again, I felt an unfortunately rather familiar pain across my lower back. It was something I’ve not experienced for a few years now, to the point that I was almost feeling the bad old days of chronic back pain were behind me. Wrong.

“Just a bit of a twinge” I told myself, and went off to the gym to see if some stretching and gentle running, followed by a long shower, would help. So far, so good, but that evening, the transition from sitting to standing was still very uncomfortable, and the left half of my back was becoming stiff and lop-sided. Sleep was ok, but Monday was a problem: I was due to race a 200 metres and a sprint relay leg in the local Masters League, which would involve a 25 mile drive there and back. Tuesday wouldn’t be much better: I was committed to a 100 mile round trip to photograph some gardens. Which, if any, of these was going to help a sore back, and which would make it worse?

The League match went surprisingly well. I put on a comfortable back support, and lowered my expectations. The outcome was that my 200 metres time was good enough for top spot on the UK rankings for this year so far, for my age group. I also ran a storming leg in the relay. More to the point, I then got home in one piece, and slept well. Tuesday was a different matter, however. I was desperately sore, and only able to stand awkwardly. However, the garden photography that afternoon allowed me to walk around for several hours, and this helped. The long journey there and back definitely didn’t. Wednesday and Thursday were painful. I was fortunate to get a sports massage appointment on the Thursday afternoon. Mike eased the pain greatly, and gave me good advice, as always.

Friday and Saturday were something else. Drive in “Friday before Bank Holiday” M25/M40 traffic, spend the night in a hotel bed, and then race a Championships 100 and 200 metres on Saturday afternoon, before immediately driving home again. I arrived at the stadium, and made no secret of my ailing back. I had a couple of hours to try and talk myself out of racing. No one else would. The problem was, with a firm back support in place, jogging about, pre-warm up, on a hot, sunny afternoon, I didn’t feel too bad. Try as I could, I failed to convince myself not to race. Dangerous behaviour, because I’ve been there several times in the past, and it had always ended in tears.

My back problem goes back about 35 years. I suffered a bad accident, in which three lumbar vertebrae got moved. This caused disc damage, and came within literally millimetres of damaging my spinal cord. It summarily ended my hockey playing and my athletics career at that point, required regular hours in hospital traction, to ease the pressure on the discs, and hours of ultrasound treatment on the sacroiliac joint, on the rear of my left hip. There was much soft tissue damage to heal, too.

Fast forward three years. I was overweight, still learning to manage my damaged back, and seriously unfit. It was also the height of the second wave of the “jogging boom”. Reluctantly, and chaperoned by a good friend who also happened to be a medical man, I began pounding the streets, with an eye to running some 10k and half marathon events. I’m glad I did it (and those events), because it gave me back my fitness, my confidence, and most of my health. I joined my local gym (still a member), began walking in the mountains again, and was happy. Racing on the track was, I believed, well behind me. And so it was for the next ten years, interspersed with breakdowns of my back and hip, each time requiring a slow and organised process of recovery. Some of those incidents are worth a blog in their own right.

Then, out of the blue, I met an old track running friend, as I was walking to work. Pure chance: he lived miles and miles away, and I’d not seen him for almost fifteen years. We talked over coffee and he suggested it was time I got back on the track. Masters athletics was busy trying to get its act together, and my Club needed a sprinter.

I’ll resume that tale one day in another blog. Suffice it for now to say that right back then, I also wanted to talk myself out of something that could easily have been physically and emotionally catastrophic if it went wrong. And just as last weekend, I didn’t manage to talk myself out of it. And I’m glad.

Back to the present. By some miracle, I came away from the championships with two gold medals and a very respectable 100 metres time, albeit assisted by a following wind a bit over the allowable limit. I didn’t damage anything further, either. What I was doing went against everything my self-talk tells me, and the advice I’d give anyone in my situation.

But don’t mention the journey home…..

An even older athlete writes….

May 16, 2019

I’ve been putting off writing this blog. Intentionally. At least, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

My blog here has always been about what it’s like to be an older athlete. Well, as of today, I’ve earned the adjective “old”. I got my letter from the government inviting me to apply for my State Pension. Quite soon, I will officially be an “OAP”.

I’m glad to have made it. The last few months have been a bit rough at times, but on the whole, the good has outshone the bad. I left you at the end of my last blog just a few weeks before the start of my indoor track “season”. I acknowledged that it was going to be cut short, because I’d decided to miss the World Masters Indoor Championships in Poland, towards the end of March.

I regretted that decision a couple of times. I won two golds at the Southern Counties Masters in February. It was my first competitive event since last August Bank Holiday weekend’s disaster. I’ve included a photo from the 60 metres race. Even I was impressed when I saw it! I’m the one in black. Then, at the British Masters Championships in March, I won a bronze medal at 60 metres, after I’d qualified for the final as fastest athlete. I also got fourth place in the British Champs at 200 metres. I thought that was pretty good going, considering I was less than a fortnight off my 65th birthday and elevation to a new age category. My times were pleasing, too. Maybe, if I’d have decided to go to Poland, I’d have done ok after all?

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Image courtesy of Craig Beecham

While I wondered on that, the answer came a couple of days later. I’m a martyr to DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – and always have been. I quickly realised that, however fast I was running, this time I didn’t have the necessary ability to recover quickly, nor the reserves of strength and stamina needed to do something like seven races in eight days. Those are the requirement when racing in two events and a relay final at an event like the Worlds. I could perhaps claim my 60 metres clockings would have been good enough to make the World final, but the eight guys who actually lined up for that had also run a heat and a semi-final. Come the relays at the end of the Championships, most of them would have run several 200 metres races too, and probably only have had one “rest day” in their week in Poland. Some would also have travelled from the other side of the world to be there.

So, I comforted myself that I’d made the right decision. Championship racing is tough. Instead, I went off with my cameras to Venice, as planned. Unfortunately, while there, I picked up a very unpleasant and lingering gut bug – probably from something I ate or drank. It came with fever-like symptoms for 24 hours and completely wiped me out. Totally. I also lost two kilos in weight.

April was therefore spent feeling extremely fragile, while trying to do something that looked and felt like training. My debut race outdoors was right at the end of the month. I was still on medication when it arrived, and I nearly cried off.

The cold, occasionally blustery evening was no different to many others this cold and blustery spring. I was only going to race one 100 metres event, and in the grand scheme of things, nothing really mattered, whether I ran well or badly. That’s how I like my season openers to be. They are a necessity, but only enjoyed in retrospect. I ran well. I set a new age group record for my Club, in my new age group, and I didn’t injure anything. My mind immediately turned to the first Masters League event in the calendar, a fortnight later. Now I had some idea how I was running, I had the basis for some consolidation in training.

The fortnight went too quickly, and a crowded schedule of non-running things meant I missed one training session, and skimped two others. I arrived for the League meeting feeling under-prepared. I was also due to race three age groups below my own – in an M50 200 metres. I’d be conceding up to 15 years to some of the others in the line-up. Ah well, I could only be expected to give it my best shot. It was cold, too. Quite where second place, and another Club age group record, in a time fast enough to put me at the top of this year’s UK rankings for my new age group came from, I do not know! It didn’t feel especially fast, and it didn’t hurt, either, despite the precautionary taping I’d applied to my right hamstring and knee. I ended the evening buoyed-up enough to run a lead-off leg in the sprint relay that was good by any standards. This was very satisfying, even if, while well in front, our fourth leg runner somehow managed to knock the baton out of his own hand and get us disqualified. I nevertheless went home happy.

So, what should I take for this. Some would say I’m a crap judge of my own form. I’m not actually too worried, even if that’s the case. It’s better than being complacent or over-ambitious. My immediate target is to turn out more of the same next time I race, and to train at a level low enough to avoid injuries. Read the start of my previous blog to see why I’m averse to predictions!

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

 

Photographers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Handover

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The Squad

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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….