One in a Million

January 21, 2016

I love coincidences. Some people tell me there’s no such thing and that it’s all “fate” or something like that. I’m agnostic enough these days to dismiss that. I just revel in the sheer wonderment of unexpected things happening to me.

There was a time I wasn’t a sprinter. I’d been a good one, then I had quite a bad accident and had trouble even walking properly for a while. I had several spells in traction to help alleviate damage to my spine, and resigned myself, at age 29, to a life without sport. A few years of intensive osteopathy care got me stable, but more than that, my osteos did their damnedest to encourage me to get back into some kind of gym-based fitness regime. I’d progressed as far as some easy mountain walking and scrambling, and even a bit of real rock-climbing with only occasional setbacks, but running seemed a pipe-dream still.

That changed when a good friend, a work colleague of my wife, invited me to go jogging with him. He was a busy hospital consultant, fully fifteen years or more my senior. As I later found, had he had a competitive streak, Alan could have been very successful indeed at 10k and above. He’d started a little jogging group that met up initially in a church hall, before setting out for about an hour around the local streets. I’d jog to Alan’s house, we’d jog to the hall, take our group (beginners, aged 20-50) on a run, then Alan and I would run home again. Regularly, once a week.

To begin with, it was hell for me. Physiologically, I am in no way a distance runner, and I went through agonies on our return home runs, which included the road up quite a steep hill. This became the point that Alan would challenge me. “Come on sprinter boy, see if you can beat the old man!” Distance runner maybe not, but my misfortunes had in no way dimmed the competitive spark in me.

Fast forward some months, and I was amazed to be training nearly every day, covering five or six miles near home each time, and longer at the weekend. All weathers, and Christmas Day too. Alan entered us for numerous 10k and half marathon events, and we ran together as training partners as often as our work commitments would allow. He always beat me hollow. Our next target was the 1994 London Marathon.

I’d always had a hankering to do a full marathon in my 40th year, and we began to get in some good training. I began to suffer with my back, however, and then one day, Alan told me that he’d developed anaemia. Him a medical man, too. He’d got it badly. Running was banned. I ran alone for a while, but lost interest as opportunities to spend decent chunks of time in the mountains came my way. Alan and I remained friends, but saw each other increasingly seldom. Then hardly at all.

This blog is one of two I write. The other is here, and tells a few stories about “my life through the lens” – stuff connected to my photography etc. If you’ve read any of these blogs, you’ll know that for some while I’ve been working on a project connected with the Medway Valley, near to where I now live. I guess I am a pretty successful Masters sprinter these days, and I train hard. In March it will be ten years since the first time I entered national and international standard Masters competition. However, apart from now being my chosen profession, getting out and about with a camera on non-training days is a great relaxation, and gives me tremendous head-space.

Today (as I write, on a fiercely frosty January day) was a day I could not miss out on. The air was completely still, the River Medway flat calm, and the air temperature well below freezing. I was out early, and the sun had not long risen.

I reached a wide, flat part of the area I walk through, where there is really not much to photograph. It’s popular with dog walkers and the occasional runner. The jogger shuffling along the river path towards me immediately seemed a familiar figure. You’re ahead of me, Reader, by now, I’m sure. It was Alan.

I’m not sure who was the more surprised of the two of us. My estimate is that he’s in his mid to late 70s now, but, to me, unmistakable. Of course, given his exertions, and the desperate air temperature, we had all of about two minutes to chat.

Then he was gone. The man who probably did more than anyone else to pull me through recovery and help me stay an athlete, at least in mind some of the time, if not also in body. It was like meeting a ghost from my past. My head is still spinning from the coincidence.

This blog’s title comes from a Chris Wood song of the same name . Do listen. It breaks me up every time.

You Can’t Lose What you Ain’t Never Had

January 5, 2016

So sings the great blues legend Muddy Waters on one of the best live concert albums in my music collection. Relevant to this blog this time is that what I “ain’t never had” is core strength or flexible hamstrings. Both of these weaknesses have been very much under the spotlight in the weeks since I last blogged here.

When last we met, I had just added a session of “one to one” personal training to my weekly schedule. The rationale etc for this is in the previous blog, so I’ll not repeat myself here. We’re now coming up to session eight of a planned unit of ten sessions -three to go- and it’s a good time to reflect.

Guy, my trainer, was determined to give me good value for money, right from our first exploratory sessions. These are on top of my other training, so they were always going to be tough for me. I’ve had to adopt an “eight day week” properly to accommodate everything. It was the only solution if I was to have any hope of resting properly between sessions. It quickly showed that I had very weak core muscles in certain respects, and rubbish hamstrings. As I’ve already alluded, this wasn’t a surprise. I have a 30 year history of chronic back problems after serious damage in my early 30’s. Two particular victims of many years spent trying to protect a weak spine are my abdominal core muscles and short tendons in the backs of my thighs.

Guy and I had the benefit, almost from the outset, of the results of a Selective Functional Movement Assessment I’d undertaken with my chiropractor back in September. These reinforced focus on the weak areas, and Jesper had very usefully converted some of the findings into corresponding remedial exercises.

I think I’ve also mentioned here before that I am a perpetual victim of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) when I shine the training spotlight on seldom trained areas, or I work particularly hard in training. DOMS is well catalogued. Mine is the classic variety: no symptoms for most of the day after a session, but agony from about 36 hours after one, occasionally then lasting for a full day. There are many theories about cause, but very few about dealing with the resultant decrepitude. Massage and stretching are widely acknowledged to have no effect. Of course, my weekly training pattern of pretty much one day “on” followed by one day “off” means that DOMSdays were falling on the day of my next training session. By moving my training focus around a bit, I’ve usually managed to work around the worst – eg when DOMS from legs-specific work strikes, it gets followed by upper body work two days later, etc. I’ve had to stay imaginative and prepared to shuffle my sessions about a bit at short notice when DOMS has struck particularly badly.

Where even this flexible approach falls down for me is that significant DOMS in my core muscles puts the mockers on almost anything I try to do when it strikes! A bit of trial and error has shown ways to keep fully functioning, I’m glad to say, but at the risk of over-use injury. Variety really is the spice of life! And believe me, I have suffered every agony of DOMS in my abdominal and core muscles.

The next big step is to begin to convert the (mainly) strength work I’ve added to this winter’s routine into something particularly sprint-specific. That might sound strange, but the routines of a 61 year-old sprinter are not the same as those of a younger athlete, of course. I call this my “getting lighter on my feet” time of year. The only fly in the ointment at present is that just before my short Christmas break, I picked up a small hip flexor tear on my right side. Excessive weights and repetitions on over-tired, DOMS-afflicted muscles were the cause, I think. Some bruising is coming out, but I think my ten day lay-off over Christmas came just at the right time for recovery purposes. With the start of indoor competition only just over a month away now, the motto is definitely going to be “carefully does it” for the next few weeks.

Time To Ring Some Changes

November 8, 2015

Take your eye off the ball, and suddenly three months passes, eh? Sorry, I ought to have updated this blog since August.

Sometimes, I think it’s easy to forget a job like that if you’ve nothing burning inside you to say. That was rather how it was for me in September. With the (successful) 2015 season over and now just a collection or mostly pleasant memories, I knuckled down to winter training, pretty much along the lines I’d hoped for when I sat down and sketched it out. I think I may even have drafted a blog at that point, though I’m damned if I can remember for sure, and certainly can’t find it anywhere. Age, I guess.

I didn’t have any competition scheduled after the World Masters in Lyon. I could have scuttled around chasing up a few low-grade open meetings and stuff in early September, but after a bit of thought (not much, to be honest!) I opted for a couple of weeks of good rest, and an early start to winter training. I don’t recall the rest phase being especially good, but I fitted quickly back into my routines when it ended. As usual, I think I’d finished the track season “fast but maybe not all that fit” (by my own expectations). That’s usual, and is mirrored by my typical season starting with me feeling “fit but not fast”.

What I did achieve was about three weeks of quite high quality basic training. I has a couple of weeks of holiday coming up at the start of October, so I pushed it quite hard, knowing I’d get a break quite soon. As is so often the case, the main focus was learning the lessons from 2015’s track season, and looking ahead to the needs of next year. A year older, but a year wiser, maybe?

One thing I did resolve to do was to bring in an outside view on what I was doing, and how well, or otherwise, I was doing it. Coincidentally, my superb chiropractor, Jesper, offered me an SFMA – a Selective Functional Movement Assessment. We were both surprised we’d not been through this before. At time of blogging this, I’m awaiting the results and recommendations. It was certainly thorough. I also spoke to one of the longer-serving Personal Trainers at the gym I use; someone I’ve observed working with a wide range of clients over the years, and whose reputation was extremely good.

Guy and I discussed where I was at, and what I thought would suit me best via ten personal training sessions mixed in with my winter training, roughly at the frequency of one a week. Basically, I was looking for someone who was going to:

* assess where I was, (eg was I kidding myself?)
* assess what would work well and push me, (easy otherwise just to do the comfortable & familiar)
* observe me closely in those tailored workouts (to see the things I can’t, etc)
* help me set some expectations and then meet them, (easy to “drift” without expectations)
* assess where I needed to go on to next.

Well, we’ve begun. The first session was a week ago, and I think I’ve nearly recovered from it! Guy certainly has high expectations of and for me. I think I worked at 101% in order to meet them. 24 hours later, I realised that some of the initial strength tests we did to help benchmark performance may have set off problems in my ever-dodgy left shoulder. Several days later, that sadly seems to be the case. Fortunately, those tests are not part of every session.

Focus at this point is core strength and developing a basis for better explosive power. I have fast reactions, that get me out of the starting blocks well, for example, but do I have the power to exploit that lead? Some experiences from 2015 would suggest not. We hope to go on to looking at the kind of exercises that will help me improve my plyometric strength. I have good leg “turnover” for example, but can I improve stride length, rebound, etc?

It’s already clear I’ll be fitting the rest of my training around this once a week blitz on my body. My plan had originally been for it to be the other way around, but it’s equally clear, for example, that the session that follows two days after “the big one” will need to include a recuperative element – I suffer from DOMS, don’t forget. Similarly, I don’t want to burn out core musceles etc a couple of days before a session with Guy either. However, that won’t be rocket science, just a case of finding the right order of sessions for the eight-day cycle I’m following, and ensure I still put in sessions that are overall fitness-specific, speed specific and that attend to the mental and technical aspects of what I do.

Interesting times. eh?

(Should you be interested, this blog’s title is from my favourites The Albion Band.)


August 27, 2015

Well, it’s done. All of my photos from the World Masters Athletics Championships in Lyon, France in August 2015 are now on my web site, and can be viewed here.

It’s a long, tiring but nevertheless pretty mindless process editing everything up for publication. It gave me plenty of time to think about my time in Lyon and the role of a photographer there. I’ve already blogged about what it was like for me as an athlete in the Championships. You can read that here. This follow-up piece contains some of my musings on life behind the camera.

Lyon was my seventh World Masters Championships event. I’ve covered a whole load of European and national events too, of course, as you can see from my website. However, a palmares like that cut no ice with the Lyon organizing committee, who turned me down for accreditation as a photographer there! It was only following the intervention of World Masters Athletics Vice President, Margit Jungmann, that I and Doug “Shaggy” Smith, my long-time Canadian trackside partner behind the camera at World events, obtained clearance to work as photographers at the event. Thank you so much, Margit.

And work we most certainly did. These Championships were spread over four stadiums and it was simply impossible to cover everything. The multiplicity of venues created timetable nightmares and impossible clashes for many athletes, and also for we snappers. We’ve not yet mastered the art of being in two places at the same time, either. On top of this, Doug and I were in a group of two or three photographers who also took part in the Championships as athletes in our chosen events. I think I was busiest, and raced on five days in Lyon. My reward was also to be the only photographer to come away as a World Champion, as my recent blog reports! Some time back, a Masters web site called me “the fastest cameraman in the world”. I like to think I’ve upheld that title by my exploits in Lyon.

These days, I’m much better than I was at giving first priority to my running, and at knowing when to put the camera away, or not even to take it with me to the track. It is so easy to get drawn into the atmosphere of these big events, and suddenly to find that you’ve spent an extra five hours or so on your feet, when you should have been resting up for your next race.

Five hours? Hah, that would be good. I made a couple of short days as photographer in Lyon, after narrowly failing to make the final of the 100m and 200m, and there was one day when the published programme of events was kind, too. However, at other times, a ten hour day was common. Bear in mind too, that on several days the Lyon temperature reached 40 degrees C in the shade, and considerably hotter down on the track, where we were shooting the action. At least it didn’t rain on any of the days I worked on the track.

Not me, but a colleague catches some rest in Lyon!

Not me, but a colleague catches some rest in Lyon!

I had driven to Lyon, and was staying in a motel quite some way out of the city centre. This had its disadvantages – mainly that my social life was pretty limited every evening for two weeks – but it had the advantage that I didn’t need to carry heavy camera gear across the city on the crowded buses, trams and metro trains. Gear? I took two Nikons, three lenses, plus the usual bundle of accessories. A problem with the mechanism of my long lens meant I had to use it the whole time with a 2x converter attached. I was ultimately glad of this, because I could catch a lot of the action from further away than usual, and had less running about to do. However, it was hopeless for things like group photos, so I was glad of the second camera and a wide lens.

Being properly dressed for the conditions, remembering the suncream, and above all, eating and staying properly hydrated are all things you learn from bitter past experience at events like this. We were not really grateful to the Lyon organisers for expecting the accredited photographers to wear bright green nylon bibs, produced in a “one size fits none” shape. However, on the positive side, we had few problems in Lyon that we’ve experienced at past events, of unauthorised photographers getting under our feet. It was also great working alongside a team of track officials who were generally courteous and good-humoured, and, most of the time, respected us as having a job to do and knowing how to do it. We’re not always that fortunate! There were nevertheless the occasional “moments”, as there always are, when action, art and officialdom come together!

When it came to deciding which tracks to shoot at, I set a few simple principles. I wasn’t prepared to drive from stadium to stadium all around Lyon to catch action at several different venues on a single day. Time spent navigating Lyon’s roads was time not spent catching the action, of course. I also gave priority to venues that would have a good number of British athletes there, and to venues where finals were taking place. Even so, at one venue I visited for a day, there was so much going on, spread around a large and shade-less site, that I eventually found I was missing more potentially good shots than I was getting. At least the multiple venue approach by the organisers meant these championships were able to finish the schedule every day by early evening. None of the usual late nights, although there were several early starts.

As a freelancer, I am fortunate, in one sense at least, not to go to these events burdened with the expectation that I will submit a body of work, reports etc, every afternoon or evening. I pitied those slaving away in the media centre who had to do this, keep web sites up to date, and so on. Apart from catching the best of the action, I needed to ensure that Athletics Weekly magazine got a dozen or so shots from me by the end of each of the two Sundays I was in Lyon. I also made sure I posted a representative selection of photos regularly to Twitter. My iPad served me well as portable technology. The main stadium and the media centre were also supplied with very capable wi-fi, unlike my hotel, where it was slow and sporadic.

That same description could be used of the online results service in Lyon. It could be, but to use it would be irresponsibly kind. To be frank, for most of the duration of the Lyon championships, the results service was an utter disaster and a significant black mark against the achievements of the Lyon organisers. Not only was the capacity of the web site used for the results service grossly under-estimated, but it took far too long for the situation to be improved. Far too little information was given out about what was happening to get better results out to the athletes and the world at large, too. One has to hope that the organisers of future events will recognise the web-oriented world in which we live now, and ensure that they prioritise a world championships-class web service.

I’m as yet undecided whether I will be going to the 2016 Worlds in Perth, Australia. It’s a long way off, though, and things might change.

(Oh, and in keeping with tradition, I even managed to keep this blog title related to music in my collection. “Afterthoughts” is a track from long ago by Irish folk supergroup Sweeney’s Men!)

Sadly, I don't know who took this shot. Shaggy Smith on the right. Me third from right in the white hat, holding my camera.

Sadly, I don’t know who took this shot. Shaggy Smith on the right. Me third from right in the white hat, holding my camera.

(I’m) Sitting On Top Of The World

August 17, 2015

One of the big problems I find with major competitions is that while you might get to meet the best at actually doing their event, you also encounter the best at talking about it. Sometimes it is the only conversation you get out of them. Conversation? It’s usually one-way stuff! There are many variations to the breed, and I often hear stories from others that make me glad I spend a lot of my time down on the track, photographing the action. I’m a poor spectator, and usually need to be doing something, rather than watching others do something.

I can’t always get away from them, even down on the track. The ones that irk me most are those who obsess about consequences. You know. Their story’s usually a variation on: “If I do A and B, C will happen, providing D and E don’t”. They’ve usually managed to filter out the possibility that F, G and H are out of the frame. They’re also invariably wrong, particularly when it’s other people they’re applying their theories to, rather than themselves!, Some can carry this stuff on as part of the post-mortem to a failure. Some have even learned to use the techniques to analyse their successes!

No, keep me away from them, please. There are aspects of my own branch of the sport that I find sufficiently mindless that it really doesn’t do me any good to think too much about them. OK, that might be a point I’ve only reached after many years, but it’s nevertheless the case for me. I am regarded as a good starter from the blocks, for example. These days, it is such ingrained technique that in the mili-seconds that follow the gun (they seldom precede it with me; I have a good record for not false-starting), there is just not enough time to lay out a plan and carry out corresponding actions consciously. However good it might be and look, it’s still a mad thrash. I’m well into distraction therapy on race day, so that I don’t have to think too much about it.

This was how it was on the day of the sprint relay finals at the World Masters in Lyon (yesterday, as I write this). I did an hour or so’s photography of the adherents to full-immersion baptism, aka “steeplechasers”. This included a trackside incident that reinforces my view it is useful to have us photographers around. A Greek guy had a nasty fall at the water-jump. He spoke only Greek. The paramedic spoke only French. My photo buddy Alex is fortunately fluent in both, and saved the day.

I’m sometimes not as good at putting my camera away and getting off to the warm up area as I should be, but I was yesterday. Increasingly, I find a long, slow warm up works best for me (age?) and I gradually built up the effort while avoiding too much conversation, especially with the obsessives. We were a relay foursome who have seldom worked together in the past, and baton change practice was cursory, a) because there was no room in the pathetic warm up space we were given in Lyon’s Duchère stadium, and b) because we had no baton to practice with. We basically just trusted each other’s skill and experience, and reminded ourselves to keep the changes “safe” at all costs.

The area in which we were penned up, waiting to race wasn’t unpleasant in the warm sunshine. Had it rained, it would have been hell. There were also virtually no toilet facilities, so I was glad I’d “been before I got there”. Then it was “race on”. Me running the first leg.

I ran last leg in a relay a few weeks ago. I could get to like the “glory leg” aspect of winning, but getting overtaken from the lead and throwing away the efforts of three team-mates would never suit me. These days, my fast start serves to help establish us in the race. I had lane 5 on the track. Perfect for me. The bend is gentle, and I can really put the power down.

There was a false start from the German guy in lane 2. I’ve learned to go with the gun and only respond to the false-start recall gun, of course, but I saw him getting a yellow warning card, as I walked back to my blocks. That false start was an immense help. I realised I’d got my starting blocks set up perfectly, and if I went off next time as well as I’d just done…. I’m teasing you, of course. There was no such analysis until later. At the time, it’s just focus, focus, focus.

Bang! Go. Drive the legs. Pump the arms, Fly! Actually, other than responding the the bang, none of that happened consciously, of course. But a few seconds later, this time I realised I’d got it right big-time. I was almost on the shoulder of the Spaniard in Lane 6, and the French guy in Lane 7 was coming back to me. A few seconds more and I could see Ian, crouched confidently in the acceleration zone before the takeover box. We’d agreed he’d not put his hand back until he was in the box, to avoid a premature changeover. We’d agree he’d go off harder than in practice, and we’d agreed he’d keep to the right of the lane, to allow me to maintain speed and not run into the back of him. So, all I had to do was watch for his hand, and put the baton there. It really was that simple.

Ian shot off, Alastair took over from him, and Steve, although worryingly in pain from an achilles injury, did his usually star turn on the glory leg. We won. We were World Champions. It really was that simple. (Hah, hah!).

I knew I’d run well. Others kept telling me. Other people can be kind, of course, but so many told me this time, that there was a real chance they (and I) were right. It was only several hours later that someone told me about the online report by Athletics Weekly magazine, which referred to my “spectacular ” lead-off leg.

I can live with that. Job done.

(Not long after I first posted this blog, I found video of the race on YouTube. Watch me fly on that first leg! )

Both Ends Burning

August 13, 2015

I’ve been out at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Lyon, France, for ten days now. My apologies I’ve not blogged. My time is so taken up at events like this either racing, preparing to race, recovering from racing, travelling between hotel and track, photographing, or editing the photographs (and so on, and on….) that it’s hard enough to fit in meal times, let alone writing!

However, today is a rest day, while the World Masters Athletics Council big-wigs meet to decide how many angels would fit on the head of a pin, and where the 2018 World Championships will be held. I’ve done my one and only proper piece of touristing in Lyon this morning (too full of athletes I’ve been seeing all week), I’ve restocked for lunches for the last three days of the Championships, Now, tea and French doughnut (beignet) in hand, I’m reflecting.

I had a delightful few days driving out to Lyon, but I arrived at the same time as the start of a heatwave. Normal local temperatures at this time of year (early August) are around 26-28C. We began getting 35-38C. On the third day of the Championships, I had my heats of the 100 metres. Fortunately these were early in the day, but already in quite intense heat. Warm up facilities for athletes were, as so often, inadequate and overcrowded, but I ran well, very nearly won my qualifying heat, and advanced to the semi-finals next day. By “ran well” I mean season’s best, superb start and pick up, and general feeling of wellbeing.

That next day was a bit of a case of “eat, sleep, repeat” and I was again on track at 10.30am. Making it to this semi-final had been one of my targets for the year, but I was in with a sniff of the final now, if I excelled. I didn’t quite. I missed making the cut for the final overall by just two places, putting me tenth fastest overall. Well, I’ll take top ten at the Worlds, thank you very much, and I picked up my cameras to get stuck in to shooting the rest of the day’s events.

It hit a recorded 40C in the early afternoon, and almost certainly got hotter later. I drank, and drank, and drank. About 12 litres of water, a flask of tea, and a cold beer. By close of play around 6.30pm I was done for, but at least I had the first of the Championships rest days to regather my composure during Saturday, next day, before reporting to run in the 200 metres heats on Sunday.

I attempted a little token touristing next day, but as my hotel is an hour from the local transport systems, it was a long walk to start with, on already tired feet. After not all that long, I headed back, just as the heavens opened, and temperatures plummeted. I’d say I was soaked to the very bones when I reached the hotel again. And worse, by mid-evening, I was sure I had caught something, or that the volume of liquid I’d had to consume the previous day had severely compromised my system.

I’ll spare you the details, but when the 5.30am alarm sounded on Sunday, I was a wreck. Breakfast was tea and Immodium, and the 200 metres heats were at 10am in very humid conditions after the heat and the rain, which had continued all night. By some miracle, I got second place in my qualifying heat again, and gained a place in Monday morning’s semi-final. And, with that, the second of my two targets for the year was also in the bag. I headed back to the hotel, a drive of about twenty minutes. I got there before, shall we say, a full system collapse. The expression “both ends burning” might convey it enough. I died several deaths in my bed, and gave in to this ill-timed sickness. I ate no food, and could manage only occasional sips of water.

I don’t recall a lot more. Eventually, I slept dreamless sleep. Good job I had left the 5.30am alarm in place. When it woke me on Monday morning, I felt drained and dreadful, but duty demanded that I at least report for the 200 metres semis a few hours later. All the subsequent preparation, travel, and warming up stuff at the track used auto-pilot.

Although I’ve probably had a better year at 100 metres this year, I still love running 200 metres races. I’d done a long, slow warm-up and when we were walked half of the way around the track to the start, in what was very “British” weather, I may have felt physically empty, but mentally, I was relaxed and prepared. Don’t ask me how.

I flew from the gun. The bend was possibly my best ever. As I hit the straight, I distinctly heard the stadium announcer say “And it’s Tom Phillips of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with a good lead as the athletes come off the bend.” I relaxed slightly at this point, without allowing my speed to drop, as one needs to do in a 200m race, and with about 60 metres remaining, I groped for top gear. But it was gone. Three others came past me as the race ended, and my fourth place was just short of what I needed for a slot in the final. I wasn’t really surprised. Just to be there after the trauma of the previous 24 hours was remarkable enough. And it had ended, too. I suddenly felt ravenously hungry. A supermarket quite near the stadium met my needs fully.

I’d run a 2015 season’s best outdoors, too. The body is a truly strange thing. Well, mine is, at least.

Photo by Alex Rotas

Photo by Alex Rotas

Oh, and I achieved another ambition in the 100 metres in Lyon. Photos of me racing are rare. Photos of me running well are rarer still. However, my friend and fellow photographer Alex Rotas got several shots of me from trackside that are, to me, just perfect! I’ve added one to this blog. Thank you so much, Alex.

More from Lyon before I go home.

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

July 30, 2015

Unless you’re a (Sir) Van Morrison fan, you probably won’t know the song referenced in the title of this blog. It’s great, but the words actually bear little or no relevance to the subject here. The title was just a good vehicle for a few thoughts.

I have only ever had one coach, and that was very many years ago. So much of my working life, when I was competing and had a proper job, involved such irregular hours that I found it impossible to do other than train on my own, and gather advice from wherever it seemed available.

The six weeks since my last blog here has been fascinating. I’ve actively sought out as much competition at time-graded open meetings etc as I could reasonably handle. In order not to overload myself, one of those people whose counsel I admire suggested I drop one training session a week. The logic was that a) I’d benefit from more rest time if competing more often, and b) as I’d be getting all my speed work at 100% effort, against the clock, the risk of injury was increased if I tried to compete more and train “normally”. That’s a bit chicken and egg, but the recipe worked for me, and results came quickly. It’s one of the few times in recent years when I’ve definitely been able to link cause and effect in my training. The oher times were a bit more speculative.

I lowered my Club’s age category record over 100 metres four times, and over 200 metres outdoors twice. I was still faster over that distance back in Poland indoors, which surprises me. I also had several races where I acquitted myself well amongst Masters athletes twenty and more years my junior, and I really got my competitive mojo back. The Masters Inter-Area match got me a 100 metres second place, and a third place at 200 metres, plus the very rare opportunity to anchor a sprint relay team home for a win. That’s rare for me, by the way, as I usually run the first leg in relays, not the last! Those three races were all within the space of about three hours. It was a great chance to test my resilience.

Then, six mostly restful days later, came the British Masters Championships in Birmingham. I’ve had a very occasional 100 metres bronze medal there, though not for a while. I was only placed sixth in 2014, too. This time it was second. My first British Championships silver medal! And another Club record. I was third in the 200 metres next day, too. I was, of course, quite pleased, and had great feedback from many fellow athletes who watched those races.

As I write this, it’s nearly a week later still, and I am on the road. I’m making a leisurely four day journey through some very familiar pieces of France, heading for the World Masters Athletics Championships, in Lyon. I’ll blog a bit on this journey, and while in Lyon.

So, minus “guru” and “teacher”, my “method” this summer seems to have worked on at least two levels: I’ve had modest success and I’m currently a very happy athlete. The two have not coincided for a few years!

Stay tuned!

“Blow Ye Winds”

June 10, 2015

There’s been so much going on that I’ve regularly forgotten my resolve to post another chapter to this blog. Apologies, if you’ve been waiting on my every word!

There used to be a saying that “Life is a bitch, and then you die”. Well, some of my last six weeks have been evidence of the “bitch” part. Back in May, I got the news that I may be losing my sight. Not quickly, it seems, though no one can tell me how “slowly”. I’ve had estimates that range from between two and twenty years. I’m taking up the twenty year option, of course. I wrote a bit more about this on my other blog here, so I’ll not repeat myself. Suffice it to say that, for the moment, I’m fine.

Very fine, running-wise, in fact. I had the luxury of quite a late start to the outdoor track season. It squeezes my build-up to the World Masters in Lyon, France, into a slightly shorter space than my original plan, but I’ve overcome this by changing my training/racing routine. I’ve had the chance to enter several small open meetings locally, and put in a bundle of 100 metres races – at least one meeting a week, and sometimes two races at each meeting. I’ve dropped one training session each week as a result, though my overall activity level is well up, because I’m heavily involved in a long term photographic project which requires me to walk ten to fifteen kilometres through some delightful local countryside, twice or three times a week.

The new recipe seems to suit my body well. I’m aware that I’ve been arriving at the track for races feeling much lighter on my feet than usual. I’ve also, at last, settled on quite a long, slow warm-up process, based on something I first tried at the European Indoors back in March. It certainly worked well for me then, and seems to be doing so again. My weight is more than three kilos down on this time last year. I put most of that down to the benefits of doing the local Parkrun for a while last winter, though the loss currently seems to be self-sustaining, with little conscious effort on my part. I guess many people will be envious?

What has been bad has been the great British weather. Very nearly every – yes every – race this year has been affected by winds. Not always headwinds, but when you’re trying to get a proper idea how well you’re racing, running with 0.9 metre per second tailwind can be as frustrating. Well, to be truthful, maybe not as frustrating, but a source of irritation nonetheless. I got an inkling that things were going well when, in mid May, I ran just a tenth of a second slower than my 2014 best while running into a 1.7 m/s headwind. An hour later, this time with a 0.9 m/s tailwind (well within legal limits for record purposes etc, of course), I came within one hundredth of a second of my 2014 best.

This form is holding, for now at least. I won gold over both 100 and 200 metres at the Southern Counties Masters Championships at the end of May – my first golds there for quite a few years. Just over a week later, on an evening mostly of very gusty, variable winds that gave me one quite frustrating 100 m race, I ended the evening knocking four hundredths of a second off my best 2014 time. It was a performance currently good enough to see me into second place on the 2015 UK age group rankings. It’s also my fastest 100 metres performance since 2012, so there’s life in the old dog yet. The irony was that the electronic wind gauge reading for that race was 0.0. Flat calm.

More in a while.

You’ve Gotta Listen To Your Heart

May 8, 2015

The buzz from the EuroMasters in Poland has subsided a bit. I’m really grateful to the kind people who sent me photos and video clips of me running in Torun. As I’ve said before, pictures of me on the other side of the camera are rare! Sadly, no one had video of my 200 metres semi-final. I would really love to see that. The 60 metres final made its way to YouTube, though. That’s me nearest the camera! I am really grateful to team-mate Bob Douglas for that video.

I was emailed ten days or so after returning from Poland and pointed at the Masters World Rankings. I’d never thought to look at these, but hey, I was WORLD ranked 15th at 60 metres and 7th (yes, seventh!) at 200 metres indoors for 2014/15. Chuffed? I’ll say.

The downside of most big championships for me is that with racing and my media commitments, I literally run myself right into the ground. My immune system crashes, and I usually get grabbed by whatever cold, flu or chest infection gets to the head of the queue. I suffered badly with bronchitis after the World Indoors in Budapest in 2014, and this year, Poland’s parting gift was a very irritating virus that led to four weeks of chest congestion, an annoying cough, and bouts of real lethargy. I wasn’t alone in having this. Several team-mates suffered much the same as me in the weeks after returning to the UK.

Of course, it was hard coming to terms with this. I had two weeks’ complete break. That was planned, and boring, but on the plus side, it gave me good time to market my photos from Torun, which have been very well received. I thought I’d have good residual fitness when I began training again in April. My plans were therefore to keep the work-rate high when I resumed training. Mistake.

What I did wrong was to look too hard at what I was seeing on the watch and heart rate monitor etc (much of which was good), and not pay enough attention to my perceived levels of fatigue. I wasn’t actually recovering between sessions, and a downward spiral began. I’m glad to say I spotted this in time, but I was shocked at just how fatigued I’d become so quickly. A longer training break was the only remedy. I’m never able to become a complete couch potato, so I channelled what energy I could muster into a walk in the countryside pretty much every day. I’m writing this at the start of May, and I’m just feeling that I’m seeing the last of this chest thing now. Unfortunately, all the walking seems to have irritated my left achilles tendon a little. The optimism and upbeat mood evidenced in my last blog is being sorely tested!

I’m due to race on 11 May. I’ve persuaded myself that there isn’t anything I can really do in training between now and then that will boost my performance by then, but lots I could to to damage my prospects. I’d rather turn up rested and under-tested than tired and lethargic. This is planned to be an exceptionally long season.

(This time’s title comes from a Tom Petty song, by the way. Or nearly.)

The Circle Game

March 31, 2015

I had my best track season ever (so far!) in 2009. I was 5th in the World Masters 100 metres and 4th in the 200 metres final in Lahti, Finland, missing the bronze medal in the latter by just two hundredths of a second, as the athlete next to me tripped and fell forward faster than he was running! A lot of work had gone into getting to those races. My blogs eventually came to admit that it was not all good work, because the expectations I’d placed on myself were huge, and I’d been beating myself up physically, and (particularly) mentally. Later, when the work got harder and the results refused to come in the winter of 2010, my slide into clinical depression was as rapid as it was unexpected.

The world has come to know that depression is an issue in sport, just as it is elsewhere in real life. I don’t recall us acknowledging that quite so much, even as recently as 2009.

Well, I’ve just had my most successful major indoor athletics season since March 2009. Back then, the European Masters Indoors in Ancona, Italy, were a vital part of my build up to the Worlds in Finland that summer. I’m newly back from the 2015 European Masters Indoors in Torun, in Poland. I ran my fastest 60 metres for several years in the heats, made the final, and got 5th place in it, in an even faster time. In the 200 metres heats it all just clicked perfectly into place. I ran my socks off and made the semi-final as second fastest qualifier of 18 top class Masters athletes. My heats time was half a second faster than I’d been running even a few weeks before, despite having had a worrying back problem just before leaving for Poland. Things went even better for me in the semi-final the following morning. Although it was my fourth race in four days, the chiropractic and massage experts of our British Masters Medical Services squad had kept me in great shape.

My semi-final time saw me third fastest qualifier for the final in a time I’d never have dreamed of achieving this winter. It was about 2009/10 that I last raced that fast. (Are you spotting a pattern here?) In Finland in the 2009 Worlds, there were several, myself included, I guess, who had just about placed a bronze medal around my neck before the 200 metres final had even begun. This time? Well, maybe once or twice, but I’d arrived at this point more surprised than anything (and anyone) else. I was just wide-eyed with amazement at what I was doing, and loving every hundredth of a second of it.

The 200 metres final happened in the evening of the same day as the semi-final. I’d had a massage, a meal, a sleep, and largely stayed away from my obligations as a photographer down on the track during the day. I was ready. I had a good lane draw, and the faster guys outside me. From the gun, the chase was on. I felt great until 150 metres of the race, when someone or something covered my thighs in lead. As the finish line loomed, I was in 4th place. On the line, I was pipped by a team-mate by four hundredths of a second. The qualifying rounds had taken their toll, and the times we both ran were well down. There is video of my race at

Fifth place in two European Masters finals a few days apart? I’ll take that. I had no idea at all it was remotely in the offing when I travelled out to Poland. In 2009 there had been pleasure tinged with big, yet suppressed, annoyance, and lots more opportunity to turn on myself for having “failed” to get a medal. That was even despite our gold medal in the sprint relay a couple of days afterwards. This time around, for the me of 2015, there was joy. Apologies to those to whom I spoke in the hours after that race in Torun. I was on the verge of tears of pure pleasure each time. My face hurt from the smiles as much as my legs hurt from the races, by the time I got back to my hotel.

No beating myself up, no raking over the past training schedules for evidence of inadequacies. I’d rediscovered what makes a 61 year old man who has basically been a sprinter all his life carry on doing it. Fun. Pure, unalloyed FUN. I was not ” a better person” for success (such as it was) in Torun, just as I came to learn that “failure” (such as it seemed back then) in Lahti didn’t label me “a bad person”, except in a mind that had made itself literally ill with the unrealistic expectations it had stacked up. The me of July 2009 didn’t understand that. Depression is not about being “a bit sad” etc. It’s an illness that will eat you whole until you confront it and ask for help.

I did, when the alternatives became unthinkable. To those who helped, my delight at what I achieved in Poland last week is for you to share. Some of you will be reading this. You know who you are. Thank you.

Oh, and on the day after that 200 metres final, I led off a 4 x 200 metres relay squad that won a gold medal by a big margin. A number of friends commented that I seemed a bit happy on the presentation rostrum when we got that medal. Perhaps this blog goes some way to explaining.



Hat tip to Joni Michell for the title of this blog. The reason I used it might be obvious, but in addition, you need to know that 200 metres indoors is raced as one lap of the track. As I write, Joni is, sadly, very ill in a Los Angeles hospital.


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