2020 Vision?

January 14, 2020

Well, new year, new decade, same old ageing body.

I finished my blog chapter about six weeks ago on as optimistic a note as I’ve achieved for a while, and just getting stuck into the latest chapter of my relationship with parkrun. A reminder, if you’ve not been paying attention, that I stood down as Maidstone Parkrun’s regular photographer back in the autumn, having shot it on 150 occasions since early in 2015. I felt it was time someone else had a go.

However, I also needed to try to get some (by my standards) serious running in at Parkrun to try and reinstate my aerobic fitness, without interfering with the slow but steady recovery my knees seem to be making from the injuries which wrecked my 2019 track season. You can read about my plans for this in my last blog. In addition, there was going to come a point, not long after New Year, when I’d need to be making a few decisions about my track racing in 2020. Coward that I am, I wanted to put that decision point off for as long as possible.

Well, the news is that the parkrun part of the equation has been going well. Despite being involved with parkrun for five years now, most of that was as a photographer, and my personal tally of actual 5k runs stood at just 36. I calculated that, even allowing for missing three runs over the Christmas week, because of a holiday in the Derbyshire Peak District, I would just have enough weeks to raise my score to 50, and earn my red t-shirt, before the indoor track season began. And, at the time of writing this blog, I’m still on course for that target.

As to racing, well, more is less certain, so to speak. I have begun work to get some strength back into my legs, and to exercise the leg speed I seem to have been born with. This is, to be frank, bloody painful on occasions, although I am prepared to accept some of it as “good pain”, because it isn’t interfering, except perhaps to curb any thoughts of over-exuberance in my training. I’m walking a narrow line – still trying to embed proper function in my legs, while at the same time trying to prepare to race.

For a variety of reasons, not all of them linked to my knees, I decided several months ago that the European Masters Indoor Championships in Braga, Portugal, would not be on my 2020 calendar. However, the World Masters, in Toronto in July, had been pencilled in. This would require a big leap of faith – to stump up the cost of expensive flights and accommodation for more than a fortnight, while still not knowing whether I’d be able to compete. I’d already ruled out going to Toronto just as a trackside photographer. I ended up doing that in 2018 after injury robbed me at the very last minute of the chance to race at the World Masters in Malaga. I couldn’t bring myself to do that again.

Well, the time for decisions arrived a little sooner than originally anticipated, and circumstances have led me to decide I will not be going to Toronto. I could not cope with not being in top form be July, and thus unable to do justice to participating in a World Championships. I believe the reality is that 2020 for me is going to be a year of transition back to full fitness, and I’m going to save my money and my ambitions for later.

Meanwhile, the closing dates for a couple of indoor competitions in February somewhat nearer to home are fast approaching. You can read about my decision on these in my next instalment here.

Keep On Running – the next chapter.

December 1, 2019

Well, last time I managed to end this blog on a vaguely optimistic note. I’ve been wary of doing that over the last few months, because it’s seemed rather like tempting fate. However, so far, so good, with a bit of weirdness thrown in.

“Weirdness”, eh? Well, I really don’t know what else to call it. And my support team are pretty much baffled, too. It was like this:

By early October, the problem with my right knee was reaching the point where depression was really setting in with me. While the knee was more mobile than it had been even a few weeks previously, it was still not able to support me properly. The biggest bind of all was that I could not put my weight on it while walking up stairs. It failed me, painfully, every time. This was also tending to put more pressure than usual on my left knee, which was beginning to show symptoms of picking up similar bad habits. Training was basically twenty minutes walking on a treadmill, followed by about an hour of what I call “floor work” – stretching, massaging, testing, and so on, with most focus on my quads and the hip to toe chain of action. I was really struggling to maintain any semblance of fitness. I’d promised I’d start running regularly at Maidstone Parkrun again, but couldn’t see that happening. I’d hobbled round very near the back on one occasion, supported by a walking stick, and didn’t plan to do that too often, despite the encouragement and the good company.


So, one Tuesday, there I was at the gym, kneeling on an exercise mat and rummaging in my bag for something. All of a sudden, I felt a ripping sensation on the left side of my right knee. Like someone tearing paper, or old fabric. I don’t think I heard anything, and the feeling wasn’t painful. My first reaction was that, while kneeling, I’d managed to tear the elasticated knee support I was wearing. I rolled up my tracksuit leg to inspect. No, the knee support was intact, and the elastic hadn’t given way. The side of my knee maybe felt a little more tender than usual, as did the front of the kneecap. Discretion dictated that I abandon training for that day. I walked out of the gym and started down the stairs to the changing rooms. Very much all of a sudden, I realised that this felt much easier than it had for a while. I stopped at the first landing, turned, and then “just to see”, began walking back up the stairs… almost completely painlessly!

I could hardly believe it. I ended the experiment quickly. Showered and changed, I walked the twenty minutes home, trying to avoid testing my knee. Although a good bit of it is uphill, I was beginning to think that the “something” that had happened was possibly “something” positive. I warmed the knee joint when home, and pressed and probed. Flexing the knee made the area around the kneecap creak and grate like an old barn door as it moved, but I recognised this as (hopefully) fairly superficial crepitus. Nothing had swollen up, and I could definitely still walk up stairs without any pain in the knee. I nevertheless began a few days of regular, precautionary icing, and restricted my exercise to a bit of local walking.

Not long after, I had a pre-arranged chiropractor appointment. Jesper was doing the induction for a new chiropractor at the clinic that day, so I had the advantage of two expert minds to think about what I might have done at the gym the previous week. By now, my knee was feeling even better still. The crepitus was still there, and definitely audible, but I felt ready to give the knee a few proper tests. Jesper was baffled as to what exactly I’d done – and remains so – but was content that somehow the knee had improved considerably. We planned a few things I could/should be attempting.

Fast forward several weeks, and two more chiro sessions, and I was managing thirty minute, mixed-pace treadmill sessions in the gym. I’ve never been a fan of training on the road. I really didn’t want my knee to fail while out in the cold or wet, several miles from home. The mixed pace work was part of a plot to make good use of attending Maidstone Parkrun as a runner. I’d just retired from photographing the event 150 times over about five years and my tally of participation in parkrun stood at a lowly 36. Read on…

Regulars to this blog might have realised by now that I’m a sprinter. Running five kilometres off road, with three hundred other people, doesn’t really form part of my training DNA. However, I wanted to see what it would be like to treat the distance as a big interval training session. Walk some, run some, walk some, and so on, until the finish line. This isn’t because I can’t run 5k without a break, but because interval training is extremely well established as beneficial to sprinters, and I intended to work pretty hard on the fast bits. My sports watch has GPS, which would measure the intervals for me accurately. All I had to do was string it together. My chosen “interval” was 200 metres. It’s a distance that features regularly in my racing and training. I could visualise and anticipate what a track session of, say 4 x 200m with a walk recovery felt like.

However, to cover 5k, I’d basically be doing 12 x 200m, with a 200 metre walk between each exertion. This would be preceded by a walk/jog, as the 300+ other parkrunners began to spread out on the quite narrow patch that starts the route. Compared to running at a steady pace for the 5k, it would inevitably be a bit slower than what I could do a couple of years back, and a lot slower overall than many other parkrunners. However, if I got relatively clear ground for the fast 200m stints, I’d not worry about the alternate 200m walk recoveries being a bit slow. Maidstone Parkrun is basically a flat, riverside course, but with a few hundred metres of up and downhill at halfway, and a lovely progressive rise uphill for the final 300 metres or so.

And, dear reader, it has so far (5 runs) been a great success. I’m running well, recovering well between the intervals, keeping each kilometre consistent with its neighbour, and giving the final 300 metres a characteristic blast. I’m also getting faster for the overall 5k each week, although that is a bit of a lottery, as the density of the crowds on the first 400 to 600 metres of the route is what tends to have the biggest overall impact on my finishing time.

I’m starting off well down the field, because I’m actually walking the first 400 metres. As a walker at the start, I’d simply be getting in the way of runners if I started anywhere much nearer the front. There are a lot of “swings and roundabouts” involved, not least that the faster my “fast” sections are, the slower my walk recovery tends to be, though there are only seconds in it.

I’ll be taking stock of what I’m achieving, in a few weeks from mow. Expect a blog.

Take Me Back

November 4, 2019

I’m a Van Morrison fan, and have been for a long time. Recently, I started listening again to some of his material from the 1990s, simply because I hadn’t blown the dust off those particular albums for a while. I’ve rekindled my love of The Man’s 1991 classic double album “Hymns to the Silence”, which includes the monumental, nine minute plus “Take Me Back”. It’s an evocation on the lines of “how things have changed”:

“Take me back, take me way back, take me way, way back,
Help me understand.
Do you remember the time
When everything made more sense in the world?”

…and so on.

It is currently resonating with me for a whole load of reasons, mostly to do with a theme that has been common in this blog for a while: coming to terms with getting older.

My age-related trigger points have been more than usually stimulated over the last couple of months. I’ve just begun to receive my State Pension, entitling me to regard myself officially as an “OAP”. Not that I concede this too willingly. I long ago termed my state of mind when it comes to things related to ageing as “Peter Pan Syndrome”.

I also had my first free NHS ‘flu jab today. Mind you, flatteringly (in retrospect) the pharmacist who administered it really put me through it when it came to proving that I was really who I said I was, and that I really was over 65. Fortunately, I had my passport on me for another reason, and we solved that one easily. “But oh”, she said, “You just don’t look like a 65 year-old!”

I’m off shortly to my running club’s 150th anniversary dinner. It’s going to be a “black tie” do, being held in, of all places, the Members Dining Room at the House of Commons. Don’t ask me why there. I joined what was then still called “Blackheath Harriers” in late 1968, and I was just 14 years old. 1968/9 was the Club’s Centenary year. That wasn’t particularly why I joined, but it makes my time as a member of what is now known as Blackheath & Bromley Harriers Athletics Club that much easier to calculate. So, the quick amongst my readers will have worked out that somewhere in the last 12 months or so, I’d hit 50 years’ membership. Actually, I blogged about this, in passing, back in the summer, here. The anniversary, and the fact that, we’ve calculated, I am one of only two Club members to have reached 50 years membership still regularly competing on the track. This earned me a “top table” seat at this October’s Vice-Presidents’ Supper. An honour.

In mid July this year, just as my knee problems were at their height, the Club held its 150th Anniversary Track Meet. As a young sprinter, I’d run in a 100 metres event at the Centenary Track Meet. That was an altogether grander event, held at Crystal Palace when the track there was in its heyday. It was also the first occasion I got to photograph an athletics event (using a decrepit, really cheap “Soviet” Leica-copy I’d bought for buttons in a second-hand shop), thus setting in train two of the underlying themes in “the story of my life” running, and photographing running.

I was unable to run at the 150th Anniversary event. I could hardly walk that evening, in fact. In the 1969 100 year-event I’d photographed steeplechaser Chris Woodcock in action. Chris made the journey up from Devon, where he now lives, and he took part in the mile race at the 150th. And it was a delight to photograph him again, “still at it”. He was the only race-fit survivor of 1969 present, although I’d have raced too, were it not for my wretched knee.



On the theme of looking back, however, it was a BBC athletics commentator at this year’s IAAF World Championships, who made mention that the Mexico City Olympic Games were now more than 50 years ago. He remarked that perhaps that didn’t sound all that much, but that if you’d gone back 50 years from those Olympics, you’d have found yourself in the final days of the First World War. The 1968 ‘Games were one of the direct triggers to me joining my Club. In those days, the First World War already seemed so long, long ago. However, it was no more distant then than the start of my athletics career is from where I am today. A very sobering thought, for some reason.

And where am I exactly at present? Well, as I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere, severe knee trouble forced me to cut yet another race season short this year. I stopped in July, and had to abandon any hope of competing in this year’s European Masters Championships, in Venice in September. Progress recovering from the tendinopathy that has plagued my right knee in particular has been slow and frustrating. However, there is progress, and if I can maintain it to the point where my knee is stable by Christmas, I will consider racing again indoors in February and March. I’ve become too old to make promises, however.

More next time…


October 2, 2019


It’s never easy waiting for bad news, is it? Especially when you’re hoping it won’t be as bad as you fear.

I was walking in one of my favourite places in the world – the Italian Dolomites – when I got a text to tell me that Mike May had lost his battle with stomach cancer, and had died a few hours previously. If I’m honest, it was what I had expected to hear, not having heard any news at all about Mike from friends for several weeks. However, Mike’s cancer had receded twice before, and I had hopes. My mood soon became as grey as the dreadful weather my favourite place had stored up for this visit. There is a terrible emptiness about hearing of the death of a friend.

In the grand scheme of things, I’d not actually known Mike for that long. Twelve or thirteen years at most. I can’t even remember when we were first introduced. Mike wasn’t one of the fastest, but he was certainly one of the most dedicated Masters athletes I’ve ever met. He epitomised the belief that it doesn’t matter how good you are, the key thing is that you get out there and do it to the best of your ability, as often as you can. While I was writing this, the memory came to me of Mike racing in the 60 metres at the World Masters Indoors in Linz in 2006. For me, this was my first major international championship. Mike had an outside lane, and tripped as he approached the crash mat, breaking his collarbone on the metal supports behind it. If that had been me, I’d have been devastated. Mike reappeared from his return from hospital, very professionally lashed up by the Austrian health service, already beginning to enthuse about his upcoming trip to see the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

I can pinpoint one early shared experience. Helsinki, European Masters Indoor Championships, March 2007. Five or six of us had gone for a Saturday evening out. I recall someone saying we could go and see Europe’s longest escalator. Yes, seriously. Evenings out with athletes are not always the moments of great excitement you might think they are! Having ridden down said escalator into the bowels of the Helsinki Metro, and returned via the same to city level, we decided to eat near our hotel, on the other side of the city. Problem was, the Finnish bus timetables at the bus station only showed where the lines terminated. We had no idea which one of them we’d caught on the way in. Helsinki city centre on a Saturday evening is an acquired taste. Most people seemed to have a couple of things in common: they were young, and they were drunk. Our salvation came via a group of beer bottle wielding teenage girls who Mike had asked for directions. He can’t have known they spoke perfect English and were experts on every bus stop in the city centre, but that’s just what they were.

Mike was a great tryer. I think that’s what he’ll always be remembered for, and rightly so. I used to get regular tweets from him about his latest races. He competed a lot, and managed to carry on racing through the chemotherapy he had for his run-ins with his stomach cancer. Quite amazing.

Mike’s name was always on the list of those available for the often fiercely fought-for sprint relay squad at major championships, and almost never selected. I say “almost”, because once it did happen, and Mike was quite simply the proudest athlete of the GB team when it did. Lahti, Finland, 2009 World Masters. I’d raced in my own age group only a few minutes earlier, but somehow managed to get back to my camera in time to shoot Mike’s 4x100m lead-off leg. Mike loved that photo.


I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when Mike announced he’d been given the all-clear after his first bout of cancer, and I find it incredible that, even though this turned out to be premature, he bore a further phase of chemo with great stoicism. Sadly, his all-clear from that also turned out to be premature.

My walk in the mountains that September day eventually helped ease the emptiness of realising I’d lost a friend. On 6 October, there’s to be a gathering of Mike’s buddies from the athletics world, to remember him. I fully expect it to be very well-attended.

Time To Ring Some Changes

September 26, 2019

On 28 September 2019, it will have been the occasion of my 150th appearance as photographer for Maidstone Parkrun. It’s also the occasion I have chosen to mark my “retirement” from the role.

I began shooting parkrun photos right at the end of 2014, and although other things meant 2017 was perhaps a lean year, I’ve continued without any big gaps right through. Nearly five years. I’m stepping down for a whole mixture of reasons.

Many of you will know that I am a fairly successful sprinter in Masters Athletics. That’s right – a sprinter. I race at 60 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres. For my age group, I have been in the top four or five on the UK rankings for several years now. I started parkrunning in 2014 when a wrist injury was preventing me from training properly, and I needed to keep things ticking over while it healed. There’s a bit about it in a blog at the time, here:

I enjoyed the atmosphere and the whole set up of Maidstone’s brilliantly-organised parkrun so much that when the opportunity came to resume what I normally do for training for my track events, I did what comes naturally to me. I remained involved, as the event’s volunteer photographer.

For several years now, I have been a freelance photographer, specialising in the perhaps mutually exclusive areas of sport and landscape photography, but doing much else besides. I began sprinting as a young teenager, and it has always been a regret that, when I began, hardly anyone used to photograph track athletics. The result is that I have only a tiny photographic record of my running in my teens and twenties. I blogged a bit about this here:

One long-term outcome from that is that I hate the thought of others having similar regrets that nobody photographed them running – be that running on the track, or as parkrunners. I understand the pleasure – and motivation – that can come from seeing good photos of yourself “in action”, and I’ve tried to ensure Maidstone parkrunners get their fair share.

Well, by a recent count, I make that “fair share” worth over 50,000 photographs. That’s as in fifty thousand. And those are only the ones I’ve retained on my archives! Add to them all the shots I didn’t like, plus the inevitable small (honest, guv’) percentage of technical failures and the true figure is a bit larger.

To some of you, I’ve become known as a bit particular about what I will shoot, or keep. When you’ve been shooting parkrun for a while, the waving and saluting to the camera, frankly, becomes more than a bit of a bore. I’ve always preferred to see people looking their best while actually running, and my job has been to try to capture that with the camera. The very varied lighting conditions through the year at different points on the Maidstone course also mean that black outfits (sorry 100 Club members!) are quite hard to photograph well, so there came a point where I almost gave up trying to shoot them. So, if you are a habitual waver who also wears black, my belated apologies. You probably think I was picking on you particularly.

What next? Well, I’m not going anywhere. At the moment, my tally of parkruns completed is a paltry 36. I’m not ashamed of that, given that 5km every Saturday morning doesn’t normally fit into my training plans. However, 2019 has been a tough year for me on the track, and I had to abandon all sprint racing in early July, with chronic pain in my right knee. I’ve recently been cleared to begin exercise again, however, and for a while, I’m going to be a slow parkrunner – target time not faster than 35 minutes. That’ll probably be a mixture of running and walking too. Who knows? I might make it to my red 50 t-shirt.

Beyond that, I don’t have plans right now. The life of a 65 year old sprinter tends to thwart plans anyway. I’ll still be picking up the camera on a Saturday morning to shoot special events, etc, but nothing regular. It’s the turn of someone else to discover the rewards of doing that.

Good luck to them, whoever they might be, and thank you to all of you who have been my subjects for the last five years.

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.


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.

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?

SCVAC 2019 60m

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo courtesy of Fiona de Mauny

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

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

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


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

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

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

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