Archive for July, 2010

What a difference a year makes.

July 28, 2010

As I write this, I’m not long back from the European Masters Championships, held in Nyiregyhaza, in eastern Hungary. I enjoyed myself, but from a racing point of view, I can’t claim it was very good. I went in as 5th placed athlete in last year’s World M55 100m championships, and 4th in the Worlds at 200m, but where you’ve been and who you were counts for nothing a year down the road.

I had a dire time in the 100m. I wasn’t well before the heats. As we left the Call Room to walk out on to the track, we were told that the heats were, in fact, semi-finals, making the qualification for the final rather more “sudden death” than I expected. I ran really badly, and troubled the competition no further.

Things were better in the 200m. I got a good second place in my heat, and 4th in my semi-final. I was optimistic that I might have scraped through to the final. Sadly not; with eight to qualify from two semis, I was ninth overall. However, later that day another athlete who had qualified was kicked out. By the rules, I should have been promoted to the final. However, first I knew of all of this was when photographing the race. I saw there was an empty lane and an athlete missing. When I heard about the circumstances, I was annoyed and not a little upset, I’ll admit.

Worse was the relay. I was a reserve for the 4x400m squad for the age group below my own. Out of my comfort zone, admittedly, but I was in the mood to do something hard. However, the Call Room officials claimed I was not on their list of eligible athletes (what?) and neither I nor my three team partners got to race. I feel more sorry for them than for myself. They included two gold medal winners from last year’s World Masters Championships 4×400 relay.

Hungary was HOT! Regularly well over 30 degrees C, and with humidity at about 96%, the air was more suited to drinking than breathing. The Nyiregyhaza stadium had little or no daytime shade, and it was a blessing to be in accommodation little more than three minutes walk away, allowing a lunch-time shower and lay down. I was also blessed with a room with a refrigerator, although not one with air-con!

My mixed fortunes as an athlete allowed me to concentrate on being one of the accredited track photographers. As I write, I am whittling something like 10,000 photos down to manageable proportions. These will be on my web site soon. I am proud of some of the work.

The Championships were great for one thing in particular, however – friends. It was simply wonderful every day to mix with athletes from all over Europe, friends I have come to know well over the last few years. I am fortunate to have more than a smattering of three European languages, and have really good buddies in the German, French and Italian squads, as well as our own group of (often) all-conquering Brits.

I am now looking forward to just a couple more competitions between now and the beginning of September, and then that’s it for 2010. An early start to 2011 training will be the incentive I need.

You can stay in touch with my ramblings on Twitter: @Tomsprints


More Precious Than Gold

July 8, 2010

Well, I made my return to racing last weekend. A month out of it with a broken thumb, disrupted training, general lethargy, and despair at not getting a return on a winter of hard training, etc was rather less than the ideal preparation, especially as my chosen arena was Cardiff, for nothing less than the British Masters Athletics Championships. I’ve run at the Championships for the last five or six years. Last year I was just pipped for silver in both the 100m and 200m, in races that really marked the start of my final preparation for the World Masters, and which gave me a real wake up call. Happy to say (see earlier blogs) body and brain heeded the call, but I was truly disappointed at not taking home a silver medal from either race. 

I went to Cardiff consoling myself that, even if I didn’t/couldn’t race, I could at least take plenty of photos. It’s always a tough weekend for me, but good training for the major championships, when being an accredited snapper can mean ten or more consecutive nine hour days, and longer, wielding a heavy camera and big lens the whole time. The work also involves trying to be at the right place at the right time, every time, to catch the crucial stages of the action, catching that action in a way that gives a sense of the occasion, and, of course, aiming to be as creative and artistic as possible. Impossible? Hard, certainly, especially when I need to sprinkle in the time and energy to take part in my own events on the track, too! 

I felt pretty good warming up at the Cardiff Championships. It was warm, but pretty windy, and I’d managed to extricate myself from photo duties at a suitable moment. I hate warming up and then having to hang around in the Call Room for ages, before being marched out like gladiators of old, to do the stuff. By the time everyone is ready, I’m usually only luke-warm. Even with my splinted hand, I managed to use my knuckles to get down for a decent start from the blocks, which was a comfort. Courtesy of someone’s false start, I even got two goes at it! Once the gun goes, and the brain says to the relevant parts of the body “get a move on, chaps!”, there’s a moment almost of semi-consciousness while everything whirrs in to action and thought is irrelevant. For me, in a 100 metres race, that phase usually lasts about 40 metres, by which time I should be at, or near, full speed and about to settle into the phase where muscle memory takes over. Like a stoker on an old steam train (the perfect analogy, some would say!), all the body has to do is maintain the speed by maintaining form and technique. That makes it sound simple, but like anything on a fast trajectory, gravity, wind resistance, old age, etc will all conspire to slow you down. There are no tactics. There’s some peripheral vision, but sometimes not, and an intense focus on a point probably a few metres past the finish line. You are aiming to run as fast as you can, rather than just faster than the other guys. There’s no pacing yourself in this event. 

Sometimes there is that wonderful feeling of surging at the end of the race. It’s probably more a case of holding speed while others falter, than one of suddenly increasing it. I didn’t get that this time; it just felt good to be running fast the whole way. And guess what? I crossed the line in third place. Now, I’m not hugely emotional at the end of my races. Relieved, yes, occasionally astonished, certainly, but on this occasion, I shouted with delight. The guy who was second told me afterwards that this caught him off guard, and had him doubting that he’d really beaten me! Well, there was a lot in it actually, and I had no doubts. But, unlike my disappointment at bronze in the 2009 Championships, I was totally delighted at my bronze this year. It might sound cheesy, but it was my own personal gold, snatched from nowhere in a rubbish season of mishaps and setbacks. 

And yes, I turned to walk back up the track, picked up my camera, strategically cached half-way down the straight, and took a whole set of photos of the very next race in action. There’s dedication. Good shots the whole weekend, though! 

Next is Nyiregyhaza, four hours from Budapest, for the European Masters Championships. They are in a few days, as I blog this stuff. I am unsure what technology will be available, so no promises on an update until I get back, later in July. 

Wish my feet luck. They’re going to see a lot of use. 

The famous photographer