Well, still close enough to Burns Night to be a topical title, in the circumstances.
I’m not one who has ever looked forward to the first competition of the season. Too many unknowns, known or otherwise. For me as a sprinter, first competition usually means an indoor 60 metre race somewhere. Big build up, loads of adrenaline, gun goes bang, and less than 8 seconds later, it’s over. Except this year.
The big build up was there. I got the date of the competition wrong. Had I not eventually checked just in time, I might have arrived a week early. I thought I made pretty good use of the unexpected week’s extra pre-competition training. It coincided with very encouraging results from a computerised gait scan by my chiro, and more definite progress in the condition of my troubled left heel. The was also the small matter of the 60 mile journey to the track. I even quite enjoyed the tedious process of registering, and the snatched conversations with friends and acquaintances not seen since last season.
Out on to the outdoor track to warm up. Nothing I’ve not done literally a thousand times before. Wrapped up warm against the wind, feeling pretty good, really. I have never been good at warm up. I either give it too long (nerves) or too little (bad planning or just gassing). Too long turns it into a watered down training session, too little leaves too many concerns about things that might go wrong if not properly eased into action!
I usually start with a couple of laps of jogging, skipping and otherwise shaking out to get the juices flowing. No different today. But a lap and a half in, there’s a pain in my right calf like someone has just hit it, lightly but firmly, with a stick. Unworried, I amble off the track and stretch it out. Hmm, painful, like mild cramp. More stretching until it seems ok. Back to a slow jog, up on my toes. And bang! Big stick, same place, but harder.
Like all athletes with injuries, the first thought is denial. I’ve come all this way, this is the start of an important year, it’s only a bit of pain, probably only cramp, still an hour before the race, I’ve paid my entry fee, I’ll be ok. Only I wasn’t. The short walk back into the indoor arena hurt. The less I moved my leg, the stiffer it got, the more I moved it, the more painful it got. It’s that Catch 22 that actually tells you you’re not making it up, and that you do need to take it seriously. Interesting, it wasn’t even “take it seriously or face the consequences later” seriously. My attempt to just have a see what would happen if I got up on my toes and jogged hard was so pathetic (and hurt!) that scratching from the race, packing and heading home again was almost automatic.
A quick Tweet of the “Bugger, I’m injured” sort really did help me come to terms with it. I’d obviously persuaded myself, because look, here I was telling the world! The journey home was positive. No ” if only” or “supposing I’d given it a go?” thoughts at all. A year ago, in the run in to my depression diagnosis, I’d have been beating myself up for days. Getting home early did feel a bit like bunking off school, but I unexpectedly got to watch the Ireland/Italy rugby live (Ireland being land of my forbears, and Italy my spiritual second home). And ice is a wonderful thing. Ok, I had to smash the first lot out of the freezer with a hammer, but once applied, tea in hand, leg up on a footstool, I did feel strangely contented.
Contented? Have I lost the urge to compete? Am I going soft? Nothing of the sort. I just seem (this time at least) to be able to go beyond “shit happens”, and start at “ok, let’s assess why shit has happened on this occasion?” That’s new ground for me. Just bear with me for a few weeks while I work it out!