A new instalment is well overdue. A lot has happened, some good, some not.
I’m fitting writing this around trying to process and upload many thousands of photos from the European Masters Indoor Athletics Championships in Gent, Belgium, ten days ago. Forgive me if this piece comes out a bit disjointed, as I flit to and fro. The sheer volume and drudgery of the work is getting me down!
I reached the Europeans healthy. That was a big plus. I reached them very un-raced, which wasn’t. Gent was bright and sunny when I got there – it’s only a few hours travel from home – another plus. My first race, the 200m heats, was at 9.20 in the morning. Definitely not plus, but some poor souls had theirs scheduled for 8am. I was flattered to be seeded on past performance in the top 10, and got a really good lane draw in the first round. I also thoroughly enjoyed it, going out very hard, relaxing, and coasting home in second place. Photos I have been sent of the race show me almost serenely calm: mouth closed, shoulders and arms relaxed, stride purposeful. Job done, but I would rue that coasting.
The semi-final draw gave me lane 1, the awful inside lane hated by all indoor sprinters. Still, as I said many times, it was only 200m long, just like all the others. I warmed up well. To be honest, I felt good, from head down to feet. I was very focused. I had a guy in the lane outside me who would be an excellent target to chase in the first half of the lap. I was really very relaxed. All that changed 70m away from the gun. I was just getting into gear when my left calf tightened sharply. Brain said “Relax, you’re trying too hard”. Thirty metres further on leg said “Nope, I’m hurt”. I did finish the race, limping badly, and running on my heel. Silly. I ought to have pulled off the track.
The following five days saw me as a photographer/spectator/patient of the excellent British Masters Medical Services physios and although I enjoyed myself immensely with the privileged access to track and athletes that goes with being one of the official photographers, I would rather have been racing, of course. Irritation got added to injury on the final day, when my relay team colleagues – the team I should have been a part of – won gold in a very fast time. Should have been me.
I am not going to turn this blog into a report of the European Masters Championships. It’s not what I am good at. However, I can’t end my coverage without sharing one of the most life-affirming experiences I had in Gent.
I met and photographed 85 year old Carolus Moens, a Belgian high jumper. What’s special, you say? Most big Masters events will have an 85 year old high jumper. Well, the difference is that Carolus has only just taken up high jumping! He had previously been a big name on the Masters tennis circuit. But that’s not all. Carolus is coached by 92 year old Belgian Masters star Emil Pauwels. I have included a photo of these two inspirations in this piece.
Big thanks are due to all the kind and friendly people who made me feel better in Gent, and to all of those whose performances in the championships filled me with awe.
These same people also gave me a certain sense of purposeful anger at how much my form has suffered after a year on antidepressants. Gent is important to me. It was on the trip there to the Belgian Masters Championships in March 2010 that I realized, alone in a hotel room, that my mental health had reached a low ebb that required me to do something about it. And soon. I couldn’t write or talk about it, and probably even managed to seem “ok” on the surface, but I am glad I made that appointment the day after I got home.
This time around, injury or not, and sitting in a different hotel, I said to myself that this was another milestone – I really felt ready to have a second go at coming off the pills. This was such a right decision that there was a real spring in my limp as I set out for a meal late that evening. (A typical Gent day began at the track at 8am, and ran through to 11pm of uninterrupted action for several days. There always came a point where I had to abandon in favour of food and sleep.). A pizza later, I was wandering the rain polished cobbles of the city taking photos, and just feeling, well…good.
The representative sample of most of the best from 6,700 photos taken in the Championships are almost all on the website at time of writing this piece. Tough job.
And I was true to my promise. Three days ago I saw my doctor and agreed with him the phasing of my withdrawal from Citalopram. Seven weeks from now, I should be off it.
Wish me luck!