Thank you for the days

In 24 hours from now I will be on my way to the European Masters Indoor Athletics Championships, in Ghent, Belgium. Actually, for reasons I have never understood, and which get people very annoyed, the organisers insist on still calling it the “Veterans” championships, but that’s by the by.

Normally, I love this event. It comes round every other year. I like indoor athletics, and I have a relay silver medal and a gold medal from the past European Indoors I’ve attended. This will be my third Europeans after Helsinki and Ancona. I’m even top 10 ranked for these champs on past performances. However, I’m going with no sense of anticipation this time, unfortunately.

Ordinarily, I’d have raced seven or eight times in preparation, and would be well prepared, with a decent idea what to expect. Not this time. I passed up a very early chance to race in January, and then learned that my favourite winter race series had been cancelled. My diary revealed that the remaining races were pretty much one weekend after the other through February and early March. That was why getting injured just warming up for the first race blew everything else out of the water.

I was, frankly, pathetic three weeks later at the Southern Counties Championships; quite the slowest I have ever raced. A 200m bronze medal flattered me. The following weekend was the British Masters, the National Championships. I was bronze medallist here over 60m in 2006. This time, I was lucky to get third in the “B” final. Worse, despite feeling pretty good for the 200m heats early the following morning, a calf muscle tear (other one this time) five minutes before the race, put paid not only to any chance of competing, but seriously compromised training over the next fortnight.

I am always a little pleased when an injury like this reveals a whopping great bruise, because it confirms I wasn’t imagining anything. This one was a good’un. No imagination needed, especially when my masseur, Mike, got his well-trained thumbs into it a few days later. Ouch!

My pre-European Championship final preparation amounted to two training sessions in the gym. One didn’t really do my calf any favours, the other hurt my foot. I’ve been procrastinating about my packing, as at time of writing, although Tunnel and hotel are all booked. I will be there for a 200m heat at some ungodly hour of Wednesday morning, and will take it from there. I love the Ghent indoor arena, and won the Belgian Championships 60m there in 2010, on a landmark day. Landmark? It was also the day I finally admitted to myself I might be suffering from depression and that I needed to do something about it.

I’m GB media crew for these championships. That means a lot of hard work, and tough decisions. The programme runs from 8am to about 11pm most days. Think about the words of the song chosen for the title of this blog, and the reason for the choice may become clear! “Those endless days”…. There is just too much to fit in. The event should have been made a day longer, not a day shorter, than usual. I am bound to miss many events, either through eating, racing, or just fitting in fleeting moments of pleasure talking to my buddies from all over Europe.

It is the people who make these events. As a regular photographer and occasionally good-performing athlete, I guess I’ve become pretty well-known. I speak three European languages tolerably well for what I need to do, but have good friends from the Ukraine, Poland and Spain, for example, with whom, when a translator isn’t around, communication is smiles, gestures and pidgin English.

The other thing is that this is Masters. The best in Europe, in age groups from 35 to 95 will be there. I’ve not checked the age of the oldest, but some of the real superstars in their 90th decade are always present. That lovely man Ugo Sansonetti (he of the Bertolli and CocaCola adverts on tv) is listed, as is Emiel Pauwels of Belgium, born in 1918. It is always truly life-affirming to see these guys compete. And women. We Brits have some of the best, too.

Ghent won’t be a high point of my sporting career, but I guess I’m looking forward to it really. Writing this has helped convince me.


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