Archive for April, 2011

Further on Down the Road

April 11, 2011

Repetitive strain, injuries, aren’t they?

As an ageing athlete, I am resigned to them happening – most training effort these days really goes into trying to keep the more evident effects of ageing at bay, after all. But what gets me is the inconsiderate timing of most injuries. 70 metres into a European semi-final, five minutes before National finals, warming up for my first race of the year. And that’s only in 2011.

I’ve long see some logic in the view that, if you are into “listening to your body”, injury is one way it tells you something. But what? Surely if you were over (or under)-doing it, the body could be a bit more reasonable, and give a hint during training, send an e-mail message one evening, stuff like that. What good is a body that picks really inconsiderate moments just to say “I told you so”? especially when it hadn’t been saying anything of the sort? Going to remain one of life’s little mysteries, I’m afraid. If you thought I was going to enlighten you, sorry. I was just letting off steam.

I’m sitting drafting this, in bright sunshine, on a glorious day on the edge of a very dusty field. Beside me is a 1.3 km stretch of bone hard, equally dusty and highly venerated cobbled track. Venerated? Yup, I’m sitting at St Python (a spot I adopted years ago, just because of the name!), in rural N France, a spit away from the Belgian border, waiting to photograph the sudden, short-lived and chaotic passing of the peloton in the Paris-Roubaix professional cycle race. Later, I’ll be rushing two hours north, on tiny back lanes, grateful that the riders will take three to cover the same distance on a parallel path to what is sometimes called “The Hell of the North”. Today, the only hellish comparison will be the unusual 23 degree mid April heat.

They say the Paris – Roubaix race gets in your blood. On a dusty day like this, it gets there via your mouth, nose and eyes.

(Written three hours later in the middle of nowhere, somewhere else) And what do you get? The times on the first and last of the 96 frames I shot at St Python show all the action took less than two minutes. And that included snapping some of the stragglers. I’ve often thought spectating at cycle races is insane, but actually, that’s only the equivalent of watching a good 800m (foot)race on the track. The difference being that you’d not expect to walk an hour into uncharted France to do that.

In the “good old days” Paris- Roubaix was renowned for mud, puddles, even snow some years. I’ve only seen it in these traditional conditions once in the eleven years I’ve made the trip. That was unpleasant for spectators, but unutterably grim for the riders. As bad for the race commentators and motorbike pillion cameramen, though. Most of the time, even taking normally brightly coloured team jerseys into account, they could not tell one rider from another. Right to the line, in the Roubaix velodrome, they were guessing who the leaders were.

Well, this year, there I was, snapping away, surrounded by noisy Belgian and polite French familes, when a rider suddenly had a puncture. Tom & Jerry style. Big bang, no tyre. No warning. Just like my calf injuries, only without the bang, and the tyre.

And there it dawned on me. Cyclist’s puncture, athlete’s injury. Lots in common. Like all pro riders, I bet he’d been listening to his bike all day; those telltale sounds of grit in the sprockets, baked dust varnishing the braking surface of the wheels. But still a puncture got him. Might have been just as he felt good and fancied getting in the next breakaway group. If he was a domestiqe, might have been just when his team leader told him to put the hammer down at the front. The puncture was just damned inconsiderate.

I’m possibly stretching a point. I probably had more opportunity to influence or prevent my injuries than the rider did his puncture. However, I’m resigning myself to the fact that, as an athlete, and as a Masters athlete particularly, no mattter how mechanically “sympathique” you are with all your bits, just like that puncture, bad things sometimes just happen. No controllable cause or motive; they just do.

My sprinter colleague Steve Peters says “Nowhere is it written down that life is fair”. 70m round the Ghent track, and 150 miles into Paris-Roubaix, a couple of people who have never met can testify how true that is.