Don’t Look Back!

So, my indoor track season is over. Blink and you’d have missed it this year. Just three race meetings, and a total of six races. Did I really train that hard just for them?

I guess that, given the persistence of my calf injury through the winter, I should be pleased that I’ve come through it nearly unscathed. I needed to tape my leg for each race, but I didn’t do it any greater harm. I was, however, SLOW! OK, I got two medals at the Southern Counties Championships (silver and bronze) and I won both “B” finals at the British Masters Championships, ending up 4th overall on times in the 60 metres. But I am rather disappointed with the times I ran. Over 200 metres, make that “very disappointed indeed”.

My winter’s training has left me strong and (by my own standards) pretty agile. That’s great, given that strength and agility were two of my winter targets. However, being regularly unable to run in training at little faster than a jog has meant that I’m just not in the groove when it comes to running fast. And that’s a bit of a drawback for a sprinter, especially one who reckons that 200m is usually his best event.

I think it was my friend and track maestro Steve Peters, amongst others, who said “you’re only as good as your last race”. The wisdom of that is only now dawning on me. That’s because, far too often this winter, I’ve been telling myself things like “Hey, you almost won a World Championship 200m medal in 2009” and “Remember when you raced three great rounds of 200m in a day at the World Indoors in 2008?” The thing is that, while thoughts like this might console my ego, living on past glories tends to make one flabby in current training.

Me, flabby? What I mean is that there have been far too many occasions where, on the pretext that I was protecting my injured leg, I’ve looked back and said something like “Yeah, well you don’t lose the ability that got you [A, B or C] overnight, do you?” I’ve allowed a bit of nostalgia to take the place of ambition, targets and so on. No, that’s not correct. Actually, I’ve allowed a LOT of nostalgia to do that.

It isn’t an “age thing”, even though it’s obvious that the older you get, the more you have to look back on. I have a friend who is very focussed on a world age group record in his own event this August. This is motivating him hugely, and the training sessions he’s putting in literally put mine to shame. And what are my own ambitions for the upcoming summer track season? Erm…ummmm…weeellll…..I guess if I am honest, they involve words like “survive”, “get through it”, and so on. Of course, I’m the first to admit that this isn’t how it ought to be.

I guess what I’m lacking is a decent set of benchmarks. My indoor times were, as I’ve said, slow and unsatisfying. Even when I got those two medals, I couldn’t help looking on the times as so far adrift from much better performances that had won me nothing at all in past races. What I mean is that they were “OK” times for that competition – after all, I finished up near the sharp end of the field, didn’t I? See, there’s that nostalgia thing lurking in there all the time, isn’t there? I’m wanting to be as good as races I ran a couple of years ago, or more; I’m finding the reality difficult.

Now, that might be an age thing. Maybe I’ve just reached the age where performance on the track starts to decline more noticeably than before? I’ve been unusual in that respect. I returned to sprinting aged 46, after 15 years away from it. I didn’t run my current Masters 200m best time for another 8 years, and my 100m best 9 years after my return. I am also firmly convinced that depression, and anti-depressant medication, in the last two years has robbed me of vitality. I’m not bitter about that. Depression is a bastard, but it’s a bastard I’m coming to terms with, and one that hasn’t managed to rob me of most of the things I hold most dear. You’ll never get me to say that I’m glad for my depression, but it has changed me, and made me a stronger person – that I do believe. Just not a faster one!

I now have about a month before the outdoor track season begins. I am nervous about the month. I want to use it to build on what that modest set of winter competitions has shown me is still lurking in the machine, but I am really keen to do that without triggering more hurt, which in turn will trigger more under-performance, and disappointment.

What I do need to do is take some of my own advice. So often, I’ve found myself saying to other athletes suffering far worse hurt than me “Always remember: in Masters athletics there is always next year.”

An evocative drawing by my clubmate Paul Ross-Davies


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