The British Masters Indoor Championships this year, at Lee Valley, in March were very hard for me.
I began racing indoors in the far-off days of the Open Competitions at RAF Cosford, in the Midlands. In those impecunious days of the 1970s and early 1980s, it was just possible to get a day return on the train from home, in the South East, all the way to Cosford and arrive in time for one’s first event. It meant getting changed on the train on the branch line to Cosford, and sometimes even doing some warming up exercises on the train! I usually did a 60m and a 200m before having to hurry off to catch the train back to London, and onwards to Kent before the day was out. I very much doubt that the journey could be done any more like that, but no matter: it’s many years since indoor athletics at RAF Cosford ended, sadly.
My first British Masters Indoors was in 2006. If I recall correctly, this was the last time they used Cardiff’s answer to the fairground “wall of death” – the little 4 lane track at the University. I even put some noses out of joint by getting a bronze medal there on my first indoor appearance as a Master. Not long after, I ran in my first Masters International event, the World Indoors, in Linz, Austria. Two semi-final places and a silver medal in the 4×200 relay there were an encouraging debut, I thought.
I’ve had mixed fortunes at the British Masters Indoors the last few years, courtesy of injury, though winning both of the “B” final sprints last year wasn’t too bad, I guess. This year, however, I didn’t even get that far. I was completely sidelined as an athlete, and had to make do with seeing the whole championships down the barrel of a camera lens.
The reader of this blog will already know that I’d ruled out any indoor competition this winter, in an effort to mend my damaged left foot. Well, happy to relate, that is all going pretty well. I’m up to some light jogging on it again, although still some way off being able to sprint. However, even if it had been well enough to race on, my often unpredictable back chose two weeks before the Championships to play up badly again, and at one point I thought it was touch and go that I’d even be there as photographer.
The weekend was a physical marathon. I covered every event in the arena with my camera, save for a few of the age group competitions in the shot and the jumps, and one race on the track, which happened ahead of time while I was making a pit stop. I was on my feet, moving round the stadium and trying to be both technically competent and creative with the camera for more than nine hours on the Saturday and a further seven hours next day. That, plus the small matter of a 120 mile round trip home and back again overnight.
Most previous years, I’ve also competed at least once over the weekend. I’ve decided that actually makes things easier, not harder, because time spent warming up, waiting to race, racing and warming down is all time not spent leaping about taking photos. OK, I got to see races and age groups this year in events I’d normally have missed, but when my own age group was on the track, there was a huge feeling of “I ought to be there doing that”, tinged with a little voice of doubt that said “Well, I hope I still can”.
I was delighted to see friends doing well, especially those notching up national, European and World age group marks in their events over the weekend, but seeing them and capturing their moment of glory on camera was simply no substitute whatsoever for being there as a competitor myself.
The ache in my legs, back and hands from shooting more than 2,000 frames that weekend had faded within days. Not so that other, deeper ache of the frustrated competitor.