Both Ends Burning

I’ve been out at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Lyon, France, for ten days now. My apologies I’ve not blogged. My time is so taken up at events like this either racing, preparing to race, recovering from racing, travelling between hotel and track, photographing, or editing the photographs (and so on, and on….) that it’s hard enough to fit in meal times, let alone writing!

However, today is a rest day, while the World Masters Athletics Council big-wigs meet to decide how many angels would fit on the head of a pin, and where the 2018 World Championships will be held. I’ve done my one and only proper piece of touristing in Lyon this morning (too full of athletes I’ve been seeing all week), I’ve restocked for lunches for the last three days of the Championships, Now, tea and French doughnut (beignet) in hand, I’m reflecting.

I had a delightful few days driving out to Lyon, but I arrived at the same time as the start of a heatwave. Normal local temperatures at this time of year (early August) are around 26-28C. We began getting 35-38C. On the third day of the Championships, I had my heats of the 100 metres. Fortunately these were early in the day, but already in quite intense heat. Warm up facilities for athletes were, as so often, inadequate and overcrowded, but I ran well, very nearly won my qualifying heat, and advanced to the semi-finals next day. By “ran well” I mean season’s best, superb start and pick up, and general feeling of wellbeing.

That next day was a bit of a case of “eat, sleep, repeat” and I was again on track at 10.30am. Making it to this semi-final had been one of my targets for the year, but I was in with a sniff of the final now, if I excelled. I didn’t quite. I missed making the cut for the final overall by just two places, putting me tenth fastest overall. Well, I’ll take top ten at the Worlds, thank you very much, and I picked up my cameras to get stuck in to shooting the rest of the day’s events.

It hit a recorded 40C in the early afternoon, and almost certainly got hotter later. I drank, and drank, and drank. About 12 litres of water, a flask of tea, and a cold beer. By close of play around 6.30pm I was done for, but at least I had the first of the Championships rest days to regather my composure during Saturday, next day, before reporting to run in the 200 metres heats on Sunday.

I attempted a little token touristing next day, but as my hotel is an hour from the local transport systems, it was a long walk to start with, on already tired feet. After not all that long, I headed back, just as the heavens opened, and temperatures plummeted. I’d say I was soaked to the very bones when I reached the hotel again. And worse, by mid-evening, I was sure I had caught something, or that the volume of liquid I’d had to consume the previous day had severely compromised my system.

I’ll spare you the details, but when the 5.30am alarm sounded on Sunday, I was a wreck. Breakfast was tea and Immodium, and the 200 metres heats were at 10am in very humid conditions after the heat and the rain, which had continued all night. By some miracle, I got second place in my qualifying heat again, and gained a place in Monday morning’s semi-final. And, with that, the second of my two targets for the year was also in the bag. I headed back to the hotel, a drive of about twenty minutes. I got there before, shall we say, a full system collapse. The expression “both ends burning” might convey it enough. I died several deaths in my bed, and gave in to this ill-timed sickness. I ate no food, and could manage only occasional sips of water.

I don’t recall a lot more. Eventually, I slept dreamless sleep. Good job I had left the 5.30am alarm in place. When it woke me on Monday morning, I felt drained and dreadful, but duty demanded that I at least report for the 200 metres semis a few hours later. All the subsequent preparation, travel, and warming up stuff at the track used auto-pilot.

Although I’ve probably had a better year at 100 metres this year, I still love running 200 metres races. I’d done a long, slow warm-up and when we were walked half of the way around the track to the start, in what was very “British” weather, I may have felt physically empty, but mentally, I was relaxed and prepared. Don’t ask me how.

I flew from the gun. The bend was possibly my best ever. As I hit the straight, I distinctly heard the stadium announcer say “And it’s Tom Phillips of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with a good lead as the athletes come off the bend.” I relaxed slightly at this point, without allowing my speed to drop, as one needs to do in a 200m race, and with about 60 metres remaining, I groped for top gear. But it was gone. Three others came past me as the race ended, and my fourth place was just short of what I needed for a slot in the final. I wasn’t really surprised. Just to be there after the trauma of the previous 24 hours was remarkable enough. And it had ended, too. I suddenly felt ravenously hungry. A supermarket quite near the stadium met my needs fully.

I’d run a 2015 season’s best outdoors, too. The body is a truly strange thing. Well, mine is, at least.

Photo by Alex Rotas

Photo by Alex Rotas

Oh, and I achieved another ambition in the 100 metres in Lyon. Photos of me racing are rare. Photos of me running well are rarer still. However, my friend and fellow photographer Alex Rotas got several shots of me from trackside that are, to me, just perfect! I’ve added one to this blog. Thank you so much, Alex.

More from Lyon before I go home.

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