One of the big problems I find with major competitions is that while you might get to meet the best at actually doing their event, you also encounter the best at talking about it. Sometimes it is the only conversation you get out of them. Conversation? It’s usually one-way stuff! There are many variations to the breed, and I often hear stories from others that make me glad I spend a lot of my time down on the track, photographing the action. I’m a poor spectator, and usually need to be doing something, rather than watching others do something.
I can’t always get away from them, even down on the track. The ones that irk me most are those who obsess about consequences. You know. Their story’s usually a variation on: “If I do A and B, C will happen, providing D and E don’t”. They’ve usually managed to filter out the possibility that F, G and H are out of the frame. They’re also invariably wrong, particularly when it’s other people they’re applying their theories to, rather than themselves!, Some can carry this stuff on as part of the post-mortem to a failure. Some have even learned to use the techniques to analyse their successes!
No, keep me away from them, please. There are aspects of my own branch of the sport that I find sufficiently mindless that it really doesn’t do me any good to think too much about them. OK, that might be a point I’ve only reached after many years, but it’s nevertheless the case for me. I am regarded as a good starter from the blocks, for example. These days, it is such ingrained technique that in the mili-seconds that follow the gun (they seldom precede it with me; I have a good record for not false-starting), there is just not enough time to lay out a plan and carry out corresponding actions consciously. However good it might be and look, it’s still a mad thrash. I’m well into distraction therapy on race day, so that I don’t have to think too much about it.
This was how it was on the day of the sprint relay finals at the World Masters in Lyon (yesterday, as I write this). I did an hour or so’s photography of the adherents to full-immersion baptism, aka “steeplechasers”. This included a trackside incident that reinforces my view it is useful to have us photographers around. A Greek guy had a nasty fall at the water-jump. He spoke only Greek. The paramedic spoke only French. My photo buddy Alex is fortunately fluent in both, and saved the day.
I’m sometimes not as good at putting my camera away and getting off to the warm up area as I should be, but I was yesterday. Increasingly, I find a long, slow warm up works best for me (age?) and I gradually built up the effort while avoiding too much conversation, especially with the obsessives. We were a relay foursome who have seldom worked together in the past, and baton change practice was cursory, a) because there was no room in the pathetic warm up space we were given in Lyon’s Duchère stadium, and b) because we had no baton to practice with. We basically just trusted each other’s skill and experience, and reminded ourselves to keep the changes “safe” at all costs.
The area in which we were penned up, waiting to race wasn’t unpleasant in the warm sunshine. Had it rained, it would have been hell. There were also virtually no toilet facilities, so I was glad I’d “been before I got there”. Then it was “race on”. Me running the first leg.
I ran last leg in a relay a few weeks ago. I could get to like the “glory leg” aspect of winning, but getting overtaken from the lead and throwing away the efforts of three team-mates would never suit me. These days, my fast start serves to help establish us in the race. I had lane 5 on the track. Perfect for me. The bend is gentle, and I can really put the power down.
There was a false start from the German guy in lane 2. I’ve learned to go with the gun and only respond to the false-start recall gun, of course, but I saw him getting a yellow warning card, as I walked back to my blocks. That false start was an immense help. I realised I’d got my starting blocks set up perfectly, and if I went off next time as well as I’d just done…. I’m teasing you, of course. There was no such analysis until later. At the time, it’s just focus, focus, focus.
Bang! Go. Drive the legs. Pump the arms, Fly! Actually, other than responding the the bang, none of that happened consciously, of course. But a few seconds later, this time I realised I’d got it right big-time. I was almost on the shoulder of the Spaniard in Lane 6, and the French guy in Lane 7 was coming back to me. A few seconds more and I could see Ian, crouched confidently in the acceleration zone before the takeover box. We’d agreed he’d not put his hand back until he was in the box, to avoid a premature changeover. We’d agree he’d go off harder than in practice, and we’d agreed he’d keep to the right of the lane, to allow me to maintain speed and not run into the back of him. So, all I had to do was watch for his hand, and put the baton there. It really was that simple.
Ian shot off, Alastair took over from him, and Steve, although worryingly in pain from an achilles injury, did his usually star turn on the glory leg. We won. We were World Champions. It really was that simple. (Hah, hah!).
I knew I’d run well. Others kept telling me. Other people can be kind, of course, but so many told me this time, that there was a real chance they (and I) were right. It was only several hours later that someone told me about the online report by Athletics Weekly magazine, which referred to my “spectacular ” lead-off leg.
I can live with that. Job done.
(Not long after I first posted this blog, I found video of the race on YouTube. Watch me fly on that first leg! http://youtu.be/5A5H99Nd3L8 )