Those of you who read this blog regularly will know (and the rest of you can read a few earlier ones and find out) that I write this stuff as I see it, from the heart. This one is going to be a hard one for me to write. Let me tell you the tale of the British Masters Indoor Championships 2016 and you will see why, I hope.
I was cautious in my last blog here, but inwardly optimistic, because I knew I was going really well on the track, particularly at the 60 metres event. A little less so at 200 metres, but that always takes me most of the indoor track season to get into my best form. Possibly why I usually surprise myself (and others!) at season-ending European or World Indoor Championships. Well, I arrived at the British Masters Indoors this year unbeaten over 60 metres, with the top three times in my age group rankings for 2016, and already running times close to those I was putting in at last year’s European Masters Championships. My attention to core strength training in the winter seemed to be paying off. OK, it might have been showing that my hip flexor tendons were/are going to be the next “weak link in the chain”, but I was at least keeping real problems and pain at bay.
A few of my main rivals were not racing. John and Steve were hurt, and Al, I assumed, was having the winter off before coming back strong in the summer. I recalled he’d done things like that before. I’m frequently on record as saying that you can, when all is said and done, only race those who turn up on the line at the start.
We were timetabled to have qualifying heats just after 10.30 and a final about two hours later. I warmed up carefully, but, believing I’d be running again after the first race, held a bit back, because I’d be warming up a second time, later on. So I thought. Then, when we reported for the race, we found that a couple of entrants were not going to race after all. We were still too numerous for one race, given the sprint track only has seven lanes at Lee Valley. We had to hang about while we were re-seeded into a “B” Final and an “A” Final. Hanging about like that is never good. You cool down from warm-up very quickly.
So, before long, I was behind my blocks and ready to race in the “A” Race, for the fastest athletes on recent performances. Total, tunnel-like focus; rituals and routines all accomplished. The gun went. I went. I flew. I won.
This was my first ever individual British Masters Championships win, on my eleventh time of trying. I’d had a silver medal before, and several bronzes, but this was the big one. Gold, and British Champion. I was, of course, pleased, but there was a shadow that I know affected all of us who ran, and herein lies my difficulty.
While I was warming up, an hour or so before, a friend had told me that my long time running friend and rival, Al, had the previous week been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. So that was where he was – not taking the winter off by choice, but beginning chemotherapy. I admit that, on hearing this, I had to break off from warm-up, and go and sit in a corner and recompose myself for a bit.
I have few records of my very early track racing career at home, because much got ruined in a flood where I once lived. However, I do have some copies of Athletics Weekly magazine from 1975 and 1976 that show Al and I raced each other back then in Britain’s Southern League. He beat me each time, and has beaten me on every outing as a Master since my return to serious racing eleven years ago.
Given that, there’s an obvious question relating to last Saturday’s race. I’m not going to ask it, because Al needs now to turn his sporting excellence to beating his illness. In that, I wish him every possible success.
“Perspectives” is a song by Leon Rosselson. It asks some tough questions.