Archive for March, 2018

Return (Part 2)

March 30, 2018

Only to be read after Part 1, the previous chapter of this blog!

Part 1 of this two-parter left you in suspense as I awaited the morning of my 200 metres heats at the European Masters Championships in Madrid. You need wait no longer.

My only two races up to this point in 2018 had been at 200 metres, so there wasn’t the same sense of “journey into the unknown” for me that here had been with the Madrid 60 metres competition. However, I was tired from three hard, explosive races in two days, and apprehensive about the 200s. I’d made a European Masters 200 metres final a few times in the past, most recently in Torun in March 2015. I knew competition would be tough. The best of the 60 metres athletes would be racing again, and the 400 metres specialists would have had a couple of days to recover, if they fancied something faster.

Mid morning can be a bad time to race. Early from bed, have a light and usually unsatisfactory breakfast, and join rush-hour travel to the stadium. I was stiff from the previous evening’s 60 metres final, and my warm up was tentative. The draw for the heats had put me in with a good chance of a semi-final place, but I’d need to run well, nevertheless.

And so it was. I had the outside lane, which I like when racing 200 metres, and a fairly fast Italian immediately inside me. I started relaxed and fast, before easing off a little at about 130 metres. The Italian guy was on my shoulder, looking over to me and clearly wanting to make a race of it. I sensed we were both well clear of the rest of the field, and with the first two in the heat certain to qualify for the semi-final, there was no point in wasting energy. I eased back some more, and finished second. Job done.

The heat had taken place at 10.30 in the morning. The semi-final wasn’t scheduled until about 9pm that evening. I returned to my hotel for a couple of hours sleep, and came back to the stadium around 6pm.

It was here I broke my own rule. I’ve realised that, as I get older (Did I mention that the events described here took place on my birthday?) it becomes harder and harder to race at an event and also work as a photographer the rest of the time. Therefore, the rule is that on race days, the cameras stay in the hotel. However, I had missed two days of photography, and there were some early evening events I particularly wanted to shoot. So I brought a camera back with me, and spent about 90 minutes working on the track, before going off to warm up for the 200 metres semi-final.

I knew beforehand, and certainly know all the more now, that an hour and a half on my feet is not a good precursor to racing an international level 200 metres semi-final. In warm up, I felt stiff and wooden, and found it hard to get properly warm. The warm up area, although indoors, was cool anyway, as Madrid was experiencing unseasonably cold weather, and the air was extremely dry. To be frank, I wasn’t confident I’d qualify for the final anyway, and I couldn’t even get nervous about the semi-final. I was also drawn in what would be a fast and highly competitive race, up at the sharp end.

Out on the track, I felt quite calm. Someone false-started, but as I left my starting blocks, I realised that if I had any “go”, it had gone. The race began for real, and initially looked ok, as a photo below shows, but after literally no more than 50 metres, it felt like my legs no longer belonged to me. There was no pain, but not really any other sensation, either. At this point, with hindsight, it would have been best to stop and walk off the track. However, I’ve never had a “Did Not Finish” against my name on any results before, and I carried on, in a kind of stumbling, uncoordinated stride, right around to the finish line. I really wish I hadn’t. I didn’t need to. It wasn’t pretty, and it did my head no favours. Unsurprisingly, I was the slowest finisher out of all the runners in the semi-finals. It didn’t help to know that I’d been in the fastest of the semi-final races, and wouldn’t have qualified for the final anyhow.

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All calm at the 200m semi final start

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Away well and running hard

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Dead last. Literally!

And what did I do next? I picked up my camera and began working again. It was gone 11pm when I headed for the hotel.

The next day was race-free for me. Rather than languish in bed, which my body ached to do, I got to the stadium quite early, and got a really good, reviving leg massage, from Paul of the British Masters Medical Services team. Lifesaver. I then relaxed for an hour or so over a coffee, and started work photographing the events on the track. There were lots of these, courtesy of a Championships timetable that stacked almost every day from early morning to late evening, without a break. This was the consequence of cutting a day out from the total length of the Championships, presumably on the grounds of cost.

I felt fine, and at the end of the afternoon, returned to the hotel. There was no way that I could have stayed to shoot the evening action too.

The following day, Saturday, the last day of the Championships, was 4×200 metres relay day. I love running relays. In recent years, I have been the lead-off runner for our squad. We won gold in Torun in 2015 and silver in Ancona in 2016. We’d lost a key member of our foursome, however, when he fell and hurt himself in Friday’s 200 metres final. On paper, we’d looked good for at least another silver medal, behind the always-strong Germans. Now it looked like we’d be in a battle. Clem, our reserve, was strong, but he’d taken part in the pentathlon on the Friday. Not good preparation for a sprint relay next day.

I felt very good in warm up. I’d got both legs taped, as my left calf had begun to ache badly, but some of the spring that had deserted me two days before had come back. Our main opponents, Germany and Spain, were in the lanes immediately outside us, which was helpful for me on the first leg. Someone to chase!

The officials didn’t hand us the batons until a few moments before the race began. I therefore had no opportunity to practice my start properly. Racing from starting blocks with a metal baton in one hand is awkward at the best of times, and as I went down to the blocks for the race itself, I found that with the damaged middle finger on my right (baton) hand taped almost rigid, I had to go to the “set” position with my knuckles on the ground. The photo shows this. Very unstable.

Bang! I was off. It felt good, as relay racing aways does to me. I made ground on the Spaniard, and felt extremely comfortable. The last 50 metres seemed longer, perhaps, but I handed over the baton in second place in the race, and we held on to that to the end. Silver medal. Same as Ancona, two years before. I felt so relieved not to have let the other three guys down, and very delighted that we’d get our few moments on the podium.

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Relay start

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Handover

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The Squad

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Silver Medallists

Then, predictably perhaps, I picked up the camera and started shooting the rest of the day’s relays. Well, rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?

 

 

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Return (Part 1)

March 30, 2018

Well, well.

That’s really all I can think to say, to begin this latest blog.

Last time we met, I was on the point of pulling out of the British Masters Indoor championships, in order to rest my injured right calf, ahead of the European Masters in Madrid, beginning a week later. I did indeed pull out of the British championships, though I needed to force myself to leave my kit and shoes at home, in order that I didn’t change my mind when I got there.

I grabbed a chance of a very thorough leg massage by one of the British Masters Medical Services team before photographing the Sunday competitions got underway. I was told that if I’d torn something in my calf, I’d have hit the roof during that treatment. As I hadn’t, what I had was more likely the result of some kind of cramping syndrome, which would probably be helped by careful application of some kinesio tape when (if) I raced in Madrid. 

I spent all that weekend on my feet, photographing the events , and had sore legs anyway when I’d finished, but I think it was the right thing not to race. Events proved me right, as you’ll see if you read on.

I can’t say I really saw much improvement in the four days between the British and my departure for Madrid. I had a useful session as usual with Jesper, my chiropractor, and got some good advice about protective kinesio-taping my leg. Jesper confirmed that it was his view too, that I’d not actually torn anything in the calf. That was encouraging.

Madrid was in the middle of its coldest spell of March weather for 20 years when we arrived. On the Sunday that I went to the excellent Gallur Stadium to register for the Championships, get my numbers, etc, I took the opportunity, along with a dozen or so other athletes, to use the track’s warm up area for a practice run-out. I felt this would be “make or break” because I was due to race two days later. I’d taped my calf, and generally felt pretty comfortable. The warm up area was much colder than the name would imply, but I went through a complete pre-race warm-up drill, followed by half a dozen practice starts using starting blocks.

To my surprise, nothing hurt. I seemed to be able to run comfortably, in flats and in spikes. Rather than tempt fate, I stopped and returned to the hotel. I was due to race at about 5pm on the Tuesday, in the heats of the 60 metres. If I ran well (BIG if), the semi-final was just after 10pm that same evening. Ah well, at least I’d get most of the day to rest in the hotel.

Actually, I wasted that opportunity, and visited the huge Prado art gallery and museum on the Tuesday morning. Culturally, it was a great experience, but probably not my wisest move, if I was wanting to play things safe. In the back of my mind, there was the constant nagging thought that the last time I’d raced at 60 metres was two whole years earlier, at the European Masters in Ancona. I’d not had to run fast out of starting blocks since August 2016 either. Suffice it to say that warm up for my 60 metres heat was a nervous time.

I had lane 2 on the track, with no one in Lane 1. I got a brilliant start, and at 30 metres, there was no one in my peripheral vision. I finished second in the heat. The guy who won it set a Spanish national age group record to beat me! I’d qualified easily for the semi-final, and was overall 5th fastest of all who had raced in the heats. Better than expected? You bet!

(One photo below is by Bob Douglas, the other by the stadium photographers)

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Five hours later, at a time I’d usually far rather be in bed, I was warming up again for the semi-final. This was crunch time. I ran well from Lane 6, although I was so focussed that I wasn’t entirely sure where I’d finished. The big screen flashed up a list of names, and mine had a 6 against it. I was really disappointed, because I thought I’d done better. However, just as the eight of us in my race were being escorted from the track, the screen changed. What they’d shown first was simply a repeat of the lane draw, not the race result. I’d actually finished 4th in the semi-final, and had done enough to make the final next day! Wow. After a whole year away from competition!

(Below: 1) A good practice start in the semi-final. 2) Me looking very unsure where I’d finished. 3) The moment I realised I’d made it to the final.)Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 14.27.21

 

 

 

 

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I re-ran that race in my head endlessly that night. I knew I hadn’t really sustained my running right through the finish line in both the heat and the semi-final. Some video my wife had shot confirmed this. Nevertheless, here I was again, in a European Masters 60 metres final, where I’d been in both of the two previous European Championships. 

We were due to race at 6.30 on the Wednesday evening, and everyone had timed their warm ups around this. However, some other events in the stadium unexpectedly over-ran on time, and when we reported, at the required 20 minutes before race time, the call-room officials turned us away and told us they were not able to say when we’d be racing. Highly unsatisfactory. We all mooched around the warm-up area, trying to hold a balance between being warmed up and not over-doing it. We were finally admitted to the call room, but then told there would be a further delay. At least the call room was warm.

Some time after 7pm we were eventually led out on to the track. I’d got lane 2 again, once more with no one in lane 1. Well, it had been lucky for me in the heats…

Someone false-started, but we settled down, and the race went at second attempt. I felt that I flew – for 40 metres at least – and video confirms I got another great start. However, Europe’s very best were too strong.

As I ran through the line, a glance to my right suggested I’d finished 6th. I was disappointed to begin with. I’d been sixth in the 60 metres in Ancona, two years before, in a race where one hundredth of a second had covered third place to sixth place. This time, I was a bit further adrift of the action.

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However, there I was, standing with the others in the line for the obligatory group photos. Still nothing hurt! I was sixth fastest in Europe in my event, and more than a few demons had suddenly been conquered.

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No rest for the wicked, as they say. The next morning the 200 metres heats were due to begin. I needed to get a meal and a good night’s sleep, and come out fighting once more.

To be continued….

Pain or Paradise?

March 6, 2018

Right, it’s about time I updated this thing. My title is taken from an Albion Band song, and matches how I felt a few weeks back.

I left you in suspense last time (two months ago, it pains me to admit) as I began my preparation for my return to racing, after an injury-enforced lay off in 2017. Well, sad to relate, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

It actually began as farce. As a result of a completely chance exchange of tweets, I discovered the date I had in my diary for my first event was, in fact, only the closing date for entries to that event, The competition itself was not happening until two weeks after! Now, if I tell you that I only found this out on the Friday immediately before the Sunday on which I thought I was racing, you’ll realise how close I came to the embarrassment of turning up a fortnight too early for the event. That would have seemed a bit keen, even for me! Thanks for saving me, Mike!

There were consequences though. I’d tapered off from the fairly heavy regime I’d been pursuing through January, and suddenly found I had two weeks training still to put in before I really began back on the track. I was a bit lost as to what to do, and things drifted a bit, if I’m honest. I could probably have done a good week, and then rested, but I did two not very good weeks, instead.

Another shock was the belated discovery that I now faced four weekends of racing in succession, followed by four days at home before travelling off to the European Masters Championships. I thought I was going to have a competition, two weeks off, then three weekends racing. Just a bit more palatable. Thus, if anything were to go wrong, there was a risk it would all go wrong.

First race meeting was the Southern Counties Masters Championships. I’d won the 60 metres and the 200 metres here in 2106. These championships are unusual in that they put the 200 metres on before the 60 metres in the day’s programme. I have always hated that. Well, I was quick to get back into some semblance of my warm-up routine. I found that during my year off, I’d somehow forgotten my usual starting block settings, so I had to scramble to rediscover these by trial and error, before heading out for the 200 metres.

First race indoors since early in April 2016. First time in my racing spikes since August 2016. First time on the steep and hard banking of the Lee Valley track since March 2016. I set off well, and felt very relaxed. I overtook the two guys in the lanes outside mine pretty quickly, and while this was reassuring, it meant I then had no one in my actual or peripheral vision to give me any indication as to how well I was actually running. Reassuring calls from spectators at the start of the second bend suggested all was going ok, though. Then, at the crown of the bend, with about 60 metres to go, my right calf began to tighten up significantly. Injury, not fatigue, it was clear.

I went flat-footed on the right leg, to take some strain off, but as the track’s banking swung downhill almost immediately, this was hard to maintain. I was later sent a video of the whole race, and I can see exactly the spot that the calf trouble began. My knee lift diminishes almost immediately, and I must gave scrubbed off a fair bit of speed. Well, I pushed on, and I won the race, but there was little pleasure in doing so. Misfortune had found me again.

Half an hour later, it was painfully clear that I wasn’t going to have any chance of racing in the 60 metres. It was a bugger that there was no ice available in the stadium, too.

Next day, I was hobbling. The spot that hurt was easy to locate, and didn’t seem very deep into the muscle, so icing it was straightforward. I had an exploratory visit to the gym to see how much movement I had in the calf without pain (not much) and then headed for a conveniently pre-arranged chiropractor session. I’m well-disposed towards acupuncture, and it usually does me some good. Jesper’s needles eased some of the tension in the calf, but even so, it was a simple conclusion to draw, next morning, that I’d not be racing that coming weekend. It was all going pear-shaped a bit soon.

The week that followed saw some of the worst winter weather down my way for quite a few years. I went for a few walks in the snow with the camera, but the gym had to close early on a couple of days, and much of the rest of my time was spent shivering indoors, doing business admin, editing photos, etc. As rehab, it wasn’t much. I had a plentiful supply of ice, though!

The weather had relented by the time that the Masters Inter-Area match came around the weekend after. I still had to dig the snow out of my front drive the day before travelling to it, however. I was due to be photographing the event, and as many people couldn’t or wouldn’t race that day (a week before the national championships, you see) I’d felt pressured into taking to the track a bit before I thought I was ready. I warmed up at Lee Valley, with an industrial quantity of kinesio tape on my dodgy calf, and some on the other one, “just in case”. To my surprise, my 200 metres race went well. I took second place, felt smooth, and pain-free.

I probably didn’t use the hour or so after the race, very well in terms of keeping my calf mobile. Then, to close the match, there was the 4×200 metres relay. I ran last leg for a team that knew it had little or no chance to shine, and I took over the baton when we were plain last. No point in pushing it, so I just ran the lap at a steady moderate stride. And wouldn’t you know it? At precisely the same place on the track as two weeks before, my calf began to complain. This time, I had the opportunity to slow right down, and crossed the finish line almost at walking pace.

And that brings you right up to date. I’m back to icing the leg, hoping for a miracle, and things like that. I am supposed to be racing in the British Masters next weekend (as I write), when my events both look likely, from the entries on paper, to have heats and finals. I am not at all convinced I’ll be lining up to compete, and even less convinced that I should, because it’s then only a few days before I travel off to Madrid for the European Masters. In Madrid, whatever happens, I am simply not going to be competitive, but I’d like to give a couple of races my best shot, even if I do get eliminated in the heats, which is highly probable. Further damage to my leg next weekend would screw my chances of that totally, I think. Having written it down, it’s a no-brainer really, isn’t it? No miracles for 64 year-old sprinters.

I’ll let you know how it went – or didn’t.

(Update: Well, the British Masters Indoors didn’t “go”. I made a last-minute decision to scratch from both of my races, and try to save my leg for Madrid. I’ll know in a week or so if that was the right move.)