Return (Part 2)

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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One Response to “Return (Part 2)”

  1. Angele Style Says:

    Super fun to read…part one….then part two….and your photos speak a thousand words. Real life ups and downs and ……enjoying the moments

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