Never Too Late

I promised a follow up blog a few weeks ago, to pick up on some thoughts towards the end of the last one. Sorry, life got in the way a bit, but here’s that follow up, nevertheless.

First an update. I’m in one piece, nothing much hurts any more than it should. I’ve settled in to my racing calendar for this summer, and it actually seems to be going ok. It’s been a little strange at times, especially when I think back to what I was doing this time last year. If you recall, I wasn’t racing. I was busy with rehab work on a damaged left shoulder, and had opted to take the whole year “off” so far as competition was concerned. Thus, when I think back in terms of whether my current racing is better or worse than this time previously, I’m looking back to 2016. Two years back, and I’m two years older. Like this year, 2016 was a World Masters Championships year, but I’d opted not to go to Perth, a) because of the cost, and b) because there was no way I could have remained in proper race form until October. I also had a major photographic exhibition organised for November 2016, and a trip to Perth would really have come at the wrong time.

So, update, I said. What’s this year looking like on the road to the Malaga Worlds in September? Well, not bad, if I’m honest. I’ve spent most of the summer in the top five on the UK rankings for 100 metres for my age category, and just scraping in to the top ten at 200 metres. I’m very much enjoying my 100 metres racing. I have to confess that I seem to have become a little afraid of 200 metres. Mostly something to do with bad experiences last winter when running that distance indoors.

Now, follow up. I was critical in my last blog, of a report that basically claimed the only way to run fast was to train at 90%+ of race speed. My view was that, for most older Masters sprinters (and I’ve bounced the thought off quite a few since then) that was unrealistic as a goal, because of the probability that gains would be more than offset by increased time spent unable to train due to injuries. My counter-view was that, while some fast training was, of course, a must, there were important additional gains to be had from numerous small improvements in other areas.

Those positives are, I guess, a bit like the much publicised Sky cycling team mantra from a few years ago, of the “aggregation of marginal gains”. My year out gave me a lot of time to think about technique while rehabbing. I was also fortunate to do well in the 60 metres competition in the European Masters in Madrid, in March this year, and to be able to see numerous photos of me in action, and at speed. From these and other experiences, I’ll offer you three things I’ve learned.

Two are related to where so much of any sprint happens – at the start.

I think it was watching some top athletics on tv that first made me reappraise my starting technique. I realised that, probably for years and years, when rising into the “set” position on the starting blocks, my hips were not rising far enough, and instead, I was moving my trunk and shoulders forward. I was still getting a good start – something that has been a characteristic of my sprinting for a long time – but it was not as good as it could be. I wasn’t optimising the drive off the blocks, and my body was at too steep an angle to the ground to be able to drive my legs fully effectively. There are advantages to “staying low”, but I was too low, and risked losing my balance on occasions. Improving this is now a piece of work in progress.

The other starting issue was an insight that hit me from who knows where. I like to breathe in as I rise to the “set” position. This allows me to create what, in weight training terms, is, I think, called a diaphragm block, necessary to maximise the application of power when the gun goes. The insight was that, in preparing for this, I had become too focused on my breathing while settling on the blocks and waiting for the starter’s “Set” command. More focussed on my breathing than on listening for the gun. As a sprinter from a few years back famously said, “You go on the ‘B’ of the bang!” I think I had become a bit too accustomed to going at the point at which those either side of me went.

To most sprinters, these are simple enough things. To an older sprinter, re-examining and dealing with them was part of realising how set in my ways some aspects of my racing has/had become.

My third example was particularly spurred on by photographs of me approaching the end of a fast, close race. I am blessed with good peripheral vision. I am therefore adequately aware of what is happening either side of me in a race, without needing to turn my head. However, I was, I think, tending to concentrate more on where I was in relation to others, than where I was in relation to the finish line. I was preparing for a dip finish too soon, and not concentrating on keeping my sprinting going at full speed until past the finish line – something that would often have made a dip finis unnecessary. Photos showed this clearly. I was maybe losing up to a metre in relation to opponents at times. Sorting this out sounds easy – just keep looking straight ahead, and ensure you don’t stop sprinting until you’re past the finish line. However, it is another of those “old habits die hard” issues, and initially easier said than done.

I have quite a lot more competition coming up over the next few weeks. August can be a quiet month in the Masters calendar. Not this year, with its build-up to Malaga’s World Masters Championships, which start on 5 September. I plan only to race the 100 metres in Malaga, and hope to be in good enough form to make it to the sprint relay squad. I will be working right through the Championships with my camera, and I decided that doing that, and trying to do the 200 metres just would not work for me.

So, in all probability, my next blog will be just before, or just after, Malaga.


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