Posts Tagged ‘Masters Athletics’

Got your Number

June 14, 2016

Apologies. My last full blog here anticipated the start of my summer track season and was, as much as anything, a piece of therapy to help me get my head in gear. I’d just pulled out from my scheduled first race of the year owing to a niggling injury, and I had no idea where things would head next.

Well, I’m glad to say they quickly got back on track, as it were. My back is sorted for now, and the vertigo hasn’t returned. Since then, I’ve raced five times. Well, four really. One was last leg of a sprint relay. We were so far behind when I got the baton that it was just a fast solo run for the match points.

Earlier that evening I’d run a reasonably satisfactory 100 metres. Such are my Club’s team problems at the moment that I had to race in a lower age group, for fourth place. I’d have won my own age group’s race by a street, but our athlete in that race would not have done so well against the youngsters, so we applied some team tactics.

My race time was very similar to my first outing over 100 metres a year ago, and it posted me at equal second place on my UK age group rankings. A reasonable place to start. A couple of weeks later, I raced two 100 metres events in an evening. Both were faster, and I’ve ended up a clear second place on the rankings. I’ve also run, and won, a 200 metres race, the time from which puts me third on the UK age rankings for outdoor competition this year.

At this time of year, I find it useful to process my race times through an age-graded score calculator. Age grading, (sometimes called age-weighting) is something I’d never heard of before entering the ranks of Masters athletics. It’s basically a way to compare any result in an event at a given age, against a result in the same event by someone of a different age. Some age-graded calculators also have the facility to compare men’s and women’s results on a statistically even footing. There are quite a few variations on the calculation tables around, and they get updated every few years. There are also a set of tables dealing with road running events etc. Age graded percentages are a regular feature of the weekly results from Parkruns, for example.

I’m not going to link to any particular calculator from this blog, but a quick web search for something like “Age graded calculator for runners” will show several. Some have some pretty sophisticated maths behind them.

I’ve been using age-graded calculations for several years. A calculator that allows you to enter your precise age, as opposed to, say, just your five year Masters age group, is a really useful tool to help chart annual progress. It goes like this: “If I ran xx.yy aged 60 for 100 metres, is my time of xx.yy aged 61 a better time or worse?” It may be a slower time on the clock, but as I’m a year older, some decline might be expected. Have I a) declined, in age-graded terms, b) stayed about the same, or c) got faster, in age-graded terms?

Overall, I’ve been one of those athletes who, as my Masters career has progressed, has improved his year-on year age-graded score every year. Age-grading has revealed that my best event (that is, consistently my highest age-graded score) is 60 metres indoors. Aged 52 in 2006, by best race gave me a score of 95.11%. My best time in the 2016 indoor season, ten years older, gives me a result of 97.08%.

That is to say, the calculations enable me to compare results 10 years apart, even though the more recent result is 0.37 of a second slower than the 2006 figure. I’ve got slower against the clock, but the tables tell me that statistically, I’ve improved. And what’s more, I’ve improved from an already high score. Very generally speaking, an age-graded score of above 94% is likely to indicate something close to a world class performance. I’m quite chuffed to be up above 97% for my best event!

Age-grading allows all kinds of calculations to be made. Traditionally in the UK, age group rankings in any event are based just on the time the athletes run. Thus, there is no age-weighting in favour of an athlete who might be in the same Masters five-year age category as the person with the fastest time in that category for the event concerned, but is maybe several years older. This might not matter too much between two athletes ages, say, 35 and 39, but between an athlete aged 75 and one aged 79, the issue is far more significant, for example.

Such are the games age-grading allows you to play, that I can calculate what my 100 metres or 200 metres time would need to be to give a 97.08% age-graded score. An intersting way to set targets and measure potential.

In some countries, age-graded percentages are taken sufficiently seriously that medals in national championships are based on them. Thus, an athlete who didn’t actually win a race in his/her age category, might win gold based on having a faster age-graded time than the younger, actual winner! Unsurprisingly, there are mixed views about age-graded scores being used in this way.

Nevertheless, as a training monitoring tool, they are really useful.

Back There Again

April 10, 2016

This blog is overdue, but I wanted to hold off writing it until I had some idea of “the way ahead” for me over the next few weeks and months. Tough. I’m still working that out, but the dust will have grown thick on the latest news, and memory will have failed me even more, if I don’t post it now.

As I write, I’m a week back from the European Masters Indoor Championships in Ancona, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. I raced there back in March 2009, when they hosted an earlier European Championships, and I had good memories of the place and the stadium. I made it to my first ever European final back then (at 200m), and we won a silver medal in the 4x200m relay, losing out to the German squad.

My build-up for Ancona this time had been about as good as I could have asked for. Four championship races at 60 metres in the UK, resulting in four wins, including my first British title. I’d run five 200m races, with just one win, but I thought things were coming together nicely.

Championships like the European Masters are tough events. A few years back, to reduce costs, they lopped a day off the overall programme of events, and crammed everything into six days. This year, I raced on four of those six days, racing six times in all. On top of that, I was part of the media crew, working on the track with my camera for Athletics Weekly and others. That was an option, of course. I could have said no, and on the day that the 800m finals were timetables (and lasted) until 11pm, I began to wish I had, especially as it was a day on which I’d raced twice at 200 m earlier on.

I’d been pleased with my 60 metres race times leading up to Ancona. In the British Masters, I’d raced what I’d already mentally set as my benchmark time for the Ancona heats – that’s to say, the time I thought I could run, and that I thought would get me a semifinal place. So, colour me rather pleased when I ran more than a tenth of a second faster, winning my heat, and recording the fastest 60 metres I’ve run since March 2010. Back then, the time won me the Belgian Masters championship. I wasn’t a well person then, either. I was diagnosed with clinical depression a few days afterwards. It was bittersweet in Ancona, realising where I have been in the intervening years, and wondering at matching the Belgian time all of six years later.

I had better draw a veil over the Ancona 60 metres semifinal. I clearly fell asleep on the blocks. I have only hazy recollection of my preparation, and didn’t run my own race. I scraped in to the final as the second of two fastest losers. I’d expected to run faster than in my heat, but I was nearly two tenths of a second slower. Happy to say, however, the final was altogether different. We knew the race would be close for 2nd to 8th place. And it was. The photo below, by the official stadium photographers, shows most of us looking at each other, not really knowing who had finished where. A single one hundredth of a second covered 4th, 5th and 6th places. I got 6th, but I’m happy with it, knowing how close it all was. My time was identical to what had got me 5th place in the 60 metres final in Torun a year previously. This time, I’ll take 6th in Europe. As I write, my heat time also gives me tenth ranking in the world for my age category. Yeah.

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At this time of year, I usually find I’m juggling satisfaction at being fast but perhaps not all that fit, which suits 60 metres, with a need to be fit at the expense of perhaps a little speed, needed in order to survive the rounds of 200m races at a championships. I was surprised to run a slow 200m heat in Ancona, and had a battle royal to grab second place in order to qualify safely for the semifinal. The semi, later that same day, was my fifth race in three days, and it showed. I stumbled coming off the final bend, for reasons still unclear, and failed to trouble the final.

I like relay racing. Our squad was depleted a little this year while our German opponents were at very full strength. A silver medal was always the height of our ambitions really, barring accidents, and silver it indeed was.

Upon arriving home, I was, frankly, completely knackered. I’ve come home from some championships in the past carrying a bad cold or flu. I didn’t catch anything this time – my wife did, however, and I felt my turn would be next (happily not, as I write!) It was good to hear Jesper, my chiropractor, declare me in “pretty good shape” when I saw him three days after getting home, though I can’t say it felt like it!

The sketch plan for the weeks after Ancona had included a return to some fairly intensive basic strength training. My one training session to date found me listless and rather negative. Work commitments have conspired to mean that, apart from that session, I have my first week home free of activity. I think that may be a blessing in disguise.

My title, as ever, comes from my huge music collection. It’s the title of an obscure track from and obscure album by Dave Lambert, of the Strawbs, working solo. It fits the subject-matter, though!

You Can’t Lose What you Ain’t Never Had

January 5, 2016

So sings the great blues legend Muddy Waters on one of the best live concert albums in my music collection. Relevant to this blog this time is that what I “ain’t never had” is core strength or flexible hamstrings. Both of these weaknesses have been very much under the spotlight in the weeks since I last blogged here.

When last we met, I had just added a session of “one to one” personal training to my weekly schedule. The rationale etc for this is in the previous blog, so I’ll not repeat myself here. We’re now coming up to session eight of a planned unit of ten sessions -three to go- and it’s a good time to reflect.

Guy, my trainer, was determined to give me good value for money, right from our first exploratory sessions. These are on top of my other training, so they were always going to be tough for me. I’ve had to adopt an “eight day week” properly to accommodate everything. It was the only solution if I was to have any hope of resting properly between sessions. It quickly showed that I had very weak core muscles in certain respects, and rubbish hamstrings. As I’ve already alluded, this wasn’t a surprise. I have a 30 year history of chronic back problems after serious damage in my early 30’s. Two particular victims of many years spent trying to protect a weak spine are my abdominal core muscles and short tendons in the backs of my thighs.

Guy and I had the benefit, almost from the outset, of the results of a Selective Functional Movement Assessment I’d undertaken with my chiropractor back in September. These reinforced focus on the weak areas, and Jesper had very usefully converted some of the findings into corresponding remedial exercises.

I think I’ve also mentioned here before that I am a perpetual victim of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) when I shine the training spotlight on seldom trained areas, or I work particularly hard in training. DOMS is well catalogued. Mine is the classic variety: no symptoms for most of the day after a session, but agony from about 36 hours after one, occasionally then lasting for a full day. There are many theories about cause, but very few about dealing with the resultant decrepitude. Massage and stretching are widely acknowledged to have no effect. Of course, my weekly training pattern of pretty much one day “on” followed by one day “off” means that DOMSdays were falling on the day of my next training session. By moving my training focus around a bit, I’ve usually managed to work around the worst – eg when DOMS from legs-specific work strikes, it gets followed by upper body work two days later, etc. I’ve had to stay imaginative and prepared to shuffle my sessions about a bit at short notice when DOMS has struck particularly badly.

Where even this flexible approach falls down for me is that significant DOMS in my core muscles puts the mockers on almost anything I try to do when it strikes! A bit of trial and error has shown ways to keep fully functioning, I’m glad to say, but at the risk of over-use injury. Variety really is the spice of life! And believe me, I have suffered every agony of DOMS in my abdominal and core muscles.

The next big step is to begin to convert the (mainly) strength work I’ve added to this winter’s routine into something particularly sprint-specific. That might sound strange, but the routines of a 61 year-old sprinter are not the same as those of a younger athlete, of course. I call this my “getting lighter on my feet” time of year. The only fly in the ointment at present is that just before my short Christmas break, I picked up a small hip flexor tear on my right side. Excessive weights and repetitions on over-tired, DOMS-afflicted muscles were the cause, I think. Some bruising is coming out, but I think my ten day lay-off over Christmas came just at the right time for recovery purposes. With the start of indoor competition only just over a month away now, the motto is definitely going to be “carefully does it” for the next few weeks.

“Blow Ye Winds”

June 10, 2015

There’s been so much going on that I’ve regularly forgotten my resolve to post another chapter to this blog. Apologies, if you’ve been waiting on my every word!

There used to be a saying that “Life is a bitch, and then you die”. Well, some of my last six weeks have been evidence of the “bitch” part. Back in May, I got the news that I may be losing my sight. Not quickly, it seems, though no one can tell me how “slowly”. I’ve had estimates that range from between two and twenty years. I’m taking up the twenty year option, of course. I wrote a bit more about this on my other blog here, so I’ll not repeat myself. Suffice it to say that, for the moment, I’m fine.

Very fine, running-wise, in fact. I had the luxury of quite a late start to the outdoor track season. It squeezes my build-up to the World Masters in Lyon, France, into a slightly shorter space than my original plan, but I’ve overcome this by changing my training/racing routine. I’ve had the chance to enter several small open meetings locally, and put in a bundle of 100 metres races – at least one meeting a week, and sometimes two races at each meeting. I’ve dropped one training session each week as a result, though my overall activity level is well up, because I’m heavily involved in a long term photographic project which requires me to walk ten to fifteen kilometres through some delightful local countryside, twice or three times a week.

The new recipe seems to suit my body well. I’m aware that I’ve been arriving at the track for races feeling much lighter on my feet than usual. I’ve also, at last, settled on quite a long, slow warm-up process, based on something I first tried at the European Indoors back in March. It certainly worked well for me then, and seems to be doing so again. My weight is more than three kilos down on this time last year. I put most of that down to the benefits of doing the local Parkrun for a while last winter, though the loss currently seems to be self-sustaining, with little conscious effort on my part. I guess many people will be envious?

What has been bad has been the great British weather. Very nearly every – yes every – race this year has been affected by winds. Not always headwinds, but when you’re trying to get a proper idea how well you’re racing, running with 0.9 metre per second tailwind can be as frustrating. Well, to be truthful, maybe not as frustrating, but a source of irritation nonetheless. I got an inkling that things were going well when, in mid May, I ran just a tenth of a second slower than my 2014 best while running into a 1.7 m/s headwind. An hour later, this time with a 0.9 m/s tailwind (well within legal limits for record purposes etc, of course), I came within one hundredth of a second of my 2014 best.

This form is holding, for now at least. I won gold over both 100 and 200 metres at the Southern Counties Masters Championships at the end of May – my first golds there for quite a few years. Just over a week later, on an evening mostly of very gusty, variable winds that gave me one quite frustrating 100 m race, I ended the evening knocking four hundredths of a second off my best 2014 time. It was a performance currently good enough to see me into second place on the 2015 UK age group rankings. It’s also my fastest 100 metres performance since 2012, so there’s life in the old dog yet. The irony was that the electronic wind gauge reading for that race was 0.0. Flat calm.

More in a while.

The Circle Game

March 31, 2015

I had my best track season ever (so far!) in 2009. I was 5th in the World Masters 100 metres and 4th in the 200 metres final in Lahti, Finland, missing the bronze medal in the latter by just two hundredths of a second, as the athlete next to me tripped and fell forward faster than he was running! A lot of work had gone into getting to those races. My blogs eventually came to admit that it was not all good work, because the expectations I’d placed on myself were huge, and I’d been beating myself up physically, and (particularly) mentally. Later, when the work got harder and the results refused to come in the winter of 2010, my slide into clinical depression was as rapid as it was unexpected.

The world has come to know that depression is an issue in sport, just as it is elsewhere in real life. I don’t recall us acknowledging that quite so much, even as recently as 2009.

Well, I’ve just had my most successful major indoor athletics season since March 2009. Back then, the European Masters Indoors in Ancona, Italy, were a vital part of my build up to the Worlds in Finland that summer. I’m newly back from the 2015 European Masters Indoors in Torun, in Poland. I ran my fastest 60 metres for several years in the heats, made the final, and got 5th place in it, in an even faster time. In the 200 metres heats it all just clicked perfectly into place. I ran my socks off and made the semi-final as second fastest qualifier of 18 top class Masters athletes. My heats time was half a second faster than I’d been running even a few weeks before, despite having had a worrying back problem just before leaving for Poland. Things went even better for me in the semi-final the following morning. Although it was my fourth race in four days, the chiropractic and massage experts of our British Masters Medical Services squad had kept me in great shape.

My semi-final time saw me third fastest qualifier for the final in a time I’d never have dreamed of achieving this winter. It was about 2009/10 that I last raced that fast. (Are you spotting a pattern here?) In Finland in the 2009 Worlds, there were several, myself included, I guess, who had just about placed a bronze medal around my neck before the 200 metres final had even begun. This time? Well, maybe once or twice, but I’d arrived at this point more surprised than anything (and anyone) else. I was just wide-eyed with amazement at what I was doing, and loving every hundredth of a second of it.

The 200 metres final happened in the evening of the same day as the semi-final. I’d had a massage, a meal, a sleep, and largely stayed away from my obligations as a photographer down on the track during the day. I was ready. I had a good lane draw, and the faster guys outside me. From the gun, the chase was on. I felt great until 150 metres of the race, when someone or something covered my thighs in lead. As the finish line loomed, I was in 4th place. On the line, I was pipped by a team-mate by four hundredths of a second. The qualifying rounds had taken their toll, and the times we both ran were well down. There is video of my race at https://t.co/gWYorQgQLi

Fifth place in two European Masters finals a few days apart? I’ll take that. I had no idea at all it was remotely in the offing when I travelled out to Poland. In 2009 there had been pleasure tinged with big, yet suppressed, annoyance, and lots more opportunity to turn on myself for having “failed” to get a medal. That was even despite our gold medal in the sprint relay a couple of days afterwards. This time around, for the me of 2015, there was joy. Apologies to those to whom I spoke in the hours after that race in Torun. I was on the verge of tears of pure pleasure each time. My face hurt from the smiles as much as my legs hurt from the races, by the time I got back to my hotel.

No beating myself up, no raking over the past training schedules for evidence of inadequacies. I’d rediscovered what makes a 61 year old man who has basically been a sprinter all his life carry on doing it. Fun. Pure, unalloyed FUN. I was not ” a better person” for success (such as it was) in Torun, just as I came to learn that “failure” (such as it seemed back then) in Lahti didn’t label me “a bad person”, except in a mind that had made itself literally ill with the unrealistic expectations it had stacked up. The me of July 2009 didn’t understand that. Depression is not about being “a bit sad” etc. It’s an illness that will eat you whole until you confront it and ask for help.

I did, when the alternatives became unthinkable. To those who helped, my delight at what I achieved in Poland last week is for you to share. Some of you will be reading this. You know who you are. Thank you.

Oh, and on the day after that 200 metres final, I led off a 4 x 200 metres relay squad that won a gold medal by a big margin. A number of friends commented that I seemed a bit happy on the presentation rostrum when we got that medal. Perhaps this blog goes some way to explaining.

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Hat tip to Joni Michell for the title of this blog. The reason I used it might be obvious, but in addition, you need to know that 200 metres indoors is raced as one lap of the track. As I write, Joni is, sadly, very ill in a Los Angeles hospital.

The Heat Is On

March 11, 2015

I’ve avoided blogging here for the few weeks that have represented my domestic indoor athletics season this year. I really didn’t want to tempt fate. My plan only included six (eventually seven) races spread across three meetings. I couldn’t afford to screw up, or my plans to race in Poland at the end of March at the European Masters Championships might have been derailed. By leaving out the open-graded sprint meets I occasionally do, I was basing my season around three championship events – three in just four weekends.

So?

Well, first a bit of a recap. My damaged wrist screwed any chance of the strength-based autumn I’d planned. My emphasis therefore had to change to favouring aerobic fitness (which is where the Maidstone Parkrun fitted in), over which I hoped to layer some slightly more sprint-related work in the second half of the winter. I miscalculated a bit. That “second half” was quite short, because my scheduled indoor races began in February.

First discovery was that my sprint starting and pick-up phase was good. Certainly better than I’d expected. My regular focus in the gym on building fast leg-speed clearly played a part here. Several times, I’ve been leading a 60 metres race up to 40 metres, only being overhauled at the close, when this winter’s missing ingredient – strength work to help me maintain full speed – began to take its toll. Nevertheless, I’ve come within a mere 5/100ths of a second of the target 60 metres time I’d set myself for this winter. That target was the same as my fastest race last winter. I figured that a year on, a year older, etc, matching it would actually represent a bit of a stretch target, given how my winter’s training had actually panned out.

Racing 200 metres events has been a bit of a different story. Sure, I’m getting up to full speed quickly, and relaxing into top gear quite well. But better aerobic fitness notwithstanding, it begins to go a bit downhill from the point at which there is a fine balance between sprinting hard to the finish and simply preventing lactic acid from slowing you down. Put simply, in these races too, I’m being passed by guys able to hold high speed for longer than me. My conclusion is that much of the aerobic work I did in the winter (Parkrun included) just wasn’t at a sufficient speed to address this. That’s to say, despite the suffering involved, steady 5k runs should have given way to 250 and 300 metre repetitions at a high percentage of race pace rather earlier on.

The watch agrees. I’ve been disappointed with my 200 metres times – even though I have just won a bronze medal at the British Masters Championships.

So?

Now the focus is on Poland. At time of writing, I have two weeks to find some speed endurance. Probably not enough time, because speed endurance work hurts and is tiring, and I don’t want to arrive at the European Championships tired out from training for them. Therefore, I think I’m locked into sharpening up even more on the things that are going well, in the hope that they can provide an even better cushion and camouflage for the weak spots.

I’ll blog again after Poland and let you know. Wish me luck!

Time Is On My Side (?)

December 8, 2014

So, winter drawers on, as the old pun goes. We’ve just had our first sharp frost, the shortest day is here in a fortnight, and spring will be here soon, I’m sure. And what is this older athlete doing at this time of year?

I confessed to you in my last blog that I’d started running in my local weekly Parkrun. Well, several weeks on, and I’m still doing it. I still hate it, every step of the way. Well, except maybe the last, uphill hundred metres, into which I can pour the remainder of whatever energy I have left. A couple of times, that’s been pathetically little. It counts, though. Last time, I gave the hill everything, and broke my Parkrun 5k personal best by three tiny seconds. There are some fast guys in our local run. I was probably more chuffed to come third in my age group. Age groups are important in Masters athletics. They give you a relative benchmark to go with the absolute one supplied by the stopwatch.

Mind you, my Parkrun days are definitely numbered. Once the build up properly begins to the indoor track season, I’ll have no real need of a highly aerobic, but essentially slow, running session like that once a week. I have some faith in what’s called specificity in my training. The Parkrun has been useful as a bit of a shortcut to good aerobic fitness, if I’m honest, but as training for the mad thrash of 60 metres indoors, pretty useless, of course. It may have helped a bit with my sometimes faltering speed endurance – a vital component of every 200 metres race – but specificity in training now demands my attention shifts to speed and power, or power and speed.

My wrist injury (healing steadily now, thanks for asking) occasioned me turning my winter around, and do the aerobic/ endurance stuff before the power work this time, while bone healed. A bit of me can now see an advantage in that, which wasn’t obvious when expediency was the driving factor behind the change. My more usual regime would have allowed only around a month, between Christmas and the indoor track season, to attend to my aerobic fitness. This year, I’ve had the best part of three months, and towards the end of this, been able to taper in some speed and power work, without suffering the panic of knowing my first races are just around the corner. Racing this winter begins for me in February, so time, for a change, feels like it’s on my side. (Hence my choice of music-related blog title. This time from the Rolling Stones)

The plan is one more Saturday Parkrun, followed by a week on holiday, and possibly, just possibly the Christmas Day Parkrun. The latter is for a little mental boost next summer – when I remind myself that few of my rivals will have trained on that particular day in the calendar! If any of them read this, of course, they’ll now all go out and train on 25 December, though, I suppose.

There are, I’m sure, some other benefits. Parkruns are really quite sociable events, even when you suffer in them, like the sounds I make convince me that I do. Most of my other training is pretty solitary. I admit a part of that is by choice – I like the space of a relatively empty gym, and not having to queue for weights, etc. Plus, I have always hated group training sessions on the track. Having the luxury of being free these days to train at off-peak times (and prices) means there is little temptation to restrict my activities to the times of day others find suit them best.

Another benefit has been weight loss. Normally by now, I’d be at or around my top winter weight, worrying about Christmas weight gain, and needing to be sure to do enough to shed some before competition. This time, the reverse applies. My weight is the lowest it’s been for years, and I need to put some on, which will come with my power training, I hope. But I’m not just lighter, I think I am a heck of a lot leaner. A couple of weeks back, I did some tests at Manchester Metropolitan University, who are looking long term at some things that might mark Masters out as physically different from “normal”. One aspect of the tests included a full MRI scan of my thigh. Looking at segments of this, the tester pointed out how very lean the meat of my thigh musculature was.

So, by choice, would I reverse my winter regime like this again? A little early to say, as I need to see how the next couple of months go, but I’d give it a cautious maybe. But specifically as a means to an end, you understand. I will never, ever, come to enjoy a 5k run!

It’s Not What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It.

August 4, 2014

I’ve neglected this blog for the last couple of month. That period has also seen the bulk of my competitive season for this year. There is a connection. This blog seemed to have been becoming a bit of a jinx.

I’m certain that’s nonsense really, but no sooner did I declare myself fit and well here, then something went wrong. And if I wrote about being hurt (sadly, all too often) then I went out and surprised the pants off myself by racing well. Of course, it’s impossible to write regularly about what it’s like to be an older athlete without mentioning injuries, and it would be pointless to conceal those injuries. All Masters athletes have them – sometimes severe and career-threatening, sometimes, as with most of mine, “just” persistent, annoying small breakdowns of one part of the system or other.

However, as you’d expect, not writing anything for a couple of months has made no difference at all to my running, or to the ebb and flow of those system breakdowns. So, rather than sit feeling guilty about not writing, and risk letting the blog lapse, I guess I should carry on.

Being a new entrant to the ranks of the over sixties since March hasn’t made a huge difference to my running this year. In the local League, there are limited opportunities to race other M60s, and as often as not, I’ve raced as the Club’s 50-59 year old sprinter, or even as it’s B-string 35-49 year old. And that’s not been without quite a rewarding level of success.

I’ve supplemented my season with a few local open-graded meetings too. I love these events. They are all usually a simple case of “turn up, pay your entry fee on the night, race”. This means that I seldom go to one when the weather is bad. I’ve raced on some beautiful evenings this year. The races in open-graded meets are seeded from the race time you declare when you enter. Age or gender are not relevant. The result is that, when you’re an “oldie” like me, you usually get seeded against a mixture of other older athletes, and youngsters on their way up – lads and lasses. It might sound a bit hit and miss, but in reality, it makes for some really close races. Twice this summer I’ve been pushed to a new age-group record for my Club by the intensity of an open-graded race.

There has been a price, however. I put 101% effort into the lead-off leg to a sprint relay in May, and hurt some muscles in my left side. This created a well-known spiral of events. The injury restricted my training, or at least, forced me to do stuff other than running. However, I still had commitments to run for my Club, and a desire to make the most of being a new M60, so I carried on racing. You can’t get a quart from a pint pot, as they say, and it wasn’t long before my painful side/hip was accompanied by an increasingly sore left Achilles tendon. It simply wasn’t getting prepared for the battering I was giving it in each race.

The end-result has been that I’ve been a bit of a wreck after each competition, making good use of pain-killers and ice for a couple of days, and ramping up the bills for remedial treatment.

Positives are that I have been very consistent indeed. All my 100 and 200 metre races have been run in a very narrow range of times. I’m sitting somewhere quite near the top of the British rankings for those events for my age group, too. So, pain or no pain, I am going to look back on 2014 as a successful summer, I expect.

A few days from now, I have my season finale, at the British Masters Championships in Birmingham. I am then promised away to the Alps on a bit of an adventure that I think I’ll be blogging about, so I am not going to the European Masters Championships in Turkey at the end of August. There may be a few low-key competition opportunities in September, but otherwise, that’ll be it for 2014.

I can’t deny that being 60 this year has been a real motivator in training. Things like the Masters age-weighted tables tell me that I am racing as well, or possibly better, than I have ever have. Emphasis there is on the word “racing”. At the level of “running” it’s a world of annoying pain.

Maybe an early end to the season’s no bad thing. Maybe it’ll give me some quality time to get things fixed before I start the full load of winter training. Not completely sure that being 61 next season is going to be quite such a motivator, though.

Time After Time….

April 1, 2014

Well, I didn’t get time to write a blog piece from Budapest. Here’s one the day after I got home, while the memories, emotions and the ‘flu bug I seem to have caught are still all fresh.

Reminder, Budapest was the World Masters Athletics Indoor Championships. These happen every other year. I have been to two other Indoor championships and three Outdoors, and I know which I find harder. The Indoors has everything squeezed into just six days. This year, I had to fit into that a schedule like this:

Tuesday: 9am 60 metres heats, 9pm 60 metres semi-finals.
Wednesday: 8am to 9pm photographing action on two tracks.
Thursday: 10am 200 metres heats, 7pm 200 metres semi-finals.
Friday: 9am to 9pm photographing the action again.
Saturday: Another long day behind the lens.
Sunday: 9am to 3pm photographing, then warm up and race in relay team.

The astute readers amongst you will see there’s no mention there of 60 metres or 200 metres finals. Read on.

Happy to say that I got to Budapest fit and well. Possibly in the best shape I’ve been in physically and emotionally since about 2010. However, I do regard my schedule at the Indoor championships as a one week recipe for guaranteed burn-out. This time was no different to Linz in 2006, or Clermont Ferrand in 2008, when I ended up victim to a ‘flu bug that is probably the inevitable consequence of mixing travel through airports with meeting friends and rivals from all over the world. Not going to have immunity to it all!

I moved into the M60 age category in Masters Athletics the day before flying out to Budapest. That was the only advantage I could ever hope for! Nearly all the world’s best in my events were there. It was particularly good to see Tom Dickson from Canada again. He beat me to a bronze medal at the outdoor Worlds in Finland in 2009 by 2/100ths of a second.

The first round of the 60 metres went well. There was no seeding for the first round heats. They were, in effect, time-trials, with the fastest 24 athletes going forward to the semi-finals. Not really an issue in 60 or 200 metres, where you’re flat out all the way anyhow. I was a fraction slow out of the blocks but ran my fastest since 2011. When the qualifying lists for the semis were posted, I was tenth fastest overall of the 45 or so competitors. With eight lanes on the sprint straight, a place in the final was possible, if I got my act together in the semi-final.

I had a great semi-final. I can’t fault anything I did from a technical point of view. There were three semis, with first two from each, plus the two fastest other athletes overall going to the final. I was a close third in my race and thought I’d done enough to get through. The eventual results said not, however. I was ninth fastest overall and I missed my place in the final by just 7/100ths of a second. That’s about 20 centimetres in distance. Something similar happened at the World Indoors in 2008 and European Indoors in 2007, when I’d missed a place in the final by tiny fractions. Maybe even more galling in some ways was that a GB team-mate who qualified for the final pulled out injured at the last moment, but too late for me to be bumped up into the race. Almost a repeat of my experience in the European Championships in 2010 when a Russian did that to me!

After this, I was pretty focussed when the 200 metres heats arrived. The job was clear, if not actually all that easy. I had the outside lane – Lane 6, I had Tom Dickson in my race, and I needed to hit this race hard. I got second place behind Tom, and 8th fastest overall going into the semis. History was repeating itself. I needed to be in the top six from the evening’s semi-finals to get into the final (only 6 lanes in 200 metres). It might just be on!

I rested up in the hotel most of the day, and was in a very determined bubble by the evening. I got a great lane draw, and ran my socks off. It was my fastest 200 metres indoors since 2011, and I was third in the race. Mine was the first semi-final of three. Once again I’d be waiting to see if my time was good enough. The second semi was slower, and my hopes rose. The third race ran, and the scoreboard showed the Slovenian in third place in it to have run a time identical to mine! Someone shouted to me that I’d qualified for the final. Five minutes later, the truth came out: the timekeepers had to resort to looking at the photo-finish times to thousandths of a second, and I had been beaten to a final place by 5/1000ths. About two centimetres in distance.

I got over it. I can take being seventh and ninth in the world in my two events! Mind you, when Sunday came, I was more than ever determined to run a good leg in the 4×200 metres relay. I knew by now I’d got the beginnings of a cold-type bug, and worried that I didn’t have a fast 200 metres left in my legs. The borderline between peak fitness and the onset of illness can be a razor’s edge at time. I was also feeling extremely emotional. The stadium PA played Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, and for some reason, I thought of my mother, who died in 2011, and what she’d have made of her 60 year old son racing in a World Championships. I admit that I had to find a quiet corner for a few moments to compose myself after that.

I ran the first leg of the relay. No tactics, just an eyeballs-out 200 metres. My trademark this week! I ran well. The other three guys in Team GB ran well, but the USA squad ran better, and we took silver. No fun and games with times on this occasion. We were medallists! As you can imagine, it meant a lot to me. Subsequent investigation suggests our relay time was a new British M60 age record, too. IMG_2210

I’m home now, with bronchitis and a silver medal, letting all the events of the last week sink in!

It Never Rains

February 17, 2014

No, I’ve not been living in a desert recently.

Far from it. I live a few minutes walk, but thankfully quite high above, the River Medway, which has done more than its fair share of flooding since Christmas Day. However, I think I can honestly say the awful weather we’ve had round here has not interrupted my winter training at all. That’s probably not everyone’s story.

My training’s not wholly typical, I am certain. When I returned to the track and entered the world of Masters Athletics nearly 14 years ago, I rather tended to pick up my training ideas from where I’d left off before severe injury to my back, about 13 years previously, had cut me down. Big mistake. One I think many returners to Masters make too, I think. As happened with me, I immediately began falling foul of injuries left, right and centre. In my case, as a (then) 46 year old sprinter, these were mostly upper and lower leg problems. I’ve seen it with others, and seen it lead to some very short-lived Masters careers.

I’m pleased to say I had support from a great physio, Steve Cluney, in those early days. Steve had known me before my Masters years, and properly understood the issues involved in a return to fast running many years later. Steve exhorted me to search out a training pattern that suited me, made me ache in all the right places, and fitted in with my life. This was wonderfully at odds with the perceived wisdom of doing endless reps at the track several times a week, and a weekly gym session. Moreover the advice suited me perfectly. I live in a bit of an athletics wilderness. It was even worse at the time, with no publicly available track for about 30 miles in any direction. I’d also taken out membership of a very well-equipped gym a few years before, which stood almost exactly on my route as I walked between home and my office. It was the progress I’d made at the gym that had encouraged me to return to the track in the first place. Now it was time to see what I could really get the place to do.

It makes me sad when I hear athletes denigrating gyms. I read a piece not very long ago from someone (a distance runner) who had been exactly twice, had concluded that there was nothing he could gain from the gym concerned, and had promptly set himself up to sound like an expert on how no gym would ever be any help to any athlete. Sad.

I’ll not bore with a run down on what I actually do at the gym. This would take a long time, because what I do now isn’t what I did then, and it’s changed innumerable times since then. As have I. My 59 year old body might look vaguely like my 46 year old one, but it seems to work differently! I’m generally regarded as someone who has “aged well”, though appearances alone can be deceptive. In short, however, I do a broad mix of strength and flexibility training that most gyms are well-equipped to support. I use a variety of gym machines and free weights or other loadings. On top of that, I do a regular, carefully-planned amount of high aerobic or threshold work, on a treadmill or spinning bike mostly. These are hard at times, and the end result is seldom pretty. As a sprinter, I spend a lot of gym time working on hip flexibility – vital for me given my history of back trauma – and leg speed work. No good being blessed with lots of fast twitch fibres if you don’t encourage them.

My lifestyle when in full time work, and just as much now, as a freelancer, has a drawback in that it is almost impossible to commit to training with a group of other people. I therefore train solo. I enjoy the company these days, but it was not always so. Health Warning: Beating myself up in training, with no one to check, control or comment on my performance was, I am sure, a contributor to, or perhaps a consequence of, my slide into severe depression a few years back. Streuth, more than four years now!

And of course, as it has thrown it down with rain this winter – the wettest on record in the UK, and regularly blown a severe gale, I have not missed a single session because of the weather. This has actually been my most consistent winter’s training I can recall. I’ve not even had a head cold, just the odd niggles that, with a bit of expert chiro advice etc, I’ve been able to work through.

And yesterday, I won the 60 metres title and came second in the 200m in my age group at the South of England Masters Indoor Championships. I think I can see a connection between that and my good winter.

IMG_4920

I’ve got the big 6-0 rushing towards me at a rate of one day at a time, and I’ve learned never to count my chickens, but please treat this as an optimistic blog. There have been rather a lot of the other sort.

(Musical reference in the title this time courtesy of Dire Straits)