Even though another 6 months have passed since I last posted, I think it’s been worth it!
Since the last post, so much has happened – we’ve had the Invictus Games, the European Championships, the Anniversary Games and I now find myself in the final run-up to the Paralympics, and somehow my name has appeared on the team sheet! Alongside all of this, as normal, I’ve still managed to make progress on my PhD. The last couple years have definitely been an absolute whirlwind, and with just two weeks to go until the start of the Paralympics I thought I’d offer a little catch up!
I headed out to Florida a couple weeks early prior to the Invictus Games kicking off as it was a great opportunity to get some much needed warm weather training in early on in the outdoor season. We were also treating this early part of the season as a small peak in performance so that I had the best chance to put some really good performances to my name way ahead of the Paralympic selection deadline in July. Roger and I managed to get two full weeks of training in before joining the rest of the UK Armed Forces team at the Shades of Green resort where the entirety of the Invictus competitors were being accommodated.
Well I can only apologise, it’s been nearly three months since my last post! I just can’t believe how quickly 2016 is flying by. Although I’ve been rather slack with my blog, I’ve not been sitting idle. Training has been progressing at pace, as has the PhD, and momentum has been steadily building in preparation for the 2016 Invictus Games.
And we suddenly find ourselves in 2016. I can’t really beliebe just how quickly the last 12 months have gone by, but then everyone says that time speeds up once a child enters the equation. This I can truly relate to. Even though I am the first to admit that my wonderful wife is doing more than her fair share of the workload when it comes to our beautiful daughter, it does seem to be the case that there is no such thing as a spare minute any more. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Emily is amazing and has brought Hayley and I a light, a smile, a happiness that we didn’t even know we were missing until she showed up early last year. I’ve found myself seeing the world through her bright little eyes and seeing her amazement in everything new, from the sound of the toilet flushing to the leaves moving in the wind through the skylight, and I definitely long for the days when everything was new and exciting. Perhaps I should add this to my New Year’s resolutions – stop, take a minute, take it in.
I think it’s going to take a few weeks for it to sink in, but I just competed at a World Championships! What an adventure. The whole experience was just incredible, from being away with a team again through to the actual competition itself.
I arrived in Qatar almost two full weeks before my first race, and the first week was taken up by a holding camp. This was time devoted to acclimatising to the environment, establishing a routine and the last bits of training preparation prior to the competition itself. We were accommodated in the Torch hotel, an iconic building from the 2006 Asian games located in the West of the Qatari capital of Doha.
With just a few hours left to go until I leave for Doha, I think reality is finally starting to set in – I’m going to the World Championships! With all the rushing around, preparation and media that’s been going on over the last few weeks, I don’t really think I’ve had time to think about what it means to me to be going. Now that all the training is over and the bags are packed, I’ve found myself with enough time to take stock of everything that’s happened and is about to happen.
Having a look back through my posts, the last 10 weeks have flown by! I can’t quite believe it’s been that long since I posted, or even that long since the Anniversary Games. So much has changed in that short time, and I’ve deliberately kept a bit more of a low profile over the rest of the summer. Hopefully this post will serve as a bit of a catch up – so will probably be a bit longer than normal – before I get back to a normal posting routine.
The Anniversary Games were a bit of a wake up call for me. That was by far and away the biggest arena I’d ever competed in, my second race in my classification, and my 19th race in total. Definitely a rapid progression, and I think it got the better of me a little. Building up to the race, my preparation had been good, my training had been going really well, I was well rested and well fed. So far, so good. Nothing except experience could have helped me prepare for the events of the day though, and I do feel like I let myself down a little. As we lined up for the start, I found myself becoming more focussed on the crowd and the cameras than what it was I was supposed to be doing. I think this was all a little compounded when we were reset for a faulty start. These things added together resulted in a really poor start – even by my standards. This led to me being a lot further back as we came off the bend than I expected to be, and gave me an awful lot more work to do. Thankfully I managed to keep my cool and dug in, and managed to pull a silver medal out of the bag, coming just 0.8 seconds behind Rich. But I wasn’t happy, I felt I’d let myself down – there was more to give.
So we come to the final update of my first international, and it went well. Better than well, it was awesome! It really seemed like all of the training, all of the preparation, all of the work that we’ve done and has been done for me by others, is finally starting to pay off. I went into the race in a really good place, mentally and physically. The week of long periods of rest interspersed with short, sharp track sessions seemed to do the world of good. When the race finally arrived on Sunday, I was rested and ready to go. The set-up at the stadium was rather different to what I’ve been used to. The warm up area was about 400m away from the competition area, which meant a few leg changes before I got to the call area. The call area itself was an open air pen to keep all the athletes in one place prior to each race, and the call time was a full 25 minutes before race time. All of these different elements meant a lot of potential for cooling down before we even got to the start line and so a decent pre-race plan was required before we even arrived at the sport complex.
The week in Berlin seems to have flown by and the one thing I definitely feel from this week is privileged. I don’t really think there’s any better words to describe what it’s like to be in the company of some of the country’s finest athletes, to witness their positivity and their humour, and, of course, their competitive spirit. I write this on Saturday, the day before my first international, and it’s safe to say I’ve been inspired by the other athletes as they’ve competed over the last two days. Really looking forward to my own competition now – just a few hours left.
The week has progressed much like it started, short training sessions every day to give the legs a run-out, but not enough to create any lactic build-up. Thursday and Friday were down at the track whereas today was a short low-intensity jog around one of the fantastic parks (the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Park if anyone’s interested!). On Friday afternoon I headed down to the stadium to watch the 100m heats in some pretty changeable weather – I think we went from a -3.4 to a +0.8 wind at one point – not easy racing for sure! However, the athletes took it in their strides and put in some solid performances.
This week saw me (finally) into race season, and what a way to start! I’d been looking forward to getting the first one out of the way with equal parts of nerves to excitement. I know I’ve worked hard over the winter on my background training and now was the time to start learning how to deliver. I know that Roger’s selected the first few races specifically to iron out as many problems as we can before the big races come along, but you always want to perform at your best and it was no different for this one. On the day though, it all seemed to go wrong! Firstly, I came into the race with the remnants of a cold, which is never ideal, and had also picked up an intercostal muscle injury during a lifting session on Saturday so was a little way off from 100% in terms of physical peak. Secondly, there were 400m races on directly before my race, which meant I couldn’t do my normal warm-up which threw me right off rhythm. Then there were the equipment issues. I’m currently still running on last year’s prosthetic sockets as I wait for delivery of my new ones, and a lot has changed in my size over the winter. The strength training in the gym has meant that my glutes have got bigger, meaning that the socket fit on my right hand side (the socket trim comes a lot higher because of the different amputation level) is a little restrictive when I fire my hamstrings. The second equipment issue was one of pure absent-mindedness.