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.
I’d forgotten my running shorts. I’d had a prosthetics appointment on the afternoon of the race and went straight from that appointment to the track in East London, so before I left home in the morning I had a million things running through my head and just completely forgot to pack them. It wasn’t until I laid all my kit out ready to start warming up that I realised. Here I was faced with three choices – don’t run, run in my everyday shorts (my hands catch on the pockets and they’re just not good for running) or run in my pants. Thinking back to primary school where if you forgot your PE kit, you did it in your underwear, I made the only choice any decent Englishman would make – go in pants and pretend it’s the most normal thing in the world! This definitely worsened my psychological state though. It meant that all through my warm up and on into the race, all I was thinking of was that I was in my pants, in public, and I’m about to race. Now, at least they weren’t your everyday tighty-wighties, but they do have a fly and I seem to have a habit of ‘bouncing out’ if I’m wearing loose shorts. Normally, not an issue as I’m held in place by my lycra shorts, but when you’re just rocking your boxer shorts there’s no such security. I would challenge any man to try and run a decent bend when your Johnson is threatening an impromptu meet and greet!
All things considered, I don’t think any of those issues, bar the fact my head wasn’t properly in the race, was the main reason why the race didn’t go as well as I wanted it to. It was pure inexperience. Over the winter we’ve made some real good progress both in the gym and on the track. Strength is up, top speed is up, endurance is up and my technique now is so much better. But the speed, power and technique are not yet second nature enough for me to apply them effectively in a race situation. In the race, I let all the background distractions get the better of me and I ran a safety race, not my race. What the race did deliver, however, was the best lesson I could hope for. Being able to understand what and why those things went wrong all allow me to go away, learn from them and correct them for next time will help turn me into a better race. Things like an altered warm up and the fact that my ‘phone had run out of battery so I couldn’t listen to music need to be catered for. It’s all well and good saying I should be better prepared next time, but next time may well throw up some different challenges so I think the real lesson to learn there is that I need to maintain the flexibility of mind to accept that things might be different on the day, but not to let them affect me or my performance.
Even with everything that went wrong and the fact that it was my first race of the season, I still managed to scrape a new PB. I’d managed to take just under half a second off last season. I found this the most positive thing to take away – even with seemingly everything going wrong, I’m still better than I was last year.
Helping me forward to the next race are two big names – Bolt and Johnson. I’ve just finished reading through Usain’s autobiography and am about a third of the way through Michael Johnson’s Gold Rush, two very different books about very similar subjects. While Bolt’s book is a personal account of his successes and failures, Johnson’s goes into more technical detail about sprinting and racing in general, and splices it with anecdotes from other outstanding athletes like Hoy, Coe and Thorpe. I’ve found both incredibly motivating and every page just makes me want to get back to the track and work! Definitely worth a read for anyone challenging themselves!
Off the track, life continues with pace. I’m started to get into, and get excited about, my PhD. I’m getting to the point now where I really know what it is I’m doing, and how I’m going to do it. Pending review from the supervisor, it should be all systems go for the research. Emily, as always, continues to light up our lives. She’s now 12 weeks old and is in early stage interaction – she will smile if you make a funny face and she will follow you with her eyes all round the room. Hayley is so good with her, endlessly patient and she just seems to know what to do, all the time. She’s been so supportive of me and my training burden and takes care of everything at home so I can focus on my, somewhat selfish endeavours. They are without a doubt my biggest inspiration to keep pushing forward.
Onwards and upwards, learning and improving ready for next time!