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.
2015 didn’t just bring me the gift of parenthood, it gave me some other fantastic memories and started some incredible adventures, most of which still continue. In April I started my PhD at Imperial College. This was, and still is, something I find hard to beliebe that I’m actually doing. Doing a PhD alongside a full time athletics training schedule was something that was never going to be particularly easy, but I didn’t realise just how hard it was going to be until the competitions started coming up thick and fast from May. As each competition crept closer and closer, I found it more and more difficult to concentrate whilst I was trying to do my work. I constantly found my mind drifting to the upcoming competition, what I needed to do to be prepared, how the race was going to go, what I was nervous about. All of these things made my early work in my studies incredibly slow and drawn out, and it really wasn’t until after Qatar that I felt that I’d started to make progress at all. I know that I’m a part-time student, and I know that the early stages of a PhD always feel like you’re finding your feet, but for me this just felt ridiculous, what was I doing here? However, the staff in my department, and my supervisor in particular, are and always have been amazing to me. They are so supportive of the athletics, and so good at giving me the guidance I need to get on with my work. After I got back from Qatar I sat down with my supervisor and talked through all of the problems I’d been having, and he gave me excellent advice on how to make the most out of small chunks of time. Add these together and you will start to see progress. He was exactly right. Even with an enhanced training programme as we come into this Paralympics year, I really feel like I’ve actually managed to make some progress, put some significant hours into my work and have manoeuvred myself into a position where I’m ready to tackle the next stages of my research. Just the endless ethics approval forms to get through first…
In June I had my best race of the year, and it still remains my official PB despite it being so early on in the season. I was taken, thanks to British Athletics and Help for Heroes, to Berlin where I competed in their stage of the IPC Athletics Grand Prix. I was fortunate enough to get out to Berlin 6 days before my race was scheduled, meaning I had a solid amount of time to get used to the environment, adjust to routine and prepare for the race. Sunday came and I ran as if everything depended on it, and scored a PB of 26.44 in a -2.5 wind, which for me was an incredible time, especially that early on in my racing journey. I don’t really know what made that race so good compared to the ones that followed. I know it was a measure of my mental state – I was a new athlete, there was no pressure, no media, no fuss – just get out and race. It was quite simple. My prosthetics hadn’t broken in a while either which always correlates with better performance. Regardless of the reasons, this was where I peaked last year and the memory is still exhilarating!
After Berlin came London and the Olympic Stadium. I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to compete at the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games – my first opportunity to compete in front of large crowds since the Invictus Games, and my first major race as an established athlete. This was the most nervous I’d been about a race, and it showed in my performance. After a false start by one of the other competitors I definitely let the nerves get the better of me, and was out of the blocks slower than I’d been for a long time, and as a result had a worse-than-normal first 50 metres. I managed to hold on to the field though, and pulled it back for the silver medal on the straight and was only a few tenths behind my PB.
A couple more races in the UK, and I was lucky enough to get selected for the GB & NI team for the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar. After an incredible year that really saw my racing move into the big leagues, this was the icing on the cake. My World Championships started at the Torch Hotel, where the team carried out our holding camp and acclimatisation phases, before we moved to the competition hotel next door to the competition arena. Having proudly carried the flag for the team at the opening ceremony, and had a succesful acclimatisation period, everything was looking good for me in the competition stage. Unfortunately, at this point my lack of experience got the better of me. In the semi-final, the whole process of multiple call-rooms as well as everything that goes on between warm up and the race cost me my focus and made me understand why people say that the race is won or lost, not on the track, but in the call room. As we got into the blocks, I knew my mind was all over the place and as the gun went off, this showed. I had an appalling start and the rest of the race wasn’t much better. The racing conditions and the track were perfect, but I simply couldn’t deliver a performance that I knew was there. Despite crossing the finish line 2/10ths away from my PB and qualifying for the final, I wasn’t happy. That evening though, I managed to adjust my mind and take stock of what had happened – I had just made it to the final of a World Championships! As I got onto the track the following day for the final, I looked around and took everything in, and remembered just how much it meant to me to just be there. I was enjoying myself! Ultimately though, I shanked the race and tripped on the back straight! This happens, I don’t have any legs and I can’t feel my feet – I fall over all the time! I’ve been running just a few short years and sprinting for even less, and my body is still trying to forget how I used to run, and adjust to running in blades. Even though I finished 7th well outside my PB, I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face, and an eagerness for the next race that I’d never really felt before. I’d finished my 2015 season with a love of racing, which I know will take me further than I ever would have beliebed at the start of the season.
Now, halfway through my winter training, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been, hitting the right times on the track and making big new PBs in the gym. I have a recovery week in Finland next week and some much needed time with the family before I hit the second phase of my winter training plan. But what have I really learned from 2015?
- It’s alright to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them, quickly, and quicker than your opponents learn from theirs.
- Trust in your instincts, make a decision and stick with it
- Sport is fun
- You can do a lot in a small amount of time, as long as you plan carefully
- Prior Preparation and Planning Prevent Piss Poor Performance (think call-room, and that time I ran in my pants!)
- Becoming a father truly is amazing
- It’s now OK to like Justin Bieber’s music
So what’s next? More training, obviously, with some warm weather training thrown in here and there. Some practise races in this country and abroad, before the competitions start properly in May. Invictus Games is first up in Florida, with the European Championships taking place shortly after in June in Italy. A couple more races in Europe in July and then it’s selection time, which decides whether or not I’ll be spending my summer in Brazil. Sounds like quite the adventure to me, and I have a feeling there’s something special coming!