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.
Learning and Development
After that race, and another, frankly terrible, race a week later, I gave myself a few days off to really get to grips with what was going on – why wasn’t I performing the way my training sessions indicate that I should? I knew that my strength and fitness were where they needed to be, meaning that the only three areas left to work on – assuming I can maintain nutrition and rest standards before a race – were:
- Prosthetic concerns. I’ve had a long drawn out history of prosthetic problems and having these issues does create underlying confidence issues in your equipment. On this occasion, my right socket was not quite performing as it needed to be. On that leg, I have an inner part to the socket, made out of flexible plastic, fitted inside the rigid carbon fibre outer shell. The plastic part allows you to seal your stump into the socket, whilst the outer gives you the support and strength needed to put weight through it. Normally, these two parts are fitted incredibly tightly together – especially for running prostheses – so that there is no movement between the two parts. However, mine had become loose creating a small amount of travel. This affects the way that power is delivered to the track, as some of your energy is taken out moving one part of the socket before that power is transferred to the ground.
- Environmental factors. Going into and competing at the Anniversary Games was probably the best preparation I could have had for the bigger competitions. Having that short, sharp shock to the system and gaining the understanding that different competitions present different problems was a real eye opener. Just the understanding that the crowds and the cameras can have a real impact on your focus, which in turn has a real impact on the delivery of your race, was a huge and welcome lesson, although it didn’t feel like it at the time! This knowledge of how the environment can affect you as an athlete has allowed me to go back to Sarah (the sports psychologist) and develop a strategy for coping with the extra stress.
- Mental unpreparedness. This links in, partly, to the environmental concerns, and mental preparedness comes into play by developing and implementing strategies to cope with these extra concerns. However, I feel that the mental concerns go a little further. For me, I am still so new to the sport, and definitely feel it, so often I will wonder what on Earth it is that I’m doing on the same stage as these elite athletes I’ve been watching over and over again. Understanding that even though I am new, I can still cut it with the big boys, and that I deserve to be in that starting line up is a big step. I think the mental side goes further still – remaining calm and confident. My inexperience in racing tends to make me feel that I need to attack every race that I go into – solving the problem through brute force. However, racing is all about technique and delivery, and I really should have understood that better from my time in the swimming pool. When racing in swimming, particularly in shorter races like the 50m, there is a tendency for the inexperienced to thrash the arms and legs as quickly as possible, thinking that the faster you move your body, the faster you swim. This is not the case in the pool, and this is not the case on the track. The biggest determinants of running speed are stride length and force per stride, followed by cadence. The way that I had been trying to run was to move my legs as quickly as possible and rely on the spring stiffness properties of the running blades to get me round the track. What I should have been doing was concentrating on making my strides as long as possible and delivering as much power-per-stride as physically possible.
However, I do feel that success in sport is partly down to being the best learner – analysing and understanding your experiences – what went wrong and what went right, and changing things where you need to in order to make improvements for the next time. Through identifying all these concerns, and understanding that the fitness and strength are there, we have been able to implement a strategy of small changes over the last 10 weeks that put me in a much stronger position for the next competition. I took the time to make the changes I needed to my prosthetics, I developed coping strategies with Sarah, and took the time to understand how I function as a person in conjunction with the Front Line to Start Line programme, and I slowed everything down on the track and concentrated on getting better technically without worrying about how fast it felt like I was running. All of these techniques came into play when I raced again in mid-September. I was calm, collected, rested and focussed, and felt like I ran the most relaxed race I’ve ever done. I wasn’t worried about what time I was hoping for, I wasn’t worried about who I was running with or what they were doing, I just ran my race. The result? A big, fat, brand new PB of 25.6, exactly where we wanted to be at this end of the season when we set our targets last year. The icing on the cake? Selection for the GB team for the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha at the end of the month. All of our targets have now been met, and any result in Doha is a bonus!
We had a media day for the team this week, and it really showed me the Invictus legacy at work – who else should be doing my Channel 4 interview other than JJ Chalmers, the legend himself, who is swiftly forging himself a career in sports journalism. What a lad!
As always, I can’t just concentrate on one thing at the same time, that would be too easy, so the PhD continues, albeit a little slower than I first imagined. This first 6 months have really been about identifying what it is that I want to research, and how to go about doing it. With my desire to influence the functional outcome of amputation, I’ve decided to concentrate my work on amputee biomechanics – understanding what’s going on with the amputee’s musculoskeletal system. By gaining this understanding, and developing the tools we need to be able to predict how different interventions – prosthetics, types of surgery, implants or rehabilitation strategies – can affect the way that the amputee can function in both everyday life as well as in sport. I’ve now spent a lot of time working out exactly how I can get this done, and I’m now onto the serious business of finding out what others have done, what worked and what didn’t, before implementing my own strategy.
I was also fortunate enough to present at the MEIBioEng 15 conference, held at Leeds University over the 7 and 8 September. This is a conference specifically designed to get Medical and Bioengineers together to create collaboration and understanding between the different institutions working in this field. My talk was on the lifetime conditions that can occur as a result of amputation, and what we can do about them. It was a real step in the right direction regarding my academic career, and was very proud to have been given the opportunity to deliver the talk.
Obviously I can’t give a 10 week catch up without talking about my beautiful Emily. Now nearly 7 and 1/2 months old and shooting upwards by the second! She is really starting to show her personality now, laughing and joking and misbehaving, and of course, I’m probably wrapped around her little finger! She has cut her first two teeth, is sitting up, and is very, very loud – a perfect little lady.
Hopefully that’s me caught up (in brief) with all my activites over the last couple of months. Will be posting more regularly again now that my head is back on the right track, and especially with updates from the camps in Qatar.
Run fast, turn left.