It’s now Thursday, and as the race on Sunday creeps nearer and nearer, the nerves are definitely starting to set in a little more. I still don’t feel scared though, kind of feels like when I was a child waiting for the school holidays so I can go off and cause some mischief! I’m so excited to have tickets for tomorrow’s (Friday’s) competition as well. I know getting into the stadium and feeling the environment and the atmosphere is going to be such a good preparation tool for my own race. I also get to see Bolt, Farah and Kilty competing which I’ve been wanting for such a long time. Really feels like something special being able to go onto the same track as these legends of the sport.
In my last post I wrote about my invitation to compete at the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games. As we are now just days away, the fact that I’m going to be competing at the Olympic Stadium, in front of as many as 54,000 people is finally starting to sink in – this is going to be awesome! My preparations for this race specifically started at the beginning of last week, when my wife and I went away for a weekend with Emily to a family friendly spa in the New Forest. Not my normal preparation, but just being able to get away with the girls and relax and get my head in the right place for the build up to London was such a good opportunity for me. Relaxing in the pool, massage and lots of food and sleep really got me ready for a hard week of training last week, and a lighter recovery and fine-tuning week this week.
So we’ve finally arrived at my first proper international competition. This will be the first time that I’ve raced under an international license, with an international classification against some of the best international athletes in my classification. It’s fair to say I’m a tad nervous, but definitely more excited. I arrived in Berlin on Monday to give me good time to get into a rhythm and check out everything I need to before going into the race on Sunday.
This last period has all been about the translation of the work we’ve done over the last 9 months onto the track. After the failings of the first race, I was desperate to get back onto the track to show that people haven’t wasted their time investing in my development. I took a day away from the track the day after that race and just rested and reflected on what had gone wrong. I wrote in some detail in the last post what I felt the take-away lessons were, but now it was time to put them into practise.
The first thing I did when I headed back to the track was to alter my warm-up, for no other reason than to get a feel of what I need to do to warm up away from my normal routine. I think that routine nature of what I was doing before put me into a little bit of a mindset before every session, and when that changed in that first race it made me feel mentally unprepared – I hadn’t been able to do a lot of my normal warm up because the track was in use, so was largely limited to the high jump area. Using just a small space in the warm up allowed me to understand how best to prepare when the situation is less than ideal. Second, I worked on my cadence. I have a nasty habit of switching to ‘safety mode’ when I’m nervous about a race. Whilst not slow, it definitely feels more like a run than a sprint. The one thing which I’m really keen to bring on over the next few months is the application of my sprinting technique to the bend. I know that this is a confidence issue – a lot of my more painful tumbles have happened either on the bend or just on the exit, and forcing my mind and body to go out of that comfort zone is proving to be quite difficult. This will come with practise and I’m definitely getting there. Third, more work on the start. I’d been working on a new method of starting since January that involved the use of a hand rest to give me the stability I need from a three-point start, but with the added advantage of putting my back in a better position for applying power to the track. I found out in April that this method of starting was only applicable to those with an arm disability or length discrepancy (this was quite unclear in the rule-book, hence why I’d been working on it).
The last few weeks (I know it’s been a little longer than normal since my last post) have seen the start of new challenges, as well as continuing with the old. It seems like a long time coming, but I’ve finally started my PhD. If you asked me ten years ago whether I had thought about becoming a doctoral candidate I would have thought you were joking. Ten years ago I was building up for the interview process for becoming an Army Officer – (then called) the Regular Commissions Board (RCB). At that point, assuming I passed, I had my career mapped out at least until December 2016. I was fortunate enough to be offered a place on the Army’s Undergraduate Army Placement (UGAP) scheme which meant I joined the Army for a full year and this formed the third out of four years of my Bachelor’s degree. In my head I would do this work placement, finish my studies, take a few months out, rejoin the Army and serve for 8 full years. So far, so good! I passed my RCB in August 2005 and moved onto the UGAP just a few weeks later.
I’ve got that feeling again when the date suddenly sinks in and you have a sneaky suspicion that someone has pressed the fast-forward button – how is it March already? Christmas was ten weeks ago, Remembrance was four months and the Invictus games happened half a year ago. How are we at March that quickly? The most nerve racking part for me is that it’s now just two months until I start my race season and in my head there still are so many areas to work on – my start is still a little alien, my cadence needs improving, my bend/straight transition needs tidying and everyone can do with running a little faster! That being said, the difference from now to the end of last season feels remarkable. In February it felt like progress was going backwards as we concentrated efforts on improving form. This led to an inevitable dip in overall speed but towards the end of the month it started to feel like the lessons were starting to sink in and we were making some real progress. I think now as we enter into the final 8 weeks of pre-season training and continue to work on the new skill set we should see some real improvements over the best of last season’s races. I fully expect to make mistakes over the first few races in May and record times below where I feel they should be, but that’s all part of the race season – make the mistakes early and learn from the experience then take those lessons through to the bigger races.
Life has suddenly turned upside down this week. Saturday saw the arrival of our beautiful daughter – Emily Rose, and I know that our lives have been so completely changed forever. As soon as I saw her face I was smitten and I’ve hardly been able to stop staring at her since she came along.
This week saw the coming and going of my 4th ‘Alive Day’ – the anniversary of my injury. It’s always a confusing time of year for me. I spend a lot of time thinking about the time leading up to my injury and I often experience regret – not about my injuries but the loss of my hard earned career. The enjoyment of the Army comes from the people you are with, those people you experience every kind of up and every kind of down with. The ones that you get out of bed for in the morning and the ones that will sometimes put you in it in the evening. The ones you risk life and limb to protect. I miss those people every day.
This week saw outside temperatures head the wrong side of zero for several consecutive mornings, and getting out of the nice warm truck took a few minutes longer than it normally does. It was freezing. Tuesday morning was a blanket of snow, Wednesday it looked like I should have brought my ice skates and Thursday saw sideways snow coming off the South Downs. Still, by taking extra time and care warming up you can still put in consistently good sessions – for me, acceleration, speed and cadence are all improving – every session counts.
January 2015 really was a new start. After making some much needed fitness progression through the first half of the winter, I increased my training schedule to two sessions a day, six days a week with one full day of recovery. The first week of this new regime was a physical and mental drain. Dealing with the cold, wet and windy early morning starts as well as coping with the increased metabolic cost – creating and maintaining a correct diet and sleeping plan was a shock to the system. Thankfully, the track is only 15 minutes away and my S & C sessions are carried out in my home gym or once a week at Elite MPH (@EliteMPH) on the other side of Southampton – meaning that commuting time is minimised and the recuperation time is maximised. The new program consists of 4 track sessions, 6 S & C sessions and 2 boxing sessions – used both for fitness – building endurance at high intensity – and for engaging and improving the central nervous system – decreasing reaction time and building explosive strength. I have also found that it gives me a vehicle to develop controlled aggression, a key quality for successful sprinting. One of my key struggles over the course of this journey has been discovering how to best adapt conventional lifting techniques to work in conjunction with my amputations. Rich Whitehead (@Marathonchamp) has been absolutely key in giving me training tips for exercises to develop lower body strength, and my brother has helped me turn these into reality.