Monday, 14 July 2014

All in, or nothing

I’ve now gone past the half-way point of my season, so it seems like a good time to reflect on where I am, and what progress has been made. It’s been an intense period of learning, with some real highs balanced out by some fairly extreme lows. My times have been coming down consistently over the course of the season, and I am able to replicate a level of performance which proves I have made some really good progress. The two big competitions that I had were something of a mixed bag. The first, the Middlesex County Championships (MCC) in May, didn’t go to plan. The conditions were absolutely horrendous, with a huge headwind, driving rain and low temperatures. I was also seeded into the fastest heat of the day, and was certainly given a harsh reality check by the experience. However, I tried to focus my frustration and disappointment and turn it into a positive, by using it as my motivation to increase the intensity of my training ever further. I had a month between the MCC and the South of England Championships (SEC) in June. Whilst I felt that my training was going really well, in the two open competitions I took part in I didn’t reach what I felt was an acceptable level of performance considering all my hard work. Consequently, with one week to go to the SEC, I assessed every aspect of my preparation, and decided that it was my diet that was letting me down. With a few tweaks to what I ate and when, I felt more energetic, and felt like my muscular endurance was better in training. The SEC ran over two days, with the 100m on the Saturday and the 200m on the Sunday. It was the top 4 into the semi-final for the 100m, and the top 3 for the 200m. I finished 5th in a new personal best in the 100, but despite running another personal best in the 200, finished last. The 200m was a pretty chastening experience, as I didn’t even feel remotely competitive. Without a competition for another month, I was left with the opportunity to really think about what I’m doing and what I’m seeking to achieve. In truth, in the darkest moments, I felt that I had nothing left to give, and that after committing so resolutely to something I care about for nearly 2 years, that I might be best served by stepping away from it all for the sake of my sanity. But truth be told, I think that was determined by my looking at how far I have to go, rather than how far I have already come. When I looked at my performances at the SEC in 2013, I had finished last in both my races, and in considerably slower times, so the improvement made was evident, and I also now have the confidence to know that I can produce my best when the pressure is on and it really matters. With 5 more competitions between now and the end of August, I have the opportunity to try and bring my times down even more, and finish the season on a real high by running in front of my family in Newcastle, who haven’t had the chance to see me run yet. I am also now the only member of my training group, after Montell decided to move on. I was sad to see her go, and will miss both the fun side to our sessions as well as the competitiveness that training with an elite athlete brought, but it does at least mean that the focus of every session is entirely on me now, and I’m optimistic that this extra attention will allow me to develop my technique even quicker. I guess one final thing I’d like to mention is a message I received from someone that I used to go to school with over Facebook the other day. They mentioned that they’d been keeping an eye on my progress, and hoped that I was still sticking to my dream. This message really touched me, and has provided me with an extra motivation for the next two months, so, thank you, sincerely.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

An explosive start

After picking up an injury just days after running a personal best over 60m at Newham, I've been through a few ups and downs over the past 2 months. I had to have extensive physio and a steroid injection to relieve the pain from a trapped nerve in my hip. Being off my feet for a week set me back quite a bit, and I had to work carefully with my coach to ensure that I trained appropriately so as not to aggravate the injury any further. One positive to take from the experience was, however, that it gave me the time and space to start to assimilate some of the information that I've been trying to take on board in the past 6 months or so. It's been a steep learning curve and requires so much focus and dedication to learning every day that it can be quite an exhausting process, especially when balanced with a demanding full time job. I try to constantly educate myself around what's required of an elite athlete, be that in terms of recovery, training, diet, technique; immersing myself has been an intense process but one that i'm really enjoying! Ultimately, though, the physio and my coach managed my rehab really well and I focused on strengthening key areas so that I'm more balanced (both literally and figuratively) and my training has improved as a result. I've been training at full intensity for around 3 weeks now, focusing predominantly on speed work rather than any heavy lifting or overloading myself. In testing, I've been getting quicker every session, and feel as though I'm becoming increasingly competitive within my training group. As a result, I decided to open my season at Mile End in an open meeting last night. I ran a personal best, which I was pleased about, but there were quite a few things that I didn't feel happy about so I'm not getting too excited yet. I'm only really interested in my times coming down, rather than where I come in races, and I know that I can execute my race much better than I did last night, so there should be plenty more to come on that front. Hopefully, by increasing my race experience over the course of this season, and then tailoring my training around what goes well / doesn't go well, I'll be in a vastly improved position come the end of this season. I'm still convinced that the key to my success lies in improving my start, as that gives me the platform to perform for the rest of the race, and increasing my explosiveness in this area is my main priority in the coming weeks. I've got a demanding number of competitions over the next 4 months, with the first big one being the Middlesex County Championships at the end of May, followed by the South of England Championships in July. If anyone fancies coming down to watch just let me know and I'll send over the details, would love to have your support!

Monday, 20 January 2014

That familiar feeling

This past weekend saw me compete for the first time this season at the Southern England Championships at Lee Valley. I’d picked up a minor injury a week before the big day, but after a good physio session I was feeling much better, and had a really positive final training session two days before the event. The two weeks leading up to the day were quite intense, with some really difficult sessions focussing on very specific mechanical issues with my running. I try as hard as I can not to get frustrated when things aren’t going as I’d like, but am often my own harshest critic, and was close to letting this frustration get the better of me on a couple of occasions. I lost just over 4kg in those two weeks through a combination of training and stringently adhering to a diet high in protein and green vegetables and low in carbs. It quickly becomes very boring, but the discipline of it helps with the focus that’s necessary across the other factors that have a role in maximising my performance. I ultimately finished 5th in my race at the Southern Championships, and looking back I feel quite disappointed with my overall performance. I’d had sufficient rest, eaten well, and was relaxed when it came to competing. However, I felt my performance lacked the explosiveness that I craved, and that it wasn’t a performance which was a reflection of the hard work and dedication that had gone into my preparation. I’m moving much better than I was last season, and now feel as though I exert less effort to move more quickly and more efficiently. However, when I came to racing, whilst I was making the right movements, I never truly hit top gear, and it had the sensation of being more like a training run rather than potentially the biggest indoor competition of the season. Having been timed as being quicker in trainers in training than I was in spikes in competition, I know that there is enormous room for improvement. The top three from the final in the 60m are now all ranked in the top 20 in the world, so I at least know that the standard was sufficiently high to be a genuine barometer of my progress and a stark indication of how far I still need to go. My pursuit for some financial support for everything through sponsorship has lead me to a couple of potential leads, but nothing really concrete yet. I’m optimistic that I can get something sorted this season to allow me to be more professional in my approach, chiefly around physiotherapy and massages to aid my recovery. Whilst I’m much improved in this area compared to this point a year ago, I’m still a long way away from the level achieved by the really elite athletes. I’ll continue to learn from those around me as much as I can, and draw upon their greater experience to aid my own progress. As my training partner says: “training is the opposite of hoping”; I won’t hope for greater progress, but dedicate myself more fully to the certainty that I can achieve anything if I totally commit myself to my ambition.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Learning to 'live in uncomfortable'


It’s been quite a while since my last post, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Following a successful first season, I took what I felt to be a well-earned break! After 10 months of being more disciplined than I ever have been before, and for large periods of time living like a monk, I was more than ready to let my hair down. Never have 30 days passed so quickly! After eating like a king and drinking like a fish, book-ended by a stag do in Ibiza and a wedding in Italy, the first session back was borderline inhumane. I’ve now been back in training for a month, and the intensity is really starting to ramp up. The sessions are longer, harder, and more focussed, than anything I’ve done before, and I walk away from each session convinced it’s the hardest session I’ve ever done; that is, until the next one! I think only now do I truly understand the demands of being an athlete, and getting home and barely having the energy to get to the top of the stairs before I crawl into bed is becoming a familiar sensation. What I’ve discovered is that previously, too often I found a way to cheat, to make things that little bit easier for myself, so that whilst I was still working hard, it wasn’t quite the limit of my ability. No more! My coach told me that I needed to learn to ‘live in uncomfortable’, that I’ll never find it easy, as it will always be progressing to a higher standard and a more demanding schedule. Philosophically, it’s quite a hard message to assimilate, to truly believe that you’re ready to hurt that much for that long, and then go back and do it all over again the next day. It means that I’m concentrating increasingly on accepting the pain is going to come, and pushing through it. I’m fairly certain that everyone has a mental or physical limit, but I wonder how many people ever find it. I know I’m certainly not there yet; when doing six 150m runs last week, I fell to my knees, seeing spots after doing the fifth run, convinced that I couldn’t take another step. But, after barked encouragement/admonishment from my coach, I was back up on my feet and finishing the last run, although there was something of the outer body experience about it! I know that if I’d been on my own, I would have stopped before that last run, and having someone there to remind you what you said you wanted to achieve, and knowing what it is you need to do to get there, is an enormous help. The indoor season starts again exactly 2 months today, and I’m really looking forward to measuring the improvements that I feel I’ve made so far this winter. By then I’m hoping to be about 5kg lighter, and have a much more polished and fluid running style. I’ll hopefully find the time for another update before then, but in the meantime, the likelihood is I’ll be bent over, drenched in sweat, hopefully progressing and living up to my potential. 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Fallen Idols

In light of the revelations surrounding Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell et al over the last 24 hours, I’ve reflected a lot on what drives people to take drugs and cheat. Ultimately, I think it can be boiled down into three main areas: greed, peer pressure and desperation. Obviously, if you are outperforming everyone else, you are going to be seen as an ideal candidate for a commercial sponsorship, and will be paid ever increasing amounts to appear at the most prestigious events. I don’t think it’s just the athletes themselves who are responsible in this instance though, but rather the sponsors too, who undoubtedly put pressure on the people they sponsor to perform by handing out huge performance related bonuses. If you know that you’ll get £100k for winning a race, the likelihood is that you’re going to do whatever you can to do so, including pushing the boundaries of legality. This desire to be the best can clearly overcome your rational, naturally competitive self, and drive you to the depths of performance enhancing drugs. In terms of peer pressure, if you see those around you taking drugs, and feel that you aren’t able to perform to the equivalent standard, then I can see how athletes could be tempted to try it themselves, especially if the athletes that they train with are managing to go undetected. This was the argument that Lance Armstrong put forward, and is one I have a really hard time accepting. People get into sport because they love it, and they enjoy being good at what they do. As soon as you feel that you have to do something illegal to ‘enjoy’ your sport, I think you’ve forgotten the reason you started doing it in the first place. In terms of desperation, I think that this is where Powell and Gay might fit in. I know that they have both released statements saying that they never willingly doped, but they ingested supplements that they didn’t know the details of, and they have to be held accountable for that. Both athletes have struggled with injuries over the past 12-18 months, so to see them make such scintillating comebacks in recent weeks was truly heartening. It seemed to demonstrate a great mental strength and belief that they could work hard and get back to the top of their profession. However, in light of the revelations, I can’t help but feel that the whole situation reeks of a slight desperation or helplessness. After being injured for so long, and not being able to reproduce what you know you were once capable of, I can see how people could waver. Yet individual events are renowned for having athletes capable of displaying phenomenal mental strength, as so much of what they do and achieve is a result of individual effort, from time spent alone, and a relentless focus on personal perfection. At the end of the day, every sport has people that dope, and it just happens to be the case that athletics, along with cycling, apply the most rigorous standards. It’s a shame that two of the fastest people that have ever lived have turned out to be cheats, but in the long term it’s in the best interests of the sport that they no longer compete, and that we know we are watching a true, honest and reliable show of dedication and elite performance, rather than there being a question mark over anyone.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Hamstrung by injury

It's been an up and down few weeks, with my first real taste of injury since I started training seriously. Following a holiday, I competed the following day over 100m and 200m and began to feel some real tightness in my hamstring. I put the slower than usual performances down to the lack of training and decided to push on through the pain barrier a bit in the hope that my body would rapidly adapt to the intensity of the training again quickly, and that it'd prove to be nothing more than a niggle. However, after competing in an open meeting at Lee Valley, I began to realise that the injury was more serious than I initially feared. I didn't feel like I had the usual explosive power out of the blocks, and that my leg left wasn't in a fit state to properly drive me forward. In spite of this, the following weekend was the biggest competition of the season for me, the South East England Championships, and I didn't want to miss it. Following some intense stretching a number of hot baths and some industrial strength ibuprofen, I turned up in Watford hoping that my body held together. After a really good warm in my trainers, I wasn't in any discomfort, and believed that by some miracle turn of events that my hamstring had rapidly healed. However, as soon as I put my spikes on I began to realise that this was quite naive, and that I was seriously struggling. After limping through my 100m on the Saturday, I spent the afternoon and evening trying to patch myself together to get through my 200m the following day. This proved to be the straw that broke the camels back, and with around 50m to go my hamstring completely seized up. My momentum took me over the line, and I had to be helped off the track by St Johns ambulance, which was pretty hard to swallow! By some bizarre turn of events, the run actually turned out too be a new pb for my 200m, but I knew that I needed to have some physio and let it heal properly. After a week of no running, weights, stretches and a sports massage, I returned to training, and the hamstring felt strong again. During this time, I had agreed to work with a new coach in addition to what I was doing already. He works with elite athletes, including a couple of GB sprinters, and I'm feeling pretty lucky to have the chance to have someone give me such rapid, specific and high level feedback on my technique in training. I'm confident that this will help take me to the next level, and push me closer to my goal. Following my first session with him, I completed the week by training at my club as usual, and competed yesterday at the BOXD OFF international in Bromley. The weather was absolutely glorious, and I felt confident that it was a day for good times. Sadly, I had managed to get slightly lost on the way to the track, and so couldn't get in as thorough a warm up as I would normally like. This, coupled with a strong headwind, meant that my 100m time was far from my best, and I was dissatisfied with my race. However, the 200m offered me the opportunity to almost immediately atone for my performance, and thankfully I did, running a new pb and taking off a further 0.14s off my time. This means I've now taken over 2 seconds off my 200m time in 10 months, and this was one of my early season goals. I'm hopeful that I can continue to bring this time down even further between now and the end of the season, and that I'll be well set for when winter training starts again in 8 weeks. Between now and then I've 3 more races, including finishing my season in Liverpool, so I'll keep working hard and hope that I can go out on a high on my home turf.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Personal best

I've competed in 3 competitions since my last post, and I'm feeling pleased with my progress. In my race at Parliament Hill, I managed to finish 1st in my race in a new pb over 100m, which, considering that the weather was awful (driving rain, wind, freezing cold), felt like a decent achievement. Last Saturday I travelled over to Woodford in Essex to compete in a 200m race. The conditions were absolutely perfect and I felt like I'd prepared reasonably well for the event. I won the race in a new personal best, but still wasn't satisfied with my performance. I got out the blocks so well at the start that I'd almost passed the guy on the outside of me within 5 strides, and started to pull up, thinking I'd false started. It took another few strides to realise that I hadn't, and I had to accelerate all over again. It gave me confidence however, that if I can hold people off on the bend, I've got more than enough power to blow them away in the straight. All the work doing Olympic lifts feels as if its paying off as I feel much more explosive now, and as if I've got greater endurance too. The event yesterday out in Uxbridge was my first league meeting, when the entire club attends and competes over the full range of events. I ran in the 100m, where I finished third, beating my previous personal best, and won comfortably over 200m. The standard was as good as I've competed against so far, so I feel really pleased that I'm competitive even at this early stage of the season. It's been hard over the last couple of weeks to feel like I'm training properly of preparing as best as I can due to needing to travel quite a bit for work, so I'm constantly having to adapt my training around this. I've managed to arrange the use of a gym in Manchester thanks to a friend helping me out, and found a track that I can train at one night a week if I need to. It's been a difficult process, as after working so hard to get to where I am after 8 months, it feels like I'm putting further progress at risk, so I hope that I'm able to find a balance. In the meantime, I'm going to do everything I can to keep my times coming down, and hope that come the next time I compete on May 18th I'm in good shape and have plenty more top quality training under my belt. I'm looking to get another session or two with Rikki Fifton up at Lee Valley as I always feel like I push on really well after these. I feel pretty fortunate to be able to train with people like Rikki and Nathan (my coach) at London Heathside, as they are encouraging but push me hard in training to make sure I'm constantly improving. Over time, my times will start going down more slowly, and I'll be relying on their expertise to help me with increasingly technical improvements to make me a more complete sprinter. It's a challenge I'm already looking forward to.