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.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The great outdoors

Following the first national competition I took part in in Birmingham, I took what I felt was a well deserved week off after a pretty gruelling 3 months of preparation and competition. During this time I went to Manchester to see my friend Ben Cartwright who is a personal trainer and S&C coach to do a movement analysis which would allow me to understand any imbalances in my movements and build in exercises and some pre-hab work into my routine to correct any defects. I also did my first hot yoga session which was pretty interesting. I've now tried hatha, ashtanga and hot yoga, and I'm going to progressively increase the amount I do, as I find it really helps with my recovery as well as improving my flexibility and core strength. After returning to London, I picked up where I'd left off and started working hard again immediately. When I joined a new gym close to the office so that I could go before I started work, a free personal training session was thrown in, which I decided to take up first thing back to really get me going again. After the session in Manchester I was already feeling much more confident about my technique for my Olympic lifts, which I'd previously taught myself by watching YouTube videos. What I didn't count on was just how hard I would end up working, and after 1 and a half hours of intensive, explosive weight work I was well and truly shattered! Safe to say, the track session that evening wasn't the best I've ever done. After that initial shock, my body has (thankfully) quickly adapted to the training again, and I'm starting to feel pretty good. After training specifically for the 60m for 3 months, to get outside and start to do some proper speed work has been great, and I'm really looking forward to the coming months and (hopefully) watching my times come down. I've got about 12 competitions over the next 5 months, which is quite a lot, but I've discovered I prefer the rush of competing to simply working for ages and competing less frequently. It's a bigger mental ask this way, but I think in my first season back whilst I'm still learning so much it's probably the best way to get the requisite experience I'm going to need as I start to progress to higher standard competitions. My first race outdoors is on Wednesday at 7pm at Parliament Hill in Highgate and while I'm still short of 100% fit after my break, I'm looking forward to feeling that buzz and adrenaline rush from pitting myself against some seriously fast guys. When chatting to a friend the other day they asked if I get nervous before I race, but I honestly don't: if anything, I feel at my calmest when I'm in the blocks and about to start, as I know if I focus on executing the different parts of my race, that I'll be happy, regardless of what place I come. This season is all about times, not places, and I'm confident that my time is now.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Peaks and troughs

Since the last entry, I've been building towards a competition on Sunday 24th March in Birmingham. This will be my first national competition and is a challenge I'm really relishing the thought of. I took my training up to twice a day for 2 weeks, and have slowly started tapering down now. This was a pretty exhausting period, both physically and mentally, and I have to say I'm glad to be coming out the other side of it. Getting up at the crack of dawn to get to the gym by 7.15am every morning to do weights or struggle through warrior pose in my yoga classes was one of the strongest tests of my commitment yet. I also ran in 2 competitions at Newham and Crystal Palace as warm ups for the Middlesex County Championships (MCC's) this last weekend. They provided a really good platform for measuring my improvement, and I'm now starting to see a real consistency to my times in all my races: the last 4 that I've run have seen a miniscule 0.02s cover the spread of performances. At the MCC's, I competed in the 200m on the Saturday and 60m on the Sunday. The standard across the two days gave me yet more evidence of the professionalism and commitment of athletes from across the country, and another indication of the standard that I need to achieve if I'm to reach my goals. Despite clocking a new pb in the 200m, shaving 1.69s off my previous best, I still came third in my heat and 6th overall, and missed out on a place in the final, which was the top 5 athletes competing. On the Sunday, I ran a decent race in the 60m but finished a disappointing last after being absolutely blown away in the fastest heat across the three county championships that were taking place on the day. Whilst I wasn't too disappointed with my own performance, I had been quietly hoping to run another personal best after my achievement the day before, and having missed it by 0.06s, still can't quite decide if I did myself justice. All in all, it has been a gruelling but successful few weeks, and I'm now confident that I'm starting to execute the different stages of my race more effectively. The competition in Birmingham on Sunday will see me compete in the 60m and the 100m for the first time, which means that I get to see where I'm at currently for what I consider to be 'my race'. I'm hoping to hit 10.75s for the 100m this season, and 23.0s for the 200m, and feel confident that I'm currently on track to achieve this. It's taken an astonishing amount of work to get this far, and it seems to be only the tip of the iceberg. I'll be taking a week off from training after Sunday before starting to prepare for the first big race of my outdoor season on April 27th in Uxbridge. If anyone is in London on April 10th or 13th, or in Oxford on the 24th, then drop me a line and I'll send you the details of where you can come to watch me race.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

That winning feeling

Having now competed in 5 indoor competitions, I've got the luxury of a three week break before returning to the scene of my first victory in 3 weeks time. Getting that win has done wonders for my confidence, and means I'll be working even harder in training now in the hope of being able to keep bringing my time down. I've started filming my races so that I can analyse my performance afterwards and adjust my training to target the specific parts of my race where I feel I could have done better. Training before and after work again for the next few weeks will be tough after tapering my training down for the competitions, but if I can get under 7.5s this season I'll be pretty pleased and it'll all be worth it. The incorporation of a foam roller and theraband for stretching before and after races has definitely helped my recovery, and this coupled with not drinking and eating better (although still not perfectly!) means I can constantly feel my body adapting to the stresses and pressures of training. Having top international competitions on tv at the moment is great, as it provides a real time barometer for my own performance, and while I still obviously have a long way to go, I'm definitely gaining ground. I'm currently reading Usain Bolt's autobiography as well, and anyone who thinks he is a slacker is having a laugh! I'm hoping that by completely immersing myself in the psychology of what makes top athletes stand out and maintain dominance that I'll be able to adopt some of the same practices and that it'll help my performances improve. What strikes me most is the unwavering sense of self belief that the best sprinters have, and whilst I've never been short of self confidence, I think that the levels of surety that they demonstrate can only be achieved through winning and performing time and time again. With that in mind, I'm already looking forward to the 4 competitions I've got lined up for March. Here's to hoping that I can keep up this winning feeling myself.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Competitive edge

The competitions have started now and they're going to be coming thick and fast for the next two months. This past week I've competed at the Newham Indoor event and the London Indoor Games at Lee Valley. Both of these events have taught me a lot, and it's been a real eye opener to see the way in which so many athletes dedicate themselves and prepare for events. Having never competed at 60m before, it's a steep learning curve that I'm currently on, and there is plenty to take away from very aspect of the meet. As I've alluded to in previous posts, my start is the area of my race that needs the most work, and this has been brought to bear in both events so far. I've managed to make a steady improvement over the course of the two meets (0.03s reduction in my 60m time) which is pleasing, as the entire race is decided on such fine margins. I've got 5 more events around London and one in Birmingham over the next 7 weeks, so balancing my training with this is going to be essential. One thing I've noticed in particular is the condition the best guys are in. Despite losing a good bit of weight and toning up quite considerably, I still look and feel like a pudding next to the best sprinters. As such, I'm going to focus on stripping away the remaining fat so that I can be in the best possible shape for the 24th March when I compete in Birmingham. There is still a lot for me to learn in terms of technique, preparation, diet: basically every aspect of being a top athlete. Luckily, I'm hungry to learn and hopefully this appetite for improvement will stand me in good stead over the coming weeks and months.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Down to business

After a 10 day rest over Christmas, I'm now fully back into the swing of training. The first session back was with Rikki Fifton up at Lee Valley, and it was gruelling; when it came to the plyometric exercises (bounding, jumping etc.) I was about as springy as a rhinoceros! We did some short sprints using block on Thursday which was really good, before doing endurance work in the form of 300m runs on Saturday and then an hour of core work with the medicine ball this morning. The savage hills runs have come to an end (which is a blessing) and all the work will be track based now to ensure our speed and endurance is as good as possible for the start of the season. I'm gong to really step up the training from now, upping it to 9 times a week for the next 2 weeks, as the following week sees me run in my first competition in the 60m indoor at Newham. I've got 8 indoor events between January 23rd and March 24th which should give me a pretty good indication of how much progress I've made whilst making it abundantly clear what I need to work on. I'm pretty excited about the prospect of running this distance as it's not one I've ever been timed at before, so the first time I do it I'm guaranteed a personal best! There are also 5 outdoor events from April to August where I'm hoping to improve on my PB each time. I'm hoping that come August I'll be touching 10.75s and feeling fit. I'm down to 13st 10lb now, having started at 14st 4lb back in September, so I'm definitely getting there, but could probably still stand to lose another 4 or 5 pounds, which would see my power to weight ratio improve even further. For now, I'm going to keep working hard and hope that I can reach the high standards that I've set for myself. It's far from easy but I'm really enjoying the hard work and dedication that it is requiring; fingers crossed the self discipline will be enough. If anyone is around and would like to come and see me compete at any point just let me know and I'll give you the event details!