Wednesday, 23 March 2016

From indoor to outdoor

Sunday marked the end of my indoor season. I competed in 5 competitions in the end, all of which taught me something and will help me prepare for the upcoming 100m races I have. My body has held up pretty well and I've managed to come through the last three months injury free, which is a really positive step. My body is slowly getting used to the training - the operative word being slowly. But I'm not complaining - every day feels like a step forward. I've managed to do dips and pull ups in the gym for the first time in 18 months without being in pain - win. I'm back under 87kg - win. My left leg is now as strong as my right leg again - BIG win. Taken in isolation, these are small things. But when added together, they amount to proper progress. It's this combination of small things that gives me hope. The last race of the indoor season was the Middlesex County Championships, where the standard was pretty high. Watching back video footage of my race, I can see that my flexibility still needs some work, especially my in my hips and lower back. Equally, however, there were some good points - my shoulders were relaxed, I was driving with my arms and I didn't panic when I felt people move away from me. I've now got two weeks to get my body in the shape I need to make me competitive over my preferred distance of 100m. Lots of stretching and gym work are on the cards, and the clocks going forward means I've got sunny evenings to look forward to on the track. It's hard to get that instant real time feedback in my sessions now that I'm not with my coach any more, and not having an elite athlete as a training partner means I'm not pitted against someone better than me whenever I train, so I don't learn as much. However, I was fortunate enough to learn so much from them both in the time we worked together as a group, and I still apply this every time I train. Without this bank of knowledge I think trying to make my comeback would have been much harder. Looking at my times, I'm currently running at 95% of the speed that I used to. That might sound pretty close, but in a sport where a hundredth of a second is the difference between winning and losing, it's a long way away. If I can get to 98% of my previous speed by the end of August I'll be happy and I'll have a solid platform to build from through the long winter months. I'll be updating again in a few weeks when I've done my first few outdoor races, hopefully to provide some good news. In the meantime, thanks for your continued support!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The comeback starts here ...

Feels a bit strange starting this blog again, but I’m going to give it a go. This blog began back in 2012 when I decided to get back into my athletics and see how much progress I could make over a 4 year cycle, and how close I could get to the Olympics in Rio in 2016. A lot has happened since then. I spent two years training up to 3 hours a day, 6 days a week, and transformed my mind and body into that of a sprinter. I lived like a monk and made a number of sacrifices to try and get as close as possible to my dream. I made good progress, taking 0.8seconds off my 100m time and a massive 2.2seconds off my 200m time. Things were definitely going in the right direction. Then there was a bit of a hiccup; one car accident, a broken neck and collarbone, a shattered femur which required a titanium support which I’ll live with for the rest of my life, and 11 months of rehab.
I still have regular trips to the physio and need massages to break down the extensive scar tissue. Through a lot of strengthening work in the gym, low impact recovery sessions on the bike and in the pool, and some pretty uncomfortable sessions on the foam roller and stretching, I’m got my body back to a decent shape (round is a shape, right?) I was told by the consultant at Coventry hospital that I’ll never be as fast as I was; that suffering an injury like this has massive repercussions for your power and explosiveness, and I should just be happy that my leg wasn’t amputated. Well, I’m OBVIOUSLY thankful that I’ve still got two legs, and that breaking my neck didn’t paralyse me, or even kill me. I’ll be forever grateful for that. But at the same time, I can still remember how I felt when he said those words, he seemed so certain. All I felt was pissed off; I was just thinking “you don’t know me; I can’t wait to come back here and prove you wrong.” Fast forward 12 months and here we are: January 2016, just seven months away from the Olympics. I know that getting there is as close to impossible as I’ll ever be willing to admit now; perhaps it always was. But I have to believe that I can get back to where I was before, at least. So the journey begins all over again. I’ve lined up 5 competitions over the next 10 weeks, cut out the booze and sweet treats (the latter being much harder than the former!) and I’m going to try and get my body back to the point where I can perform at a level I feel I am competitive at a standard I feel happy with. And if I can get to being even 0.01s quicker than I was I will run back to that hospital and find that consultant! Here goes nothing …

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.