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.