Some people train for a competition, then once they’ve completed it once never toe that particular starting line again. I’m not like that. After competing at the Red Rock X-Challenge MTB/trail duathlon in 2016 (see my 2016 race report), I signed up for this year’s edition about one month in advance.
On Monday evening preceding this weekend’s Meeting Régio #2, we trained starting blocks. I felt strong. Then I returned home, had dinner and about an hour later I suddenly felt ill. I’ll skip the details, but suffice to say that the next time I could stand the thought of having any kind of food was about 36 hours later, on Wednesday morning. I still stayed at home on sick leave until Thursday, then dragged myself to work on Friday even though I still wasn’t feeling 100%.
So of course when I drove to the Coque indoor track on Saturday, I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform at my best. But with the Luxembourgish indoor season being as short as it is, this would be my first and last chance to run a 200m before the national championships the next weekend.
I was seeded lane 4 in heat 5. The fastest local competitors were in preceding heats, so I didn’t know what to expect from the people I was running with.
Lane 4 is one of the best lanes for me right now because the bend is wide enough for my 6″2 (1.89m) frame, but doesn’t feature quite as much of a height difference on the turns as lanes 5 or 6 (which requires powerful legs, which I no longer have).
As usual, I tried to get out of the blocks and through the first bend as aggressively as possible – what you lose here cannot be made up later on. Throughout the straight, I had gained some ground on my competitors, but would need to do an efficient second turn.
Half-way into the second turn, I felt the effect of the week that I’d spent ill. I could no longer push hard, and as such I exited the second turn in third place. I still tried to maintain stride length and made a conscious effort not to force things too much, which usually ends up being counter-productive because while you feel like you’re working hard your running economy goes bad. I successfully held off the runner from CAB in the outside lane, but couldn’t gain ground on the two athletes ahead of me.
I crossed the line in 24″20. I had hoped to be faster, but given how the week had gone I suppose it’s still OK. From an age perspective, I was by far the oldest competitor at 39 years. The next-oldest runner was born in 1984, with everybody else born 1990 or later. Position-wise, I finished 31th out of 49.
I’m not happy to run slower than 24″ – everyone has these time limits of what they think is “slow”, and for me it was always 24″00 on the 200m and 12″00 on the 100m. (On the other hand, “fast” in my part of the world is under 11″00 and 22″00 respectively.) It’s been 19 years since I first ran 22″00 on an indoor 200m; and if I make the link between then and now there’s certainly nobody from that time frame who’s still competing today. So I guess I should be happy about that.
Going into 2017’s first race, I thought I had a good shot at being faster than the previous year. I’d done a much more thorough preparation phase over the previous several months, also because my achilles tendon had allowed me to get in more quality sprint workouts. I even had the privilege of joining the national team for some of the workouts.
Which was both a blessing and a curse, because while I had done quite a bit of quality work in the past weeks, I also had a stressful work week behind me and wasn’t too sure whether I had fully recovered from the last two hard training sessions on Monday (indoor sprints) and Tuesday (sled work at the club).
So I drove to the Coque indoor track with a few goals in my head. Realistically, I was aiming for anything between 7″40 and 7″50. Optimistically, I thought I might even dip below last year’s season best of 7″40. Pessimistically, I was hoping to at least be faster than 7″65.
After a pre-race chat with Martti, I set off to warm-up with Mart. We did our warm-up in the area behind the stands (obviously the Coque still lacks a serious warm-up area), and then headed downstairs for stretching and skips/strides.
Fifteen minutes before the race, the first heat was allowed out on the track. Or rather, not. Since a high jump competition was going on, everyone was prevented from setting foot on the outside track, which was otherwise unoccupied. So despite subsequent heats being called out and allowed out of the calling area, we were all kept in the small band between the outside lanes and stands. Doing serious warm-up sprints there was almost impossible and the minutes dragged on until finally the previous category’s 60m were over and the first heat was allowed to approach the starting blocks.
I was in the 3rd heat, in lane 4. Once more, I think that’s my historic times getting me a good lane, rather than my current capabilities. I was sandwiched between Lionel Evora Delgado (who would go on to run a remarkable 7″01 in the finals) and Tiago Delgado who I’d trained with several times over the past month or two; and who’d beaten me at every single start there.
The gun went off… and then went off again. False start.
The gun went off for attempt #2, and much to my surprise I was out of the starting block with the best. That feeling unfortunately didn’t last long. It seemed that within the blink of an eye, Tiago leapfrogged from being one meter behind me to being one meter ahead of me. Lionel was far gone by then too, so all I could do was hold on to Tiago and hope that he would go reasonably fast, because then that’d mean I wasn’t too far behind. As we crossed the line, I could see Steve Weiwert to the very right also ahead of me.
After the finish, Tiago mentioned he wasn’t happy with his start; and I immediately felt like I could have done a better race as well. While the start had been OK, I hadn’t pushed as aggressively as I should have during the rest of the race. Post-race analysis with the above photos also reveals that I pushed my upper body forwards over an imaginary finish line that was at least two or three in front of the actual finish line. That mistake alone might have cost a hundredth of a second or two.
The end result was disappointing: I was clocked in at 7″60, and I finished the heat in 4th place out of 5 (with one other runner marked DSQ because of his false start). Overall, considering all 6 heats, I finished in 25th place out of 41 people. Needless to say, I neither qualified for the A-final, nor for the B-final.
For the past several years, the Luxembourgish Federation has been organizing a regional indoor meet in late December. Since the inside of the indoor track (with 60m lanes) is only put in place around Christmas, that means the meet is limited to the outside lanes. As for distances, the federation is concentrating on “odd” distances: 300m, 600m and 1000m.
In 2011 and 2012, I already did a 300m indoor at the same event and even managed to set a lifetime PR in (a very mediocre) 37″79, since I hadn’t run that distance during my peak years.
For 2016, I was hoping to maybe beat that time. My preparation during the early months of the winter season was shaping up nicely, but then work stress, illness, and ugly weather all had a negative influence on my fitness. Furthermore, I fell prey to some bad habits (eating too much junk food and not burning off enough calories) so that on December 16th, I lined up about two to three kilos heavier than I was in summer. Nevertheless, I was optimistic that I might at least finish in a low 38″.
I was seeded in lane 3 of the third heat. In theory, that was quite a good fit for me: not waiting around for the final heats (there were eight in total), and having a “middle” lane without the negative impact of either a narrow bend (lane 2) or having to climb the higher curb on the outside lanes.
I wasn’t able to concentrate too well before the start, so as the “on your marks” command was given, I was rather annoyed to discover that rather than be excited to race, my mind was having a hard time concentrating on the task at hand. No time for those idle thoughts though, the “ready” command was given and then we were all off with the shot.
Since a 300m is composed of three bends and straights and I wasn’t quite sure about my sprint stamina in a quick race, I tried to be efficient out of the first bend, but then to hold back a little through the second bend and onto the opposite straight. So far so good, I felt like I was closing in on my competitors. With one more bend to go, now was the moment to speed up… and of course, that’s when the unexpected happened and somewhere in my stomach region a cramp started to form. This had never happened before. I have enough experience with legs feeling heavy or some other issue that makes running less efficient, but never had any experience that originated in the stomach and/or lungs. It severely impacted my oxygen intake, so for the final 75m or so I wasn’t breathing well. To my body, of course, it felt like I wasn’t breathing at all, and consequently everything fell apart. Needless to say, rather than make my move and pass the competitors ahead, I was passed by the ones behind me.
I literally collapsed over the finish line in a disappointing fifth and last place, in equally disappointing time of 39″18.
Overall, I finished 24th out of 45 competitors.
If you’ve done something once and then set out to do it again, the expectation is that you’ll do better. Otherwise, why bother, right?
For the second year in a row, I was in Chamonix, France for the “KM Vertical du Mont-Blanc”, a vertical kilometer race that ascends 1000m of elevation in around 3.8km. The previous year, I’d reached my beginners’ goal of finishing in less than one hour. This year, I wanted to do better. But then several track&field events took away my focus and I ended up doing less than half the vertical mileage I’d done the previous year.
The week of the race, the weather predictions were dire. Lows of 10 degrees, highs of 20 degrees, risk of rain showers. I wasn’t all that happy, but I’d cope. But then as Friday came closer, the weather forecast changed. I drove 630km to Chamonix on Thursday, with my car reporting temperatures of up to 36°C. On Friday at 2pm, the temperatures in Chamonix topped out at almost 29°C. I walked 3km to the starting line in that heat, kept my warm-up quite light, and hoped for the best.
With 800 spots available for the vertical kilometer race (up from in 2015), I was expecting there to be lots of stress at the starting line. The opposite was true, with the speakers almost begging people to line up at the time they were supposed to start. Did people just try to wait for cooler temperatures, or had many of them not started at all?
There was no line whatsoever as I crossed the start line and waited for the next 20-second count-down. I couldn’t get my heart rate down below 130 just standing there. I was wearing short running tights, a sleeve-less running top and well-broken-in Brooks Cascadias. In my pocket was a 0.5 liter bottle of water; and I’d emptied another one just like it during warm-up.
The count-down hit zero, and I was off. Strangely enough, my bib (with timing chip) wasn’t scanned at the start, but maybe half a kilometer into the race. The spot where they did the scan was where the route rejoined rue La Mollard – the initial few hundred meters had been changed compared to last year’s course and instead of going straight from Place du Triangle de l’Amitié to Rue La Mollard via a roundabout, the new route bypassed the church on the right, going up several sets of stairs instead.
At the top of Rue La Mollard, a straight and even climb still on pavement, I passed my first competitor. Shortly later, my watch beeped with the encouraging news that I’d covered the first kilometer in a time that was slightly faster than last year. So far, so good. And then, just as I hit the 100m elevation marker, which is also the start of the continuous switchbacks that define the next 400m of elevation gain, things started unraveling.
For some reason, the effort felt harder than it should. I was feeling quite weak, my breathing was labored and I was sweating up a storm. I took a sip of water, but it felt burning hot. I was walking by this point, and I could feel that I wasn’t as strong as I was last year. Whereas last year, I was pushing aggressively, this year even just going through the motions felt like a lot of work.
By the time I reached the 200m elevation marker, the one competitor I’d caught had passed me again. As did several others. I was feeling worse and worse. At some point, I thought that maybe some more water would do me good, and I downed almost the rest of the bottle, but to no positive effect.
300m of elevation. 400m of elevation. 500m of elevation. It’s all a blur, and I catch up with no-one while an increasing amount (10? 15?) people catch me. A random hiker who’s not even in the race is easily keeping up with me even though he’s talking on the cell phone. A little later I let him pass, and he offers me an energy gel. Do I look that bad? I thank him, but refuse. It’d be against the rules, and I don’t feel that the issue I’m having is something that a handful of calories would solve.
Beyond 500m, the single-trail stops being just boring switch-backs and instead gets more technical. There’s a few spots where I use the hands to stabilize myself, not so much because it’s required but rather because I don’t fully trust myself. At least I seem to have stabilized a little and for a while I don’t get passed. I even manage to catch up with two female runners. Little victories do count when you’re down.
600m. 700m. The technical difficulties keep increasing. My heart rate has gone down quite a lot; which means that I’m definitely no longer pushing as hard as I should. But the effort level still seems very hard.
My pace slows down some more as I realize that even though my heart rate is nowhere near its peak, I still feel bad. The slackening of pace is then more for self-preservation; because I don’t want to push beyond the 100% that are possible today; because a missed foot step or a slip could very well a fall of several meters and a fairly bad injury.
Finally, we reach the photo spot that marks the end of the technical scrambling, and I’m sure I was looking very photogenic (or maybe not). When I say “we”, that is actually a good thing because while I’m still getting passed every now and then I’ve finally caught up to a runner or two.
The course changes again it seems (or maybe my memory is hazy by this point) and we seem to go the other way around the cable car station. Now, it’s just an uphill sprint to the finish line, right? I actually start running again, pass another runner, but then as I approach the spot of last year’s finish, there’s… nothing yet. The new course still goes around a bend, and only then does the finish line come in sight.
My breathing is really labored by now; that final running segment has taken all of the remaining energy that I had. As I cross the finish line, the speaker announces me by name and says I’m from “The Netherlands”. Really?
Across the line, there’s a tent and a bench, and I sit down feeling like I weigh two hundred kilograms. I grab a cup of Coke, then another one, then a third one. The guy behind the counter asks me if I’m OK, because apparently I look quite white in my face. I reply to the affirmative, grab two slices of cake and head outside.
I take off the soaking wet running top, take a few photos of the scenery and finish line and text my wife. I was around ten minutes slower than last year (Official time: 1:07:17, versus 0;57:43 last year). I’m quite disappointed, but then again, I had most of the race to come to grips with the realization that today wouldn’t be a good day.
Maybe I need to come back next year?
The gun goes off. The timing chip beeps as I cross the starting line, surrounded by around 200 other runners. This is my second attempt at running Katrinberglauf (2015 blog entry). The basic premise is simple: the race spans an official 4.4km and climbs 943 meters of elevation. The first few hundred meters are on tarmac (which helps spread out the runners a little), the next half kilometer is on a narrow gravel road in the forest, and then from around the 1km mark to the top the runners follow a ski slope with a rocky single trail snaking its way up, getting steeper and steeper along the way. I may not be the fastest competitor, but with the majority of runners being from Austria, there’s a big chance that I drove the most Kilometers go get here. Why would I do that even though I have no chance of finishing on the first page of the results? Why would anyone subject themselves to this much suffering, anyway?
During the initial 300m on tarmac, oddly enough, things felt more relaxed than last year. I hit a top pace of 4:05m/km, but that’s pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things because the one minute and fifteen seconds it took us to cover this ground is fairly meaningless compared to the almost hour-long slog up the mountain that would follow. Now off pavement, we went around a 90 degree bend and then attacked the first short but solid climb of the day. Here, things were a bit congested and I transitioned into a walk for a few meters because people in front of me weren’t moving faster. I had started quite conservatively, but even then my heart rate had already gone up from 130 at the start to 170 right as we did another 90 degree turn and followed a gravel-filled road through the forest. I transitioned back into a run for the next few hundred meters, but after a little over 500m of total distance, with my heart rate at 172 and the road now getting steeper, I was (just like last year) one of the first people to switch to power-walking.
I was quickly starting to feel my lack of mountain-specific training. I competed at the European Masters Athletics Championships Indoor (EMACI) in late March. With so much focus on 60m and 200m sprints, along with the inevitable flu season that hit me hard in March, not only did my 2016 training only see half the vertical elevation change, but I also did less than half of last year’s distance on roads or trails.
On the steeper stretches, I tried to do that steep-mountain-walk where you push with your hands against your quads, basically in an attempt to use your arms to aid in pushing your legs into the ground and yourseld forward; but all that gave me was arms that were quickly feeling tired. And while last year I fell into a groove and went the same speed as the people around me, this year it seemed that I was passed a bit more often. I was working hard, and my heart soon reached the maximum sustainable level of around 175 beats per minute. While it can go a little higher for short bursts, I know that this is right around the level where I can still keep going without falling apart. But even though I wasn’t falling apart, I still didn’t have an easy job. A stuffy nose left me with some breathing issues; which I’m sure wasn’t really helping to get enough oxygen into my blood and muscles.
Since there’s also a separate relay after the main race has started, and several teams each year answer the challenge of sprinting up the mountain in larger groups, there was regular clapping and encouragement coming from relay runners who were still waiting for their chance to run.
We passed the first “Labestelle” where water or isotonic drinks were offered. Since temperatures were much lower than last year, and I thought I’d hydrated well before the race, I opted not to slow down for a drink. I had memorized my splits from last year, so when I passed the second kilometer in around 20 minutes and the third one in 35 minutes, I knew that I wasn’t too far from last year’s performance. In between, there were a few spots where the gradient was a little less steep. I wished I could have run here, but the heart rate and overall state I was in did not allow this.
Even though my eyes were mostly focused on the ground, and landing ideal foot strikes without slipping or sliding; I couldn’t help but notice the large variety of the people around me. With the top athletes already across the finish line by now, my competitors here were a lot more diverse than you’d expect. It’s a little humbling to have a women in the W60 category pass you; but good for her. Coming from a country and a sport (track&field) where most people finish their athletic careers before they hit 30, it’s refreshing to see people who maintain fitness well into their sixties.
So not only was I getting passed by people considerably older than me; but the terrain got even harder. During the final kilometer, the average grade increases some more, sometimes hitting 30% or 40%. The elements started playing a more dominant role now, too. With valley temperatures at around 16 degrees when we started, it was noticeably colder here. My running top was soaked with perspiration by this point, so when the wind picked up (even if it was a bit of a tailwind), the evaporative effect started to chill me. And then, to up the annoyance factor some more, it started raining.
Finally, a sign with “400” written on it came into view. In my oxygen-depleted state it took a while for it to register that this meant I had 400m left to go. 400m is not very far. I’ve covered that distance in less than 50 seconds on the track. Here, it would take me at least a handful of minutes. I traded positions with one or two runners a couple of times, but really I was just too tired to make any meaningful improvement on my racing position. Basically, all my body allowed me to do was to just keep on going. In comparison to last year that was a change, because last year I first had a really low point where I wanted to quit, and then found a second wind. This year, I neither had a low point nor did I ever find a second wind.
The final 200m or so were tough. I still had breathing issues, and I could feel that my legs were threatening to cramp up. There was a trio of runners ahead of me, and I tried to hold on. I was moving faster than the last of this trio as we entered the finish line chute (where it’s an unwritten rule to no longer pass people). He moved to the side, but I stayed behind, saying something along the lines of “it’s okay”, meaning I’d gladly stay behind. I think only “okay” actually came out of my mouth. Maybe he understood. With nobody immediately behind me, a bit of a gap formed in the last meters as I unraveled. I walked over the finish line and collapsed against a wall.
I heard the speaker announce my finish time. The exact numbers didn’t quite register, but I understood that I was a minute or two faster than last year (in fact, I did 54’15 , versus last year’s 55’55).
I crossed the line in 127th position. With 202 finishers in total, that puts me at about 63%; which in turn is marginaly better than last year’s 65%.
So why again do I do this? I knew I wasn’t in any kind of shape to significantly improve last year’s performance. I knew that the weather wouldn’t great. I knew that driving almost 1500km (round trip) over the course of the weekend would tire me out. I knew that I’d be forced to power-hike for the maority of my race. And yet, I signed up for the race and I’m glad I did. When I did the race last year, my achilles tendon was the limiting factor. It was badly inflamed and running on it was painful. Recovery was a long process. When I started preparing my second season as a mountain runner, I vowed that I would do my best to improve my physical shape so I’d be able to actually run much more of the distance. Not only would this be faster on the easier gradients, but it just feels a little dishonest to sign up for a race and then power-hike 90% of it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite adhere to that vow because somewhere along the way an indoor track season happened. But the achilles is a little better this year, and as long as my body still allows me to do a little training for these kinds of challenges, I’ll sign up for it. Because the alternative to it, a world without athletic challenges, just seems entirely too boring to me. Other people may have differing opinions, and in fact I think most of my friends and acquaintances cannot even imagine competing here. To some, a flat 10km race is a perfectly fine challenge, whereas others don’t seem to need challenges at all. To each their own. I can’t imagine a life where I’m not pushing myself for some athletic endeavour.
Sometime in April, my club asked me if I could join them in Portugal for the European Champion Clubs Club on the 100m and 4x100m. At 38 years old, I didn’t consider myself the strongest sprinter for that task, but their options (not that many 100m sprinters, studies, injuries, people not having the Luxembourgish nationality, etc.) were limited. I had wanted to concentrate on vertical kilometer training in spring, but when offered the chance to travel to a country I’ve never competed in for the club I’ve been a member of since 1987, I could hardly say no.
So on May 27th the entire group took an early-morning flight on TAP from Luxembourg to Lissabon, and then spend another couple of hours in a minibus to drive down to Leiria. In the late afternoon, most people headed down to the track, where we were first hit by rain and then witnessed nice evening colors on Leiria castle that towers over the stadium.
After a decent night’s sleep in our hotel “Eurosol Leiria” (in which a third bed had been added to a regular two-person bedroom barely large enough for that task) and good hotel breakfast (the only decent food we had while in Portugal – the event catering offered by the organizing club was not very good), we headed out for the events.
The rain had passed and temperatures were climbing. No excuses, then.
Well, my 100m was bad. My start was a textbook example of what not to do (it felt like I stood up and ran). And to add insult to injury, I was competing against athletes that were faster than what we see in national or regional competitions. My series was won in 10″51, and I came in dead last in a disappointing 11″91. The fact that I was the only competitor marked as “masters” in the results list, and that we had a -1.2m/s headwind were not much of a solace.
Later that day, we still had to do a 4x100m. And again, we were up against strong competition. Not to mention that our team was compromised of a triple jumper, a javelin thrower, a high jumper who’d also done a long distance that day; and me, the old guy well past his prime.
During warm-up, it became evident that the meeting organizers had some kind of trouble. We had already finished our warm-up and were waiting to be let into the calling room when… nothing happened. This would ultimately last for close to an hour, during which we weren’t even allowed on the track to maintain our warm-up.
Finally, the first heat was allowed onto the track, and ran their race. I noticed that the race marshals didn’t even catch a very obvious mistake by one of the competitors (he stood with his entire body in front of the line that marks the start of the 10m acceleration zone, rather than inside it) that should have lead to outright disqualification of the offending team.
In our heat, we finished last. The time was a disappointing 45″44. Mind, I’m not slagging the team – we did as best as we could, and everyone gave his best given the circumstances. It’s just that it was disheartening to see several other teams do times between 43″ and 44″, which should really have been within reach for the club.
Ancona EMACI 2016 (11th European Masters Athletics Championships Indoor), day 3: 200m series
When the entry lists for the EMACI first appeared online in early March, it looked like my best chance to go on to the next round (half-finals) was in the 200m. As it turns out, the number of athletes in attendance and my own performances at the 60m series allowed me to progress to that half-final as well. I’m not complaining, of course, but given my less than optimal preparation (only getting green-lighted for competitions in late December after six months off due to an Achilles injury), running two 60m’s on Tuesday instead of one meant additional stress on my body, and by the time Thursday rolled around I wasn’t feeling fully recovered.
Once again, I warmed up on the outside track. Temperatures were manageable, but there was a very strong wind. I did my usual warm-up, plus some strides and starting blocks in the turn, trying to ignore a building unease in my left foot and Achilles tendon.
About ten minutes before the calling room opened for the M35 category, I headed back inside. The atmosphere inside was stuffy. The air conditioning that had been going full blast the first day had had been shut off. Combined with fairly full stands this meant that the air quality suffered a lot.
I had been assigned lane #3 in heat 2. With five heats in total, the first two athletes in each heat and the eight best times after that would go on to the half-finals. I knew that Richard Beardsell had a much faster season best, so he was certain to qualify, which meant that if I wanted to be sure to advance I needed to place ahead of the others.
The gun went off and I pushed out of the blocks. My start had been mediocre – I’d seen worse, but the acceleration into the first bend maybe wasn’t as aggressive as it could have been. Richard in lane #2 went past, and in turn I tried to get closer to Marvin Edwards in lane #4. The straight lines in Ancona seem quite long and the bends are quite narrow; which at almost 1.90m tall doesn’t suit me terribly well. Still, as we exited the second bend I was within breathing distance to Marvin and second place. However, there was still a long straight ahead until the finish line and I tried to push hard to inch ahead. The trouble with pushing hard is that it’s not really elegant and just running a relaxed stride would have been better; but while you’re in the effort that’s a hard thing to influence.
The final 50m seemed to be twice as long, and if the crowd was watching I hope we gave them a good show – it was a close fight for second position. Unfortunately for me, I lost it by 4 hundredth of a second. The time was quite bad, 22”86 versus 22”82, or over a second behind the winner (22”72).
Across the finish line, I collapsed on the floor. I would later repeat that performance in the stands, because the air was still quite oppressive and I’d given a hundred percent. The good thing was that my performance would allow me to progress to the half-finals. My time placed me as 13th out of 18 half-finalists.
Ancona EMACI 2016 (11th European Masters Athletics Championships Indoor), day 3: 200m half-finals
After running the qualifications around 15:00, it was once again a long wait until the half-finals that would take place close to 20:35. The logical choice would have been to head back to the hotel, but since ours was outside of Ancona it would have meant quite a drive and then the need to look for a parking spot again – things were quite busy on the roads and parking spots surrounding the area (although to Ancona’s credit, parking was free everywhere).
I started my warm-up about an hour and twenty minutes before the race. It was still light enough outside so I didn’t have to jog, stretch or do strides in the busy and stuffy indoor area; but the price to pay for the fresh air was that it came in very strong and cold gusts. I retreated into the corner that was the most sheltered, and did an undisturbed warm-up – most athletes had opted to be less exposed to the elements and stayed off the outdoor track.
My Achilles wasn’t too happy – this week was the most I’d worn my spikes in years – but I was quite confident that it would hold up.
About thirty minutes before the race, I headed back inside. Since the “official” way in was quite a bit of a walk, I followed a fellow athlete through a shortcut, a door marked “no exit / no entry” next to the calling room. We received a bit of a glare from an official, but nothing more.
Once again the calling room staff (who didn’t seem to change too much, and were probably long hard days as volunteers) checked our bibs, whether we’d confirmed our races, and the length of our spikes.
I was in the first of three finals, along with Jimmy Melfort from France who (spoilers!) would go on to win the final. Since I had one of the weaker times in the series, I was assigned lane #2. Again this didn’t make it easier to hit my ideal stride length during the turns, but the advantage was that I could see my competitors ahead of me.
For the fourth time this week the gun went off. Again I tried to push out of the blocks aggressively, but again I found myself not making any headway against the stronger athletes. I’d told myself that I’d do my best to catch up with Gavin Stephens (who had qualified 4/10 of a second faster than me). Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite able to do that, and during the second turn I was fighting with Daniele Carloni for fourth position.
Once more, I came in four hundredths of a second short and crossed the finish line in fifth position in 23”82, to Daniele’s 23”78. Gavin was third in 23”31, with the two French guys (Jimmy Melfort and Thierry Henry) well ahead. They would both qualify for the finals.
This time, I was a bit happier with my race execution – my final meters were less forced. However, of course the time still wasn’t great. There’s a multitude of reasons for that, some of which I’ve mentioned before: difficult recovery from my Achilles troubles, inability to train at the same level of intensity and volume that the other guys probably still do, etc.
However, I’m happy enough with the general outcome of the week. I didn’t injure myself; and I came close enough to my season bests (200m), or even bettered them (60m). Of course I would have liked to run faster or closer to what I still consider my remaining potential at 38 years old. But “it is what it is” and as such I can only be happy with the experience and having reached the half-finals each time. As for the 400m, for which I’d signed up as a “backup plan” in case I failed at my 60m or 200m, I wisely skipped that one on Saturday.
Ancona EMACI 2016 (11th European Masters Athletics Championships Indoor), day 1: 60m series
All throughout the day leading up to my 60m series, I was doing mental mathematics: 14:36 minus 20 minutes call-room minus 1 hour warm-up equals the time I was supposed to start my warm-up. I checked my simple math several times, and still ended up starting several minutes early because this was my first big international track competition in over ten years, and with many athletes in different categories already warming up for their earlier starts, it was easy to get caught up in the excitement.
We’re in Italy, so some rules in the technical manual are cast aside straight away: nobody uses the dedicated warm-up area, a soccer pitch with artificial grass, and instead everyone is on the outdoor track where the throws events (javelin, hammer) are taking place.
I run a few laps in the outside lanes, and then take shelter under a small structure near the finish line to do my stretching. The sun is beating down and even though there’s a cold breeze, it’s a great day outside. Since I don’t know any of the people I’m competing against, it’s hard to pick out who’s running in the same category: the M40 age group is running before my age group, M35 (for those aged 35 to 39), and there’s some overlap with some people starting their warm-up early while others might be late.
I do skips and strides, then put on my sprint spikes. There’s two starting blocks on the 100m lane, then a third one appears and I head to the tool shed to grab a fourth one. The atmosphere is relaxed, but at the same time it’s somewhat typical that the majority of sprinters are blocking out the entire outside world. The British sprinters are the only ones who talk among themselves. Their sign-up times are also among the best, so to them the series are just a mild inconvenience on the way to the half-finals and half-finals.
For me, I was 28th out of 43 in the preliminary sign-ups, and as such I didn’t expect to be among the 16 who go on to the half-finals.
About 30 minutes before my race, I change back into running shoes and do the relatively long walk back to the indoor track and the calling room that’s located behind the second 200m curve.
With around thirty to forty people competing in each of the age groups, there’s quite a crowd. Things get slightly hectic as the M35 group is allowed into the calling room – the officials are briefly checking our accreditation badges, bib numbers on the front and back of our uniform and the conformity of our running spikes. We’re limited to a few chairs, since the M40 runners are also still waiting for their turn. Some jump around, do quick sprints bursts in the few meters of space, or just watch the preceding heats through the advertisement banners separating us from the track.
My name is called along with the other people in the first heat and soon thereafter we’re led out onto the inside track. Everyone sets up their block and does a test start, then at around 14:40, almost fifteen minutes late, the gun goes off.
My start is OK – not my best, not my worst. Surprisingly, I’m in lane four even though a lot of runners had faster times. Lane four allows me a good view of my competitors as we sprint towards the finish line: there’s two people way in front (Sergio Cruz Pastor in 7”04, David Beaumont in 7”10), a third one also still ahead of me (Thierry Henry, 7”28), and then there’s me in fourth place.
Only the first two of each series go straight through the half-finals, everyone else needs to battle it out for the handful of remaining spots. Hand-shakes are exchanged beyond the finish line, and we’re ushered out of the track so the next heat can stand. I motion “thumbs down” to my wife in the stands to let her know what my initial impression was of my time, and then return to the calling room to change back into running shoes.
In the end, it turns out that I did qualify for the semi-finals, in 7”40. Only 34 people actually lined up at the starting line, and of those 34 I had the 14th-best time. However, the margin was razor-thin, the two people slower than me both did 7”41. Maybe of note is that out of 16 people, only two were born in 1976 and thus older than me, I was the only one from 1977 and the majority of my competitors were born in 1978, 1979 or 1980.
Ancona EMACI 2016 (11th European Masters Athletics Championships Indoor), day 1: 60m half-final
With the (surprising) semi-final qualification, I’d need to run a second 60m in the evening. My heat was at 14:40, the semi-final would be six hours later at 20:40. I had already done a cool-down lap and a little bit of stretching after the 60m, so I joined my wife in the stands and we headed outside to grab a bite to eat. There were sandwiches and small pizzas, so I had one each and treated myself to a can of Coke (which, contrary to when I used to run a little more competitively in the late Nineties, is a rare indulgence nowadays).
Since there’s a sizeable Luxembourgish team at this year’s event (nine people are signed up), we then headed to the outdoor track to catch Sandy Debra’s hammer throw competition. Afterwards, we still saw the tail end of the opening ceremony inside, and then it was finally time for me to warm up again.
Once more, I started a little too early. With a call-room time of 20:20, I started running a little after 19:10, thankful to still have some daylight outside. Temperatures were still quite good, but there was once more quite a lot of wind that had a cold sting to it.
I did my usual routine of stretching, skips and strides, but then as the temperatures dropped decided to head inside to do the remainder of my routine in sprint spikes. Once inside, there was noticeably less traffic (obviously, since the 60m heats in the different age categories draw a lot more people than the half-finals).
I was able to get in a few good strides, but also spent a good time recovering in between. All of us entered the call-room at about the specified time (20:20), again with minimal fuss.
The inside of the call-room was much emptier too, and before too long the first of the two half-finals were called up to head out onto the track. I was in the second half-final, so I had a few more minutes, and then got called up first since I would be in lane one.
I set up my starting block in the full knowledge that I would be in no position to influence the outcome of the race. My time was the second-slowest in my heat. The challenge therefore would be to do the best that was still possible after the long day. Privately, I’d set myself the goal to compete only with the athlete in lane two, Guillaume Tessier, who had been a tenth of a second faster than me in the series.
As the gun went off, I was surprised to actually be ahead of him – typically, when competing at a national or regional level I tend to be one of the slowest starters. However, this was short-lived, he caught up with me pretty fast and I could do nothing but hold on and try not to let the advance get too big. Meanwhile, the guys in the middle lanes were in a different league. The heat was won by Sergio Cruz Pastor in 7”01. I had one weak moment a few meters before the finish line, which almost felt like I mis-stepped with my left foot, and crossed the finish line in 7th position in 7”42, just 2/100 in front of 8th place.
In total, I was in 13th position, which of course meant this was the end of the line for me. Obviously only the eight first runners go on to the finals. My half-final was two hundredths of a second slower than my time in the heats. I would have liked to still improve my time, but considering all the things that lead up to this competition (injury, illness, etc.) I’m happy to have run the times that I did. Both times were actually better than my previous season best (7″50), and while I’m 4 tenths of a second slower than my all-time PR of 7″00, I’m sure that most of my competitors are also a sizeable margin behind their own bests.
I did my final indoor meeting for 2015/2016 on Luxembourgish soil this past Saturday, over one month after the Luxembourgish Championships. Athletes in the national team were afforded two more opportunities to compete in between, but the rest of us had to make do with regular training or travel abroad to compete. I chose the former, getting a few solid training sessions in during February. I did no tapering at all for this weekend, with a particularly hard stairs training on Monday that left my calves shattered for the rest of the week. So did 5 weeks improve my performances? Yes and no.
My first race for the day was the 200m. I warmed up for it with a 2km loop outside, then headed back inside for stretching, skips and strides. The warm-up area seemed deserted, since a lot of the top competitors in the 2016 season had decided not to race. This allowed me to be seeded in the first heat, which is always a good thing because it gives you access to the running lanes fifteen minutes before the race start (as opposed to only being allowed onto the race track shortly before your start, after the previous heats have run). I was put in lane 4, which is pretty much optimal for me in my current shape because while it might be marginally slower than lanes 5 and 6, it is also less extreme and puts two runners ahead of me who I can make it my task to catch.
Catching the runners ahead of me worked… 50%. While I did catch up with Quentin Bebon in lane five somewhere at the start of the second turn, Philippe Hilger remained safely in the lead for the entirety of the race. I had a better than average start and did a solid first turn, but fell apart again in the final 30 meters or so; which meant I was forcing too much and not running with an optimal technique.
I crossed the finish line in second place, in 23″49, and a considerable distance from the winning time (22″82). More surprising was that overall, I also finished 2nd out of 13 runners. Also of note is that all of these guys were born in the late Nineties.
Next up, after several hours of waiting, was the 4x200m relay. I’d talked myself into my club’s first team, a spot I thought was merited because of my 2016 performances. I had made an argument for our club’s strongest possible constellation to compete since I thought we’d have a chance of finishing on the podium, but did not really agree when one newspaper predicted us as the potential winners in their meet preview. I thought that CAB with Pol Bidaine was a stronger contender, especially since most of their team was fresh whereas our relay had all competed in either the 200m (Gilles, me) or 400m (Stefano, Aymen) already.
The gun went off with Gilles (slowest PR of the team) in first position. FOLA had their strongest runner in first position. We were in lane 6, so the relay change from Gilles to me had the added complexity of him needing to fit between me in the inside of the lane and the barrier on the right side of the track. Our change went over without much drama, even though I probably started a little early and couldn’t push off at full speed until I had the relay baton in my hand.
I did a fairly aggressive first turn during which I could see FOLA’s second runner in an inside lane blow past. He had less distance to run, so all I could do was push hard and hope for the best. After the turn, the runners all converge in lane one. With FOLA ahead, I was expecting CAB to not be far behind, but as I moved left I turned my head and couldn’t see anyone else. I was in second position then, which I held until the end of my relay.
The relay change was a bit hairier this time. I came in at full speed, but all the lanes were blocked with waiting athletes. I had to brake aggressively, then was so close to our third runner, that I couldn’t hand over the baton straight away. We finally managed to do the change-over, and for a moment I was afraid I hadn’t safely handed over the baton, but he had a safe grip on it and was off. Aymen managed to catch FOLA’s third runner (born in 2002!), and Stefano solidified the lead to cross the finish line with over a second ahead of CAB who had moved up a position and finished marginally faster than FOLA.
Overall, we did 1’33″08; which means as a team each one of us had an average of 23″27. Considering the constraints (all of us running on tired legs), this is an OK time. There have of course been faster championship wins, but also slower ones.
In closing, while I thought that five weeks of additional training should improve my season best by more than just one hundredth of a second (23″50 to 23″49), I’m still happy with the competition. At 38 years, ten years after I officially put an end to my track&field career, and with more achilles injuries than toes on my feet, I can once again go out there and compete. What’s more is that I can feel my body becoming more resilient again, because contrary to the last few competitions my achilles tendon was doing quite well the next Monday.
One month to go before my final indoor competition for this season, which will also be my first international competition in ten years (and first european championship ever): European Masters Athletics Championships Indoor in Ancona, Italy.