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.