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.