Monday, January 30, 2012

The first week back at school!

There is something shiny and unwrapped about the first couple of athletics meets at the start of the season. We athletes share amazingly special bonds and experiences together, and every year we go away for at least a few months and see nothing of our spike wearing loved ones. This can be tough. Often we pine over Facebook pictures and engage in mindless banter over twitter, but it's just not enough. It may sound suss, but I miss the sweaty embrace of my mates after a race. And no Facebook picture can do any justice to how hot some of the girls (and guys, I am sure) are on the athletics track. We go off and train the winter months away and come back (hopefully) stronger, better, and faster.

I can only liken this to 'back to school' after a holiday break!

You look around and see who made it through the break and is still at 'school' from last year. You see who is looking fit. You catch up with the great mates that you aren't quite close enough to keep in contact with but love nonetheless. You promise to do a better job next year with staying in touch, but you can chat about that next week in Hobart.

You are a little nervous as to how much wine and chocolate you ate over Christmas and wonder if the guy/girl winning your event indulged as much as you did. Probably shouldn't have gone back for fifths. But you did make up for it with that great Boxing Day session. Hey, there's Sally! Holy Crap she ran well at Worlds! What a superstar!! You got along really well with her last year, but you haven't seen her in a few months. Maybe she is big time now and doesn't remember who you are... "Hey Sal!" Phew. She remembered your name.

You recall trudging through the winter months training and calling your coach all kinds of four-letter words on Wednesday mornings (a notorious spew session), but remember why you do this pure and beautiful sport as you look around your surrounds! First race down. Sweet. Racing is so much more fun than training! 'Why can't I just race all year round?' you ponder... Then you can earn money all year AND follow the summer round the world. You make a mental note to chat to the coach about that.

You had a bit of a crush on whats-her-face over there last year, and didn't get to chat at the nationals after-party. Hopefully you won't have to wait until then end of season this year. You decide to make a move in Perth.

Just like the new year of school, the commencement of the athletics season brings the sparkle of unknown potential, of things that will shape your next 12 months, and the chance re-live the ones that have past with your kindred athletic spirits on tour.

"2012. This will be my best year yet!" you promise. And for that moment, whatever the coming months deliver matters not. Because at THAT moment it's true...

Monday, January 9, 2012

New years resolution: be awesomer.

I have a confession to make.
I am scared. Scared shitless. This is a big year.

Luckily for my housemate (who has to put up with all my shit) and I though, my fear of what will happen this year is completely outweighed by an excited apprehension that can be likened to the waiting on Christmas morning when we were six to opening our presents from Santa.

I’m planning to retire at the end of this Olympic cycle (I think!) and so there is, without really being able to avoid it, a certain awareness and dare I say pressure that ‘this is it’. No turning back or flirting with regretful nostalgia. No wishing I had made some changes earlier or that I shouldn’t have made the ones I did. These words almost lose their meaning with how cliché they sound, but they bounce round my head on silent nights like the original ‘tennis’ game on an Atari 64.

The good thing, sportsfans, is that I freaking love it. I once had a great chat with ex-Carlton coach David Parkin and he made me very aware of the want, neigh need of stress for athletes and non-athletes alike. Basically, Parks has the strong worded opinion that unless there is a certain level of stress driving someone’s motives, things just don’t get done very well. Take your average student with a large assignment due in three months time; they spend 2.5 months thinking about how much time they have to do it, maybe even get a little reading or research done, but that last two weeks is when things really get any momentum. Not to mention the last two days for some of us!

Of course, there is a fine line to balance on here. I see many athletes around me fall and get injured due to too much stress on and off the sporting field. The body’s response to high levels of stress is not conjusive to the optimal athletic state. But this is not exactly what I am talking about.

The challenges this year put in front of me are stresses that are met with confidence, vigour and an understanding that this year is realistically the culmination of my entire athletic career. If there is anything that I have learnt over the ten years I’ve spent running in circles over planks of wood, it’s the unpredictable nature of athletics, and how important it is to not get drowned in expectation from others and from yourself. You can always find reasons to doubt yourself (which I have been guilty of time and time again), but there are always much better reasons to back yourself that you are well prepared, happy, fit, and ready to go.

New years eve sunset in Tassie: Magic.
I have been very lucky this season to start with some good performances and some great training. It has been the best and hardest I have ever trained in the ‘winter’ months, and without injury. I ran two PB’s in my first two weeks of competition, including a 400 meters (albeit not that impressive), and I have had a very successful last week in Tasmania at three handicapped gift meets. Ten races in six days, 4 x 400, 3 x 200, and 3 x 120. Exhausted doesn’t come close to covering it.

400m at Devenport

The last day was quite the event though. It was the Burnie Gift, a well recognised gift on the professional circuit, and an amazing day of athletics, cycling, and woodchopping! Perfect weather and a fantastic crowd had me pretty excited despite my aching legs and weary head. After a chat with my coach Matt, we decided last minute to run the 120m gift instead of the 400m (my planned distance). To be quite honest, this was almost purely because I couldn’t be bothered doing a full lap; I was really tired. The sprint would give me a chance to do some speed work and hopefully get out of the heats and get a second run if I ran well.

It turned out I did more than that, I somehow scraped through a win in the heat and semi-final and get through to the last 6! I really thought my body had had enough, but I had a couple of hours to regroup, so put my feet up for a while. The final was awesome, really fast and although I didn’t think I ran that well as I tightened up in the last 30 meters, I actually got close to winning! Or so I thought…

My training group and coach rushed over with looks of disbelief on their faces. “Dude. I think you might have won!”
“Bullshit.” I replied. “Really?”
So I waited for a good ten minutes before I was announced the winner by three thousandths of a second!
I did not expect that.

I’ve been involved in pro running in some way for over 10 years now, and this was my first win! Needless to say I wore my sash for the rest of the evening and drunk champagne out of the massive cup I won to celebrate. I very, very nice way to start the year off.

This weekend I head to Brisbane with my baton in hand and camaraderie hat on as we try and qualify the 4 x 400m relay team for the Olympics. We need to have an average between our top two times in the top 16 in the world to qualify. We have one at the moment from last year’s world championships in Deagu. The plan is to all be wearing split shorts so I have no doubt we will be fine.