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Back to the track

May 1, 2010

On Sunday I’m taking part in the Midlands Athletics League in Nottingham. This will be the first time I’ve taken part in a track-and-field competition in about 15 years. Although I’m looking forward to it, it’s likely to remind me of the reasons I stopped running back in my teens.

I first fell into running around my school’s sports day. I discovered I had a natural aptitude for running and was promptly pushed down to Bournemouth Athletics Club to give training a shot. All well and good, and eventually I started competing in the track-and-field leagues on sunny Sundays.

BEIJING - AUGUST 20:  Alistair Cragg of Irelan...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The 400m, 800m and – to a lesser extent – the 1500m were my distances. At my best, I ran the 400 in 58 seconds dead, the 800 in 2:06 and the 1500 in 4:46. In most instances, that was enough to come first at county level. Having run a 58-second 400, I once qualified for an all-England event up in Birmingham.

League events

Being an under-confident and slightly awkward youth, I didn’t really deal well with the pressure of the track. A league event generally involves sitting around for a substantial portion of the day, waiting for your event. It’s a period of  nerves if you’re taking it seriously (as I did). You over-analyse your own weaknesses, subconsciously make yourself feel sluggish, wonder about what the other runners are capable of. If you have a disappointing run, you also have a long time to obsess over it.

Perhaps I was taking it all too seriously. Certainly, there were highlights in the form of the field events where we wanted a BAC athlete to take part just to claim a point for the team. We were all au fait enough with the rules of the shotput, hammer, javelin, tripple jump, etc., to make at least one non-fouled effort for the point. These events were usually full of ‘for the points’ athletes, so generally had a very good  atmosphere.

Stepping away

Eventually, though, with exams, university, and so on, the other things I should be doing with my time became too much of a draw from athletics. It was easy, in many ways, to step away from because my experience of running was focused primarily on the track. Track sessions two times a week were ultimately a bit dull – the scenery doesn’t change much within the space of a 400m loop.

Ultimately, if I were to pinpoint something that could have kept me running, it would probably have been to make the move to distance running away from the track. Cross country was more of a school-based activity than something to do with the club, so there wasn’t a great incentive to be involved. Also, because I’d been training for sprint events (reps on the track, hill reps, etc.), my stamina wasn’t great for running longer distances through mud, up hills, on uneven trails.

And so, I’m back to competing on the track tomorrow. There’s little doubt that I’ll feel the familiar pre-race butterflies, but on the other hand it’s been so long since I’ve run these distances I might as well start with a fresh slate. At the very least, it’ll be a great speedwork session in preparation for the following week’s hilly 7k road-and-trail race through the Blenheim estate.

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