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Gettin’ whupped

May 3, 2010

On Sunday I took part in the Midlands League with the club. This was our collective first outing in this league, having made the move away from separate men and women’s competitions. After a 100-mile coach journey up to Nottingham on a particularly blustery day, this was my first track-and-field competition for well over a decade.

One of the fun things about this kind of competition is that you tend to get to try out a range of different disciplines, just turning up and technically completing an event will give your club points. Essentially, each race could be divided up into two categories – the A string (i.e. the club’s best competitor in that event) and the B string (i.e. the other guy). With eight teams, there would potentially be 16 entrants for each event.

With this in mind, I decided to not shy away from doing some events I hadn’t trained for – or, in one instance, even done before. Details (fittingly) after the jump.

Long jump

My first event involved running a bit, stamping on a wooden board and jumping in some sand. Easy? More complicated than it looks. Having taken pains to get a scoring jump on the first go, I put some effort into my second and third attempts but could only muster a mighty 4.03m.

Our A string jumper unfortunately got an injury in warming up, so retired having put in a conservative scoring jump. My longest jump was a little longer than his, so I was switched to become the A string – and consequently secured eighth place out of eight.

Long jumper at the GE Money Grand Prix in Hels...
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2000m steeplechase

The steeple chase is a race I had never run. The three-foot high solid wooden beams and the murky dead water at the tail corner of the track always looked intimidating. Lining up at the start, I consoled myself with the fact that since there were three runners, I was at least guaranteed a podium finish.

I’d decided to vault the hurdles rather than jump them in one. The chances of doing myself a mischief were all too high. At the first vault I got my forces all wrong, lifting myself up too high at an odd angle and rolled on the track on landing. (Yes, to the observant, I fell at the first hurdle.)

Picking myself up, I ran along to the water jump. It’s deeper than you might think. It’s at this point that the hurdles look particularly imposing. Having seen the other runners effortlessly leap on to the hurdle and over the water, I didn’t much fancy my chances. Gingerly climbing on to the hurdle so I was standing on it with both feel, I swung my arms out and leapt like doing a standing jump into a sandpit. Except, instead of sand, I was ankle-deep in cold, rancid water.

And that pattern went on for five laps of the track. My vaulting style for the dry hurdles improved, but nothing changed with the water jump. I finished with aching arms and soaking feet. I was the first B string competitor home – maximum points – but I was also the last competitor home.


I didn’t know what to expect from the 400m, but it was only a lap of the track. How hard could it be? The A string race was full and was quickly won with all the pumping arms and legs. Eying up the B string competitors, I noticed that they were all about 10 years my junior. Ho hum.

Assigned the outside lane I got ready for the start, crouching over on the red rubber surface of the track. After the gun, the brutal (and it really was harsh) headwind on the back 100m hit me. At more or less the same point, several other runners sailed past me having run out their bend of the track. Pushing on, I finished in 69.9 seconds, way behind the whippersnappers.

It was at this point that a girl from one of the other teams joked to me about the number of different events I’d taken part in that day. Hmm, I thought, maybe I have bitten off a little more than I can chew.


There’s something deeply uninspiring about the thought of 12.5 laps around the same loop of red rubber and concrete buildings. Still, this should technically have been my best event, being the longest run of the day. Lining up with a clutch of other runners, again the B string competitor, I was heartened to see that I wasn’t the only senior senior. (You can be a senior from the age of 17 or 18, right up until 35 or 40.)

Having seen the older guys setting off at a disconcerting pace, I had to knuckle down into what I could manage. Ultimately, I’d come in chasing 18 minutes, and although I don’t know what time I managed because I didn’t time it (d’oh), I think I was probably about on pace for 18:30ish by the end. The winning pack was fast, though, completing the distance in something like 16 minutes. (Which meant I had the ignominy of seeing the front pack whip past me again, and for each turn past the start line with the countdown of laps the marshall was compelled to tell me it was one more for me.)

Unfortunately our A string runner dropped out of the race, so by default I became A string. This catapulted me from a semi-respectable second place (ahem) to sixth place. However, let’s make no bones about this, I was thoroughly last.

BEIJING - AUGUST 20:  A runner walks off of th...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

4 x 400m relay

As I was on my way to the last race of the day, I came across the girl who’d commended me on my multi-event showing. ‘Nice multitasking,’ she said. I indicated the start line, ‘I’ve got one more to go.’ ‘You’re mad.’ I have to concede that she had a point.

The start line was full of familiar faces from the previous 400m race. They all looked fresh. I had finished the 5000m around half an hour ago. My shoes were still wet. But this was it, after this race, I could actually sit down and take it easy.

On the second leg, Abingdon were in second place. Taking the baton, I did my best to get up to speed and maintain speed for the whole distance. However, it wasn’t that long before the B string 400m runners overtook me for the second time that day. And lo, for the rest of the race, we trailed in a points-grabbing fourth.

For the record, that’s fourth out of four.

Doing it for the points

Abingdon came a respectable third in the competition. In fact, a few more points and we would have claimed second. Had the pole vault not been cancelled, we might have made second place overall – the officials having bailed bucket-loads of water out of the landing mat, found that that the bar mechanism wasn’t working, thus turning a complex and agile sport into a deathtrap.

Overall, the day’s competition was enjoyable but sobering. If I’m going to get my 10k time down to 36 minutes, I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m beginning to think that the Oxford Town & Gown on 16 May will be more of a diagnostic run to find out what I need to improve this season.

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