Sitting here in the sunlight at my base in Teddington, the European Indoor Championships already seem like a distant memory. Just another race and important stepping stone on my journey to Rio. A month can sometimes be a long time in athletics. With three races in the past four weeks, combined with many miles of travelling, the finish line in Prague bought as much mental relief as it did physical. Typically, with the longer distances, training is all geared towards peaking on one specific race day a month. Not so with indoors. Just as one race finishes, thoughts are already turning towards the next. Training becomes as much about recovery and tapering than actually gaining additional physiological benefit. Having never raced so many races in quick succession, it was a largely enjoyable experience, but one in which I am in no hurry to repeat.
I finished off last month’s blog having missed a chance of breaking a sub four minute mile. The UK 3000m trials for the European Championships were the following week and so I had no time to commiserate. After a perfect month of training in January, I was optimistic that I was in with a chance of winning. However, it was not meant to be as I finished in a disappointing eighth, over ten seconds behind the winner. How could things go so wrong? I knew I was in great shape but this was two races, in quick succession, where I was far off the target that I believed I was capable of hitting. Sometimes, it is easy to overanalyse a performance but with the Irish trials seven days later, once again, I had no time to be disappointed or question what went wrong. I had run sub eight minutes at the start of January and was undoubtedly a whole lot fitter. I had no option but to trust in the hard work that I had done.
With the first place in the Irish trials guaranteed to go to Prague, it was a race that I was determined to win. Thankfully, as others were chasing a qualifying time, I was able to sit in and let them take the pacing duties. As the laps went by, I was still feeling relaxed and with two laps to go I opened up the legs to record a comfortable victory and confirm my seat to Prague. Following the Irish trials, I had already booked to work three long days in Belfast’s A+E department. I needed the money and having committed to work the shifts, there was no backing out. As a result, I returned back to Teddington later that week, exhausted and looking forward to some much needed rest. However, with my flight to Prague booked for five days later, this was not a time to relax. Training and sessions were still tough, as I aimed to get myself in best possible shape to race at the Championships.
Other than the Commonwealth Games last summer, this would be my first time racing on the track at a major championships. The night before I found out that I was drawn in heat one of two. Looking through my competitor’s personal bests, I was ranked on paper, tenth out of the twelve athletes. I was still confident in my ability of qualifying for the final as my personal best was weak and I still had not raced a ‘fast’ 3000m yet. In the call room I was nervous but calm. I knew what to expect and had my race plan clearly set out. They bought us out onto the track five minutes before the gun went off and the noise in the stadium was incredible. With the audience raised above the track you could not see faces but the atmosphere was electric. By now the adrenaline was definitely pumping. This is the moment most athletes simultaneously love and hate. The feeling of uncertainty at what might happen in the coming minutes. Triumph or despair. Success or failure
As the gun fired I positioned myself inside the top four as per my plan. The first kilometre went by in 2.38, as I sat relaxed in third. I remember thinking that ten more laps at this pace would be easy. However, as the second kilometre went by, the race had bunched up. Elbows were bumping and I found it hard to concentrate on my running. My stride was constantly being cut up and looking back at the video afterwards, it is clear that I lost a lot of energy in that second kilometre. I had been surging needlessly, without making any impact or significant move of any sort. With five laps to go, the pace began to pick up. Having gone through the second kilometre in 5.20, I knew that I would need at least a 2.30 last kilometre to qualify. If it had been a clean paced race, I think I might have had a chance but with everything going on in the middle of the race, I was spent. As others wound up the pace, I had missed the jump. I struggled round the last 400m, finishing in a distant tenth. It was a one second personal best. I have always said that a personal best is nothing to be disappointed with but looking at all the training I have done, it could have and should have been so much more. My goal was to qualify for the final and I missed the opportunity. That said, if you had told me in January that I would run sub eight minutes twice and compete at the European Championships, I would have gladly taken that. While the race did not exactly go to plan, the event was a fantastic experience and one which I am keen to repeat. Hopefully next time I will be able to rectify this year’s mistakes.
And now my focus is back on what I really want. Enough of this playing around with the speed boys, fun though it is. The marathon is where my strength is, there is no doubt about that. With Berlin six months away, it is still too early to start marathon preparation. Instead, the plan is to improve my 5k and 10k times over the course of the next three months. In running, it is important that you have clear goals and how to best achieve them. If I want to run the time that I think I’m capable of in Berlin, the European Indoors was a must. To be a world class marathon runner, I believe that it is important to be at a European standard over 3000m, which I am not that far off. My focus now is to simply enjoy training for a week or two. To remind myself what racing on roads feels like, I have the Reading half marathon next weekend, followed by the Omagh half marathon a week later. After the lung busting, dryness of indoors, I am looking forward to racing outdoors, in clean air, where you can breathe deep and just keep on running straight. I cannot wait. Back on the roads again.