Champions of the World

Truly global athletics events are a rare thing; world championships happen every two years and you have to wait 4 years for the Olympics.  Having one of these meetings on your “doorstep” can be a once in a lifetime event so in Great Britain we are very fortunate to have had the Olympics and then, 5 years later, the World Championships both in London.
I have a confession to make: I never applied for Olympic tickets because I assumed that the London transport system and all the rest of the city-wide infrastructure would simply collapse under the pressure, it never even occurred to me that the planning and organisation would be utterly brilliant.  The announcement that London would host the Worlds, made back in 2011, seemed to be a bit lost in the excitement of London 2012 so when, as a UKA member, I received an invitation to get an early opportunity to buy tickets to London 2017, I jumped at the chance.

This is how we found ourselves in the Olympic Stadium on Saturday evening.  This was the largest athletics event I had ever been to and it was something I had been looking forward to for over a year.

We already knew that if you wanted the best view of the action, your best bet was to stay at home and watch the telly.  This way you don’t miss a thing and everything that is going on gets explained to you as it happens.  The reason you go to the big events is to immerse yourself in the atmosphere and take in the sense of occasion, to be there as history is made.

Of course history is one thing but expecting things to play out to a script is completely another.   The expected gold to be won by Mo Farrah wasn’t, Usain Bolt’s final appearance as part of the Jamaican 4x100M team didn’t go to plan and Katrina Johnson Thompson didn’t ease herself into the high-jump medals.

Instead a different and unexpected story unfolded as the British women won a silver medal in the 4x100M and the men’s team ran spectacularly to gold.  With Mo’s silver medal, this made gold and two silvers in one night – quite something.

I can’t describe what it was like to be there so I shan’t try.  What I can say is that it was an unforgettable experience and the sense of being part of history was fulfilled.

A little while ago, we were playing snakes and ladders with our 5 year-old grandson.  When he wasn’t on the winning team his little lip quivered and he tearfully said: “but I wanted to WIN!”.  The want to win is part of all of us and is especially strong in elite athletes (that’s what makes them successful).  That is why it must be especially hard for the competitors who didn’t achieve what they wanted.   The situation for them however is no different to that of my grandson because, in sport, you can’t write the script.  I know that Usain Bolt and Mo Farrah  had bitterly disappointing evenings but let’s look at perspective.  Both have dominated their respective disciplines completely for many years.  They will go down in history among the greatest athletes ever to have existed.   This is an achievement which is very very rare even among gold medal winning and world record holding athletes.  Dominance like that can’t last forever and no-one can be the fastest at anything for ever.  Undying admiration for both of them, yes.  Sympathy?  I don’t think they need it.

As for our young athletes, the up-and-coming who are the future, some of whom won medals, some of which nearly won medals.  They are all brilliant and have given me a night to remember, a memory which will live with me all of my years.

What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears.  James 4:14 CEV

It shouldn’t happen to a vet

What do you do on your birthday? When you are young they are exciting occasions because you know you are taking another step toward the goal of adulthood.  When you are older they can be an unpleasant reminder of the inevitable passing of years.  I refuse to be drawn in to that morbid trap though because life is for living to the full and to that end, my birthday treat was to compete in a running race!

The event I participated in on Wednesday was called a “Yorkshire Vets Grand Prix”.   This might conjure up images of James Herriot in a Formula 1 racing car but of course it’s no such thing, as you would find out if you knew the name of the organisation is “The Yorkshire Veterans Althletic Association”.  Now for me, the term “Veteran” suggests octogenarian war heroes at Remembrance Sunday walking slowly not so much because they are old but due to the weight of bravery medals pinned to their breasts.

In athletics, a “veteran” is nothing like this.  It simply means you are getting on a bit requiring no greater feat of bravery than simply ageing.  To qualify as a vet, you need to reach the staggering old age of 35 and I hear you saying “35? If that’s old what am I?”.  The other thing is that you might think that the “older” runners would be slower and give you a better chance, but you had better think again.

In my running club, for ages the fastest male runner was over 55 and when I went to a presentation evening at another club, almost all the prizes for fastness were being won by the over 45s. Currently, our fastest lady by far in my club is 35+.  When you enter one of these events all the excuses go out the window and there is nowhere to hide because you can no longer say “oh well, I’m not doing so well because I’m older”.  They make you wear little numbers on your back saying which age category you are in.  For example mine says M55, meaning a man over 55 (but younger than 60).  It reminds me of event categories in para-athletics denoting degrees of disability but here that similarity ends.

Make no mistake, my sport is full of fast old men and women.  When I started out along the canal paths of Halifax on the Wednesday “Grand Prix” race, I was being passed by guys wearing M60, M65 or even M70!  It felt like they put these on their backs so that when I am passed, it rubs it in that I am slow not because I am old, but because I am rubbish!

Before you start to console me don’t worry, I don’t really think I am rubbish.  The great thing about the Yorkshire Vets races is that they are inclusive and don’t make anyone feel inferior.  It’s very much a “running club runner” event but that doesn’t make it feel elite or exclusive, but it does include some awesome athletes and it’s a pleasure to run with them.

“Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained in the way of righteousness.”  Proverbs 16:31 (NIV)


Lies, damned lies and GPS running watches

Sometimes people ask ‘why do you do running?’ One answer is that it is an inexpensive sport – all you need is a top, some shorts or leggings and a pair of trainers. Well, that’s what it USED to be like.   A few years ago I bought my wife a great Christmas present, is was a (then) unusual piece of tech that comprised a stop watch and a GPS location device into one wearable unit (which doesn’t look like a 1970 wrist radio), a Garmin Forerunnner 305!  This was a great innovation in that it could tell you not only how long you had run, but how far as well.  Better than that, it could even track your heart rate and then upload everything to your computer for careful analysis.  Of course, it seems like everyone has one today and companies like Garmin and Tomtom are creating more and more features. Now you might ask the question as to whether training actually counts if it hasn’t been logged on GPS and uploaded to Strava!

What people also forget (or maybe don’t really know) is that the distance logged on your Garmin is only an approximate figure; it calculates your location every so many seconds and then joins the dots to create your route and distance.  Little wonder your watch often says the distance is up some way from the official end of the race. A nasty surprise if you believe your watch’s pace estimate and have been pacing yourself accordingly.  The website for one race I saw had a special section on this subject to head off complaints from runners that the course distance (which has been carefully measured with a wheel) was out!

I have just invested in a new sports watch that doubles as a general purpose, rather smart looking timepiece that you can wear all the time.  It gathers all sorts of fitness related data and gives you reports.  Looking at this has reminded me of the real reason I would say it is good to take up running.  One of the things measured is my heart rate and according to the stats my resting heart rate is one of an “athlete”.  Also using my heart rate, it estimates a thing called VO2 Max, which is to do with the amount of oxygen taken on board during exercise and is a good overall fitness measure.  Now, this is something that can only be accurately measured using specialist  equipment on a treadmill so the watch’s figure is only,  like distance, an estimate.  Having said all this, the assessment is that I am as fit as an “excellent 20-year-old” and in the top 5% of the general population which I will choose to beleive thank you very much!  I don’t think I was as fit as an excellent 20-year-old when I was 20-years-old  so even if the watch has rather overdone it on buttering me up, having a good level of fitness for the first time in my life is something very precious and important that running has given me.

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭8:17‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬