SPOILER: I’M ALIVE!!
The week before the competition, I barely slept. Every moment not filled with something, my stomach was in knots, thinking about the 14 events ahead, in the European Ultra-Multievents Championships, in Cambridge.
I’d love to say that I was as ready as possible; but there were sizeable gaps in my preparations. I’d picked up a discus for the first time about 2 weeks ago. I failed to compete 4 of the events ahead of time. My aim in the competition was simply not to come last in every event, but going into it, I didn’t feel at all confident of that.
However, with such a daunting task ahead, I tried to see each event as its own competition, and put full welly into each, rather than holding back to try to make it to Sunday evening. Fortunately, the first day held only one of those 4 new events (1500m), alongside some of those I am most comfortable with. First up- 100m hurdles.
Having just met my competitors, I had no idea where I stood before the race. We were 11 in total- 6 in Senior Women category (including myself), 4 veterans and a very brave under-17 girl. There were 10 six-packs on show, and mine was not one of them.
The gun went. I took the first hurdle as awkwardly as ever before getting into a rhythm over the second and third. Then I realised- I wasn’t last. Not even second last. I was towards the front of the pack. I kept the rhythm, clearing each hurdle cleanly. Having competed this event every month since April, it’s one of the few I know well enough to judge my performance before seeing the time, and this felt good. Having set a new PB the previous weekend at 19.3, I hoped to shave another tenth off. When the results came in- I’d taken off nearly four tenths: 18.93.
High jump was a strange one, as we were only allowed a maximum of 6 jumps- making choosing a starting height a tricky business. I played cautiously at 1.24m, but cleared the first 4 heights up to 1.33m on the first attempt. This left just two jumps at 1.36, which I haven’t yet cleared in competition. I clipped the bar both times, and was out of jumps.
1500m was the first of the big bad 4 (the middle distances + 400m hurdles). Based on the one time I tried this in training, I wanted to try 1m58 laps. The other British competitor, Janet, had also said she struggled on the longer distances, and was going to try to pace herself at 2 minutes per lap. I stuck to her like glue until the final lap, when I felt I had more to give. I managed a sprint finish in the last 100m, shaving 22 seconds off my training time (exactly a lap behind Maren, the winner).
Next up: 400m hurdles. This is the event which I seriously underrated, when first looking at the tetradecathlon events. Only one lap! Hurdles at a lower height! Easy! Put both together, and you have a thing of absolute horror. Though I hate it dearly, I’ve competed this at each league meet, so just hoped to get through it in somewhere close to the usual time of 82something. I snuck just under, with 81.78.
Shot putt next- an event I’m seriously amateur at. Metres behind all but two of the other women, though I increased on my best by 19cm, still came back of the field with 6.60m. At least it was over quickly.
The final race of day 1 was 200m. I’ve only raced the distance twice: once indoors, and once as part of a heptathlon, both times staying just above 30 secs. I was sad that with it being towards the end of the season, with the wind against us and having done 5 events that day, I was disappointed I wouldn’t get a realistic chance to get under that 30 second barrier. But it was the last event of the day, and then I could relax- so I put everything I had left into it. The clock showed a glorious 29 as I passed.
I was excited to start day 2. I was tired from the first day- but not broken. Its 6 events had held 5 PBs, and I was excited to see if I could maintain a bit of freshness for every event. First of the day was 100m. Being used to 100m hurdles, it feels strange not to have the nervousness that goes with the question; will I make it over these in one piece? Instead, it’s just a joyous rush of adrenaline and competitiveness. With the wind very much on our backs, I raced towards the front, in a time I could hardly believe: 13.52.
I’m afraid it was downhill from there on, though. That was the last of my favourite events. Still to go, (not very) long jump; javelin (can I get it to land the right way up?), 400m (how do I run one of those?), 800m (eugh!), 200m hurdles (where do they even go?), discus (how do I hold it again?) and a nice little 3000m to finish.
Long jump- say no more.
At the start of the 400m, I was already struggling. Perhaps the tactic of each race being its own entity on day one had drained me. As we took our lanes, one of my competitors informed the officials that she would pull out. Why, I asked- she looked in one piece, and had been doing extremely well. “I’m quite tired…” she said. I thought it odd that she would say so, amongst a now very weary field. “…I’m pregnant.” I was, and remain, in absolute awe. The lap went without event, and though the two leaders of the field ran in 63 & 64 seconds, half of the group (including myself) were in the 70-71 seconds range, so I felt in good company.
Javelin was a disaster. The first two throws, although I was trying to get ‘safety throws’ still both landed with the wrong point down. My third and final throw, I pretty much jammed it into the ground, just a few metres away from the line.
This was the definite low-point of the competition. With 800m- perhaps the worst event of all- yet to run; I’d hoped to gain at least 200 points from every event, and javelin had earned just a quarter of that. Fortunately, Steph, Heathside’s bonafide (ex)heptathlete popped her cheery head in at this moment, and made me temporarily forget that I could hardly walk any more. I got round both laps slightly quicker than I had done in my test-run, and slightly slower than in the heptathlon, in 3m16.
At this point in the competition, I don’t think I was the only competitor taking the lift to the clubhouse’s first floor. My calves were wrecked, feeling on the cusp of injury. The prospect of again warming up was exasperating, but as the next event was 200m hurdles, there wasn’t really an option. With clouds building, I got back onto the track and did a few drills and strides.
Just before we were ready to get on our marks, Maren stated that the hurdles were on the men’s marks. With 200m hurdles hardly being a commonplace event, nobody else had a clue where they should be. With all the veterans and our junior in agreement, they went ahead as the hurdles placed where they were- supposedly on the men’s marks. In the minutes that the officials and Maren discussed what to do, the heavens opened. The 5 of us remaining in the senior competition, along with everyone who had been out on the field, ran to the pole-vault cover for shelter. The rain was absolutely battering the shelter, and soon we were all hopping around, tying our bags to the beams, to avoid the streams that came rushing from underneath. 10 minutes later with no let-up in the weather, Maren said, “Let’s go.” And that was that.
For about 5 agonising minutes, we waited on the start line as the officials at the finish line caught wind of what was going on, and collated raincoats and umbrellas. I was worried about slipping, though of course we all had spikes on. However as the ‘race’ began, I realised that the problem was that I couldn’t see the hurdles, because I could barely open my eyes in the downpour. At the end of almost every race, I have lain down on the track, wheezing. Not this time. I probably ran faster to get back into the clubhouse than I had done in the race. Arron came to me with a very welcome towel: I was as wet as if I’d taken a full shower.
The welcome relief was that the next was in the field; discus. Not only a throw, but one which doesn’t have a wrong-way-up. After everyone had changed every piece of sodden clothing, our pregnant comrade joined us for this as her final event. With a very wobbly but valid throw, I slightly increased on my one previous competition result, the week before.
Exhausted, I sat down for what felt like 5 minutes, before somebody asked, “are you not doing the 3000m?” Somehow the time had ticked on to 5.55pm. I hurriedly changed shoes and headed over to the other side, to start the last 7.5 laps. It pained me to get there in a rush- as I was pretty sure I couldn’t maintain that speed!
Like the 1500m, I decided to try to stick with Janet, who again was going to try to run 2 minute laps, which would result in a 15 minute race. For the first lap and a half- I did. But then it was just too much. The realisation sank in that I just couldn’t keep running. For the remaining 5 laps, I walked for 200m, and then jogged 200m, getting lapped by almost everyone at least once. As the officials held the sign for ‘2 laps remaining’ for the leader, they leaned in and said, “4 for you!” As the crowd kindly cheered me on, I felt a bit sad knowing I would have to slow down to a power-walk just around the bend. It was a slightly demoralising end to the weekend’s competition, but nevertheless, with a sprint finish I managed to sneak under 18 minutes, (which if it were jogging on my way to work, I would be perfectly happy with).
On the line, I waited for the final finisher, and then all 11 tetradecathletes joined together for one last photo and congratulations. We’d all made it, without any major disasters.
Of the 6 competitors in the senior women category:
Maren (no 38) won with 8181 points. She is 3-times World Champion.
Janneke (no 35) was the silver medallist with 7697.
Sophia (no 37) took with bronze with 4700.
I came fourth, with 4063.
Given that I’d barely been on a track until 8 months ago- I am pretty pleased, though there’s definite room for improvement before the 2017 World Championships in Belgium next year.
Thanks so much to my long-suffering supporters; Arron went beyond the call of duty to ensure the right shoes were at the starting line, water was at the finish line, and that my legs were in working order; Mum & Ted for making the long trip down South; thanks to fellow Heathsiders – Tony & Adrian (both hugely successful in the men’s icosathlon), Steph & co for popping in at the right moments; and of course biggest thanks go to my brilliant coaches, Mark & Chris at London Heathside. I could have done diddly-squat without you.