At the IAUM Championships, one of my fellow athletes told me about an upcoming “speed decathlon” in Basingstoke. Within 60 mins of starting the first event, you have to begin the last. It sounded completely daft- which appealed to me.
Sadly, entries had closed the previous week, and upon emailing the organisers, I was informed that everything was set up and there was no room at the inn. However, a few weeks later, they got back to me to let me know that Janet (who I had competed with in the tetradecathlon) was injured- and so I could take her place.
With just a week or so’s warning, and with Heathside’s track sessions stopped for the season, I was entirely unprepared. But, I thought- it is only 60 minutes long. How bad can it be? With 6 of the 10 events being field events, perhaps it might not be so tiring as it initially sounded?
In addition to the one-hour decathlon, there was also a 42 minute speed-heptathlon, and a 30-minute decathlon, for the serious sadists. When you know it’s possible for people to do something twice as fast as you are about to attempt- you get the feeling (or at least I did) that perhaps it will be fine after all. A few minutes’ rest between each event, I thought. What an idiot.
On arrival to the track in Basingstoke, I met the other 2 women in my ‘pod’- Linda and Becky. We would compete together- only moving onto the next event when we were all ready to do so. It was their home turf, but it was all of our first decathlons. They had both, however, taken part in a trial run the weekend before. I had no idea what was coming.
We had a time-keeper, travelling round the events with us. She was there to make sure we made it to the start of the 1500m before our hour was up. Two teenage girls from the club pushed our belongings around in a shopping trolley, so we were ready to change from spikes to trainers and back again, double-quick time. It seemed like a luxury before the decathlon began, but I soon realised what a vital role they played in getting us to the end.
I went into the first event confident. 100m- I knew I could win this event. I pushed myself pretty hard, coming first with a comfortable margin- but was for some reason surprised when our timekeeper then hurried us on to long-jump, while I was still gasping for air.
With one practice jump, we all did two competition jumps before agreeing to move onto the next- shot-put. This time I took all 3 attempts, equalling my best of 6.6m. Immediately onto high jump, with a maximum of 6 jumps. The others started lower than I did, and I enjoyed the brief pause before my starting-height was called. Again I was overly cautious, starting at 1.21m (in hindsight, wasting valuable time and energy). I cleared every height at the first attempt, up until my 6th and final jump at 1.36, which I clipped.
Here, I came unstuck. Having done well, and come first (not accounting for age-grading!), in the first 4 events, I was absolutely shattered, and next up was 400m- hardly my forte. I jogged round, 6 seconds slower than in the tetradecathlon (which was hardly fast itself).
This was the point at which we had pre-agreed a ‘long rest’. 4 minutes recovery. I wanted to lie on the ground on the finish line and weep, but our cheerful timekeeper picked us up and got us back to the start line again. I was tired and totally had the grumps by this point. What did I set myself up for? My body, thankfully, was in decent nick, which was more than could be said for Linda as she hobbled back along the straight. I was worried she wouldn’t be able to finish.
Next up was hurdles. This was utterly bizarre, as both Linda and Becky are over 40- thus were racing over 80m, starting at the same time as I began 100m. I desperately tried to catch them but was nowhere near.
In discus I only managed one throw between the lines. Pole vault, I hadn’t yet figured out what to do with the pole once I was over the bar, so earned myself a No Jump. Javelin was slightly more successful than in the tetra, getting the right end in first time, leaving some more attempts to try and (unsuccessfully) put some welly in.
That left only the dreaded final 1500m. We only had to start the event within the hour- not finish it. The pace of the other 9 events had floored me- with zero recovery time save for those 4 minutes before the hurdles; but Becky and somehow a fully-recovered Linda looked fresh on the start-line. Our timekeeper suggested we start a few minutes early, and despite having nothing left, I agreed to go, so as not to hold them back. They dashed off, as I dawdled way behind. After a lap or so, my bumbling jog turned into a walk. Walk, jog, walk, jog. Just as the tetradecathlon had finished with a lame middle-distance pootle, so would this ‘speed’ decathlon.
Geoff, the race organiser ran beside me on the in-field for the final 300m, giving me a bit of a boot-up to jog again, and finally to sprint the last 100m. I finished, 62 minutes after we had begun, with a very modest 2348 points: last place.
Having finished the hour, I could then enjoy the experience- but I must say that within that hour, it was much worse than I had anticipated. Props to those who competed- especially the half-hour bunch.
Huge thanks to everyone at Basingstoke & Mid Hants Athletics Club- especially Geoff Butler, and the many officials it took to stage the speed combined-events. Until next year…