Category Archives: Blog

Sticking it out

“You are the Emily Dixon of sports,” an old friend told me.

Emily Dixon is a mutual friend, who lives her passions fully. She once took up Rubik’s cube, and rose rapidly to become one of the UK’s fastest female solvers. That not being enough, she learned to solve it with her feet. She is now about to embark on a leg of the Clipper race, despite hanging off the side of a boat for weeks with seasickness on a previous voyage. Emily is one of the most incredible women I know. The comparison is a flattering one.

I recently joined a badminton club. With only a single court in the hall, we always play doubles. I am more hindrance than help as I become an obstacle for my partner, who has to reach at least 90% of the shots. I’ve also just signed up to a netball team for the new year, having (of course) never played netball before.

In 2010, though I was initially incapable of hitting the ball, I played ping pong every single day (except when on tour). It took 6 months to win my first game. Like a gambler, each and every time I was sure I’d simply been unlucky, and the next game would be the one- not realising the odds were stacked against me.  My skill level went from abysmal to slightly above average… and then I stopped playing.

There were other reasons why I didn’t go back to track training after this summer’s World Championships- but there is definitely a part of me which wondered if continuing for another year would have brought any progress. Having made some big improvements in 2017, there was significant risk of stagnation. By throwing it away and starting over again, I can once again play the “I’m new” card. I can roll my eyes at missing shuttlecocks well within my reach, knowing there’s no reason that I should be any better than this. In track and field, my newness was wearing off, and as newer members asked for my advice during competition season, I definitely realised I was losing it.

It was certainly tough last winter- it felt like it went on forever. But realistically, I cannot compare one season of self-inflicted hardship to the difficulty of returning year after year, trying to keep making minor improvements after the steep part of the learning curve is over. This was a huge problem in my acrobatics training- perhaps best shown in the show, Box Of Frogs. It’s all fun and games, until you’ve been working on the same trick for 3 years, and it’s not going anywhere and you still don’t want to take the safety harness off.

I never got the “beginner’s kudos” in circus. I did it the easy way- I did gymnastics as a kid- but then struggled to cope with the pressure of continually improving. These new sports that I’ve taken up- people say things like “oh, you’re so brave. I’d never be able to do that.” I thrive off that. But really-  starting out is the easy part. It’s sticking it out that I can’t manage.


Image: Screenshot from Mark Morreau’s video of Box Of Frogs by Stumble danceCircus

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Glasgow 2018

I’m absolutely delighted to announce that the show about my athletic journey, Tetra-Decathlon, will be presented during Festival 2018, part of Glasgow 2018.

A year ago, when doing a reccy of Glasgow to see if I might like to live here, I met with Lorenzo Mele at Glasgow Life. I told him about what I’d been up to, and the show I wanted to make about it. I couldn’t believe it when he told me that 6 sports would join forces to hold their European Championships in and around the city in 2018, and that there would be a cultural festival alongside it. What a perfect fit.

The show will be produced by Showroom. The wonderful Jenna Watt will continue to direct the piece, and I’m very pleased to once again be working with Sue Mayes as the show’s designer (this will be our third production together) . Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling are our generous co-producers, and it’s really exciting to have a link through them to University of Stirling; Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence (who can hopefully teach me a thing or two about what I should have been doing in training).

Festival 2018 runs alongside the sporting events, from 2-12 August. Tetra-Decathlon will premiere at the Tron- located near the Festival hub in Glasgow’s Merchant City- and will go on to tour several venues close to the sporting action. More details coming soon.

Huge thanks to Glasgow 2018 and Macrobert; as well as to TronLab, Tom McGrath Trust, and as ever my teammates and coaches, without whom we couldn’t have got to this stage.

❤️❤️❤️

 

Weeks later…

I will write about the competition in Turnhout itself soon. But now it is finished- what am I doing?

It’s been one month since the World Championships. With the exception of a slightly impromptu club competition for Giffnock North (by virtue of being the only senior woman, I won), I haven’t set foot on a track since.

“Will you continue?” It seemed as though all my fellow tetradecathletes and their spectating friends knew this was a question on my mind. It seems rude to say to one’s competitors, “I only started this to make a show- it seemed funny at the time!” When making a pact with myself to compete in the World Champs, 20 months seemed an impossibly long commitment to such a silly pursuit. I never dreamed that I’d end up in this quandary.

But now. Now in the cold light of autumn, with no senior women by my side; without the infallible optimism of my Heathside coaches, and the thought of chugging along in the dark until March…

I can’t.

But in the moments when the competition was going well- after sprint hurdles, or high jump-  in fact, after any event that lasts less than a minute-and-a-half; I wanted to carry on, beyond this year. When sitting in the water jump with a dozen women, who just put themselves through a tetradecathlon just for shits and giggles. And the many moments in Turnhout, when people who I met in Cambridge said with some surprise, “you must have been training a lot” – I wanted to come back in 2018 and show them that I can keep improving.

Looking back over videos from last year’s European Championships, I now feel like I’ve really been through it with these women. Photos from races where at the time, I didn’t know who I was racing- I’ve now been in 28 events with them all. Christelle, Janneke, Kirsten, Maren, Sophia, Barbara, Gerda. Catching up with the same group of people, year after year, to go through this extraordinary experience together- it’s something I’d dearly like to hold onto.

But those things- excellent as they are- can they balance out the hours put in through the year? Do I enjoy the pay-offs enough? In reality, it’s unlikely I’ll compete in a tetra next year. If all goes to plan, I hope to be busy next August when the European Championships will be held; and that’s likely, weak as it sounds, to make the decision for me.

Here we go

hurdlesIt’s the eve of the World Ultra-MultiEvent Championships. I head off to Belgium tomorrow.

On this bank holiday weekend, two years ago, I sat idly watching the IAAF World Championships over a late-night take-away curry. With almost no idea what was going on, I Googled what events were in a heptathlon. I could not have imagined the road that this action led me down. It’s been quite a ride.

One of the joys of athletics fandom is seeing the stories form through the numbers. The constant pulse of the seasons. Rising stars and ageing athletes, clinging on for just one more season. The elation of surprise results and the devastation of the disasters.

Now I have my own numbers to worry about. Last year’s tetradecathlon at the European Championships gave me a benchmark of 4000 points. I will be fiercely competing against my former self- hoping for 5000, but will likely be some distance from the winner’s 8000+.

No matter how many times I’ve told people that I started all of this so that I could be 12th in the World (of 12)… the truth is that I’d be devastated to come last. I’d not even be that pleased with second last. It’s pretty frightening to put your goals out there, but I’m hoping for a top-ten finish.

This is all completely ridiculous, given that a) my initial desire was simply to finish, and b) most of these women have been training for this since birth. But after putting god-knows how many hours into it, one can’t help but care a bit.

Last weekend, I competed ten events and came last in all but two. I am constantly saying that I like to find the joy in coming last; but it’s a bit of an untruth. It was funny last year to come last- in my first season, the taking-part felt enough in itself. But what’s my excuse now?

So off I go. Off I go.


I’ve enlisted Arron to take photos of the most painful moments this weekend, lest I forget and sign up for something stupid again. If you want to see what’s going on, keep an eye on my Instagram.

World champs + World records

We’re in the midst of the World Championships- not the Ultra MultiEvents World Championships, but the geniune one; where athletes pick one or at a push, two events in which to compete with some level of competence.

Needless to say, I am binge-watching; both on TV and IRL. There has been a disappointing lack of new World Records so far; so instead, I’ve been looking at age-category records, particularly as a way to guage my own progress.

In my best event, 100m, I could have been beaten by both 8 year old Lauren Williams and 61 year old Karle Del Grande, who would both cross the line in 13.63. According to Power Of Ten rankings, this year, 149 British girls under-13 could have beaten me. Take that, child #150.

However, if we were to look at one of my weaker events, things look more miserable still. Let’s take 1500m. 5 year old Yasmin Lopez would have finished over 40 seconds ahead of me. I can take consolation in having a far better race with 75 year old, Elfriede Hodapp- who would still have won by 5 seconds.

Perhaps my best shot at a World Record would be to hang for another couple of decades, to claim the mysteriously missing (at least from Wikipedia) V50 record for 400m hurdles.


World youth records
World masters records

Goals

“Have you been trying to lose weight?” asked the nurse.
“I’ve been trying to run fast.”

I recently sat down with the multi-events calculator and last year’s results, to begin setting myself goals for each event in this year’s World Championships, in just under 100 days time. I charted last year’s results; what I thought I could comfortably assume I would achieve this season; and stretch-goals, which I might achieve in my wildest dreams with a lot of work.

I then travelled down to compete in the first Southern Athletics League meet of the season- and in my first event, 400m hurdles, took 6 seconds off last year’s time, trouncing my stretch-goal. Gosh.

I certainly didn’t start training for a tetradecathlon to lose weight, but it just so happened that around that time, Arron bought digital scales. I’d set an arbitrary target- a happy half-way between my weight then, and my weight as an acrobatic flyer.

For the first year of athletics training, the scales stayed firm, until the beginning of this year when things started to take a tumble. This month I hit that arbitrary target.

Perhaps I’m just bad at gauging where to place those goals.

New season

On the brink of the outdoor season, it feels as though this may be the calm before the storm of competition.

Next Saturday, the Southern Athletics League begins once more. This time, I will compete 100m + 400m hurdles, 100m (flat), triple jump, high jump and 4x100m relay. It’s an exciting sensation- not having the faintest idea what effect a winter of training will have on my results.

Last weekend, I went to my home track in Inverness, where Arron challenged me to a  time-trial over 800m. Having done a parkrun just an hour before (encouraging my 7-year old niece around the course for a big PB of her own), I wasn’t optimistic. Nevertheless, I somehow ran 10 seconds quicker than my previous best. Given this rather surprising result, I cannot wait to see if the winter slog has had a similar effect on my sprints.

This week I also travelled back to London, joining Heathside for a training session. I had the pleasure of answering questions from newer athletes, preparing to compete in their first seasons. Being a voice of relative experience in competition is both bizarre and delightful.

Looking ahead to the Tetradecathlon World Championships, just 4 months away, I’ve just had a pootle on the multi-event calculator to see where improvements could translate into the most points. Terrifyingly, one of the biggest areas for improvement looks like it is the 800m. If I were to run it as I did in Inverness last week, it would give me an extra 140 points- or 240 more if I can take off another 10 seconds. Given how infrequently I train the dreaded middle-distances, perhaps it’s time to bite the bullet. That horrible, pukey, concrete-legged bullet.

*gulp*