Rod Squad: Who we are and what we do!

23632258_10159498524185577_5646801778908217607_oFor a bit of fun, instead of writing about racing I will showcase a little of the group I train with and am a proud member of. It’s a bit too informal to include in Athletics Weekly!

So the Rod Squad: aptly named because our coach is called Rod and, um, it’s a squad, which rhymes. But you probably knew all that already. People probably don’t know all the members though which is why I thought I would write this piece. In no particular order I will talk about them.

Let’s start with Rod. He’s been our coach and mentor for so many years now, and has selflessly put his all into the group to make it what it is. I have been with him for 6 years now and couldn’t honestly say I’d rather be coached by anyone else. The same applies to training with the group but we’ll get to that. His knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for every athlete in the group is a key part to our success. Of course the Rod Squad has existed longer than my time and has had some notably talented athletes in the past, just as it does now.

Matt Hibberd is the “secretary” for the group if it requires a label. He’s essentially the glue that keeps everyone working together in harmony, even when tempers fray. He is incredibly passionate about the sport and group but it also a successful athlete himself, recently winning the indoor 3k age-group Southern champs. He’s looking to run close to 4 minutes for 1500 this season which for a V35 would be some achievement!

Jonny Roberts has been in the group as long as I have, give or take (we both joined Southampton uni in 2012), and we have both since changed our allegiance to Southampton AC. By his own admission he hates any kind of mud but is rapid over 800 and 1500 (leaves me for dead on 200m reps!), and is all but sure to make his second consecutive outing at the prestigious British champs later this season, a great achievement when he, like myself, never went to an English schools track champs as a junior. It’s what happens when you stick at it!

Speaking of British Champs, we are soon to have a third member to go! Laura Brenton will make her debut there this year after making the qualifying standard over 5k, following a 36 second PB yesterday. Laura joined the Rod Squad a few years ago now and hasn’t looked back, having found consistency she hadn’t experienced previously.

Matt Revier has enjoyed a real resurgence in form recently, running his second fastest time over 5k yesterday, with his fastest set in 2015! This season has all the makings of a great one for him, with qualification for British champs a definite possibility this year. In training he sits in with Jonny and myself which is a huge benefit for the three of us.

Ben Brewster joined us a couple of years ago and has integrated really well with the group. An injury has sidelined him in recent months but he is back running and will soon return to group training again. Ben is a prominent force in the Police, winning numerous national titles and representing the GB Police team.

Isaac Farnworth is one of our most recent recruits, having joined Solent uni this year. Training with the group has helped him enormously and has seen him flourish on the Cross, finishing 18th in the UK U20 champs among other good results. A freak bicycle accident and subsequent injury have kept him out for a few weeks now but I’m sure he will be back soon. I swear teenagers are made out of rubber?

Matt Bennett is one of our longest-standing group members, and whilst has had brief periods where the sport has not been at the forefront of his mind (as we can all appreciate!), remains an active and friendly addition to the team. Not to mention being a great athlete over a range of distances, although specialising in the longer events.

Paul Johnson, Jon Hannan, Stu Hicks and Jim Bennett (not drawing age-comparisons here, promise!) are four of our vet category athletes, and have made fantastic progress this year, already showing PB form this track season. If only the latter two raced more often!

We also have a few members we see less regularly but are still very much part of the squad. Rachael Phelps has joined only very recently but we hope will feature more and more in the coming months. Paul Laslett was once a stunning 800m man, running 1:47 and has since resumed training with us. Matt Emery, Steve Underwood, Jack Gregory Martin Johnson and Gareth Klepacz live away from Southampton but communicate with the group and train whenever they are around, David Coak (Southampton Mar 2017 winner) trains in Southampton and trains with different groups including our own.

Then there’s myself of course, but I’m not going to highlight my achievements. What that highlights is that we have a vibrant, diverse group of talented athletes and people. We share a common goal in performing at the best of our ability but that’s not just what we’re about. We have developed some lasting friendships that will go on for years to come, and as testimony to that we still communicate and welcome past members that live thousands of miles away, such as Matt Emery in Dubai! We motivate and inspire each other, and undoubtably perform better as a result. As they say, a happy athlete is a successful one and we showcase that really well. That point is especially true this weekend, where four of our members (myself, Jonny, Rev and Laura) went to Manchester for one of the BMC fixtures, renowned for achieving fast times. It is however, far from a guarantee to run fast; a lot has to come from the athlete. Through supporting each other we came away with 3 Seasons Bests (2nd fastest ever times in fact), a PB and a British qualifying standard, which typically ranks an athlete within the top 25 in the country over that discipline. I don’t think we’d have performed as well if it weren’t for the fact we all went up together, stayed overnight in Stoke (at the mighty Birds Nest Cabin) and generally supported each over over the trip. And the same is true for all members of the Rod Squad I’m sure.

So hopefully I’ve given an insight into this fantastic group I train in and am very proud to be a part of. It’s been difficult at times; always will be in a group of such driven individuals, but together we’re stronger and it’s made my athletics career in this time that bit more fun! #RodSquadTtT

P.s. TtT stands for “Trust the Triangle”, the hallowed turf we train on during the Winter months.

 

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Summary of Winter

Apologies for the poor choice of wording in the title!

So the Winter season has been and gone now; time for a little reflection on it all. It’s not been a smooth journey in the slightest, and has been a very mixed bag of results! But I’ve come through it without any injuries which I’m thankful to my team for. It’s not been quite as simple as that though for reasons I will explain.

I would like to emphasise that this isn’t a sob-sob story, and I’m not looking for sympathy. However, if I am able to offer insight to others such that they avoid the mistakes I’ve made then I will consider this piece a success. This season hasn’t been the most enjoyable one for me by any means, and a key part of that has been deciding which races to do. I can’t say which races one should and shouldn’t do, as so much of it is personal preference. I personally have a number of gremlins that eat away at me whenever I miss a significant race (which I sometimes do to target another), and never has that been more pertinent than these last few months. I decided to withdraw from BUCS XC, Nationals and IC’s (well the latter was down to insufficient recovery but amounts to the same thing) to target qualification for the World HM’s. I didn’t achieve that, but it always seems more frustrating when you’ve failed in your objective and an alternative was available. Especially when for me that alternative was the chance to contest national titles on surface I love most of all- the Cross.

I convinced myself at the time that what I was doing was the right thing; that putting on that beautiful GB vest would be a greater prize than any manner of glory and riches the cross had to offer this year. And yes in my eyes that is true; but what was crucial in the decision is whether it was a realistic target. If I am honest, I think it was too much for me; if it weren’t then I don’t think I would’ve been so far from the mark. Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, and at least I can have no regrets about giving it a go. I don’t know what happened in the Big Half; yes it was a PB and I’ll take it as a step in the right direction, but there was something missing from my performance, and I think I know what that is…the spark. What I mean by that is the burning desire to eek out every little ounce of strength to get to the line as fast as possible, the mental fortitude to leave everything out there. I just didn’t have that last week; sure I ran hard but I hardly collapsed at the finish line, not like I did at Liverpool. In my humble opinion, I think that comes from willpower; to love this sport so much that you’re willing to put yourself under such pain to acheive your dreams…

There lies the problem. I’d fallen out of love with the sport a little. Two reasons stick out in my mind. One  is that in representing GB I had fulfilled a lifetime childhood dream, and I didn’t savour that at all. Yes I was selected in the faith I’d represent the team well and finish competitively, but those two days should’ve been the greatest of my life and I probably should’ve been grinning ear to ear on both occasions. But I wasn’t because it was always about the next objective, where I ought to finish. And I’m a little sad about that. But I cannot do anything about that now; I didn’t run terribly on either occasion and looking back now I can take pride in the hours of work I put in to achieve it. I’d done my own impossible task (which I’ll add would never be possible without everyone around me, see my previous blog entries for full acknowledgements), but it’s been nice to finally reflect on that achievement. If you can’t savour your successes once in a while there is absolutely no point doing this or any sport!

The second reason (and I ought to thank the people in my training group for pointing these out to me!) is that in setting myself such ambitious objectives this year I have lost sight of what matters, which is enjoying running. I’ve tried to force my body and mind through it and it’s decided to fight back; can’t say I blame it! Maybe it worked for the Euro trials but it’s not the right thing to do and it came back to bite me last few months; both in terms of results and in terms of my enjoyment. But it’s a slide I feel I’ve arrested now and I’m looking forward to the season ahead. Not because I feel I can improve and achieve some good times, but because I am now making my target really simple: to enjoy myself. I’m willing to bet that the results will follow from that!

So the take-home message from this is to never lose sight of what sport is about: enjoyment! Choose your races based on what will bring you the most happiness, be it competing with your team or the opportunity to achieve a particular target. People often ask athletes why they do their sport; on the face of it it involves clocking up an extortionate number of weekly miles (sometimes more than my car!), with little reward. And yes it’s not always enjoyable, but the moments of success are made so much more rewarding because of that. One shouldn’t lose sight of that, which I did this season. I hope this has been helpful!

With the exception of the two 12 stage relays coming up, it is onto the red stuff now. I’m looking forward to seeing the familiar faces on the circuit! Till next time.

London’s Big Half-one week to go!

Just one week to go until the inaugural event, so I thought I’d write about how I’m feeling and how preparations have gone.

First and foremost, I’m really quite excited for it! I’ve never raced around the streets of London before (well, depends if you can include the brisk weekly Wednesday run round Hyde Park with my brother and other Imperial Uni athletes back in 2010!), so I’m looking forward to taking in the sights of the big city. Obviously I won’t be able to see much or indeed be actively observing while I’m running along, but there’s a reason why London is heralded as one of, if not the world’s greatest marathon event and I’m counting on that same atmosphere being present next week.

As part of the event, there will be a mass participation race where 20000 runners will toe the line. Furthermore, some serious talent will be on display thanks to star-studded elite fields that include Sir Mo and Callum Hawkins. It promises to generate huge crowds to support their families, friends and idols alike, which will make for utterly electric scenes!

On a personal level, I can’t wait to rub shoulders with the great man himself; Sir Mo. I’ve never met him in person but have obviously looked up to him my entire career. Having read his autobiography he seems like a very genuine, funny character; hopefully I’ll have the chance to talk to him and grab a selfie!

Another reason I’m excited is because I’ve invested a lot of time into this event in terms of training. Races are great for honing one’s faster energy systems and producing finishing speed, and also help to mentally prepare for future races (although it can go the other way!), but a week with a race at the end of it is always light on mileage for me. Hence if they become too frequent an occurrence my overall fitness can suffer. So for this one, like I did in the buildup to Great South this year, I’ve got my head down and put in the hard sessions and big mileage weeks. I definitely feel like it’s paid dividends; I know sweeping conclusions mustn’t be drawn from training sessions but I’ve produced what I consider to be some very promising results from them. A lot can change in a week though, so the next few days are really important in applying the finishing touches but also ensuring I go into Sunday in the best shape I can.

The last few weeks have seen some incredible results from British athletes over the HM distance. Ben Connor’s incredible 61:12 to go 8th on the all-time British list, Luke Traynor’s sub 62, Chris Thompson, Mohamed Aadan, Jonny Mellor, Dan Studley, Matt Clowes all achieving the qualifying standard for the world HM champs, and that’s before you even consider Mo, Callum, Dewi and others who are racing London next weekend. It’s a very exciting time for British distance running! Not all of those will make themselves available for the champs of course, what with London Marathon and Commonwealths in April, but still it is assumed that Britain will send a very strong team indeed. My hope is that I will be part of that, but if not I can happily concede that every athlete on that plane will deserve their place. Having these results come in over the last few weeks has been a bit nerve-wracking though; the qualification window has become more and more narrow. That said, it is fantastic for the sport that we can push each other to better things!

This weekend held the historic National XC. Not being part of that, just like with BUCS XC a couple of back was tough to take in. I’m a huge fan of the cross and is still my best surface I believe; certainly in terms of results. But with no World XC this year, there is little at stake other than the event itself, and I have always set my targets at representation, be it England, or more recently GB. Hence with the World HM’s at stake I had to set my eye on that. XC has seen a bit of a downturn in interest in recent years but I don’t feel responsible for contributing to that. It should be the responsibility of the governing body to incentivise the XC, be it with opportunities to represent GB, financial backing etc (although with respect, I can’t say I’m that driven by prize money). Probably easier said than done of course but that is my opinion on the issue. Next season will be very different I’m sure, what with it being a World Cross year (in which hopefully GB will send a senior team this time!), and so I’m hoping to see the full range of quality that Britain undoubtedly has at these events!

So I’m going into next week chasing another opportunity to represent GB. I wasn’t happy with how I performed at my first two attempts but the hunger is still very much there for me. For the European trials I just wanted to go out and give everything to give myself a chance but it feels very different this time. Having been a representative for GB I now feel like it’s the level I should be able to reach, and therefore aim for. It’s no longer just a pipe-dream; it’s now a target. Not only that, but I’m determined to prove to myself and those who may, with good reason, think I’m not capable of performing at my best in the vest. It’ll be a very different event and I’ve taken a lot of steps (not just in the literal sense) to ensure I will perform given the chance. Till next time!

Something a bit different: Eastney Junior Parkrun

Don’t worry, I haven’t resorted to going up against kids of age 14 and under to get a good race result! I was asked a few weeks ago to be a guest for the 3rd Birthday of Southsea’s Junior Parkrun and as fortune would have it I was available.

It was a really nice event; the weather was surprisingly warm and lots of kids had turned out for the occasion. I was happy to pose for a few photos and give out wristbands for the youngsters who had completed challenges (Half marathon distance= 11 Parkruns, Marathon= 21, Ultra= 50!)

After a brief warmup, the race started and off they went. I previously volunteered to be the tail-walker and was talking to a youngster called Isabelle who was running her first junior Parkrun. She had a lot of energy, and had a big grin on her face the whole way round which is great to see! After the first lap when she stopped (2km is a long way, especially at that age!) I ran with Tyler. The leader, Jacob was a long way in front but I gave him a high 5 on the way past on his way to the finish.

After some kind words from the organisers and parents, and few more photos it was time to head home. I think it’s great that more kids are getting involved in athletics, and that there are more opportunities to get involved now than there was. They give the parents an incentive to get out as well! It makes me happy that I can be seen as a role-model to them, even if I know that there are lots of other athletes out there quicker than myself. I’ll definitely be back at some point!

In terms of my plans: after having my confidence knocked by a string of bad races, starting at Euros and (hopefully) finishing in Seville last weekend, I have decided to take a step back from racing and concentrate on getting a consistent block of training together before London’s Big Half. I’m really sad not to defend my BUCS XC crown (and race in the National XC for that matter), but my target has always been to represent GB as much as I can, and that opportunity presents itself at the World HM champs in Valencia at the end of March and so that must be my goal for the remainder of the season. As much as I love the cross, it is now essentially a distraction from that goal and without the mental strength I’m used to having, I just wouldn’t be as competitive as I would like and my confidence would further slip.

Happily, next year will be another year of the World XC, and so my goals will firmly be XC focused. That means I will feature in BUCS XC, Nationals, UK champs, all the big ones! I look forward to getting stuck in and making an even stronger case to be invited to Worlds than last year, where I sadly missed out. I’ll be going into the running as a GB international, maybe that will count for something!

Great Edinburgh XC 2018

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New year, New me? Possibly, but not for the reasons I wanted.

I used to pride myself with my consistency in races; there was a time I’d maybe have one bad race a calendar year, or at worst once a season. Now they seem to come thick and fast and I’m never sure whether the next race will be a stunner or a flop!

I wish I could pinpoint a cause, or an explanation but I don’t have either. Nothing in my preparations for races has changed, neither has my mindset. I’m throwing everything I have at my running but it’s just not coming off. Edinburgh was the same story with that.

I won’t go through the buildup in that much detail. I’d had an easy week of training and whilst the previous weekend’s session was a bit of a disaster as I was coming through the final stages of a cold, the effects didn’t last long and I was running fast by Tuesday. By Saturday I was feeling fresh and ready to run for GB again. I felt great from the start; I wasn’t in a bad position and was passing people which is always a boost. I was 3rd Brit, close behind Andy Vernon and was beginning to leave behind the group I was in with Mahamed, Nick Goolab and a few Americans and Europeans. The last mile is so important as any good coach will tell you, and I’d kept some in reserve to push on from that last lap. But then out of nowhere I developed a truly awful stitch. They’re not pleasant at the best of times but this was hell on earth! It was completely debilitating and for a moment I thought my race was run. I slowed to a crawl and every second felt like a year. The group I’d worked so hard to gain the upper hand on breezed past me like I wasn’t even there. Somehow I got it together and, still in agony I might add, dragged myself round to the finish. To add insult to injury, I was pipped on the line to 17th place. That really hurt for several reasons. Not only was it the first downhill finish I’d ever been beaten over, but in my relief to make the finish line, my concentration slipped. Before that I’ve always given it everything to get to the line in the best position possible and I can’t say that this time! I was disgusted with myself and yes I should and will give credit to Chris who beat me to the line but I’m appalled to let it happen.

Error on the finishing line aside, there wasn’t much I could do about that one. No one really knows what causes stitches so it’s still anyone’s guess. I’ve only ever had them on courses with sharp hills, and feel that might have been a factor. That, and having an impaired respiratory system from the cold I’d only recently shifted.

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record with the excuses! I don’t want to have to make them though; I take no satisfaction in saying that I didn’t perform at my best but have a good reason for it. I’d rather just run at my best! I can however take comfort in the fact that I’m otherwise fit and healthy. I’m still in good shape, as this week’s session proved frustratingly, but more importantly I’m still motivated to succeed. My bad luck has to run out eventually! Joking aside, I’m constantly learning and finding ways to ensure these problems won’t come up in future.

Bit of a short one this time but I’m in Spain this weekend for an England International so I’ll hopefully write again shortly after that. I won’t lie in that leaving some appalling UK weather behind me was a factor in picking that race, but the Spanish XC’s always contain some incredible quality and it will prepare me really well for BUCS XC a couple of weeks after! Bye for now.

Farewell 2017, some closing remarks

What can I say about 2017? Something quirky, imaginative, original and thoughtful…

Seeing as I’m drawing blanks on doing that I will share some of my most treasured and noteworthy memories of 2017.

It started (well it was technically 2016 but I’m counting it) with the news my brother became engaged in New Zealand, a fantastic piece of news and I’m looking forward to the wedding between him and his fiancée Kat in 2018.

Next up I finally reclaimed the Hampshire XC title I earned 13 years previously, as a scrawny 12 year old.

Fast forward a week and I was being whisked away to Bermuda with the England team, on what was my first road international. It was a hugely enjoyable trip with a star studded team, and hugely generous and friendly hosts. Sadly that trip won’t feature in 2018 but I very much hope I will be back some day to complete the Bermuda Triangle challenge!

Three weeks on and it’s probably the race that put me on the map, certainly in the eyes of Athletics Weekly, for whom I’m proud to write for and feature in regularly now. It was of course, BUCS XC in Sheffield, where I held off the challenge of St Mary’s and other UK universities to claim my first major title. Breaking that tape was a special moment and one I’ll savour in the years to come.

Then came the National XC and IC’s, which really got me noticed and turned a few heads. Second placed finishes in both of those and many were claiming that I’d stepped up to the pantheon of the GB team. I felt ready for the chance, it was now down to the selectors as to whether I’d go to the World XC in Kampala.

It wasn’t to be; GB didn’t send a senior team for the first time in the events history. I was bitterly disappointed, but what was so humbling was how so many of the athletic community rallied to pick me back up, fighting the decision in my stead. At that point I had decided to get my head down; I appreciate that the selectors have a hard job and I would get nowhere in falling out with them. I would be back though…

Track season came and if I’m honest I didn’t do what I set out to. There were exceptions of course, and special mentions go in my mind to the national 5000m in which I claimed the title, winning the prestigious BAL long double (3000m and 3k s/c), finally breaking 14 minutes for 5k in Belgium, and claiming something I’ve coveted for a long time: representing England on all three surfaces. But I’m inherently ambitious and that didn’t cut the mustard with me. The new season is coming though.

A very enjoyable trip to Switzerland with my two uncles was a welcome interlude, where I succeeded in not breaking my arm this time! I returned and passed my transfer report and viva examination for my PhD, which enabled me to progress to 2nd year.

The winter returned and I was a man on a mission. I knew I had it in me to make the GB team so I began preparations to peak for the trials, starting with Southern relays where I secured the joint fastest time on the day, and anchored SAC to a agonising 4th place. But with a very strong team here I’m confident we’ll go on to big things in the future!

Great South Run followed, and a bittersweet 4th place there showed I had sustained the form I developed in the start of 2017, and later talking to winner Chris Thompson, it was inspiring to hear that I was the one he most feared of his competitors that day, high praise indeed from the great man!

I took a lot of comfort from that race, but didn’t quite progress as I’d liked. Deciding this year going to Atapuerca on my own since England weren’t taking a team was a big call to make, especially with the vast majority of athletes making their preparation for the Euro trials on home soil. But I stuck with my plan and whilst I didn’t have a blinder over there, it taught me a valuable lesson-I needed to be brave.

Come the trials I was. I gave it everything and in that finishing moment, all my dreams had come true in this sport. My first GB vest was in the bag. Sure I’ve come up with new targets for my running since then but right there the list was finished. I could call it a day now and be perfectly happy. I could put my vest up on the wall, kiss the flag, shed a tear and natter to my kids (if I ever have them!) in later years that I’d lived my dream. But don’t worry, I’m not done yet!

But 2017 rolled on and I had a job to do-give everything for the vest. And I did, but it didn’t come off on the day. A disappointing 38th didn’t do me justice I don’t believe, but there are always lessons to be learnt and I’ll be back there to put in a performance I’m genuinely proud of-in effort and attainment. It’s like a school report; Euros 2017 was A for effort, C for attainment. I’m going to push for an AA in the future!

Euros as it happened was my last race of the season, after I failed to secure funding for a trip to a prestigious NYE 10k on the continent. But it didn’t matter; standing on that podium with that medal in that fabulous GB kit was both the highlight of my year and all my Christmases at once!

Of course none of this would be possible without so many, and they all know who they are. Thank you to my coach, management, the group (Rod Squad, #TtT), the university, friends and last but not least family. I hope 2018 is as kind to you all as 2017 has been to me!

European XC-beginning my GB journey!

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What an experience! So many emotions have been through my head on this trip, I will do my best to sum it all up in this blog edition.

First up, panic. My car decided to give up the ghost the day before I was due to travel, whilst I was in Southampton. I was thankful of a lift home with the assurance my stricken car would be brought back later that evening. So I came home and packed for the trip. A couple of hours passed and I received a call saying they were on their way to my car, and that it would be back around 10. Great I thought; a bit late but not a serious problem. Gets to half 9 and I haven’t heard anything, unable to call as I was corresponding with a withheld number. So I decide to go to bed, thinking “they know where I live and don’t need to contact me. If they can’t reach me they’ll just put the car on the drive, right?”

Wrong. I woke at half 7 to 4 missed calls at 3 AM, my key on the front mat and a note saying “your car is parked 800m down the road as that’s the only place we could find”, or something like that. Great 👍 Anyway I’m almost ready to go and Mum announces she’s taking her car to go to work and that Dad can give me a lift to the station. All good except Dad doesn’t have a car anymore! So we’re jogging down the road to make the train with an enormous suitcase full of GB kit. Absolute scenes. Having made my train, I’m then soon to discover that there’s a 40 minute delay before getting into London, and so I eventually reached Heathrow with less time to negotiate the airport than my liking. Not a great start for my GB debut!

Thankfully at this point I was now in the safe hands of the team staff, who I’ll add did a fantastic job in ensuring the event went as smooth as possible. That said, I’m not sure there was much they could do when the coach driver reversed into a tree en-route, showering the back row athletes in (thankfully) safety glass! Starting to think no one should travel with me, such luck I’ve had! We eventually arrived at 7:30 and tucked into dinner. After enjoying some time with the team we turned our weary selves in.

Next day we went to the course in the morning. Straight away I knew it would be tough for me. A 1500m large loop with very little to worry athletes with track pedigree; a couple of man made mounds, some logs and a pathetic water jump that did little to offer any real challenge. These are typical conditions for championship XC’s such as this and the world cross, frustrating for myself as it doesn’t play to my strengths. I relish the challenge that mud and hills offer as they require strength rather than speed. They’re about digging in and being mentally tough, and whilst any cross race is hard, the flat, dry ones always favour the athletes who primarily train and race on the red stuff. The race results later evidence that.

There’s nothing I could do to change the conditions (short of going out late at night with a watering can, which probably wouldn’t go down well with security), so I had to just get on with it. I familiarised myself with the course and did a few strides with my friend Mahamed from Southampton (great to finally join him on a GB international!), and spoke to a few familiar faces on the circuit, including Danny from FSM and Gareth from GreatRun among others. As is typical for these sorts of events, the atmosphere was a bit subdued prior to the event, with most athletes getting into the mindset required to race. That said, the team meeting Saturday evening was really enjoyable, and I was proud to receive an award for receiving my first senior GB callup. There was also an inspiring speech by the team captain for the trip, Emelia Gorecka. Her story is a fantastic one: from having not one but two stress fractures last year she’s had to build her way back to fitness with grit and determination, and winning the trials two weeks ago was testimony to that. On top of her inspiring story Emelia was also so encouraging, and really helped me feel like I belonged on the team, which is a really important factor when representing for the first time! After a few admin points and distribution of numbers there wasn’t much left to do but turn in.

Race day was cold, and I mean really cold. Wrong side of freezing and a severe windchill factor. To make matters worse, the pre-race procedure for the race was utterly daft, with a final call to the pre-race quarters 70 minutes before; way before anyone would normally consider warming up. They provided a warm up area in the form of a horse dressage pitch of about 200m diameter but I’ll be honest in saying I really struggled to get myself physically ready for the race. I also had to contend with the pressure of essentially leading the team out, since we lined up in pairs and I was 2nd in the trials so occupied the front row. Knowing who was behind me in the pen I knew I needed to get out fast…

As it happened, I did get out fast. I was fortunate to have good reactions off the line, and  was leading the race for a short while! The problems started soon after that though. I would normally relax into the race, control my pace and settle down. That just didn’t happen though; the pace was so relentless. I’d built up the race in my head which is never a good thing. Sure a few nerves are fine, good even as I’ve discussed previously but I’d probably spent the last two days getting through nervous energy and by the time the race came I just felt lethargic. Couple that to more digestive complaints (thought I’d come up with a fix to these!) and a course ill-suited to me and it became clear this wasn’t going to be my race. But I’ve waited 25 years to finally pull on the GB vest and I was going to do the best I could in a bad situation. I dug in and yes, quite a few people went past me but these were Europe’s finest! I eventually finished 38th, 4th GB scorer after Dewi sadly had to pull out with cramp. Not the debut I had hoped for.

I was pretty despondent after the race. I really felt I’d let the team down on that one and it took a long time to come round. But I did, thanks largely to some really nice comments from supporters. Sure I could’ve done better but I think experience is so important when it comes to a race like this. I’ve been matching performances that people like Ben Connor have put in this season but he absolutely excelled out there on Sunday, finishing 6th. Maybe on paper I had that sort of performance in me but he’s on his 4th Euro champs and you definitely learn how to race in these events. Hopefully in time I can produce that sort of result!

The team managers were sympathetic and supportive too, Liz Yelling especially. She’s seen star athletes for GB come here and put in a modest result and gone on to great things, and she was quick to remind me of that. Andy Butchart who finished a cracking 3rd also finished 86th in his first World XC. Gemma Steel who’s won this event before was 27th on her debut. I’m sure failure on one’s debut is far from a rite of passage to success for GB, but it’s comforting to to know that with so many of GB’s big names, they’ve come through the ranks at these champs. Watching the race on BBC catch-up was an absolute pleasure too. When Steve Cram and Hannah England started talking about my “inspiring journey” I couldn’t help but grin, that was incredibly surreal!

Having stopped moping I took a photo with the team medal on (no I didn’t directly contribute to winning it but I was part of the team and can take pride from that) and went out to party with the team. I was told on the evening that I’d been given the nod for Edinburgh XC in Jan which cheered me up no end. I now have the chance to make amends and show them what I could really do! The carnage that was happening back at home with cancelled flights left, right and centre seemed a distant worry so we celebrated into the early hours. It was very much “tomorrow’s problem”…

Anyway, tomorrow came and we indeed had a problem. Our flight was cancelled so we were stuck there for a while. So what did we do? You guessed it, headed out for a run! The team staff did an incredible job getting us all flights and taking the stress out of it, so by 5 in the afternoon we all knew we were getting home. It was actually a really enjoyable day; went for a couple of runs, did some strength work at the gym, ate some good food and went to Bratislava Christmas market in the evening! Plus the extra day just made the occasion a bit more special, especially as we were all now relaxed and chatty after the race. Really will remember this trip and cherish the time I had with some class athletes! It was great that the parents could come too. The Tuesday was largely spent travelling home, which was very much less stressful than the outgoing journey: few delays and no crashes this time!

So all-in-all it wasn’t the result I wanted but a hugely enjoyable and humbling experience to represent GB, especially on such a prestigious stage as the European XC! I have learnt so much from it, and knowing now what is required to succeed in this event, I will go away and come back physically stronger and mentally tougher to deal with whatever world athletes can throw at me! Can’t wait for Great Edinburgh XC where I will endeavour to make a telling contribution and take the fight to Europe and the US. Christmas may be a time for relaxation, but it’s also time to get the hammer down and get the edge over rivals! Till next time.

Managing stress: an elite athlete’s perspective (my written article on FastRunning)

Okay I’ll apologise now that some of the material in this report was taken from my blog post last week, but it’s worth reading, I promise!

So a few days ago FastRunning asked me to write a report, having read my blog post on the subject last week. I was only too happy to oblige. Stress is a topic not widely discussed in athletics, but it should be! So part of the reason behind writing this was to raise a bit of awareness on the subject and hopefully break down a few of the barriers surrounding it.

I won’t copy and paste the words out the document, instead I’ll paste the link for you all to peruse. Hopefully it is well received!

https://www.fastrunning.com/training/health/alex-teuten-managing-stress-athlete/10047

 

The race of my life: European XC trials 2017, writing the wrongs of 8 months ago! (Pun intended)

As I approached the finish line, I heard a very faintly audible “Alex Teuten with the race of his life crosses the line in second”. It seems a bit scarce to believe what had just happened! Let’s rewind for a second.

I posted earlier in the week about how I deal with stress and some of my preparation for this race. I must admit my job was made significantly easier by coming into the race under the radar; only the people close to me knew my ambitions and what shape I was in. But I was nervous, I mean really nervous. Pretty sure it was driving my friends and family nuts how on-edge I was. But this race meant a lot to me and I was dead set on leaving everything out there.

I had a feeling that things were going my way this week. A cancelled 8 o’clock progress meeting for my PhD meant I could have an important lie-in on the Friday. I had a double bed to sleep on for the overnight stop, and with that meant I slept really well Friday night. And the slightly raised resting pulse I had in the week had cleared for race day had cleared. So things looked like they were clicking into place!

By the morning of the race I was surprisingly calm; think I’d got the nerves out my system at this point! I had the familiar face of one of my training partners Matt for company on the warm up which was nice. Rod, my parents and Danny had all made the long journey up here which was also great; really think having the team around you on race day helps! I had a little joke with Rod; he can always tell when I’m having an off-day by whether I look pale before the race. So I asked him but then quickly backtracked. I didn’t want to know if I was about to have an impending disaster! He assured he’d tell me after the race if I looked pale or not.

Now normally I feel pretty rough on the warm up for a race; takes a while for my legs to wake up and get into gear. But today they were as fresh as a daisy. Might be because I’d done next to no miles in the run-up to the race, might be just that I was so fired up that my legs were bursting at the seams from the moment I stepped out of bed in the morning. But either way, I was loving it! Conditions were miserable; so so muddy and the occasional hale shower in no way alleviated the cold surroundings. I was brave and opted for spartan; vest, shorts and no gloves. I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for wearing something underneath though, it was one of those days.

Onto the race; I made the most of the initial hilly descent to get amongst the frontrunners. As I said before, I went into this determined to stick with the front 4 no matter what they threw at me. Yes it was going to be tough, yes it would hurt, but if you are to shy away from that you are in the wrong sport I’m afraid to say! At least with regard to making it to the top. So I dug in and prepared for the pain, with established names as Dewi Griffiths, fresh from his 2:09 Marathon, Olympic finalist Andy Butchard, National XC champ Ben Connor, X-Challenge winner Sam Stabler, double Olympian Andy Vernon and other class names such as Nick Goolab, Tom Lancashire and my friend and teammate Mahamed Mahamed. I must admit it’s still a shock to me that I was able to mix with such a star-studded field!

As the race progressed onto the second lap a lead group emerged and I had a wobble as they gained a few yards. But I brushed it off, got my head down and made the ground back coming down the hill. At this point there was myself, Ben, Dewi, Andy and Sam Stabler, worrying times as only 4 would qualify automatically. I was actually starting to enjoy myself despite working very hard. I was ducking and weaving around next to Dewi and Andy, athletes I hold in the highest regard for their achievements on the road and track. Today though, all bets were off. Cross is very much my kind of surface, my “home turf” if you like. And they were coming to it. I may not be the fastest athlete but I make up for it in what I believe is a skill for XC: the ability to find the best route, “feel” the surface and to navigate your way across it in the most efficient manner possible. A few people have it; Ben and Sam have demonstrated on a few occasions, so has Mahamed. Having that skill gives you a clear edge on this surface and that became very telling in the closing stages, where Dewi and Andy were beginning to slide around and I felt my chance was there so I made a break for it and went after Ben and Sam, who had attempted to make a decisive break themselves. I went past Sam and now had just Ben in my sights. It was something of a grandstand finish, with me closing on Ben with every stride but I just ran out of legs at the end and Ben claimed the honours.

2 seconds was the margin, 0.1% of the duration of the race. The competitor in me was pretty devastated to miss out by that much, but I also need to be realistic for a second (no pun intended)

I’d just finished ahead of two athletes on UKA funding who have achieved world-class results. I’d more than exceeded even my wildest and most optimistic ambition of gaining an automatic qualifying position for Euros. I’d proven the doubters who were writing me off before the race quite false in their predictions, and I’d righted that wrong from all the way back in March. But most importantly to me, I fulfilled the boyhood dream of making the GB team. It’s all I’ve ever wanted in this sport, to wear that vest at a major championship race. But I’m not done yet, this isn’t time to start signing off. I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to represent GB, and I will do everything I can to do us proud and help place us as high as we can at the Europeans!

So yes, this absolutely was “the race of my life” as the commentator pointed out. Maybe a few more people will have heard of me now but that’s really not my ambition. The GB vest was but I’m hungry for more now. As an aside, Rod said that I did indeed look a bit pale before the race, which if it was the case that I was carrying something then that’s remarkable and I can only say it did not affect me during the race!

Since then I’ve been utterly inundated with responses from fellow athletes and friends, and I have been so touched by the enthusiasm, support and recognition from everyone. If I am, as people have claimed, an inspiration to many then it is purely because I myself have been both inspired by my peers, and supported so brilliantly by the team around me, who along with them and my fans, I cannot thank enough. I will do my very best to represent you all to the very best of my ability on the 10th December at the European Cross!

That’s all from me, the race itself will be live on BBC 2 on Sunday 10th, race time to be confirmed if people would like to watch me! Thanks for reading and I’ll write again soon.

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The calm before the storm: Dealing with stress

Just doing a bit of writing to let off some steam really. This is of course the biggest week of my athletics career to date, seeing as it’s the first year I can quietly say to myself I’m in contention for a place on the GB team. That’s not to say I’m in a bullish mood about it; the truth is a million miles from that! But I know in myself that preparation going into the Euro trials has been as smooth and as effective as I could have hoped for and there is an outside chance I could make the team.

Of course one must be reflective. There’s so many more important matters in this life of ours that the outcome of Saturday really isn’t that big in the context. There will be another Euro trials, another opportunity. I’m thinking about other people, especially those close to me and how problematic their lives are that a worry like this would seem so immaterial in comparison, and I’m incredibly grateful that I can worry about the outcome of the race and be healthy, have family and friends etc.

But worrying I am and I’m writing this to try and diffuse some of that stress. Rod made a really good observation last week, saying people either associate to or dissociate from stress in periods of pressure. I myself am definitely an associator; taking it on and attempting to contain it.  For me though, stress is a good thing, and that embracing it and recognising that it is beneficial is the most important part. I suppose metaphorically speaking it’s like riding a dragon; once controlled makes the rider more powerful and protected, but unless tamed the dragon is a serious threat. But as they say, diamonds are made under pressure! There are those though that see stress as a hinderance and attempt to remove it from their lives through calming means. I suppose carrying on with the animal analogy it would be like performing a hike with a monkey on one’s back; clearly has little benefit and would aid performance by being discarded. Have a think to yourself about which type you are!

So how do I deal with stress? Well I suppose I might say I go for a run; that’s what I’d do if I was having problems with my PhD. Except the problem is the running is the stressor! So in effect the flipside works too; I immerse myself in work. Every runner wants more time to run, stretch etc but I’m actually quite glad I’m not a full-time athlete because i imagine it would be so in-your-face all the time, with never any time to take a breather.

Other things I do include thinking reassuring thoughts. The week before a race your brain starts to develop doubts and “creates” pains in your legs. In reality odd bumps and pings you wouldn’t think twice about in usual circumstances suddenly become career-threatening injuries during that time, but the most important thing to do is stick as close as you can to your usual routine. Sure lose a few miles to freshen up the legs but it’s still worth running a little each day, with one rest day if you’re that way inclined, just to reassure yourself that you’re not injured or broken. On top of the physical jitters there’s the worry one hasn’t prepared enough, that you could’ve done more to achieve your target. But let’s be honest; that’s yesterday’s problem. All you can do is ensure you get to that start line in the best condition you can be in, so early nights, good nutrition and ensure you don’t pick up a bug! And plan; plan your meals, plan the journey, plan the race, heck plan what you’re going to listen to on your warm up if it helps! But prepare.

Whatever happens on Saturday I can have no regrets. 8 months ago I was left frustrated, believing I’d done enough to make the World XC team only for management to decide not to send one. This time there almost certainly will be a team sent and I’ve worked hard to get myself into shape. The rest is down to whoever gets it right on the day, who wants it the most.

It’s hard to look past Liverpool with so much at stake but after consulting with Danny my agent from FSM I’ve had a bit of rethink of the second half of my Winter season, in a number of ways. My racing programme may well change as I’m going to target a new goal. You’ll find out about that one soon! That’s all I’ll say for now, expect a review of the weekend’s race soon after.