Watford. Not somewhere I go very often and when I have been there, the high street seems to resemble the identikit jumble of fast-food joints, cheap clothing retailers and disaffected youths just hanging around that is so typical of our town centres these days. On arriving in Watford last night, this prejudgement was not in any way altered by what I saw.
But I climbed on my bike and headed off along the A412 St Albans Road, for an appointment with pain and suffering – my first track race since school days and the first time I had ever raced over 3,000m. My coach, Nick Anderson, has been badgering me to come to the Watford Harriers open meet and run the 3,000m, in order – he says – to get out of my comfort zone. On arrival at a really lovely venue, I was greeted by a field full of athletes – a really wonderful sight.
There were a few older athletes, me included, but by far the majority as far as I could see, were junior athletes, up to 18 years old. As I weaved my way through the runners sprawled on the grass watching the action or warming up for their event or cooling down after it, there was a wonderful buzz of excited voices. Everyone was friendly, greeting those they were to compete with like the friends they clearly are, sharing thoughts on the nights races and talking about aims for the events that were to come.
My race came and went. I had a great time and I think I gave a good account of myself.
But the real eye-opener for me, was how many dedicated, fit and competitive young people there are who are prepared to come to Watford on a Wednesday night – and in the case of the runners in my race – wait until after 10pm before they get their opportunity for pain and suffering. After reading Christine Ohuruogu’s comments yesterday (you can read my response to that here) I had a bit of a feeling of despair; that the task of really exciting youngsters about athletics, the Olympics and sport in general was an impossible task – but after last night my spirits are soaring. Talking to the parents and coaches making up the very, very vocal support last night, I realise that for them the task is keeping children and young people engaged in athletics and for that I think we need super heroes and in that case the Olympics will, I’m sure, deliver. So if you fancy trying racing on the track for the first time or returning to the track or, if you are already racing on the track, you fancy racing at a friendly open meet, get yourself along to Watford and marvel at the fact that we have not lost an entire generation from sport… it’s just that the ones in Watford town centre don’t know what is going on 3 miles up the road.