The day I went running with Julia Bleasdale

Last week I had the pleasure of going running with Julia Bleasdale. Yep, that’s right…

  • the runner who came 8th in both 5,000m and 10,000m finals at the London Olympics, running a personal best time of 30:55.63 in the 10,000m race.
  • the very same Julia Bleasdale who is ranked as the 9th fastest female 10,000m runner in the world in 2012, by the IAAF.
  • the athlete who, in 2012, knocked 42 seconds off her 5,000m personal best taking it to 15:02.00 whilst improving her 10,000m lifetime best from 34:20.77 to 30:55.63.

And I was going to run with her. I think the main question was, would I survive?

An annus mirabilis

Last year was pretty special for Julia. The numbers I have listed above tell a tale, but whilst we ran and talked, I got the distinct impression that there was more to it than just the figures. I think that Julia really enjoyed her Olympic year. Her eyes lit up when she talked about what it was like to walk out into the Olympic stadium for the 5000m and 10000m finals. The noise, the sights, the support – she was clearly inspired and I think it has given her a desire to do more and go further.

Partly the success has been down to Julia linking up with coach Nic Bideau in mid-2011. Up to that point Julia had been self coached and told me

I was probably pushing myself too hard and as a consequence was picking up injuries which affected my ability to train consistently…

which would obviously have a knock-on effect on what she achieved.

I asked Julia how it worked with Nic and I was interested to hear that he structures her entire week, even deciding the pace that each part of every run should be done at. This is no mean feat, given that Nic is based in Australia and Julia said that she has to make sure that she feeds back to her coach about all the aspects of her training and how she is feeling, so that he can adjust her training accordingly.

But it seems to be working and I was interested to hear that more than anything, the change that Bideau has introduced is that Julia is training less intensively than before which has meant that she has been able to train more consistently.

Other support

I have written many times about the importance of having good people around you. I am enormously lucky to have an amazingly supportive wife, a great coach and many friends who challenge me a spur me on in my running. Julia similarly seems to have a great network.

She told me about her partner, Kevin Nash, who was heavily involved in the London Olympic Games, managing the courses used for the cycling road races for the Olympics and Paralympics. His support seems to be very valuable and being a fit man himself, he can presumably understand Julia’s commitment to her sport and spends many hours cycling alongside her as she runs, whether that is in the hills around her UK base in Surrey or in Ethiopia where she goes for altitude training.

Julia also mentioned two other people who have played a part in her success: Mark Buckingham, her physio and Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychologist and author of The Chimp Paradox. Not a bad team, it would seem.

The future

As we run through the forests that surround Julia’s lovely house in Surrey, we talked about the future.

Julia knows that she has the raw talent to succeed. It is also clear that she has the commitment and desire to work hard to get better – as an example, her Christmas Day workout was four sets of 4x500m. As if that wasn’t tough enough, it was done at Kenenisa Bekele’s new track at 2,750m above sea level in the Yaya African Athletics Village, a facility part owned by Haile Gebrselassie – who, coincidentally, Julia told me is “really lovely”!

We met the week after Julia had captained the GB team in the Bupa Edinburgh Cross Country, against teams from the USA and Europe and I was amazed to hear that despite her really impressive performance there, Julia knows there is more to come because the seven weeks she had just spent in Ethiopia contained a majority of endurance training and not much speed work. Once she builds speed in, goodness knows what she will be doing!

Bleasdale’s concrete plans for 2013 include the athletics World Championships in Moscow and the World Cross Country Championships and I for one, will be tipping her for even more success.

Beyond that, Julia told me she is happy on the track for now and Rio 2016 is actually not all that far away. She (and I along with anyone who has an interest in Team GB athletics) is hoping that the upward trajectory that her running has been on, continues. And if that does happen, then her friend and occasional training partner, Meseret Defar, who won the 5000m in London, had better watch out.

A marathon, perhaps?

And I had to ask about the possibility of a marathon. Julia said that as of now she has no concrete plans, but I was pleased to hear that she believes that there will be an attempt on the 26.2 mile race in the future. I am absolutely sure that she is capable of great things beyond the track and whilst she was prepared to pace our run so that I wasn’t left behind somewhere in the trees and the falling snow, I doubt that my marathon PB would be good enough to stay anywhere near her when she does make the step up in distance.

Many thanks to Julia for hosting me at her house (the home-made scones were really delicious!) and especially for taking me for a really wonderful run in the snow. Personally I am really excited to see what the future holds and if you are keen to find out more about Julia, and her passion for creativity as well as running, check out her website – www.juliableasdale.com. I am going to try to convince Julia to allow me to ‘join’ her for a track session at some point and if that happens I’ll report back on how that goes!

What we need are heroes

I believe that one of the reasons for periods of time when certain nations or even regions dominate in any particular sport, is the presence of heroes. There are others factors, certainly, but being surrounded by people one knows or you can relate to who are doing amazing things, tends to be a hugely motivating force.

For an in-depth discussion of the role that heroes plays in motivating others, Rasmus Ankersen’s book, the Gold Mine Effect, is a great place to start and you can read the interview I did with Rasmus here.

But for now, I am going to stick with my assertion that heroes are important – whether that is the people in your running club or running group or a relative or friend or indeed a national hero.

Heroes and their heroes

And the best runners I have ever met keep confirming this to me. In the past few months I have been interviewing some amazing runners for my Lessons From The Legends series of articles in Running Fitness magazine. The same thing keeps coming up time and time again:

  • Mike McLeod used to rock up to the sea-front in Newcastle to run with a group including Steve Cram.
  • Bill Adcocks trained at Coventry Godiva at a time when the club was home to Olympic, Commonwealth and European marathon medalists.
  • Richard Nerurkar was pushed by school- and club-mates as well as rivals throughout his career and was inspired watching the likes of Dave Bedford and Brendan Foster when he was younger.

These runners were in contact with people who were their heroes and rivals and inspired them to train harder and be more consistent in order to become better and better runners.

They don’t make ’em like they used to

Image © Getty Images

I think that one of the problems with distance running now is that recently there haven’t been running heroes that have captured the imagination of runners of every level. And I know that one swallow does not a summer make, but Mo Farah could just be the person to ignite the fire.

His heroics at the Olympics were astounding and made him a household name. He has also clearly inspired Galen Rupp and Chris Thompson and others at the top level to do better. That is a start.

But imagine what could be if Mo moves up to the marathon and has an impact there? Well, his coach Alberto Salazar has just announced that he could be attempting the 10000m  and marathon double in Rio in 2016 (more details can be found here) I just hope that is realistic because I think that if Mo could do for men’s running what Paula has done for women’s running, then by the time I hang up my racing flats in a few years, we could well be on the road to a new era of great marathon runners coming out of the UK. We can only hope!

New York, new London?

All for one and one for all... again

The Wall Street Journal carried a story today that the three Americans who lined up for the Olympic marathon a couple of weeks ago, will all be racing in the New York City marathon on 4 November. I suppose this is not remarkable news, given that the New York marathon is one of the biggest races in the world – with huge publicity for US runners – and total prize money which now exceeds $850,000 and includes a new pot of $100,000 to be divided between the top 5 American male and female finishers.

But I guess I was slightly surprised that all three of the Olympic marathoners would be there. It is widely assumed that in the lucrative non-Championship races, elite athletes will try to avoid coming up against fierce rivals too often and in addition to that, for at least one of the American trio, this is his third marathon in 2012 (chapeau, Meb!) which is quite a lot of stress on the body at that level.

I suspect that the New York win will again go to an east African runner. But whatever happens on that front, the crowds in New York are in for a treat – their three best domestic marathoners duelling it out for the honour of being the first American to cross the line in Central Park. And for two of them, there is a right to be wronged as Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman both failed to finish in London. That is an intriguing proposition.

Athletes and Injuries: A journey through London 2012

Another treat from the wonderful Catherine Wilding, who in this post looks at the pattern of athletes and injuries, especially in the run-up to important championship competitions. But it really begs the question: are we all not susceptible to pushing too hard as the ‘big day’ approaches and tipping over from fit to broken…?

 

For many athletes, there is often a tale of adversity to accompany their success.  It can be overcoming hardship, battling prejudice or just proving people wrong but more often than not, it’s overcoming career threatening injuries.  The athlete’s journey is long and winding and often a lonely path filled with emotional highs and lows.  It is beset with many obstacles but it is injury that is probably the most difficult.  It takes years of dedication and determination to achieve recognition and before even making the start-line of major championships and tournaments, many athletes have endured months of painstaking re-habilitation from injuries and some just don’t even make it.

As runners, ours is a cruel sport. The longer the distance, the more likely we are to get injured and the list of injuries for long distance runners is almost as long as the races themselves.  It’s a repetitive sport which is hard on the body and it is a lucky runner who escapes injury.

The London 2012 Olympic Games were a veritable catalogue of injuries. There are countless stories of athletes from almost every nation who were either not selected owing to injury; were forced to pull out before the games began; arrived at the start line not fully fit and carrying a niggle; or were injured during competition.

Our most famous distance runner of all time and World Record Holder – Paula Radcliffe – has a heartbreaking story and one we are all too familiar with.  It’s been an eight year journey from Athens, via a stress fracture and a cruel and disappointing race in Beijing, to London 2012. But such is marathon running a challenging sport – Paula didn’t even make the start line in London.  She was forced to pull out just one week before with a recurring foot injury and so her Olympic journey ended before it had begun.

Ryan Hall was a big medal hope

Her compatriot Mara Yamauchi completed months of hard training to line up on the Mall on Sunday 5th August.  But hers was a short-lived race and not the one she had trained for.  She hadn’t quite made it to the 10K mark before she had to pull up with an injury to her heel which clearly wasn’t going to hold up.  In the women’s marathon, the gun had only just gone off when one competitor had to be carried off the course.  One of the favourites for the race – Shobhukova also pulled out with a hamstring injury.  In the men’s marathon a week later, Ryan Hall of the USA was forced out after 10 miles also with a hamstring injury.  He later said that he has never not finished a race, but felt it was something he couldn’t work through and the injury could do damage to his career. His fellow team make Abdirhman barely made it a mile further before also pulling up after feeling a “pop” in his knee.  In fact 18 of the competitors didn’t make the finish line and will forever have the misery of seeing DNF next to their name in Olympic history.

That’s just the story of the marathon.  The most remarkable injury to have been incurred during competition must be that of Manteo Mitchell the American sprinter in the men’s 4 x 400m relay.  He heard his left fibula crack whilst running the first leg in the heats.  In an extraordinary feat of mind over matter he continued running on a broken leg despite the pain.  His rationale being that he didn’t want to let the team down.   Team USA qualified for the final but Mitchell wasn’t able to help his team-mates take Silver.  The Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell also pulled up in the 100m final after pulling a thigh muscle.  He limped across the line last but still managed to finish the race in 11.99 seconds.

Poor old Liu Xiang

Another heartbreaking story is that of China’s most famous athlete, the hurdler Liu Xiang.  After crashing out of the Olympic final in Beijing in 2008, he was again carried off the track in a wheelchair at London 2012.  An ongoing Achilles injury was to blame and after hitting the first hurdle in the 110m heats he ended yet another Olympic dream and promptly announced his retirement.

These are just a few stories from the runners.  Almost everywhere we looked we saw the tell-tale sign of injury.  KT tape (or Kineseology tape) was a ubiquitous and somewhat cult accessory at London 2012. Sported in every colour, Athletes use the tape to support injuries to shoulders, calves, hamstrings etc.  In the women’s 10K, the favourite Dibaba had thick blue tape down her hamstring, wearing it like a badge perhaps to tell us that she wasn’t quite in her best shape.

But it’s not just the runners who get injured. Some sports are more deadly than others and injuries can be crushing. For the road cyclist it can quite literally be “one false move and your dead”.  Travelling at speed is not the time to make a mistake as Fabian Cancellara the former Olympic Time Trial champion knows to his cost.  He hit a barrier in Richmond Park and suffered a debilitating injury to his collar bone which all but ended his Olympic chances.  The women’s road-race saw several crashes – none life threatening but ending medal chances for all those caught in the tangle.

The equestrian events are also no place to make mistakes.  It’s the horse that is in charge and being thrown from the saddle can not only end ones medal hopes but also put an end to riding for months or even years.   Team GB’s Nick Skelton has broken practically every bone in his body and suffered a near fatal neck injury in 2001, yet he managed to survive London 2012. After missing out on an individual medal in the show-jumping, he helped the team to ride away with Gold in the team event.  Broken bones are not confined to cycling, riding (and even running).  In the hockey, the Women’s Team GB captain played on despite suffering a broken jaw in the early rounds.  She went on to captain the team to a Bronze medal.

It's not all bad news though

Any athlete who has been injured knows that the recovery process and re-hab is fraught with difficulty – both physically and psychologically – which makes it even more remarkable that Team GB’s Alistair Brownlee – who, having suffered a tear to his Achilles as recently as February this year – was able to compete in the triathlon in Hyde Park.  Not only did he make the start line fighting fit but he ran a blistering race to take the Gold medal and a very convincing victory.

Others arrived gallantly for the competition having battled injury yet weren’t able to perform.  After weeks of speculation and controversy, Philips Idowu arrived only to crash out in the heats.  Some put on a great performance having overcome injuries but missed weeks of crucial training.  Our 1500m runner Lisa Dobriskey had a catalogue of injuries and illness, including surgery on her hip; a stress fracture in her femur, and a blood clot on her lung all in the space of a few months earlier this year.  It was an incredible achievement just to make it to the final but she was disappointed to finish in 10th place.  In the women’s triathlon, Helen Jenkins finished in 5th place despite not being fully fit having missed significant training in the preceding 10 weeks with a knee injury.

There are endless tales of disappointment and endless tears from athletes who have incurred injuries and not been able to fulfil their dreams.

We have to reflect and ask: How would the London 2012 Games have looked if Usain Bolt had not overcome his Achilles injury?  Only 95% fit, he ran away with three gold medals and a legendary status but it could all have ended quite differently.

 

 

Feather-weight comfort

I like Adidas – I like the brand, I like the German-ness of the company. I like their focus on performance above all else. And I really like the products, especially the adiZero range. One of my favourite bits of kit – and I have quite a bit of kit! – is a second hand adiZero longsleeve t-shirt that my coach, Nick Anderson, gave me.

Above all I really like the Adidas shoes that I have tried out… which is actually exactly one pair – the adiZero Adios 2s, with super-special Continental rubber in the soles. They are really good shoes (especially after the toe-box was widened a smidgen which means they now accommodate my big fat feet!) and I ran my marathon PB of 2:38:30 in London this year in my second pair of Adios.

But unlike Nike, Brooks, Mizuno, New Balance, Saucony and others, Adidas have never wanted anything to do with me and my little blog. Until recently, that is.

A few months ago I was contacted by an agency on behalf of Adidas asking me to give them some details about myself and tell them about the blog. Which I did. And for a while nothing happened and I didn’t worry about that. I don’t chase brands – if they want to reach all the lovely people who come and read this nonsense… erm, I mean blog, then they can chase me.

Then suddenly two weeks ago, I received a very large package with an address label prominently displaying the Adidas logo. Inside was a magnificent metal and perspex box, containing a pair of the new adiZero Feather 2s. I was immediately taken aback by the amazing packaging and presentation of the shoes. You can see for yourself:

 

Now THAT is a shoe box!

But packaging is all well and good, but it doesn’t tell you how the shoes perform on the feet. So after wearing them in the office and at home for a few days to get used to them, I went out for a few easy 45 minute runs in the bright blue Feather 2s.

Now I know this is not the worlds most insightful review, but

They are great!

OK, more detail. They are a touch on the narrow side, but that has always been my experience of Adidas shoes and they are not as narrow as the first version of the adiZero Adios that I wanted to wear but couldn’t because they were too tight around my toes. The Feathers are stiff and the cushioning in the forefoot and heel is firm, but that only serves to make the shoes feel really fast. If you are an efficient runner, used to racing flats or minimalist shoes, then you’ll feel right at home in the Feather 2s. The upper is super-lightweight, but without feeling flimsy and a side effect of that, which I like is the great breathability of the shoes. I even like the short and thin laces that stay tied perfectly.

The main thing that catches the eye about the Feather 2 however is the SPRINTFRAME construction which runs the full length of the show above the Adiprene cushioning material. It looks like a sort of plastic spring and seems to me to be a bit like the Wave insert that Mizuno use in the construction of their shoes, although in the adiZero Feathers the spring is under the mid-foot, not in the heel like the Mizunos. This seems to give the shoe a real springiness that means there is no sensation of losing momentum through the cushioning compressing, which I have experienced before. I am sure that it is this plastic plate which gives the Feather 2 such a pleasingly fast and responsive feel.

So, conclusion: the Adidas adiZero Feather 2 feels like a serious racer/trainer to me. This is a properly light shoe (just under 190g according the kitchen scales), low to the ground and with a firm feel that makes the shoe very responsive. This is a shoe for tempo runs, fast sessions, 10ks… that sort of thing. Light, biomechanically efficient runners will love this shoe as will anyone else who is looking for something quick and eye-catching. They’ll make you feel and look like an Olympian!

London Olympic Games Men’s marathon report

As the London Olympic Games of 2012 draw to a close, the men’s marathon promised to be a fitting end to a wonderful few weeks of sport. Perfectly appointed to provide a stunning backdrop to the action, London was going to make the most of this final act in the Olympic athletics calendar. And we are lucky to have another report from the wonderful Catherine Wilding. Here is what she had to say about the race today (and if you want to read her report of the women’s marathon, it is here.)

 

Sunday 12th August 2012: It was the men’s turn to hit the streets of London.  Historically the men’s marathon represents the denouement of the Olympic Games and it is customary for the race to end in the Olympic stadium.  However, London 2012 organisers wanted to treat the global audience to some of the city’s most iconic sights and therefore devised a three and a half lap course around the City finishing on the Mall.  The course was to follow exactly the same route as the women’s race, yet a week on, conditions could not have been more different.

Iconic sights greeted the runners

It was ideal for spectators – hundreds of thousands turned out to line the route – 10-15 deep in places.  Views over London looked nothing short of spectacular on this blistering summer’s day.  But with temperatures reaching 27 degrees and humidity at 77% conditions were less than ideal for marathon running.

The race was always going to favour the African runners and perhaps conditions were a little more to their liking. If ever there was any evidence needed of how much the African nations dominate the sport, Kenya had 278 runners all meeting the Olympic qualifying time, yet were only able to select three, and therefore overlooked the current World Record holder – Patrick Makau. Ethopia had a similar problem but their selection criteria became rather contentious – again overlooking some of their best runner’s.  Unfortunately it proved to be entirely the wrong strategy.  Not only did their runners fail to make the podium, all three failed to make the finish line.

Team GB had just managed to scrape three runners together after an appeal by Lee Merrien (who fell just over a minute outside the qualifying time set by UK athletics) earned him selection for the team.  However only two of our men – Merrien and Scott Overall made it to the start line as Dave Webb was forced to withdraw from the race owing to injury.  Unfortunately we had no other runners in reserve – much to the chagrin of the African runners who had missed out.

To the non-runner, the marathon can be a rather confusing sport.  (Why – I am often asked in a manner of disbelief– would anyone want to run 26.2 miles? )   And to add further confusion to the un-initiated, on this occasion there were three runners all wearing the same name – Kiprotich.  Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich was running with the bib “Kiprotich” yet is better known as Kipsang.  A former London marathon winner who has won four of the five marathons he has run –  he was a favourite for the race. Stephen Kiprotich was running for Uganda and there was also a Kiprotich running for France.

A great race in store

It was in the final stages of the race when there were two Kiprotich’s in contention (the French version having dropped out much earlier in the race) that the confusion became excitement. By the time the Kenyan Kiprotich (Kipsang) and the Ugandan Kiprotich arrived for the final time on the Embankment it was the Ugandan that was the strongest already having made a surprising move and pulled ahead. He stormed to a convincing win on the Mall in 2.08.01.  Running straight into both Olympic and Ugandan history books as the first ever Ugandan to win an Olympic marathon and the country’s third only ever Olympic medal – their second Gold and first medal since 1976.

It was another surprising result for the marathon with an outsider sweeping Gold.  The Kenyan’s – Kipsang and Kirui, both ran impressive races with Kirui taking Silver and Kipsang Bronze.

It was Kipsang who began to push the pace early into the race.  The lead pack set off at a comparatively swift pace in contrast to the women’s race.  By the 10k mark there was a clear lead pack dominated by the African runners and gaps in the field had begun to open up early into the race.

The first surprise of the race came just beyond the 10 mile mark on the Mall when Ryan Hall of the USA – a possible challenger to the Africans – stepped off the course clutching at his hamstring.  He had gone into the race with a slight injury and clearly didn’t feel it was going to hold up.  Disaster struck again for the USA when moments later his team mate Abdirahman pulled up on Northumberland Avenue.  That left Meb Keflezighi the only contender for the USA.

By the half way point, Kipsang had opened up a 16 second lead on the chasing group.  The 5K splits were averaging 15minutes and the pace was hotting up.   In the chasing pack were Kirui, Abshero of Ethopia and Kiprotich of Uganda.  By this stage, the Ethiopians Sefir and Feleke were already starting to struggle with the pace.  By mile 17, however there were three leaders as Kirui and Kiprotich had caught Kipsang .   It was starting to feel like a race yet there were still 9 hard miles left to run.   The Brazilian dos Santos – two-time NYC Marathon winner – was the nearest contender but over a minute off the pace and back in 4th place working on his own, it seemed he had too much to do to be in contention for a medal.

The marathon gold medalist

There were many tight turns  on the course and it was at around the 36k mark in the City of London that Kiprotich made a swift move on a turn and pulled ahead of Kirui and Kipsang.   At this stage it was anyone’s guess what would happen next.  However Kipsang started to fade and Kirui put on a good fight down the Embankment but couldn’t close the now 19 second gap between himself and Kiprotich.    Making several glances over his shoulder, Kiprotich was checking his lead but by the time he arrived on Birdcage walk he was almost confident of victory.   Heading down the Mall he had the breathing space to pick up a Ugandan flag and hold it aloft as he crossed the finish line making history for his country.  He had opened up a 26 second gap on Kirui who finished in second place.  Kipsang finished in 2.09.37.  The early injection of pace in the race had clearly cost him the Gold medal spot for Kenya.

In 4th place came the American Keflezighi who had over-taken dos Santos to finish in a respectable 2.11.06 with dos Santos just behind in 2.11.10 and 5th place.

The conditions had clearly taken their toll.  Many of the runners neared the finish line looking exhausted and in distress.  Even the Kenyan’s had raced for the drinks stations pouring water over their heads to cool down.  Of the 100 runners to start 18 didn’t make the finish including all three of the Ethopians.  There were many casualties along the way with the South African runner Ngamole collapsing by the roadside with only 3 miles to go.

Scott Overall suffered in the heat and after a promising start he dropped back in the last half of the race to finish in a disappointing 2.22.37 and 61st place.  Lee Merrien finished in 30th place and a respectable 2.17.00, having proved his worthiness for selection.

 

5 August 2012 9:41pm – a moment of inspiration

© Guardian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last night Usain St. Leo Bolt took a huge step to writing his name into the history books as a legend of sprinting by winning the 100m final at the London Olympic Games.

And in doing so he has ensured that Basil Ince, author of Black Meteors, will need to write a post-script to his book pretty soon.

Black Meteors – The Caribbean in International Track and Field

Black Meteors is a fascinating book. I really enjoyed reading it, although I would say that the way the book is written would seem to lend itself to a style of reading that I will call ‘dipping-in-and-out’ rather than necessarily reading it from cover to cover. It is quite statistical in places.

But I think that what I enjoyed most about the book is that it supports what I believe about running and more than that, excellence in all areas: that motivation, opportunity and self belief are the crucial ingredients that need to be added to genetic good fortune and the will to work very, very hard, to create greatness.

If you want to get hold of this book – and if you are an athletics fan and a student of performance then you really should have a copy on your book shelf – then you can contact ANTHONY ZURBRUGG/ GLOBAL BOOK MARKETING Ltd/ Tel/Fax +44 [0]20 8533 5800 99B Wallis Rd, London, E9 5LN. (UK customers may call at local rate  – 0845 458 1580). It really is worth getting a copy and please let me know what you think.

The ingredients required to win Olmpic gold in 9.63 seconds

Ince’s book describes a pattern familiar to those who have studied patterns of performance and excellence and which will be well understood by anyone who has read The Goldmine Effect by Rasmus Ankersen (who I interviewed for this blog – you can read that interview here) or Bounce by Matthew Syed. There was a point in time when Caribbean athletes – in the shape of McDonald Bailey, the Trinidadian who held the 100 m world record at 10.2 seconds between 1951 and 1956 and Arthur Wint who was the first Jamaican Olympic gold medalist, winning the 400 m at 1948 Summer Olympics in London – started to make a mark on athletics and enter the world of global sporting dominance.

From that point the seed of possibility was sown and other athletes in the Caribbean looked at what Bailey and Wint were achieveing and started to believe…

While the self-belief started to build, the motivation for runners to try to elevate themselves from the poverty that was common in the Caribbean in the 1940s and 1950s (and really persists to this day) was in place. And the opportunity to train hard and consistently was provided by the warm weather conditions.

From tiny acorns great (and fast) oak trees grow

Fast forward 50 or 60 years and Bolt and Blake reaped the rewards of a culture of sprinting that has developed in Jamaica based on all I believe has happened to create a hot-bed of high performance.

That is not to take anything away from all the work that Bolt and Blake has done to become the sprinters they are today. But hard work is only part of it – motivation, self-belief and opportunity are also required.

Which brings me to my favourite subject. How do we use the amazing things we are seeing in east London to motivate young people to make sport part of their lives, believe in what they are capable of and find more great athletes in the UK and around the world? My friend and mentor Charlie Dark (www.twitter.com/daddydark) asked the same question on twitter and I believe that there are a few things that are required, including but not limited to:

  • making amazing performances reachable: demystifying the incredible into small steps that everyone can attempt.
  • teaching young people to embrace failure and know that not succeeding is just a step on the road to being greater than they ever thought possible.
  • bringing young people together to discover sport in an environment rich with support, competition and positivity.
  • facilitating and supporting experienced and qualified coaches and mentors to work with young people.
  • using education to help young people understand the benefits of hard work and long-term goals.

I believe that Ennis and Farah and Bolt and Rupp and Blake and all the other amazing athletes we are watching were not born great. They were born with the potential to be great – but in that they are no different from everyone else in the world – and they used the opportunities they had and a determination to work hard, to turn that potential into a reality. Simple really.

 

London Olympic Games: Saturday 4 August 2012

An experience like nothing I’ve ever known before

This is going to be one of the hardest posts I have ever written: I don’t want to rely on over-used superlatives to describe the experience of watching the Olympics in the athletics stadium last night, but that might be very tough indeed.

Where to start? Well, I guess at the beginning of the day. I had seats with two friends from my running club and we decided to try to absorb the whole atmosphere so we got to the Olympic Park nice an early – lunchtime for an evening session. The journey was painless, the process of accessing the park was easy and pleasant, the soldiers on duty (in place of the G4S people who were never hired!) were efficient and friendly.

The park itself – well that was very, very busy. Not long after we arrived 80,000 fans from the morning session of the Olympics tipped out and added to the masses that were milling around already. And this really is the basis for my only slight complaint. There were queues everywhere. For everything.

There were queues for the shops, for the steel sculpture thing, for the garden areas where the big screens are. But they moved fast and frankly I think given the enormous number that were there, the whole atmosphere in the Park was unbelievably friendly and relaxed.

After a couple of hours of soaking up the buzz around the Park, we went into the stadium to take our seats.

The stadium is really, really beautiful. There cannot be a ‘bad’ seat in the place and the arena is the perfect setting for Olympics. I really, really hope that all talk of a football club taking over is finally laid to rest. This needs to be the UKs centre for athletics for the future. It is stunning.

And then the sport started.

Actually I am not going to write a blow-by-blow account of the action. If you were living in a cave and didn’t see it or you just want to relive all the excitement (and I implore you to watch this again and again and again), the BBC is the perfect place to catch it for the first time or again. Click here for the Farah victory. And here for the climax of Ennis’ victory.

The atmosphere in the stadium was like nothing I have ever experienced before.

Jessica Ennis seals victory,

The people around me were all on their feet as Ennis started her two lap race and the noise as she ran off the front, was caught and then kicked past the two athletes who had passed her, grew and grew and grew until there seemed to be an explosion of emotion and cheering and whistling and screaming as she crossed the line.

Mo Farah. Olympic champion.

Photo: © Richard Gregory

Not that I am in any way taking anything away from Ennis’ victory, but if it is possible the noise around the stadium for the 10000m seemed to be a notch greater.

I suspect that this was because there was no certainty that Mo would win. For Ennis the 800m, baring catastrophe, was going to give her victory and the underlying emotion behind the noise in the stadium was jubilation and excitement.

But for Mo it was different. From the moment the gun went everyone I could see in the stadium was yelling encouragement. By the time he had three laps to go everyone was on their feet. And as he surged to the front with 450m to go and across the start/finish line for the final lap, the noise was truly unbelievable. It was as though everyone thought they could propel him to victory by making more and more noise. There was a sense of desperation, of straining, of fear in the noise. Victory for Mo was far from assured and the athletes that tracked him around that last lap always seemed poised to ‘pop’ out and streak past in the last few hundred metres or even last few metres to snatch victory.

So the noise when he hit the home straight and opened a 3 or 4 metre gap was – there is only one word for it – hysterical. Everyone around me was jumping and clasping each other and screaming and yelling. Really and truly, I have never known anything like it.

We were on our feet shouting and clapping for what seemed like hours after as Mo collected first himself, then his daughter, then a Union Flag and then his wife for a victory lap that I will always remember. It was a truly remarkable moment in a truly magical night.

So what now?

After the sheer unadulterated joy at what we had witnessed subsided just a little – by which I mean after I had left the stadium and was alone on my way home on the tube at midnight – I started to wonder what this will all mean?

I will write more on this no doubt. But one thing I want to ask, is whether it is too much to hope that this will make a real, sustainable and positive difference? I believe that big events can create lasting change and last night was a huge event. Not just for athletics and not just for the wider realms of sport. This was a big event on a much bigger canvas. Last night we saw – whether that was in the flesh or on TV – what ordinary people can achieve. Mo Farah is amazing, of that there is no doubt. But he is amazing because of what he has made of himself. He is amazing because of how hard he works. So I hope I am not reading too much into it all when I say that I believe that Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford and all the other Olympians who are doing things far, far beyond what was expected of them and hoped for them, are showing all of us that there is so much more that we can achieve if we believe in ourselves and we work hard. Now we just need to make sure that this message reaches everyone and raises us all up to do more and try harder. That, in my opinion, is how significant what I saw in the Olympic stadium last night should be.

Sub-4 minute mile… I don’t think so.

Some of you might remember that a while ago I posted that two of the New Balance Milers – Andy Baddeley and Nick McCormick – had qualified for the 1500m at the London Olympic Games. You can read all about that here.

When New Balance announced the news, I was told that I would also be sent a present from the good people in Flimby. Well, I am an unassuming chap, easily pleased, so I was not expecting much. What was delivered this morning was a wonderful surprise. A Union Flag version of the New Balance 890 v2s.

To be honest, I have been wanting to try a pair of New Balance road shoes for quite a while, but I have been asked quite a few times if I want to try some and nothing has materialised. I did, to be fair, receive a jacket and some tights which I really, really rate. But shoes have never appeared. So to get a pair that look amazing and feel great to run in, put a huge smile on my face.

Looks aren’t everything

So first of all, looks. Well, as I peeled back the paper in the box, I was immediately impressed and I decided there and then, that these are the shoes I will be wearing when I go to watch some of the Olympic Games in a months time. In this Olympic year, so many of the brands are producing Union Flag versions of their shoes. Brooks have a recognisable but at the same time subtle red, white and blue version of a few of their shoes. K-Swiss (despite the name!) have a very bold take on the flag. I have even seen a pair of Vibram Five Fingers that are fit for the queen. But I think that the New Balance shoes look really great – not too much but at the same time not too subtle either. But then I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Feelings matter more…

The important thing, though, is how they feel on the run. Well, they are certainly comfortable straight out of the box. They immediately felt as though they have the right balance of cusioning and responsiveness for a tempo run or a quicker long run. Today I went for 10 miles this morning and 6 miles at lunchtime and they felt great on roads, trail and the canal towpath.

The only work of warning I would give is that there are not roomy shoes. They are snug around the midfoot and narrow in the forefoot. Luckily I was sent a UK9, although I usually take a UK8.5. I think that without the extra length from going up half a size, these 890 v2s might be a bit on the small size. Then again, I think these shoes fall into the trainer/racer category and I suspect many people will like the snug feel in a shoe they intend to race in.

The grip is really excellent (although today it was the first day it hasn’t rained in London in months, so I was running on dry surfaces for once) and I really like the feel of the heel and the collar around the ankle – cushioned without being restrictive. These shoes are also most definitely neutral and whilst I found that to be ideal for me, anyone requiring support in their shoes might want to look elsewhere (the Brooks ST5 trainer/racer for example).

So there we go. I think that the 890 v2 is a great shoe. So great in fact that I might buy myself another pair to actually go running in. What? You didn’t think I’d run in these and get them all mucky before the Olympics, did you?

Oh no, Paula

Always giving her all. Photo from Getty

I have spent more time than I care to reveal hoping and wishing that Paula Radcliffe would reach the start line of the marathon at the London Olympic Games, fully fit and ready to race. I am afraid that I think there are women now who are faster, stronger and more aggressive, so I didn’t really rate Paula’s chances of pulling off a golden finish to a really incredible and illustrious career, but I believed that she would be able to give it 100% and maybe, just maybe…

But today I read that she is carrying a foot injury – in fact a recurrance of a foot injury – and with six weeks until the race, there must be huge doubt that she will make it. I am a massive optimist and I love stories like that of Joan Benoit-Samuelson recovering from knee surgery to win the first women’s Olympic marathon in Los Angeles. But Paula seems so fragile. I guess we can only keep on hoping and Paula, if you ever happen to read this (not likely I know, but you never know…) I really wish you all the best and come what may, you are one of my absolute heroes.