FIVE THINGS I HAVE LEARNED FROM A LIFETIME DOING SPORT.
I ran my first track race in the Yarmouth Junior Schools Championship 80 yards aged eight. Due to injury I was forced to retire from competitive 200 amd 400m metres in the 65+ age group in my late sixties.
With the World Athletics Championships approaching it is easy to expect me to be watching. Sadly, I do not know. Whatam I to believe. Am I watching a competition between athletes or between chemists?
However, the truly amateur sports I knew and loved were very different and taught me five values that have stayed with me for life…
1.ONLY LOSE YOUR TEMPER WHEN YOU MEAN TO.
As a child I was aggressive, who then as now could punch his weight. This failing got me into fights I should have avoided and consequent trouble at school.
Fed up with bailing me out of my latest misdemeanour with the head teacher, my father insisted that I join a local boxing club.
We were taught the basics of defence but I was mch more interested in attack. At the end of one evening session, after our instructor had been forced to leave early I stupidly picked a fight with another lad.
I took into account his age, same as mine, but not his physique. He had developed early. His torso was like an inverted triangular-shaped sack of footballs. He was so much a better boxer that I could not lay a glove on him. I got frustrated and very, very angry.
At this point I threw caution to the winds and tried to take him with a John Wayne-style roundhouse swing. Instead of backing away he came forward, inside the arc of the punch. Big mistake. I had no guard so he had all the time in the world to hit me with a right cross. Next thing I knew I was sitting on the floor wondering how I had got there.
Lesson learned- for teaching as in life.
2. SET LONG TERM GOALS AND ACHIEVE BY INCREMENT.
Worsening eye-sight put paid to my boxing so I switched to my alternative sport-track and field athletics. I was an above average sprinter. At 15 I won the Norfolk Schools under 15 100yards. With a best time of 10.8 I went to the All-England School Championships with every hope of winning. Alas I drew a hot heat and went out in the first round.
On my return I joined the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Athletics Club where I was quickly put right. Did I wish to win the All-England? Yes. Was I prepared to work for it? Yes. Was I prepared to wait three years and then go for the 440 yards? Yes. So my 55 years of serious track running began.
At the age of 16 the idea was for me to run 100 yards races but to concentrate on the 220 yards. I had a monthly schedule of graded progression. The next two years I twice made the finals of the Intermediate 220 yards. The next stage was to then to run mainly 440’s and some 220’s. At 17 I ran the fastest 440 in the GB under 17 age group (see photograph) and finally I won the All-England Schools Senior Boys 440 in the 1960 Championships.
I had attained my long term aims by progressive increments.
Lesson learned- not just for athletics but specifically for study.
3. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
At 18 you are indestructible. A year later I learned the opposite. Now at College, one late evening I went into the gym to weight train, on my own and without warming up properly.
Doing a two-hand press I arched my back too far and felt a tweek. The next day the tweek developed into a sheet of agony every time I tried to sit down. I had slipped a disc.
Pinned down in traction on a hospital bed I realised how stupid I had been but of course as soon as I could run again, I forgot what I should have retained and spent years as a walking test bed for surgical appliances.
Finally at 60 and about to start the Veteran’s under 65 age group competitions, I saw the light. The injuries were partly due to the same training too fast, too long and too often. In other words they were down to repetitive stress. I had been overloading thr same muscular/skeletal groups too often. At last I accepted the overload of specific training for my 400m. I needed to cross-train instead.
I mixed my sports-cycling, indoor rowing, free weights and when I did run I varied the surfaces…parkland, playing field, beach, road and in winter, treadmill. No problems.
Five years ago my right knee finally gave out after a lifetime of the running that was now painful. However,I had learned my lesson. Instead of flogging on I turned to the boxing training that has got me fit with limited strain on my leg joints. At 75, I now settle for a 35 minute daily workout of c.250 kcalories, 5 days per week, rest/recovery at weekends.
Lesson learned but why, oh why, didn’t I act earlier on the promptings of my body?
4. DEFEAT TEACHES MORE THAN VICTORY.
Winning races can lead to complacency-what I was doing was clearly right so “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You have learned nothing.
Then suddenly winning isn’t so easy any more and three choices arise…get all bitter and twisted and give up; plough on with what one has been doing, only harder, faster, longer and risking injury or find out what others are doing, different coaches are advocating and not ignoring them because their ideas are new or different.
Lesson learned. Question everything, not least your own mind and ideas however perfect you think they are…in life as in Track and Field.
5. YOU CANNOT COMPETE SO FAST WITH AGE BUT YOU CAN COMPETE JUST AS HARD.
I have kept training diaries since my early teens as well as of race times. Looking back at them can be depressing. There was a time when I could run inside 48 seconds for 400m (in long spikes on cinder tracks). Now, even if my knee was not shot through, I would be pleased if I could run 84!
Ok, I will never run that fast again in a race or match my training performances of younger days. So?
Using my Heart Rate Monitor as a guide to doing too little or too much, I can work as RELATIVELY hard as ever. A training session done at 80% now is just as hard as an 80% effort done 50 years ago.
Lesson learned…as Tennyson wrote of Ulysses in old age…
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides, and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."