In light of competing yesterday, I’m going to pass on writing about running long jump for a little while. My long jump competition was very…interesting. It is early in the season and I haven’t done much technical work yet, but I still thought that jumping would, as usual, be like riding a bike…each spring I just hop back on and go full tilt like we weren’t apart for 6 months. Nope, not even slightly similar this time. Although to be fair, we’ve never been apart for this long before. Every single thing about my jumping felt completely foreign to me, from my approach, to the take off, to my hitch and landing. I ate sand on one landing. It was definitely humbling and a little frustrating, but on the other hand it’s exciting. Although I’ve (momentarily) forgotten what it feels like to do the things I’ve always done right, I’ve also forgotten my bad habits! So I’m looking forward to starting from scratch, with only good ingredients baked in!
While long jump sits back and relaxes for a little while, I’ll instead move on to the wolf inspired 800m run, the final event of the heptathlon.
Running has always felt natural, and as a kid I regularly competed in the middle distance events – the 800m and 1500m – and the high jump. Odd combination, I know, although some coaches just nod knowingly upon hearing this…something about the precision of the footplant (not wild power of the sprinter nor the slower ponderous nature of the distance runner – somewhere in between). Anyway, so while most multi eventers dread the 800m, I kind of look forward to it. Experiencing lactic acid is a privilege…we get to be intimate with the lovely bear on our backs,the heavy, tree trunk legs and burning lungs that take over on the final stretch; it’s something to be embraced!!
So as the time for the 800m rolls around, we’ve got six events behind us. Yesterday saw hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200m. Earlier today was long jump and javelin. After sitting quietly in the shade for a few minutes in the company of our water bottles, we basically slip on our racing spikes and head to the track, a seventh warm up not really in any of our agendas. At bigger meets, like national championships, the authorities are quite particular about who can gain access to the track while other events are going on, but multi eventers somehow are exempt from these rules… We head to the infield, do a few drills and some strides as we watch whatever else is going on.
We’re up next on the track and the announcer sums up the “grueling competition” of our last couple of days, making us feel a little weary yet, through the admiration in her voice, capable of anything. We toss our warm up gear aside and shake out our legs anxiously, generally wishing we could somehow skip the next couple of minutes of our lives. At this point I, of course, feel similarly; embracing the pain of almost sprinting for over 2 mins does not make it any less painful. But alas, we’re called to the line, thought bubbles popping out of the air over our heads like in the cartoons. It’s time to run. We all scoot up to delicately put our toes just before the line, and crouch over, awaiting the gun. This is where the wolf arrives. When everyone is still, the gun sounds and we’re off, a quick burst of speed generates a sense of urgency, and helps in the jostle for a good position as we go into the first corner.
This brings me to a small side story… We’re at les Jeux de la Francophonie 2009 in Beirut, Lebanon. Throughout our stay it wasn’t uncommon to hear popping coming down from the hills, especially around sunset. It didn’t sound anything like gunfire in the movies, but gunfire, we were told, it was. During javelin on the second day of the hep it was closer sounding and unmistakably recognizable as gunshots. So much so that as we took off to start the 800, a second shot went off and we all returned to the line assuming someone had committed a false start. We looked over, however, to see the officials all looking at each other in confusion…the shot having come from outside the stadium!
Anyway, we take off, settling into each of our practiced race paces, feeling strong. The first 200m flies by and we round the second corner, approaching the more populated bleachers of the home stretch for the first time. With that straightaway comes a rush of thoughts…firstly, “I’m starting to feel it in my legs…” then “oh man, a whole nother lap to go?!?”. Soon this is followed by, “only a lap to go?!?!”, as you hear the bell ring and your split time, and it’s like your head is thrown back in time to a training session where you have one lap left and nothing to lose.
That brief lapse in focus, for me, is the defining factor in the 800. It’s not a long race, but juuuust long enough to allow time to think about everything. Solution: either keep from thinking (possible, though unlikely), or ensure your thoughts are constructive (I came across the phrase, “I like myself” in Brian Tracy’s Psychology of achievement CDs. It was weird at first, yelling that aloud in the car as I listened, but it’s an empowering tool! …and kinda funny). Of course looking to the wolf is a great alternative…
So corner number three, back in the groove, on the scent of a delicious elk, definitely thinking about changing gears, but holding in the reins a little…accelerating off the corner though, attacking the final 300m. A contained attack, stealthy, maintaining form and lucidity. It’s the attack engaged when approaching the now uneasy elk before it makes the decision to run, when as long as you look like nothing more than a bizarre slowly growing shape, not yet identifiable as an advancing predator, you can gain an advantage.
Into the final corner the kick is well established, the chase is on. We round the seemingly endless corner to the literally endless straightaway. The line does approach, but so slowly it is barely noticable. At this point the bear is usually latched on tight, but sometimes it is a baby bear and the core can hold up under the added weight of it on your back. With luck there is someone just ahead to chase, to initiate that instinct to disregard the signals your limbs are shooting to your brain because this chase means surviving. Despite doubt of it not getting any nearer, the finish line is reached.
No matter the results of the competition, the post heptathlon high is glorious! Crossing that line means an immediate (but temporary) pain storm, and finally setting our minds free to feast on whatever they desire, like a ravished wolf pack feasting on it’s delicious hard earned meal. The past few days saw a strict mental diet of track events, nutrition, hydration, and maybe a few cloud animals when available. But now we’re on top of the world! A great feeling on your own, but it’s especially enjoyable to experience this feeling of immortality with competitors who instatly turn into comrades!