Saturday, 20 October 2012

Back on Track

"Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up" Dean Karmazes

THE Olympics may be over but the focus now turns to how their legacy can inspire a new generation of champions. Our reporters have been out experiencing some Olympic sports first hand and our series concludes with chief reporter David Lawson making a return to the track one last time to reflect on what makes the 100m such a special event.

"AS Usain Bolt took to his blocks in the Olympic 100m the world fell quiet, millions holding their breath for the one event that every four years captures people's imaginations, deciding who will be crowned the fastest man on earth.

Hard to believe, but 10 years and a small mountain of chocolate ago, I was lucky enough to be an international 100m runner, nowhere near the level of the Olympics, but far enough along to have competed alongside some of those in London. After so long away though, I knew that to write about the 100m I needed to run it one last time, signing myself up for an open meeting at Deeside's athletics stadium.

The first thing that hits you are the nerves. I honestly didn't expect any in a race like this, but warming up there was that familiar nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach and as we set up our starting blocks and did our last few fast strides, it felt as though my arms and legs had turned to lead and I had forgotten how to run.

All athletes deal with that pressure in different ways, but the only thing that makes it bearable for me is that I've been here before and I know what comes next. As we are called to our marks, I know that as soon as we are settled into the blocks, those nerves will evaporate, replaced by pure tingling adrenaline that you can taste, metallic, like blood in your mouth. In the same way, I know this is the last time I will be truly aware
of what's going on around me and as we're called into the set position, leaning out over the start-line, the world closes in until there's just my lane and the silence.

Outside, this is the moment when the crowd goes quiet, but inside my mind is buzzing with silent noise, the brain revving like a car engine, desperate to be released by the gun. Bang! You drive out fast with the arms, the small levers working the giant levers of your legs. Those first few strides are so important and I come out level with the leaders, but there's no time to think, you're straight into the 'drive phase' working to stay low for as long as possible. It's only in this bent forward posi-tion you can accelerate so you exaggerate it, passing 30m then 40m. All too soon though it's used up and you are almost fully upright.

At this point there's a transition to make, moving from that driving position to your full upright running style and at full speed that's harder than it sounds, fighting to stay on your toes and prevent your hips from dropping. It's a crucial moment in the race, yet I am briefly aware of where everyone is around me, and
can tell the athlete to my right has done a better job, stealing a metre lead.

Refocussing on the line though the race enters the ‘maintenance phase’ as by 60m everyone is slowing down (even Usain Bolt). It's the ones who can slow down the least who look like they find another gear, pulling away as others tense up. But after so long away, this time it's me who is forced to watch the runner
in front pull clear. All I can do is try to relax, letting my jaw go slack which in turn allows the neck, shoulders and arms stay loose, while my brain, after years of practised drills, keeps my legs in ‘rotary motion’ with its mantra of ‘knees up, heels up, toes up’ - your knees giving you a full stride, your heels up passing tight under your backside and your toes up to keep you from over-striding as you flick your legs

Things start to get ragged and out of control, but like an orchestra reaching a crescendo, the line comes hurtling towards me and as I cross it, the noise I had run clear of, catches up and  overtakes me in a deafening howl as I once again become fully aware of what's going on around me.

After more than 10 years away, second place with a time of 11.8 - within a second of my old best - was more than enough for me, but perhaps that is what it is about the Olympic 100m that captures our imagination. Few of us can run a 10,000m like Mo Farah or triple jump like Jonathan Edwards, but almost all of us can run 100m and that somehow connects us with the fastest men in the world.

The Olympic legacy
ATHLETICS is such a cheap and easy sport to get into. You can enter a 100m  race like I did for as little as £3 with no  more than shorts, T shirt and a pair of trainers.  Further down the line however, a running track does become important, so it's sad to think that the current generation of Oswestry athletes do not even have the cinder-track my own and previous generations had at Park Hall to train on.
The Oswestry Olympians athletics club, who were there for me when I started run-ning, offer some of the best coaching any-where to everyone from those just starting out to our own potential Olympic heroes
and do so by mixing local training with trips to running tracks in neighbouring areas.
But just as the Olympics are trying to leave a legacy of facilities and inspired athletes, Jon Hancock organiser of the Oswestry Games says he hopes they can also help reignite the move to bring a running track back to the town, allowing even more local athletes to realise their potential. To try the athletics yourself visit