January 2019

In July 2020 the 24th World Masters Athletics Outdoor Championships take place in Toronto, Canada. Having turned 50 this winter, my aim for next year is to be in Toronto to compete for Great Britain in the M50 Triple Jump event and jump a Masters PB over 12 metres. This will hopefully be good enough for a top 8 finish and qualification for the full quota of 6 jumps during the competition. This blog is the story of my training over the 18-month build-up towards that goal. Hopefully it will be of interest to anyone interested in Masters Athletics and the Triple Jump, but it will no doubt act as an extra motivator to me, especially on dark winter nights, to get out there and train instead of slouching on the sofa, watching TV, and eating something generally unhealthy.

To put some context on my target, I took up Masters Athletics in 2009 at the age of 40 after nearly 20 years away from the sport. As a 21-year-old I had a self-coached best of 13.72m at a club with only a grass track, no pit (the only time I ever saw one was in competitions) nor field event coaches. But frustration at not being able to find a local Triple Jump coach to take me to the next level, as well as a recurring shin splints problem, meant I regrettably (and stupidly) walked away from competing in my early 20s. Nevertheless, over the intervening 20 years I never lost my passion for watching, following and appreciating the Triple Jump event and those who ply their trade hop, stepping and jumping as far as they possibly can.

Hitting the big 4-0, middle-aged spread had certainly set in and I decided I needed to get fit again, if only for the sake of being able to keep up with the energy levels of my new-born son. Sitting him in baby swings at the park I soon found myself bounding around on the soft, springy, rubberised flooring of the playground in a desperate bid to amuse him and keep myself warm on bitterly cold February mornings. After a few weeks I found I was reaching around 7 metres for a standing Triple Jump and I began to wonder if I could possibly make a respectable return to athletics. I investigated local Masters Athletics events and a few months later, and a few pounds lighter, I was jumping in my first competition in nearly 20 years. Guesting in a regional Masters Athletics league match, I came away with a jump of 10.35m, over 3 metres down on my lifetime best, but at nearly 2 stone overweight and with little conditioning work behind me, it was enough to encourage me to come back for more.

Luckily at that first meeting I came across my coach and mentor for the past 10 years, British Masters Triple Jump legend Dave Folgate. Meeting someone so passionate about Triple Jumping, as well as demonstrating that age should be no barrier to challenging yourself to get further and further into the pit (he was still jumping over 11 metres at 60 years old), fuelled my passion for competing in the event even more and he has helped keep me returning to the pit through many injuries since our first meeting.

Over the following years my jumping steadily improved to a best of 11.48m in 2015, which encouraged me enough to compete in the M45 Triple Jump event at the World Masters Championships in Lyon, France, that year where I finished 15th out of 21 jumpers. I progressed up to 11.92m when finishing 7th at the 2017 European Masters Championships in Aarhus, Denmark:

 

Hitting my Masters PB in the final round at Aarhus, however, I had badly over-rotated on my jump phase which gave me the belief that I still have 12 metres in me when everything clicks. A belief I need to hold close to me as I move forward into the next 18 months.

Following Aarhus, with the big 5-0 on the horizon, I decided that my jumping bones and muscles needed a break before I began a concerted effort to enter the M50 age group at full pelt. Instead of just doing the sensible thing and reducing my training, however, I took the decision to tick off another box on my bucket list and run the 2018 London Marathon for a local charity. Naively thinking that I was fit enough to easily jog around without exerting myself in my preparation and during the race, I soon discovered the pain and anguish of the long-distance runner. The end result was that, although somehow managing to finish the Marathon and appreciating the amazing experience that it was, my body took a battering I am only just recovering from. In particular, my knees took several months before I could even jog pain free, and only since last Christmas have I been in a position to try and re-build my fitness at a decent level.

I had hoped to compete indoors in the spring of 2019, but realising how much speed and spring I have lost – as well as the weight I have gained – means that each day is currently a re-assessment of what I may or may not be able to achieve this year in preparation for the bigger goal – Toronto 2020.

My primary goal this year is to regain a good level of fitness, without incurring more injuries, to enable a full year’s preparation for Toronto. To Triple Jump, and especially to Triple Jump competitively, every athlete needs conditioning. Especially an old athlete. To that end my training is generally fitness work – running, swimming and daily stretching – and fairly low-level bounding at the pit. Slowly building each week until I feel ready to move up another gear and start competing again.

Trying to regain fitness is hard. Not just the extra effort and pain needed to attempt to reach even half the levels I once found I could reach without much of a sweat, but simply getting down to training is hard. Training for competition is a habit, and a habit I’ve got out of. At the moment my worst enemy isn’t injury, fatigue, or even the British weather (the usual culprit during January and February), it’s my motivation. Or, more accurately, my lack of motivation. 18 months seems a long time ahead, but I know it will soon pass, and I know I need to sow the seeds of training now if I am going to give myself a fighting chance of reaching my target. To that end I probably need this blog far more than I realised when I struck the first key for the first sentence and as I take the next steps towards Toronto 2020.

Early February 2019

As my training for Toronto began in earnest, my first task was to set up a structured training and competition plan for the next 6 months, hopefully culminating in challenging for the position of British Number 1 in my age group at the National Masters Outdoor Championships in early August. To reach your destination you need to follow a map or plan, you cannot simply get in a car and hope to arrive there by guesswork and intuition. The same principle applies to trying to arrive at a particular athletics competition in peak condition. Having a structured plan is vital and will also add more discipline to my training, hopefully helping to keep the momentum of my progress on a smooth road to my targets.

With so little jumping and conditioning behind me, I took the decision to restrict myself to short approach jumps in training and competition until early May to help re-build my jumping power, technique and confidence on the runway. While there are many indoors Masters competitions available during February and March, I need to ensure I am conditioned enough to push myself on a hard indoor track and keep myself fit for the summer months. The last thing I need is to pick up a new injury, or revisit an old problem (during the spring of 2017, while jumping indoors, I had suffered a stress fracture in my heel which adds to my reticence to push myself too much on the same surface during this this spring). While it is frustrating to see Regional and National Championships pass by without the opportunity to fully compete in them and push for medals, the bigger picture of being fit to prepare well over the next 18 months must be my priority.

Over the next few months I need to gradually build up my speed and jumping endurance ready to hit the summer fit enough to jump from a full run-up. With that in mind, most jumping sessions so far have involved multiple bounds to remind myself of the basic technical aspects of jumping – working on being tall and upright during phases with fast-footed active landings. Drills such as these multiple hops have showed my spring is returning but my speed of reaction off the ground is fairly rusty:

 

Track visits are split into bounding and speed work sessions. Running off the take-off board into a hop at full speed is vital to maximise Triple Jump distance, and it is an element I have admittedly failed to address as much as I should have done in previous seasons – relying far too much on my jumping ability. Acceleration runs over 40 metres, working on good sprint form, will be a constant feature of my work for the next 3 months, building the length of timed runs at the end of my sprint sessions to help develop speed endurance before the outdoor season.

Early February Training Marks:
10 Steps: 25.45m
10 Steps (5 stride approach) 28.05m
TJ5: 9.75m

Late February 2019

As my training progressed without any major setbacks during the latter part of February , I took the decision to enter the British Masters Indoor Championships taking place in mid March. This year I aim to use competitions more as training sessions than I have in previous years, as I build my fitness towards next winter’s training, and as I began to feel more spring and bounce return in my legs I decided to get my first competitive session in sooner rather than later. Still unsure of my fitness and conditioning, as well as lacking any real technical work, I entered the Long & Triple Jumps, ready to make a decision nearer the competition of which event I’ll ultimately contest.

I increased the amount of running I was doing, both at the track and on the roads, to help the runway speed needed to generate any distance in the Triple Jump. 40 metre sprint drills and dummy run-ups through the sand helped me get back into the technique and rhythm of the approach run, though still lacking the sharpness I really need. This will take months to return to where I previously was, and then more work to get even faster, but luckily time is on my side this year.

On the road I limit myself to just 2 miles maximum, still wary of the damage I did to my knees last year, but also so I can run with a good tempo and spring to help my legs build back bounce during my jumps. As I’ve got myself into a regular routine my times and running comfort have gradually improved without over-pushing myself. This all adds to the belief that I’m on the right path back to where I ultimately need to be.

At the pit, with a competition looming ahead, I began to work more on technique and gradually increased my run-up by an extra 2 strides each week, not wanting to rush into trying to cope with the landing forces at the end of the hop and step phases without being fully ready for them. Off 7 strides I found myself feeling that I was jumping technically well, if lacking speed, reaching out to 10.25m. However, as as soon as I increased to 9 and then 11 strides I found myself losing confidence in my ability to come into the board with more speed, execute full range of motion in the phases and I was far too wary of the landing impacts. In fact I was decelerating into the board and showing little commitment into the hop phase at all.

 

The resulting distances – 10.25m for TJ9 and 10.30m for TJ11 – were far less than I’d hoped for, especially based on what I’d achieved at TJ7, but my main worry was my lack of confidence in attacking the jumps. Taking off from the 9 metre board I began to even doubt I’d make the pit on some jumps, such was my lack of belief. I therefore head towards the National Indoor Championships knowing that I need to work on my mental preparation, as well as my physical conditioning, if I am to get the most out of the competition for my long-term goals. As I write, I am still undecided whether to wait a few more weeks before making my competitive Triple Jump debut this year, giving me more time build my strength and confidence. I may “settle” for a place in the Long Jump event, useful for working on approach speed and jump phase technique, but not my first choice event. Whatever my final decision, I need the National Championships to be a positive step forwards in my journey and put my event result, distance and placing, way behind what I mentally and physically gain from the experience for the benefit of the months ahead.

Late February Training Marks:
Standing Long Jump: 2.46m
TJ7: 10.25m
TJ9: 10.25m
TJ11: 10.30m

Early March 2019

I entered March knowing that my fitness was increasing well, my weight was still dropping, and the spring in my legs was gradually returning, though still well behind the level I’d reached during the summer of 2017. The National Indoor Championships took place early in the month and, with my form beginning to improve, I took the decision to compete in the Long Jump event on the first day of the Championships and then gauge my fitness – and soreness – levels before committing to the Triple Jump event on the following day.

After an 18 months absence from jumping competitions, and nearly 4 years since my last National Championships, it felt good to be back preparing for such an event and going through the mental preparation in the days before the Championships. Arriving at the Lee Valley Indoor Centre for the Long Jump competition, my feelings that this was where I truly belonged (in comparison to road running events where I’d arrived in the wind and rain, unprepared and unconfident, as part of my Marathon training in 2017/18) were soon enforced bumping into fellow jumpers I’d got to know over the years as I walked around the venue and up on the warm-up track. Just talking to fellow-minded athletes about how things were, comparing aches and injuries, was a welcoming boost back to competing again in Masters Athletics. I’d missed the camaraderie of other athletes who still put their aging bodies out their on the runway, doing what they loved.  Even though there were still rivalries and personal targets, as the years we compete against each other grows, so does our mutual respect for knowing we all have the same passion for the same interest and are prepared to put ourselves out there on the runway, knowing we’re never going to be the same athletes we were in our teens or twenties, but still wanting to be the best we can possibly be.

As the Long Jump warm-up began I soon revisited a bad habit I seriously need to address over the next 16 months – taking off short of the take-off board. Throughout my practice jumps I was 5-10cm shy of the white board, despite numerous adjustments of my starting point, and as I took my first jump in the competition I knew at once from the lack of the re-assuring “bang” on wood noise, that once again I’d taken off behind the board. My opening leap of 4.57m was okay – a mark on the results sheet and a start back to competitions – but I knew I felt better than this mark reflected. However, over the next four rounds (4.55m, 4.60m, 4.60m, 4.65m) I made little progress as I focused too much on trying (and failing) to hit the take-off board rather than my jumping action. I constantly felt that I was going to be over the board as I approached it, so chopped – which cut my speed – on my last 2-3 strides into the take-off. It’s a spatial judgement issue I have always suffered from, usually less so in my Long Jump, but today it was dominating my performance and my chances of a medal in a National Championships as I sat in 4th place, 6cm behind bronze and 7cm behind silver medal positions going into the final round.

From my sandy footprint on the runway – visible after each jump – I could see that I was actually jumping around 5 metres, toe-to-heel, on each effort. This was just shy of the leader’s 5.05m mark. With one jump left I had to do something I’d forgotten how to do. I had to compete.

I took to the runway determined to do one thing – don’t chop at the board – in an effort to retain runway distance and speed into the jump. I came to the board, ran through without chopping and heard the “bang” I wanted. Board hit! I reached out and landed to my furthest effort yet – 4.86m. 2nd place at the National Championships was mine. Job done. With a few more months training behind me it could have been gold, but with a target of 4.75m going into the event, and most jumps around 5m toe-to-heel, it was a good day at the office.

Buoyed by my Long Jump result, I decided to contest the Triple Jump event the next day despite some tiredness in my legs, particularly my hamstrings. Having suffered a stress fracture to my heel the last time I had Triple Jumped indoors in 2017, I felt extra trepidation as I went through my drills on the warm-up track and on the runway before the competition. I decided that caution was going to be my watchword of the day. With that in mind, I decided to start from just a 7 stride approach off the 7-metre board. This would enable me to get a mark in to qualify for the full quota of 6 competition jumps, as well as possibly seal a medal in the Championships.

I approached the take-off well, but chopped at the board and took off nearly 50cm shy of the plasticine. I felt nice and springy through the phases, especially the step and jump, and reached out to 9.87m (or 10.37m in my head given my take-off position). A good start until I realised, as I walked from the pit, that I’d hurt my ankle on my hop landing. I tried to flex it before my next jump, hoping it was just a temporary niggle, and all felt well, so I decided to up my run-up to 11 strides and move to the 9-metre board for round 2. As I approached take-off though, the ankle pain returned, I chopped at the board, lost all confidence in my hop, especially as I landed, and my technique through the phases deserted me. My jump was measured at 10.09m (10.40ish given my take-off), but my ankle was sore again and my confidence was slowly evaporating.

With the leader on 10.92m I still felt I could win this if I could just hit everything right, so I tried to rouse myself before my 3rd effort. However, this time my ankle buckled on my hop landing and I ran through. Reminding myself of the caution I promised myself before the competition, I began to re-think my strategy and aims given how things were going. The leader had now improved to over 11 metres, which I realised was going to be out of my range, so I decided to work on improving my gradually diminishing confidence by turning the rest of the competition into a short approach training session in an aim to secure 2nd place.

For my last 3 efforts I returned to a 7 stride approach from the 7-metre board. Efforts of 9.89m, 10.02m and a good last round 10.23m, all behind the board, meant I took my 2nd National Championships silver medal in 2 days.

 

Overall it was a positive weekend for my fitness and jumping ability. However, the signs are there that I need far more speed, strength and technique work to confidently jump from longer run-ups for my Triple Jump. I also need to eliminate my spatial problems at the board, something I can definitely work on as my fitness improves over the coming months. I have more clarity over the direction I need to take during the summer and will aim to use more competitions over the coming months to make a bigger impact at the National Outdoor Championships in August.

Early March Competition Marks:
Long Jump: 4.86m
TJ7: 10.23m
TJ11: 10.09m