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