The first first

Monday 5th May 2014

There’s a first time for everything.

This year’s firsts are two new events on the track, namely the steeplechase and the 10,000. The steeplechase is not an event I had really considered before this year, but the club’s promotion to division 1 means we need all the points we can muster in order to stay there. So I offered my services.

Until only a few days before the race I had been blasĂ© to the point of arrogant about it, and far too relaxed. That all changed when I went to the track on Thursday evening before Sunday’s race and returned home grazed and bruised down one side after coming off second best in an altercation with one of the barriers.

After this I went from a state of not worried at all to, frankly, shitting myself. The barriers are actually much higher than they look on TV and I still hadn’t done a water jump in training. Still, I’d promised to do it and it was too late to back out now, so after more stretches and drills than I’d normally do before a race I made my way to the start line. Once I’d worked out where it was of course.

The first fixture of the season was a 2k rather than the full distance. Good news: fewer barriers to jump over. Bad news: you have to negotiate the water jump 100 metres into the race whilst there is still heavy traffic.

The gun went and I let the Birchfield athlete go. There was no way I was going to let myself go off too fast. I slipped into lane 2 next to the guy from Stoke to give myself a clear run at the first barrier. Cleared. Good.

We hit the water jump side by side and leading with my right foot I made a clean clearance and pushed out of the water pretty well. This was the thing I was most worried about before the race and my nerves were calmed immediately. Just do it like that again and you’ll be fine. Just get round. Nothing silly now.

I ticked off another few barriers, and coming round with 3 laps to go I was now in 2nd, 20 metres or so behind the leader. It was difficult to judge my effort level accurately as it was a completely new feeling for me. Whilst I was working hard to accelerate away from the barriers, I still felt I could go a bit quicker between them so with about 2 laps to go I pushed on and soon found myself on the shoulder of the leader.

I now had a decision to make: do I tuck in behind him or do I take the lead? I was reluctant to go to the front in case I had misjudged it and got passed again, which is one of the most demoralising things that can happen late in a race. I stayed on his shoulder for a few more barriers and tried to give myself enough space to clear them smoothly. I landed awkwardly off the penultimate water jump, jarring my left foot, but had made up the lost time by the next barrier. Just before the bell I went to the front, not wanting to leave it to a sprint finish. I pushed on and opened up a small gap. He was still just behind me going into the last water jump but I made my best clearance yet and got away from him. I knew that all I needed now was to clear the home straight barrier cleanly and the win would be mine. I did. I pumped my fist in the air and I crossed the line, a celebration more of having actually finished the race rather than having won it.

I am under no illusions that the field was a strong one – the steeplechase is notorious for being an event of lower standards – but I was still really happy to have come away with the win. What’s more, Richard won the B race in an entertaining last lap duel with his rival from Stoke. Maximum points for the club!

Next time (yes, I said next time) I will train to clear the barriers more smoothly to lose less time on them. I also need to work on pushing further off the water jump so my landing foot falls just short of the edge and I can push off onto dry land. Oh, and I won’t do a 1500 an hour later. The less said about that race the better.

My first first was great fun and very successful. My second first is on Saturday and involves 25 laps of the Parliament Hill track at the Highgate 10,000m night. Let’s hope I enjoy it as much as this.

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