BMAF 1500m – Joe Ashley

It’s 17:32. According to my ‘last hour’ timetable I need to change my shoes and do two acceleration runs before reporting to the call room before my race. I get out my race shoes and socks and the nagging doubt I’ve had all day that I’ve missed something finally hits home… I’ve brought two ‘left’ socks.I’m getting ahead of myself though. I’m in North London at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre for the British Masters Athletics Federation (BMAF) Indoor Championships. I’d heard about the BMAF last year from fellow Arena runner David McKeown-Webster. They are a federation of veterans clubs all over the Britain & Northern Ireland and host a number of national championships for anyone aged 35 and over.

I have loved competing in the local Sussex Vets league over the last two years – which had come as a huge surprise to me having had no experience of track racing before the first league meet I went to on a windy Wednesday in Eastbourne. It really surprised me how much I enjoyed it and how different it was to road racing. I would recommend any Arena runner over 35 to consider the Vets league, regardless of experience or ability.

So for 2016 I had decided to concentrate on middle distance races, specifically 1500m, with a target to be reasonably competitive (mid pack) at the BMAF outdoor championships in the summer.

Training over the winter has been ok, but an injury meant that I hadn’t competed properly for a few months. I wanted to get a sense of whether I’d progressed, despite not doing any speed work yet. That meant a competitive 1500m, and that meant indoor racing – a completely new experience in terms of track length (200m not 400m), banked corners instead of flat bends, narrower lanes compared to an outdoor track, and air conditioning instead of our gentle seafront breezes.

There were a few events on offer in Feb and March, so I quietly entered the Southern Counties Vets championship 1500m as a trial run. The race went well and I ran a new PB despite a lot of new things to take in, so I took the plunge and entered the BMAF indoor champs in March.

So here I am. I get to Lee Valley at 4 o’clock, pre-race coffee in hand. There are over 500 athletes taking part from all round the country. Lee Valley is packed with serious looking officials and lots of cheering spectators. And my race is the last one of the day at 17:58.

It’s nerve wracking but fortunately not a completely new experience after the Southern Counties champs. There are slight differences though, such as I have to register and then sign a declaration form too. The declaration may or may not be on another table or may have been taken already to another part of the stadium in which case I have to find it.. All little things but I’m paranoid about missing something that would mean I couldn’t race. So I check and double check, then triple check I’ve done the right thing before watching a few races.

I have a ‘last hour’ plan written down based on my previous experience, so that I don’t get side-tracked with so much going on.

16:50 – get changed. I decide to do the same as last time and get changed in back of car. Why not?

16:55 – warm up time. Two miles, along a main road in North London. It’s not scenic.

17:10 – back to the centre for pre race drills. There is a 100m warm up track indoors for athletes. I’ve given myself 10 minutes leeway here for a toilet break and to walk up a ramp, so I’m feeling relaxed. I get to the track to find that somehow I have tied the mother of all knots in my right shoe. I’ve triple knotted it I think. Or something even stupider. It takes me about 5 mins to get it off. I seriously consider cutting my laces. So much for any spare time.

17:20 – warm up drills, which I am still not very good at. The less said the better. My competition are there too, they look much more assured than me. I almost fall over mid lunge.

17:32 – time to change my shoes and do some final 20m/60m/20m acceleration runs to get my legs moving and heart pumping. The left sock situation comes to light. TWO LEFT SOCKS! I do have a spare pair in the car, but it is 5 mins away. I have time, but is it worth it? It would blow my plan out the window. I am only going to be racing for less than a mile. I do not believe there is any major difference between a left and a right sock that is going to break me over just 1500m. Dare I throw caution to the wind and put an L on my right foot?

At this point I also notice that my watch is 2 mins slow and actually I don’t have time. So yes, I bravely don the second left sock on my only right foot and strap on my spikes.

17:40. Time to head to the ‘call room’ to check in before the race. Two guys who have been sat at a table all day cheerfully tell me that 4 of my competitors have checked in, there is one more to come and one has withdrawn. This is the last race of a long day, but they are still smiling.

So there are only going to be 6 of us in the M35 race. Two are far faster than me, then the rest of us are reasonably similarly paced. A bronze medal is on if I stick to my plan. I’ve got a plan based on my last race: I want the first 400m to be 70s. 71secs each for the next two 400m. Kick for the last 300m for something in the low 50s. I need to not get carried away at the start trying to beat the two fast guys, and if anyone else gets off to a flyer, just believe that they will fade.

We get called to the start. I’m called third based on my PB in relation to the others. Another reminder that third is where I need to finish as a minimum.

A hush descends on the stadium and the starter calls us to our mark. The gun goes off. I am a terrible starter, always on the back foot at the start.

We hit the first corner with the usual nudges and everyone tripping over each other slightly. I know I’ve over compensated for my slow start, but want to get a clear gap to run in behind the lead two. I hit 100m in about 15seconds which is too fast. That’s faster than my 400m pace, nevermind my 1500m pace. I ease back slightly, very much in 3rd place. One lap, two laps and I complete the first 400m is 69.6 seconds – bang on.

Except suddenly I realise that while the two leaders are long gone, everyone else is stacked up behind me. I know I have run faster than them before, but only by a couple of seconds. What if they’ve improved recently too? I have a fast finish, but maybe they do too? I’d hoped to give myself a couple of seconds’ buffer. But what if I overdo the next 800m and blow up? I want the medal, not a PB. I find myself dropping off my toes and running back on my heels, slowing and slowing down.

Two more laps and I’ve run the second 400m in 74.3. That’s not good, over 3 seconds off my plan. I’m almost running at 3k pace. I’m still in third, but start to worry that the pack behind is just cruising behind me. I want to pick it up, but now I’m not sure I can. Did that first 100m take more out of me than I thought? Have I already blown this? I’m also getting confused because I’m trying to pace it like a 400m track but it’s a 200m one. And there’s a clock just around the bottom bend that I keep turning to look at even though I have no idea what it means because it’s not at any particular point of the track. What am I doing?

The next 400m are agonising. 73.5 seconds. Way off my target again, my heels are striking the ground like big foot. I can see the shadows behind me getting closer and closer. As I get toward the final 300m I can hear someone on my shoulder. I try to do the maths – I’ve run 3 seconds faster than the guys behind recently, but I’ve run the mid 800m 5.5 seconds slower than planned. If they are faster finishers than me, then I’ve lost third. I need to start running properly.

300m to go, I finally get back on my toes and stretch my legs. Somebody has dropped out, so there are three of us racing for the last medal. The guy on my shoulder moves to the right to overtake me as we hit the bend. Fortunately I know I’m good on the bends, he’s not going to get round me here!

220m to go, I’ve built a gap I’m sure. Only 0.5 seconds or so but I sense he’s a little further back. Finally it feels like I’m running properly, I’m now on my fore foot. I cross the line and get the final lap bell. 200m to go – it is now or never.

I hit the penultimate bend and it all suddenly clicks. I need to turn my legs over faster, increase my cadence asap. I fly round the bend and I know I’ve made another 0.5 secs on the guys behind. I can’t hear or sense him anymore. I just need to hold it.

I’ve no idea what’s happening ahead now, no idea where the leaders are. I’ve 100m left to get myself a British Masters championship medal on my first attempt. I am not letting this go now.

It’s an all-out sprint to the line. I’ve no idea what time I am running in. I get round the final bend and I can see the winners have finished which means the clock has stopped on the winning time, so I have no idea what my time will be. But I also know for the first time that I have got that final medal. I’ve pulled away, I know there’s a gap and as long as I can push to the line I’m driving home happy.

I cross the line and stop my watch. I’ve finished third. I have a medal! And then it gets better – one of the front two is a guest competitor and not eligible for a medal. I’ve got the silver!

Overall my time is 0.8 seconds slower than my last 1500m. Seeing as I had lost almost 6 seconds in the middle of the race I realise I have run a very fast (for me) final 300m. Leading a chasing pack was a new experience so I’m really pleased to have held them off to the end. For the first time I think at this distance, I haven’t got a new PB…but I have got the medal I came for.

Joe's first indoor competition

Joe’s first indoor competition