With the European outdoor athletics season well underway an athlete's short term attention begins to focus on the Olympic Games in Beijing. The challenge for British athletes is to better the qualifying time/ distance and fulfill the selector's criteria. In my case I would always do my utmost to avoid the need for selectors. During my career the policy has always been first two past the post, in the Olympic trials athletes would gain selection as long as they have the 'A' standard (Each country can send 3 'A' standard qualified athletes or 1 'B' standard qualified athlete.) I would aim to gain the 'A' standard early in the season to then allow me to concentrate on arriving at the Olympic trials and the Olympics without having 'chased races', meaning doing races not as preparation for a goal, but just to gain the relevant qualifying time.
Prior to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta I had just completed a successful indoor season and had therefore done more speed-work than I would normally have done. A high quality early season 1500m race in Lille against the soon to be Olympic 5000m Champion gained me the Qualifying time needed. For the 2000 season I went away to South Africa to compete in their summer season, I completed a number of races to try and get some track speed. With the help of a trusted training partner as a pace-maker I gained the 'A' standard in Cape Town.
In contrast to these two successful seasons 2004 was the exact opposite, short of training after injuries and illness I was left 'chasing races' when I should have been training and in the end had to rely on the dreaded selectors who decided that I had not shown enough form to warrant a place in the team.
Having gained the 'A' standard the pressure was then off and I could then concentrate on competing in races that would aid my Olympic performance, one such race was an 800m at Crystal Palace in 2000. Despite being billed as an Olympic Development race it contained a good international field including the then Olympic Bronze medalist over 800m. I had always wanted to do more 800m races but struggled to get in to the right races because my time was not fast enough. This race was one of a very small number I had in my career where the feeling in your legs and race execution are close to perfect. I hope we all have days like that, to me it is why you race just in case today is the day that you get that feeling! After a tight victory and taking one and a half seconds off my best time I gained great confidence to go to the Olympic trials and then the Games themselves.
So the question is how can we give ourselves the best chance of having 'one of those races' where it all goes perfect. From memory I had not long returned from an altitude training camp (whilst this is not available to most it was a period of consistent training, which we can all achieve). I had just returned from running a season's best in Stockholm so my race confidence was high. I always tried to eat as healthily as possible the night before a race, slept well, went out for a nice easy jog in the morning and few strides and I do remember feeling full of energy. Like most I would normally feel lethargic and nervous on race day so this feeling was an indication of what was to come. I made sure I prepared well for the race, a long slow warm up, all my stretches done properly, Drills and fast strides done energetically. I had a plan in the race to lay off the early pace as I knew it would be fast and trust my strength. Whilst I was competing in a high class race the fundamental thought process I went through can be used by runners of any level and I encourage you to do so.
Image credit: kk+