February 12th, one of two dates in 2012 that’s pinned up on my wall. Sunday gone marked the focal point of my indoor season, the first of this year’s UK Championships; a twice annual event (indoors & outdoors) where Britain’s best athletes, as well as coaches and the powers that be, descend upon a given city to face-off, all with the same aim, to be crowned UK Champion. Whilst the outdoor championships bear greater significance, athletics being primarily an outdoor sport, unlike other disciplines hurdlers rarely sit-out the indoor season. So these championships are historically as competitive as the outdoor equivalent in the hurdle events and Sunday was no different. The 28 athletes who had achieved the national standard and succeeded in keeping their bodies in one piece, made the trip up to Sheffield and lined up for the heats on the Sunday morning. The atmosphere at the UK Championships is like no other, there’s an unmistakable and unavoidable tension in the air. As the biggest domestic meeting of the year, all eyes are fixed on proceedings, prior achievements count for little and every athlete wants to pull out their best performance to date at a time when it matters most.
Qualification requirements for the final were the 1st placed athletes from each of the four heats to be joined by the four overall fastest runners-up. I was drawn in the second heat and in the lane alongside the athlete ranked 3rd in the UK. Following a decent start I was able to put together a fairly good but comfortable race and come away with the win, sealing automatic qualification in a new Personal Best time of 7.74s, the second fastest time of the day from all the heats.
Fast forward a couple of hours and the stage all was set for the final, at the first attempt “on your marks… SET…” the starter’s gun sounded twice… indicating that someone had recorded a false start – every athletes’ worst nightmare! It usually takes a minute or so for the officials to check the computers (which are wired up to the pressure sensitive starting blocks) and reveal exactly which competitor was judged to have ‘jumped the gun’ – this makes for an extremely nerve racking 60 seconds as even if it’s blatantly obvious that it wasn’t you, your mind still wonders! The athlete in lane 5 was subsequently disqualified as we resumed to our blocks, the silent pause before the set command once again came on cue… only for a ‘faulty start’ to be called as tension started to pile upon tension. At the third time of asking we got away cleanly and I got a great start, taking an early lead I touched down off the first hurdle in pole position – before disaster struck – after an adrenaline induced rocket start I cleared the first barrier and approached the second moving faster than I ever have before, maybe surprising myself in doing and I didn’t react quickly enough to the second hurdle, leading to an almighty crash!!! Now hitting hurdles isn’t anything new, indeed if you watch the last two world record races you’ll notice that the winners make contact with numerous hurdles, but, there are just as many different ways to hit a hurdle as there are to skin a cat! I hit hurdle 2 with my lead leg (the ultimate sin!) before also hitting it with my trail knee and ankle as they came through – this was what prompted the impromptu ‘karate kid crane kick’ impression, that those of you who watched the race live on Channel 4 may have clocked, as I attempted to regain balance. One positive that did come out of this erm ‘altercation’ was that where as in previous years such a collision would have sent me to the deck or at the least seen me trail home in last place, the strength gains from my first winter of full-time training showed through as I was able to pull off this ‘Cirque-du-Soleil’ manoeuvre and somehow keep on going.
Albeit with momentum stunted and the race for gold now gone, I managed to somehow regain rhythm and with a late burst and dip of desperation secured 3rd place and the bronze medal, not surprisingly in my slowest time since my first race of the season, 7.84s. On review, it would be all too easy to focus on what the outcome of the final might have been but for my mistake, but just like not false starting clearing all the hurdles is part of the challenge, and there are a lot of positives to take away that warrant attention more. I’m extremely pleased to win my first ever Senior UK Championship medal and to walk away from the championships with a new Personal Best, both of which were goals set at the start of winter training. Having finished 4th here last year in 7.86s – with a UK ranking of 5th, it’s great to have improved upon this with a 3rd place finish this year and a 7.74s PB, consolidating a current UK ranking of 4th – in the words of Al Pacino (Any Given Sunday) “Inch by Inch”!
~ Julz ~