THE indoor season is relatively short in athletics and my 2014 indoor campaign has been both short and sweet.
In the four competitions that I’ve raced, I have set three personal bests and, to top that, the times I’ve been running indoors are faster than those I started my outdoors season with last year. It’s a good sign of progress, and it came as a nice surprise, given our limited preparation.
This week I am heading out to Sopot, Poland as a part of the British Athletics 4x400m relay team for the IAAF World Indoor Championships. We’re taking a squad of seven for the relay. It’s a compact championship, lasting just three days, and two of the squad are competing in the individual 400m as well, so we need to make sure we have back-up for them.
What’s really exciting is the fact that five of us have bettered the individual standard set by British Athletics – in other words, we would all have qualified to compete in the individual 400m. That indicates we’ve got quite a strong team. It’s important to have that strength in depth across all seven runners, because you never know what will happen.
For example, both guys in the individual 400m have a real chance of making the final after their performances at the Sainsbury’s Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham. In Poland they will face heats and semis in that event as well, so who knows how fresh they’ll be feeling if they have potentially taken part in all three rounds.
Hopefully, I’ll get a start in the heats of the relay and have an opportunity to prove myself – we will just have to wait and see how the team shapes up. As a team we’re obviously aiming for the final and, if we commit ourselves enough, I think there is actually a chance of a medal. This year no team – apart from the Americans, perhaps – is guaranteed a medal. And, even then, so much can happen indoors – teams can get disqualified or you can get pushed off the track, for example – so any team in the final has an opportunity to get a medal. So we’ll be trying to get to the final and take it from there.
Making the team for my second IAAF World Championships is a major stepping stone for me and reflects the significance that the British Athletics and the UK Sport Lottery Funding has had so far. I’ve put in a lot of hard work over the winter with Sco400, my training group, and there were some sessions where I just wanted to cry at the end. You know, it’s pouring down, and you’re in the middle of the track in Grangemouth, and the rain slowly turns to sleet and your feet are numb. Those are the sessions that your competitive season is built on.
It’s mental resistance training, really. Character building. You run up hills for your physical resistance training, and you do sessions in the Scottish winter for your mental strength.
When the championships come to a close in Poland, so will my 2014 indoor campaign and I will return to a hard block of training. However, I will not return and face the remainder of the Scottish winter. Instead I will head out to the USA with Sco400. We will base ourselves in Florida for a month for a hard block of training and some early competition opportunities towards the end of our camp.
This camp is really essential to Sco400’s preparations for Glasgow 2014. Along with coach Piotr Haczek we will be joined by our physio Stephen Mutch (from Space Clinics) who will be making the trip across the Atlantic with us after a busy Six Nations with the Scotland rugby team. Between the coach and physio, they will be putting us through our paces and ensuring we leave the camp in the best shape possible.
We have been working hard to fundraise for the trip and have had some great support from our friends and family as well as some local businesses from all over Scotland. In the east we have had Arum Systems and Robert Walker & Son, in the west Tunnocks, down in the Borders Frontier Agriculture and, up north, Haven Products, Highland Office Equipment Capital Solutions, Plant & Fixings and CafeOne have given their support. It is from this support that our USA training camp has become a reality, bringing us one step closer to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
A major focus while out in the States with Sco400 will be hitting the qualifying mark for the men’s 4x400m relay. Scotland fielded a good relay team in the Sainsbury’s Glasgow International Match in January, but I think there’s potentially a better team out there. That could be different people coming into the mix, but it could also be each one of us improving.
When it comes to the Games, it will be very likely that a large proportion of the relay squad will come from the Sco400 training stable.
In January we didn’t have a single practice session indoors before that match, which was a bit of a disappointment. Everyone says running a relay is really easy, and it is, but there are a few fundamental things you need to get right, which is where practice comes in.
Changeovers, for example, aren’t as technical as in a 4x100m, but you can lose time at them – easily enough time to make the difference between winning a medal and missing out. Even extending the arm ten centimetres at the changeover gives you a fraction of a second and, if you get that right, you can give the next runner a really good rolling start and an advantage from the start of their leg. That’s something I’ll be thinking about in Poland, because indoor relays have far more interaction than the outdoor races. It’s a smaller space, and you don’t want to be running in lane two with the banking – that takes too much out of the legs. So getting the inside lane is really important, and quick changeovers are the key to getting it.
• The IAAF World Indoor Championships will be shown on BBC2 and the BBC red button from 9am on Friday.