Saturday, October 13, 2018

Back in the fast lane!

Round 2 of AV Shield was a big one.  I entered 5 events this time around - 100 and 400 metres, shot put, javelin and long jump.  Conditions were mild, with a gusty wind swinging from N to ENE.

While the sprints were my key events, I like to try and diversify, both for variety, as well as maximising points when I compete in decathlons.  This year, the program allows a greater degree of flexibility with the field events, allowing me to compete in all 3 without clashes.

First event was the javelin.  I did the main part of my 100m warmup before heading over to the javelin area to do a few practice throws.  During the event, I also continued my warmup between throws.  Anyway, I ended up with 3 legal throws, the best of which was 15.98 metres.  This is a bit shorter than the 18.70 I threw with the heavier javelin last summer.

Shortly after the javelin was the 100 metres.  With my heel slowly recovering, and a very mild hamstring strain 2 weeks ago, I was a bit cautious.  I took the first half of the race a little easier than normal, before opening up, once I was near top speed, about halfway through.  Finished in 13.76 seconds, which I was happy with for a conservative run, and there were no further issues.

Went straight to the long jump.  First 2 jumps were in the 3.7 - 3.8m range.  Finished with a 3.95m jump.  Getting my form back, while some adjustments made to my run up over winter seem to be working well.

Next up, after a short rest was the shot put.  Second put was the best at 6.31m.  Not quite as good as I’ve done during the winter break, but reasonable, as I regain my form in the field events.

Final event was the 400m.  Having cooled down a bit, my foot had become a bit stiff and sore.  However, a few run throughs fixed that, and I was ready for the 400m.  After another conservative start, I settled into my 400m cruising pace.  Conditions were tough for the first 200 metres but eased after that.  Managed to hold pace pretty well until 60-70m from the finish.  From there it was a push with everything I had left to the finish.  Finished in 64.18 seconds, which was better than all but one of my 400m races last summer, and quite good, considering the downtime I’ve had this year.  Looking forward to pushing the limits in the 400 metres this summer.

All in all, a successful day.

- Tony via Tumblr

Saturday, October 06, 2018

A huge track season starts - with a difference.

It’s hard to believe another winter has gone by.  My cross country season was cut short by injury in July, and by the time I was back running in late August, it was over.  This past few months have been spent trying to get myself back up to top form, in both speed and fitness, so I can be competitive in the months ahead.  With major meets dotted throughout a 6 month period, this is going to be a more difficult year than most to be in top for these competitions.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve also started pre-season training with the fire brigade competition team, to prepare for another season of competition.

In the last month, I have been able to train at full intensity for the most part, though in a pre-season meet 2 weeks ago, I only managed 14.04 for the 100 metres, admittedly with a strong headwind.  4 days later, I mildly tweaked my left hamstring while attempting starts on the bend, probably the riskiest activity since injuring my heel.  However, it was a very minor issue, and within a couple of days, ther seemed to be no sign of it.  Still, with some major competitions in a few weeks, I decided to err on the side of caution for yesterday’s first round and choose an unusual (for me) combination of throws and the 800 metres.

First up was the hammer throw.  I’ve never even attempted this event before, so it was a pure learning experience.  With some tips from fellow club members, I managed a whole 9.96 metres.  Not the longest hammer throw ever performed, but it was at least legal. :)

I chose the 800 metres for two reasons.  Firstly, the power requirements are far below anything likely to cause injury.  In fact, I have raced 800m at full race pace in the past mere days after previous hamstring injuries.  Secondly, the 800m is a good test of fitness, which would have taken a hit in July-August.  The first half of the race went to plan with a 1:16 first lap, which was right on my target pace.  By this time, I had caught up with another runner who had surged ahead early.  I felt I could have passed him, but decided on the tactical option of sitting just behind him, knowing that in the event of a sprint finish, I would have the upper hand.  Had I gone earlier, there was a risk he might surge too far ahead.  Anyway, I stayed behind him until the start of the home straight, where I made my move with a rapid change of pace.  Finished the race in 2:39.66, which I was happy with, given my general fitness and tactical decisions.

My final event was the discus.  Early in the winter, I was throwing over 20 metres at training, but I had to also put my throws on hold after the injury.  Had 3 good throws, the best of which was 18.57 metres, which is a new PB, and well short of my known capabilities.  I’m hoping for a good season of discus this year.

While the track was finished, it turned out the sporting day wasn’t over.  In the evening, the fire brigade held its annual presentation dinner.  At the dinner, I was presented with the “Runner of the Year” award for the fire brigade running team, which was a high honour.  This was the icing on the cake which capped off a good day overall.

Hopefully next week, I’ll be back among the sprints.

- Tony via Tumblr

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

These are photos from the Greatest Virtual Runners Bingo...

These are photos from the Greatest Virtual Runners Bingo Challenge, which was held during August 2018.. As I took part in the challenge, I feature in several of the photos. The month long challenge was a lot of fun and required a bit of thought to achieve some of the goals. The Greatest Virtual Runners are a Community for those participating in the Greatest Virtual Run, a charity to encourage more autistic people to run and experience the benefits of regular exercise, currently based in New Zealand.

#runningonthespectrum #greatestvirtualrun2018

- Tony via Tumblr

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Looking Towards the 2018-2019 Season

It’s the first weekend of September, 5 weeks before track and field season officially begins here.  I am still recovering from my heel injury, but I’m now back on the track doing light work as part of my rehabilitation.

The coming season is looking like a bumper season.  Firstly, it is my first season in the 50+/M50 age groups, which means mostly competing against different people, and more significantly, specifications for my hurdling and throwing events have changed.  Secondly, there are some additional major meets.

First of the majors is the Australasian Police and Emergency Services Games, which are being held in Mandurah, Western Australia, which is about 80km south of Perth.  I have held the Victorian 100m sprint titles for the past 2 years, and 200m for 3 years.  Only reason I didn’t retain the 400m title was because I left early to compete at the Victorian Masters championships, which were on the same day, but looking at the results, I would have easily won that event too, had I been able to be in 2 places at once. :)  The Games take place at the end of October, and there will be more announcements very soon about that.

My next major meet is the Victorian Relay championships, which are on November 24 in Melbourne.  I have competed in these championships for the previous 2 years, but this time will be the first I will be eligible to compete in the 50+ age group.  We are hoping to field a strong team for this meet in the 4x100 and 4x400m relays.

2019 starts with a huge weekend of decathlon action.  There are literally 3 multi event championships on that weekend, all here in Bendigo.  The first two are the Victorian and Australian Masters multis, which are the ones where I competed in the decathlon last simmer.  But this year, there is also the Victorian Multi Championships, run by Athletics Victoria.  I don’t know how these fit into the grand scheme of things, more to work out along the way.

At the end of January is one of the regular key meets of the summer season - the Victorian Country Athletics Championships.  This year, these are also being held here in Bendigo, which means less travel this time around.  Looking forward to seeing how I go in my new age group.

As usual, fire brigade competitions dominate through February.  I’m not sure I will make the AV Shield Final, as I think it clashes with the junior fire brigade state championships, where I am normally an official, as well as one of those looking after the kids in our care.

Then in March, it’s back to the track for the Victorian Masters Track and Field Championships in Melbourne, and somewhere around that time, the Victorian Police and Emergency Services Games, also in Melbourne.

The final meet for the 2018-2019 season will be the Australian Masters Athletics Championships in the last week of April.  This year, these championships are also being held in Melbourne, which simplifies travel arrangements, and I’m looking forward to taking part for the first time.

Anyway, it’s a long and exciting season ahead, and there’s more announcements to come as the season progresses.  I’m looking forward to taking part.  Stay tuned!

- Tony via Tumblr

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Out of Season Meet, and 3 Years on the Track

This morning, there was an out of season meet for local athletes.  It was an opportunity to see how well our winter training is going.  The past week has seen a bit of a busy period, with the commencement of gym training, in addition to the usual throws and track training.

Yesterday was cross country.  After running the 3km course for all of the season so far, I opted to work on speed and run the 1km instead.  Finished it in 3:46, which was the fastest time on the course, and a middle of the field finish for the handicap.  With difficult weather conditions, some stiffness from the gym, and some on course challenges, I was happy with that time.

Today’s program started with the 100 metres.  I got a great start and finished in 13.51, without overdoing things.  Next was high jump.  Here, I jumped a PB of 1.30m.  Not bad for an event I’ve never really trained!

I decided to pull out of the triple jump, as a minor niggle in my left heel, from last week’s training, started to flare up, and decided on the cautious approach.  That meant a bit of a rest before the 400m.  Due to the cold conditions, I warmed up again.  Now, the heel flared up in the cold.  I tried a test run in spikes, acceleration was good, but as soon as I transitioned into a 400m cruise, it was no  good.  Only thing I could do was scratch from the race. :(

My final event was the shot put.  In cold, showery and blustery conditions, I managed a PB of around 6.4 metres with my first throw.  The other two weren’t as good.

Finished the day as an official (the spiker) for the hammer throw.  My job was to mark where the hammers landed, so the throws could be measured.

This weekend pretty marks 3 years since I took up athletics.  On July 4 of that year, I ran my first cross country, and on July 12, I ran my first track meet.  Things have certainly changed since then. :)

- Tony via Tumblr

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Up Up and Away!

You may be wondering about the recent videos of glider flying on this blog.  That was actually unintentional, triggered by my content distribution systems, but I will take the advantage to explain.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of taking a couple of flights in a twin seat glider with the Bendigo Gliding Club.  A friend of mine has been a glider pilot for many decades, and he had been offering to take me up for a while, but as always, life gets in the way, between sporting and community commitments.  The school holidays provided a small window of opportunity to go for a flight.

Anyway, conditions were perfect for an introduction to the sport.  With a high pressure system right on top of us, conditions were clear and almost calm, with a wind of only a couple of knots, barely enough to move the windsock at the airfield.

I arrived around 2PM, as arranged, and the first thing was a bit of a safety briefing, from runway safety (not unlike safety around the track on training nights!), to various procedures, and an introduction to how the flight controls worked.  As I have had an interest in aviation for most of my life, this was fairly easy to follow.  There was also a bit of paperwork, as you’d expect.

Next, it was time to get prepared.  First, the parachute was fitted (this is standard practice in many clubs here), then I was strapped into the back seat.  The pilot then did his routine pre-flight checks before boarding and getting ready for take off.

The take off was bumpy and noisy, because of the grass runway, but once we left the ground, it was smooth, with the engine noise of the tow plane audible.  We remained on tow until about 3000 feet, where we separated from the tow plane and started gliding properly.  Conditions were very calm, and I took the opportunity to get the phone out and take a number of pictures, which quickly became dozens. :)  From this vantage point, one could see the local area in detail, and the mountains of the Great Dividing Range in the distance.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere was calm, and the sound of the air rushing past the outside of the glider was surprisingly similar to the background noise in a jet airliner, and it was easy to forget that we were running without an engine.

All too soon, it was time to land, and we made an approach and lined up for the runway, like any other aircraft.  Landing was smooth, except for the bumpiness of the runway, where we simply rolled to a stop.  Now it was time to unclip the harness and parachute and exit the aircraft, before the glider was towed back the the take off area.

Afterwards, we chatted, and I took the opportunity to take a video of another take off in the same glider from alongside the runway (posted here before).  After that flight landed, there was time for one more flight, so I got to go up again.  This time, I took video of the take off and landing, as well as more photos.  It was another smooth and uneventful flight, but the lower angle of the sun allowed different features to be seen from the air.

After the landing,everything was packed up, then we proceeded to the clubhouse for a quick coffee. 

The gliding was not just a great experience, but also a bucket list item that my first (and late) partner had put on the list, when he described his experience in a glider to me around 25 years ago, which he had before we met in 1991.  I remember him saying “If you ever get the opportunity to go up in a glider, do it”.  Well now, I’m pleased to say I have done it, and it was every bit as amazing as he described.

Gliding is definitely a sport that has a lot to offer, especially for those with an interest in becoming commercial pilots.  It’s also one of those experiences everyone should try at least once.

- Tony via Tumblr

Glider landing, taken from the back seat.

Glider landing, taken from the back seat.

- Tony via Tumblr

Take off in a twin seat glider, taken onboard.

Take off in a twin seat glider, taken onboard.

- Tony via Tumblr

View of the twin seat PW6 glider taking off at Raywood, taken...

View of the twin seat PW6 glider taking off at Raywood, taken from alongside the runway. I flew as a passenger in this glider before and after the flight in this video.

- Tony via Tumblr

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Midwinter Update

As June comes to an end, it’s time to take stock of where things are at.  Fire brigade is in recess for the winter break, and each of us are doing individual training to maintain fitness.  For me, that means athletics at the track, which I train all year round.  I have done a little plyometric work as well, though it has been hard integrating it so far.  These are the times when it’s good to have coaches to consult on how to tie the various components into a coherent and effective training program.

While on training, we’ve settled into a routine with a mix of speed endurance (which helps for my 400m runs) on one day and speed/plyometric/jumping on the other day.  I’ve also added a third day, which is dedicated to throws, and have been working on my shot put, discus and javelin on that day.  Hammer throw is something else I’d like to try.

There have been some promising signs in my training.  The latest is being able to maintain a 60 second 400m pace through a whole speed endurance session, and I didn’t feel too bad afterwards.  This had given me confidence in breaking the minute barrier for the 400m next summer.  Speed wise, I have had a couple of fast runs, but am still to prove I can generate that extra speed consistently.  Throws training has been very productive, with discus improving significantly to over 20 metres, while shot put has gained a bit too.  Javelin still needs a bit more work.  I also need to start incorporating the spins, shuffles and run ups.  Discussed a strategy with the throws coach that may work, by working on the run ups/spins separately, getting them right then integrating them with the throw, because attempting it all at once totally overloads my processing and the resulting throw is poor.

Competition wise, it’s roughly halfway through cross country season.  I have been focusing on the 3k events this year to try and get a little more endurance.  I’ve been able to get up to 4:50/km (14:30 for 3k) - nothing special, but reasonable for me.  More interestingly, that pace seems to hold for more difficult courses where others slow down.  Overall, I’m reasonably satisfied how cross country is going so far, even though I’m not going to break any records.  Soon, it will be time to switch to the 1km event and push my speed endurance to the limit to see what I’m capable of, after the training I’ve done so far.

We’ve had one out of season track meet so far, which has been described elsewhere, with another one coming up on July 8.  I’m looking forward to testing my 100 and 400m performances to see how training is tracking, along with shot put.  However, I have got into another interesting form of competition - virtual racing.  The idea is that competitors enter online, register with the race organisers, as well as the online GPS logging service that is being used for the virtual race.  A time period to complete the race is given, during which, competitors have to run the race, then upload to the tracking service.  After the race period, the organisers compile the entries and come up with a finishing order based on time to complete the specified distance.

In early June, I ran the New York Road Runners (NYRR) Global Running Day Virtual Mile.  As the name suggests, this was a virtual race of 1 mile.  I chose to run my race at the athletics track, where i had access to a measured mile.  In the virtual race, I recorded 6:41, but the GPS recorded me as passing the mile in 6:31, which was the officially recorded time.  In any case, this time was comparable to my 1500m runs from the pentathlon and decathlon around Christmas.

Anyway, my results were good, with the following:

Overall place - 209 out of 2868.
Gender place - 188 out of 1587
Age graded place - 88 out of 1587
Age group place - 9 out of 134
Finish time - 6:31
Age graded time - 5:42
Age graded percentage - 65.09% (shows I’m not a miler, as that’s well short of my normal 80-85% that I get in the sprints :) ).

According to Strava, I managed to be the fastest Aussie (out of 25), which was a total surprise!. :)

Link to the results are here -

I have since entered another two virtual runs, which I can do in one hit.  One is another NYRR event - a virtual 5k, while another is hosted by the Runkeeper service and is also a 5k.  Because the race periods overlap, I am able to run both races with the one event.  For this, I intend to run the local Parkrun on July 14th to log as my virtual races.  And because my GPS logging is synchronised to both Strava (which NYRR use) and Runkeeper, it’s easy getting my runs sorted.  This will probably be my last 5k for the year.

So far, winter is progressing well.  But there’s likely some big news on the horizon for the coming season, so stay tuned.

- Tony via Tumblr

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Big Off Season Weekend

Had a big weekend of sport this weekend.  First, a bit of an update:

Cross country season is now in full swing.  To start off, I have been running the middle distance events, normally 3km.  Had been struggling, with a pace of slower than 5 min/km.  Then I took a week off to get married, came back last week, and ran 2.5km in 11:39, a pace of 4:39/km.  That led to a few friendly jokes about how married life is doing me good. :)

So back to this weekend.  Yesterday was a “distance handicap”, where each runner runs a difference according to their ability.  I entered the “3km” event, and was given a handicap distance of 2.96km to run.  Started out strong on the 1km uphill stretch.  The middle part of the event was undulating, before the 1km downhill run home.  Although the downhill stretch made things easier, I pushed it pretty hard.  Ended up completing the race in 13:59, at a pace of 4:43/min, and scoring third place on handicap.

Today was a track meet, to celebrate the re-opening of the local track, after being resurfaced.  I entered the 2 sprints offered, namely 200 and 100 metres, as well as long and high jump, and discus.

First up was the 200m.  Ran well, probably around 27 seconds, but I will never know, because the electronic timing system crashed (which has never happened before), so we had to run it again.  10 minutes later was the re-run, which was a lot slower.  10 minutes wasn’t enough time to recover from a 200m, and the time was a lot slower - 30.33.  It was more like a speed endurance training run.

After the 200m, I struggled over to the long jump.  As I was still recovering, the first jump was only about 3.2 metres, and the second was between 3.6 and 3.7m.  Had a longer jump for the third attempt, but was 1cm over the board, making it a no jump.  I got a measure for curiosity, and it would have been around 4 metres.  But 3.6 something will have to do.

Next up was high jump.  I haven’t done this since the decathlon, but wanted to give it another go.  I opted for an easy starting height of 1.10m, and worked my way up to 1,25m easily.  By now it was close to the time for the 100m, so I rushed 2 attempts at 1.30m, before retiring.

I used the 100m trip to the start of the 100m at a warmup run, and had another run through, before the race started.  Ran 13.76, suspecting this was affected by going lactic in the 200m re-run.

Final event was discus.  Here, I had my first go at throwing my new weight - 1.5kg for us over 50s, down from 2kg.  The smaller discus suits me, and I threw a PB of 17.95m on my third attempt. 

The new track felt really good, though the incident with the 200m made it hard to see how I’m tracking in terms of training, or the effect of the track on performance.  Hopefully there will be another meet before too long.

- Tony via Tumblr

Monday, May 07, 2018

Medal haul from the Victorian Police and Emergency Services...

Medal haul from the Victorian Police and Emergency Services Games.

- Tony via Tumblr

End of the 2017 - 2018 Season

Been a bit busy to update posts for a while, due to other aspects of life getting in the way, so just a quick summary of the rest of my season.

In athletics, there were only a few meets left.  Firstly, the AV Shield Final in mid February.  Here, I ran the 200 metres, triple jump and 4x200m relay.  Ran a 27.50 in the individual 200m.  Triple jump wasn’t as good as hoped, with a 7.73m best jump.  The 4x200m relay went reasonably well, though not in medal contention.

The athletics season finished with a busy weekend on March 24th and 25th.  The 24th saw me competing in two meets.  I spent the morning at the Victorian Police and Emergency Services Games in Croydon, where I ran the 100m, 200m and long jump.  Results were:  Age group (M45) gold in the 100m with a time of 12.71 (hand timed).  This result was achieved in a re-run, after the first run of my heat had issues with timekeepers.  The long jump started as the rain came down.  I got bronze, with a best jump of 3.78 metres.  The final event for me was the 200 metres, where I got age group gold and open bronze.  Time was 27.84 (hand timed).

After the lunchtime medal presentations, I made the short trip to Doncaster East, for the Victorian Masters Track and Field Championships.  In the afternoon, I ran the 100m and 110m hurdles.  I was entered in the 400m, but elected to leave early and head home for the night, due to fatigue from the long day.  With the rain almost cleared, my 100m time was slow, 13.85 seconds, almost a second slower than 4 hours earlier.  For some reason, my head wasn’t in the right place.  However, 20 minutes later, I ran a PB 27.10 in the 110m hurdles, winning the gold medal.

The next day, I returned to the Victorian Masters to run the 60m and 200m.  In the 60m, I ran a solid run, with a time of 8.42 seconds, which was one of my better sprints for the summer.  In the 200m, I ran 27.34 in tricky wind conditions.  While I got no medals on this day, I was happy with my performances.

February was also the peak of fire brigade season, with the state championships being held on the March long weekend.  Our team improved steadily throughout the summer, with a number of wins and placings in the local competitions.

In the state championships, we got third in the Y8, and narrowly missed out on a couple of other placings. 

Now that the season is over, my focus is on next summer.  After a few weeks of relative rest (meaning light training), cross country season has started, and I’m running a few 3km events for fitness in the early weeks, before transitioning to the 1k event.  I’ve also started plyometric training to improve my speed and power.

There is more big news in the pipeline.  Stay tuned for details.

- Tony via Tumblr

Sunday, January 28, 2018

2018 Victorian Country Athletics Championships

On the long weekend just gone (January 26 - 28), I competed at the Victorian Country Athletics Championships, which were held this year in Ballarat, a regional city west of Melbourne.  I had entered the triple jump, long jump, 100, 200 and 400 metres, and was also going to be in the relay teams.  A total of 7 events.

Arrived in Ballarat in tome to see a fellow clubmate compete in his 800m event, and checked into my only event - the triple jump, which I had in the evening.  Due to extreme heat forecast for the weekend, the whole program was changed, with events held before 1PM and late afternoon into evening on the first 2 days, and finishing just after 2PM on day 3.

After the morning’s events were run, I went to the caravan park where we were staying, setup my overnight stuff and had a quiet relax in the pool, so I would be ready for the evening session.

In the evening, it was time for the triple jump.  Started off with a jump around the 7.5 metres I have been doing all year, but quickly got over 8 metres.  Best jump was 8.22 metres, enough to take the bronze medal, and my best triple jump for well over a year.

Next morning, I had an early start, with long jump at 9AM.  That meant arriving at the track before 8 to check in.  The event started off a bit shake, with a few jumps around 3.5-3.6 metres.  I finally found my technique on the 6th and final jump at 4.19 metres, a season best, but missing out on a medal by 1 cm.

About 90 minutes later was the 100 metres, one of the events I always look forward to.  Got off to a great start, as good as anyone else in the field.  Finished with a bronze medal in a season best 13.20 time, comparable to last year’s performances.  While my starts are excellent, I’m feeling a bit lacking at high speed.  More to work on. :)

After the long afternoon break, and a stop for pizza on the way back to the track, it was time to settle down and enjoy watching some action before running the 400 metres.  The 400 was run just after 9PM under lights.  This was the first time I ran under lights, and the atmosphere was quite different and exciting.  Got off to another fast start, before settling down into race pace.  A tail wind in the back straight helped maintain pace.  Ran a strong second bend, with some encouragement from clubmates in our tent, then turned to face the wind in the home straight.  The final 80 metres was a struggle, but I finished with a season best 1:04.60, totally spent.  It was 5 minutes before I felt steady on my feet, and another 5 before I felt OK, but it was worth it.  The run resulted in a silver medal.

On the final day, I had one individual event - the 200 metres.  Arrived early again, this time to secure a good car park.  Checked in and made early preparations.  When the 200 came around, I had a minor issue with my right shoe not wanting to bite into the blocks when setting up, but felt a bit more secure when getting ready for the actual start.  Still, I didn’t fel this start was quite as good as the other 2 sprints.  However, I had better acceleration on the bend and entered the straight in first place.  I had hoped to use my acceleration to build enough of a lead to remain there, but one of the other guys - a fast finisher - passed me with 40 or 50 metres to go, and I had to settle for silver.  Still, it was a season best 26.90, and only 0.19 off my all time PB.  Allowing for a year of ageing, these are comparable performances.

After an early lunch and more enjoying the action, it was time to run the 4x100m relay.  I was running the third leg, on the same bend that I ran the 200m on a few hours earlier.  As I was the fastest over 100 metres in the team, I elected to run a little extra distance, around 120 metres, and worked with my teammates to plan our baton changes to make that possible.  I would take the baton as early as possible and hand it off as late as possible.  This would ensure the maximum time with the baton travelling at my higher speed. 

The race went pretty much as planned, and I took the baton near the start of my incoming change zone, then accelerated the final bit to top speed for the trip around the bend, before handing the baton at the last possible second (only had about 1 metre to spare!), giving our last runner, who is more middle distance than a sprinter, the best chance of making it to the line in time.  He finished in 4th position, but one team was disqualified, resulting in a bronze for us.

The final event was the 4x400m relay, a tough event at any time, but especially so in the heat of the afternoon, as the time was approaching 2:30 PM.  Again, I ran the third leg, and our team plan had me run an extra 10 metres, because I would cope best with the conditions.  After the second runner had started his lap, I was marshalled into position by the officials to line up at the changeover box.  As per our team plan, I elected to stay at the start of the box.  Took the baton cleanly (much easier at 400m pace :) ), then accelerated into the first bend.  Took it a bit easier than the previous night’s individual 400m, because of some tightness and the heat, then settled down for the rest of the race.  Surprisingly, I felt better as the leg progressed around the track, and pushed a bit harder into the home straight, now with a tailwind to help.  As planned, I changed with our final runner in the middle of the changeover box, 410 metres after I started.  We finished in 4th, but ran well, given the team members and conditions, as well as miscellaneous niggles between all of us. :)

In summary, 5 season best times, 2 good relay performances, and a final medal count of 2 silver and 3 bronze.  A result I am very happy with.  Next week, it’s back to fire brigade action with a competition at the local track.

- Tony via Tumblr

Quick fire brigade update.

Last Sunday (21 January), the fire brigade season resumed, with a competition in Mooroopna on a hot day.  The team did quite well, picking up a win and several minor placings.  My own roles were mostly quite different to previous years.

In the ladder 8s, I was one of the three who actually lifted the ladder into position.  I along with another guy got to do the actual lift, while the third person had to get to the foot of the ladder, hold the foot on the ground as we lifted, then help guide the ladder into position as it went up.  Despite this being our first lift together, and I personally hadn’t done one for a few years (no need for ladder lifts in C section), we got the ladder up fine, and the team won the event.

My next event was the hose and reel 8s, where I helped bring the second length of hose back to the hydrant.

In the sixes, I was the 7th team member, known as the reel catcher.  The catcher’s job is to grab the reel while it is in motion after it has passed under the disk, so the remaining pole can leave to do other work.  Then the reel needs to be safely guided until all of the hose has left it.  It can be a scary job, because for most of the run, the reel is heading straight at you at top speed.  :)

In the 4s, I ran a coupling.  I didn’t do a lot of couplings in the C side, but have been running this position well at training.

Finally in the Y8, I have been training a completely new (for me!) position.  Known as third coupling, after helping push the reel down the length of the course, I have to bring the third length back to the centre, where the first 2 lengths are joined at the time.  On the way back, I have to collect a Y piece from someone else, put my coupling in place and position myself next to where the hoses are joined.  Once in position, and after the second disc is hit, the two people on the other hoses have to break their coupling (while water is flowing through!), couple onto their ends of the Y, and I tighten the back of the Y (which has a long handle especially for that job), to complete the assembly.

Still working on the finer points of the job, especially catching the coupling and getting back as fast as possible, because we haven’t had a lot of opportunities to practice this part together.

- Tony via Tumblr

Sunday, January 07, 2018

I wasn’t a born sportsperson! (updated Jan 7, 2018)

Having completed the 2018 Australian Masters decathlon earlier today, I am reminded of a blog post I made in the middle of 2014, just before an autism fundraising walk.  The post outlined the changing relationship I have had with sport and exercise over the past 40+ years, from many physical coordination, sensory and other issues, to now, where I am able to successfully complete a decathlon, and meet many other challenges.

On the eve of a 24 hour fundraiser walk for autism, I have been contemplating my relationship with exercise and sport, and how I got to where I am today - healthy, happy and active, despite significant early challenges.

This blog post is a departure from the last several years.  Instead of talking about achievements, I will talk about challenges and overcoming them - the story of the unlikely sportsperson.  That person just happens to be me.  I didn’t always have the strength, power or the winning edge, in fact,as a kid I could barely make the finish line, let alone win, and I was the classic nerd who was last choice for any team sport at school.  So what happened?  And how can this benefit others?

Let’s go back to the start.  My first memory of sport was Little Athletics, a great program to get school age kids into track and field. This was around the start of my primary school years, and to put it bluntly, I finished dead last in every race, well behine the next kid.   After a summer or two of this, I basically quit.  There was a part of me who liked the idea of being good at some sport, like the athletes on TV, but I had resigned myself to the “fact” that it would never happen.

Through most of my primary school years, I never really gave much thought to sport, it was simply something I was never good at, though surprisingly, I did enjoy school sports day, as I preferred being outside to being in the classroom, despite being a good student academically, with a number of As.

When I was 10, a friend got me interested in judo, and I decided to give it a go.  Spent a couple of seasons in the club, and enjoyed it, but making progress was slow.  A year later, I joined the local junior fire brigade, and started training for their competitions.  Again, at that time, progress was slow, though steady.

My teenage years could be described as the time of “accidental therapies”.  What I didn’t know, but now strongly suspect is that I actually have some level of movement issues, which weren’t known or understood at the time.  The first of these “accidental therapies” was, surprisingly, football, specifically Aussie Rules (now often called AFL).  The year I turned 13, I decided to try playing for a local club. As a footballer, I was a disaster, but what really did work was the intense training.  The coaches were old school, and I took to the hard training regimes like a duck to water.  By the end of the season, I still couldn’t play football to save my life, but my fitness, especially strength, speed and power had improved out of sight, so much so that my role in the fire brigade events had to change the following summer, to take advantage of my new found speed, and I became a consistent placegetter in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and triple jump at school athletics, and always picked for inter-school competitions.  I also found that intense training also helped me mentally, I felt good after the footy training, and the world seemed a better place.  I had an interest in developing my strength and speed further, though opportunities were limited at the time.  Already, exposure to the right environments was having a huge beneficial effect.

At this time, I played cricket too, which I enjoyed, but again totally sucked at! :)

The next “accidental therapy” came a couple of years later, and I blame my younger sister! :)  At the time, she was in the local gymnastics club, and would often practice at home.  Being a visual person, I noticed imperfections in her practice and started helping her with her form, so she could rol and tumble with more grace.  One night, while helping her, the coach dropped in and saw what was going on.  She invoted me to come down to the club and become a coach.  Of course, that meant _doing_ gymnastics, which I hadn’t contemplated until that moment.  I joined the club, became a part of the older boys’ class and quickly studied to be a coach, coaching the boys.  Turned out much of gymnastics suited me.  I had the strength for rings, and the power for the vault.  Floor was the hardest, because my late start meant I lacked flexibility, especially in the upper body.  My flexibility did improve (even today at 46, it’s still somewhat better than average).  But the big thing that I noticed is a lot of my clumsiness has since gone.   There are traces of motor coordination issues that sometimes crop up, but the bulk that I had as a kid became insignificant after gymnastics. In any case, I stayed with the club until my early 20s, when I left home.  For many years, my Saturday would start with coaching the younger kids, one or two of whom were referred to the club by a paediatrician to help with coordination issues, and later working with the older, mostly teenage boys, as a coach and role model.  I also had to give up the fire brigade competitions, which I had enjoyed a fair bit of success with, especially after playing football and starting with the gymnastics club.

After leaving home, I drifted away from sport for around 10 years, but remained active, mostly walking.  That was until my mid 30s, when I discovered the various forms of orienteering.  I had a lot of success with Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF), a form of orienteering that involves using radio direction finding techniques to locate controls, instead of having them marked on the map provided, at international level.  I also did reasonably well at other forms of orienteering, particularly street orienteering and rogaining.  I also joined the Melbourne Frontrunners, a GLBTI running and walking group, and ran with them most Saturday mornings, and from there, ran the occasional fun run, up to and including my first marathon in 2008.  This period reminded me of the psychological benefits of exercise.  I enjoyed pushing myself to the limit, and with distance running, you’re really competing against yourself for that PB, or to finish a new distance (the feeling of completing a marathon is well worth the pain! :) ).  However, I also knew distance running wasn’t where I’d be competitive on a wider scale. Running for me became a social thing, the Saturday run and coffee, and the camaraderie of running races and comparing notes after the event.   After the marathon, I decided to take up gym workouts.  I had tried when I was younger, had built some strength then, but not much muscle mass. However, now 40, I found both strength and muscle mass easier to come by.

In 2010, I left Melbourne and rejoining the fire brigade became a distinct possibility that was not lost on me.  As it turned out, that process started only 3 weeks after moving.  I got back into competition, as described elsewhere and have had a lot of success, as I have written about over the past few years in this very blog.  No need to say too much more here (it’s been said elsewhere in this blog), other than to say I am in a sport which suits my traits perfectly, and despite having a number of coordination issues as a kid, I’ve managed to find a niche that I enjoy, and have found the benefits of exercise and competitive sport have been a major contributor to my life. 

2018 update:

The past few years have seen some major changes.  It all started in early 2015, after the fire brigades state championships in March.  While I was the fastest on the track in our team, I realised that despite my speed, I was still physically unable to get from the start to the top of the ladder to win or even place in the hose and ladder 5s.  I was the limiting factor.  At 46, I knew I could claim “old age”, but I didn’t like the sound of that idea.  The alternative was to try and do something about the problem, and the logical avenue was to get some sprint coaching.  One of the guys in our team had connections with a local athletics club, and in July, I started training and competing in cross country events with them.  Pretty soon, I recalled a teenage desire to compete in athletics (which wasn’t feasible at the time due to lack of local opportunity), and I decided to not only train, but compete for the club during the summer in track and field.  In my first season (2015-2016), I stuck to the sprints, where I made rapid progress, added the long and triple jump, and the occasional 800m.  During this season, I got a silver medal in the relays at the Victorian Country Athletics Championships in January 2016, and a big medal haul in the Police and Emergency Services Games in April.  Meanwhile, my fire brigade performances started to show early signs of improvement, but a series of injuries, apparently from the increased workload did impact the early season.

However, the access to coaching also showed up my coordination issues.  This environment allowed me to characterise and understand my particular challenges, which fall into 2 basic areas:  Firstly, my conscious processing of movement is slow and easily overloaded.  I need to keep input simple and try and focus on one thing at a time where possible, otherwise I simply can’t keep up.  Once in “muscle memory” (i.e. the unconscious mind), I am then able to make full use of those skills with far fewer limits.  It’s getting through that learning bottleneck that is the challenge.  Secondly, my proprioception is unreliable.  I have to pay particular attention to where various body parts are, when carrying out movements, and frequently “re-calibrate” my perception of their movement.

In the 2016 cross country season, I did well, improving both my 1km and 3km times significantly, and even got the season aggregate for the 1k event, much to my surprise!  My limits of middle and long distance running are still a challenge, but I did make some progress.

In the 2016-2017 summer season, I made more progress in my sprints, breaking the 13 second 100m barrier once officially (with electronic timing) and once unofficially (extrapolated from hand timing), and improving my 60, 200 and 400m times significantly.  This increased speed was also evident on the fire brigade track, where I had my best season ever, being able to bring down the team’s times in key events, contributing to a third place at the 2017 state championships, being able to run competitively in our A team, 2 grades higher than I normally run, and winning runner of the year for a second time.  Back in athletics, I began to diversify my events, competing in javelin, shot put and discus.  I took advantage of this diversification to compete in the Bendigo Region pentathlon, where I ran my first track 1500m.  I competed in my first state relay championships in Melbourne (those metro guys are fast!), and Victorian Masters championships, where I won bronze in the 60m, as well as wining the 3 sprints at the Police and Emergency Services Games.

In 2017, I focused on the 1km cross country, improving my PB time by 2 seconds, but running a lot more consistently fast times.  I also ran my fastest track 800m at the cross country breakup in August.

This season (2017-2018) has been a little frustrating on the track, where I have struggled with slow times.  This is a new challenge to overcome, first to understamd the cause, then to find a way to improve my times.  On the positive side, my javelin has improved significantly, I can now throw 18.7m with a standing throw.  Yet to incorporate a run up, which will require getting through that coordination barrier I mentioned early.  And that brings me to the decathlon.  One of the guys in the club made a serious suggestion that I give the decathlon a try.  Trouble is that I hadn’t done high jump or hurdles since school, and my hurdling was always iffy.  I had also never hurdled over 99cm, the height I needed to clear at the decathlon.  In addition, I had never pole vaulted.

So, I got a little instruction in hurdles, where I barely got over 84cm, and a week ago, I learned to pole vault in a single session.  Well, without any practice, I managed 1.29m in the high jump, and a useful height in the pole vault.  In addition, I found the key to getting over the hurdles.  Although leading with the right foot seemed to “feel better”, I decided to try leading with my left foot.  This allowed me to use my more reliable take off foot (right) that I use in both the long and high jump.  The extra lift from this foot easily got me over the 99cm hurdles in the race.  It was a combination of my self knowledge, and some visualisation form photos of other hurdlers that enabled this change.

So far, it is early in the fire brigade season, but even though I am slower this year, and now running in A section, as we now only have one team, I am competitove with the (all younger) guys in the team.  I am also running in new positions and learning new skills.  One wonders where this year of big learning is going to take me.

I am pleased to see that I am not alone, and others on the spectrum have actually started selling training programs designed to kelp kids on the spectrum improve their coordination and self esteem.  I benefited from a number of fortunate events and choices, and I wonder what would be possible with further specialised training to meet my specific needs - despite my successes, I still have some performance limiting coordination issues that I believe I can work on.  Similarly, I wonder what might have been possible, had these programs been available 40 years ago.  I am sure I would have enjoyed them as a kid, as my history suggests I would, but I’ll never know how much more I would have been able to take my sporting interests.  I hope the kids who are benefitting from these programs come to enjoy being active and develop a passion for sport, or at the very least, for active recreation.  For me, exercise has been the only antidepressant I’ve needed to rely on, but it’s been a good one with many beneficial side effects! :)

While encouraging adults to be more active probably faces more barriers from years and decades of learned aversion to exercise and sport from negative experiences like constantly being picked last for teams (and as I said, I’ve been there, done that!), bullying, teasing and the like (yep, all familiar), I believe it is still worth trying to encourage adults on the spectrum to at least partake in some form of non competitive exercise, and exploring from there.  I am not aware of anyone targeting adults with exercise programs, but I believe there could be some significant benefits.

Are you an adult on the spectrum reading this?  Why not give exercise a try.  You may need to find a mentor to help you keep the motivation up - someone who is supportive, but firm and fair.  Don’t under estimate the benefits of a daily half hour walk, or a few strength workouts per week.  Gamers and tech heads might relate to something like

Or are you the parent of a child on the spectrum?  In this case, see if your son or daughter would like to try one of the specialised programs out there, or if there isn’t an autism specific exercise program, there might be something for children who don’t fit into mainstream sport, or a gymnastics class with an understanding coach and management.  If the child takes to the program, fantastic!  if not, you might need to find something different - non autism specific programs may have unexpected sensory issues or other things adversely affecting the child.

I hope my story has been some form of inspiration.  I am far from a child prodigy, and I’ve had to work hard to get to where I am, but I’ve come to enjoy the journey and am thankful for the side benefits that have come as a result of my active life - health (both physical and mental), happiness, fitness, friendship and camaraderie, and a lifetime of self knowledge.

- Tony via Tumblr

2018 Australian Masters Decathlon

This weekend, the Australian Masters Multi event championships were held here in Bendigo, along with the Victorian championships.  For men, this means a decathlon, consisting of 10 events over 2 days as follows:

Day 1.
100m, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400m.
Day 2
110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500m.

With a forecast maximum of 43C, day 1 started early at 8:30AM with the 100m.  The slow times of the summer continued with 13.56 in ideal conditions, which scored 538 points, the highest score I got from any event.  We moved pretty quickly to the long jump.  This time, I had a lot of trouble with my run up, resulting in the first 2 attempts being no jumps.  I managed 3.59 in a conservative final jump, which scored 229 points.

After a short break, where I took the time to apply sunscreen, it was over to the shot put.  I haven’t competed in shot put since last season due to a scheduling clash with the long jump at regular meets this season. wasn’t expecting any miracles, but was satisfied with a 5.62m throw that resulted in another 293 points.  Next was an event I haven’t done since high school, more than 30 years ago - the high jump.  After some experimentation during warmup, I decided to start out with a 1.20m bar height and eventually was able to clear 1.29m, and only just missed out on making 1.32m.  The 1.29m jump resulted in another 331 points.

The last event for day 1 was the 400m.  By this time - 11:30AM, the temperature was at least 35C with a gusty NW wind that made the back straight and especially the second bend tough.  I finished in 1:05.36 and scored 442 points.  My day 1 total score was 1833 points.  After we finished, I headed off to a local swimming poll for some light recovery work and a break from the heat..

Overnight there was a (sort of) cool change, so day 2 would be a bit less extreme.  First up, at 9AM were the hurdles.  I had a little practice a few weeks ago, but struggled to clear a single 84cm hurdle.  Today, I needed to hurdle 99cm 10 times.  Taking some experience from my long and high jump, I decided to swap my lead foot, so my stronger (right) foot could be used to take off for each hurdle.  Still, I wasn’t sure if that would be enough and seriously considered pulling out immediately after starting, which would result in a DNF (Did Not Finish) and a score of 0, but allow me to continue.  However, when the gun went off, I got a good start, and by the time I could look up, there was a hurdle right in front of me, with no chance of pulling up.  So it was a case of take a leap of faith and hope for the best.  I cleared the first hurdle easily and decided to try the second.  Again, I cleared this one and at that point, decided to complete the race.  I cleared all of the rest of the hurdles, except one which I clipped, but didn’t knock over.  My time was 28.37, enough to score 34 points that I wasn’t counting on!

We moved quickly to the discus.  Tried working on my technique, which backfired.  The first throw was a disappointing 15.32m, the second a no throw and the third shorter than the first.  I scored 243 points.  Now it was time to put last week’s pole vault training into practice.  After a shaky warmup, I opted for a low grip on the pole and start at 1.20m.  Worked my way up to 1.5m, before missing 1.6m.  Scored another 89 points.

The 9th event and final field event was the javelin.  I have been rapidly improving in recent weeks, and today was no exception.  Opted to play it safe and use a standing technique for my first throw, resulting in a new PB of 18.70m.  Second throw was not far behind at 18.53.  With 3 good throws in the bag, I decided to try a short run up for my third throw, but my coordination issues got the better of me, and the throw was short.  The first throw was worth 187 points.  The final event was my least favourite, but for some reason seems to be a good points scorer, the 1500m.  In the warm (around 30C), windy conditions I ran 6:14.78, which scored 342 points.  My day 2 score was 895 points, resulting in a total of 2728 points.

Because 3 of the original 5 entrants in my age group pulled out before the meet, that meant I was able to claim silver for both the Victorian and Australian Masters championship in the 45-49 age group.  A bonus I didn’t expect before yesterday.

After the presentations, most of the athletes from all age groups met at a local coffee shop for a chat over coffee and lunch.  The decathlon is like a journey that we all shared together, and it was fitting to meet up and share our experiences afterwards.  I’m looking forward to the next time I am able to compete in a decathlon.  I likened the decathlon to a marathon (which I did run 10 years ago) - a challenge that is rewarding to simply complete.  I was particularly pleased to score in all 10 events, something I wasn’t sure I would manage.

I’m also keen to work on my hurdles, pole vault and throws during the next year.  As I turn 50 in a few months, the hurdles get a little lower and closer together, while the throwing implements get lighter and smaller for my next attempt.

- Tony via Tumblr