It's Tuesday 3rd August 2010, and stage 2 of the altitude adventures has just begun. Yesterday afternoon I arrived by train in Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees, but before I update on what this venue has to offer, I thought it would be an appropriate time to update everyone on what I've been up to over the summer, how my brief track season fared, and how attending the European athletics Championships has given me even more motivation to train like hell over the coming weeks.
The aforementioned championships concluded on Sunday in the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. Having long been on my hit-list of venues to visit, I wasn't going to turn down the chance to visit Spain's second largest city. Attracted to the city for it's architecture, the legacy that Gaudi and his contemporaries left behind did not disappoint. The magnificence of the world's most famous building site (the part completed Sagrada Familia), the wonderful views from Gaudi's Park Guell, and the magnificent nigh time magic fountain displays would have been more than enough to make the trip worthwhile, but 6 days of action packed athletics within the stadium and on the streets of the city centre made this a truly epic experience. The athletics was made even more memorable when I knew people taking part; the tension of waiting to see if Hannah England has made the final of the 1500m, and the excitement of seeing Hatti Dean battle for (and subsequently just miss out on) a podium position and knock a massive 8 seconds from her personal best in the 3,000m steeplechase were about as much as my nerves, and my vocal cords, could handle.
There's something special about Olympic Stadiums, and Barcelona was only the 2nd one that I saw in the past month. Earlier in July my brother Patrick married the lovely Tatiana Bogdanova in Moscow, and the wedding provided us with the opportunity not only to view the beautiful Red Square, but also to witness the venue of the 1980 Games. The wedding was a great event, and despite serious lack of sleep, lost luggage and swollen feet, the action-packed 48 hours were some of the greatest of my life. Russia was definitely a pleasant surprise and the food was great (always a bonus!). Let's hope that it's not too long until the next family celebration.
And so to the track season. I always knew that it was going to be difficult to get close to my personal bests given the complete lack of track sessions in the past 2 years, but it was going to be interesting to see how I responded to the first block of altitude training. As expected, for the first 10 days I felt great, and I'm really glad that I spent a small fortune to get to Watford for a steeplechase race in early June after the chase had been cancelled at short notice at the Northern Ireland Championships. Despite the lack of speed in my legs, I felt amazing. The benefits of sea-level oxygen pressure soon wore off though, and less that a week later, I felt like crap. This is a normal reaction to returning from altitude, the magnitude and time delay vary depending on the individual and the duration of altitude exposure, but I had forgotten from my previous visits just how difficult this slump can be. I definitely won't be scheduling a race for 2-3 weeks after returning from an altitude training trip!
This track season was always going to be about returning to some level of fitness, getting some races in to inspire me for the coming winter, and implement some positive hurdling technique. All of these targets were achieved, but somehow there is a feeling of a missed opportunity, and a sense of what might have been. An opportunity of a national steeplechase title was practically handed to me on a plate, and I messed it up. Nerves, a lack of confidence, and a slip on the final waterjump denied me the chance of being in a 3-way sprint for the title. In the end, bronze (the same position as I finished in 2006) and a season's best performance was all I could do, as I watched my rivals excite the crowd with a very tight finish just meters in front of me. On reflection, disappointed as I was, a small part of me is glad I didn't win. In the grand scheme of things, a national title in 11:15-odd would mean very little to me, and the hunger generated by just missing out this time round should take me a long way into winter training. And so, with this year's goals achieved, I drew a line under this year's track season, took a week off training, and set about building up for 2011.
After 2 weeks of moderate volume mileage, here I am in Font Romeu where thankfully it is a lot warmer and sunnier than it was yesterday (not that I'm completely solar-powered these days, but sunshine definitely helps. I'm about to embark on a few weeks of high volume training in preparation for a half marathon in September. The target for that is simple: my first PB over any distance in 6 years.
Apart from my quest to find fresh milk (the frenchies love their UHT crap), and a proper tin opener, my biggest challenge now is trying to exchange my Spanish vocabulary (which no extends to si, mucho, hola!, gracias, por favor, and verde), for my equally limited French one. Inept as I am with foreign languages though, 'si' is still very much 'yes', and I have used 'gracias' instead of 'merci' on at least 5 occasions now. People who fluently speak 3 or 4 languages without getting mixed up between them amaze me. Ah well, I guess I just can't be good at everything.
How can you call this a tin-opener?