Decathlon

(…this is continued from a previous post, click to start reading from Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3)

‘It’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit, and still move forward.’

-Rocky Balboa

May 2010, Woodford Green Combined Events Challenge, my first full decathlon.

Day 1: 100m, Long Jump, Shot Put, High Jump, 400m

Day 2: 110m Hurdles, Discus, Pole Vault, Javelin, 1500m

I would leave the detailed breakdown of results and a technical analysis for another post as this entry is a rather long already, so for now let me just give you a summary. I set myself a realistic target of just 5000 points but taking my fellow decathlete’s advice I put the main focus of my first decathlon to just finishing it. At the back of my head though, I was secretly hoping that I would do amazing, break the national record and come to the realisation that I was born to be a decathlete. Anxious and excited, I began the 2 days.

The first day passed by easily, made a few blunders but as it was my first ever competitive 100m, Long Jump, High Jump and 400m, it actually went surprisingly well. I remembered it feeling a little surreal, that after all these years I was actually at a combined events meet somewhere in England, thousands of miles away from home and the track that 5 years ago, I first heard of the word decathlete. Point wise though, I was down with only 2245 points at the end of the first day but I felt it was still acceptable and was in high spirits.

They say it’s hard for someone to understand what a decathlon feels like and why it is so damn tough unless you’ve been through one yourself and I completely agree. Though it is just 5 events a day, the long hours that include warm ups, waiting and preparations for each event, combined with the maximal effort required for each event, does make a perfect cocktail for exhaustion.

The real test, they also say, is on the second day. They call that the day that separates the men from the boys, and I soon got to find out why.

I remembered going for dinner with David, a fellow decathlete, and his family at an Italian restaurant nearby after the last event on the first day feeling absolutely fine and upbeat. But when we finished and was about to leave, I stood up from my chair and it suddenly hit me that my legs were extremely sore and that I couldn’t move them properly. It was the most excruciating case of what we called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) that I’ve ever felt in my life. My legs were just cramping up all over and it felt like trying to walk on two sticks of jelly.

That night in the hotel I borrowed a shot put from David to try and roll out my muscles in an attempt to loosen it (which in itself was not a very pleasant or pain free experience). The next morning, the soreness and the tightness only got worst and I had difficulties walking down the stairs. The soreness also caused my injuries to flare up and I could feel pain in my left knee and right ankle, alongside other parts of my body such as my back and my hips. Basically I was in a really bad shape, and the first event of the second day was the 110m Hurdles, which in case you haven’t tried involves running quickly through a series of 10 hurdles that are up to my waist height (1.067m).

I no longer cared about the score or any hope of breaking the national record or all that nonsense, at that point, my one and only concern was to be able to actually complete it.

I warmed up and tried to run a few hurdles and I came to the obvious realisation that it is fairly difficult to run and hurdle properly while you had problems walking. I made the decision to use a slow and conservative 5 stride approach in between hurdles (which meant I would get a really slow time) but at least it would increase my chances of finishing.

So the starting gun went off and I ran towards the first hurdle cautiously, only to reach it too closely and had to jump over instead of sprinting over them. I was way too high up in the air and when I landed on my left foot I was off balance and I distinctively remember facing and staring downwards right at the edge of my lane marking.

‘KEEP MOVING FORWARD!’

I remember shouting to myself in my head at that instant, and I did. I kept going and despite crashing hurdle 7 and once again almost falling over I kept moving forward and I finished it in 21.93s (coming in last for that event obviously).

Those 3 words became my driving force for the rest of the day and even though the soreness and the pain got worst, I just told myself that as long as I kept moving forward, everything’s going to be ok.

I knew that all I had left was to clear the pole vault (which is the 8th event) with a starting height and I would be able to complete the decathlon. The final two events, javelin and 1500m, could easily be completed (though of course it is a matter of how far or how fast, but I wasn’t at all concerned about those bits then.)

Once again during warm up I’ve came to the obvious realisation that it is fairly difficult to run, plant a pole and jump over a height while you had problems walking. Alongside 2 other decathletes that were also new to the sport, we’ve agreed to set the opening height at just 2.53m (Even with my limited technique I usually can clear up to 2.9m easily during training). You get three attempts at each height before either succeeding, and moving on to the next height, or failing. It is important to at least clear your opening height or it would be a technical incompletion for the decathlon.

I failed my first two attempts, going nowhere near to being able to get over the bar. Before I knew it, there I was staring down the runway to a mat with a bar placed at 2.53 metres, holding on to my pole waiting for my third and final attempt at it. There it was, standing at the end of the runway, all which stood between me and my dream.

You know the moments in life, where everything you had ever put in boiled down to a single moment, and you knew that what happens next could mean everything? That was one of those moments for me.

I felt the rough grip of the pole I was holding in my hands, aware of the slight breeze that was blowing across my face as I looked down the runway. All the other decathletes around me started to shout words of encouragement as they knew exactly what I was feeling because they’ve been through it themselves. I looked ahead and up at the bar that I had to jump over, took a deep breath and thought to myself:

‘Run, Plant, Jump’

And I went for it.

I ran towards the pit, raised my arms to plant the pole and I jumped.

I managed to get a little height off the jump and as I crossed the bar, I turned to push away my pole and whilst I was still in mid-air, I saw that the bar was still standing.

I did it, I knew for sure that I was going to become a decathlete.

How another decathlete described that moment later was that I somehow after getting nowhere near during my first two attempts, managed to shimmy up the pole on the last try and somehow managed to get over it. Of the 3 of us who started at that height, 1 didn’t make it, and trust me I could feel his pain.

At this point I would like to give all my fellow Loughborough decathletes (Maxim Hall, Adrian Hemery, Michael Holden, Ben Gregory and David Feeney) a big thank you, because over the past two and a half years, though you might not have realised it, you all have been there every step of the way, advising and helping me to go from absolutely zero to a decathlete. During Woodford I got to see you guys (except for Adrian who did not compete at that time) in action that made me realise why decathletes are in a league of their own. And thank you for helping me through every single event during the decathlon, and especially to David and his family for helping me settling the accommodation and giving me a ride from Loughborough to Woodford. I couldn’t have made it without you guys. These are a bunch of guys who can single handily take down a couple Singapore’s national records in individual events whilst doing a decathlon and I am truly honoured to be amongst you guys every day at the HiPAC.

And just like that, as I crossed the finish line of the 1500m (once again coming in last, my legs were completely gone by then), I successfully completed my first decathlon with a score of 3825, and I became a decathlete.

Max and Me, 2010 Woodford

2010 Woodford Green Combined Events Challenge, taken during the high jump event with Max Hall, my training partner. Thanks loads to you all, I really could have never done it without you guys.

Doubt

‘If you never crash, you’ll always be afraid of crashing’

– Bonny Warner

How I felt next though, was something that I did not expect.

Back in my apartment after coming back to Loughborough that night, whilst stretching and nursing my aching body, I started to think. After all these years, everything I’ve done, every decision I’ve made, everything that I had to give up to reach to that point, that was it. I was a decathlete, but I found out that I wasn’t a very good one. I realised that maybe after all these time, I was just a dreamer, just a wannabe.

It’s like you’ve chased this beautiful rainbow, and when you reached the bottom of it there was no pot of gold.

You remember the scene in the Kick-Ass movie, when the guy who wanted to be a superhero almost got killed but was saved by two real superheroes? He went back home, took off his mask, lay down on his bed and started crying. He just met real superheroes. At that point, I could totally relate to him. (Go catch the film if you haven’t, it is awesome.)

The thing is I’m not getting any younger. The decathletes I’ve met at my age had years of experience, proper training and as I’ve mentioned are frankly quite amazing. Even the decathletes younger than me were extremely talented and likewise had many years more training under some of the best coaches and facilities. Me? I just started not too long ago and the only thing amazing about me was the amount of injuries. In short, I realised that I was just a wannabe.

I gave it everything, I tried, I fought my battles, but I was found wanting. I knew at that point no one’s really going to blame me for stopping, I did try my best and I guess sometimes reality is quite a far cry from the dream. And so for the first time in 5 years, right after I actually completed my decathlon, I thought very seriously about quitting.

I met real superheros.

To be continued…

Jump forward to Part 5.

Jump back to Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3

Comments

  1. “With great powers come great responsibility…”

    Reminds me of the speech you made back at school.

    Can’t wait to read on (:

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