When I arrived at The College of New Jersey 29th April 2017, there was this feeling of being home. Not physically but, rather, emotionally and psychologically. I hadn’t competed on a track in over 3 years but you can never remove the passion from a man. It’s what we are, not what we do. I was back in a familiar groove and, as I heard the starter’s pistol stir the crowds into applause and cheer, I parked my car, amid the lack of focus from the adrenaline rush surging through me. I felt like I was about to park my car and step into a street fight!
In my 3 year vacation from track competition, forced by lack of good training facilities and an inability to find a team, I’d put my hand to other things, in the hope of finding the right spark to ignite the same passion I have for track and field. Nothing quite cut it, though. Weightlifting, obstacle course racing, triathlons. They all felt limited. I always felt that there was a ceiling I couldn’t push beyond. Not because they are limited in their own right but because they just aren’t linked to my passion. When I was up at 5am, running through the township of Mount Holly, New Jersey, for the sake of performing at a Spartan Race, it all felt so forced and against the struggle. When I was out at 5am, though, picturing myself in a 400m Hurdles race, it was different. It felt natural. It felt like I was supposed to be doing it. There was a distinct revelation that I need to get back in my lane and not just stay in it but MASTER it.
It was a balmy day. Slightly overcast but hot, with little wind. In essence, this was a great day to be a sprinter.
My legs felt like jelly as I slowly jogged around the astro turf soccer field, carrying out little drills to shake the 30mins drive out of my legs. Looking around, I could see athletes of all abilities and ages. There were a few elite athletes having an early-season run, from Trinidad and Jamaica. There were exceptional High School and College athletes, along with the grass roots athletes and people like myself. Coming back to competition after varying lengths of hiatus. The jelly-like feeling in my legs increased, alongside the intensity of the butterflies that fluttered inside, sending me into a familiar euphoric trance, similar to tunnel vision.
My skin began to moisten and I could feel my muscles beginning to lengthen as the temperature, inside, went up a notch. It’s a good feeling to know that you are really ready to perform.
Amid the readiness, my heightened senses noticed the overall tightness of my body, a lack of flexibility in my hips and hamstrings. My neck still ached, having jarred it a few days prior while I slept. I reminded myself that I had next to no sleep the night before and how I’d struggled to eat that morning. Doubt was making it’s usual rounds. But this was a day for me. I’d been here before and knew that all I had to do was rely on myself and the training I’d put in prior to this moment. Doubt is merely an antithesis of Faith. A ‘faith’ against your Faith. It’s a choice as to which one prevails. I chose Faith and stayed in the lane I have chosen to master as I walked to the tent to collect the number for my hip. As, around me, I heard a lot of talk and clamour of people doubting themselves, I stayed silent, resolute, disallowed myself to get into conversation with anyone and only allowed the ‘nod’ when greeted and smiled at. I’m a different person when I’m mastering the lane I occupy.
I was in the 7th heat. Something I was ready for but not fond of. It meant standing in the heat, running the risk of coming off the boil and getting wrapped up in the races of others. I just took myself to the 200m start and continued some dynamic stretching and starts, to keep my fast-twitch fibres on point. On the other side of the track, the starter’s pistol would fire and invoke a surge of adrenaline every time. I can’t even lie. I LOVED it and began to feel confident in the fact that I’d perform that day. Sub-consciously, I counted the heats and, after the 5th one set off, I strolled around the bend with my game face and, by the time I got to the 100m start, it was time to set up my blocks.
I smiled slightly when the starter called us to our marks. There was the familiar air of ego that wafted along the start line, as the athletes around me took a lifetime to steady themselves, carry out a few high-knees and shake out legs that didn’t really need to be shaken out. Me? I was too ready for this moment. I shot out of the blocks twice to check my positioning and feel for glitches and then asked the man in the heat behind me to hold my blocks steady. They were gonna need to be held because I aimed to push them into the day before!
From the ‘set’ position, my mind drew a blank. It turned introvert as I became a pilot, carrying out final checks on this machine that was about to be called into overdrive for the first time in a long time. Feet firmly in the blocks. Shoulders slightly ahead of the wrist. Focus, slightly toward the feet, to keep my drive low (Need to work on this, actually!). Finally, I felt the surge of adrenaline shoot through me as I anticipated the gun. It’s moments like these, when you are mastering your lane, that you live for and thrive on. I can’t overstate how much I missed it.
The gun went and I wasn’t too aware of what was happening until the wind started rushing through my hair. For a moment, though, I drove from being one of the last out of the blocks to the front before I tightened up and was run down to eventual third. In the moment, far from one of my best performances. In perspective of the bigger picture and the journey I’m on, the race was respectable and the performance of note.
I definitely gave myself a good picture of where I’m at with my return to track and, specifically, the 400m hurdles. I have been eating right, sleeping right, hydrating, training right and aim to continue as I continue to master my lane.