Almanac Athletics: The dream is born

[All images within owned and supplied by author. – Ed.]

 

I’m on the ground heaving, my chest rapidly expands and collapses as I search for oxygen and strength. My calves are shaking and my feet are burning. “Why do I do this?” I ask myself.

I’ve trained six days a week over the past 12 months. I’ve pushed myself to the absolute limit. I’ve ran myself into the ground so many times that now, I’m used to the feeling of exhaustion.

But the journey is almost over, it’s all led up to this. I’ve spent half a grand to get here. I’ve travelled almost 2000km. I’ve spent hours and hours in the heat, cold and rain to be here. All for less than two minutes of racing.

 

Last summer I reignited my passion for running. I had once been a reasonably good junior athlete, especially in the school cross country, but I had never been an outstanding competitor, or at least, I didn’t have the discipline to focus on it. Life, and perhaps more importantly, football, had always gotten in the way.

Toward the end of last summer I (re)joined my local athletics club. Why? I’m not exactly sure. The girl I liked was an ardent member of the group, so perhaps that was a little more motivation for myself to strap on the spikes.

Initially it was for fun. And then the competitive beast took hold of me.

I was cruising along and over the course of a couple of weeks I saw my time in the 800m plummet from 2:20s to under the two minute barrier. I started winning races. My coach thought I might have ‘potential’. So I trained throughout winter. I trained hard.

One of my first major competitions for the season was the Australian University Games. I captained the Athletics team for La Trobe University that headed up to Sydney. I would race in the 1500m and the 800m, and whilst I curated my training regime around it, I wasn’t planning on performing spectacularly.

For those unfamiliar, ‘Uni Games’ is a lot like the Olympic Games, if every athlete was a sexually charged teenager who gets blind drunk just before and straight after their event.

I came 6th in the 1500m, and on the final day of the Games I raced in the final of the 800m. The night before was pretty hectic. I remember being smashed after my umpteenth TED at the club, then dropping my phone into Circular Quay before stumbling home at four in the morning.

In reality I was still waking up when the starting gun fired. I was in second position for the first 700m before I reached the straight, dropped the clutch, and strode away in the last hundred to take my first national medal.

I was shocked beyond words. I dropped my time another 6 seconds and all of a sudden I was only a few seconds off a time that would put me in a Green and Gold singlet.

I was honored as one of the ‘Athletes of the Meet’ and later was awarded a University Blue from La Trobe. I’ve since learned what a University Blue actually is.

Click HERE to watch Cobba’s 800m final – scroll to 17m 05sec for his race.

 

But this was the beginning of my first real athletics season. My club, Mornington Peninsula Athletics Club (formally the ‘Road Runners’) is a small dedicated group of primarily distance runners. In fact, 800m is just about the smallest distance as anyone does.

Our running group’s annual Christmas Morning Run. See Coach ‘Father Wheatley’ in the top right side.

Our running group’s annual Christmas Morning Run. See Coach ‘Father Wheatley’ in the top right side.

One of the key features of our training group is the annual getaway altitude training camp at Falls Creek over the New Years period.

A photo from one of the picturesque trails at Falls Creek.

A photo from one of the picturesque trails at Falls Creek.

It’s a lot of fun with a close knit group, and it’s very beneficial as it turns out. A lot of Australia’s Track and Field ‘royalty’ run along the trails there over summer.

But as enjoyable as training can be, there’s no substitute for the thrill of the race.

Two laps. You and seven others. I’ve previously described the 800 metres as “a chess game where everyone gets one move”. Move too early and you’ll be trumped. Move too late and the opportunity is missed. The 800 meters is the smallest of the ‘tactical races’, and believe me, tactics is everything.

Ready to pounce: Cobber keeping the pressure up on an opponent

Tactics: One off the lead, dictating the pace, keeping the leader under pressure throughout.

One minor mistake could cost you big time. Run on the fence and you’ll save yourself distance, but you’re risking getting boxed in. Take the lead and control the pace, but just be wary if there’s a 400 runner with a kick. Know your own speed and don’t get caught up. The 800 meters is just as mentally challenging as it is physically challenging.

Throughout the season I achieved moderate success. A couple of regional wins here and there, a gold medal in a relatively high-profile race, and 6th in the Victorian State Championships. Although I know I could’ve done better, especially after the expectation that came after the Uni Games.

My gold medal I recieved after winning Athletics Victoria’s ‘Knockout’ competition.

My gold medal I recieved after winning Athletics Victoria’s ‘Knockout’ competition.

But all of it anyway was a precursor to my Grand Final – The Australian Athletics Championships in Brisbane.

Brisbane: come at me!

Brisbane: come at me!

On a sticky evening at QE II track, former home of the 1982 Commonwealth Games, I was primed for my last race of the season. I lined up against the big guns, including Alex Rowe, the kid from St Kevs who broke Doubell’s Mexico Olympics Record. Jeff Riseley was in the other heat – a legend of Australian middle distance running.

QEII

The morning of my race at the QEII stadium in Brisbane

 

As I waited in lane 6, I had my race plan ready. Sit in the middle of the group and give them hell from 180m out, although I had already ran the race plenty of times in my mind.

The gun goes and I was feeling good, I was about 5th but trapped on the outside. We go past the 400m mark and the clock was at 55. Shit, that’s too slow. I need to come first or second to progress to the final.

Still feeling good, we get to 180 to go and I give it a push. I’m in 3rd with Rowey on my shoulder. Oh shit, I could actually take him! I go to go but there’s nothing there. I try and put my foot down but nothing happens and I lose ground. I stumble over the finish line in 6th with a crap time. Sweaty, exhausted, disappointed, the season is over – but I had a good run.

Somehow I never ran as well (or as impressively) as I did at Uni Games. But I’ll keep trying and I’ll keep pushing myself to my limits. Why? Because I’ve got a dream. A dream to represent Australia.

Stay tuned,

Cobba.

 

After my semi-final race at Victorian State Championships. I came 3rd and qualified for the final the following day.

After my semi-final race at Victorian State Championships. I came 3rd and qualified for the final the following day.

 

Me and the coach before my Zatopek race at Lakeside Stadium.

Me and the coach before my Zatopek race at Lakeside Stadium.

For those interested in retracing every kilometer I ran in 2014/2015, visit my Strava page, where I detail in writing every training session and every race I did this year.

 

About Jake "Cobba" Stevens

Jake "Cobba" Stevens is currently studying Sports Journalism at La Trobe Uni. One of the youngest 'old bloods' supporters in Melbourne, he can't decide if the crowd was louder at the 2005 or 2012 Grand Final.

Comments

  1. Good on ya Cobba. Get up to Stawell and run around in the 800 and the mile up there. Its superb. And if you win they give you money, not a medal.

  2. UPDATE: Have been lucky enough to receive a financial scholarship from the Victorian Milers Club who hold meets throughout the season. Over the moon!
    https://www.facebook.com/vicmilers/photos/a.525879537442243.131834.292433047453561/1044039032292955/?type=1&permPage=1

  3. Peter Fuller says:

    Well done Cobba on the scholarship, but also on your marked improvement during the past twelve months.
    Since we hadn’t heard much from you on the Almanac I was curious as to how things had developed for you with the progress to LaTrobe, and I guessed that other aspects of life had taken priority over the Almanac and footy. It’s good to hear from you and that you haven’t been wasting your time.
    Best of luck with the running, the writing and in progress in your studies.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great stuff Cobba and a extremely accurate description of the Uni games . Well done you and good luck ( congrats on the scholarship ) in the future

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