My first Indoor European Championships! Believe me, I've wanted this for so long and I finally qualified in the 60m. I was so excited that I only got 4 hours of sleep the night before our departure. I woke up at around 5AM to head to our indoor facility where half of the team from our part of the country would meet up, hop in two minivans, and then drive the approximately three hours to the airport in Copenhagen. Luckily I was able to sleep for the entirety of the mini roadtrip..
We got to the airport a little ahead of schedule which meant that I was able to get an old-fashioned gas station breakfast. Trust me, it is actually possible to get a healthy sandwich once in a while. We then met up with the other half of the team inside the airport - ready to go. The airport was - because of the pandemic - once again like a ghost town. It is honestly weird to have such a big airport almost to ourselves! I was stressing a little as we were boarding our flight. Not because I was nervous about the competition but because I had decided to quit caffeine in the lead up to Europeans - hoping I would get a better effect on race day. And obviously every single one of my teammates had bought a coffee at the airport - and I LOVE coffee. So yes, I was stressing because I couldn't get one. Sad times.
It was a short flight - about 90 minutes to Warsaw in Poland. As we left the airport, we had a 3 hour bus ride to Torun in front of us. Some of us slept whilst others chatted about pretty much anything and everything. Good times! It is always a pleasure to be on a national team where the team chemistry is high from the beginning and throughout the entire trip. As we got to Torun, the bus driver took us straight to the COVID-19 quick test that all athletes had to go through (and pass) to get their official accreditation. It was supposed to take maybe 15 to 30 minutes. We were there for three hours.. The test itself was 'quick' enough, but then we had to wait in a cold carpark for about two hours before we got our results back. At this point, every single athlete in the carpark was antsy and cold. Not really a good experience and it just extended the very long day of traveling. Finally, late in the evening, we got to the hotel, ate dinner and then instantly passed out on our beds. Day 0 in the bag!
Day 1 was obviously our first full day in Torun. I was rooming with my teammate Kojo Musah, and we both have the same diet/performance consultant, so we were both very eager to see what was for breakfast. In all honesty we had prepared for sub-optimal food options, but we were so wrong. Throughout the entire stay, the food was on point. I was able to stick to eating clean and focus on the things I had been working on with my consultant, Viktor. So in terms of fueling, hydrating etc, everything was on point which was just lovely. After breakfast we had our first 'sprint meeting' with the other guys on the team led by the national team coach. A lot of danish sprinters had qualified for Europeans which was awesome. There were basically two options for practice here on day 1. Go in the morning and train in a temp facility or go in the evening and train in the big arena where the competition is going to be held. Most of us decided to go in the morning.
An hour or so later we hopped on the bus to go to training. As we got there, we had to get our temperature taken and show our accreditations to enter the training hall. The usual stuff with some added COVID-19 precautions. The temp facility was actually kinda nice. It was obviously a handball facility or similar with a bunch of roll-out mondo we could train on. The workout itself was not too extensive - it can't be too tiring this close to competition anyway. It's all about fine tuning some small technical details, not getting tired, as well as staying healthy. Kojo and I did a complete sprint warmup and then 6 total block starts ranging from 10 - 30m in length with a long rest in between each one. We finished the workout with some jumping exercises. This was our last proper training session before Europeans. At this point, all the hay is in the barn. Now we just gotta make sure the barn doesn't catch on fire. In other words, we can't get faster now. We just have to make sure we don't get slower. This means eating right, recovering well and not stressing out about the competition.
During the championships we basically had to stay in a 'bubble' meaning we could only leave the hotel to go training or go to the arena. This was to make sure that no one got COVID. So for the rest of the day we basically just ate, slept, relaxed, and tried to recover. This meant stretching, watching Netflix, getting treatment etc. In the evening, the danish distance boys went to check out the competition track and to have their final training session before the championships. Our three 1500m guys would already compete the next day!
We (the 60m runners) are competing on day 4 (Saturday) and until now we actually hadn't been inside the main facility. We had an idea as to what it looked like as we had been binge watching videos from Copernicus Cup which is the big World Athletics meeting that is held here in Torun every year. In addition, our national team coach had taken the bus to the facility yesterday evening to do some 'coach's recon'. However, today was the day to go check it all out. The sprint crew had decided to go check out the facility during the morning here on day 2. This would be our last chance to move freely around the arena before the competitions would start. Kojo and I had had our last training session yesterday, so we would just go to the arena to do some reconnaissance. It is very important to actually go to the field of play as well as the warm up area and everything beforehand. By doing this, nothing will 'surprise' you on meet day and it really gives you some added comfort if you've already been there. Then your mind knows what you're going to go through. Even though the procedure is the same at every meet, there are still some variables that can chance, and we need to be ready for that.
Some of the other sprinters used this as their last training before the championships. Besides being a time for all the athletes to go and check out the arena, this was also the last 'official training' in the arena. This was an opportunity for all the athletes to warm up in the warmup area and then go do some work in the main arena. The 60m and 400m runners were even able to do block starts with the official starters and the official blocks - alongside all the other competitors. I had decided to do my last training the day before, and looking back I probably should have moved my last training to this exact moment to properly simulate my performance during the championships. I've been reading 'In Pursuit of Excellence' by Terry Orlick, PhD lately, and one of the chapters talks about properly simulating your competition day. I'm gonna do this next time. The atmosphere in the arena was awesome and I got to look at some of my competitors training and working on their starts. I also got to see some of my friends from the other countries. It was definitely a good opportunity to go there and look at the surroundings.
Nothing really happened for the rest of the afternoon other than lunch, relaxing, treatment, and hanging out with the team. As the evening rolled around, it was time for the European Championships to officially start. Four from the Danish team would compete this evening, and they did well! Most of the team had gone to the arena to cheer on our teammates, and we were probably the loudest in all of Arena Torun. That's what we do in Denmark - we scream, cheer, and yell at our teammates. It is one of the awesome things about being on a team; our teammate chemistry is great and everyone is supportive. The evening even included a new Danish national record in the women's 3000m. It was the perfect start to the championships. Tomorrow, Kojo and I would have our last pre meet of the season, and then it would be our turn on day 4...
The day before the day. I woke up at 07:30, which I always do, and went down for breakfast. I met with the rest of the team down there and we shared some of our experiences from the championships so far. I was still not drinking coffee to kind of reset my tolerance for competition the next day. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood which was lovely. Gustav, our 400m runner who was going to compete this very morning, had already went to the arena. I had a pre meet workout - which is basically just a relaxed warm up followed by maybe one or two spiked up sprints - this morning as well, so I had decided to go cheer on Gustav first and then go do my pre meet in the temp facility which I had trained at on day 1. Gustav had to run kinda early so some of us grabbed an early bus to get the chance to watch as much track & field as we could. Before I went to the championships, I had decided that I would watch as much of the championships as possible - and not on TV. I wanted to watch as much as I could live. I'm an athlete but I'm also a huge fan. I had already been in the arena for 30 minutes when the rest of the team got there. Gustav's time came and he ran a pretty fair race close to his PR. We were once again cheering the loudest in the arena. Even though I was supposed to go meet my coach at the temp facility after Gustav's race, I stayed for another 15 minutes to catch the women's 400m as well. Even though it was only the heats, I wanted to watch some of the people I had been following for the past couple of years.
After having stayed a little longer at the arena than necessary, i semi speed walked to the training facility and got started. About a week ago I had felt something in my right glute/hip region and it was really messing with me during this warmup. I ended up doing a very short warmup and then one very sloppy run in spikes. Not really the best final session to have before my first European Championships, and I was honestly stressing so much about it. But there was really nothing I could do except focusing on recovery and getting some treatment. Luckily, the stress subsided. More on that later. I finished the pre meet with some explosive drop jumps to really fire up the central nervous system for battle tomorrow. And then it was over. All the preparation had been done, and tomorrow I would make my international senior debut over 60m at the European Indoor Championships.
That evening, most of us stayed back at the hotel because we would be competing during the morning session the next day. This was not the time to sit in the arena. Instead, we used the time to prep all of our gear and necessities for the next day. Our room looked like a chemistry lab at this point. Supplements, sugar, water bottles, soft drinks, and so much more was just laid out on our hotel room table. In any event, we were ready for competition the next day. I also had a short meeting with my coach where we discussed the plan for next day and went over the heat I was in for the 60m. We concluded that my heat actually suited me very well as there were some guys in there who very closely resembled my level and then some other guys who were faster. I had been drawn in lane 3 with the defending European champion, Jan Volko, in lane 2. The guys in lane 4, 5, and 6 were basically just as fast as me, so it would actually resemble a lot of the races I had been in earlier that indoor season. So the heat and the lane draw was pretty much ideal. We then went over some of the more practical things like when I was going to start warming up etc. I also briefly spoke with my nutritional advisor about fueling for the next day. We had refined a competition plan throughout the indoor season, so we were good to go on our end as well. As I got to my room later, I went over some film of some of my best races to kind of visualize the perfect race and I also did some mental imagery (as described in the book I was reading). This took about an hour. I went to bed at 21:30, excited about competing the next day.
Day 4 - Competition day
I woke up 07:15 after a very average night of sleep, but I still had a feeling that I wasn't fully recovered. Kojo was already up and with all of our things having been prepared yesterday and ready to go, we just sat around the room for a little bit before heading to breakfast.
We hopped on the earliest bus and went to the arena. Kojo was in heat 3, Emil (our third 60m runner) was in heat 5, and I was in heat 8. I got some treatment before starting my warmup whilst blasting some tunes on my headphones. I was very relaxed and ready to go. But I still had a weird feeling in my right hip. Luckily our team physiotherapist was able to loosen some of it up, but it still wasn't 100%. However, the warmup went really well and I was feeling sharp during my warm up block starts. I did one last top speed run before heading to the call room. Everything felt fine, and I was really positive heading into the call room. One last word from my coach and then I was on my own. I still hadn't received my caffeine kick - even though I had ingested my caffeine almost an hour ago at this point. We sat in the call room for about 15 minutes before they took us through a tunnel and onto the competition floor. Just before entering the track, we had to wait for the heat before ours to be completed. There were two false starts in that heat and it just extended the time we had to wait. I sensed my legs were getting a bit cold during this time, but it could also just be the adrenaline so I didn't really sense it that much.
Finally we were led onto the track. I did a small sprint to get to my blocks, and I set them up quickly, so I would have a lot of time to do a good, PROPER practice start. I settled in the blocks, went into 'set' and sprinted out of the blocks. One, two, three, four, five steps. On the fifth step of my practice start I felt a sharp pain in my hip. And I instantly knew I had aggravated something. Panic quickly set in but I managed to talk it down by saying to myself that it was just my legs getting a little warmed up again after sitting in the call room for so long. It was time. This was it. European Championships. 'GET OUT' was the only thing in my head. I needed a good start if I wanted to reach the semi final which was my dream for this championships. I looked at the defending champion to my left and got confident. I took one last sip of water. 'ON YOUR MARKS' sounded, and we all settled into our blocks. Dead silent in the arena. 'SET'. And we were off. I pulled my right leg out in front of me as fast as I could and really tried to get a proper first step. But my right leg just wouldn't fire properly. It was probably my worst start all year. I just couldn't lift my right leg properly because of the hip. My eighth step usually lands around the 11m mark. today it landed just before the 10m mark. I was last at this point. However, I didn't panic and tried to accelerate for as long as I could. I ran really well over the last 30m, but it was too late at that point. 6.83 and a sixth place finish in my heat. My worst race all year and it came at the European Championships. To say that I was devastated would be the understatement of the century. I went through the mixed zone and sat in the cooldown area for about 20 minutes just staring into a wall. Meanwhile, my right leg was literally on fire from pain. I couldn't even sit down. I then went to see my coach and he quickly tried to make me see the positives. And he was kinda right. Last year I won the national title in 6.83 and that was almost a perfect race. Today I ran the same time with one leg. I have elevated my level so much this indoor season, and looking at my performance today and letting that define my indoor season was obviously not the way to go. I had set a new PB of 6.75, I had made my European Champs debut, I had become top 8 all time in Denmark for the 60m, I had had 5 runs faster than my old PR, I had come 3rd at my first World Athletics Indoor Tour meet. Obviously my race at Europeans turned out to be a bad one and a slightly painful experience in more ways than one, but I just couldn't be sad for that long. I had had the best indoor season of my career, and the sadness about maybe not performing to my best at Europeans turned into a lot of motivation later on in the day. Out of 10 things, I had done 9 things well and 1 thing not so well. It was time to focus on what I had done well during the indoor season and build on that. I'll be back at the European Indoor Championships - and then I'll just run faster next time!
Meanwhile, Kojo had made the semi final and I went to give him a high five and tell him that he was kinda fast. The semi finals were later during that same morning session, so we all stayed at the arena to cheer him on. And just like that he also made the final. What a performance!! It is just awesome to see your teammate perform like that. I had seen him put in so much work during the fall and the winter months and his performance this indoor season was honestly so deserved! I'm glad I get to train with an athlete like that every day back home in Denmark. We push each other in so many ways, and it's a pleasure to be a part of.
Kojo went straight home to take a nap and I was exiled from the room so he could sleep. I enjoyed the majority of the afternoon with some of the others from the team. Before we could blink, the evening session was there - and more importantly, the men's 60m final. Almost every single person from the team was at the arena ready to scream Kojo's name. Had was in lane 7 with the big favorite from Italy in lane 6. I was honestly so nervous, but I was also excited to see such a fast 60m final. As the final came and Kojo was introduced, I think I broke my voice because I was yelling and cheering so much. Then it was total silence. 'SET'. And they were off. 6.47 seconds later, the winner crossed the line. 6.47! What in the world. That's SO fast!! Unfortunately Kojo didn't perform the way he wanted to. He finished 8th, but I still think it was an awesome performance. Number 8 in Europe is SO impressive.
Everyone then went to the bus to go home. I stayed for a little while longer as I was waiting for Kojo to congratulate him on a great performance. We then took the bus alongside most of the coaches a little later. Tomorrow would be our last day here.
Day 5 - Our Last Day
Sunday and day 5 rolled around, and it was a day full of athletics. Kojo and I took the first bus of the day so we could enjoy as much track & field as possible, and it was a really good day - both seen from a Danish perspective and looking at the championship as a whole. We had three from the Danish team competing. Our team captain, Andreas, made the semi finals of the men's 60m hurdles with a great performance, and the women's 60m resulted in a new Danish national record and one semi final spot. Awesome performances! I was excited for the entire last day but primarily about the men's 60m hurdles, the women's 60m, and then of course the 4x400m relay finals which never disappoint. They all delivered with high level finals, and it was great to see so many top performances. I'm still amazed at Switzerland's Ajla Del Ponte's 7.03 in the women's 60m final. That was just the perfect race and her winning margin was SO big. We sat right next to the Swiss team and, for once, we weren't the loudest in the arena - they were. Which was very understandable. We also witnessed two Dutch victories in the 4x400m relays. The Dutch have become such a sprinting powerhouse and the rest of Europe is playing catch up at the moment - it is so clear to see.
7 hours of track and field had come and gone here on the last day of Europeans. For me, it had been a championship with ups and downs - but mostly ups and positive experiences. I wasn't too happy about my own performance, but I'm glad I could make my international senior debut and get a lot of experience from it. It was also a pleasure to once again be a part of such an amazing Danish team where team chemistry was never an issue. Every single person on the Danish team made the trip worthwhile and unforgettable. I can't wait for next time. But until then it is all about working harder and smarter than ever before so I can run fast and become the best athlete I can become.
Until next time.