Back on track after a decade away

Western Telegraph: TOP TEAM: Lydia Davies (far left), Matthew Williams and Rhian Homer (far right) put me through my paces. PICTURES: Bill Carne. TOP TEAM: Lydia Davies (far left), Matthew Williams and Rhian Homer (far right) put me through my paces. PICTURES: Bill Carne.

ON one side of the track, youngsters undertook a series of warm up drills before practicing their relay baton changes.

On the other, sprinters were vigorously put through their paces over a series of short distances.

Meanwhile, prospective future high jumpers, not to mention shot putt, discus and javelin throwers, were all working with specialist coaches to finely tune their technique – while long distance runners repeatedly ran laps around the Sir Thomas Picton track.

This only partly paints the picture of the hive of activity that greeted me when I arrived for my second Commonwealth Games challenge – an athletics session with the highly regarded Pembrokeshire Harriers group.

With the memories of last week’s brutal swimming session barely etched from my memory – I at least had the consolation of knowing I was entering a much more familiar environment this time around.

I was a member of the club (then under the banner of the Preseli Harriers prior to the merger with Cleddau) from the age of 12-15, and briefly returned during the summer of 2004 in the hope that a summer’s sprinting would improve my prowess as a rugby union winger.

“We train for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday night,” explained club chairman Pete Freeman.

“For the first hour we mainly focus on the younger members, who range from under-13 through to under-20, and then the senior members will arrive to train.

“But the club is about more than just track and field. Over the course of a year we regularly compete in cross country leagues, road running events, and marathons as well.”

To maintain a club like the Harriers for 52 weeks a year takes no small amount of effort – and remarkably, 16 different volunteers give up their time to ensure all track and field and long distance running disciplines are covered.

A number of these coaches double up as committee members or club officials.

And help also comes from within. To their credit, some of the more experienced youngsters, showing maturity beyond their years, will arrive early at sessions to help guide new members.

Indeed, it was three of the club’s leading lights at junior level - Rhian Homer, Lydia Davies and Matthew Williams, who were selected to put me through my paces with what they described as a ‘short’ middle distance session.

As a former long distance runner, with a sixth place finish in the Welsh Schools under-16 1,500-metre steeplechase final to my name, I’d hoped my return to the track would prove to be a relatively smooth one.

A series of 800-metre runs, where I was asked on each occasion to try and match the time of my previous effort, put paid to that theory.

Now without trying to give the age old ‘in my day’ speech, the sport has moved on locally since I competed.

The athletics track at Sir Thomas Picton, which once resembled a clay pit in inclement weather - is now a state of the art all weather surface.

This was a factor I hoped would help compensate for ageing legs.

But ironically, it was the faults of exuberant youth that hindered me. Each run saw me set off like a scolded cat, convinced I would maintain a searing pace. It wasn’t long before the strong headwind hit me as I neared completion of the first lap, before the grim realisation I was shattered and still had 400-metres to go.

“The last run should be one of the quickest as you know you can give it your all with nothing else left,” Rhian told me.

Back in my teenage days I may have justified her thinking. This time around, my last run was seven seconds slower than the previous one.

Furthermore, I had to drag myself up off the track and fulfil my promise of trying an athletics event I had never participated before. After a reluctant look towards the shot putt and discus throwers on the far side of the field, I plumped instead for the high jump.

My session only lasted 20 minutes – but it was one that left me more appreciative than ever of the importance of good technical coaching in jumping or throwing events.

I will confess to knowing very little about the finer aspects of the discipline. But Harriers coach Liz Rowland took me through a number of short exercises to fine tune my run up, take off, and landing technique.

Within a matter of moments – Liz was able to convert me from a clueless newcomer to one that at least resembled competent.

Indeed, mainly to her coaching, and partly due to the pressure of Bill Carne waiting eagerly to catch me clatter into the bar with his camera, I was able to clear both 1.2 and 1.5 metres at the first attempt - using the famous ‘Fosbury flop’ technique.

But of course, one article can’t do justice to the wide variety of work all the coaches do, and it was interesting to view Richard Thomas, whose daughter Lydia recently won a 60-metres indoor hurdles silver medal at the UK Championships, break down the 100-metres sprint into many different components when coaching his athletes.

He also told me about the fervour that surrounds the club during the summer: “Obviously March is very early for us in the outdoor season.

“But when the school and club competitions get going, we can often have more than 150 people training on a Tuesday and Thursday.”

But there is more to the Harriers than simply a club that provides coaching and opportunities to juniors and seniors. What is evident is the youngsters are all delighted to be there – and there is no hint of ill discipline or the ‘organised chaos’ that is often associated with running junior sports. Coaches are listened to, rules are adhered to, and camaraderie is high.

So my return to the track taught me two major things.

Firstly, that the Harriers is a superbly run club, that gives people the opportunity to really improve, and more importantly enjoy, their athletics.

And secondly, the distance around the track definitely lengthens as you get older.

Next week it’s Badminton with Welsh international Jordan Hart.

It’s a sport I’ve never tried before, and I fear clearing the net may prove a great deal harder than clearing the bar as a novice high jumper.

Bill Carne's verdict:

Fraser Watson certainly demonstrated his all-round athletics skills when we paid a visit to the Harriers.

We received a welcome from Pete Freeman, the rest of the coaches and the young athletes and what typified the club’s wonderful approach is the fact that when Fraser was put through his paces in the medium-distance runners’ group, Pete was able to take a back seat because current talented young runners Rhian Homer, Lydia Davies and Matthew Williams (who were all there to help with coaching before their own training began in earnest) tested Fraser to the full.

Now Mr Watson is a pretty fit guy but at the end of the routine he admitted that he was blowing a little – and there was a quiet smile on the faces of Pete, Rhian, Lydia and Matthew!

Then it was on to a javelin warm-up routine with coach and volunteer Phil Horne.

From there it was the high jump and there was an air of trepidation about Fraser as coach Liz Rowland showed him the Fosbury Flop technique, minus the bar, for safety reasons. But within ten minutes, confidence bolstered and the bar raised twice by this impressed onlooker, he had cleared over 1.5 metres and still had over six inches in hand as he sailed over.

From there we were almost out of time but looked at the sprint group with Richard Thomas and the shot putt section overseen by Karen Llewellyn (one of the areas Fraser was keen to try and he might pop back sometime to flex his muscles here!)

We had a great time and were mightily impressed by the way that all the youngsters were committed to excellence.

Tune into the Radio Pembrokeshire Friday Night Sport Show this week, from 6-8pm, to listen to Bill talk to Fraser about his session, as well as the Harriers’ own Pete Freeman, Richard Thomas, Rhian Homer, Lydia Davies and Matthew Williams.

For more on athletics, visit the Sport Pembrokeshire Facebook page.

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