Barriers to success
Fear. It wasn't there when I first tried the shot put, nor the long jump - but confronted by a flight of high hurdles, I can't shift it from my head.
I know it's daft. They're inanimate wooden barriers, not a despot's long-range missiles. Unlike the missiles, they'll also fall over harmlessly if I boot them with my foot.
What's the worst that could happen? Unfortunately, having spent a masochistic hour earlier in the day watching hurdling calamities on a video-sharing website, I have a pretty good idea.
The range of accidents is remarkable. People trip and nose-dive into the hard track. Others stumble into the first flight and wear the hurdles across their chest like wooden bandoliers. Some simply plough through them like demented bulldozers, slowed down incrementally by each barrier until they collapse in a confused heap of limbs and spikes.
Never before has 1.07 metres seemed so high. Never before has 110 metres seemed so far.
For the first time, the scale of the decathlon ahead has become apparent. Learning one new event from scratch is hard enough. Learning nine (praise the saints for the 1500m) in just four months makes the tasks of Hercules seem like household chores.
Two factors come to the rescue. The first is the accumulated memories of watching Roger Kingdom, Colin Jackson and Allen Johnson ripping up hurdling records with wondrous displays of speed, grace and power.
Most of us track and field fans possess a miserable fraction of those athletes' attributes. What we do have, thanks to years of watching them in action, is the ability to do a poor impersonation of how they used to run - the forward lean over the hurdle, the whipping through of the trail leg, the Jacksonesque exaggerated dip under the invisible finish tape.
It's a bit like being able to do an impression of Graham Gooch's batting stance, with that idiosyncratic backlift and nodding head movement. It doesn't mean you can handle yourself against 90mph fast bowling, but you might be able to lay a bat on a gentle medium-pacer in the nets.
The second factor is that coach Ian Grant, an old hand at breaking in weak-kneed decathlon debutants, has quietly lowered the height of the hurdles from precipitous to pragmatic. On race-day they'll be set at the standard 3' 6". Today, to avoid repeats of Gail Devers in the '92 Olympics final, or the lovely Lolo Jones in Beijing last summer, we'll satisfy ourselves with 3' 3".
It's not cheating. It's prudence. Honestly.
As with all the other disciplines taught so far, getting the technique bang on is everything. Until it's correct and second nature, there'll be no doing it at speed, or off a long run-up, or with any finish line to Jacksonesque under.
For 10 minutes there's merely gentle jogging past the right hand side of the hurdles, pulling the trailing leg over each one. For the next 10 it's jogging past the left hand side, getting the lead leg to come up with toes pointing forward. Only half an hour in do we actually put it all together and go straight down the middle.
One thing had always puzzled me about Jackson: why he insisted on wearing those tiny split-seam shorts, years about they had became a fearsome fashion faux-pas.
Four hurdles in, it makes complete sense. Try to get over a hurdle in your modish mid-thigh baggies and you might as well be wearing manacles, so restrictive is the cut. I roll up the waistband, apologise to bystanders for the winking expanse of nearly-buttock and go again.
Sadly the similarities with Colin end there. While the big boys always take three strides between barriers, I'm definitely taking five. When I try to cut back to three, I run out of leg with the hurdle still way in the distance.
In hurdles terms, this is bad. I am unmanned. It could be worse - on the one occasion we did hurdles at school, an overweight pupil found it so difficult to get airborne that he simply crawled under each hurdle - but only just.
Five strides might be my natural pattern. It might even get me through the race without eating track. But will I ever be the real Mark McKoy? Nope.
Better is the discovery that rhythm, as in many physical pursuits, is the key.
When you're coming off the hurdles with decent lickety-split momentum, you flow towards the next barrier easy as you like. Stay too upright, or lean away to the side to get your trail leg through, and the hurdles are suddenly coming at you at seemingly random intervals.
When it goes wrong it feels dreadful - like a succession of stutters interrupted by vertical jumps. When it goes right - and in the hour I'm doing it, that happens maybe twice - it's an absolute delight. The hurdles seem to lose height. The track seems to grow in springiness. The fear, miraculously, evaporates.
It comes back with a bang during the subsequent pole vault session, but let's concentrate on the positives for now. Bars were cleared. Confidence slowly returned. Shins bruised and bleeding from accidental collisions with unyielding fibreglass poles will mend.
Ever so slowly, I am starting to feel a little more like a real decathlete.
It's not the performances, nor the ability - not even close. It's the smaller things, like waking up at night with new aches in strange places ("Ah," you think, before rolling over and falling asleep again, "that'll be my discus maximus"), or having old bicycle inner tubes draped around various doors in the house so you can work on your javelin throw sans spear.
It's not always easy to explain. Training in the park the other day, and without the medicine ball the session required, I improvised by hurdling a chunk of branch around instead. Try rationalising that to the early morning dog-walkers, or indeed their slavering, sabre-toothed hounds.
I've even got my first proper injuries - a nasty dose of patella tendonitis on the right knee, and a mysterious issue with the IT band on the other. On the down side they're disrupting training plans. On the up, they're gaining me significant decathlete kudos points - what we might call Maceys.
Then, as the week ends, word comes through to make any man forget his woes.
The Daleyphone has been answered, and the answer was "yes". The Thompson training session is on.