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Decathlon D-Day approaches

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Tom Fordyce | 16:59 UK time, Saturday, 22 August 2009

Irony, declared Alanis Morissette, is having 10,000 spoons when you all need is knife. That's probably because she'd never attempted to train for a one-hour decathlon in a city hosting an athletics world championships.

In theory, it should be the easiest thing in the world. The best decathletes on the planet are here. There are top-class coaches and retired legends all over the shop. The entire city is geared up for track and field.

But that's the problem. Every facility in the city is in use. There is simply no room for the casual amateur looking to work on his 8.3m shot put or 25m javelin (I know. Not good).

If I was simply training for a 1500m, it wouldn't be so bad. The Tiergarten is a fantastic park right in the heart of Berlin, full of shaded trails that are perfect for interval work. What it doesn't have is a help-yourself stash of javelins, a pole vault bed and a long jump pit filled with the soft golden sand.

Shortly, I will be attempting my first ever decathlon, yet I haven't picked up a discus or cleared a 3' 6" hurdle for over a fortnight.

World decathlon champion Trey Hardee of the US

There are some compensations, of course. Since the hamstring started to heal up about three weeks ago, I've found myself see-sawing between happiness that I might still be able to compete and bug-eyed terror at the prospect of how wrong it could go, but having watched Jess Ennis in full multi-event magic mode and then been glued to the decathlon proper inside the Olympiastadion, all that's changed.

I know I'm not going to be very good. I know that I'm probably going to embarrass myself, and almost certainly not do this great event justice. But by golly I've got to have a crack at it.

Did Yunior Diaz let doubt cloud his mind before bashing out that remarkable 46.15 seconds in the 400m late on Wednesday night? Did Roman Sebrle think twice before attempting another pole vault with just 10 seconds left on his allotted time? Did Trey Hardee worry about his exhausted legs when the 1500m threatened to leave him flat on his back?

I think not.

Then there are the precious nuggets of advice I've been offered from all corners. Before I left home for Germany there was a fantastic three-hour session with blog user Leo down at Mile End stadium (memo to self: if there's to be a second decathlon, make those Thursday sessions with Leo a weekly occurrence), a random throwing session with a bloke named Pete who I spotted practising at the Millennium stadium in Battersea Park as I did 400m reps, and a spontaneous javelin masterclass with Toni Minichiello - coach to Steve Backley and Jess Ennis - on the way back from a Berlin bar the night of Phillips Idowu's triple jump gold.

What I need now is more help. We need to work out how much time I should allot to each part of the challenge, and where the rests should be taken. At the moment the plan is to take it easy on the first attempt at the jumps and throws to ensure I get a score for each, and then hit it progressively harder - but should I just go for broke from the off?

Should I split the hour into roughly equal chunks of 10, or get the first four events done within 20 minutes to give myself a long enough gap between 400m and hurdles to get rid of at least some of the lactic?

And will the cross-country spikes I last wore for the Nationals on Parliament Hill back in February do the job on the track - or should I switch between them and racing flats as time and events allow?

Answers on a electronic postcard down below.


  • Comment number 1.

    You probably shouldn't take advice from people like me who have never actually done one and should instead talk to all the decathlon contacts you've built up over the weeks. For instance, Alex Kruger - Britain's top decathlete between Daley and Dean - is listed as having done one and scoring a cool seven grand at it, so given that you've trained with our two foremost decathletes, you should probably try to ask Alex as well for a hands-on and feet-on perspective. If you can't reach him, use decathlon forums online. (How's your Estonian?)

    My highly non-expert opinion is that your time allocation will depend on what everyone else competing at the same time is doing, and you'll probably have to take your breaks between events when other people are jumping, throwing, putting and vaulting. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to complete the 1500m within the hour; you're not going to perform nearly as well at it after nine other events as you are when you come at it fresh.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'd imagine it would be easy enough (subject to the constraints jiggery_pokery mentions) to get the long jump done right after the 100m; I'd play safe on the first effort in the field events and then have two all-out efforts (or if you're happy with the second attempt, skip/go through the motions with the final one). But I'm no expert either, far from it, and am deeply impressed with your efforts.

  • Comment number 3.

    Having never done the one-hour version I can't give any serious recommendations on how to tackle the events with that extra time pressure (except to warn you that anything after the 400m will be messy, but the points are worth it).

    On shoes however I will give a bit of advice. Jogger-spikes will be fine for 8 of the events, including high jump and javelin if you dont drag your trailing foot and rip the toe. Duct tape in your bag would be my absolute top tip for any decathlete. (Obviously spikes dont work in the circle so you are back in your trainers for the other 2 if you dont have throws shoes).

    Personally I like to empty the sand out of my long jump spikes before I use them again but under your time pressure I would suggest just a quick pour of the loose sand and a change of socks.

    However, I will finish my advice with a warning note that my own decathlon this year was a disaster and I only hit 3200 of my planned 4000 points, and only about 250 of the losses were attributable to the headwinds.

  • Comment number 4.

    Does anyone know how Tom got on? I am an old man just come out of retirement and have done couple of Decathlons after 30 years away from it so VERY keen to see how Tom got on.
    I managed just under 5000pts last year and broke that comfortably this year but over 2 days! Would love a shot at a 60min version as it would take out all the sitting around - and the recoveries! Really keen to know what hurdles would feel like just after a 400m!!! They are hi n go on enough 1st thing on day2.
    If someone can update me on where to find Tom's results & commentary I'd be very grateful as followed him all the way to this point n bbc search has failed & google too!.

  • Comment number 5.

    tom's abscence from the boards is worrying.. did the 1hour decathlon finish him off? should we be looking in the obituaries?



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