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The longest day, the shortest hour

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Tom Fordyce | 08:57 UK time, Friday, 11 September 2009

After three months of problems with poles, high jinks with high jumps and shockers with shot puts, the one-hour decathlon is finally upon us.

I'm at Gateshead International Stadium - the time for training is over. The conditioning work with Dean Macey is done, the throwing advice of Goldie Sayers and Steve Backley in the past. Daley Thompson, sadistic architect of the most brutal session I've ever been put through, cannot help me now.

The nerves are clanging like fire alarms. The head is full of worry and doubt. I haven't done enough training. I'll forget how to pole vault. I'll mis-count my run-ups, land the javelin tail-first, catch a trailing leg on those monstrous high hurdles and bury my nose in abrasive orange track.

Worst of all, there's the hamstring. After six weeks missed training I've only been running again for four weeks. Two of those merely involved gentle jogs. I've just got to hope that it holds together for at least one more afternoon.

The 6pm start time seems hours away, and is then suddenly upon you. There's time to shake the hands of the four officials and wish fellow competitor and multi-event veteran John Stacey bon chance, and then the whistle goes.

One hour to complete a decathlon. On three months training, minus six weeks. Whose idea was this?

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Watch Tom in action in Gateshead. If the video above does not work, watch it here

Event 1 - 100m

Trackie bottoms off, spikes on, a walk to the blocks. Only when we turn to stare down the straight does the strength of the headwind become apparent. It's tugging at our vests, flapping the flags on the grandstand.

I settle in the blocks and think about Jurgen Hingsen, Daley's great German rival, who once false-started in the 100m three times and was thus a goner before he'd even begun. If I only make it five metres down the track, I'll at least be one up on him.

BANG! Drive drive drive, pump the arms, come up gradually and then run tall and relaxed. A dip on the line - I hope it was on the line, although it may have been two metres before it or two metres after - and a wave of relief.

Bill, official scorer for the day, shouts out the times - 13.1 seconds for John, 13.3 sec for me. It's much, much slower we'd both hoped for - I'd done a 12.8 sec in practice two days before, in trainers, not pushing flat-out - and John reckons the wind has cost us at lest a second each, but there's no time to dwell on it. The wind is what it is, and there are nine events to get through. Time to move on...

Points: 418

Event 2 - Long jump

This is one transition that makes sense. Having just done one sprint, this is simply a shorter one with a leap and leg-shoot at the end of it. The distance between the two in the stadium is also small - the runway starts around the 80m on the home straight. A brief pause to get the breath back, a slow stroll to the mark I'd left in silver tape earlier and we can go.

Three attempts allowed. The first is called at 4.40m. Steve Cram - former 1500m world champ, BBC commentator and trackside advisor - gives me a shout: "Six inches behind the board." I don't want to adjust the run-up too much - I'll probably come in faster on the second approach - but when the same shout comes again, moments after climbing out of the sand for another 4.40-ish, I gamble on moving the mark half a foot length in.

Different starting point, same result. Six inches behind the board, a jump of 4.51m. John pings out to 5.77m. On the downside, those extra centimetres could have meant decent points. On the upside, there are points on the board. And the hamstring is still in one stretchy piece.

Points: 292

Event 3 - Shot put

A jog over to the concrete circle, a quick change from spikes to trainers, and the first big error.

After a first attempt lobs out to 7.49m - steady enough from just a simple crouching technique, rather than a slide or step - the second feels twice as rhythmical and powerful. There's hip turn, a decent push with the chest and a final flick with the fingertips.

"Whoo-hoo!" I think, looking eagerly to the extending tape measure, and step happily out of the side of the circle. "Foul!" shouts official Bill.

Fordyce, you clown. That was an 8.50m you just threw away there. Another 50 points have slipped away. "Forget about it," warns John (11.11m). "We've got seven more events to come. Don't worry about anything but the one you're doing."

Points: 336

Event 4 - High jump

The potential disaster. I've done less training for the high jump than any other discipline, mainly because of the hammy - maybe three sessions in total. This now seems both laughable and disastrous in equal measure. Add to that coach Ian Grant's infamous, "You have no natural spring," comment, plus the extraordinary revelation from friend and colleague Ben Dirs that he once cleared 1.60m en route to becoming Havering schools under-16 champion, and the pressure is weighing me down like lead laces.

The bar is set at 1.30m. This feels humiliating - if the regulations only permitted it, I could clear that with a Superman dive - but not as humiliating as asking for 1.20m as my opening height and being told that the supports don't go that low.

Bill tells us that we're only 25 minutes in. There's time for a practice jump. I knock the bar off.

Come on, Fordyce. A child could clear this. Concentrate.

In we come, lean away from the bar, drive up with the right knee and arm, flick up the hips - clear!

With the clock ticking I gamble on going straight to 1.40m. It is a gamble that fails by the thickness of my shorts. Twice the shoulders and hips clear the bar, twice the cloth brushes it off. John puts my lack of ability into stark contrast with a casual leap and flip over 1.81m.

Four down, six to go, and I need to start clawing back some points. And some breath.

Points: 250

Event 5 - 400m

"Don't go off too fast," coach Grant had warned. "Run it evenly, and aim for somewhere between 58 seconds and 60 seconds. If you go too hard, you'll have nothing left for the hurdles, let alone the rest of the competition. Hold something back."

With John in the lane outside me, I try to keep the pace steady. The wind doesn't help - it pushes us down the back straight and then slaps us in the face coming off the top bend - but there feels like gas left in the tank to push on through the line.

Keep it relaxed, don't flail the arms about, stay upright. 58 seconds dead for me, 58.3 for John. At last an event that feels like it went well.

Was the pace even? Nope - I ran 30 seconds for the first 200 and 28 for the second - but it wasn't flat out either. 29 minutes gone, halfway through, still alive.

Points: 484

Event 6 - 110m hurdles

This was the bit everyone on the blogs had been warning me about. There's a reason why a normal decathlon allows a night's rest between the 400m and the hurdles, and it's called lactic acid. Going straight from a one-lap sprint to 10 barriers that are 3ft 6in high is asking for trouble. And pain.

It's also the other event to which I've been able to dedicate the least training time. Because of injury and the lack of hurdles at major Test cricket venues (covering the Ashes series might be a delight, but it's not the ideal preparation for a decathlon) I've only been able to squeeze in three hurdling sessions all summer. Neither have I ever before gone over a full set of 10. The most we've done in training is five.

We walk slowly back down the home straight to our blocks. The legs feel ominously wobbly. The hurdles look horribly high.

There aren't many shortcuts in sport. You tend to get the result your preparations deserve. So it is with my hurdling horror story. The headwind doesn't help - rather than leaning forward over the hurdles, I'm being pushed upright - but the technique is not there to cope with it.

With each flight the height of the barrier seems to grow. With each leap the number of hurdles left to leap seems undiminished. The only thing that changes is the spring left in my legs.

It's like trying to jump out of glue. For a moment I feel as if I am on some sort of hurdling treadmill, the barriers coming towards me again and again on an endless loop.

Crack. My trail leg clips the penultimate hurdle and throws me off balance. Crack-thump - my leading leg clouts the final one, the trail leg follows suit and I stagger sideways, only staying on my feet thanks to a Flatleyesque shimmy-shammy.

23.1 seconds. It's a disgrace. Even typing that time makes me feel ashamed. 23 seconds?

John tries to cheer me up. "I ran 18.6," he says. "That wind was a nightmare. That gust on the fourth flight... You can knock at least a second off the time."

I'd like to. One second quicker would be worth a massive 100 points. It doesn't matter. I can't.

Points: 274

Event 7 - Discus

There's a strange feeling of relief as we stride to the discus circle, 35 minutes gone. While that hurdles clocking is an insult to the sport, it is at least out of the way. From this point on, the exhaustion might grow, but the events can't get any harder.

Into the circle, a slow-motion discus-free run-through of the type that I've been practising in my kitchen for weeks, and three wind-up flings.

It's nothing spectacular - there's been no time to learn a full rotational technique - but 19.62m will do. I even remember to leave the circle by the back. John spins his best effort out to 27.06, and we jog over to the last of the big scary ones - the pole vault.

Points: 265

Event 8 - Pole vault

This is where it could all go horribly, painfully wrong. I've enjoyed the pole vault training more than any other - you can't beat falling from a great height onto a soft mat - but neither can you guarantee that you'll fall on that mat in the first place. "A friend of mine died doing the pole vault," Daley had told me matter-of-factly back in May.

The 14ft pole is waiting on the runway, the bar set at 1.80m. I pick it up, rest it in my hands and suddenly realise that I'm not feeling nervous any more. I actually know I can do it. Beyond that, I feel completely confident I can clear way more than this.

The run-up feels inch-perfect, the plant good, the forward movement with the hands spot on. I swing over the bar, push the pole back the way it came and land happily on my back. Easy.

Time, however, is short. I can't mess about increasing the height by small increments. It's 30cm at a go or bust.

2.10m. Same run-up, same technique, same result. "Miles over," says the watching Cram. "2.40m!" shouts the always enthusiastic Allison Curbishley.

2.40m it is. This time the technique gets ropey - I'm thinking too much about the bar, rather than concentrating on getting up there - but with the help of a novel helicopter spin at the apex, I drop over.

It might be the first time the rotational style has been used in the pole vault, but it's done the job. John goes clear at 3m and we throw in a high-five that's only half ironic.

Eight down, two to go.

Points: 220

Event 9 - Javelin

Did I say that nothing more could go wrong? I lied. Even after Goldie Sayers' training session, I've still been throwing the javelin like a cricketer on the deep midwicket fence - elbow low, fingers going round the side, the jav rotating through its central point and falling woefully short. If it fails to land nose-first, it doesn't matter how far it goes - there'll be no points on the board.

Safety first. I can't afford three no-throws, so I sack off the run-up and take a standing one. It looks alright - straightish, through the point - but, as if the shot put shocker had never happened, I ruin it by letting my toe just touch the front line.

"Foul!" shouts Bill.

Two throws left. Allison is waving her phone at me. It's triple Olympic medallist Steve Backley. I can hear him chuckling down the line. "Throw it further!" is the big man's advice. There's no time to reply - we're 55 minutes into the hour - but the message gets through. The next standing throw is both legal and OK - 21m.

I might as well give it the full welly on the last attempt. After John sends one out to 36.83m, I do my best Backley impression and bag a slightly improved 26.01m.

His British record is safe, but so are my points. "Three minutes left!" shouts Bill. "Get yourselves over to the 1500m start!"

Points: 243

Event 10 - 1500m

We are exhausted. The legs have all the strength of limp celery. The head, however, feels great. I know I can run 1500m without fainting, fouling or falling. We are almost there.

"Steady on the first two laps, and then push on," is Cram's sage advice. "Go out too hard and you'll have nothing left."

"10 seconds left!" warns Bill, and the gun goes. It would be easy to let it drift from here - the lungs are smoked and the concentration wobbling - but I want to finish in style, and tuck in behind 1500m specialist Chris.

The first lap feels OK, the second tougher. It's the third when things really start to bite and spit. The legs aren't responding, and the voice on my shoulder telling me to just jog it round instead grows louder and more insistent with every step.

Saved by the bell. Its ting-a-ling ring fires fresh energy into the shattered muscles. I push down the back straight, try to wind it up on the final bend and then lob everything left into the pan.

My eyes are shut, my face grimacing. I must look like the new king of all idiots. I don't care. I fall across the line and spend an unquantifiable period of time on my back, trying to breathe. I hear John cross the line and stagger over to give him the decathlete's embrace.

4 mins 43.4 seconds for me, 6:30.6 for John. I've actually gone faster than either new world champion Trey Hardee or the legendary Roman Sebrle did in Berlin a week earlier. It's taken until the final event of the day, but I've finally produced a performance that doesn't make me want to hide my head in shame.

More than that, we've made it. I might be rubbish, and I'm almost certainly about to be sick, but the task is complete. I am a decathlete.

Points: 661

Total points: 3,443


  • Comment number 1.

    Congratulations. Took me 2 full days to score 3281pts (my sub-total scores were leading yours all the way to the 1500m!!)

    When is the next one?

  • Comment number 2.

    I rarely post on here, but I just want to say well done - your stories (particularly Daley Thompson) amused me no end.

    What next?!?

  • Comment number 3.

    Well done Tom! We are all so proud of you :D Love your blogs hope to see many more especailly the athletics ones. Now the next challenge... back to back decathlon???! (I'd maybe give it a few months though!)

  • Comment number 4.

    Good work mate! A top effort, especially taking into account the injury that you sustained earlier in the summer. It makes me want to get back doing decathlons again as I never comlpeted one being entirely satisfied with all of my events... I guess that's par for the course though. Maybe I'll see you at an event next year after a bit more training!!

  • Comment number 5.

    Just another quick thing, does it make you want to do more athletics? Maybe try and improve on some of your performances giving yourself a bit more time next time? I hope so...

  • Comment number 6.

    Well done mate. Now go have some Pop Tarts and put your feet up.

  • Comment number 7.

    Top effort Tom! Nothing to be ashamed of with any of your performances, I certainly couldn't beat them.

    Time for the marathon now?

  • Comment number 8.

    Big congratulations Tom - have been following your progress, and am really pleased you made it through, especially with the injury.

    Aiming for 4000 points next time?

  • Comment number 9.

    Terrific show, Mr. Fordyce. Gutsy effort, indeed, and such an inspiration for the rest of us. And now for the massive celebration - once you are back on your feet, that is!

  • Comment number 10.

    Fantastic Mr Fordyce.

    You didn't let your legions of supporters down, nor disgraced yourself.

    What's the next challenge?

  • Comment number 11.

    Well done Tom, you've done yourself proud and, if nothing else, have achieved something that Ben Dirs would have trouble doing on Hyper Sports on the Commodore 64 let alone in real life!

    What next, les Marathon des Sables?

  • Comment number 12.

    Awesome work - and don't worry about the hurdles. If you'd pushed too hard on that one your hammy may well have had enough and you'd not have been able to finish.
    Running sub 5 minutes for the 1500 after all the other events should make you very proud.

  • Comment number 13.

    Well done Tom.

    I'm particularly impressed with your 1500, after an hour of competition.
    You could run a decent time running fresh. Whats your best?

  • Comment number 14.

    Very Impressive Tom (1500 especially). Having competed with John I can see even he was struggling with the 1hr time limit. Maybe you'll consider doing it over the 2 days next time? I'm sure you could hit 5000 with a bit more training!

  • Comment number 15.

    Congratulations Tom, you're an inspiration.

  • Comment number 16.

    You did conditioning work with Dean Macey??? Your lucky you managed to go into the event with just a hamstring problem! Deano-10/10 talent 0/10 for conditioning!

  • Comment number 17.

    This is my first post, I was so impressed I just had to join! Sports Personality of the Year anyone..?

  • Comment number 18.

    Btw - techie point - just watched the video and when you run, your arms move across your body a lot. Try and get them going straight - will help your sprint times in your next event!

  • Comment number 19.

    top stuff Tom, we salute you!

  • Comment number 20.

    Hooray! Well done, Tom. Quite an achievement and I really enjoyed reading about it. You finished, you didn't injure yourself, you scored. You win!

  • Comment number 21.

    Good effort Tom. Have enjoyed reading about your exploits over the past few weeks.

    I suppose it'll be an Iron-man Triathlon for the next challenge then? :D

  • Comment number 22.

    Tom - chuffed for you mate, that was legendary! I read the blog first, then watched the vid, was gripped by it all. When they showed you coming down the final straight in the 1,500m I was getting up out of my chair and almost shouted COME ON TOM! in the middle of the office. Good to see you do so well after following all the blogs on your training.

    300 points to world champion? No problem mate, that's only a 10% improvement - ha ha!

  • Comment number 23.

    Well done Tom, impressive performance.

    Enjoyed reading of the experience... what's next?

  • Comment number 24.

    Tom, I've never commented on blogs before, but i've enjoyed your decathlon training and now the big day immensely. Thanks for some very entertaining reading, and congratulations!

  • Comment number 25.

    toffeegod - All right, all right, no need to get personal! I was ruddy excellent as Hyper Sports (although I did used to cheat by leaving the auto-fire button on).

  • Comment number 26.

    Was great to watch and read the story.

    If only you hadn't been Maceyed who knows what you would have achieved.

    I'd try to do one in an hour, but think it might take me that long to get round the 1500 these days...

  • Comment number 27.

    Good skills Tom. Congratulations on completing the job!

  • Comment number 28.

    Tom, A fantastic effort throughout the build up and that golden Gateshead hour. No sign of any sunglasses so I hope you compensated with extra jelly babies.

    As you said, lots of room to improve the next time - how about doing the icosathlon or double decathlon next time around - with a 3K, 5K, 10K and 3K s/c etc, it favours you a bit more, plus the 200m hurdles are much much lower than the 110s. USA 2010 for the next worlds gives you plenty of preparation time...!

  • Comment number 29.

    Hi all,
    I know Tom will be chuffed with all your positive comments.
    He's not here in person because after his gruelling efforts over the summer, he's off having a well-earned break. Typically, rather than go and lie on a beach for a week, he's hiking one of Europe's best-known long-distance trails. No doubt he will tell you all about it when he returns..
    But he did leave me this message before he left..
    "Huge thanks for all the kind words of advice on the blogs over the summer, which were a massive help. Without going too G Paltrow/H Berry, big thumbs-up in particular to coach Ian Grant for giving up so much time, plus Daley T/ Dean M/ Goldie S/ Leo B for the one-off sessions that hurt-but-in-a-good-way.
    "Am I happy with the final tally of 3443 points? I know it’s not very impressive. I would have liked to make 4,000, but let’s be honest – I wasn’t good enough. I’m just glad I managed to actually do it. When that hamstring went I thought that was it. Even with a month to go I thought it was probably touch and go.
    "Final thought? Decathletes are both nuts and nails. I take my hat off to all of them. And Daley – I will be back for that next training session, I promise. Right - what's the next challenge??"

  • Comment number 30.

    Tom, well done on completing your challenge! I've thoroughly enjoyed following your progress ober the summer in what must must be the best sporting event of all (OK, so I'm a bit biased!)

    Just one small comment - if your marks as noted in the video are correct, and if the times were manual (I couldn't see any evidence of electronic timing) then I make your score 3274 points. It only means you'll have to put that bit more effort into your training for when you break 4000!

  • Comment number 31.

    Very impressive, particularly the 100, 400 and 1500 meter times.
    I thought that 400 points was a bit optimistic, particularly after your injury. Well done and thanks for an entertaining read over the last few months.

  • Comment number 32.

    Congratulations Tom, great effort for doing that mate, especially with the hammy problems. Been a cracking read over the summer. Keep up the good work, and i think you and Crammy should go one on one over all the events, I think you'd take him overall mate.

  • Comment number 33.

    Great stuff Tom, being waiting with bated breath to read about it. After 30 years away I'd my first one last year but over the 2 days. I've been enthralled with your diary and loved the Daley session - watched him win gold @ Mbank long time ago.
    Also great to see how others have rallied round, I'm sure the Athletics Association should use your efforts for multi-events PR as kids and others should be encouraged to try it as you did. I just know you enjoyed it and are just wondering ... what if.....

  • Comment number 34.

    Well done Tom, that's a really impressive performance - loved the PV technique - and your 1500m was outstanding. The hurdles reminded me of my one pathetic attempt at it!

  • Comment number 35.

    tom, next year the world championships in DOUBLE DECATHLON takes place in Gateshead... see you there???

    Last time i attempted in 2004 it i got to event 17, the javelin, the mind was willing but the body was shot to bits. Tore my calf muscle on the first throw. took me 4 months to recover!

    Going to give it another go in 2010!

  • Comment number 36.

    You're a legend Tom. I'm impressed that you finished at all.

  • Comment number 37.


    congrats 'Fearless or stupid', your years of tri..carried you with the 1500m..

    guess next time stick with daley..if he allows i guess..

    great line..There aren't many shortcuts in sport.

    Respect..fearless or stupid, i guess you can answer that now.

  • Comment number 38.

    Brilliant effort. Well done and enjoy your break.

    I've really enjoyed this series of blogs. Thank you.

  • Comment number 39.

    Well done Tom
    Just spotted this and added you to the national rankings.

    Have we got the right Tom Fordyce ?

  • Comment number 40.

    Love it timgrose - that's me alright. And there's my motivation for next year...

  • Comment number 41.

    Can't help thinking that doing a one hour decathlon is actually pretty easy. The training and dedication that goes into it prior to the event is much more of a challenge. I have always wanted to do a deacathlon since doing athletics at school many years ago now. I may just do this now, so thanks for the nudge Tom well done.

  • Comment number 42.

    I have only just found this! Well done Tom, my top scoring event is always the 1500m as well which is why you should try a double decathlon! It includes lots more distance running (every event up to 10k on the track). I recently scored just under 11000 at my first attempt, and am already looking forward to the next one!

    Well done again.

  • Comment number 43.

    I may have misread the list from #39, but does that make you the fourth best decathlete over 35 years of age in Britain in 2009?

  • Comment number 44.

    stinpake - let's not examine the list any further - your findings are enough for me. Fourth best decathlete over 35 years of age in Britain? Wait til Daley hears about this...


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