Trust Me On The Sunscreen*

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Ladies and gentlemen about to start the 2018 track and field season
Wear sunscreen
If I could offer you only one tip for the future
Sunscreen would be it

The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists
Whereas the rest of my advice
Has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience
I will dispense this advice now

Enjoy the excitement and beauty of competition
Oh never-mind
You will not understand the excitement and beauty of competition until its no longer available
But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself on the start line
And recall in a way you can’t grasp now how fast you could have run if you just took the risk to believe in yourself a little more

Don’t worry about early season results of competitors
Or worry but know that worrying about external things is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum
The real troubles in your sprinting are all within your control
The kind that is fixable by working hard to improve your physicality, technical ability, and mental strength
Do one thing every day that you can take to the start line

Breathe in

Don’t be disrespectful with other people’s performances
Don’t put up with people who are disrespectful to yours

Breathe out

Don’t waste your time on what winning means
Sometimes you’ll execute well and others will just be better
Sometimes you will execute poorly and you will just be better
The season is long
And in the end, you will realise that the competition is actually about stepping on the start line despite your own inner doubts, insecurities, and fear

Remember the authentic, truthful, relevant advice you receive
Forget the throwaway, manipulative and disingenuous feedback
If you succeed in doing this, tell me how

Keep videos of your best performances
Do not go on message boards after the bad


Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t a World champion at 22
The most interesting people I know failed early and built their success out of that
Some of the most interesting people I know failed externally their whole career but won inwardly

Get plenty of sleep

Be kind to your rivals, you’ll miss them when they’re gone

Maybe you’ll run sub 10, maybe you won’t
Maybe you will win the Gold, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll come 4th a couple of times
Maybe you’ll do a celebration dance at the end of a winless career

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either
Whatever happens in that space between the gun and the tape is half-chance, so are everybody else’s
Express your physicality fully
And through good mechanics as much as possible
Don’t let other people’s perceptions, fears and anxiety scare you
Trust in your body, you know more than anyone the great things it is capable of


But understand that outlier times take time to emerge
A sub 10 needs plenty of 10.0’s to support it, and even more 10.1’s
Do not look at result websites too much, they will only make you feel threatened

Get to know how hard it is for you parents on the sidelines
Watching is sometimes harder emotionally than competing

Be nice to your coach and training partners
They are your best chance of enjoying your work every day
And the people that will challenge and push you to your best

Understand that track is an individual sport
And It is hard to make genuine friends in such a competitive environment
So work hard to be open and supportive of others especially when they succeed because track karma is a bitch and you need all the help you can get

Train with heavy volume once
But leave before it makes you slow
Train with speed once
But leave before it makes you unfit


Accept certain inalienable truths
People will continue to get faster
People will break your records
You too will get old
And when you do you’ll fantasise that when you were young
Tracks were slower
And spikes weren’t as advanced
And young athletes respected older athletes

Respect older and retired athletes

Don’t ask or expect anyone else to take responsibility for you
Maybe you have federation support
Maybe you have a caring Coach or Therapist
But you alone are the one who will get defined by what you do on the race track

Don’t mess too much with your technique
Somehow, you innately know how to be fast

Be careful whose advice you buy
They may have run 9.95 or coached someone to run sub 11
But this sport relentlessly moves on and what worked for them may not work for you now
Their story doesn’t have to be yours, that is yours to define

But trust me on the sunscreen

*Adapted for T&F from original —

Steve Fudge is a professional Sprint Coach based at Lee Valley Athletics Center, London. He coaches elite sprinters, mentors Sports Coaches and provides consultancy services to professional sports people and staff. You can access his website here:

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