This is the first of four blogs from Australian World Junior Representative, Jaryd Clifford - Australia's first Paralympian to compete at these 'able-bodied' world championships. Jaryd will share with us the highs and lows of his training and racing as he prepares for the biggest race of his career to date, starting with a training camp in the USA.
The mountain road was quiet, only disturbed by my own sharp intake of breath. I laid sprawled in the dust, my body in tatters. With every effort to clamber to my feet, my body would fall back to earth under a barrage of cramp, a painful admonishment of the pummelling I had inflicted. Only moments before I had been flying, invincible and free, now I was spiralling into delirium, a broken down mess. As I finally staggered to my feet, I emptied the contents of my stomach onto the side of the road. It was not pretty, but rarely these things are. This was day two of my training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona – 2200m above sea level. It was the unflattering commencement of my bid to take on the best juniors in the world. It was only two months away.
Ever since qualifying for the World U20 Championships in March, I have ridden a rollercoasterof emotion. First, I was astonished at my own achievement, and then afraid that maybe it had all been a fluke. Some nights I would lay awake, my heart beating a rapid rhythm, my mind racing. Those thirty hours – my Australian title and last minute qualifier – changed my life, and I was quickly realising the rare importance of the position I was in. After all, it is not every day you become the first person in history to do something.
Now, as I sit on a plane headed for Europe, I know that I belong. After a month in the US, my mindset has shifted. I am ready now. I am ready for the fight.
Over the next month, I will be giving you an insight into my experiences on the Australian team. I will attempt to bring to life the highs and lows as I prepare for one of the biggest races of my life. But before that, this story begins with my month in America.
The first week at altitude is always tough. You never have enough oxygen, as your body descends into a constant state of deprivation. The first runs are the most painful, before the body gradually grows stronger, adapting to the strain. Surrounded by some of Australia’s best including Peter Bol, Linden Hall, Georgia Griffith and Michael Roeger, our little group set to work.
Led by my coach Philo Saunders, we begun to string together session after session until we were oozing with confidence. In one session, we repeatedly summited a merciless monster of a hill, barely holding ourselves together. In another, I hit speeds I had previously thought beyond me, reaching a level of lactic words would never do justice.
In the woods the solitude is spine tingling, the isolation that brings you at one with your surroundings is one of the most mystifying aspects of the camp. It is simply a battle of body and mind, a great and epic tussle set amidst the most natural landscape.
When Linden Hall broke the Australian 1500m record, spirits lifted. When Peter Bol notched a win in the Stockholm Diamond League, they were overflowing. Our first stop off the mountain was Portland, Oregon, and the plan was to keep the Aussie success rolling. However, on the start line the heavens open and torrential downpour ensued. Still, my time was my second quickest: 3:47.40.
The next week, things improved further. Inspired by Georgia Griffith’s daring near miss on the two-minute mark, I was ready to prove yet again that running the qualifier had not been a fluke. My time was 3:46.46, once more my second quickest and leaving me with the three fastest visually impaired times in the record books.
Our next stop was the reason for the trip. After a three hours sleep and a quick turnaround, new training partner Matt Clarke, Philo and I headed off to the IPC Grand Prix in Phoenix, Arizona. It was where we had decided to trial guide running on the track for the first time over 5000m, the first stepping-stone on the road to Tokyo.
The race went smoothly. Philo guided first and in unison, we tackled the desert heat. Clarkey was next, and he rallied me through. It is clear now that this is the way forward for me over longer distances. Our little team: one from one.
Fast forward three days and tomorrow I will join the Australian team in Mannheim. It is here that I am hoping to inject some speed into my legs with a rare outing over 800m. Most importantly however, I look forward to meeting the team and beginning our journey toward the shared goal of doing the green and gold proud.
Watch this space!
* Stay tuned for Jaryd's next blog instalment - coming soon!