After months of preparation, I’m just a week away from taking part in the NFL’s Regional Combine in New York City and (sorry KM bosses) hopefully a shot at life as a professional athlete.
Over the past five weeks, I’ve talked about the sport, some of the drills I will have to complete and some of the fitness and nutrition work which has got me into 'shape.'
Now comes the biggest test of all – the blue ribbon event of the combine – the 40-yard dash.
NFL talent evaluators use the 'forty' to get a grasp on the speed of a specific prospect.
American football is a game based on speed and teams know that fielding the fastest players can create mismatches on the field.
It’s not just the overall time which is important however, electronic timers will also record progress after 10 and 20 yards, to give an indication of how explosive a player is off the line.
The test is significant for every position and the result can go a long way to determining whether a player is signed or not.
For skill positions like wide receiver, 0.1 of a second could make the difference between a pro contract and the associated healthy signing bonus and nothing.
It’s not quite that significant for me, however in order for me to turn any heads at the NY Jets training facility on Saturday, February 15, I’m going to need to post some good numbers and I'm aiming to beat the average 40-yard time for a drafted Tight End of 4.77secs.
I’m going to need some help.
So, the faster I am the better, and who better to help me get faster than a guy who just 18 months ago came within 0.4secs of the Olympic 100m final and who finished fifth in the 200m at the World Championships in Moscow last August?
Adam Gemili is another guy from Kent who spent his formative years playing football before trying to crack the big-time in another sport. Let's just hope I am 1% as successful as he has been.
Sadly that is where the comparisons between us end, however the 20-year-old with the world at his spiked feet invited me to Dartford Harriers AC to work on some technique which will help me run faster in NYC.
After a brief 400m warm-up - during which I somehow resisted the temptation to jog ahead and beat him to the finish line - and 15 minutes of intense stretching, which felt like a workout itself, we headed into the 100m straight.
“Show me how you run,” he asked, before an instant look of comprehension spread over his face seconds later as I lumbered down the track with my heels bumping into my backside.
I’d never really noticed it before, but he was quick to point out how inefficient my strides were and ‘with legs as powerful as yours (thanks, Adam!) you need to be putting all that wasted energy into driving you forward.’
High knees, toes up, drive your hands up to eye level. Nope this wasn’t Strictly, these were the most important, and oft-repeated gambits from the fastest man this country has produced over 200m in two decades.
So, of course, I did what he said, running on the spot, inching slowly forward but trying to maintain the technique. Bending my toes up into the top of my running shoes.
It was one of the most alien and unnatural feelings I have had, but he insisted it would make a difference when it came to incorporating proper technique.
Gradually we extended it to running slowly forward in the correct form - high knees, toes up, drive your arms - before it suddenly became clear just how many obstacles there were for me to overcome. 10.
They came in the form of tiny hurdles, which Adam spaced out over the course of about 45m of the track. These are called max-velocity hurdles.
They are spaced apart so when you run over them it exaggerates your technique, helping to improve it.
He told me he’d set them up in the style his GB training camp use for a 10.5sec 100m pace. My mouth went dry.
I watched him demonstrate what to do. It was like a front-row seat to a David Attenborough wildlife programme. Actually it was closer than front-row, I was actually stood still, two lanes across, level with the fourth hurdle, watching in awe as he arched over the hurdles with huge, bouncy strides, like an impala. Graceful. Mesmerising.
I weigh at least five stone more than the guy and my legs muscles are not nearly as strong as those of a professional athlete training five days a week, so no chance of me getting through these hurdles without disaster. So there’s no way I can do that, right?
Wrong. I did my best to swallow the rising fear - partly of tripping and getting hurt, mainly of embarrassing myself - and tried to keep my knees high, toes up and arms pumping.
The result? Well glided might not the right word, but I got through a couple of times without hitting anything. Adam did point out that I looked to be running inhibited and suggested I forget the hurdles were there.
Easier said than done. I tried again, though again I found myself stretching to ensure my strides were long enough - that’s not the idea. The further forward you stretch, the less-high your knees get. I got it. I understood. I couldn’t necessarily do much about it, but I knew the theory.
Thankfully, soon enough the hurdles were withdrawn and an empty lane stood infront of me. We worked on my start. Feet in the right place, fingers placed lightly on the line. Weight going forward.
We worked out that my left foot was my dominant one. Know how? He came up behind me and shoved me in the back. I stumbled forward and put out my left foot to stop myself falling. And people say he’s so nice and clean-cut.
So... knees bent, dominant foot set back, ready to explode on the B of the bang. Remembering to stay low through the start and into the drive phase, almost to the point where I am going to topple face-first onto the track. Pumping the knees, not worrying about trying to stride forward, just stamping my feet into the ground, stupid ground, why are you trying to slow me down? Driving my knees to my chest, keeping my head down. High knees, toes up, driving the arms, fingers to eye level. Ok move into the acceleration phase, I’ve done 10 or 12 metres, my head comes up, my chest comes out, I’m standing straight and my knees are getting higher.
Oh my God. It’s actually working. I can tell I am running really fast - or at least faster than I have ever run in my life. The floor suddenly feels springy, I'm bounding like I'm running on a trampoline or on the moon. I feel like I’m flying. Somewhere in my peripheral vision in the drizzly gloom there’s a patient young man with an excited grin repeating the words ‘Yes’ and ‘Nice’ over and over on a loop. This feels phenomenal.
The finish line is in sight. But it comes too soon. I want to run like this forever. It’s the fun kind of running you did when you were a kid when you tried to beat your brother to that tree and back or catch up with the ice cream van. It’s done. It’s over. My knees come back down to earth. My heart rate returns to merely triple figures. I suck in the cold, damp air and I feel amazing.
Ready to take on the world.
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