Adrian Essex and his Icosathlon (You’ll need to read on to find out what that is!)

Introduction

I was sorry not to be able to take part in the British Masters Athletic Federation (BMAF) Track and Field Championships this year. A slightly odd thing to say as I never have taken part in it before, but this year (and last) have been rather special. It has been a time when the world has been hit not only by a plague, as has happened often, but also by unprecedented government interventions in response.

Managing Masters Athletes

My previous participation in BMAF matters had always been as a competitor in multi-events or indoors, until this year when I volunteered myself to take part in a series of discussions (called What Went Well . . .Even Better If) about how the BMAF might change. This was a real eye-opener. I was slightly shocked and disappointed to discover I had nothing to offer whatsoever, in the way of original or useful ideas, and certainly nothing in the way of experience of the process of organising any athletics event of any scale. I think these (now renamed) meetings will resume after the summer, and I hope, when they do, I may be given some small admin tasks to carry out to support the main movers.

So, in the face of massive government intervention and the sad loss of Maurice Doogan and his idiosyncrasies, I am very impressed with the organisation that has happened to enable championships and challenges to take place. Which explains why I wanted to show my support by taking part in the Championships.

It is tempting to name individuals at the BMAF and single them out for praise, but they probably wouldn’t thank me, and I’d be sure to leave someone out. Suffice it to say that the BMAF is changing in response to numerous external factors and its own need to modernise. Members will be aware of the changes to the way championships have been run, the look and feel of the website and to the operational structure. More change is yet to come.

Growing Older in an Apocalypse

Our division of championships into 5-year chunks is a wonderful thing. Every 5 years I get a chance to be the new boy again, in a different cohort of competitors, and to escape for a while from the youngsters coming along behind. It almost makes growing old worthwhile. If I were to do well in any championships, my first year as a 70-year-old was probably the time to do it. And there was a world championship to contest.

So despite “amber plus” travel traffic lights, and the battery of overpriced tests, I made the bookings and kept my fingers crossed. Taking part in the world championships was the one athletics thing I felt I must do in 2021

Ultra Multi-Events (Icosathlon)

Which is how I came to be in Epinal in the East of France to take part in the 29th Icosathlon World Championships on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the International Association of Ultra Multi-Events (IAUM).

The IAUM was founded by a group of Finns who felt that a decathlon was not testing enough and so they created the Icosathlon. The twenty events are essentially the entire programme for a league meeting, but with both the 3000 and 5000 metres included, and the addition of a 200 metre hurdles race. Oh, yes, and to finish off at the end of the second day, a 10,000 metres race. So that’s 4 jumps (long, high, triple and pole vault), 4 throws (discus, hammer, javelin and shot), and 12 running races (100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 3000, 5000, 10000 metres flat, 3000 metres steeplechase, and three hurdles races over 100, 200 and 400 metres).

Sadly there were no Finns competing in Epinal, though I have not established why.

Only one other Brit maintained his entry and actually turned up, while several dropped out, for which I blame amber plus and the fear of 10 days isolation.

The French have taken the Icosathlon to heart and have created their own national association (Ultra-Combinés Athlétiques France) to organise events such as this one. And organisation is key. With age groups ranging from U17 to over 75 there is a lot to do just to get events where all are of a roughly equal standard. Take into account the need to get hurdles races over different heights set up and the logistics become quite challenging, and in my experience, something always goes wrong with one of the pole vault beds.

And I haven’t yet mentioned the Tetradecathlon, fourteen events, the Icosathlon’s little sister. In general, men enter the Icosathlon and women the Tetradecathlon, though this is not a hard and fast distinction. There were four groups in Epinal.

  • Icosathlon Group 1 was older men and younger women,
  • Groups 2 and 3 senior men and
  • Tetradecathlon group 4 was a mixed group.

Therefore I was in Group 1 with men in their 40s, 50s and 70s and four women in their 20s. I am growing to like this intermingling of the sexes in events. The opportunity is now happening increasingly often for me, for instance in races with barriers. The 300 metres hurdles is the same specification for my M70+ group and for the women’s M60+ and I’ve had a couple of good mixed races this season. The women’s steeplechase is run over lower barriers than the men’s, as it is for my age group, so I can take part as a non-scorer in league matches in the women’s race. All useful preparation for a double decathlon.

My Ego

Which brings me to the point where I massage both my own ego and the Achilles tendon on my right foot (It’s been niggling for weeks).

I won the M70 category in the Icosathlon, with a good points total, so for perhaps 2 years, until one of the youngsters matures sufficiently to join my age group, I will be able to claim to be a World Champion and the World Record Holder. The results (and a couple of others) are tabulated below.

EventIcosathlon PerformanceIcosathlon PointsSeason’s BestUK 2021 RankingUK All Time Ranking
100m14.1s867Yes119
Long Jump4.05m7384.4526
80m Hurdles 76.2cmn/an/a14.5925
200m Hurdles 68.6cm36.3s743Yesn/a 
300m Hurdles 68.6cm  50.59 (NR)11
Shot Putt 4k8.88m604Yes11 
5000m25m 44.85s478Yes22 
800m3m 18.32s574Yes16 
High Jump1.29m725Yes216
400m73.25s61366.7117
Hammer 4k22.62m41828.18 
3000m S/chase 76.2cm18m 19.26s503Yesn/a 
110m Hurdles 76.2cm21.85s756Yesn/a 
Discus 1k21.69m42023.1817 
200m31.46s68929.15118
Pole Vault1.8m369Yes5 
3000m16m 32.44s349Yes12 
400m Hurdles 68.6cm83.66s688Yesn/a 
Javelin21.47m38521.9714 
1500m6m 47.37s6286m 39.716 
Triple Jump7.89m5938.36223
10,000m60m 6.27s493Yes2 
Icosathlon 11633 (WR)