Words of Wisdom for the English Schools Championships
BY CHARLIE WAKEFIELD
Hey, my name is Charlie Wakefield, and I'm a middle distance runner from Norfolk!
I've qualified for the ES finals seven times across track and XC, representing two counties. As this year's ES championship is on our doorsteps, I thought I would impart some wisdom to younger athletes from someone who has been there, done that, and quite literally got the T-shirt (it would've been nine times without COVID!).
I want to take this opportunity to wish all athletes competing the very best of luck in advance. Whether this is your first or seventh ES appearance, I hope you will make the most of this incredible opportunity to represent your county on the biggest domestic stage.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH ENGLISH SCHOOLS
In my opinion, English Schools represents the pinnacle of junior athletics from a prestige and competition perspective.
I've been very fortunate to qualify for the ES XC championships five times and on the track twice, with my best position coming in my last year after I finished sixth in the Senior Boys' 1500m final. The calibre of athletes present at ES is a credit to the hard work thousands of young athletes put in during the build up, just to try and qualify for the event.
Despite not always having the best of races at ES, the memories I've made at these competitions are like no other competition I have competed in. If I were to have one piece of advice for any athletes attending ES, it would be: do your very best but try to enjoy and make the most of what, for some, will be a once in a lifetime experience.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE ESAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
English Schools, in distinct contrast to the majority of athletics events, is a team competition. You represent your own county as well as yourself and your school. You will most likely be traveling up with your team, and these are some of the fondest memories you will make at ES, be it staying in a hotel or cheering on your teammates from the stands. I met some incredible athletes from disciplines that I may not have previously interacted with, such as field events, and I would encourage you to get to know your teammates as best as you can; it means you'll have more people to cheer on and will keep you busy throughout the weekend.
HOW DO EVENTS AT ENGLISH SCHOOLS PAN OUT?
You will likely have heats and finals depending on your event, and it's vital to understand that for some, the heat may end up being your final.
If you are bottom year or not necessarily a favourite to win the competition, give everything you've got in the first round, and if you make the final, you can see that as a bonus; if anything, pure adrenaline will get you through the competition. For 2023, the championships will kick off in a newly refurbished and highly renowned Alexander Stadium in Birmingham (in preparation for the Commonwealth Games).
Throughout the weekend, the competitions will be constant. Make sure to try and watch as many teammates as you can. The support does not go unnoticed! There will also be plenty of opportunities for pictures, interviews etc. So, look out on social media for updates and noteworthy news regarding the event. There will be a ceremony at the end in the form of a procession with your county, marking the end of your English Schools experience. I cannot stress enough how to make the most of this, as you will cherish the memories later in life.
THE COMPETITION AT ENGLISH SCHOOLS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Undoubtedly, the competition at ES is fierce, and it's important to remember that thousands try and fail to qualify for the event every year, so you really are up against the best of the best. Some of you may not have competed on a stage like this before, so do not be intimidated by the size and scale of such an event.
Personally, I thrive under pressure and really enjoy the big races. I come in with a 'nothing to lose' mentality and felt very grateful when I was competing in ES, in the knowledge that I was fortunate enough to have qualified whilst hundreds of people I knew would have given everything just to make it to the competition - do not take it for granted!
MY TOP 5 TIPS FOR COMPETING AT ENGLISH SCHOOLS
- Leave everything on the track or on your event. Don't finish feeling like you could've given more. This is your chance to make a statement on the biggest stage, so don't waste it.
- In the couple of days leading up to the competition (i.e., now), rest where you can, control as many variables as you can, and follow your core competition routine/taper as best as possible.
- RELAX. Whilst this is a massive event, it's important to remember to stay relaxed, enjoy the weekend, and remember that it might not all go to plan, and that's okay! It will be a learning experience to set you up for bigger and better senior competition in the future.
- If you finish your event on day one or get knocked out in the heats, DON'T stress out or hide away for the rest of the weekend, but DO give everything you've got shouting and cheering for everyone you know and even people you don't know!
- If you see us at the stadium, come and have a chat with Neuff Athletic. We'll be there, and we'd love to see you if you're around!
MY BEST ENGLISH SCHOOLS MEMORY
My best ES memory was watching my training partner and close friend, Lewis Sullivan, storm to victory in the Junior Boys' ES XC.
I ran around the course screaming at him as a warm-up for my own race, and by the finish, I was crying my eyes out. To see all the hard work he had put in come to fruition to deliver such a stunning performance summed up to me what this sport is all about. On top of that, two of my other training partners and close friends, Ben and James Peck, also made the Top 8 and qualified for their first England vests.
Note: Top 2 qualify for SIAB, only if you are a Junior or Inter.
ADVICE FOR PARENTS AT ENGLISH SCHOOLS
Throughout the years, my parents and family members have come to support me at ES. However, my uncle (Ian Wakefield) has rarely missed an English Schools since I first qualified for the event. As a Junior, Ian spent his whole Junior athletics career as a javelin thrower and 400m runner trying to qualify for ES, so he truly understands the prestige of such a competition, and I massively appreciated his support at the events.
My best advice for parents would be to enjoy the atmosphere and shout louder than you've ever shouted before (I used to be able to hear my mum from across the other side of the track!). Give your athlete space to enjoy the competition for themselves, and it's important to remember that they have team managers and county schools officials looking after them throughout.
Be present if you can, but at a distance - and I'm sure this will vary from athlete to athlete, but don't be afraid to really go for it from the stands. You may think they won't be able to hear you, but I can assure you that usually, just hearing your name from the stands makes a world of difference.
WHAT IF IT DOESN'T GO TO PLAN?
As I've already mentioned, the English Schools Athletics Championships are the pinnacle of Junior domestic competition, designed to give young athletes a taste of what high-level stadium-bound competition will be like as a senior. It is as close to a world championship or Diamond League style event as you can get as a young athlete. However, that's not to say that it is the be or end all for the season. Sometimes, the competition might not go your way, and it's important to remember that there will be other opportunities later in the season.
A great anecdote I have to support this is that at my first ES Championships on the track, I finished ninth in my 1500m heat and ran the fastest time of the day of that discipline across all age groups that didn't make a final. All four fastest losers came out of my heat, and I missed the final by a fraction of a second.
Not to be deterred, I used the setback from a slightly subpar performance at such a major Championships to fuel my training over the next two months and capped the season off, making my first national final on the track to avenge my performance. My training partner Lewis went over and above this, placing third at ES on the track, only to go on and win the national championships that same season.
ES is an unforgettable experience, and the peak of your Junior career. To summarise, enjoy it! Also, remember to recognise that many athletes fail to qualify for this, so ensure not to waste the opportunity, and respect your fellow competitors and the history and prestige of the event itself.
We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible, and good luck!
ABOUT CHARLIE WAKEFIELD
Charlie is predominately an 800m/1500m runner, but he also runs 5K and cross country.
As part of our blog team, Charlie will primarily be making content focusing on middle-distance events.
His goals over the next 5 years include achieving an England/GB vest on the track and breaking the 4 minute mile!