The Final Goodbye

I have shared my heartache at the prospect of retiring from athletics on this blog before (see Goodbye…a letter to my sport and When is the right time to retire from sport?), but now the time has finally arrived. Two weeks ago I decided to retire. I started the season with no intention of retiring and was focused on the new challenge of being an 800m runner, but after a highly disappointing first race I know that now is the right time. In that race I ran significantly slower than I wanted to and with that came the realisation that I would not be able to hit the targets I had set myself. As I ran down the final 100m of the 800m race in last place I realised that I want to be remembered for being the athlete that I was and not the athlete that I’ve become.

SEAA 2006 400mH

Two years ago when I retired from the 400m hurdles I wasn’t ready to fully retire, but now I am. There is no doubt that my phased retirement has made this final decision easier to take, but I do still feel great sadness to be saying goodbye to the competitive side of the sport that has been my life for more than 20 years. I will still stay involved in the sport – I can’t let it go completely. I will continue to train and will eventually move into coaching, but I know it will never be same. Nothing will ever replace the feeling of competing on the track and that’s something I will have to come to terms with, but I look forward to the prospect of doing so.



Goodbye….a letter to my sport

By Caroline Heaney

I’ve discussed in this blog before how challenging career transitions in sport can be. The letter below describes my own feelings about a recent career transition related decision I have made.

Dear 400m hurdles,

There’s no easy way to say this so I’m going to get straight to the point – I’m leaving you. We both know that things haven’t been right for while – injuries, a weary body and life in general have put pay to that.

I’m not an international athlete; I have a job and a life outside of athletics, yet being an athlete is a very important part of my identity and has been for as long as I can remember. After more than 20 years in the sport why wouldn’t it? The sport has given me so much – challenge, friends, confidence, fitness, strength – the list is endless.

Over the last few years, as my performance has deteriorated as a result of injury and ageing, I have began to think about retirement and I always knew it would be hard, but I have been completely overwhelmed by the emotion I feel after having made a decision today. That decision wasn’t even to retire, not just yet anyway, no – today I made a decision to give up the 400m hurdles and move onto a new challenge – the 800m. My body just can’t cope with training for the hurdles anymore and nor can my mind – mentally it’s too hard to go into races and run 5, 6 or even 7 seconds slower than my best.

As I cry myself to sleep I’m trying to understand why I feel so emotional about this – so sad, and it’s because it’s been all about you, the 400m hurdles. You’ve been the event where I’ve made my mark, the event that has challenged me and the event I love. Nothing will replace you. Flat running just won’t be the same.

I know this is the right decision, even though I still feel like we have unfinished business. I know that in different circumstances I probably could have run faster, but both sadly and proudly I will be signing off at 63.95 seconds.

I will never forget you and the time we’ve had together and whenever I see you there will be a feeling of sadness in my heart and a feeling of ‘I wish’, but I know this is the right thing for both of us.

I know I can’t leave you without just one final fling and in the absence of any races I will probably have one last hurdles session with you this week.

Goodbye… and thank you for everything you’ve given me.

Carrie x

19th August 2013

When is the right time to retire from sport?

By Caroline Heaney

Katherine Grainger still can’t decide whether or not to retire from rowing – click here. Knowing when to retire from sport isn’t easy and I know that from personal experience as well as from examining the academic research.

I’ve recently written some study material for the Open University module E313 examining retirement from sport (along with other career transitions experienced by athletes) and I have to admit that writing the material has taken me on a bit of a personal journey as I reach a point in my athletics career where my performances are on a slippery slope and injuries to my ageing body are becoming commonplace.

Retiring from sport is hard, whatever level you compete at. I’m not an elite athlete but my sport has been such a major part of my identity over the last 20 years that I’m going to find it hard to let go when the time to retire finally comes. I’m torn – on the one hand I love my sport and don’t want to leave it, but on the other hand I want people to remember me for the athlete I was, not the athlete I’ve become. Masters athletics does have some appeal and allowed me to become a national champion, but it’s hard to come to terms with not being able to run as fast as you used to, so I increasingly wonder if retirement is for me. For now the answer is no.

For many athletes retirement is just too hard, particularly when retirement is forced upon them (e.g. career injury) and evidence shows that depression, addiction and even suicide can be the consequence of retirement from sport. Various retired athletes, including boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, share their experiences of the difficulties in this BBC article. Psychological support for retiring athletes is very important. I say that both as a sport psychologist and an athlete facing retirement. Fortunately, athletes are becoming better prepared for career transitions and hopefully serious negative consequences will be increasingly less frequent.