Days of Rest

Days of Rest

How to take a break when you need one!

In the same way that a season can feel long before it begins (like it can’t come fast enough), your body and/or mind can fail you in the midst of it. Disclaimer: I’m completely healthy and excited for the season!!! I just had good conversation with a great friend this weekend about self-care, and have also recently experienced my regular back spasm that just takes a few days to calm down.

Sometimes? Humph.

Sometimes? Humph.

I’ve already written a recovery blog. This isn’t that. This is like an emergency response, something drastic needs to happen and it should be all-inclusive and hard-hitting to get you back on track and operating well in the middle of your season or heavy training. Just a few ideas, because I’m tired, and I’ve decided that I don’t like blogging on Sundays, as they should be my day of rest, and blogging sometimes feels like mental work (that isn’t helpful for me on Sundays). Therefore this one is short and I will shift writing days to weekdays (and solicit more input from you guys!)!

You can be physically and mentally exhausted, or just one or the other. The bottom line to restful activities is to fully commit to them! Don’t harbor any guilt for taking the time you need to recharge your body or soul, even if you’re skipping a practice to do it (THAT HAPPENS). Then focus completely on the training and mental sharpness when you hop back to it!

One of my favorite sayings, I think from Dan O’Brien but I am unsure, is “Sacrifice the day to save the week, the week to save the month, or the month to save the season.” This isn’t one of my favorite things because I employ its wisdom often (I don’t), but because it reminds me of what’s important! Measuring success in training and how that relates to javelin throwing is another blog. But I am so comforted by the idea that when I’m at my wit’s end, I’m actually improving by going home rather than pushing through pain and frustration.

Brief ideas for resting and recharging below. These are meant to be one-afternoon, quick fix, take a minute completely for yourself so you can come right back stronger kinds of things.

Physical

1.       Epsom salt baths.

I had not done one of these for a LONG time until I had a back spasm (which is a somewhat-normal, nothing to be worried about thing for me) the day before my birthday. A massage therapist at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center is also an advocate for making a poultice with the Epsom salt and massaging it in/leaving it there to soak, so Russ did that for me, too.

2.       NormaTec.

Find one at a clinic or buy one (you can get them used sometimes). My legs love them, especially my left knee after throwing sessions! The hip attachment is also a favorite.

3.       Hang upside down.

If you have the core strength to protect your low back while you do. I bought these gravity boots a few years ago after using a pair in Chula Vista for years. I love them! Probably twice a month I hang upside down for like five minutes, stretching my lats, twisting slightly, or just breathing. Decompressing.

4.       Massage.

My favorite. They can be expensive, sure, but even a half hour of specific, totally-relaxed work is worth the cost. I LOVE falling asleep on a massage table, knowing my muscles are getting worked on and allowing complete relaxation to make that process even easier for the professional doing the work.

5.       Float tanks.

I’ve personally never tried one! But I hear great things from friends (both who have trouble quieting their minds and who don’t). You could also interpret this as ice baths or contrast baths! If those help you, do those. I refuse to ice bath in Colorado, because the few times I have, I was cold for days.

6.       Go to bed.

Naps or hitting the hay early! There is not a lot that 12-hour sleep can’t fix for me.

7.       Hammocks.

Get one. Set it up in the park. Swing, watch, think, nap, be. Look how precious Ari and Maddie are!

Mental

1.       Change your workouts up.

There is almost nothing I enjoy more than a fresh new block of training!! If you’re really, really struggling, talk to your coach about just changing up your warm-up for the next week. Bring new focus and interest to your workouts.

2.       Go to lunch alone.

Just me? I LOVE a solo lunch. I write in my training journal or just focus on how the food is helping my body. Usually it’s after training so I can process what I accomplished that day. Treat yo’self.

3.       Go visit a friend.

Buy a cheap plane ticket and plan to do nothing at your friends’ house or take a drive to see someone you haven’t in a while. Reconnect.

4.       Cry.

Also just me? Let it out!!! Maddie doesn’t judge me.

5.       Plant something/yard work.

Potted plants inside can be fun to take care of. If you have a yard, start some vegetables inside and do some container gardening when spring is officially here. Make some planter boxes if you want! Paint your deck (this needs to happen in my life). Work on something else to improve it rather than always focusing on your own body.

6.       Shop.

I’m not big on shopping just to shop (clothes and such), but I get a lot of joy out of the random times I remember that I do need something that feels like it will improve my life, find the best deal, and make that small change. I quite enjoy a certain kind of Lysol sponge to do my dishes with, I refuse to pay full-price for jeans so I wait until they’re on sale at the Buckle, and finding flight deals and people to travel to and with is always a thrill. I definitely don’t condone just buying to buy, but saving what might feel like a chore or wasting money (shopping in general to me) for times when I need a little distraction means I feel like I’m accomplishing tasks rather than just burning cash.

7.       Create.

I LOVED renovating our house and my mother-in-law’s house: The few hours a day when a totally different kind of puzzle got solved and I could look at endless flooring samples and paint colors was such a happy departure for me. I play the piano very little. I write this blog and a lot of other journal kinds of things that let me feel creative. You could buy an adult coloring book or join a choir or paint. Just do something that makes something else!

Hit your rest hard and come back swinging!

Hit your rest hard and come back swinging!

I’ll be asking for input on blog topics via Instagram this week! I have a lot of ideas still, but again, I just need to not write on Sundays anymore. I want my day of rest back. Happy Easter!

How Not to Freak Out (During a Season)

This season, World Championships are ridiculously late (end of September/beginning of October). Usually they’re in July/August, so it’s a weird thing to prepare mentally for a peak at what feels like a completely different time of year. Last season, I was fully aware that my priority was end of August/beginning of September (the Diamond League Final and IAAF Continental Cup). This year, that focus is a whole month later. The rest of the competitive season doesn’t really change, though, so I will still start traveling to meets at the end of May, just like last year. That feels early to me, honestly, but it can be difficult to be an American watching the collegiate season roll onward, the Australian/South Pacific season come to a close, and people in other throwing events just dropping bombs. It’s neat to feel the right kind of FOMO (motivation: I want to throw far, too!!!), but if you let that excitement run rampant, you’re asking a lot of your nervous system even when you’re not in any kind of training arena!

I know I’m not alone in feeling antsy when other peoples’ results start to pour in, and mine either haven’t started yet, or aren’t what I hoped they would be. I want to talk about how to stay in your own lane. How to rely on the plan that you and your coach have set in place and ease your mind so that you save energy for the rest of the season (when you’re supposed to perform). How not to lose sleep over the fact that you sometimes feel like the world is leaving you behind.

I’m a firm believer that one of the biggest lessons you can learn from sport is how to channel uncertainty, frustration, worry, doubt, fear, and any other negative emotion into positive energy and outcomes. That huge feat takes time for everybody, but I’m hoping to provide you some super simple tools here that can help you on your way.

Step one to remaining calm…

Step one to remaining calm…

I’ve written about how to recover. I’ve described some mental tools that I use either in competition or the day of competition to stay calm. But here are some ideas to either distract yourself from or channel the very specific kind of seemingly helpless frustration that comes from wanting to succeed but having to wait. A lot of people want to go lift or head to practice when they feel this feeling, but overtraining doesn’t help anyone! I will preface this entire list with this: PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN. Scrolling social media channels, desperate for one more ounce of information about whatever you’re worried about is NOT helpful. Stash that google machine across the room and calm your mind. In no particular order:

1.       Do something totally different.

I’ve said this before and I will say it for the rest of my life! Be well-rounded. If you’re still in school, pour yourself into your studies. Start a new hobby or fall back on the one you’ve always loved. Read your favorite book or find a new one. Start a book club with a friend! Confidence and enjoyment in other areas of life breed confidence and enjoyment on the runway, so master other crafts as well.

2.       Stretch.

This is something we all say we’ll work on at home and we hardly ever do. Just stretch. Mildly, not aggressively. Breathe. Feel what you feel and think about how the stretches you’re doing will help your throw. Which parts of your body feel tight in practice? Focus on those. Ease into it. You’ll actually enjoy it after 3 minutes, I promise.

3.       Hydrate or meal prep.

Grab your water bottle, not a wine bottle. Make yourself some tea. If meal prep is something that you do, do that. If meal prep isn’t your thing, but you’re going crazy enough to try it, try it! Researching recipes and trying new things, especially when you know the real and nutritious food you’re making will help your throwing, can calm your mind. The simple act of taking care of your body with hydration and nutrition will help you trust it when it finally comes time for you to perform.

4.       Core.

Your core is difficult to overtrain! Obviously it’s possible so please don’t go too crazy, but this is another area where we all say we’ll do more than we actually do. Get into a plank for a minute each side. Do 3x30s of seated Russian twists. Be a Banana for a while. Focus on how the simple work you’re doing will help your throw. Feel connection between your upper and lower body!

5.       Film review.

Your OWN, not everyone else’s who has been throwing far and making you antsy. Watch past years. Watch yesterday. See what’s different. Think about how you felt yesterday vs. what you were focused on last season. Appreciate the changes you’ve made and concentrate on how those changes are going to get you the results you want.

6.       Journal.

I used to hate training journals. I would accidentally turn them into teenage diaries of how I felt about every single thing I did that day. But now, with my Believe Training Journal, I really enjoy just recording what happened. I’m forced to very briefly record my takeaways because there’s not much space. It’s made for runners, but I like the simplicity because it’s easier to pick out patterns. Why did I have that terrible back spasm this week? Go back to last week and check it out: Makes sense. Pick positive patterns out of your journals as well, of course! But writing about what’s bothering you makes you process it, too. And then you can move forward. Try setting a timer for 10 minutes and just writing the entire time. It doesn’t matter what you write about, just keep your pen moving! I’ve really enjoyed that process in starting to write my blogs.

7.       Meditate/Visualize.

I’m terrible at this, but getting better. Turn on a white noise app or download a guided meditation one (you may use your phone for this one). Maybe after you do your film review, spend some time visualizing your absolute perfect throw in vivid detail. You can also visualize how you might compete against those people who are already competing, or someone you know has been a challenge for you in the past. Specificity in visualization is really powerful, so channel what’s bothering you into something you can overcome mentally. Again and again. Just worrying about it isn’t helpful, but planning to overcome something specific is.

8.       Take a nap.

If your brain is working overtime about your worry, it’ll be hard to go to sleep. But do things that will allow you to get that shut-eye! Turn on a fan or classical music or just focus on keeping your mind blank until suddenly you’re sleeping. Naps are my favorite.

9.       Go for a walk.

With or without headphones and music/podcasts. Preferably in nature, but just around your neighborhood is great, too. Just stroll. Walking just to walk isn’t something people really do! But it’s calming. Maybe after your walk, take a nap.

10.   Borrow a dog.

Dogs are the best. I didn’t have one for most of my career but she is so important to my recovery and general happiness now! Dog owners, though, always enjoy when other people play with their puppers. Ask a friend to borrow their dog for an afternoon. Walk it or just pet it or take it to the park. Teach it a trick. Let it make you happy!

Pick one of these things when you’re next feeling the pressure of a season of which you don’t yet feel a part! Don’t run to the track to practice when you’re getting worked up if it’s not on the schedule, take care of business in other ways to calm your mind and preserve the plan of your season. Training is planning for your body to perform at a certain time. Freaking out and rushing that process messes with the plan! But I know how hard it can be to feel stuck at home and helpless. You’re NEVER helpless. You have lots of different tools to make yourself better. And when it’s time, all your waiting will be worth it.

You can absolutely use your nervous energy within training sessions. Mimicking the way you’ll feel in a competition if someone throws far by using that worry in a positive way during training is the perfect way to a) get it out of your system and b) turn negative feelings into positive outcome. Nervous energy is energy you can put toward far throws. Just learn to channel it by using the ideas above!

Some joy from performing at the right time of year! (Beijing 2015)

Some joy from performing at the right time of year! (Beijing 2015)

Questions from Instagram:

“I check what everyone threw at a meet I’m going to is that bad?”

I wouldn’t recommend it! If it helps you to not be surprised by peoples’ far throws within a competition, that’s one thing and I get it. If it’s just a way for you to work yourself up for days before going into a meet, stop it! Worry and concentration on other people just fry your nervous system and put you at a disadvantage during the meet. You probably have some sort of idea who throws what without doing a deep dive into their athletic history, right? So you already know what you’re up against without spending a lot of energy looking it up in detail. If it’s a positive for you, that’s fine. But if all those numbers consume your thoughts when you’re trying to sleep the night before, or if it feels like you’re focusing on others more than what your technical cues are, try to find a new habit (like thinking about your own cues!).

“How do you get away from runway anxiety?”

See my “Competition Mentalityblogs for a lot of info on this!

“Pinpointing what this looks like for different people? And expressing it to young athletes.”

I don’t have a ton of experience expressing things to young athletes, unfortunately. But I can try to describe how I’ve seen such performance anxiety manifest in different people I’ve known throughout my career (and myself)!

I used to watch live results of meets I knew competitors would be at and worry the whole time. Now I know that if something amazing happens, I’ll hear about it. I’ve watched a LOT of teammates and training partners overtrain because they can’t trust the process their coach has laid out for them. They think that ten more sets of drills are better, when really maybe one more set of excellent drills are what they need. Physically, this particular anxiety is just a tightness in my chest coupled with an extreme restlessness. Like when results show up on Friday night or Saturday and maybe you were happy with how you did that weekend, but now someone else has done better and you can’t BELIEVE you have to wait another week or two to try again. Refocusing on what went well or what your actual goals are is helpful here. There are a lot of different ways such feelings can present themselves! The bottom line to helping someone through them is to communicate with them. Care about them as a whole person and an athlete.

“Comparison! How to avoid?”

Put your phone down. Comparison is the thief of joy, it’s true!!

I struggle so much with social media. I’m working on ideas for a blog about my complicated social media feelings! About a month ago, I started leaving my phone in my kitchen when I went to bed. Instead of scrolling Instagram, I read a book I’m actually interested in, pet Maddie, and talk to my husband. That simple act has made it easier to put my phone down somewhere in the house during the day and forget about it, too. It’s a bad bad day when I’m refreshing Insta. I hope we all know by now that most of what we see on social media is the optimum of someone else’s life, not the whole picture. I saw a #javelin post the other day that was a guy throwing, in a questionable position, and the caption was, “Roast Me.” I loved it so so much for its realness!! Follow things that make you happy. And if there’s someone out there that you are following that doesn’t boost your training or feelings, unfollow or mute! Instragram (and any social media) can be such a great tool for learning and cooperation, if you’re careful to monitor what you are getting out of it. I hope that any training tips or rehab things that I post are educational rather than intimidating: If you’re not inspired and motivated by whoever is in your life, digitally or in the flesh, change that.

Comparison within competition is something I had to learn how to avoid as well. My technique is my technique, and watching other women throw doesn’t help me focus on my own technical goals for the day. That kind of thing is for practice. I used to watch how people prepared for a meet and see how far their javelins flew during warm-ups, then let however I compared to that have an impact on my feelings! Silly! So I stopped watching other women’s throws. That’s it. You can’t really close your eyes to everything, and I’m fine to watch someone coming down the runway, but as soon as the javelin leaves their hand, I don’t need to see where it’s going. It’s not helpful to me. You’re going to know within competition when someone throws far. But staying in your own process is easier when you’re not also processing all of the visual information around you that has nothing to do with you.

“Please! Also about doing that during training in the insta age.”

Since I’ve addressed social media a bit above, I’ll take “insta age” as “instant age.” Many people like instant results in 2019! A weird thing about me is that I’ve never been that person. Like I don’t open packages I’ve been waiting for for like three days. I enjoy training just as much as competition because I know what it’s for. I absolutely love delayed gratification, but I’m competitive enough that feeling left behind gives me this anxious feeling that inspired this blog! So I think I understand how instant gratification people feel.

My advice for dealing with the desire of instant gratification is to think about something that has happened in your life that you are thrilled about, and all the steps that you took to get there. Really reflect on how much you love or appreciate that thing (or maybe person? Child?), and everything that went into bringing it into your life. All the little things that had to happen along the way to make it possible. Realize that some of the best things in your life have been the product of slow builds, and it makes training and patience for competition and results an exercise in gratitude for that build.

 “What about young athletes with lows after a very successful year?”

Talk to them about expectation. Throws are about jumps in performance and then working toward a plateau at that level, then jumping in performance again. Waiting for the jump can be terribly hard! A young athlete could also fall into the trap of thinking that just because they succeeded once, they have that performance in their back pocket. Throws are more punishing than that! You have to reinforce the work you’ve already done and then learn even more to improve. I am not a coach, but I would try to have the conversation with kids that expectations have to match reality just a little bit as far as results go: There’s something to be said for competition giving people an extra boost in performance, but understanding positions and feeling certain things in practice need to come before far throws can. Ask your athlete what’s different with them? What were they doing well when they threw far, and what are they doing now? Is there something small they can change to give them more confidence? Perhaps it’s not a javelin issue at all.

“Should you hold back ‘fire’?”

I don’t quite understand but I’m going to say no. Always try your best! You can just do that in a lot of different ways.

“Can I ask, how to sleep the night of a competition? And how to not be too nervous in a comp.”

For advice on how to not be too nervous in a competition, read my Competition Mentality blogs!

As far as sleeping the night before a competition, I struggle with that a bit, too. Try to make things as normal as possible (same bedtime routine no matter where you are, be on the same page with your roommate about the TV being on or not, etc.). If you have trouble falling asleep because you’re thinking about throwing, maybe download a guided meditation app that makes you think about something else before sleeping. Once you practice this with a recording enough, you’ll maybe be able to just clear your mind on your own and get good rest. There are various SleepyTime teas commercially available, but I find that non-caffeinated tea in general makes me feel like curling up under the covers! If you do any kind of supplementation to sleep, I would recommend that you try whatever system you’re thinking about the night before a training session first to see how your body responds. I do not take supplements and I do not recommend them in general, but they work for a lot of people.

“This year so far, I opened the best I have, the second meet I competed had the best series of my life and had a PR, my 3rd meet had one of the worst meets after putting more pressure on myself knowing I can do better. How do you compete/what mentality should you have when raising the expectations and bar for yourself without putting too much pressure on yourself?”

I would say, moving forward, pretend your next competition is another season opener! Do your best to start strong for sure, and then with each successive throw, be in the moment and compete with your last throw. For your next meet, your PR or when it happened don’t matter. Reset, and challenge yourself to take the competition throw by throw, casting aside any overarching expectations you might have. To make that first throw strong, think about what cues have really worked for you recently, and just pick your favorite one.

When we try to push after having great results early, it’s SO easy to just trust the positions we think we have nailed down and “relax and let it happen.” While that is absolutely the zen moment you want, it’s not quite that when it actually happens. The zen of an amazing flow day lies in knowing absolutely that certain technical positions are yours, and that you’ll hit them exactly when you need to. It’s like you’re moving in slow motion. Your mind isn’t blank, it’s laser focused on connection and how to keep connection happening. Connection is achieved through great technique. So keep drilling, keep nailing positions that you know worked for you in your first two meets and have been working all year in training (because clearly that’s the case and how you got to a PR!), and then when you get into the ring just start from there. Knowing you can do better (belief) is important, and knowing how you will do better is a lot more important. You already know that because you’ve already done it. It’s a really subtle shift in focus that can feel really difficult, but your body knows how much you want success and further throws without that thought being at the forefront of your mind. The whole “it’s about the journey, not the destination” thing rings true for technique and mindset as well.

This is also a growing pains question I think! It’s absolutely normal to have disappointing performances after a PR, so try not to be too hard on yourself. It’s fantastic to start a season on such a high note, and there is no reason to be totally down on yourself about one bad performance (or even two!). As Barbora said to me last summer, “You must have one.” I had thrown 55m. Then I threw 64.75m a few days later. You’re going to be great! *flexed arm emoji*

How to be a Good Training Partner

Good training partners are gold. How can you be a great one?

One of my favorite training partners!

One of my favorite training partners!

1.       Communicate

Either the day before or via text, let teammates know what your plan is or that you’re on board with their plan for training times, warm-up times, etc. If you’re doing rehab with somebody, communicate with them, too! If you’re the leader on the team, communicate coach’s goals and wishes with your training partners. Just don’t be bossy about it!

Be on time.

Respect everybody’s time (including your own) by showing up when you’re supposed to. If that means you arrive early to stretch before warming up with everyone else, cool! Do that. Go to sleep early so you can make it to 6am lifting on time. Nobody wants that to last longer than it needs to!

If you’re not on time, don’t make people wait.

We all run late sometimes. Go back to step one (communicate). Recognize that you’re not the only one training that day, and give the group the freedom to forge ahead without you. You can catch up!

We both spent a lot of extra time watching and filming each others’ sessions over the years.

We both spent a lot of extra time watching and filming each others’ sessions over the years.

2.       Practice Selflessness and Self-Awareness

That last bit (don’t make people wait) is a good lead into this topic. As elite athletes, we all have a certain amount of ego. You can still be confident and put forth excellent efforts in practice. But when it comes to team dynamics, you need to exhibit self-awareness.

Selflessness: Grab javelins or dumbbells for other people. Watch and encourage teammates at a throwing session you have nothing to do with. Go to a scary appointment with a teammate just to keep them company. Show up to pack the javelins for travel, even if it’s just so you can grab a bite to eat afterward. Put somebody’s equipment away just because you want to. Listen to a training partner’s favorite music for once. If you have lengthy technical questions for your coach, schedule time away from practice with him or her rather than taking up a lot of everyone’s time for just you. Be a team player within a training session. Something someone else does or a fellow athlete’s random input might answer your question anyway.

Self-Awareness: Pay attention to how things you say or do are interpreted and adjust your behavior. Figure out how you can best contribute to the group with the special skills that only you have! My voice just gets super high when I try to yell for someone in the weight room, and that’s not helpful or inspiring, so I tone it down a bit and let the yelling be done by other people. Russ and I used to talk about how his male training partners could yell and trash talk him to fire him up, but if I tried that no one would be comfortable, LOL. I try to really pay attention to things people are doing and give more specific feedback than just, “Good job.” I find that I appreciate, “The pronation of your left hand on that last throw was way better than the one before” much more than, “I liked that throw,” so why not be specific when I’m commenting on how I’m grateful for peoples’ roles in my life, too? Do some self-reflection, or maybe even ask your training partners how you can help more. Then do that.

Share more than just sport…maybe just not as much as we do. Photo by  Paul Merca .

Share more than just sport…maybe just not as much as we do. Photo by Paul Merca.

3.       Contribute positivity.

Move training times around so that you can train with people if possible. Do not undermine your coach to fellow training partners. Be a friend, not just a training partner: Have fun stuff to talk about that isn’t just track and field during warm-ups. All sports all the time is exhausting! Bond over other things. What podcasts are you really enjoying? Do you have a favorite new TV show? Share an interesting tidbit from a class or your new favorite joke.

If you’re having a bad day, remember that the beauty of training partners is that you can ride the wave of their high during your low. Your frustrating, terrible days are allowed to suck, and you might be surprised to learn that other people are aware that you’re struggling without you going on and on about it! Your training partners know you’re suffering, but don’t want to help you spiral: Let their positivity carry you through on those days. Things WILL get better. Then, when they’re having one of those days, you can carry them.

Maddie  is always on time for training and fun.

Maddie is always on time for training and fun.

Do things you don’t need to sometimes. Stretch a friend for 10 minutes. Sit next to the treatment table during some painful soft tissue work and make your friend laugh instead of cry. Talk someone through a tough time you’ve had if they’re experiencing something similar. Be supportive. Being a good training partner is really just being a good friend, and we all know how much we appreciate those. Sometimes, tough things happen in relationships, but the closer you are as training partners and friends, the more incentive there will be to work through difficulties and come out the other side a stronger team.

I’ve already said that I’ve been so lucky to have excellent training partners throughout my career. I wanted to write this blog to further highlight the value of that special relationship. Even though I’ve been training and competing for a long, long time, it still feels great to show up and know that people I’m around have similar goals, yes, but are also just awesome people enjoying the ride. Contributing to that positivity can be so fun. Go get it.

The Magic of Good Training Partners

I just got home to Colorado from two weeks in Chula Vista, California, my original post-collegiate training home. Russ and I moved there coming up on ten years ago. I loved it. Thought it was magical. It is again.

San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park when we visited Chula Vista for Spring Break 2009!

San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park when we visited Chula Vista for Spring Break 2009!

I’ve talked a lot in the last year+ about how fantastic my coaching situation is. I love love love love love working with Jamie and Dana. They are two of those rare, fabulous people in my life that just get me. You know the ones, that you always have some extra five minutes of conversation to cover before leaving each others’ side. Who say aloud what you’re thinking before you can form the words. Who are there for you in the hardest of times, and proudest of you in the best of times as a result. The ones who surprise you often with statements and observations that burst forth belly laughter. Absolute gems of friends.

As far as javelin is concerned, Dana and Jamie are all I need. The way we’re working together has my focus so much more locked in than it has been in years. All of us being together in Chula Vista on this trip resulted in some of the best practices of my whole life. I can feel performance building even more than I did last year, because I know our system works, and the technique isn’t quite as new as it was in 2018. Sunny and 70 San Diego conditions help everything. But let me tell you about an X factor that I can’t believe I keep forgetting about.

Good training partners are what I want.

I have had many fabulous training partners over my years as a javelin thrower. Let me take you back.

High School:

Rachel Baardson. Lisa Haakensted. Adam Mobley. Kate Helms. People who enjoyed javelin, sure, but also just made me laugh. After the silence of swimming and intensity of basketball in high school, track practice was just such a time of friendship. Sure, we worked hard, but we also talked and laughed and enjoyed outside the whole time. My high school track friends were the original training partners who are friends. Friends who just happen to be training partners.

College:

Lindsey Blaine. Quietly focused. Someone I, to this day, don’t feel cool enough to be friends with. A woman with relentless drive. I always just wanted to impress her. In training and in life.

Jim Schwingendorf. My dear, dear friend, fellow BGRite and party crasher, and neighbor. Whose Dad was my Catch Phrase soulmate. Jim nicknamed me “Knee Sweat.” Always ready with a joke and always giving 1000%. It made me so proud when Jim and Steve Carlson both made regionals in 2008!

Betsy/Laura/Elaine/Kylie. Four sweet freshmen when I returned from Beijing for my fifth year. Their endless energy in their pursuit of knowledge was so special at the end of my time as a Boilermaker!

Purdue T&F Banquet 2008: Me, Jim, Steve, Lindsey!

Purdue T&F Banquet 2008: Me, Jim, Steve, Lindsey!

Professional:

Mike Hazle. That guy. We met in Beijing in 2008 and then were the best training partners in the world in Chula Vista for three years. So unlike each other but somehow perfect together. One of the most loyal people I’ve ever known. He knew exactly how to fire me up and I like to think I was good at calming him down (sometimes he needed that). The end of his career and what sometimes feels like the beginning of mine overlapped, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his leadership and friendship. He was creative in his approach to training and appreciated every day, which taught me to do the same, regardless of how we felt physically. Jamie still writes “Hazle squats” into my lifts sometimes. In May of 2012, Mike suffered an elbow injury, shifting his focus from a second Olympic Games to his other passionate aspiration of serving in the military. I didn’t understand at the time that he was serious, but we started rucking from the runway to the weight room instead of walking. His goal of BUD/S was halted by serious ankle issues that required surgery (on both) before going an alternate route. His ankle surgeon was my ACL surgeon, so we’d pass each other in the doctor’s office parking lot that Fall, both of our dreams shifted into something we didn’t really see coming, and exchange the same encouraging words we always had. I was proud when he finally won a USATF National Championship in 2011 after four consecutive silvers. I loved being at meets together in Europe. But my pride in him as a U.S. Veteran leaks out my eyeballs when I think about it too much.

After my knee surgery and Russ’s and my move to Colorado in 2012, my focus kind of had to shift to myself. I went back to school. I was just healing. We got engaged at the end of 2013 and then I bought a house and then we renovated that house ourselves. I spent time traveling to see Ty by myself in NOLA and Texas, and loved the freedom of those trips. Russ was my periodic training partner and travel companion until he retired in 2016. What I’m saying is that I’ve spent a lot of time inadvertently learning how to train alone. And I do simply love the training. I do cherish time focusing on my job, listening to music, by myself.

I’ve visited Chula Vista at least once a year since we moved away. It is always fun to see Jamie and feel supported when he comes to watch my throwing sessions. But now there is this little tribe of training partners that make the place an unmatched treasure again.

Mike Shuey (Shuey in this blog, for clarity). Intentionally light-hearted but obviously earnest in his pursuits. A newly-minted 80m thrower with a lot left in the tank. Very tough: He’s had some of the weirder injuries I’ve heard of and shaken them right off. A family man with great comedic timing and sometimes-too-good sarcasm. He came to Colorado last year and Russ and I took him fishing, plus I got to learn that we practice well together when he came to the Academy with me to throw with Dana. Very athletic, and getting more so all the time. Questionable musical taste within workouts, but that is something we absolutely have in common.

Max Rohn. Fellow Coloradan. Many would call him a hero. Someone who fully appreciates cool life experiences that have come his way through uncool life experiences. New enough to the javelin throw to want to soak up everything he can, and brings an attitude of gratitude to every session. A strong person without being stubborn where he doesn’t need to be. Up for debate on anything. Excellent mannerisms, periodically including my favorite, finger guns. An old soul with a young zest for this Track and Field adventure that he started later than most, and is likely enjoying more than many as a result. Apparently some of the best humans come from Penn State (Shuey coached Max a bit while they were both still there. See also: Jimmy, Darrell.).

Brent Lagace. A periodic companion for Shuey in throwing sessions. Lovely, relaxed energy to be around.

Justin Phongsavanh. Great hair, and great hair flips because he probably knows it, haha. Has the best surprised face right before he laughs out loud. We can talk about electricity and dogs. Justin is a seated thrower, and Dana and I were both humbled and intrigued to try it out and give him our input. His questions challenged the very way I think about how my able body throws. I’ve been around para-athletes for a long time, but not many para-javelin throwers. They’ve sharpened my focus on how best to do what we all do.

Erica Wheeler. One of my original javelin heroes. This ’96 Olympian is the Paralympic javelin coach at the CVEATC, and therefore works with Max and Justin. Still the Washington State High School Record Holder, I’d seen her name for two years on record books before watching her win Nationals in 2003, when I was there for the very first time to compete as a junior. I just thought, “She’s from where I’m from. I want to do that.” It is so much fun to interact with her in a collaborative coaching capacity, and Dana agrees. We had an absolute blast putting our brains together and geeking out on the javelin.

I spent two awesome weeks with that group of great people, plus my two coaches. I know that Russ and I moved away from Chula Vista for good reasons, and those all remain, but knowing that such an excellent community exists there again means I’ll be back more often.

The bottom line in an ideal training situation is to love what you do. I LOVE training. I love the process of making my body feel good and perform through movement. I love the knowledge that every little thing I do physically is contributing to my ultimate goals. I love being outside and active, often, even when it’s cold in Colorado. I love the necessity of good hydration and adequate nutrition. I love working hard: Asking that extra little bit of my muscles when they’re burning and shaking, putting mind over matter. I love the feeling of surprising explosive power and stretch reaction. I can do that on my own and enjoy the heck out of it. But I forget how much better it is, together. Every track athlete is internally motivated. But there is just something special about celebrating other peoples’ success alongside your own. The X factor of fabulous training partners isn’t something I imagined I would find again. The right people, who yell strength into your muscles when the barbell suddenly gets heavier. Who can’t help but whoop with you at that tiny javelin dot that you made rocket away. Who join in on celebration dances, the more ridiculous the better.

This might all sound really sappy. But I’ve been around a long time, and the magic of good training partners is a big deal. It probably means more to me than it does to them too, and that’s okay. I also realize that I am now the Mike Hazle in the Chula Vista equation: The perhaps wise, sometimes ridiculous, older athlete. I don’t live there anymore, but training there for ten years now makes it feel like mine, and if I can periodically drop in and meld back into that great community, I can’t wait to contribute again in some way.

Have you had great training partners? Did you tell them how much you appreciated their role in your career? You should.

Next week: How to be a good training partner! I’ll flip the script of this blog. More practical advice than just gushing and reminiscing. 😊

Competition Mentality Q&A

I am blown away by this number of questions! Thank you so much. Questions are bolded so if you asked one, you can easily scroll and find it. As always, feel free to inquire more in the comments!

“How do you approach a big meet or ‘need to throw further’ 3rd throw to get into a finals of a competition?”

               See my main blog for the answer to Part A! I like the “need to throw further” 3rd throw part of this question. It’s a bit of a Hail Mary, right? You’re desperate. I hate that I have felt this way at so many major championships, but I have overcome the feeling before!

               Thinking about what has gone wrong on throws 1 and 2 isn’t the move. Concentrate on what you came into the competition focused on technically, and do that. I always find that really locking in my posture and core before one of these last-ditch attempts is really important. Relax your upper body and make your legs fire! It’s so easy to approach a third throw like this with a “relax and let it happen” attitude, and I find that that just sends the tip of the javelin straight up into the air, because I’ve forgotten about my legs.

A) Breathe. But not in a relaxed way necessarily, in an empowering, positive-in-negative-out kind of way.

B) Do a little bit of core. Some push-ups maybe. A handstand. Lock in the source of your power!

C) Focus on the cues you came into the day focused on.

D) Lead with your legs.

Breathe!

Breathe!

“What helps you the most to stay out of your own head before a meet?”

               Sleep in if I can, go for a walk and listen to something completely unrelated to javelin, watch funny shows or movies, and nap. I’m pretty solitary on meet day. I know some people like to talk to others to distract themselves but I need to be mostly horizontal to feel like I’m saving up my energy. Once it’s time to get ready to head to the track, though, I’m fine with focusing on the job at hand. I love the process of packing my bag with everything I know I’ll need: Water bottle, snacks, shoes and extra spikes, foam roller, extra clothes, bib number and safety pins. It calms me to know I’m prepared. And I pack and start getting ready fairly early so I know I’ll have time to remember everything.

“How not to be nervous when people are watching; parents and teammates.”

               See my previous blog for another touch on this! I used to be so nervous about crowds, too, until I realized that they were only there because they believed in me. A crowd really wants everyone to succeed. They want to see a fantastic competition, even if they’re just a bleachers section full of parents! So recognize their attention for what it is: Encouragement. Be honest with yourself that there is some tiny part of you that wants to show off all of the hard work that you’ve done in sport, and tap into that to give the crowd a show. They’re there because they want to witness something fantastic. Don’t you want that for yourself, too? Everyone is on the same page. I found that this mental shift was fairly slight for me (attention is still being directed your way, negative or positive, in front of a crowd), but so huge for my mentality. It takes practice to soak up that energy as a positive, but you can do it!

“How to stay calm all day so you don’t burn out but ramp up the energy come competition time.”

               I have come to love walks. It’s probably all due to my Maddie Lion! They truly calm me, and I actually started that practice just after my left shoulder surgery at the end of 2015, about 6 months before we got Madeline. I was training for her and I didn’t even know it! I take some sort of walk every competition day now, limited to about 20 minutes. Bonus if I’m listening to some sort of podcast that makes me laugh or think about something unrelated to what will happen later in the day. Sometimes after the walk I’ll do a tiny bit of balance work.

               After that, getting horizontal, not drinking too much coffee too early in the day, watching shows or movies that are easy on the brain, and napping keep me calm. I like to set a time for myself that it’s okay to start getting excited, and like I said above, that’s usually when I start getting ready for the competition itself. If you know subconsciously that you’re reserving excitement for that specific time, hopefully your body will cooperate and relax all day, then build when you say it’s okay!

               Starting to get ready to leave is actually phase one of excitement. Phase two is the bus. Phase three is the warm-up area, and phase four is walking into the stadium itself. Practice this in training. Think about cues in your car on the way to training, but keep the music calm. Crank the tunes during general warm-up or just allow yourself to be a little more excitable (laughing with teammates, etc.). Then as you approach the ring/runway/what have you, don whatever your game face is.

A game face.

A game face.

“How do you keep your head clear during competition? I get unfocused and in my own head.”

               Print out photos of things that make you happy (see below for two that make my heart explode) or motivate you. Physically write your cues on a sheet of paper or index cards to have with you during the competition to keep you focused. Practice your strategy for the meet in training or just at home in your own mind (Do you want to open the competition with a super far first throw? What will you do on attempt four to start finals strong? Break the meet down into scenarios and operate within those as you’ve thought through them.).

               I do a couple really simple things to shake myself back into the moment during a competition if I start to feel tired or unfocused (that sometimes happens when competing jet-lagged!). The first is to simply drink water. I always have a water bottle with me, and the plain act of sipping water from my own sticker-riddled Nalgene water vessel snaps me back into every day life and a headspace that I’m used to occupying. The second is to remove myself from the competition area a bit! Get away from semi-awkward smiles or chit-chat if you need to and do some stretching or breathing or a stride. Just take a second.

Just doing some levitation off by myself on a very cold Drake Relays day!

Just doing some levitation off by myself on a very cold Drake Relays day!

               Another thing you might try is some kind of meditation. It doesn’t have to be long or intense or involve anything more than just sitting quietly and breathing for five or ten minutes. Controlling your own need to fidget or move or be stimulated helps retain focus in competition.

“How do you overcome your own thoughts before practices and competition? I’ve always struggled with being very negative and never being happy with my performances and it’s definitely affected my throws during meets since I’m constantly beating myself down.”

               Try hyper-focusing on very few objective technical cues. You should do this in practice as well! If you have maybe two (maybe even just one) physical things that you’re attempting to accomplish in a competition and those are your absolute only goals, it’s very easy to tell if you succeeded or not! Then, if you don’t accomplish those goals, it’s okay to be frustrated for a bit. You’re nervous and upset because you care about how you’re doing, but you also need to learn how to channel that negative energy into positive work and then results. Take your next competition and establish two technical components that you must execute in order to consider the day successful. If you do those two things, you’ve won. For this meet, it does not matter ONE BIT if you throw far or not. It only matters if you hit your positions. I bet both will happen.

               My sophomore year of college, I had this terrible practice at which I hit myself in the back of the head with the javelin like eight times. It was supposed to be a really chill day with not a lot of effort, but I can feel my tears of embarrassment and frustration welling up in my memory! The next day was a competition day, and I threw a 4-meter PR. Something about feeling like I had hit rock bottom (which was an over-reaction) and then getting a little angry in a competition made me relax.

“Was it hard to adjust to ‘big meets’ and keep a solid mindset? How did you learn?”

               Um, yeah. I think my track record (ha!) at really big meets speaks for itself as far as my very slow learning curve and performing when it counts. See Part 1 of this series for some stories on that!

               I’ve learned by trying to figure out how to make the big meets normal for me. I’m actually really excited as we approach Tokyo 2020, because I’m hoping to make the experience much more like the three-week training trips I go on to Germany and Europe in general sometimes than a big, grandiose Olympic Games. That’s normal for me (my own AirBnB, Russ along, paddle-boarding at night in the city). Something as simple as a walk (again, see Part 1) keeps a big competition day consistent with a not-as-big competition day.

SUP?

SUP?

               After ACL surgery, I spent a long time in my re-introduction to international competition trying to remain really calm. I was super nervous to compete again because throwing the javelin at a high level of intensity in one slightly wrong position is how I hurt my knee. So to return to that arena was scary. I needed to practice managing my energy and nervousness going into meets. After a while though, I just felt tired heading into the stadium. My psyche adjusted to the regular competition goings-on as I got further away from my injury and I needed to ramp it up again, but in normal ways. So I started watching the YouTube video that always gets me fired up, listening to high-energy songs, and drinking more coffee before getting on the bus and during my warm-up routine. Keeping things normal is important, but sometimes the slightest jolt in that normal routine creates magic as well (for the third time, read Part 1).

               I’ve struggled with jet lag at Diamond League events, comparing myself to others during the warm-up process, and worrying that I’ll have to pee in the middle of the event. But when it comes down to it, whether I’m on American soil or in the Bird’s Nest, the constant is that I’m throwing the javelin. Recognizing that that can be the same all over the world is powerful.

“What’s your diet look like pre and post meet?”

               I eat pretty darn simply on meet days! The night before, I usually have some kind of sweet. Something small. And the dinner that precedes that is typically some sort of red meat and vegetables. Breakfast day-of is eggs, maybe some oatmeal and banana if it’s available, and some coffee because that’s a normal thing. Sometimes orange juice. For lunch I like a sandwich. I’m a big fan of a Jimmy John’s Italian sub. Maybe an Arnold Palmer. Water all day in sips, and more coffee before or on the bus. I often compete in the late afternoon or evening so eating before a competition is sometimes the hardest part! If it’s late enough that a bar won’t cut it before competition time, I might eat another half a sandwich. Then, a protein bar of some kind (Zone bars and Balance bars are great, but I’ve been loving Larabars recently as well), some Propel usually, and fruit snacks for right before/during the meet! Then dinner, whatever it may be, as soon as possible post-competition. Great question!

“I often feel guilty with rest, I would love to hear you talk about this.”

               Rest is best! I love it love it. Read my Recovery blog!

               As far as rest on competition days, I used to do too much of it. I would preserve ALL of my energy for meet time, but then find it really difficult to get up and go when I needed to, especially overseas. Now, I eat breakfast, usually take a walk from there (20 minutes or so, listening to something completely unrelated to javelin), then do a little bit of balance and core work before going to lie down for the rest of the day before competition! My favorite is to get my lunch on the walk and keep it in a hotel mini-fridge if available so I don’t have to leave my room again until it’s time to hit the track! I used to just lay down all day, and my back would hurt and it would take so much more effort to warm up once I started. Lethargy. Now, keeping that bit of movement isolated to the morning and then resting all midday keeps me alert but relaxed as well. A bonus competition-day nap is my favorite!

               Allowing yourself to rest on meet day lets your mind and body prepare for putting everything into competition. It’s this slow burn, like the question above about ramping up energy when it’s actually time rather than burning out with excitement during the day. The important work to your performance that day has already been done! Any fidgeting, extra mobility work, or drills you might do on meet day a) should have already been done and b) probably will just make you tired. Your coach has prepared you for competition in a specific way, and messing with your central nervous system with extra work the day of a meet doesn’t help that process!

“I am interested as a jav girl about the 80%=PRs. How do u stay 80% at big meets?”

               I’m not completely familiar with this concept! It’s not something I’m conscious of during a meet so I’m not totally sure how to answer, but here we go.

               If I were to apply a “stay at 80% effort” mentality to competition, I would imagine that would mean I’d lead with my legs and try to keep my upper body relaxed. That is what I try to do anyway! Attempting to throw really far with not all of your effort is going to be really difficult. One of the worst feelings ever is walking away from a runway with the idea that you haven’t put everything you’ve got into the competition. People do that at the biggest meets in the world. They go in thinking, “Stay relaxed, just easyfar out there in qualifying and go home to prepare for finals.” Then before you know it, your third attempt is here and so far you’ve performed worse than the rest of the season. (I’m speaking from experience, guys.) Six throws (three in a qualifying situation) feels like a lot, but it can go by SO quickly. Put everything you’ve got into attempt number 1, then relax the upper body more and more from there (keep the legs turning over!).

               If you’re firing on all leg cylinders, but your upper body is relaxed, hopefully that equals the 80% effort you’re talking about. But trying to actually throw at 80% mentally means to me that you’ll be hesitant at release, and likely that means you lose the tip and just try to poke the javelin out there last-minute without proper sequencing. That’s what happens to me when I try to back off! There is a recklessness to this javelin throw, but leading it with your legs means that it happens in the right order. I hope this helps!

Please enjoy this collage of times I’ve tried to relax too much and been frustrated and baffled by the result.

“How do you keep your head in the right place if in a competition and it’s going bad?”

               All you can do is stick to your technical goals! Again, I try to remove myself a bit from the rest of the competition and put my head back on straight. I do some leg swings or just lay there face up, looking at the beautiful blue sky and reassuring myself that regardless of how it’s going right now, this is fun and I am awesome. I have, in the past, been pretty great at clutch sixth-round victory throws! And almost every time, this little reassurance moment off by myself in the grass or on a secluded spot of track surface is the precursor to that last-minute performance.

“How do you stay out of your own head after a bad meet or bad week of practice.”

               It is absolutely okay to sulk a little bit. Staying relentlessly positive is exhausting and not real! I’ve had extreme over-reaction moments when practice has gone terribly, I’m training super hard in an effort to just improve on SOMEthing, and then my back spasms and I collapse into a dramatic mess of tears. Once, I basically crawled to Russ’s room in Chula Vista, sobbing. I can be a disaster. But in short spurts! Then, pull yourself up, recognize little tiny victories every day, and move forward.

               Slumps suck. It’s true. And they can be due just to training, or injury, or stuff going on in your life that has nothing to do with javelin. In any case, and whatever is throwing you off your game, make a plan to fix it. Figure out exactly what’s wrong with some self-reflection. Have you just been continuing to train through back pain, hoping it will go away? Talk to a physical therapist and develop a plan, then prepare to put the hard work in to make it better. Confused about technique? Request more film-watching sessions with your coach, or do that on your own (YouTube started my freshman year of college and was finally mainstream when I graduated! You have SO many resources for visual learning.). Having a hard time focusing on training because something else is bothering you? Buckle down and finish that paper, break out of your toxic relationship, or volunteer somewhere to feel better. Deal with stress in a healthy way so that it doesn’t leak into your athletic performance. Bottom line, you’re in control of your life. Change what isn’t serving you.

               One bad meet? No problem. I threw 55 meters in Italy last summer, by FAR my worst meet of the season. It was my last competition before the Diamond League Final: The Most Important Competition For Me Of The Year. I was a little freaked out. Barbora and I had lunch in Prague just after the Italy meet, and I told her, embarrassed, about my showing in Rovereto. She shrugged and said, “You must have one.” Oh! One meet does not the athlete make. My worries instantly dissipated and I focused on the future, then threw well. I know it’s hard to shake it off, but practice it! One bad throw does not a practice make either. Get better at moving on from bad technique in the day-to-day, and that will make it easier to focus on a good next performance.

“What has been/is your mindset competing against people with much bigger PRs than you?”

               “Why not me?” It took me a long time to get there, though, especially after knee surgery. Watch this video for a little touch on that.

               One of the coolest things about traveling the world throwing the javelin and meeting women from everywhere who do exactly that is becoming their friends. Once you know them and know that they also have hobbies and significant others and dogs and lives outside of the stadium, they (and their PRs) get less scary. You can make that shift in your own mind as well. Everyone is just a person. Everyone has amazing abilities, including you.

               Also, I WOULD LOVE TO PR. I’m proud of my personal best, but it feels like I threw it at a time that I didn’t necessarily understand quite what I was doing yet, and that was NINE YEARS AGO. It’s comparable to many women’s PRs around the world, but as the world gets better at javelin, my personal best gets less impressive. These days, it drives me more than ever to hone in on the technique that I know will get me there. My best is what I’m thinking about in competition, not other peoples’. I’m fully aware that they’ve thrown further than me, but I believe I’ll catch them. Focus on what you can control, not other people. You have nothing to do with their results. See my previous blog for more information on how to think about PRs!

One of my favorite practices ever as far as mentality goes. Birmingham, 2017.

One of my favorite practices ever as far as mentality goes. Birmingham, 2017.

“How to stay calm when one of your competitors just threw farther than you.”

               When I’m on my game, this fires me up like nothing else. I love the charge it gives me! If this happens in a weird part of the rotation of athletes, like I’m not the next person up, I try to replay that moment over and over in my head until it’s my turn, then focus hard on relaxing my right arm, great posture, and aggressive feet. Once again, you can’t just hope for far throws when the pressure is on, you must rely on your training. Focusing on technique lets you channel the adrenaline you feel in knowing someone passed you into making the javelin fly! It’s okay to let someone passing you create energy within you, as long as you remain locked into HOW you will put that energy into the javelin. That focus should keep you calm.

               Like I’ve mentioned, you can imitate responding to this in practice with scenarios! Ask your coach to come up with specific instances that might happen in a meet, have him or her tell them to you throughout training, and see how you respond. Competition is FUN, but sometimes we have to teach ourselves how to respond appropriately to challenges (channeling them into good performance rather than letting them lock us up).

“What do you go back to after missing the point on your first two competition throws?”

               Legs! Legs legs legs. The feet must get down quickly in order to control the tip of the javelin. Dana and I talk about this a little in our most recent Javelin Chat! If I’m nervous and forgetting about how I should be using my legs, that’s when I miss the point of the javelin and put no power into the implement. Keep the legs firing, stable and out in front of you, leading the throw! Patience with the upper body translates to stretch reflex, catching the javelin in the correct position, and much more arm speed and energy into the implement. Legs.

Competition Mentality

I know that outdoor season has now begun for many collegiate programs in the U.S., so I wanted to touch on the mentality of an athlete going into competition as I know it! Also Lara Boman of University of South Dakota suggested this topic, and she was right. 😊

I want to be totally straightforward and tell you that I am not yet the master of this art. My sophomore year of college, I absolutely wet the bed at NCAA Championships. All of the end of sophomore year actually was a total disaster. I never won NCAA Championships. Every. Single. Major. Championship of my career so far (save one) has been incredibly disappointing, but we’ll get into the successful one and how my brain was different in a bit. Not until 2018 did I feel like I truly performed when I was supposed to, and a new, happier, more relaxed training and coaching situation is a huge enormous reason why.

The only differences between training and competition are the uniform, venue and the number of people watching! The implement weighs the same. You’re competing with the same teammates if you’re in a team sport. The play book doesn’t suddenly change. You are usually wearing the same shoes. You might do your hair differently or drink a little extra coffee before heading to the stadium, but you’re focused on executing the same positions that you’ve practiced over and over and over again. The X factor in a competition that I used to get hung up on is the fact that people are watching. Expecting. But once I figured out that those spectators weren’t waiting for me to fail, but instead were there for the same reason I was (to experience something amazing), their attention instantly turned positive.

There are other X factors. Maybe your own expectations are the ones that get you all nervous. Perhaps there’s that one competitor that always just edges you, and it drives you crazy. You could be hoping to perform well enough that you get to travel with your team for the next weekend. All completely valid worries, and all things you can practice overcoming.

How to Approach a Big Competition Mentally

Keep everything as normal as possible. There is so much that goes on around big competitions that elevates you anyway. You don’t need to do anything extra at the last minute. You are enough!

So many times, I have overthought and overstimulated myself going into an important meet. Some of my very, very best performances have come when I’m jarred out of my own head by something unexpected, and forced to just rely on the tools I have. At NCAAs in 2008 I was SO nervous that I just barely made the final, and then ended up 5th even though I led not only the collegiate system, but the country. In 2009, I tried SO hard in the qualifying round of World Championships in Berlin and put so much pressure on my first professional Team USA performance that I only threw 52 meters. My 2011 season was absolutely riddled with sub-par results from a crippling lack of confidence. That terrible season had some other causation, but the mind can be very powerful in both directions.

In 2008 at Big Ten Championships, I fell hard on one of my last warm-up attempts. I sprained my left wrist in the process, plus I was pretty darn embarrassed. I was not leading the Big Ten at the time, Ruby was, so I had been super serious and too focused during my warm-up process and in my whole approach to the meet. After I fell, all I could think about was how much my wrist hurt and all I could focus on was the careful and deliberate placement of my feet so that I wouldn’t fall. Turns out, that careful focus meant I got my left down quickly, and that plus adrenaline (and great preparation by Coach Zuyderwyk) meant I threw 61.56m, the Olympic A standard. I just needed something to shake me loose.

I missed the bus to the track at USATF National Championships in 2010. I caught a ride to Drake Stadium with some strangers I met in the parking lot who had also missed the shuttle bus. Kurt and Sylvia came to watch me throw after we scored a sweet parking spot. That slight change in plans and thinking on the fly meant I was just happy to be there that day! I stayed completely relaxed and broke the American Record.

Your body already knows that you are approaching a big meet when it’s coming. Drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, and if you need to visualize throws, keep it very simple. Stick to the cues you’ve used in practice recently that have worked rather than thinking up something new before the big show. Trust yourself, your coach and your process. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to perform on big stages, and messed it up many times. I’ve just been lucky a few times to have things happen that get me out of my own head and let fun performances happen.

There are two times I feel I approached competitions correctly and on purpose from a mental standpoint: World Championships in 2015 and the Zurich Diamond League Final in 2018.

Russ and I were both on the World Championships team in 2015. We were roommates at training camp in Tokyo and got to go on sushi dates and tourism adventures and practice together like normal. We were roommates in Beijing as well, where we were completely at ease with each other, like every training day of my life. I was in the middle of my MBA program, and took an academic final the day between the qualifying and finals rounds. Before qualifying, we were able to watch funny shows and play cards together in our own space. Things were so much more normal than they ever had been or have been since at that Worlds, and I ended up 8th, the best an American has been for a long long time.

After months of a new training program, new technique, and a season of fabulous European experiences in 2018, I spent four days alone in Prague before traveling to Zurich for the Diamond League final. I love being alone actually (to an extent), and I simply drank water, slept, read books, trained, and visualized my perfect javelin throw at that point. I didn’t let myself think about it ALL day. I didn’t have access to the internet where I was staying, which was perfect. I hibernated and focused on my goals, but also just chilled, like normal. Arriving in Zurich meant reuniting with my long-time friend and short-time coach, Dana. This was the first time a coach had accompanied me to a Diamond League Final. Her companionship, humor, and just plain NORMAL presence in my life was the perfect recipe for success. We joked around throughout my warm-up process, I stayed loose, and then I got third and threw further than I ever have before in Europe.

What do you normally do? How can you combine your regular life and optimal performances? Maybe you have this experience too: You’re at practice, maybe you don’t feel great physically (you’re tired, you didn’t sleep well, you have a lot to do later, etc.), so mentally you know just to focus on technique that day. You’re relaxed because you’re tired and not expecting a whole lot, and then a throw or component of technique surprises and thrills you early in the training session! I absolutely love that. So you try harder, and it falls apart. That’s the lesson. The other lesson is not to panic. You can get it back!

Tools to Hone Mental Toughness

Since it is darn early in the outdoor season, you still have time to build mental tools for the end of the year when you want your best performances to come! Here are some ideas for specific problems that you might feel hold you back in competition.

Worrying about Spectators

               I did this a lot. I saw their attention as pressure. It’s not. It’s encouragement.

               A fix: Practice pretending that there are spectators! Invite people to practice who aren’t usually at practice. Even have them heckle you if you think it’ll help! Give yourself a scenario that involves visualizing a giant stadium and lots of noise, or a super intimate venue with people close to the runway if that’s what’s intimidating. Exercise your mind so you’re practicing putting up with that attention until it’s second nature.

TrueSport.jpg

Your Own Demons

               Maybe you have a hard time leaving your past failures there. It might haunt you that you didn’t throw far enough that one time, or multiple times! I’ve been there.

               A fix: Change something. It could be as simple as your breakfast routine, or some positive self-talk right when you wake up in the morning. Let yourself believe that that simple shift in your habits will permeate your life and lift you to success when you want it. One of mine is extra recovery and rolling-out stuff. Mobility work makes me feel fluid and relaxed and prepared, so keeping that habit going at big, important competitions reinforces that feeling, and success follows.

Getting Really Serious

               I watched other people get their game faces on and be celebrated for it, so I thought I needed to do that, too. Maybe that’s you (the serious person), but it’s not me. I need to relax and have a great time to throw far.

               A fix: Funny shows, hilarious podcasts on the bus to the competition, a book you love (but can put down in order to sleep haha). Bring a relaxed attitude to practice and then carry that over to competition! In 2015 (my first season after ACL surgery and without my knee brace), I knew I would be an absolute nervous wreck, so my former sports psychologist suggested I bring photos with me that made me really happy. I printed a bunch of pictures of Russ (this was pre-Madeline) that make me laugh, and they were perfect to flip through between throws to keep me relaxed.

A Particular Foe Vexes You

               There’s just that one person that either gets under your skin or seems to find some little extra gear to clip you at the end, repeatedly. It feels unfair and out of your control!

               A fix: Visualize your victory over this particular competitor in practice. Come up with detailed scenarios involving that one person that you can overcome in training, and lean on that practiced confidence in competition. “Sally is ahead of you by 15cm going into the fifth round. You haven’t executed X cue so far. Go.” “You improved by 20cm, but she passed you again by half a meter. Last chance.” Reinforce your technical cues within that framework instead of just relying on emotional energy (you can do both).

You Want to PR

               I GET IT. Unfortunately we can’t force these things. Focusing on distance alone tightens me up!

               A fix: Watch video of your PR if you have it. Identify the technical things that you did correctly. Remember in detail what happened and how you felt that day. What other things in life cause you to feel the same ways? What kinds of emotions run through you and how do you channel them when you throw far? Try to do things that illicit those emotions and that energy on the days of your competition. Pinpointing the technical stuff that went well allows you to focus on an actual technical goal in the midst of a meet instead of getting caught up in hoping for numbers. Then when everything comes together it’ll happen! I believe!!!!

Calm, positive, focused confidence. Practice it! Photo by  Jenny Mann  and  Above Ground Level Studios .

Calm, positive, focused confidence. Practice it! Photo by Jenny Mann and Above Ground Level Studios.

This has been blog one of this week, and both will cover your mindset going into competition. Blog two on the same subject will be a simple Q&A from Instagram questions I’ve gotten! So submit those or drop a comment below if there’s something you’re wondering about after reading above. Thanks!

How to Have Hard Conversations

Maybe you’re breaking up with a significant other. Perhaps you need to establish some kind of better boundaries for a person’s role in your life. You could be letting college coaches who have recruited you down easy or be asking them for things you want. Maybe your athlete’s grades are slipping and you need to confront them with hard realities. Possibly, you just need to say something difficult to somebody so that you can move on. I’ve had some weird practice at having hard conversations, and I want to tell you what I’ve learned.

We were actually laughing a lot together this day, but our awkward faces feel appropriate for this blog!

We were actually laughing a lot together this day, but our awkward faces feel appropriate for this blog!

Here are four steps to take if you’re facing a challenging interpersonal interaction. As an introvert, I actually get a lot of satisfaction out of these conversations, because they’re genuine and raw and (hopefully) actually accomplish something. It took me a long time, though, to recognize how much relief ripping the proverbial bandaid off brings: Just get on with talking to the person you need to talk to.

1.       Recognize the actual problem.

               Take your time to figure out why you’re really upset. Talk to your people.

What in particular is bothering you about your situation? Who knows you best that you can discuss your feelings with to sort them out? How long do you need to not only do that, but to take hold of your emotions so that you can exchange ideas in a respectful manner?

For five years, I threw javelins mostly by myself here in Colorado Springs. Just me and my music at USAFA, focusing on and loving my job. When I trained at the Olympic Training Center for those five years, an individual was very often there observing and making conversation throughout my practices.

When Dana became my coach, I was thrilled and loved having her excellent eye at javelin throwing sessions! She is my good friend so we laugh a lot, too! But suddenly I had another human at every single practice I had, no matter which physical location I was at. As an introvert, I started to go insane. I had lost my focused alone time, but it wasn’t until I snapped at the individual at the OTC that I realized what the problem actually was. I love my job and I WANT to focus on it, but I wasn’t forced to truly figure out why I was so bothered until I finally lost my temper. It wasn’t that I didn’t like this person necessarily, it was just that I craved time to myself during every training week, and I needed to calm down, talk to Russ, and express my need for boundaries respectfully.

Figure out your needs, and then be confident in them! Photo by:  Aaron Anderson .

Figure out your needs, and then be confident in them! Photo by: Aaron Anderson.

2.       Prepare.

What you’re going to say and why.

How will you present your point of view to another human in a respectful manner? How can you ensure that you don’t get riled up by a counterpoint they might make? Knowing what you want to say and knowing what you need to say are two different things sometimes. Think about what you actually NEED to get out of the conversation to be satisfied. It’s basically a negotiation: What are your minimum requirements for success? Do you have solutions or just complaints? What might the other person’s point of view be? How will that change (or not change) the way you think about your needs? Knowing what you’ll say is important, but knowing WHY you need to say those things is even more important. How will this conversation, ideally, make your life better moving forward? Understanding your why will help you be firm in your requests, and if your why is rooted in you getting better, whoever you’re talking to will understand that more than just, “because I said so,” or “because that’s just how it’s gonna be.”

The day after my emotional reaction, I apologized to this person, said that I recognized the individual’s interest in my training as support and enthusiasm and was grateful for that, but that I needed time to myself on specific days to get everything out of training that I wanted to. It was well-received because I took the time to think about what I know about this person and how to package my important points in a difficult conversation with them, plus what my ideal outcome was.

Prepare for disappointment.

Sometimes, because we’re human and we have egos, among other reasons, a conversation won’t have the outcome you think you need. If you’re aware of that possibility, recognize that even saying the things you need to say without any kind of acknowledgement or apology from the other side can be therapeutic.

I’m not a bitter person. But I believe that anyone can develop bitterness if they don’t take the initiative to at least say what’s on their mind to whoever they need to confront. I’ve waited too long to have two different difficult conversations that I knew wouldn’t have great outcomes for me. It’s not about belittling another person or getting your rage out, it’s about clearing your own head in order to move forward. You can still be respectful. You can call it taking the high road if you want. Not getting mad that you’re not getting your way, but still saying what you need to say, is really powerful. Don’t let someone else’s stubbornness trick you into bearing a burden that should be shared.

3.       Be courteous.

Meet on neutral ground.

Especially if you know that you’re the one with the biggest problem in the relationship, request to meet in a place that’s either neutral or the other person’s “territory.” If you’ve done something to indicate that you have a problem or the other person might feel blindsided, it can be respectful to give them home field advantage.

Obviously a private, quiet location is important in order to not make your conversation other peoples’ eavesdrop fodder and therefore more stressful. Stick to the points you’ve thought of before and remember your whys in order to not get emotional within the conversation. Let the other person finish sentences. Keep your voice down and calm.

Listen. Don’t gossip.

Allow it to be a conversation, not a monologue. Recognize that any anger coming from the other party might just be surprise and not genuine emotion. You’re the one who has prepared for this, not them necessarily, so be understanding and not reactionary. Take your time responding to statements if you need to to stay calm. Again, stick to your points, but hear the other side and respond to it respectfully as well.

Once you have a conversation, or while you’re preparing for it, keep your sounding boards to a minimum. Don’t solicit every opinion you can on your interpersonal issues. That’s rude.

4.       Move on.

If all goes as you need it to, move on. You’ve had the difficult conversation for a reason, and if you prepare well enough for it, take your time to cover all your points, and are respectful and productive enough together to find a solution, move forward. Again, don’t gossip. Give life some time after a difficult conversation to equilibrate again, and if you still haven’t solved the issue or something is still wrong, go back to step 1. Either the conversation worked or it didn’t, so be mature and either move on or go back to the drawing board. I could do better at this. Ripping the bandaid off should be easier the second time around, but it’s not worse, it’s just in a slightly different area.

Since I mentioned preparing for disappointment, I’ll mention this: I had a difficult conversation with someone once that I knew would likely not result in an apology or admission of responsibility of any kind, so I was prepared for that outcome, and felt a lot better just by saying my peace. The conversation was over the phone, and when I saw this person again in person a few years later, they seemed not to think it was weird to try jumping back into a chummy interaction with me. I really do think that difficult conversations can be effective over the phone, but clearly there are cases when in-person clarification is necessary, and if you find yourself surprised that phone convos don’t carry over to real life, be prepared to either have another hard talk, or deal with the discomfort of that inconsistency in whatever way you can. It’s tough when you think you’ve dealt with a problem only to have it show up again later, but that’s just more opportunity to practice being a darn adult. (Which no one does perfectly.)

This is  Katharina  having a “difficult” conversation with me on neutral ground (next to the runway in Lausanne) about how I lost the tip AGAIN, hahaha. I’ll sure miss this gem this season (the 2015 World Champion retired in 2018).

This is Katharina having a “difficult” conversation with me on neutral ground (next to the runway in Lausanne) about how I lost the tip AGAIN, hahaha. I’ll sure miss this gem this season (the 2015 World Champion retired in 2018).

Unfortunately there are situations across all walks of life in which difficult conversations are necessary! I hope I’ve helped you be braver in navigating them by sharing my experiences and advice. Comments and questions always welcome!

The Coach/Athlete Dynamic

I was going to approach this from an “as you move through life, your needs as an athlete change” standpoint, but as I outlined and freewrote and thought about it, there are just a few really important things to take care of on either side of the coach/athlete interaction. It’s a dynamic that can be just fantastic, but it also has the potential to be stressful if the two parties are not on the same page.

I’ve been really lucky to have mostly excellent coaches throughout my entire athletic career, across all sports that I’ve played, at all ages. There have been a few that taught me what to avoid though, and in some instances I really wish that I’d learned those lessons before I had to do it the hard way. A really good follow-up to this blog is going to be one on how to have difficult conversations, I think!

Mr. Steve Hook, my basketball coach all four years of high school (JV and then we both got promoted to Varsity). His daughter was a senior my freshman year, and watching him treat everyone fairly even with his daughter on the team was a really cool lesson in professionalism. Mr. Hook was the first coach who I felt like really noticed my hard work, and encouraged it in a way that just fed my drive to get better.

Mr. Steve Hook, my basketball coach all four years of high school (JV and then we both got promoted to Varsity). His daughter was a senior my freshman year, and watching him treat everyone fairly even with his daughter on the team was a really cool lesson in professionalism. Mr. Hook was the first coach who I felt like really noticed my hard work, and encouraged it in a way that just fed my drive to get better.

Mr. Ron Wargo, my high school swimming coach of four years and AP English teacher senior year. A motivating, tough coach who pushed us exactly right and made us laugh when we hurt a lot from his workouts. He was the special needs teacher at Skyview and therefore the team was really inclusive and so fun as a result. RIP to a great man.

Mr. Ron Wargo, my high school swimming coach of four years and AP English teacher senior year. A motivating, tough coach who pushed us exactly right and made us laugh when we hurt a lot from his workouts. He was the special needs teacher at Skyview and therefore the team was really inclusive and so fun as a result. RIP to a great man.

As you move through your life as an athlete, you become more autonomous, right? When you’re a little kid, you’re just having fun and getting exposed to sport. In middle school, you might be acquiring more expertise and developing technique in your given favorite athletic ability. Once you hit high school, you’re changing a lot as a person and an athlete (ohhhh, gangly basketball days. I blame growth spurts for so many missed layups.), and dealing with a lot of external pressure you didn’t see coming. A coach is just trying to direct angst toward results, and do his or her best to guide you into a successful future. College continues to throw change at you, but suddenly you’re an “adult.” So now you get to provide a bit more feedback to your coach on your athletic journey, because maybe you’ve acquired some knowhow by now! But you’re still such a block of clay to be molded, so also fully commit to the program you’ve committed to and trust that coach. Then, if you continue on to post-collegiate athletics, you’re kind of the boss??? And learning how to navigate relationships you thought you understood when you’re not sure where the power lies gets even more weird. That’s when figuring out how to have difficult conversations is paramount.

So, as you read this short list, think about where you’re at in your athletic journey. Should you feel like you are the boss yet? Be honest with yourself. Do you have more to learn? Are you patient enough (with yourself and your coach and the process you’re going through together)?

These are things that both of you need to do:

1.       Believe in your abilities (as an athlete).

Seems obvious. Why would you be working together at all if either one of you had doubts that you could succeed? But if both of you aren’t all-in in your beliefs that you can accomplish goals, one of you is wasting the others’ time. There will be moments in practices when you doubt yourself for a minute, and your coach can say, “Come on, I know you can do this!” And other moments when your coach might say, “Okay, we’re done for the day, we’ll try again tomorrow,” but you know you’re on the verge of finally nailing that one position, so you want one more attempt, and it’s glorious. Without that consistent hunger to improve from both of you, you’ll have a hard time being your best.

I put the second part of this point in parentheses because I think it’s important to trust a whole person, be it athlete or coach. The best coaches I’ve ever had showed me that they were also fantastic people in one way or another and expected the same from me. Of course you can make mistakes as a human! But being held to a high standard doesn’t apply to just athletics. When I drank underage with some teammates at Purdue and got caught, Coach Zuyderwyk didn’t yell or berate me, but the disappointment was so, so palpable, and it crushed me. When you know you’re representing a good person, being a good person is the only choice you have! And that should go both ways.

Jamie Myers has told me for years that he will be thrilled to be my strength coach for as long as I am a javelin thrower, regardless of my training situation. In 2017, when it became apparent that I needed a new technical coach and to shake things up a bit, it was so fun to talk to Jamie about our plans for my future: Even though we hadn’t discussed it yet, we had the same ideas about how to move forward together with new challenges for each of us! Each of our excitement about those challenges told me that we both believed in not just me, but us as a team.

Jamie! In Sacramento in 2017. We had only worked together for 8 years at that point, ha!

Jamie! In Sacramento in 2017. We had only worked together for 8 years at that point, ha!

If you have questions about your coach’s or your athlete’s belief in what you’re doing together, ask. It’s harder having question marks floating around in your mind than knowing for sure, believe me. Which brings us to…

2.       Communicate.

So cliché. But so important.

Talk about your goals. If you as a coach/athlete team aren’t aware of what the other person is trying to get out of you, you’ll probably be frustrated. A formal exchanging of thoughts on how you think your progress is going can happen as often as you need it to, but I try to keep that kind of unloading to a weekly thing (or even less) rather than letting serious overarching analysis creep into every day of my life (that’s a heavy burden and, IMO, impossible). Daily reports are for how sore you are, what you’re thinking about technique, how you slept, and things like that. And jokes and lightheartedness.

Be open about your concerns if you have them. As a coach, maybe you’re worried about a recurring injury your athlete has had and you can work on a new approach to it together. As an athlete, perhaps you’ve always struggled with a certain technical aspect of your sport that you need help with: A good coach will search for ways to help you, even if that specific thing isn’t in his or her wheelhouse. Learn together.

Another part of the communication puzzle is timeliness. If you’re expecting to hear from your coach before a certain week (maybe you work together long-distance and are receiving your programs via email, for example) and that doesn’t happen, you’re left scrambling. That doesn’t inspire confidence. If your coach is home while you’re traveling for competition and you don’t send results updates, sure coach can look them up, but what does that silence say about your ability to express what you might have learned with the person who likely cares the most? Be accountable by communicating in a timely manner.

Talk about your interaction if you need to:

When I asked Dana to be my technical coach in the fall of 2017, she was floored. She wasn’t sure for a few months if it would work, and I wanted it to be completely her decision to step on board. When she agreed, of course I was thrilled, but I also did my best to be really honest with myself about how I should approach this new dynamic of our close-to-fifteen-year friendship. I talked to my former sports psychologist about it, and she suggested I set goals for us as coach and athlete. I had never thought about such a thing before! So I brought my journaled goals for this new chapter of our friendship to Dana’s and my first coach/athlete dinner (we have them often), and we went through them together. I knew that I needed to check my ego completely if I was going to ask my friend to teach me all new technique, and I told her that. One of my goals for us was to have a blast, and while that was probably a given, the fact that we’ve been able to change so much of how I throw, travel together, and both believe 100% in where we’re going means that it’s SO FUN to succeed as a team. The key is that we talk about all that. Often.

3.       Respect each other.

There are so many nuances to this.

Respect each other verbally.

Here again is foreshadowing for a blog on how to have hard conversations. If you both do believe wholeheartedly in what you’re doing, depending on your personalities and how they mesh, tempers may flare in times of frustration. You’re going to work together again tomorrow, so keep the yelling at each other to a minimum, please! It’s better to walk away and regroup later than to damage the future of your partnership with hurtful words.

The ability to be frustrated and either contain that (channel it into positive effort) or explain why in a rational manner is a life lesson; one that I think is perhaps the real MVP from throwing or any sport! Being in a competitive mindset, getting those rage hormones going, and then turning around and being respectful and articulate is actually super fun. Amping it up in practice sometimes is important, but if the wheels come off, that’s not your coach’s fault, and from the other side, your athlete is trying their best. No one wins the blame game. Same goes for disappointing performances. They happen and you work through them together.

Respect each other’s time.

Be on time for practice. Both of you. Be focused within that practice on the task at hand. Of course you can talk about other things, but you’re there for a reason, and focusing mostly on that reason will yield the best results. This one practice per day is not the only thing that is going on in either one of your lives, so do the work on time and efficiently, and go your separate ways happy with how much you got done.

Those magical practices when I’m done with my warm-up right when Dana arrives to watch me throw, the iHeartRadio station I chose is perfect for the day, we laugh during picking time and then every throw’s technique just builds on the last are just so, so satisfying. It’s easy to stay focused, too, because we both LOVE what’s happening and want to keep it going. It’s FUN to work hard and see results, and a good coach/athlete dynamic makes that kind of practice a natural and regular thing.

Respect each other’s intelligence.

This is more in reference to everybody leaving their egos at home than actual intelligence. The best coaches know exactly why they’re having you do certain things at different times of year, so if you have questions as an athlete about that process, asking them should be totally fine. In the same way, if you’re an athlete recovering from injury, let’s say, and are supposed to be doing x amount of rehabilitation per week but aren’t, getting defensive when a coach asks about your progress is 100% your fault. Understand that people are smarter than you give them credit for, and will be able to tell if you’re not doing your job. If you ARE doing your job, there is no reason to have an ego on either side of this process.

There’s also no reason to hide anything from your coach as an athlete: The only way you can get better is to give your coach all the information he or she needs to operate at full capacity. If you have limitations, express your concerns, and a great coach will be able to work around or help you address them.

There really is so much to say about coach and athlete interaction at every stage, and I’ve had a lot of experiences along the spectrum of negative to positive. I’m happy to answer more specific questions in the comments! These three things were just kind of the biggest that I could think of this week.

I do believe that many different kinds of people can work together effectively. I’ve had coaches with lots of different personality types and been successful in various ways with each one. Learning how each person communicates most effectively takes a bit of time, but I believe it’s possible to figure out most interpersonal interactions, and it’s another life lesson that comes from sport to be able to do so!

This is Paul Merca’s photo of me attempting to “coach” Russ at World Championships in 2015. Not everyone has the coaching, gift!! Hold on to the good ones.

This is Paul Merca’s photo of me attempting to “coach” Russ at World Championships in 2015. Not everyone has the coaching, gift!! Hold on to the good ones.

Instagram questions:

“good coach that matches personality/training style vs great coach that might not”

As above, I see a lot of value in both. Obviously, if you’re enjoying the process with a coach you get along great with, you’re probably going to be excited to go to practice and get better as a result. On the other hand, being pushed out of your comfort zone personality-wise might result in learning a ton more. My advice here would be to ask yourself what you need to reach your goals. Do you need to just enjoy the process more in order to do the work? Option A. Do you have glaring holes in your training that a more advanced/knowledgeable/”great” coach might fill, but it will be uncomfortable? Prepare your mind to endure some discomfort and dive right into Option B. It’s a very personal thing.

My subsection to almost every question like this is to have something else in your life as well. My former coach and I didn’t not get along, but it was never truly comfortable, you know? But that never bothered me because a) he taught me a lot, b) we saw some success together and c) I had other things in my life that brought me a lot of joy. A coach won’t solve all of your problems, even if you get along great with them. Be happy in life in general, and that will bolster your training, promise.

“How important is it to have a good dynamic with your coach, specifically on the college level.”

Again, I’m a firm believer that many different kinds of people can work together successfully. Even if your coach/athlete dynamic isn’t great, that doesn’t mean that your coach isn’t a good coach or that you aren’t a good athlete! I do think a good coach/athlete dynamic in college is important, and I think there are a lot of ways to improve it, you just have to put in the effort. I was really grateful for mine, but a big part of that (and I was considering this even before I got your question) is also your teammates. I had fantastic teammates at Purdue who also adored Coach Zuyderwyk, and the confidence we all talked about having in him just grew as we all agreed. If maybe your team has taken on a more negative tone and that’s influencing your opinion of your coach, try being brave enough to put a stop to that downward spiral. Try something new that your coach suggests, be open to how it helps you, and then talk to your teammates about it. Change the tide and create positivity not only in your own life, but on your team.

Super Important Stuff (Javelin Edition)

To start off, I am not a coach. I’m not your coach! I have coached. I’m pretty good at it if I do say so myself, haha, but I’ve only ever done it in short bursts or at camps. Your coach knows you best, and is aware of the problems that you have. Or maybe you’re aware of the problems that you have, and you just need to work on how to communicate your concerns to your coach in a respectful and constructive way. More on the athlete/coach dynamic next week!

That disclaimer stated, let me put another one out there: We all have different struggles. Each body works slightly differently than the other, and things that have been important for me might not be for you. I can only tell you my experience though, and maybe you’ll learn from it! I’ll tell you about the injuries I have had and the javelin lessons I’ve learned from them, and then some basic super important (in my opinion) javelin technical things.

Injuries I’ve had and the lessons they’ve taught me:

1.       Injury: L5 (lumbar/low back) stress fracture.
Lesson: Core stability/lumbar stability/thoracic mobility/rotational fluidity and strength are important.
               I’ve written about this injury before, and how rehabbing after it helped put me on the 2008 Olympic team. I used to try and get all of my flexibility from my back! I simply didn’t know any better, and honestly it can look similar for someone to be using their shoulder and engaging their core vs. getting flexibility from their lumbar spine. Simply activating those core muscles in a little bit different way than I was doing it can protect the low back. I had to learn through injury, but maybe you can learn to do lots of core stuff now!
               Your core is a cylinder. From about diaphragm height down to your hips, all the way around your middle, is a circular tank of muscles you can train to connect your feet and legs to your throwing arm and hand. Do that. Your lumbar area can rotate, but shouldn’t flex or extend too extremely. Rotational strength is crucial in the uncoiling of the javelin throw, so oblique, twisting stuff is helpful, and best if done in a nice, fluid motion like you want the javelin throw to be. Balance training really helped me after my back injury. The movement you want in your back is in the thoracic area (shoulder blades/between your shoulders). Train thoracic mobility (flexion (bending forward), extension (bending backward), and rotation (turning either direction)). Do that with a javelin in your hand or across your back.
               Train your core in ways that make sense for how you know you need to move in an optimal javelin throw, but also train your core in normal ways! There is a crazy plethora of options out there.

2.       Injury: Left Anterior Cruciate Ligament tear (in the course of blocking)
Lesson: Healthy knee movement patterns are important, but dorsiflexion, hip mobility, and glute stability are hacks!
               I had never been taught how my knees should move before I tore my ACL. I obviously didn’t do anything intentionally to put my knee in a valgus position and experience a non-contact rupture of the ligament, but I also hadn’t trained my nervous system and musculature NOT to be in that position. Try your best not to tear your ACL in order to learn this lesson, please!
               Since my bone-patella-bone, ipsilateral autograft reconstruction in 2012, I’ve been amazed at the response the body can have to smart, intense rehabilitation (and now that I’m fully healed, prehabilitation) exercises. I had no idea how important glute stability was to knee health, and perhaps the misfiring of my left glute was a piece of my injury puzzle in the first place. Keeping an eye on the dorsiflexion (toes up) of your ankles is a good idea for knee health as well. Hip mobility is huge for getting your legs into the correct positions without asking too much of your vulnerable knees.
               There are so many supporting factors to knee health that I was unaware of, and those factors can enhance your javelin throwing anyway. Train healthy knee movement patterns (good squat mechanics, proper patella tracking and mobility, VMO function), and enhance those patterns with dorsiflexion for good reaction to the ground among other things, hip mobility for dynamic and efficient crossovers, and glute stability so that your block transfers energy into that solid core you built, above.

3.       Injury: Right shoulder impingement.
Lesson: Prioritize flexibility in the shoulders (duh).
               I had a left shoulder repair surgery in 2015, but I actually had a lot of issues with my right (throwing) shoulder afterward. I think the repaired rotator cuff tendons on the left side just played tug-of-war with my right shoulder across my back throughout the healing process, and I had a lot of pain in the throwing motion as a result. I should’ve prioritized throwing shoulder flexibility throughout that surgery and recovery process, because it’s my bread and butter!! Yours too.
               We get dynamic flexibility from the actual act of throwing the javelin, in gymnastics movements, and in some lifts. But there is a TON you can do to retain that flexibility in static ways as well. Sit on the ground and reach your arms long behind you for minutes at a time. Do a bunch of supine (face up) hand and elbow planks and kill two birds with one stone (shoulder flexibility and core/glute function). Add javelin stretches in even on non-throwing days. Put your hand flat on a wall and turn your body away from it to stretch the front of your shoulder in a sort-of throwing position.
               If you’re naturally flexible like me, it can be easy to take it for granted. Keep any flexibility you have for as long as you can by being proactive about stretching. I love my nightly rolling and stretching sessions with Maddie the Dog!

She “helps” me stretch like any good pet would.

She “helps” me stretch like any good pet would.

Important Technical Stuff:

1.       Right to Left touchdown time (if you’re right-handed).

Decrease it. Get your left foot down as fast as possible after your impulse/penultimate/whatever you want to call it. For me, this means learning how to let the ground come to me, not paw down and back at the ground as I’m moving into my block, because that action just pitches my upper body forward and actually extends my left leg rather than letting it snap down and become a block leg. Driving my right knee down to the ground and turning my right ankle over also helps me get my block down faster. Forcing yourself to need the stability of your block leg (by turning over your right) means it will usually show up for you!

Whatever you need to do to figure out how to have a faster right-to-left touchdown is what you need to do. Get creative. Only focus on that cue for an entire throwing session/week/month of training. Do some sprinting accelerations and listen to the sound of your feet striking the ground in faster succession with each phase of speed. Learn how to make your feet hit the ground faster at the end of your approach.

2.       Acceleration.

What a nice segue! The point of your approach is to build speed to put into the implement to make it fly further. Therefore you must find a way to transfer that speed into said implement. That is what all of your technique is for (sequencing of body parts and positioning), but putting speed into the implement starts with accelerating down the runway.

Is your approach long, but you go the same speed the whole time? Maybe shorten it and speed up gradually. Do you have a short approach, but you sprint out of the back and are then out of control when trying to hit a block? Slow down at the back. Accelerate as you go.

You want to accelerate ALLLLL the way through the throw. I watch a lot of people (and I’m guilty of this as well and am focusing on relearning it right now) accelerate TO their block and not through the throw. Hit that block and then KEEP accelerating the rest of your body around and over it until you finally release the javelin. Block hits first, then the chest can drive through like crazy. Accelerate all body parts into the javelin!

3.       Strong posture and javelin control.

Going back to a nice core! This doesn’t mean you need a six pack to throw far. Also please see my post on controlling the position of your hand. You can accelerate nicely, then have a fast right-to-left transition, but if the javelin is pointed ninety degrees to your right, your throwing hand is by your hip, and your upper body is pitched forward, the implement will land pretty close to you.

Stand up nice and tall. You can lean back a little bit if you have that control. Do TONS of practice crossovers so that your upper body stays quiet while your legs are strong and powerful and fluid in a lateral plane. Dana likes to equate javelin throwers to icebergs: Beautiful and impressively still above the water (hips), dangerously busy and powerful and strong below.

Hold heavy stuff up behind you to train arm and hand control. Maybe play some javelin golf. Get creative to learn how to move around in explosive ways, but keep your core and arm in control of the javelin. You have to throw it right to throw it far, and that starts with holding it in the right place (tip by your eye and fairly parallel to the ground).

4.       Keep the shoulders closed as long as possible.

“Closed” means perpendicular to the foul line at the end of the runway. The javelin has rotational components, even though we run in a straight line! You want your shoulders to stay closed as long as you can keep them that way, because that means that your throwing shoulder and hand will be pointed backwards and away from the sector, and you’ll be building stretch reflex across your left hip/core/right shoulder/entire right arm for a long long time. That stretch translates to distance.

Hit your block as fast as you can, maybe by driving your right knee down to the ground like me. Driving that right knee down means your right hip will drive through, solidifying your left block leg even more than it already is. As your right hip drives through, energy is transferred to your core. Then, your left arm can start to swing open, initiating the uncoiling and sling of your right shoulder/elbow/hand, followed by the javelin soaring away from you in a gorgeous little undetectable dot.

If your shoulders open to the sector early, you shorten your pull. Keep those shoulders closed and give your entire body a chance to help you throw far. Being open with the shoulders not only decreases your distance, but likely hurts your back. Or elbow. Or pec. Or more.

5.       Keep your feet on the ground.

Seems simple, but I struggle with this sometimes, especially post-knee injury. People want to follow through so badly (or just relieve pressure from that block leg), but you get the energy you put into the javelin from applying force to the ground. Keep the block leg firmly planted and turn turn turn turn the right leg and hip for as long as you have that javelin in your hand. Watch Johannes Vetter!!

 So. Move gradually faster down the runway. Control your upper body and javelin position. Get your block down as fast as possible after your impulse. Keep those feet on the ground, and keep your shoulders closed to keep the javelin back as looooong as you can.

Talk to your coach. He or she knows you and can likely help.

Little efforts every day add up to big changes. If I skip a day of stretching my hip internal rotation lately, I’m sorry during my next training session. Neglecting core work for a few days means my back is sore after my next throwing session. If I don’t get in the pool once a week, my elbow misses the slight distraction it experiences when I pull on the water, and I don’t feel quite as fluid when I pick up the javelin again. Take the time to notice what your body needs and give it that. Journaling is a good way to pick up on both patterns that make you feel good and not so good. Pay attention to what is helpful, and do those things! Be intentional.

Dating a Fellow Athlete

Russ Winger, my husband, is the coolest. We dated for about 7 years before we got engaged, and were engaged for a year before we were married. We’ve been married almost 4.5 years. That’s 12.5 years of relationship, and 10 of them happened when we were both athletes! He retired from throwing the discus (PR 66.04m) after the 2016 Olympic Trials, has lost about 50 pounds so far, and is thrilled to be pursuing other interests. I love doing life with him!

We met at NACAC U-23 Championships in 2006, on a developing elite team, but both of us had bigger goals than that level of competition. Russ threw the shotput back then, and continued to do so until I think 2014 (overall PR 21.29m). For multiple years, he doubled at USATF National Championships and made the final in both events. He is a phenomenal athlete and even better person. The highest highs of my career all have something to do with him, including both of us medaling at PanAm Games in 2015 and going to Worlds together in the same year, when I finally cracked a major championship final and got eighth.

2006 NACAC U-23 Championships, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

2006 NACAC U-23 Championships, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

I love my relationship. I am such a huge fan of Russ, and maybe vice-versa. I realize that every relationship is different, but I want to talk about what it’s like to date a fellow athlete! Perhaps you’re wondering, or are having problems that we might have had.

I’m gonna go at this from a pros and cons perspective!

Pros

1.       Shared fitness and health values.

You’re both athletes. Regardless of what sport you do, if you have lofty goals and a good understanding that disciplined, smart training and supporting nutrition and recovery practices make you better, hopefully those lessons will translate to the rest of life! For the last approximately five years of his athletic career, Russ was consistently 300 pounds, which is pretty typical for a male thrower. In his first year of retirement, he lost 30 pounds simply by not eating as much as he had during training. In his second year, he has lost an additional 20 with diet and somewhat inconsistent exercise, and has plans to lose more. I love him so much at every weight, because regardless of training, he has always been a super active person. Losing weight just helps him be that person in a happier fashion.

I’m a somewhat bigger javelin thrower. I’ve learned through experience that a lean body does not mean far throws for me, so I operate with a little bit more of a cushion while I continue in this career. I look forward to the day, though, that meals will be a little smaller, workouts will be a little more outdoor-focused, and weight falls off of me like it has Russ (and I’m confident that it will, because it did when we got married!).

Something to keep in mind is that different athletes require different approaches to the “fitness” required for their sport. It can be difficult to adjust to a different lifestyle and stay healthy (eat like a football player but no longer play football, for example), but it’s my hope for every athlete that shifting focus to a more generally healthy lifestyle after sport is possible. Focus on goal-oriented behavior rather than doing things that made you feel good while you were an athlete. Dating an athlete means that hopefully he or she can shift that positive trait of goal-setting to other areas in life.

2.       Individualism and the ability to understand each others’ priorities.

I grew up with parents who were very much in love and had a great partnership (still do), but were also really independent people within their relationship (still are). My Dad traveled a lot, and my Mom held down the home while also pursuing her own interests and driving me to every sports practice and game. I never thought the amount of time they spent apart was weird, and loved seeing them happy to be reunited.

Dating a fellow athlete is a little like that. You care about each other and each other’s outcomes, sure, but you also have your own stuff to worry about. It’s easier not to get offended when your partner focuses on his or her own goals, because you have your own. Having time to be together and focus on that is important, too, but that’s the next section.

When Russ and I were both athletes, we could train together, and I absolutely loved that. We never had the same training programs though, even though we had the same coaches over the years, so often we would each drive to the Air Force Academy, perhaps warm up near each other, and then split up to throw. If he got done before me, he would come down and film, and vice-versa. We often lifted near each other at the Olympic Training Center, and were each others’ spotters if needed, but would always be focused on different lifts and different technique, and were probably in different phases of training. We each had different priorities, but could sort of orbit around each other in support.

2015.

2015.

Dating someone who is really good at different stuff than you is cool, too. I’ve said one million times that Russ is twice the athlete I am, and I learned a lot from him in the weight room and on the track. Learning from fellow athletes is fun, and can be even easier when that person is your significant other.

3.       Built-in shared interests.

Common ground is not only the basis of friendship, like I mentioned in my last blog, but a really great place to start a romantic relationship. As fellow athletes, shared interest is built right in!

When Russ first visited me at home in Washington at the end of summer in 2006, we went in search of waterfalls to hike, I caught my first tiny fish on the fly, and we played with my childhood dogs nonstop. Over time, we’ve learned to play bridge with my parents, and now we play with Russ’s grandparents as well. We met through Track and Field, and we continued to have that in common for a long time, but we also very quickly recognized other things that we both enjoy. Again, like I mentioned in my previous blog, if you’ve both chosen to pursue sport, you might have other stuff in common, too.

Athletics will fade. It has been so amazing to watch Russ gain momentum in other areas of his life in the past two years. He is truly my leader in that process, and I can only hope to make the transition to regular adulthood as well as he has. Having sport in common is great, but it was merely a starting point for us, and I love how our relationship grew in so many different directions from that. I would hope the same for you.

Cons

1.       Different approaches to the same thing.

Personalities differ. Learning processes aren’t the same across humans. Work ethics run the gamut. Tempers either flare and the wheels come off in moments of frustration, or people buckle down and try harder.

It can be beneficial to date someone who thinks differently than you (see the last section). Sometimes, though, those differences can result in conflict. I’ve always been really good at compartmentalizing and doing what my coach tells me to. Russ is more of an independent thinker. Once, in Germany in 2010, we had rented a car to drive to meets, and were going to drive to our last practice before that trip instead of taking the familiar train route we knew. We, of course, got lost on the way, Ty and Mike were waiting for us, and we were both upset with each other for various reasons. I had a great practice once we arrived, which made Russ even more mad at me when we talked about it later.

I’m really good at being lazy when I need to be. Rest is important, and I love it so. Russ is an incredibly active person. He gets restless and bored with an entire rest day, and there have been times that I’ve agreed to an adventure and then regretted it because I’m tired. We’ve come a very long way in our ability to clearly communicate our needs to each other, and the joy we experience on those adventures together far outweighs any lingering tiredness I might feel in practice the next day, plus he lets me sleep as much as I want in the car!

Dating someone different than you is really fun, you just have to learn how to communicate your approach or needs to that person. The only way to discover those differences is to do life together, too, and realize that it’s not the other person’s fault that you’re wired differently. After that Germany practice, I just had to explain to Russ that throwing in my mind was totally and completely separate from our relationship: I forgot the fight to focus on throwing the javelin, and could then revisit it later. My focus didn’t at all mean that I wasn’t still mad or didn’t care! I just have a weird ability to turn off parts of my brain, and I think Russ learned from me how to do that a bit over the years. In the same way, his questions about technique that used to drive me crazy are now helpful ways for me to objectively watch practice video and not be complacent. It’s difficult to learn how to navigate a different personality, but really worth it to learn something new about the person you love and the different, effective ways to approach sport.

2.       Varying levels of success: Navigating the peaks and valleys together.

The shotput and discus in the United States are stronger events than the javelin. These are facts for men and women alike. It is objectively easier for me to make teams than it was for Russ. We were in the same sport, but had very different paths to travel to be “successful.”

I had a major back injury in 2007, and was in a really bad place right at the beginning of our relationship. Russ moved to Purdue in 2008-2009 to be with me in my fifth year, and was miserable for a lot of reasons (working 3 jobs, training without a coach, and simply being in the Midwest, among others). He had a sports hernia all of the 2010 season (our first in Chula Vista), when I was doing super well. He had surgery to fix it, healed for 2011 and threw big PRs, but then we both struggled through the European season and also never saw each other. I tore my ACL in 2012, but made the Olympic team anyway, and he had done really well all year but missed the team by two spots. I had surgery and then we moved to Colorado. We finally both made the PanAm, NACAC, and World Championships teams in 2015! He did well most of 2016 and then old and new injuries flared right before the Olympic Trials, but came to Rio with me as my coach, as none of my other ones were making the trip.

If you’re in the same sport, the direct comparisons of how successful you are can be really difficult to manage in a relationship. I can imagine that different sports might be a little bit easier? If only because learning about the others’ sport would seem more educational than competitive. This is, again, a lesson in communication! Every athlete is competitive, but eventually you learn that constant competition within a relationship is no good. Our friends Rich and Jackie say that when one member of the team is winning, the team is winning. And if it feels like no one is winning, you can climb out of that hole together! It’s okay to voice frustration, and it’s even okay to say out loud that you’re jealous of the other person’s success, as long as you can separate that from your romantic relationship (and SAY that).

3.       Conflicting travel schedules.

Russ and I were so lucky to have some incredible track trips together. We spent two weeks enjoying Australia and competing in 2012. We lived in Germany during the 2010 and 2011 seasons together, with friends around as well. The championship season in 2015 was amazing: We went on sushi dates at training camp and were then roommates at World Championships in Beijing. After that we went on vacation in Austria with the Kuehls and I went to Paris with Russ for the Decanation meet. Fantastic memories and experiences that solidified our relationship at each stage, for sure!

NACAC Senior Championships 2015 as husband and wife, nine years after we met at NACAC U-23 Championships! We both won in 2015. :)

NACAC Senior Championships 2015 as husband and wife, nine years after we met at NACAC U-23 Championships! We both won in 2015. :)

Those were the very rare times that we were actually together, though. Russ was in Australia for three weeks by himself before I joined him that year. In 2011, we constantly missed each other at the apartment we shared in Köln, as our meet schedules exactly countered each other for two months. He went to Europe right after the 2012 Olympic Trials, and I stayed home to rehab my ACL as well as I could. In 2016, while I was home with our brand-new Madeline and injuries, Russ traveled a lot for competition. Staying home is easier for both of us now that Maddie the Dog is in our lives. 😊

Our epic 2016 road trip!

Our epic 2016 road trip!

Dating a fellow athlete is often like a long-distance relationship. Luckily, we have practice in that field, and many people I know do too! Again, communication is key. Being willing to shave a day off of the front or back sides of a trip for the sake of your relationship is important, too, and taking advantage of the time that you do have together is key. Sometimes I pick fights before I leave for a trip, but we both know it’s just because I’ll miss him and our home!

Questions from Instagram:

“tricks to avoid constantly talking/venting about your sports to each other!!!”

               Ooooooh, good one. This can be an easy trap to fall into when you find someone who you feel truly understands you. I’m guilty of complaining a lot to Russ about one specific thing that I can’t really change in my training life, but I try to always say, “I know you’re sick of hearing about this, but I just need to vent for a second!”

               There are a few things you can do to try and avoid a complainy pattern. A) Set a timer for the complaining. Give it a limit so it doesn’t consume you. B) Always, always have other stuff to do! Take part in your other common interests instead when you feel overloaded by sport. If you don’t have something, start something new together! C) Be really honest. If your partner just doesn’t seem happy and that’s why he or she is constantly unloading on you, let them know that you appreciate their trust in your judgement and the fact that you’re a safe zone, but that you want them to be happy, and it doesn’t seem like they are. On the flip side, if you are the one complaining a lot and it’s weighing you down, do some self-evaluation and see if you need to seek other help (sports psychology) or just do something to change your situation and make it better. I’ll be writing a blog on how to have difficult conversations sometime soon!

“Yes it’s wonderful 😊 😊 “

               Agree!

“Is it hard to keep frustrations in training and competition separate from your relationship”

               It can be? But it has never been difficult for me. I really think (and again, I think Russ got better at this over the years as well) that practice is your opportunity to just focus on you, and your relationship is the time you can either talk about it in constructive ways (or a little bit of complaining if you need to), or do other stuff that you enjoy together. My relationship has mostly felt like a refuge from the difficulties I face on the javelin runway, and one of the reasons for that is that I can be completely vulnerable and open about why I’m frustrated and work through it with the person who knows me best if I need to. But mostly I just love doing other things and laughing about other stuff together. I hope that you can find such solace in another human!

               I have struggled the most to separate career and relationship when I’m injured, and I think that’s because I suddenly don’t have the outlet that I’m used to in athletics, so I’m more difficult to be around. That’s kind of a real-life thing though, and Russ has always taken care of me incredibly well, so those experiences have turned into bonding ones. I hope he feels as taken care of when he’s injured, but he’s more stubborn about it. 😊

Overall recommendation:

Go for it if you’re drawn to someone. I’m so incredibly happy with the person I picked, and continue to choose every day. We met through sport and enjoyed it together for a long time, but also like a lot more stuff about each other than the fact that we are athletes! In the same way that you grow and change as an athlete, your relationship grows and changes, and you have to keep programming good stuff to keep it healthy. Finding a partner that is motivated by goals is pretty easy in the athletic realm. Translating that to every day life and a happy partnership is a little bit different, but very worth it to do together!