Pumpkincident

I feel ready to share this story, because while my last two meets have been more than sub-par (sub-sub-par?), my training and overall results to this point in the season haven’t been impacted by this now-ridiculous and somewhat funny story like I feared in my soul they might be. This story is also partly why I changed the way I grip the javelin handle!

When are pumpkins dangerous?

Short answer: If you’re an idiot.

Long answer:

In the fall, I carved a beautiful pumpkin. I’m actually really good at this. If I use a template, you know, like from the booklet with the little tools plasticked on the front. If I drew one and followed that I’d probably be pretty good too, but freehand would be trash, I can guarantee it. But I pay attention to detail, I take my time, and they turn out great. Usually.

Alien! So cute.

Alien! So cute.

I took him home, lit him up for trick-or-treaters the next day, woo. They had extra pumpkins at the Olympic Training Center, I needed to be there later the next day anyway, and I had nothing better to do, so I decided to carve two more pumpkins! One was to gloriously proclaim “Team USA” and I planned for the other to be the Olympic City USA logo. Training Center pumpkins for fun!

I had not purchased these pumpkins, nor the knife (a brand new, sharp one of the paring variety) with which I carved the holes in the tops of them. I was not at home. I did bring my own pumpkin-carving tools because I’m extra about crafts, but had no other useful tools to speak of, and neither was I familiar with what might be available to me on campus in that regard. I’m just carving pumpkins. Should be simple.

After carving the holes in the tops of both pumpkins (in zigzag formation, because duh), I prepared to remove the tops to extract the guts. One pumpkin had a nice stem to grab and pull on. The other did not! Problem.

I turned that pumpkin upside down. I attempted to push the lid into the pumpkin guts. But I masterfully carve the zigzag pattern also at an angle so that the lid won’t fall into the pumpkin after the little bit of drying we all know happens (instantly in Colorado). So no dice there. I just could not get purchase on this blunt little stem to pull the lid off, which maybe means I should work on my grip strength.

What to do…

Pumpkin-carving knife (from the little toolkit…serrated, very dull but effective for slicing pumpkin meat) in right hand, paring knife (brand new, pointed at the tip, very sharp and effective for stabbing…other…meat) in left hand, I approached the pumpkin. Wedged each knife into the zigzaggy hole’s respective sides, and attempted to pry the lid off by applying inward and upward pressure. I had been at this lid extraction operation for at least ten minutes with no progress made. I’d gotten impatient. I’d gotten DUMB. After a few seconds of maximal effort, I think maybe this isn’t the best idea, so I begin to release the pumpkin pressure I’m applying, and as I’m right-handed, my right hand obeys that command first.

Now my right (throwing) hand is facing my left (paring-knife-holding) hand. The instant pressure wasn’t being applied to the other side of the pumpkin lid anymore, ol’ lefty’s knife came rocketing out at the same orientation it was being pushed while still in the pumpkin (inward and upward). I did not even see it happen, just felt a sudden, very deep, very achy ache in the bottom of my right palm. The thickest part. The palm bottom margin.

I don’t remember extracting the knife from my flesh. I also can’t remember ever having a cut that was white before red (besides maybe missed-box jump shin scrapes, amirite). But there was no blood when I looked at my hand, and then all of a sudden there waaaaas. I cupped my hand and hustled to a paper towel dispenser. I made sure to put the (not bloody, because I stab that fast) knife down on the newspapers I had there to protect the surface from pumpkin-not human-flesh, and then I hustled to Sports Med. It was cold outside. I didn’t put on a jacket. I was terrified.

I’ve never had subcutaneous fat nudged back inside a wound before. I didn’t get stitches, but I did get steri-strips and a bunch of hand specialist visits. I absolutely grastoned the crap out of my wound once it healed over. I did that thing where you obsessively check in on an injury like every hour to “make sure” it’s healing okay even though you can’t tell cuz you’re not an expert. I followed the doctor and my therapy team’s instructions to the letter. I’ve done more nerve glides this year than ever in history because I must not allow this really dumb thing that I did to impact my career.

The result of this incision (because really I just performed amateur, unnecessary surgery on a small part of my hand) is that I seriously damaged and maybe severed the palmar cutaneous branch of my median nerve. It might continue to grow back, and it might not. Typically any nerve growth that’s going to happen at a surgical site will happen within 18 months, and you can help it along by exfoliating the area to activate the subcutaneous nerves. But the bigger ones are a lot more difficult-if not impossible-to regrow. Luckily, this little branch of my median nerve just controls the sensation in a little part of my palm (hence palmar). We didn’t know for a while if it was going to be more of the median nerve, which reaches some of your fingers and actually goes through your carpal tunnel, and could present other, more serious problems. I could have developed a neuroma at the stab site, which would mean weird and difficult-to-treat pain there and with associated movement. That was my main worry for months, because there were times that I would get shooting nerve pain up my hand from that spot!

I made this video to show you my hand-stabbing aftermath. I posted some of these on my insta-story but they were somewhat of a mystery until now, unless you know me.

If my silly left hand had stabbed my wrist, we all know how terrible that could have been. The middle of your palm has tons of tendons and nerves, so that would have spelled disaster. And the fingers are just too delicate to want a stabby knife anywhere near. Pumpkins cause injury (correlation not causation haha). Srsly, more than 3000 people were injured carving pumpkins in 2017. Please be careful. The nurse told me at my week check-up that a lady came in the afternoon of my first appointment with a pumpkin injury and needed emergency surgery to repair the finger tendons she had sliced through.

I was soooooo lucky. And I colored those dumb pumpkins.

Obviously could only hold one pumpkin at a time post-stabbing.

Obviously could only hold one pumpkin at a time post-stabbing.

I’ve wanted to change my grip for a while now, just because. I thought it might help my tip control anyway (it has for the most part), and since I didn’t know how my hand was going to fully heal and if I’d need to incorporate more fingers to compensate for this pumpkin accident, why not now? It’s been a hilarious second reason to change my grip, and after much worry, a great story.

SB so far: 63.11m in Rome, which is further than I had thrown last year before Zurich. Neat.

SB so far: 63.11m in Rome, which is further than I had thrown last year before Zurich. Neat.

I can do hand planks, hang for pull-ups and support myself on rings and parallel bars, catch cleans and snatches, bench, etc. absolutely no problem. This ridiculous stabbing has had zero impact on how I train and how my body feels. I just might not carve a pumpkin again before the Olympic year.

Why I Fail

On Saturday, I failed to perform in Jena. Am I devastated? No! But I’m absolutely disappointed and a little embarrassed (although whatever, my process is my process). I threw well in Rome. I threw well in Halle. I had an overall great trip to Europe for three weeks! But finishing it off that way leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and motivation to understand my own brain and failures moving forward in this long season. I want to share two big reasons why I fail. These aren’t specific to Jena: I do the same technical things wrong consistently, and I let self-doubt creep in after being alone for a while.

Ich liebe Hallesche Werfertage!

Ich liebe Hallesche Werfertage!

Trusting myself has always seemed normal to me. I blame good parenting! I know I put the work in. I know I have what it takes. I know that I care the most about the outcome (team situations were frustrating for me and I’ve been let down by people). But when I have any little dent in my independence armor and there’s someone there to lean on, I leeeeaaaan.

It’s my problem, not those willing and helpful peoples’ issue. I need better blinders, and to trust my own instincts, not necessarily in competition (I’m good at that), but when things don’t go as planned surrounding it. Long travel day? Go to the pool instead. Only bus later than I hope to go to the meet? Roll with it and shorten the warm-up when I know I’ll have a warm place to do so (prioritize the throwing stuff). Extra worried about my body throwing twice within 3 days? Strengthen the mind with visualization rather than just ignoring the negativity. And do all the mobility and core rather than just resting and hoping to feel better! I’ve always been good at following instructions. I’m coachable! And I highly value Jamie’s input into my training and competition preparation plan. But I also know he’s open to my feedback. For whatever reason, when I don’t feel good but know I have a meet coming up, I put my head down and stick stubbornly to the plan rather than expressing what I know, 99% of the time, we’ll both agree with. I should have gone to the pool on Friday after leaving the Rome hotel at 7:30am and arriving in Jena at 5:30pm, sweating all day. I could have done some core in my room first, then swam some laps, sprinted a little, and relaxed, weightless. I didn’t. Dummy.

There’s this saying that the hay is in the barn. Have you ever been around a farm? Animals need more than hay. My Mom’s horses get a carefully concocted mixture of hay, fancy hay, beet pulp, grains, various vitamins, and of course, love. The hay may be in the barn before big competitions (whatever “big” means to you: Every meet can feel big at this level), but you still need grains to finish the job. To do it right. I’ve ignored that instinct one too many times, and I’m finally processing it. Before Zurich and after Rovereto last year, I was finally brave enough to focus fully on what I wanted, and harvest the grain of mental fortitude and specific mobility and stability in those last days and moments. To do things I know make me feel invincible in this post-ACL, different-for-me era. I can be more successful. I just also have to be braver in looking my big, scary goals in the face and taking care of the details that can get me there.

My technical mistakes are always the same. They present themselves as “losing the tip” or “forward,” which in Jena’s left head/crosswind was a disaster. But actually it all starts for me with my right foot. And really my left foot. I spent 8 years solidifying a habit of striking backward with my right leg after my impulse, which I could get away with because of the gift of shoulder mobility. I look forward to lumbar arthritis as a result of hyperextension of that area for close to a decade as well (and more since I’m still not 100% disciplined). Anyway, with tiredness and some soreness (I’m very good at managing stiffness/being dinged up in one area, but 2/3/4 gets harder) comes timidity and lazy legs. Even though I know my legs were the reasons for 62.08m in Halle and 63.11m in Rome, I willed them to go and they just wouldn’t!

On Saturday, I let people (who are not Dana) tell me what to do. I already know what to do, and what they told me would have been accomplished by my strategy (specifically steps 2 and 3), but I allowed myself to be distracted by input.

I need to:

1.       Gradually accelerate down the runway.

2.       Hit a strong impulse after already using my left leg as a driver in crossovers.

3.       Be patient in my tunnel of power (knee up/toe up and left arm closed), wait for the ground with my right foot.

4.       Drive my right knee to the ground immediately upon right foot contact while keeping left arm closed.

5.       Keep the handle of the javelin “hidden” from the sector right behind my head.

6.       Be a freaking tree in my left leg.

7.       Push my chest forward after all of that happens.

8.       Watch the jav soooooar.

Everything happens if I hit an impulse and actually wait for the ground. But when I allow myself to be distracted, I focus on the end result rather than the key step that will lead to that result. In a headwind, that’s “keep the tip down,” “control the tip,” and “tip by your eye.” When I think about that cue, my only focus becomes keeping my chest up, which gets me tall in my legs and forward, not allowing good, powerful leg action. Inactive legs mean no impulse, and the body’s rush to create speed with a pawing right foot and pressure behind me rather than under me, forcing me forward more. A pushy right means I don’t have to snap a solid block down, because I feel support from a leg (the right). The left arm swings open for balance and because there’s time, and the right arm follows suit by swinging around. I try to maintain connection with the implement by extending/breaking my wrist, both skyrocketing the javelin and not applying energy to it.

My face sometimes.

My face sometimes.

It’s tough to break the self-doubt cycle in the midst of a competition, especially when you have excuses (four travel days and three meets in a week, end of 6-week trip, two days after the most intensity my body has felt in throwing in months, headwind, etc.). But I’m sick of it. Details are important and empowering. Let them be by allowing yourself to pay attention to them. Trust yourself, even when you’re tired, by practicing mental toughness, however you harness it. Change your cycle. Be better!

Representing Others

I’ve struggled from the get-go with the enormous idea of representing the United States on a global scale. From the outset, that was too much, too big, too fast, too scary to be my life. It took me a long, long, long time to get comfortable conceptualizing the fact that I was representing my Grandma. Russ. My friends. Rather than The Country, and allowing that sharper focus to fuel me instead of letting the pulled-back version crush me. 

I’m more comfortable with the big picture now, because over time, I’ve figured out that attention is positive: People want to see something amazing. I want to do amazing things, so we’re all on the same page. 

In 2018, I got new stimuli. I finally stepped away from a coaching situation that hadn’t been serving me for years, but wasn’t really a problem until 2017. Dana is patient and honest and tough and has a specific idea of how she wants me to throw, and Jamie knowing me for a decade now means the changes we made in my training had me finally prepared at the right time. Rejuvenation is not an understatement. I felt completely different, and a big part of that was being 100% sure that my team and I had the same goals and communicated about them clearly. We have shared values in how we work together. We fit. 

I want to “fit” with other things I align myself with. I want to continue experiencing the positive stimulus of newness that I’ve recently remembered is powerful and helps me thrive. I want to be in the business of representing things that I truly believe in, not that I’m just in the habit of doing or wearing or buying.

I want to further define the faces I’m representing. I want to bring things that we’re all likely passionate about into the spotlight, and relate those things to my career. It doesn’t matter if this idea brings $5 or $500 to the organizations I have in mind, as long as I know on the runway in competitions around the world that my performances will contribute to something more than just my mortgage and Maddie’s kibbles.

I don’t know about you, but I tried REALLY hard at my elementary school jog- and swim-a-thons. Something about knowing specifically who had pledged to support me gave my willpower a huge boost! 

IMG_2349.jpeg

In the Trond Mohn Games, I wore a 4Ocean bracelet and my Dave bracelet. I put a sticker made by Lauren McCluskey’s family on my shoes to bring her back to the javelin runway in a small way after a tragic and far-too-early death. I’ve had a pair of shoes painted to represent a lot of things that I believe in, and I can’t wait to sport them throughout the world in 2019 (and give you a tour of their meaning when I get home). There are so many things that are bigger than me and sport, and I want to keep them in my consciousness as I continue to do this thing that I love. Athletes in bigger, more popular American sports get to start their own foundations and contribute significant funds to those causes. I’ve made a better living than I ever thought possible throwing the javelin, but not enough to do something like that. So support me, sure, please, but mostly help me feel like I’m making a bigger difference than JUST representing the U.S. in javelin competitions. Help me achieve my athletic dreams, but also dreams about contributing to positive movements in the world. 

I’ve written about representing others before, and a big part of what I think about at practice often remains the military since I wrote that Facebook post long ago. I want to take that a step further by inviting you along. 

I’m not afraid to feel deeply. In both directions. I love the richness of emotion actually, and I think I have sport to thank for learning that in a lot of ways. I want to further enhance the experience. Tying meaningful organizations to my performances feels like a significant way to do it. 

Each meet this season, you can pledge a flat donation or a per-distance rate to contribute to a cause via the campaigns I create at PledgeIt! I want you to know beforehand what you’re contributing to, and I’d be thrilled to get information from you on stuff you’re passionate about. 

I’m starting with Semper Fi Fund. They support military veterans in many ways after they come home from war. My friends who have served tell me they’re the best: They do what they say, tirelessly and in creative ways to actually make a difference. They’re female-founded. Their mission to serve those who protect us makes me proud to be an American. Pledge or donate here!! I’ve linked both the Rome Diamond League on Thursday and Saturday’s JenJavelin Festival to this campaign. I’d love your help!

In Memoriam

Many Americans celebrate Memorial Day. Each year, I watch the “Thank You, Veterans!” posts roll in, and each year I’m frustrated that we just don’t seem to understand the reason for the day.

I wrote this Facebook post in 2016. It’s not about Memorial Day, but I wanted to share it again because it’s a reason I care so much about defining the different military holidays. Also, a lady in a postal store recently told me, “Thank you for your service,” and I was mad about it all over again, both because every serviceman and -woman I know hates that and because I don’t deserve it.

Memorial: “A statue or structure established to remind people of a person or event.”

In Memoriam: “In memory of (a dead person).”

In 1996, it was re-discovered that freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina exhumed the bodies of 260 Union soldiers at a racetrack where they had been buried en masse, reinterred them with honor, and then held a parade at said racetrack on May 1, 1865, less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered. What an incredible first Memorial Day. Another official “first celebration” happened in Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866, just after the Civil War (which is still America’s single bloodiest at 620,000-750,000 casualties). What officially started as Decoration Day for fallen Civil War soldiers happened on May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetary, and continued as an organized event in the northern states. After WWI’s ~116,500 soldiers fell, all of our military personnel who die fighting our wars are honored on what gradually become known as Memorial Day nationwide.

Here is a VA factsheet on America’s Wars, including battle deaths and those that occurred in theater (any area that is or might become involved in war operations) or were nontheater (perhaps died outside the warzone but had been injured in the course of war, or in a training accident preparing for battle, or any number of things). I urge you to glance at it. Then move on to this Department of Defense Casualty Status Release, which describes in simple, stark, emotionless numbers the cost of American military life in the ongoing War on Terror.

I don’t know everything. Not at all. The more I live, the more I realize how much I don’t know and how much I haven’t seen! But I do know that Memorial Day is about honoring those military members who have made the ultimate sacrifice. That sentiment doesn’t have to get political, either. Just think about the powerful, heart-wrenching, permanent truth of death at war for a minute. If you’re lucky, you haven’t lost someone close to you, but take a moment to consider those who have. Show the families left behind the respect of recognizing what this day is really about, and be okay with feeling deeply in the sad direction in a show of solidarity and appreciation. You get to do that just for today.

Don’t say, “Happy Memorial Day.” Honoring the dead is much different from happiness for loved ones who miss them terribly. Accompany someone to a gravesite-if they want you to. Let them lead any conversation that might happen (be okay with sad silence). Laugh through pain if possible, but also be okay just feeling grief, together.

Thank you to those who gave everything.

Packing

I am currently on the road, in Chula Vista training before I go from here to Europe for my first competitions of the 2019 season!! I left home on May 1 and will return to Colorado on June 9.

Here is a video I made of me packing!! It’s long, but perhaps entertaining? If you’re looking for this specific kind of video. The equally interesting blog follows.

These are things you actually need while traveling as an athlete:

  1. Competition Shoes.

  2. Wallet/Purse (with passport if traveling internationally).

You can purchase EVERYTHING else. And you can also purchase competition shoes if you really need to. So just try to stop worrying about having stuff. I often pack all my crap, then when I’m walking out the door and I know I have way more than I need, I think to myself as I’m locking up, “Why do I need a house??? I have everything I need here with me.” Except for Maddie and Russ, but that’s a different story. It’s a really freeing feeling to finally realize that you’re going to be fine if you forget a few things.

All of that being said, I do like to feel prepared. I’m going to blog about my entire packing process! My strategy is to pack for about a week clothes-wise (and really that turns into closer to two weeks’ worth of stuff). I bring extra toiletries in travel sizes to continue making my suitcase lighter as I go (and I’m taking steps toward sustainability in travel because I’m sick of going through so much plastic container waste), and have the same strategy with snacks. I like to carry Tide Pods for laundry in Europe because that’s the part of European laundry that stresses me out the most (figuring out how to buy detergent in local-language laundromats). I bring a fair amount of electronics, but technology these days means that my entertainment devices are light and manageable and have good battery life (and fairly compact chargers). Therapy tools are just part of my training gear and something I don’t think twice about bringing. I only get one suitcase to check, because my second checked bag is my javelins, so I have to be smart about my packing, and I’ve grown to love the challenge and (to me) simplicity.

Since I bring javelins, everything I carry looks like a lot. I get asked often if I need help wielding my luggage, but that’s only because people see the giant javelin tube and are unfamiliar with it. I’ve been traveling with javelins for nearing two decades, so I am very, very used to fitting them through doorways and into overhead spaces in train cars and through folded-down rental car or Uber backseats. I know to watch the ceiling height as I go up an escalator. It’s easier for me to take an escalator than a European elevator that might be just big enough. The fact that all I have besides my javelin tube is a suitcase, backpack and small duffel bag makes my job really easy, it’s just that people don’t perceive it that way. I love being self-sufficient and mobile on long travel days by packing as light as I can. Read last summer’s travel blog!

The bottom line in packing is to pack the essentials, and then a few things that bring you joy. I have this towel turban that I wear around my house after I wash my hair, often. It’s not something I usually pack, but if I need a little pick-me-up on a trip, throwing that in my bag is a super simple way to stay connected to home and little luxuries! The combination lock I take to the gym is nice for me to have on the road, because I really love finding pools to swim in all over the world, and that experience is so much more fun when I’m not worried about getting robbed. My USB mouse is not an essential by any means, but it makes me happy.

Here are some lists of what I pack, complete and arranged in the way in which my brain works:

Javelins:

               RockBack Case
               4 javelins (usually all Nemeths)
               a pair of socks per javelin
               some sponges in there with the bbs to keep them safe

Suitcase:

Side one:

Snacks (see video) in eBags packing cube
               extra toiletries (see video) in eBags packing cube
               Training and competition clothes:
                              Long tights
                              Short tights
                              A few pairs of shorts
                              maybe a pair of sweats
                              Tank tops
                              Short-sleeved shirts
                              Long-sleeved shirts
                              Jackets/sweatshirts

Side two:

Sandals/flip flops
               a pair of regular shoes of some kind
                              8 or so pairs of socks stuffed in the shoes
               extra javelin shoes and spikes
               Foam Roller, with these inside:
                              Lacrosse ball
                              some KT tape
                              underwear (7-9 pairs)
               hat, stuffed with the following:
                              Real bra
                              bikini if I feel like it
                              warm hat and gloves
                              lap swimsuit
                              swim cap and goggles
               Sports Bras. I bring a lot a lot.
               Regular clothes:
                              a pair of shorts
                              a pair of jeans
                              a few tank tops
                              a few short sleeve shirts
                              a couple sweaters/long sleeves
                              A rain jacket
                              Perhaps a dress that I won’t wear but I’ll pretend I might

Small duffel bag (sits on top of the suitcase as you roll through the airport, gets carried on the plane):

               Competition shoes
               Competition uniform
               Field hockey ball
               a few snacks
               pajamas (underwear and a tank top for me)
               Liquids/gels/aerosols in their 1-quart container
               Other essential toiletries in an eBags packing cube
               my small makeup bag
               a small padlock
               knee compression sleeve
               compression socks

Backpack:

               Laptop & charger
               wireless mouse
               iPad (with earbuds) & charger
               GoPro & charger
               portable battery & charger
               Noise-cancelling headphones
               wireless earbuds
               power/outlet converters & safety pins
               Notebook with training pages
               Training journal
               a few nice pens
               water bottle
               glasses
               sunglasses
               a few snacks
               neck pillow/eye mask

Snacks (in an eBags packing cube in the suitcase):

               Instant oatmeal packets
               Dried fruit
               Peanut butter packets
               Rx bars
               Peaceful Fruits
               Crystal Light/Propel/Gatorade packets
               Instant coffee or espresso
               Powdered coconut milk creamer
               some chocolate

Toiletries (in an eBags packing cube in the suitcase):

               Shampoos and conditioners
               Facewash
               Face lotion
               sunscreen
               floss/mouthwash/toothpaste
               feminine products
               nailcare kit/toenail polish/toe separators
               extra hairties and bobby pins
               razor/razor blades
               contacts
               deodorant
               cleansing wipes
               dry shampoo
              

I always wear my training shoes on the plane in case I have to run through an airport (common occurrence). After I get through security with my backpack and duffel bag, I often decide what I’m going to do on the plane and transfer those things to my backpack and the things I won’t use from my backpack to the duffel bag. I just like to pack each bag the same way each time so that I know that I’ve got everything I like to have! Typically my backpack for an international flight ends up containing:

               iPad with earbuds
               portable battery and cord to charge phone and iPad
               my wallet (with chapstick, money/membership cards/etc., passport and phone)
               filled water bottle
               a few snacks
               compression socks/knee compression sleeve
               neck pillow/eye mask
               noise-cancelling headphones
               sweatshirt/jacket
               Bluetooth headphones
               glasses
               toiletries I’ll use on the plane before I go to sleep (with my water bottle):
                          toothbrush/floss/toothpaste/mouthwash
                              my night guard
                              extra contacts for when we land
                              facewash
                              face lotion
                              cleansing wipes and deodorant

I’m probably forgetting something. But that doesn’t matter so much!!! Haha.

Nutrition

Everyone wants there to be a magic formula to good nutrition. There are really basic rules, sure…best practices. But everyone is different, everyone likes different things, and each athlete’s body has different needs.

During the 2010 season (arguably my best to date, although I could make arguments for 2015 and 2018), I weighed about 182-185 pounds. I was right around there in college (Except for in 2009, when Russ lived at Purdue and I ate everything in sight out of happiness. But I think that was more a body composition thing than a weight thing, and I PRed that year so whatever.). When I graduated from high school, I weighed about 160. In 2011, it was suggested to me that I should get leaner, so I did that for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and was around 175 for most of those years, when I didn’t throw well and ultimately tore my ACL. More on that in an upcoming body image blog! Following my catastrophic knee injury, I’ve eaten for performance rather than vanity. And 2018 and 2019 so far feel like my most successful years with that attitude. I am currently 198-200 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been. But in this weird late season (and in all my seasons), heaviness is normal as I approach my competitions. I want to tell you how I think about nutrition.

The end of row one and beginning of row two below are from 2009, my year of eating. These are all chronological!

For even more background, my Mom did a fabulous job of feeding her family well-rounded, nutritious meals growing up. I knew no different than home cooking with balanced nutrients in each family dinner we had together. I’m so lucky to have had that! She told me once that an alternate career for her would have been dietician. Then, I went and got a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition, Fitness and Health from Purdue’s world-class nutrition department.

Here are my main points:

Eat when you’re hungry.

               And not when you’re not hungry! Listen to your body. You get bonus points if you have balanced nutrition, but really listening to your body is the biggest point. Get in tune with it. That takes time. Just stop and think, every time you eat. It’ll get easier with practice to know what you need vs. what you want.

Eat breakfast and eat after practice.

               You don’t have to eat a ton if you’re not a breakfast person. Just have some berries or a bite or two of banana or a bar that’s easy on your stomach or one piece of sausage or an egg. But putting some fuel in your body is an important start to the day as an athlete. In the same way, you have a short window (about 30 minutes) of opportunity to aid in your recovery from training, right after training. Eat something. Preferably a mix of carbohydrates and proteins.

Hydrate.

               Drink water on the regular! I think water is boring so I try to spice it up (LaCroix, SpinDrift, Emergen-C up to once per day, Propel, etc.). Hydration is huge! It moves stuff around your body and flushes out inflammation. Related to this is monitoring caffeine and alcohol intake. I drink about two cups of drip coffee in the morning and might have a dirty chai in the afternoon on my way home from training, but that happens maybe twice per month if I remember to bring my to-go mug. I do enjoy a glass of wine or a margarita with dinner sometimes, but only a few times per week and only if I’ve been good about staying hydrated. I quite enjoy decaffeinated hot tea at night before bed!

Here are some extra points:

1.       Plan ahead.

Stock your fridge. There is basically nothing worse than arriving home and realizing you have no good food. If I’m home without Russ (he mostly cooks for me when he is home, and I love him even more for it), I try to have two or three dinner options in mind for the things in my fridge, and always have breakfast foods. My lunches usually consist of sandwiches or dinner leftovers, so I don’t worry too much about them, but I like to have options. I am not a fan of meal planning, but having ingredients available that meet a few different sets of cravings is important to me, and to me eating healthily instead of hitting up Noodles & Company or ordering Papa John’s.

Another way to plan ahead is to have healthy going-out options. I absolutely love Pho, and I have no problem at all eating at my favorite restaurant by myself. So if I’m on my way home from an afternoon practice and am totally exhausted, I turn my car toward Lemongrass and feel no guilt about it. I used to lunch often at McAllister’s deli and quite enjoyed a giant salad while I journaled and reviewed film. Paying more than I would to cook at home is okay with me if I know the food is also fueling my recovery and performance. But I don’t like to pay for junk.

2.       Have snacks.

There are SO many snack options in the world! Figure out what your favorite healthy bar is. I like Rx bars. Have some of those on hand. My favorite snack that I’ve discovered in the last few years is cottage cheese, pistachios, apples, and cinnamon in a bowl. Delicious! If you mix equal parts plain Greek yogurt and peanut butter (or some real fancy almond or other-nut butter like I do), it makes the yummiest fruit dip, and you’re getting protein in. Do some Googling and figure out what you love in a healthy snack, then have those things on hand for when hunger strikes and you still want to make gains.

3.       Timing is important.

I said I avoid Noodles & Company, but if I really really want it and my time is short or I’m totally worn out, I’m going there. I’ll get protein, fats and carbs in my regular-size Wisconsin Mac n’ Cheese, and then when I get home I can shower, cuddle Madeline and go straight to bed. I have a friend who shall remain unnamed who does this with Chick-fil-A. Sometimes getting whatever nutrients are available in within a half hour of a training session is more important than worrying about what that food is. But not every day.

Having the right foods on hand (points one and two) will allow you to eat better stuff within those critical windows after training, so you don’t have to resort to fast food. But sometimes is okay. I have really long ball days sometimes (a 3-hour training session perhaps), so I started taking a protein-rich yogurt to practice with me to eat halfway through. My body does fine with dairy, and I felt a lot better after getting that nice cold snack. The second half of my workouts flourished!

4.       If you must, track your intake.

There are a lot of nutrition apps you can download to help you learn what is actually in the things you’re eating and how those numbers relate to what other people do, or how you could do better. If you’re just learning about nutrition, I’d encourage you to download one to get familiar with what food means in terms of macronutrients and Calories.

You also don’t have to lean on technology. If you want, you can just write down what you eat for a few days or a week, just to see. Take notice of what you’re eating rather than just putting stuff in your mouth. Be intentional about it.

5.       Change things at the appropriate times.

During a season is not the time to completely revamp your diet! Wait until the off-season to make big changes if you’re going to, and talk to someone about them (your coach, your Mom, a health teacher perhaps). Changing little things in the midst of the season is fine! But mostly that’s quantities rather than the entire makeup of your meals. As you move into the competitive season, you’re doing less work overall, so your intake naturally goes down if you’re listening to your body.

What I do:

I grew up eating well, thanks to Mom, as I mentioned, and then college happened. I didn’t learn to cook really before I went there, and having all that freedom to eat what I wanted meant I ate what I wanted. Eventually I figured out balance, my cooking skills improved, and my classes meant I understood a little more than maybe other people might about eating for performance. That has morphed, over time, into even more understanding of my personal energy needs throughout a day.

Now, I eat primarily proteins and fats in the morning (eggs, sausage or bacon, coffee with a little milk and water at breakfast). Like I mentioned, I’ll eat a yogurt in the middle of morning practice if it’s a long one. Lunch is recovery and a mix of proteins and carbs, with veggies: Leftover dinner meats in a quesadilla with avocado perhaps, and carrots and hummus on the side. A sandwich with veggies piled on, an apple and peanut butter. Chili with Ritz crackers. If I get hungry in the afternoon I’ll have cheese and crackers or more veggies and hummus, or maybe a smoothie with a little bit of everything from my fridge. My snack (if I have one) usually happens before Maddie’s and my afternoon activity (a walk or the dog park). Then dinner is mostly proteins, fats and veggies, and I like to eat pretty early in the evening so that I have lots of time to lay around and get to bed early. Tea happens after dinner!

I really like my new system of eats, with carbohydrates concentrated in the middle of the day. I’m consuming my fast-burning food at a time when my body will burn it fast, and getting lots more protein proportionally than I used to, as I’m not full of carbs I’m trying to fit into the same meal.

I used to train twice per day, and now I only have one session, six days per week. It’s a lot of work still, but more focused work. So I can consume nutrients in a more focused way and feel like that coincides! And when you’re talking about overall energy expenditure, it’s less than it used to be when I did multiple sessions per day for years and years. So I eat less overall as well. I just try to get my timing down for recovery purposes.

 Food experiences!

People get overwhelmed by nutrition and like to jump on trends, but food is a tool that you just need to figure out how to make work for you specifically. Experiment with your diet and notice how you feel when you have time and opportunity to do so. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store so that you’re eating real food. Google any dish you can think of and the word “easy” and you’ll be able to recreate it and then build on it in your own kitchen. Above all (and again), listen to your body. I love good food, but mostly I love good food experiences: Give me a seafood restaurant with great conversation with interesting friends in a fantastic location (Mitch’s, perhaps), and I’m incredibly happy. And I’ve learned over time that my clam chowder is just as amazing if it’s in a cup rather than a bowl. And I can take half my poké home instead of shoving it all down to keep the night a lovely memory rather than a painful over-eating, tired and grumpy one. Let food enhance your life rather than running it.

Rookie Mistakes

I had a great question from someone I am really excited to see make a debut in professional track and field this summer about looking back on first-year struggles. Rookie mistakes, if you will! While I’m really proud of how my rookie season went, there are a few things that I wish I would have known, or at least been more comfortable with.

My first real professional season was 2010. Hanging on for dear life after a collegiate season in 2009 doesn’t really count, but what I see now about my PR at USAs in 2009 is that Coach Zuyderwyk prepared me well for the post-collegiate season, I just didn’t have the experience to take advantage of that at Worlds that year. When Russ and I moved to the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center in the Fall of 2009, I had no idea what professional athletics was about. I changed coaches (read: training philosophies and technique), I had a new training partner, and all of a sudden I had all the time in the world. That year of training was phenomenal for me, and I hope most rookies have the same experience: Removing the stress of not only school, but other on-campus obligations meant that my recovery was amazing, friendships were fostered well, watching Russ grow as an athlete alongside me and having more time for each other made our relationship stronger, and I just thrived with more javelin-specific information. One of the constants I think for everyone in that first year of training as a professional athlete is that leveling up your training (volume and intensity and intention) means you’re exhausted all the time, therefore rest is a natural thing to do! Your recovery is really important, but it’s also just automatic. I slept constantly in 2009-2010.

AR during rookie season…

AR during rookie season…

I had a little back hiccup, but regardless of that, I was really well-prepared for the 2010 season. I started in April, competed a few times in May, and then the focus of my year was USAs and beyond (end of June/beginning of July resulted in two of the three furthest throws of my career in winning USAs/setting the American Record and winning Prefontaine). When I went to Europe after that, though, I comparatively struggled. I had some really good showings (mid-64s, lots of top 3 placings during the Diamond League’s inaugural season), but I wasn’t at my best in Europe, and I absolutely crumbled at the very end of the year, when it mattered most (an “off” year, the Diamond League Final and the IAAF Continental Cup were the biggest meets of the season).

Photos from Pre 2010:

So, you’ve had this great training year in which hopefully you feel totally free to train how you want/are coached and see weekly improvements, because now this is your job! Even if you have another job, that is my wish for you. I LOVED my first full year of full-time javelin throwing, and I continue to love the build-up to a season to this day. The process is fun and I hope you agree. But now it’s season, and that’s where you get to shine! Here’s a little bit of how:

DO

Crush it.

               You’re clearly an excellent athlete. You deserve success just as much as the next guy. For a while after my knee injury, I was just happy to be there, and there were times that I was too much in awe of the athletes I was competing against to allow my own performance to shine through. Maybe that’s a personal problem, but you can do both. Be a sportsmanlike, respectful force of an athlete. Burst onto the scene even more than you already have.

               One of the best things I ever did in preparing for a professional career was look the stigma that a rookie year is perhaps your most difficult right in the face and refuse to accept that outcome. It was my mantra all year, “This will be my best season ever,” because I had heard that most post-collegiate athletes struggle, and I decided I would NOT be one of them. Recognize the odds that are against you and use them as positive motivation. Rise above.

Communicate with your coach.

               All season, wherever you are. Continue to check in, because that person cares just as much about your success as you do, and wants to help facilitate performances moving forward. Provide them with all of the information they need to do that. Tell them how you adjust to time zones, what you’ve been eating and how you think that affects your training and performances, what your sleep habits have been like, and how you’re finding the process of hydration in places where water fountains are less available than the USA. Your coach can help you with strategies beyond technique and training plans, and might have suggestions about how you can best prepare for competitions in your new international process. I had a coach for a long time who wasn’t necessarily responsive to my communication. Having Dana and Jamie in my back pocket for encouragement, but also adjustment on the fly is so comforting. Even when you’re all alone in a foreign land, you’re not alone.

               That first 2010 professional season of mine? When my performances fell off at the most important time? I had a meeting with my then-coach after the season in which he said, “Oh yeah, I expected that to happen.” I can’t imagine my face. We were clearly not on the same page. Be on the same page with goals, positivity, honesty, etc.

Foster your agent relationship.

               Your agents are your friends! They’re professionals who have been around this sport longer than you have and will continue to be part of it long after you’re gone. They’ve seen lots and lots and lots of athletes succeed and know which recipes work for different kinds of people. Allow them to really get to know you via open and honest communication. Accept their help, whether that’s bringing you a water bottle in the warm-up area, ordering a competition jersey last-minute, going out to dinner, or changing a flight because you got sick or something. They work for you, sure, but that’s a rude attitude: They might have a vested interest in your success, but they’re also all huge fans of the sport! They love watching you win for multiple reasons. Recognize them as the positive force in your support team that they are! It can be a really fun relationship, especially when it lasts for a long long time.

Focus.

               Decide what your goals are with your support team early, and stick to them. It’s so understandable to want to make a huge splash in your rookie season, as early as possible. But what’s actually important? The mark of a truly phenomenal rookie is showing up at the right time. Big marks are always fun, but consistent places on national teams and perhaps international podiums (we are the World’s Greatest Team, after all) for many years is the mark of a true professional. A fantastic rookie season is so so so fun, but the true superstars are those who show up, meet after meet, year after year with incredible marks and performances, especially when it counts the most. Christian Taylor. Caterine Ibarguen. Tom Walsh. Allyson Felix (I believe so much in that Mama’s comeback: How could you not?).

               The flip side of that (focus on performance at the right time) is that all opportunities are important. The biggest ones are the most important, yes, but you’re going from being a big fish in a small pond (NCAA) to every competition being high-stakes. Do your best to prepare mentally for much tougher fights week in and week out than you’ve had before. This is not at all the same as a professional debut, but my senior year of high school, I got fourth or something at the Washington vs. Oregon high school track meet that I had always wanted to win. The competition was fairly good for my capabilities back then, and I was really disappointed. I remember so clearly my Dad saying, “Well Kara, this is what it will be like now.” After that meet was Golden West and USATF Junior Championships, and then on to college where everyone was going to be better than me. Then eventually on to the professional ranks. He was SO right, and I remember that lesson all the time in my training and competition. You ALWAYS have to show up in professional track and field, or you will absolutely be left in the dust. You can do it. And one off-meet is also okay. You can RE-focus.

               Don’t party too much. Youth allows you to recover a lot easier than I’d be able to now (ha!), and I’ve been so impressed by younger athletes’ maturity on the circuit in general, but it needs to be said. Get your rest in the midst of the season.

Have fun.

               I LOVE this sport and life. It is a blast to see the world through athletics. I can’t believe that some people don’t embrace the opportunities that international competition affords them through sightseeing and other adventures alongside competitions. Dana and I paddleboarded with Barbora in Prague last year. I’ve been to the Colosseum and Vatican Museum by myself multiple times. In 2010, a bunch of friends from the CVOTC and I rented out Cologne’s beer bike. Living in Offenburg last May and riding a borrowed bicycle to commute for three weeks was so fun. Russ and I went on vacation with the Kuehls to Austria in 2015 and then hung out in Paris before and after his last competition. Tokyo training camp and sushi dates with him were amazing that year. We held a koala bear and saw quokkas do backflips in Australia in 2012. I’m going to Bergen, Norway for my first meet of 2019 at the end of May, and then staying to train and hike and have fun with Sigrid for a week.

               Not everyone is like me, sure, but I am so incredibly grateful to track and field for expanding my worldview. I think it had already done that via collegiate teammates before my professional career, but I love this earth so much more than I think I would if it weren’t for being able to see it in my travels to throw the javelin. Take an afternoon to be amazed by where you are in a way that doesn’t involve track and field. The sport is already fun, sure, but there’s more to life.

Berlin ISTAF in 2010 was one of my first experiences just having fun and performing well at a meet:

Learn how to travel.

               For performance, I mean. For you. Some people fly back and forth to Europe for each competition. Other people have a training base in Europe for the summer, and travel to meets from that second home. There’s also a sort of in-between that I enjoy most: Destination-hopping for a month or so at a time.

               There are a lot of ways to succeed, and everyone is different. If you’re someone who can hop off a plane and perform well, kudos to you, and I’m also very jealous! I have been able to be decent at that in the past, but it’s not my optimum situation. I loved living in Germany for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, but I also had my future husband and a lot of friends around constantly. I was in Europe for two months in 2017 and got the closest I’d ever been to a mental breakdown from homesickness by the end of it (there were other factors involved, but 2 months solid is a long time). My away-from-home limit is 4-5 weeks, so I’ve figured out how to travel from meet to meet with little training camps in between, then come home for training and rest. AirBnB, VRBO, Uber, and public transportation apps in different countries now make that process SO much easier than it used to be, and I get a lot of joy and peace out of planning my own lodging and training situations after deciding on my competition schedule and receiving air transportation that my agents plan for me.

               Talk to friends in the sport and reflect on how travel has gone for you when you’ve performed your best. Perhaps do a training camp at some international destination and figure out when your body feels best before you have to deal with that factor going into a competition. Next time you travel to a drastically different time zone for anything, just take notes on how you feel. Plan for success.

DON’T

Stretch yourself thin.

               You don’t have to compete every time there is an opportunity. You’re young enough to be able to! But don’t feel like that’s what’s expected. In the same vein, protect your rest time when you’re at home. It’s so easy to fall into catching up with all of your friends when you come home from travels, but if there’s more work to be done, recovery time from travel and training again is super important. Definitely get your mental game up by spending time with loved ones, but remember that a season can feel like a marathon, and prioritize rest (mental and physical).

This was a mistake of mine, as much as I enjoyed it. Russ and I lived in a tiny Cologne apartment in 2010, and had very different competition schedules. I wanted to spend time together and support him, so I traveled to a few of his competitions to cheer him on. They are still some fabulous memories, and I can’t say I regret that, but maybe my circumstances are different than yours: I knew this was my future husband so wanted to protect the relationship, but did galavanting around Europe mean I performed at my best and/or got my training in? Maybe not.

Get caught up in early season numbers-yours or others’.

               This is absolutely a rookie mistake. Focus on what matters, and stay in your lane. If you have a huge mark early, cool, maybe count that as a confidence builder, but remember that you have to do that again-or better-when it matters. Worlds this year are not until late September/early October. That is still 5 MONTHS away. Calm down, haha.

Look at other grass.

               You know, how the grass is always greener elsewhere? The grass is green where you water it. A rookie mistake is looking at what is working for other people and thinking that you’re doing something wrong. You’re now a professional track and field athlete for a reason, and that reason is the people that have prepared you for this moment/season. Trust your team and your own process rather than jumping ship to someone who might be promising you things, but doesn’t have your best interests at heart like those who have been there for you for years. Continue to water your own grass.

               A little caveat to that is to recognize where there ARE opportunities for you that stem from your rookie success. I had different agents in my first year of professional competition, but I was told multiple times that I didn’t get into certain competitions because of who my agents were. So when, at the end of my first professional season, I had the opportunity to switch to the wonderful JRS Sports Management, I did. Water your grass, but if no amount of watering will make it better, you may get new grass. You’re in charge of your career (you care the most about it).

Get homesick.

               Okay, you’re allowed to be homesick (I get this way more now with the Madeline, as I can’t talk to her on the phone). But figure out a way to just make that discomfort normal as you continue to travel the world and dominate. Everyone feels the drag of a long season, but prepare for it mentally as best you can. You will get to go home, I promise. Stay in the moment while you’re still at track meets, and don’t let homesickness derail your success on the track or in the field.

Some fun attention comes from rookie success:  Donald Miralle  took these images in 2010 and I got asked to do other things after a good year…more on that in a future blog!

Some fun attention comes from rookie success: Donald Miralle took these images in 2010 and I got asked to do other things after a good year…more on that in a future blog!

 Take quiet notice throughout this year of how it’s going and how it could go better. Continue to be in the moment, sure, but also don’t be satisfied! Whether your notes are mental or you actually write stuff down, just remember that you want your career to be amazing now AND amazing later (hopefully even more so). So be honest with yourself and your team about how you can improve. Your ideas on that matter, because you are the one performing and representing all of you. It’s absolutely a team effort, but giving everyone all of the information you gather aids in that teamwork. Cheering for you!! I’m such a fan of track and field.

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.