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!

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!

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.

Be a Good (Individual) Sport

Good sportsmanship is important, regardless of what specific activity you have chosen to compete in. Child or adult, male or female, team sport or individual, shaking hands and saying, “Good job” should always be part of the experience. Some people compete differently than others, and respecting another person’s process is part of sportsmanship as well, but when the match concludes, being able to treat others how you would like to be treated is just as much a part of sport as throwing far, jumping high, or scoring lots of points.

This year, 2019, will be my 18th overall season as a javelin thrower. I’ve competed with all kinds of individuals. I can’t pretend that I’m the perfect competitor, and likely that doesn’t exist, as I’m sure any behavior can be subjectively perceived by somebody as not ideal. But I’m here to tell you that athletes in individual sports can and should be friends! Especially in the field events within track and field.

Mostly, I think throwers already have this down. I have formed wonderful friendships through teammates and competitors alike, but the negative experiences have also been pretty darn negative, so I think it’s a worthwhile conversation. If you can strike the balance of doing what you need to do to perform well and also support your fellow athlete, you’re succeeding! I promise it’s possible to do both.

Two big reasons you can be friends in field events, and if you’re not friends, you should at least be sportsmanlike:

1.       You have no effect on someone else’s performance.

2.       You’ve all chosen to do this niche, weird thing. You probably have stuff in common.

Let’s start with the first one. Individual sports are either combative or not. Wrestlers, fencers, judo athletes and boxers literally fight each other to see who wins. Divers, gymnasts, jumpers and throwers take turns performing, and scores or distances decide the victor. In an individual, non-combative sport, there is nothing you can do to change someone else’s outcome: You only control your own destiny. Knowing that, focusing on it, and relying on your own strengths and talents is how you win. Then, having enough confidence in your own process that you can genuinely support others’ efforts can be really empowering.

At a basic level, yes, you have no effect on someone else’s outcome. If you aren’t nice, though, just know that a strong competitor will beat you anyway. Almost nothing fires me up more than someone being unnecessarily rude within a competition, and my track record in rising above that behavior with far throws is almost flawless (and luckily, it doesn’t happen that often). In the other, happier direction, cheering others on can make a big difference in certain situations.

Barbora Špotáková told me a really neat story a few years ago about the Beijing 2008 Olympic Final. A Russian, who has since been stripped of her silver medal, was leading the competition. It came down to the sixth and final round, and Barbora was in silver medal position. The last two people to throw would be Barbora and that current Russian leader. She was nervous, she said she didn’t know if she could do it (pass the leader), and suddenly a few other women who had been her top competitors for years and years encouraged her. They told her that they believed, and Barbora threw 71.42m to win her first Olympic Gold. I’ve sung my friend Barbora’s praises many times, but this story of many other competitors lifting her up when she needed it (and, I would argue, when the sport needed it) speaks volumes of her as a sportsmanlike, strong competitor. Those other women had done their best and focused on their own outcome to that point, but also saw the role that they could play in empowering Barbora, who had it within her to win, in that moment.

Cheering people on within competition isn’t something that really has to happen. Because in the same way that you’re in charge of your performance, so is everyone else! It’s not your responsibility to cheer others on, it just can be your privilege. Another way to be a supportive presence in the course of a meet is simply staying in your own lane. Everyone has their own process, whether that’s blasting metal through headphones, napping in the warm-up area, being chatty, or appearing moody but maybe just being focused on the task at hand. Respect others’ processes. Don’t bound up to a quiet person and demand conversation. Put your own headphones or earplugs in if someone’s loud music starts to bother you. Find your own quiet corner to lay down between throws if you need to. Let others do as they will, and focus on your own job while they do the same. Everyone is different, and there isn’t one right way to be.

It's true that everyone is different, but you also are all doing the same thing. Point number 2 is that perhaps you have more in common with your competitors than you think! And common ground is a basis for friendship.

It would be difficult to forge a full-fledged Friendship on the javelin runway in the midst of competition, but hints of one might begin there. Being a respectful competitor can open the door for conversation and camaraderie off the runway, though, and you might be surprised by just how much you have in common with and like your fellow throwers.

I first (very briefly) met Dana at the 2004 Olympic Trials, where she did well and I was 19th out of 21 competitors. We threw against each other again in April of the next year at Cal Berkeley, where I threw 52 meters for the first time, in large part due to inspiration by Dana (who won). We met again at NACAC U-23 Championships in July of 2006 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where she won in dominating fashion and I was seventh. We had an absolute blast with Britney Henry, Russ, Adam Kuehl, and everyone else amazing on that trip. Would I have become life-long friends with and a happy wife to these people if I had sulked about my performance? No. They’re some of the most important ones in my life, and now Dana is my fantastic, fun coach. I love that we became friends through our competitive years and are now making dreams come true together.

Photos above are 12 years apart: Dominican Republic to Vail, CO! <3

OT 2012.JPG

In 2012, during warm-ups for the final of the Olympic Trials, Dana had everyone get together for a group photo (it was her last Olympic Trials). In this photo, Ari and I stood right next to each other. We didn’t really speak again for five years. Then, at a meet at IMG Academy in 2017, she, Maggie Malone and I were roommates and the only elite javelin throwers in attendance. We decided to help each other out in competition as no one’s coach had come, Ari PRed and made her first world team later that summer, we swam in the ocean, and it became clear really quickly that we were meant to be Friends! I’m visiting her in Houston this week, training together and watching Kimmy Schmidt. If we took ourselves too seriously as javelin throwers, we would have missed out on a friendship that I treasure dearly. We met throwing the javelin, but we’ve bonded over a lot of other things! And friendship will last longer than javelin.

Maybe you have friendship potential with competitors that you haven’t recognized yet. Friendship will last longer than any sport, not just specifically javelin. Sportsmanlike behavior, in my opinion, is much easier than the opposite. In my experience, being closed off, nervous, and protective of your own space is more difficult than just relaxing within a competition. Trying to take myself really seriously has always resulted in tightness and disappointment, and that’s a trap I’m trying my hardest not to fall into anymore at the biggest meets each season. Dana accompanying me to Zurich in 2018 was huge for keeping me relaxed and having fun when it mattered the most.

Post-2018 Diamond League Final, happy in the stands!

Post-2018 Diamond League Final, happy in the stands!

That last idea leads me to answering a question I got on Instagram:

Q: In high school I always felt judged and nervous at a meet, how do I fix that for college?

A: You’re nervous because you care about the outcome! I still get nervous, because I want to do well, and represent those who believe in me to the best of my ability. Being able to handle nerves, though, comes down to knowing that you did everything in your power to be ready for the opportunity that you’re facing. Focus in on a few cues that have worked really well for you leading into competition, and only worry about executing those. Having objective goals and knowing you have developed the tools to achieve them through hard work helps relax you, and then far throws can happen!

Perceived judgement is a little bit of a different thing. 1) If you think competitors are judging you, stop that right now. It’s not your job to worry about what they’re thinking, and likely they’re too worried about their own job to give you a second thought! Only worry about what you can control, and others’ thoughts don’t belong in that category. This takes practice but is such a valuable mental tool! 2) I used to get really worked up about the crowd watching too, so if spectators’ attention is what makes you feel judged, I get you! The thing that I came to realize, though, is that people are watching because they want to be wowed. Spectators are there because they want to see something amazing happen!! So their attention is always positive. Focus on that and hopefully you’ll grow to feel their presence and cheers as support rather than pressure. I’d love to hear how it goes!

A High Hand-Drills and Clarifications

I remember Mike mentioning at some point leading into 2012 that my hand *used* to be nice and high. There is a big part of me that thinks the perception of a high hand has more to do with the posture of an athlete who is confident vs. the cowering of an athlete who isn’t than the actual height of a hand, but that’s possibly a sports psychology discussion. For our purposes here, since I was asked to describe some drills for a high hand, how to get maximum flexibility in the throwing shoulder, or mental notes to “leave your arm behind,” I want to cover a few broad topics and then leave you with a list of some drills and video of one!

A high hand is kind of a misnomer. You want a BACK hand. If your throwing hand is too low, sure, it won’t go back as far as it can, but the same is true if your hand is too high. The goal should be to keep the arm parallel to the ground and the javelin almost the same, not some arbitrary definition of “high.” If your arm and hand are back as far as they can go, likely that arm will be “flat,” or “straight,” or “level,” not “high.” Watch Cyrus’s video of my American Record. I don’t think my arm is “high,” I think it’s back. As it was often in 2010!

Compared to 2018, it doesn’t look so different to me:

Those things being said, a nicely-controlled, level and stable arm can FEEL “high,” and there is some specific strength associated with getting into that position. Gaining the specific strength and mobility to get into a good carrying position is a feat in itself, but the second piece of that puzzle is learning to pull on the javelin from that flexible position. Acquiring the discipline and sequencing needed to use an excellent long arm requires its own kind of strength, patience, and mental fortitude. I really think the fear of what might happen when you pull from way back there behind your head is what halts most athletes’ progress in this weird event. There are drills for that, too!

Mental cues that have really helped me leave my arm back as long as possible are twofold:

1.       Dana and I talk a lot about pronation and supination of the left and right hands, respectively. Your left thumb points down and your right thumb points up (if you’re right-handed). Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so if you pronate your left hand/arm as long as possible, you’ll supinate (and leave long and “high”) your right hand/arm as long as possible back behind you. You can see this in the way Barbora throws as well. We try to couple that concept with the rotation of my right leg and hips and then core, but that’s getting too complicated for this blog.

2.       One of the longest-lasting things Ty ever told me was to “hide the javelin behind your head.” I know which direction I’m heading, so putting my hand and the grip of the javelin right behind my head for as long as absolutely possible means it’s back behind me, and still within the frame of my body as I initiate the throw. Part of keeping the longest arm possible in the javelin throw is staying closed (meaning that your shoulders are perpendicular to the foul line as long as possible). If you get open (turn your shoulders too soon to face the sector), you shorten your throwing arm! So “hiding the javelin” helps me stay long, keep my hand “high” (because my head is pretty far off the ground, haha) and stay closed.

Three kinds of drills (that I can think of right now. I’m sure there are more and that people categorize them differently.):

1.       Lateral raise/external rotation strengthening.

Help you develop the strength to simply hold your arm up with a javelin in your hand in a very stable position. This isn’t a normal thing for most people! Even the relatively light weight of our implement gets heavy in the course of a high-volume practice, so doing some strength work outside of throwing is helpful.

  • Hose drags across a field. We did this in high school and it was brutal. A literal garden hose that you hold in your hand in a solid javelin position and then do crossovers. Keep your arm as long and high as possible, and connect your core and lats to holding that position. The quality of the crossovers is not as important as your posture and the straightness of your arm behind you. Elbow bending will likely happen, but do your best to not let it! Do NOT shrug your shoulders. A relaxed shoulder gets more length.

  • Simple lateral dumbbell raises. Hands at waist up to external rotation and holding the dumbbell like a javelin. Start very light. Do not shrug your shoulders at any time in this movement. You could start with palms facing your body and then rotating up toward the ceiling as you raise your arms or start with palms facing out and go straight up. Maybe try both and see what feels best to you!

  • This drill I thought I made up last year but apparently other people do, too:

2.       Decelerators.

Training the throw in the opposite direction that it normally happens keeps your decelerators (mostly some of your rotator cuff tendons and generally the back of your shoulder) healthy. It can also help you really feel strong in the end range of motion if you’re actively trying to get there under load instead of initiating a pull from there. The backs of your shoulders (your entire upper back) not only slow your arm down after you throw, but help you maintain posture and position while you’re approaching the throw and within it.

  • Reverse cable throws. A Jamie Myers special in my programming. Start light. Stand facing the cable machine with the handle where you would normally carry the javelin in your first approach steps (running straight forward). Pull it backwards, turning your shoulders as you go and turning your hand towards the sky like you would if you were holding a javelin. Standard instructions: Do NOT shrug your shoulder. Reach back as far as you possibly can against the load with good posture (point at the wall behind you). Return to start under control.

  • Any kind of pull-apart. Grab a little band at waist-height with bent arms and pull it apart. Put your arms straight out in front of you, palms up, and pull the band apart. Pull it apart diagonally.

3.       Specific strength through extreme range of motion.

Javelin, as we know, involves putting your body into some intense positions. That’s what everyone is after when they ask about how to train this high hand, maximum shoulder flexibility, leave-your-arm-behind thing. And while you can put yourself into that position with some concentrated work, you also need to be able to get yourself out of it in an instant without tearing everything in your shoulder! Cue this section of drills.

  • Put a stick or javelin across your shoulders (like you might squat it). Hold it in your throwing hand like a javelin, and grasp it firmly with the other hand. Push with that other hand so you’re forcing the throwing hand backward another inch. Push back carefully with that throwing hand (initiate the movement from your lat/shoulder rather than your hand/elbow). Repeat. Really small range of motion, but at the very end of the overall picture.

  • Skin-the-cats.

  • Pullovers, sure, but with good core control. Only go as heavy as you can to still keep your butt and entire back on the bench. Get the strength in your flexible shoulders, not your shouldn’t-be-flexible lumbar spine.

  • Banded “standing throw.”

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m happy to answer questions and am always interested to see what other people come up with for drills, too!

Introversion in a Competitive World

I consider myself to be introverted. At MOST, I’m an ambivert! I can turn on the charm sometimes, but in order to truly enjoy social functions in big groups of people, parties are few and far between. At those parties, a stranger I meet surprises me with meaningful conversation (this isn’t that rare actually. Yay, humans!), or I have a few very good friends in attendance who I can easily connect with in the crowd. I’m not necessarily shy, but it took me a long time to realize that I could live my life in a way that brought me life, rather than trying to navigate the world how I saw other people doing it.

Interviews have always been a challenge for me. I get nervous and say dumb things. So far they haven’t been TOO dumb, but the same phenomenon happens socially if a conversation goes on for too long. It’s not quite overwhelming, but right on the edge. The best comebacks appear in my head hours later.

Mall trips in groups of teenage girls were torture for me, and as a result happened only a few times. I had no idea what we were supposed to be doing, not really buying anything but also talking about nothing! I hated seeing the drama in the team sports I played, but always preferred to lead by example. If asked for my input though, I could see both sides and be fair. Friend groups for me were fluid: I flitted between them during school hours and had my few really close, still life-long friends that I spent time with outside of those walls.

I get attached. When I used to be in the dating game (thank goodness that was so long ago), I think I was fairly creepy. If I found someone I liked, I latched on! Mostly just friendships were successful with my awkward methods, haha. I’ve been known to offer a sincere apology with a mismatched, super nervous grin facial expression. When I met Russ, I had honed my social skills a bit, but was also emboldened by my good friend Dana and my instant friend, Britney. And all of our friends, Rum!

I know that I’m not alone as an introvert. I’m currently reading Susan Cain’s 2013 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. One third to one half of the world finds energy and creativity in being alone rather than with other people! Navigating a world dominated by extroverts as a fairly quiet athlete can be difficult and force you out of your comfort zone, therefore out of your optimal mindset for competition. Learning to say no thank you to spending excess time with people or remove myself from long, crowded conversations around meals took a long time. I am social, just not as much as a lot of others seem to be at big meets or major championships, and walking the line between forming relationships that I do enjoy vs. getting as much alone time as I want is always a challenge. It has become obvious to me that quieter celebrations in victory aren’t as photogenic as the boisterous ones, and can therefore go unnoticed. Take my 2010 Prefontaine win that didn’t make the TV coverage that my parents DVRed at home. It takes quite a bit of practice for me to have a good interview I think. Here are some photos of me not knowing what to do with my hands and/or face!

Understanding certain things about my personality and what this world of athletics can be like brings me here, to explain how introversion can be an advantage as an athlete!

1.       Ability to focus.

I know that extroverts can also focus. But I think my preference for alone time also makes me acutely aware that I have limited amounts of it. Wanting to be alone provides me a sense of urgency. I want to get the hard work done while I’m able to focus wholly on it. I work best and hardest either by myself, or with someone that I know really well. Mike Hazle and I were fantastic training partners: While I would absolutely label him an extrovert, we balanced each other very well. There were still a lot of times in our three years together that I was by myself, though, and during those practices, I relished the quiet both outside and in my mind. I’ve grown to like loud encouragement from others (like when everyone is maxing in the weight room), but really and truly improve when I recognize my own quiet strength in the midst of a difficult workout, or in the way I think carefully through a new technical challenge and then implement it successfully. Working through difficulties on my own fuels me in ways that I find invaluable. I practice quiet focus every day, glean strength from it, and take it with me to competition, because when it comes time to perform, everyone is on their own in track and field.

With enough practice, an introvert can reach down inside themselves and find the focus they need to perform at their best, even in the chaos of an Olympic Stadium.

Focus.

Focus.

2.       Independence.

This idea is similar to above, but has to do with the way collegiate programs work sometimes, too. I really hit my stride in college, working with an incredible coach who also was responsible for the pole vaulters, hurdlers, and multi-event athletes. If you’re a collegiate javelin thrower working with a typical throws coach who also oversees shotput, discus, and hammer, I’m sure you have a similar experience to what I did: There simply aren’t enough hours to watch everybody, every day. Coach Zuyderwyk carefully crafted his schedule so that he saw everyone’s technical practices, but auxiliary work was often on our own, and there were very few times he was able to coach me in competition (although those turned out to be some key ones!). I loved being trusted to do work on my own, and the confidence that came from being able to perform solo. I took those lessons straight into the potentially lonely world of professional athletics.

For five years, I lived in Colorado Springs while my technical coach was in a different state. I truly loved my independent practices for most of that time period, and I believe that athletes in general are willing to be hard on themselves when no one else is around. I see introversion mostly as a big plus in this way, but after 2017, I was forced into some reflection on how I could change my input to hopefully change my output in the short rest of my career, and I knew I needed eyes on me regularly again. It was an adjustment to interact with another human at practice! But that process is made easier because Dana knew me well already: Our rapport is easy because we have been good friends for 14 years, and inherently understand important things about each other. A challenge in that transition was to retain some of my alone time. I want to have independent practices, because that is where technical stuff sinks in, and I, plain and simple, love the grind and focus. I have ball days on my own, and recovery work is either in the white noise of the pool or in the quiet wilderness somewhere. Knowing yourself is important: I love being alone and I’m good at it, but I had to let people in in order to grow, too. Independence in realizing those lessons is also powerful.

The independence of introversion serves you to get the hard work done even when you’re completely on your own, whether that’s early in the morning in your family’s basement doing core work in high school, or across the world at javelin practice.

Wandering around by myself in Chula Vista.

Wandering around by myself in Chula Vista.

3.       Solo travel is fun!

I used to judge people who wore their noise-cancelling headphones in the boarding area of airports. Turns out, I was just jealous. I finally bought some in 2015, and those babies are lifesavers on a long solo travel day! I absolutely love zoning out in my artificial quiet, reading books, watching movies, snacking on my delicious snacks that I bring specially for the plane. Layover time means a fantastic nap in a quiet corner somewhere, surrounded by my luggage and as removed from other people as I can get. There’s a really great service-elevator hallway in the Frankfurt Airport. It is entirely more stressful for me to interact with someone throughout a day like this than it is to do it by myself.

The act of traveling alone is something I enjoy, but I also started going on more training trips when we moved to Colorado so that I could be warm, and then later, to learn new things and adjust to time zones before competition. I LOVE solo training trips. The focus is great, the training is usually great, I get TONS of sleep, and I truly enjoy sightseeing on my own timeline. Maddie the Dog came with me to Austin in 2017, and I did hardly anything social for two weeks without her, which suited me (and her) great. In the summer of 2017, while in Leuven, Belgium, I took a day trip to Ghent alone and had one of my more emotional reactions ever to art in front of the Altarpiece. I spent 2+ weeks in Offenburg alone last year, and it was fabulous.

I’ve had some really great experiences with other people while traveling. Things like the Delirium Brewery Tour in Melle, paddleboarding with Barbora and Dana in Prague, and a beer garden with lots of good friends in Cologne are irreplaceable memories. I just know about myself that I have to get amped up for group experiences, while solo stuff re-energizes me! And in this sports world (at least the way I navigate it), there is a lot of opportunity to be alone and abroad. So that “loneliness” actually helps me get ready to compete at my best!

Introversion means you can come up with brilliant ideas on your quiet commute, whether that’s down the street or across the world. Maybe you think up a business idea between classes or go to dinner by yourself with your favorite book. Perhaps your personality means that you reflect deeply on what a group experience in a far-away land means to you, and keep that in mind moving forward. You do you!

A quiet moment wondering how to interact with children during a kids’ clinic in Zurich in 2010.

A quiet moment wondering how to interact with children during a kids’ clinic in Zurich in 2010.

Tools for success as an introvert in a competitive world (especially while traveling):

1.       Good headphones. Hide from the world when you need to.

2.       Interesting conversation points at-the-ready. When you’re confronted with talking to people you don’t know or a group situation you want to participate in without feeling drained, have some stuff to bring up. I like to stay current on my podcasts and some news so I can jump in and be excited about the conversation.

3.       Set roommate expectations early. This can be truly difficult. But being friendly sometimes and brave enough to stay quiet others can be such a relief. I like to take naps or a shower to introduce quiet if my roommate is a talker. Again, a truly tricky subject.

4.       Find a quiet place if it’s not your room. If you can’t manage to strike a balance that feels good to you in your room, find a comfortable, quiet place elsewhere. I sit in Starbucks and write or read sometimes. There are sometimes lobby lounges with comfortable chairs. I’ll opt for the hotel gym rather than a practice facility if it means I can get some solitude. Carve out your space.

5.       Go for walks. Similar to above. Get away from it all, and you’ll see sights as well!

Are you also introverted? How can you carve out a bit more recharging time in your day, so that you’re presenting your best self to the world? There are a lot of ways to be. Don’t be shy about embracing your own.

My Athletic Journey (Part 1)

Two big things:

1.       Guts over Glamour. I’ve always trusted myself and what I think will work over what people might say or think I *should* do, even if I’ve stuck with certain things too long. The “best” coach or “best” program or most glitzy offerings were a) not available to me or b) not as attractive as opportunities that were right in front of me.

2.       Progress over Perfection. I was not the best in high school. I threw nowhere near as far as Erica Wheeler’s Washington State high school record or Madison Wiltrout’s national high school record. I never won NCAA Championships. But I kept pushing forward.

I’ve told the story of how I grew up to be a javelin thrower many times, but I want to describe some specific components of it that feel important to where my head is at right now. I have some takeaways from my childhood, the college recruiting process, and finding my way at Purdue that you might be interested in.

My Dad is not military (he’s a civil engineer), but we lived in seven different houses in three states before I entered fifth grade in Vancouver, Washington. We almost went to California again from there in the middle of my sophomore year, but he made the sacrifice to commute to the bay area instead so that I could finish high school in the same place. He later commuted to SeaTac for the same reasons.

I played tee ball as a tiny child with my brother in Seattle. I started softball and soccer when we lived in Hawaii. Craig and I were on a swim team together there, too. When we got back to the mainland, I added basketball as well. Spring of fifth grade was my first introduction to track and field via the adorable mown-into-the-hillside oval at Felida Elementary School. I played middle school volleyball but refused to dive on the floor. Sports were always my method of making friends after arriving in a new place. I used to take PE so seriously that I would wear athletic shorts underneath my jeans in 6th grade, when we weren’t required to dress down, but I WANTED to. This was just before breakaway sweatpants were invented. I would have been their ideal customer.

Towards the end of middle school, a few things happened that pointed me toward individual sports. A coaching blunder during a premier soccer team’s semi-final match that allowed me to be in goal briefly (as NOT a trained goalie) and get scored on, causing the team to lose 1-0, resulted in my own enormous guilt and vicious beratement by teammates. I hadn’t been on their team all year (had only been a practice body during the playoff season), but I caused their downfall. They hated me that day, and while I recognized very quickly that I didn’t deserve that anger (thanks for all those wise car conversations, Mom!), the experience was powerful. Similar toxic behavior had been happening on my softball team for years, plus I was terrible at batting, so I quit and tried track and field in the spring of 8th grade instead (middle distance, high jump and just a little bit of discus).

My high school sports were swimming, basketball, and track and field, which I won letters for all four years. I also sang in the concert choir sophomore year with my brother, and took German because he had done so (and ended up loving it and still using those skills to this day). Honors classes included English, history, and eventually calculus. My high school was young when I was there! I was the first-ever individual state champion for Skyview in 2002. I was a decent post player, but I’m sure I only got to go to the state basketball tournament with the Varsity team freshman year because I had finally grown and was a good teammate. Swimming is the hardest sport I’ve ever done, and the women I befriended in that pool are a few of my soulmates. I used to run a few days a week before school during swimming season to stay ready for the land sport of basketball.

My takeaway from playing lots of different sports, prioritizing academics and other extracurriculars as well, and moving a lot growing up, is to stay flexible and multi-faceted. After learning to adapt to new environments and people as a kid, I was not only brave enough to go across the country for college, but I now travel the world by myself. I absolutely credit my longevity in the javelin to being a multi-sport athlete growing up, and recognizing the value (read: fun) in participating in various activities (athletic or otherwise).

I thought that my best shot at a college scholarship would be division 2 basketball, but once I picked up the javelin, I realized what a blast it was to put effort in and see results come out. I had tastes of that control in swimming, but a natural knack for the event made my experience on the runway even better. My college recruiting process started the summer before senior year of high school. I had won two state javelin championships at that point, and had met Lindsey Blaine that spring at the Pasco Invitational. She told me the day we met that she was going to Purdue University, a place I had never heard of before! I set up official visits that fall to University of Washington, Stanford, University of Missouri, and Purdue.

Becoming a Husky would’ve kept me really close to home, and I wanted to expand my horizons. Stanford obviously has prestige, but I wasn’t thrilled with the high-pressure situation I experienced on my visit there. I liked the coach and feel at Missouri, but I would have had no training partners. Lindsey was my hostess on my official visit to Purdue and became my fantastic training partner, there were four other female throwers in her grade on the team, Coach Rodney Zuyderwyk is exactly the kind of quiet-but-awesomely-motivating person I gravitate toward, and I really liked the big university in an isolated midwestern town. I also had no idea what I wanted to study, so the wide variety of highly-acclaimed academic programs at Purdue was attractive!

I did not get a full ride to Purdue. I only earned 100% scholarship during my final year as a Boilermaker (after making the 2008 Olympic Team). But where there wasn’t money, there was an excellent team atmosphere, great training partners, and the absolute best collegiate coach there could have been for me.

My parents and high school boyfriend were the people I talked to the most about where I wanted to go to school. Looking back, I can’t remember having any conversations with my high school coaches about my decision, which doesn’t seem that weird now: My parents and the boyfriend, plus some good friends, knew me best. I had always compartmentalized my sports (the only one that got anywhere close to year-round was basketball), so relying on those who knew me more completely felt more natural and reliable. The takeaway here is that trusting yourself is really important. Rely on yourself and just a few select others. It gets really easy to be overwhelmed and distracted when you solicit lots of opinions, especially when only the opinions of those closest to you (who have your best interests at heart) really matter in the long run. Do your due diligence in the form of research, of course, but ultimately, your decisions are up to you.

Lindsey and Coach Z. were such huge factors in my success in college and beyond, and an in-depth look at that deserves its own blog post. I think college athletics dynamics can be so challenging, and I’d love to share more about the ups and downs of my experience with these two leaders guiding me. Sometime. 😊

Lindsey and I at NCAAs 2006!

Lindsey and I at NCAAs 2006!

My third biggest takeaway of this first part of my athletic journey (I’m cutting this blog off at college) is to set big goals. I recently went through a box of stuff at my parents’ house, and I had forgotten just how early I started doing this. One of the many reasons I wanted to go to Purdue was that the school record had been an American Record when it was set (60.06m by Serene Ross). My high school PR was 48.64m. That precedent of excellent javelin throwing provided an automatic lofty goal. I hurt my back really badly in 2007, but had had enough success in the javelin before then to indicate (to me and Coach Z. at least) that the Beijing Olympics were a possibility in just the next year. I had to improve by more than five meters to hit the Olympic standard, in the year after a major back injury. An arbitrary-but-huge goal I decided on during the rehab phase of that injury was that I would have the best abs in the NCAA, haha. I don’t have the genes to display a ripped 6-pack unless I’m really restricting my caloric intake, but that thought process contributed to my serious commitment to extra rehab and core work, which for sure was a big reason I could throw much further and make that first Olympic Team.

Olympic Trials 2008

Olympic Trials 2008

Part of setting big, giant goals is believing in yourself first, but also having people around you who believe, too (see takeaway number 2). In that box I just went through at my parents’ house, I found a piece of paper Russ made for me during that 2007-2008 push to the Olympics. I used to make elaborate colored goal sheets that I hung around my room as constant reminders of where I wanted to go. He took the initiative to make me one because he not only had similar goals, but wanted to support me in my process. Set big goals, figure out which steps to take to get you there, and bring your loved ones along on the journey.

Russ.jpg

I’m going to kind of quick-fire answer the question that sparked this two-part blog series in closing. Stay tuned after that for part 2 (post-collegiate, next week)!

Q: Beginning to present, how you became the athlete you are now, the steps that you took.

A:

1.       Was active in general. My brother and I were always outside.

2.       Tried lots of stuff. Many sports, many activities. New things.

3.       Talked about my path with loved ones. Spent so much time with Mom in the car and at the kitchen table, and recognized through his actions that Dad saw strength and potential in me.

4.       Kept it fun. Loved the people I was around and the excellent coaches I had through high school. If I didn’t love it, I looked elsewhere.

5.       Committed. Once I decided on Purdue, I was all in to that system.

6.       Listened and learned. When I had setbacks, I realized that I wasn’t equipped to deal with them yet, so relied on those who were prepared and willing to help.

7.       Worked really hard. Why would you not, when you’re able?

8.       Was grateful. Coach Z. learned right along with me as we developed my technique. Lindsey was such a leader in ways that she doesn’t even really know I appreciate. Other roommates and teammates were incredibly supportive. I tried to be as great to other people as they were to me.

There will always be more. But that’s all for now!

Travel

I got quite a few questions when I requested them in my Instagram story (thanks, guys!), so in the spirit of more concise and frequent blogs, I’m turning this one into a travel question-and-answer instead of my typical freeform! I’ll also take this opportunity to direct you to a guest blog I did last summer for Rodhe Sport. I’ve embedded the companion video to that blog at the bottom of this blog, but you’ll have to head over to Justin’s website to get the description!

Dos and don’ts when traveling with javelins? Do you travel with your javelins or do they provide them at the meet?

DO bring them. One of very few times I decided to leave mine home because I got to see a rare list of provided implements, those implements weren’t actually there! Cue stress. If you are worried about having something to throw when it comes to the meet, bring your own stuff.

DON’T stress about them. Things happen. Javelins are pretty darn interchangeable (even if they’re not, for you, mentally, but that’s a different conversation), and you can’t help it if they get lost and miss a competition. As long as you find them again, it’s not worth your diminished performance to worry about when that will happen.

               The key to staying calm when there’s a javelin snafu is to be your own advocate. I spent a lot of years being too passive and apologetic about stuff (and I think, regardless of loud reputation, this is kind of an American attitude). As long as you’re respectful and sportsmanlike, the javelins are all fair game once they hit the competition rack. Don’t rip an implement out of a competitor’s hand, but be brave.

DO leave yourself extra time to check your luggage at the airport or get on a train or bus. People will stare at you as you tote a long ski-like bag and maneuver it in tight spaces, but they will not give you extra space or consideration for the most part. There are different fees for oversize luggage for different airlines, and finding a place to stow a large bag on a train takes extra patience. Find your platform or stop early, and either decide to be first or last to board, as negotiating around people just makes an already-cumbersome task more frustrating.

DON’T hit people with them. I only did this one time, on a crowded bus many years ago. I had an extremely close call with a child’s face in the Stuttgart train station the other day, and am so glad my fast twitch fibers were operational in that moment. Constant vigilance.

Coolest place you’ve competed?

I love Australia so much, but likely because of the country itself and not necessarily the competition venues? Finland was super fun last year (Lappeenranta) because of their understanding of the event and watching Tero Pitkamaki throw far in his home country. The Hallesche Werfertage is great because of the crowd’s proximity. The Berlin Olympic Stadium is one of my favorites in the world because of the history there and just how impressive the structure is. Luzern, Switzerland’s views from the track are epic. Lausanne as well. Same for the Monaco stadium and Rovereto, Italy. I won my first international competition way back in Kawasaki, Japan in 2009, and Japan remains one of my favorite countries in the whole world. I can’t believe I’m saying this though, not only because I tore my ACL there but because it feels so cliché, but there really is nothing like an excellent throw at Historic Hayward Field. I’ve been lucky to have a couple like that in my career, and I’ll miss it.

Is Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check worth it?

YES!! These things don’t really help you when traveling internationally (from foreign country to foreign country or with customs lines upon arrival in Europe), but when I’m at the end of a long trip and am almost home, it’s incredibly gratifying to soar through Global Entry and run into Russ’s arms quickly instead of standing in a line some more. Speeding through the security process at the beginning of a long trip is so nice as well, since it leaves you time to eat food you like one more time, re-organize your carry-ons maybe, get water, and relax a bit before boarding. Highly, highly recommend.

Do you bring snacks and fuel for competition day from the USA that you are familiar with, or do you just find local stuff when you arrive?

I bring snacks!! I have pretty specific competition day snack needs (see the Rodhe Sport blog for description), and for this current trip specifically, I’m so glad I brought some breakfast stuff too! I do enjoy buying local food also (especially because I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Germany and know what I like here), but I arrived in Offenburg on a Saturday in the late afternoon. Grocery stores were closed on Sunday, and Monday was a German holiday, meaning those stores (and bakeries and cafes) were still closed! I could walk down the hill for an early dinner each night, but I wouldn’t have had any breakfast if I hadn’t brought oatmeal packets, dried fruit, almond butter, protein powder and instant coffee (the real MVP).

Traveling in Germany? Europe? Or just travel tips in general?

This is a big question, so I’ll just say that you should do your research before arrival. Being very aware of what your phone plan is is important, too! I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit sitting on curbs and crying in foreign cities, but that was mostly before international data plans were common. Mostly. These days, it’s easy to do a little research on what public transportation is available wherever you’re going, download the app for that train line or bus system or what have you before you leave, and be on your way. That being said, yesterday I walked literally an hour to practice because I didn’t have the correct bus stop name entered in my DB app, and I didn’t want to bike because I’m sore from biking.

Point number two! Slow down. Take a deep breath, listen, and just be sure of where you’re going before you take off. It’s easy to get caught up in the schedule you may have previously laid out for yourself, but getting rushed is when disaster strikes for me, and the stress that comes with it doesn’t help my body when it comes to training and performance.

               On my way to Europe for this trip, I missed my international connection and had to be rescheduled due to delay. I hadn’t previously purchased a train ticket to Offenburg from Stuttgart for precisely this reason, but by the time I got to the Stuttgart airport, it was getting kind of late and I was feeling pressure to get to my AirBnB and not keep the hostess waiting. So when I purchased my train ticket, in my rush, I left my debit card in the machine!! Didn’t notice for 24 hours. Can’t believe my account wasn’t touched. Feel so dumb. I also stood on the platform for approximately 15 minutes before the train came, so there was no reason at all to be in such a hurry.

My biggest tip is to let the good outweigh the not-so-good. My Mom is amazing at this. In 2011, she got pickpocketed in Paris and then spent days and days and days incredibly sick on the shores of Lake Como with my Dad. European travel can be difficult, but only because it’s different from your normal life (if you’re American and reading this), and while that trip was clearly awful for her, she talks about how beautiful it was and what they saw rather than the bad stuff. I bike over cobblestones and my butt is sore to get to the laundromat, but there’s a gorgeous church outside that’s 200 years old. I have a lot of those kinds of stories, but I usually have to work hard to remember the bad parts. (Thanks for gifting me your positive attitude, Mom!)

What’s it like being on the road and continuing training?

This can be a challenge! A big part of being a professional track and field athlete is adaptability. It’s already fairly common to adapt your training at home, say, if a body part hurts or you have a family obligation or something, and the same things (along a little different lines sometimes) have to happen while traveling. I was scheduled to have a ball session the Monday after I arrived (that German holiday), but did a body weight circuit at my apartment instead because a) I don’t do so well with international travel and quickly adopting new time zones and b) it was a holiday! On Tuesday, I had a miscommunication with the coach here and biked all over town doing laundry, getting keys, and finally lifting at 6:30pm. At home, I’ve been swimming a little after throwing sessions because it helps decompress my back and also I love it. I hadn’t been in the pool since I’d been here, so yesterday I made my way by bus to the public one. When I walked in, it didn’t look like there would be a lane for me, I didn’t know how much it would cost, and I wasn’t totally sure of the bus schedule, so I walked right out again. After brief reflection, I decided just splashing around would be good for me (it’s hot here!), so went back in, paid, and found a perfectly good lane just beyond my line of sight from the lobby for a lovely swim. I got stuck upon exiting, sure, but I'm glad I stuck around.

In a nutshell, even getting to training can be more difficult when traveling, and knowing when to push yourself in training vs. when to back off because of those extra difficulties takes time. Having fabulous sounding boards at home helps a lot…

How do you organize your training during traveling because your coach isn’t always with you? Is she?

Dana is not currently traveling with me, no (but hopefully later this summer!), but the person who actually writes my programming is my other coach, my strength coach since 2009 and now the guy who tells me what to do every day (joking, but he is writing all of my stuff now), Jamie Myers! To answer this question, communication. I’ve been texting and emailing with both Jamie and Dana pretty much every other day or more since I’ve been in Germany, sharing video and double-checking if an adaptation for something is a good idea. After I biked all around the town on Tuesday, my lift was lighter that night, as confirmed with Jamie. I added a competition this weekend in Offenburg that I hadn’t planned on when I left home, so my overall training schedule has been redone through email discussion, and we’ve already talked about what I’ll do when I get home in the short time before USATF National Championships. But that might change! I listen to my body, communicate with my people, and try to make good decisions about what will make training great, while enjoying my trip at the same time.

Can you mention in your blog how you keep from getting too fatigued/tight while traveling?

Firstly, sleep!! Adapt to whatever time zone you’re in as quickly as you can if you’ll be there for a while, and don’t stress too much if jet lag hits you. Coffee is my friend. After that statement, hydrate like crazy. I sweat profusely in Europe, and forget what that’s like as a Coloradan of 5 years. Staying hydrated, as we all know, helps keep your muscles fluid instead of bound up!

During an actual travel day, I'm never shy about stretching in a corner away from people or lying down on the floor of any airport. I am committed to never outgrowing this willingness. Stay loose and as comfortable as possible when you have room to move!

The self-therapy tools that I brought with me are a little foam roller, lacrosse ball, a circular band (for clamshells or monster walks or what have you) and a regular bungee. I get down on the floor of my apartment at least twice a day and do some rolling, and while I’m down there, some stretching too. I especially emphasize this right after I get back from something, be it the grocery store or practice, because I’m biking or walking everywhere. I do an ab circuit every day that has really been helping my thoracic spine (it includes twisting motions) stay limber in a way that it hasn’t been for the last few years, so I’m pumped about that!

Recovery is super important when traveling, too. The bike can destroy your legs real fast if you’re not careful. I will likely take the bus tomorrow (Friday) instead of biking so that my legs can be fresh for Saturday’s competition. I do not at all plan to leave my apartment today (Thursday), my off day. I like to enjoy the places that I travel to, but there are days here and there that I can tell I’ve done too much (this happens to me domestically, too), and the last two have been big ones, so I’m jealously guarding my down time today! This will of course still include some therapy and core time, but there will be a lot of reading and binge-watching in there as well (Arrow Season 6 is making me really sad. I look forward to a new season every one of my competition seasons, but I’m sorely disappointed.).

Thanks for your questions, everyone!! This one got long…old habits…

A travel day in Europe for me and the tools that keep me at my best! Companion video for Rodhe Sport blog (2017).