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

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!