Saturday, August 19, 2017

London World Championships and Rambling Reflection

The IAAF World Championships are over, but I'm still reeling a bit. I find it difficult to fully think through things unless I have a loved one to talk to (Russ and I did that some, but he's at home now), or I write about it. So here we are.

I've healed a lot, actually. And many of your comments have been helpful, so thank you. But I'm here to learn and grow, not stay in the same place, and the latter is what I feel like I’ve spent the last few years doing.

Last year, Russ and I talked about how I could improve on 2016, and there was a lot that could have gone better. The main thing that I tried to change for the 2017 season was to travel to warmth and sea level more often. It's hard for me to feel like myself when throwing in Colorado (cold and altitude and training alone are tough, and I've been there for four years now). I was also very disciplined this year about shoulder and knee rehab, plus core stability, thanks to painful reminders in 2016 (right shoulder impingement and left knee fat pad pinch) that rehab is always good to keep around. A bit of back pain around February gave me a kick to step up the back/core rehab, and I'm grateful for that, too. After major disappointment in Rio and a little bit of uncertainty from a financial standpoint this year, my mind was focused on why I keep throwing the javelin, and who I'm throwing it for (selfishly, me, although I also definitely feel responsibility to lead the sport in the USA).

I've felt like a million dollars in April/May of the last three years. Even after left shoulder surgery in October of 2015, I was throwing very well when I visited Austin in April of 2016. I threw 66.47m on May 2, 2015. I threw 64.80m this year on April 14. When I got to Texas the week before that, I did some grass throws and the javelin was flying out of my hand like it hadn't in a few years (before my right shoulder pain started). When I recorded that 64.80m throw, my technique wasn't anywhere close to how it has needed to be in the past for me to throw that far. I feel powerful and confident and strong in the spring.

In 2010, I injured my back in about February. I sprained a facet doing medball throws in my thoracic-lumbar junction, and my back extension was severely limited. I struggled to figure out a way to help it heal for weeks, and didn't throw for about a month before I finally discovered acupuncture. Then, I very slowly worked back to the runway, taking full throws again maybe a week before Drake Relays, where I opened my season well (61m) with a very slow approach and focus on the new positions I'd been learning. I was still careful for a long time before USAs that year, when I ultimately broke the American Record. The lesson from 2010, though, is that I spent all fall on easy throws, doing lots of drills to learn new technique (it was my first season with Ty), and really only turned up the heat throwing-wise in May/June. We did lots of gymnastics, heavy single-support lifting, tons of core, and the throwing was quality, not quantity. I didn't train until November of 2009, really, and I remember because when I finally got to the training center, everyone had started before me.

The 2015 season was the first one that I really trusted my left leg again, and I had done lots of drills to be sure of that. My upper body felt great that year before disaster struck in Paris, and I had lots of mental motivation in May to throw far and get into the Prefontaine Classic. Russ and I got married at the end of September in 2014, and I didn't train, again, until November. I had gotten lots of rest that fall, slowly built up my fitness and focused on my rehab still, then brought the throwing in. I didn't injure my back, though, therefore I was ready a few months earlier than 2010, and threw 66.47m at the beginning of May. The first half of the season was still awesome (two 64-high-meter efforts at USAs and Mike Turk telling me that was the easiest he'd ever seen me throw really far), but my left labrum/rotator cuff tear really threw a wrench into things.

There is one very important similarity in my mind between my 66.67m in 2010 and 66.47m in 2015, and that is my confidence at speed during the two distinct competitions. Like I just said, I hadn't trained a lot at speed in 2010, but when I showed up to USAs, I felt awesome, and just instinctively knew I could handle a bit more that day. During warm-ups in Austin in May of 2015, I felt exactly the same way. I hadn't pushed the speed very often since returning to the runway after my surgery, but spent lots of time figuring out the sequencing of my throw and preparing my left leg to handle anything. There are very few magical days in throwing when you feel super connected to your implement, and June 26, 2010 and May 2, 2015 are two of maybe five of those days that I've had in my whole career. I know it when I feel it, though, and there's not much that makes you feel more confident than that. Read this lesson as, "Positions are more important than speed." When you know you can hit the positions, sometimes you can add the speed.

I've been in Europe since July 4, when I arrived for the Lausanne Diamond League. I didn't throw in practice until I got to Leuven, Belgium after the Rabat Diamond League, as competitions were too close together to allow for it. I was sending video home for Russ and Ty to review, but there's kind of nothing like having eyes at practice. I spend a ton of time training alone, and it's very difficult to be frustrated and alone and have anything productive come out of it. John Dagata really helped me out by watching two of my last runway sessions before London (one in Belgium, one in Birmingham at training camp). Sometimes technique is cyclical. It's easy to forget about one cue if another is being used successfully, and sometimes you can get away with that for years. But if that cue stops working, or your body changes enough from training or injury for things to feel different, you have to remember that there are other ways to throw.

When I moved to Chula Vista and learned new technique from Ty, my most important cue was that my chest couldn't be too far forward AFTER the left foot was down. So you put your left foot down quickly, and only then can you push the chest forward and over the left foot, leaving your right arm behind you. But the left has to come first. Since my knee surgery, I have been so worried about being strong with my left leg (and sometimes, so eager to remove pressure from that leg) that I completely forgot about executing that all-important sequencing. I think through habit it happened naturally sometimes, especially when I gained confidence in my left leg, but I forgot about that cue until Leuven, when, in desperation from frustrating practices and being perpetually forward in competition, I finally watched old video and remembered how patient I used to feel with my upper body in the throw.

My second runway session with John in Birmingham was really fun. I was very encouraged to have re-discovered some fun and useful cues, and focused on how to apply them to competition in qualifying on August 6th. Many other practices this year have been successful distance-wise, but also painful. I've been open and forward with my upper body, and just used toughness to throw far. I'm sore everywhere afterward, and in Birmingham I finally felt athletic and smooth and like I could throw far on purpose again, not just gut a throw out. I'm having internet struggles in Prague, so you can find that Birmingham training video on Instagram.

It turns out (and I knew this, obviously) that one pretty good practice doesn't solidify cues you haven't thought about in years, and my technique in Group A of the women's javelin qualifying round at my fourth World Championships reverted to what I've been doing all summer (pushing my right foot back and rushing my upper body at the last second). I managed 61.27m on my first throw, and 58m and 59m after that. In 2015, I was the 12th qualifier to the final with 62.21m, and this year it took 62.29m; the furthest ever. I finished 15th, and missed the final for the sixth time in seven tries at a major championship. You can only imagine that that qualification number will keep increasing with the way talent has emerged from all corners of the world in the past few years, therefore I have to get better. Also, the only way to ensure a spot in the final is to throw the Big Q, which has been 63.50m for the past three major championships.

If I know you, my fans and loved ones, you'll say, "Don't be so hard on yourself, Kara! You'll get it next time!" I've always believed that. I continue to believe that. And I've been okay with training the same way through both of my major injuries because, well, I was recovering from major injuries. But this year, I finally wasn't, and there's no good reason that my World Championships wasn't amazing.

I know that this is JUST sport. I think about that often: “It’s only a sport, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things!” But why, then, do I continue to compete? Because I want to see just how good I can be, and I can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result.

Have you ever heard the expression that the Olympics are just another track meet? People say the same things about World Championships, or any other major competition that comes around. There are many reasons that that’s not true. I let those little distractions mess with me this year, but there are steps that I can take to be prepared for them in the future. I’m finally demanding of myself that I learn to eliminate (or at least, gloss over) such energy-sucking things. Things like constant communication with your governing body or teammates, annoyance with logistics of the competition or training, social media, officials (they confiscated everyone’s watches this year, for example), complete lack of alone time, and even family obligations can really derail me. I’ve always been pretty good at only worrying about things I can control, but I could be a lot better. And I will be next time.

I don’t have a whole lot else to say about Worlds. I am healthy, I am strong, and I truly believe that I just need to relax and the javelin will go far again. I have three more opportunities to make that happen this summer before I go home.

I’m going to end this blog with a list of some of my favorite things that have happened in Europe this summer, in no particular order (except maybe chronological because that’s how my brain works):

-meeting Romey Kuehl
-being the third wheel during a very romantic and delicious dinner in a Germanbasement winery restaurant with the Kuehls and all the laughter
-having my own little Moroccan cheering section for no reason at all
-riding bikes and being roommates with Kate Grace
-eating Belgian dinner in a courtyard with friends and a peacock
-seeing the Ghent Altarpiece alone
-touring Delirium Brewery with awesome people
-running back into my husband’s arms after a month without him
-eating spicy pizza and drinking wine on the sidewalk in a terrible part of London with some of the most important people in my world
-seeing Dani laugh harder than I ever have before, and transcending college experience for senior national team experience
-bonding even more with Ari on the roof
-watching Evan and Emma make literal history in their event, and being freshly inspired to do the same
-realizing my true feelings of longing for my family (Russ and Maddie) in a spontaneous sob during a video chat
-eating and wandering my way through downtown Prague alone
-having girl’s night and outdoor adventures with my friend Barbora
-learning about the javelin from the best in the world

There will be more good times before it’s over. Only two short weeks now, though! 

Friday, August 4, 2017


I am recapping the second, third, and fourth Diamond League events of this season together in this blog, because they were all very similar experiences for me, much to my frustration!

I left home on July 3, after picking Russ up from the airport in the morning, taking Maddie to a Denver dog park, and them dropping me back off at the airport in the afternoon. The Lufthansa Denver-Frankfurt flight is my favorite way to get to Europe! In nine hours, you're there and just have to make a short hop to your destination. I came really close to falling asleep sitting up while sipping espresso on the shores of Lake Geneva on July 4, took an ice bath with Kathryn Mitchell in that lake after our workout on July 5, and visited the Olympic Museum the morning of the competition (Lausanne is the home of the International Olympic Committee). This was my second time in Lausanne, and the stadium and surrounding views were just as beautiful as I remembered.

Too much leanback now=too far forward in .5 seconds!
I felt really good warming up in the grass outside the stadium on competition day. My legs were working a bit better than they had in Sacramento, and I was excited. I had been battling a very stubborn back spasm since right after throwing at USAs, though, and as soon as I took my first runway warm-up throw, it felt like my entire spine adjusted itself! Cue increased spasm, and I did everything I could to counteract my back pain with better legs, but sometimes when all of your energy is focused on one thing your body uses that first, regardless of pain. It was really difficult to relax my right arm behind me as well, as the muscles most effected are in that upper right quadrant of my back. I did the best I could with what I had, I guess, managed to stay in the top 8, and finished the day with 59.19m and my first regular-season competition under 60m. It is a terrible feeling to keep getting the same result at Diamond League competitions, as previously stated in my Prefontaine blog. Performances by the other women were even more impressive in Lausanne than Eugene!

Gorgeous stadium and great crowds. Love London!
We traveled from Lausanne straight to London for the July 9 competition in the Olympic Stadium. I threw here in 2015 at the Muller Anniversary Games for the first time after competing at my second Olympics with a torn ACL, and that went well, so I have overall great memories of this track! I wanted to improve on Lausanne and mostly wanted to get my back in line and firing again. There wasn't adequate warm-up space outside the stadium for this meet, but we had more than enough time to throw off of the runway once we got inside. The weather was absolutely perfect, and my back felt better than it had three days prior. I moved up one spot (7th) with a pure-guts 61.06m throw. I felt the same: I tried to focus on my legs in both competitions, but haven't been using my right leg effectively through my crossovers all year, so by the time I get to my power position and am attempting to let my left leg do the work and not push with my right, my upper body is so far forward that I have nothing to put into the javelin. Goldie Sayers said hello outside the stadium, and it was so good to see her! She mentioned her notice of my right leg pushing back, and that observation was my first indication that I might need some serious self-reflection in practice.

There was no time for that, though, as the Rabat Diamond League occurred on July 16, and two competitions in four days meant my arm needed some rest (especially after not hitting the best positions at high speed). After a short stay in Stuttgart with wonderful friends and great strength training/rehab, it was off to Morocco!

So. Sweaty.
I promise that every time I step on the runway, I have a fresh perspective and new mental focus for each throw. I fully believe that each attempt will be my best, and that each new competition presents an opportunity for greatness, regardless of prior outcomes. This is how I approached Rabat, after some great rehab in Germany, pretty easy travel, and a back that was slowly calming down. 

When we entered the Moroccan stadium for competition, we got a rare treat for javelin throwers: Introductions with smoke and cheers for each individual coming out of the tunnel onto the track! We were then marched all the way around the back curve of that track in front of all of the fans, to meet our stuff at the runway on the far side. Along that walk, a little group of Moroccan fans near our runway took to me. They cheered loudly and waved the flags they'd brought along every time I threw and each time I glanced their way during competition. I don't know why they chose me, but they stuck by me the whole time, even when it was clear that each of my frustrating throws wasn't what I wanted!

Something I've remembered in the last week or so is that I have to be more patient with my chest, but then actually use it when the time is right. In Rabat, like Lausanne and London, I was trying to use my legs first, but really only using my left leg to propel me down the runway. I've always struggled with shooting my right foot backwards too soon, and over years, I think I started just not using my right leg! Recently, I've used it in my crossovers better, and then been able to carry speed into my block in practice. In this competition, though, I was not yet there. So, on every throw, my mindset, was to get to my left quickly while not pushing backwards with my right, but I had no momentum by the time I got down there. Add a chest that was forward due to lack of momentum as well as a personal refusal to push that chest forward in an attempt to stay behind my block, and absolutely no energy went into the javelin.

I had decent tip control and flights, but every time I let go of the javelin, it went nowhere. I finished the day with 59.94m and fifth place, very frustrated. The competition overall wasn't nearly as strong as Lausanne or London (therefore, wide open for me or anyone else who could have stepped up). In those situations, when you don't step up, it feels doubly defeating (other people beat you AND you beat yourself). 

Positives: I left Morocco with all of my belongings, which is more than I can say for the first time I traveled there in 2014. I also set an African PR for myself (I threw terribly at Continental Cup in 2014, as it was two weeks before my wedding and my head wasn't quite in the game). Thirdly, I scratched and clawed for enough Diamond League points, even with very underwhelming performances, to qualify for the final in Zurich on August 24! 

After Rabat, I trained and adventured in Leuven, Belgium for 10 days with some other members of Team USATF, then went to Birmingham, England for training camp for four more days. Now, we are in London, and the women's javelin qualifying round at my fourth IAAF World Championships takes place on Sunday evening, with the final slated for Tuesday (top 12 athletes move on, as usual). In Belgium, I finally had the opportunity to film throws again, get a lot of reps in, and figure some things out with the help of discipline, Russ, and John Dagata. I have a few key cues going through my head constantly at this point, which is better for my focus than my mind being completely blank going into a major championship! Excited.

Monday, July 31, 2017

USATF National Championships

A return to Sacramento for this year's USATF National Championships meant that I was prepared mentally for lots of heat and a competition that takes place on the warm-up track outside the stadium. I competed for the first time at Sac State at Golden West about 15 years ago. Way back then (and into the first part of college), the infield was grass and we got to throw there. Now, we're relegated to the far corner of the practice track. My experience throwing out there in 2014 told me that I wanted to take special advantage of this year's championships and announce the men's javelin to make it a bit more exciting! That experience turned into a bit more, and was awesome.

Photo by Paul Merca (2014)

2014's USATF National Championships
 saw me return to the top of the podium for the first time after my ACL surgery, and was an interesting and busy season for me, as we were renovating our house and also planning our wedding for the September immediately following that comeback year. This year, my focus coming in was to win my seventh national title, and throw really far.

That's truly all I was thinking about, and as a result, I had no true technical focus. I really tried to relax on the runway and let my feet do the work, but the technical cues and patient positions I've remembered in the past few weeks clue me in to why the javelin didn't go further than 62.80m one month ago at this meet. I succeeded in winning my seventh national championship and earning a spot on this upcoming World team, but I was in shape physically to make the javelin go much further on that 109-degree day. My legs worked okay, but the timing of my upper body was way ahead of those legs, and I can see that clearly now. I still managed to have two other throws over 61m and another two over 59m. Ari was second with 58m, and set herself up to throw further later and make the World Championship team, too!!

The javelin and hammer competitions, as previously stated, take place outside the stadium at Sac State. This presents a neat opportunity for fans of those specific events to get close to the action, but that's not enough! Three years ago, I was extremely frustrated with the energy level of the announcing that happened during our competition, so this year I wanted to do something about it. I couldn't really affect change during my own meet, and the men's hammer happened earlier that same day, but the men's javelin was scheduled for Saturday and the women's hammer was contested Sunday morning. I called the powers that be at USATF and asked if I could announce the men's javelin, not on any live streamed internet channel to conflict with the broadcast rights of NBC, but just for the one-set-of-bleachers-full of the athletes' friends and family out at the warm-up track. I was pumped when they said yes.

Armed with an index card of information gathered on each of the 18 men's javelin throwers, I had a blast providing background information, a few technical opinions, hype, and a positive spin on each athletes' performance on Saturday. Riley and Cyrus both threw season's best, and Michael Shuey threw lifetime PRs to break into the top 3 two weeks after finishing his collegiate career at Penn State. All of the other athletes seemed to enjoy it, and the crowd was more engaged by far than for our event two days prior! So fun. Amanda Bingson showed up to watch the event, and told me point blank that I had to announce the hammer the next day as well. I had thought about it briefly, but her request meant a lot to me, and I did my research that night and the next morning to do those awesome athletes justice as well. American women's hammer has been steadily catching fire for the past few years, and their incredible competition was an honor to be a small part of. I got great feedback from both crowds and had an absolute blast shedding some light and entertainment on my fellow American throwers for the fans that chose to sit in 100+ degrees to cheer them on!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Prefontaine Classic

We threw on Friday night at the Prefontaine Classic this year, which is the first time in my four total trips to this meet that that has happened. The women's long jump and women's javelin were the only two field events held on a night that typically sees lots of distance races go around the track.

I felt good coming into Pre, and had set up my training in a way that made me feel confident in my power and state of recovery for the first Diamond League meet of the season. I always want to succeed at Pre, because it's the only time I meet my international competitors on home soil, and have the advantage of time zone adjustment. I was second at this meet in 2015 and won way back in 2010, but fell short of my expectations in 2011 and this year.

On meet day, on the way to the track, the nine competitors set to throw were informed that only six athletes would receive six throws, rather than the Diamond League and IAAF rule-stipulated eight. This year in the Diamond League series, we field event people only have five competitions (including the final) compared to the seven we have always had, so to limit the final at the first one, while not unusual for this specific meeting, was frustrating for all of us. Whatever though, it's not like my or anyone else's mindset is ever that we will not be in that top 6 (I promise you: Everyone always wants to win), so the focus remains the same.

I started out with 61.66m in the first round, and was happy with the relaxed, strong beginning effort. As nice as an easy mid-61m throw is, I knew I'd need to improve to guarantee top 6, as the last two years of women's javelin throwing in the world have seen a huge increase in the number of women that can throw 62m any given day.

I tried way too hard in rounds two and three, totally losing my chest at the end of the throw (as a result of pushing backward with my right foot and rushing my upper body forward) and sending the tip of the javelin straight up in the process. I sat in sixth place until Barbora passed me in round three to push me into the first spot out of finals.

There have been too many finals in my career that I've sat out of. I truly enjoy the friendships that I've cultivated with many of my international competitors, and I always strive to be a good sport. When you don't get all six throws at a meet, you can either be escorted off the field, or stick around and watch finals from the bench. I've done that with genuine happiness for others and misery for myself far too many times, and at Pre this year, my parents were in the stands and leaving early the next morning to go home. I was more furious with myself than I've been for a long time, so I asked to leave.

Dinner with my parents in their motorhome with the dogs was far better and healing for me than sitting inside the oval at Hayward Field and politely clapping for my competitors' excellent performances would have been. I've been motivated by staying on the track for finals so many times that I wanted to fuel my fire with something different, and that's the love and support of my family. I spoke to Ty on the phone and he said that he heard something in my voice that he never has before, and was excited about perhaps a little different mindset for me. That feeling is still there, and has only intensified with other frustrating competitions this year.

It would have been more fun to watch the main Prefontaine Classic on Saturday if I had performed better, but seeing Christian Taylor and Will Claye put on a triple jump show, among many other awesome results, was still great. I also went for an interval run in beautiful weather along the Willamette River that morning, so I got some of my anger out. I'm a track and field fan, so being able to simply spectate one of the best meets on American soil is always enjoyable, plus I caught up with Rachel and her kiddos!

I can't lie to you, being given numerous excellent opportunities to perform by JRS Sports Management in the last seven years and continuing to just struggle along is not fun. I approach every single competition with the true belief that I have everything it takes to be the best, so to come out of many of them with very similar results (59-62m and 5th-7th place) is incredibly frustrating and disheartening on those bus rides back to the meet hotels. More on this in the next three posts, with some elaboration on what makes putting myself in these same situations worth it.

Friday, July 21, 2017

IMG Academy

Each year, USATF sets up high performance competitions for elite throwers. Typically this means that everyone goes to Tucson, Arizona for two meets at the end of May, but this year there were some extra opportunities! One of them fell on May 5th at Kibwe Johnson's new stomping grounds, IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

I threw in Austin in the middle of April, and didn't have another competition scheduled until Prefontaine at the end of May, so competing in Florida sounded perfect.

Personal coaching is a new thing for me (I have one Paralympic athlete and one heptathlete, plus a few people I consult with electronically), and I had the fun opportunity to meet with Kibwe and some of his athletes to offer them javelin pointers! (They've got it totally handled with him as a coach, btw.) I'm so impressed by the talent this private high school attracts from literally all over the world. What an interesting place to work!

I was pretty sore and tired after really hitting things hard in training post-big opener, so I didn't know what to expect. What happened was that I was all over the place on the runway! I should have thrown further at this meet than I did (61.32m), but Ariana Ince PRed and threw 60 meters for the first time! Bonus points for the beginning of a beautiful Friendship: It turns out that Ari and I are basically the same person. Down to simultaneous hair flips and reaching for the same soda.

My series on the day was fairly consistent (more so than Austin), and I was encouraged by that, even with my footwork being nowhere close to smooth. This meet was interesting and felt like a work in progress: It was the second IMG Academy Throws Challenge ever, and also second this year. There is definite room for improvement, but I think USATF should keep coming back here. The campus is incredible, we stayed close to the track, housing allows athletes to cook for themselves (something I personally love when on the road), Uber is available for transportation, and the weather in May was perfection. Absolutely would throw again!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Texas Invitational

I can't truly say that I opened my season yesterday, because I've competed twice this year already!  But Nitro Athletics seems like so long ago, and was so early in my actual javelin training that I feel like a different thrower now.

I've really enjoyed visiting Austin since Ty was hired at University of Texas in the 2013/2014 school year. I threw at Texas Relays in 2014 and 2015, and the Longhorn Invite in 2015. Last year, I visited twice to train with him in the early season and then again right before Rio. This time around, I brought a little companion down to Texas with me from Colorado!

THOSE EYES. Such a good road tripper!

 Maddie the Dog is super fun to have around on a training camp, even if our second story rental makes it so I do a lot of stairs with her every day.  She LOVES to swim and fetch, so the park here is ideal to get her wiggles out (although she seems to have an endless supply).

Red Bud Isle Dog Park! Gorgeous.
She even inspired my uniform for the meet yesterday! Russ took this photo when they were on an Idaho adventure in February. I loved representing my little family on the runway!!

So, I drove to Austin last Sunday, and my week (week 4 of this training block) went like this:

Monday: Recovery (jog, stretch, rehab and core essentially)
Tuesday: Light throw and light lift
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Pre-meet (a few sprints, approaches, light lift)
Friday: Compete!

I slept really soundly the night before, which isn't totally typical of me, and I felt great and calm when I got to the track. I apparently had to balance that out by warming up just a bit too late, and having to pick in the grass before I was really done with everything I usually do! An 85-degree day fixes a lot though, and I wasn't worried at all that I'd missed some skips, plus there's always time in warm-ups to step to the side and address little issues you feel.

Warm-ups were not so great. I was pretty slow to my block, and not really feeling connected to my right arm. I was nervous by warm-ups, as I'm always nervous for my first meet, and sometimes that translates into being too careful. I turned my legs on a little and things got better, but I really didn't know what to expect from the day! My goal was 61.40m, which is the London World Championships A Standard.

In Rio, I added a little carry step before my approach truly begins to get my legs moving a little bit and not just come flying out of the gates. I think it has helped tremendously in letting me keep my posture and to gradually build speed in my legs rather than be forced to create it from the outset. I've just never been able to handle speed before, and this has been a really fun way to trick my body into feeling rhythmical while also moving at the velocity I need to throw far.

Since I felt a little all over the place in warm-ups, I just wanted to keep my legs moving, arm back, and stay tall on attempt one. It went really well!! 64.80m. I was absolutely shocked when the officials read the distance, because not only did it not look that far, but I didn't feel connected to that javelin!

In Australia, I had a really great conversation about connection with my friend Mark Hollis. There is just this extra factor of connection that you sometimes are blessed to feel in this crazy sport, and when you get a hint of that on a meet day, you know it's going to be a fun one. We struggled to fully describe that feeling in this conversation, but when I mentioned to Ty this week that I felt that way on night one of Nitro Athletics, he said, "Yeah, like you're moving in slow motion." YES. But you're actually moving at full speed, it's just that you can feel each sequential movement happening in the order that it's supposed to happen in, and it's SO FUN and powerful. I felt that way at the Longhorn Invite here two years ago, when I threw 66.47m and a bunch of 63s.

I did NOT feel that way yesterday, which is why I'm so incredibly excited for this season. Russ said that sometimes you're connected even when you don't feel it, and I definitely agree with that. I know that was the case yesterday, and I've always known that using other body parts correctly can make your arm connected even when it's not feeling that way, but it was nice for that to be true for me for once. :)

The rest of my series was all over the place (my approach wasn't as smooth, I let my upper body get forward, perhaps the heat got to me, etc.), but I managed a 63.07m in round 5. I'm okay with inconsistency on April 14, especially when I never expected to start with such a bang in the first place!

Here are yesterday's full results:

It's so fun for me to throw with new college girls each year in the early season.  I truly love meeting new throwers, and try to be encouraging at every turn. I think that they're all getting younger though!

I'm actually still a little shocked. 64.80m is the fifth-best throw of my life, and my best "season opener" by more than 3 meters!! I'm going to do my best to keep calm and carry on, as they say.  This year of training has been incredibly fun, as I actually feel good physically, and I'm competing with a pretty different mindset than I've had in the rest of my professional career. I'm excited.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Nitro Athletics!

I just got home from Melbourne, Australia, where the 2017 season started off for me in many unexpected ways!

Nitro Athletics conducted their first experiment in regular-season team competition down under.  This three-meet series was a bit of a mystery, even to athletes who committed to attending.  I got an email around Christmas time asking if I was interested, thought about it for a day, and decided to make the trip.  Russ and I competed in Australia in 2012, and it was a fantastic experience, so why not return to the southern hemisphere's summer from Colorado?  I was told to expect a laid-back atmosphere and to not worry about performance as much as fun.  I really just looked forward to warm weather training and perhaps some beach or pool time!  I signed up to be a "Bolt All-Star," but who really knew what that meant.

I spent some time in Chula Vista to throw outside before heading to Australia, and threw about 55m in practice before I left.  I figured, "Cool, if I can scrape together a few more meters, I'll be happy."  I had my first real javelin session on January 10th, inside.  I had two practices off of a runway at any kind of speed in Chula, and one of them was with overweight implements.  My trip to Australia was filled with unexpected twists, and the last bit of my California stay was spent scrambling to be ready for a February 4th competition when I'd been expecting to throw on February 9th.  All of these things meant that I was 100% ready for whatever was going to happen on the first night of the inaugural Nitro Athletics series.  No expectations whatsoever.

Our team meeting on February 3rd finally shed some light on the event: Three meets in which six teams compete for overall dominance, points awarded for performance, bonus rounds and power plays (random draws of events for each team with double points, per night), complete freedom to roam the field of play and cheer each other on, encouragement to not take ourselves too seriously.  A pep talk from Captain Usain, whose proposal to pass the 4x100m baton from Asafa to himself to Jenna to Jeneba seemed so outrageous, the room buzzed.  But not as much as the stadium buzzed the next night:

Bolt to Prandini, right to right!

In the javelin, a target in the sector, if hit in the fourth round only, awarded the accurate competitor valuable bonus points.  The other two field events (long jump and pole vault) were similarly run, and certain Bolt field All-Stars' points were essential to boosting the team score on each respective night.

Night 1, I hit the target in Round 4!

58.24m, 59.05m, 61.16m (plus slow-motion), 60.43m and target acquired!

Find this video on my Instagram as well.

I've had some great *team* experiences in my international career.  Being a Bolt All-Star cracks the top 5, and if my husband didn't play prominent roles in my top 3, Nitro would be my number 1.  I'm not kidding.

1. NACAC Under-23 Championships, 2006.  Met Russ and many other important people.
2. Beijing World Championships, 2015.  Teammates with Russ.  (Related: NACAC Senior Championships where we both won, 9 years after meeting at U-23s.)
3. Toronto PanAm Games, 2015.  Shared a WINGER competition bib with Russ because they printed Patterson for me.  We both medaled!
4. Nitro Athletics, 2017.
5. Beijing Olympic Games, 2008.  First Olympics, enough said.  Also being roommates with Jill (just Camarena then!).  

Why did I throw well in Melbourne?  Because I knew my team was depending on me, and their cheers from right next to the runway were constant, fun reminders of that.  I have always known that I do better when I'm having fun, and encouragement to just be myself was all I needed to have an awesome experience on the runway.  It also turns out that being a Bolt All-Star means that the man himself truly plays the role of team captain in cheering on and celebrating with his people!!

Coach/Captain Usain, me, Japanese javelin thrower Hiroko Takigawa after Night #1, Round 4 (bonus points)!
The thing that made Nitro Athletics awesome for me was the people.  I had never spent significant amounts of time with most of my teammates, and there are many times that I wouldn't choose to spend significant amounts of time with people.  Really any people.  I'm that confusing mix of intro- and extrovert.  I think that everyone's attitudes about this trip matched, and that made it really easy to bond with the group.  We were all willing to try something new and exciting, put our comfort zones aside (group introduction dances?!), and do fun work together toward a team victory.  

Low stress, high fun, would absolutely throw again.  I'd love to see team scores (not just medal counts) at major championships.  Maybe we'd all be more involved in each other's journeys.  I miss that, and didn't realize how much until experiencing Nitro Athletics.  

P.S. Please watch I Am Bolt.  I did on the plane on the way to Melbourne.  I want Glen Mills to call me a Champion.