Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Girl and her Medball: How to Train Alone

This is my third January in Colorado Springs, physically separate from both of my coaches (Ty Sevin at Texas and Jamie Myers in Chula Vista).  Practice yesterday had me thinking again about how hard it can be to train by yourself, but also about how far I've come in succeeding at just that.  If you're a people-person like me and find it difficult to work toward your goals alone sometimes, maybe you can learn from my experience!


Going to the same places and having nothing to distract you from the mundane parts of training can get old.  I do a lot of the same repetitious pre-hab training throughout the week.  Sprints are exciting, but the rest periods between repetitions often see me twiddling my thumbs.  I started a new sprint regimen in practice yesterday, and each rep requires three minutes of rest!  That is forever when you're alone!  Medball throws can be the same.  My 200 reps yesterday flew by, but it was the first day of them.  With additional volume comes more down time, and a wandering mind sometimes.

I used to train with Mike Hazle.  High-energy, always-moving Mike Hazle!  Practice was constant entertainment and lots of pushing each other.  Before Mike, my training partners at Purdue were various and equally awesome.  Now, sometimes Russ is with me at practice, but he's mostly up on the discus field at the Air Force Academy while I'm down on the javelin runway.  I love the times we're in each other's near vicinity, but I'm mostly on my own.  That has taken me a long time to get used to.

I pride myself on being coachable, and I've always enjoyed throwing sessions in real-time with coaches, discussing which technical issues are going on.  That makes it difficult for me to be alone in throwing sessions.  I can always tell Ty what I'm feeling in a throw and agree with what he sees, but it's much more difficult for me to tell myself what's happening without someone else's eyes on my technique.


Mental focus.
Boredom provides an opportunity to strengthen your mind.  Those three minutes of rest feel long, but if I cut them short, I'm not only giving in to a weak ability to focus on the task at hand, but I'm compromising the physical goals that the training is working toward.  I've learned to visualize how the next sprint is going to go during my rest time, and when I do, I push better and I'm faster.  Same with timed rest periods during lifting.  When you get your full rest, your body is better prepared to complete the next rep, and if you allow yourself to exercise your mind the same way, you're getting even more out of the workout than your coach might have planned.  Sometimes training IS mundane, but allowing it to work the way it's supposed to and not giving in to your own silly impatience will reap benefits later.  Thinking about the big picture of why I'm at practice in the first place (Beijing 2015 and Rio 2016, for two) also helps me stay in the moment.

Finding ways to make practice work, even on vacation, is part of mental focus.

This plays into big-picture focus, too.  The last few years have taught me that taking the time to appreciate the opportunities you have in any moment is a powerful exercise.  Mike was excellent at this.  Almost every morning he said, "What a great day at the office!"  I used to have consistent 70-degree weather and beaches, and now I have views of gorgeous mountains and a beautiful new strength and conditioning facility to be thankful for.  I also have a healthy body, an amazing relationship that I'm lucky turned into what is so far a really fun marriage, wonderful family, and a fantastic support system that includes my excellent coaches.  If you're not grateful for something in your life, change it.  Let yourself appreciate where you've come from, and recognize the tools you have around you that will make it a pleasure to strive for your goals.  If those are people, tell them thanks.  If those are things, be grateful for them every day.

Florida sunrise at the beginning of December on my way to the gym!

Tennis courts for shuttle runs by the beach.  Grateful.

Music at practice was never essential to me until I started training alone.  I've never loved throwing with headphones in, though, which makes the bluetooth speaker Russ got me for Christmas perfect!  I've been obsessed with the wedding playlists I made for us since September, and I don't see that enthusiasm fading any time soon.  Some of my absolute favorite songs that I know I'll love forever:
Oh Honey: "Be Okay"
Halestorm: "Beautiful With You"
Hellogoodbye: "Here (In Your Arms)"
Alesso: "Heroes (we could be) [feat. Tove Lo]"
Colbie Caillat: "I Do"
Gavin DeGraw: "I Have You to Thank"
Becky G: "Shower"
Pick whatever speaks to you, and observe the energy it brings to your training.  I used to think that throwing practice needed to be all business to learn from it, but I know now that it needs to be fun when I'm by myself.  Plus, typically at bigger competitions there is usually music of some kind blasting, so I even feel like I'm practicing for future situations!
"Training Partners"
Sometimes geese show up at throwing practice.  When I'm home in Washington, Beau and Brandy observe my training.  I might sound like a crazy person, telling the dogs what I'm working on or describing my throwing cues to a flock of honkers, but it works for me!  Of course I love when Russ trains with me, and I have great relationships with the coaches and sports med staff at the Olympic Training Center, so real people are involved in certain parts of my training, too.  There's an amazing lady named Christel who trains at the Air Force Academy, and a lot of Mondays we're at practice together.  Chatting with her is always inspirational.  Involving the world around you in your training somehow can make you feel like you have training partners, even when you don't.  I absolutely treasure trips to the gym with my Dad over holidays and doing abs while my Mom is on the Nordic Track.  Bring the people you love most into what you're working toward and you'll feel like they're always with you.

Honkers in Portland at Concordia Throws Center.

Beau "helping" me jump.

I have come a long way in self-sufficiency at throwing practice, and a huge part of that is being disciplined enough to bring video equipment with me to record what's happening.  Then, I can share it with my coaches electronically.  Not only do I get feedback right away in a throwing session, but watching the video later and describing my thoughts via email to Ty helps me analyze what's going on for longer than I would if I had him at practice with me.  I can absorb what I'm thinking better by having to communicate with him long-distance, and can then apply it to the next practice more effectively.  This is a benefit that I did not see coming!  Plus, think how cool it will be to have such detailed documentation of years of my training.

Everyone is different.  You probably have your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to training by yourself.  What are they?  How can you get better?  Every new experience allows us an opportunity to improve something.  See solitude as a chance to work on yourself rather than a punishment, and you'll be surprised!

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