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.