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!