Saturday 3rd May was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my athletics career.
You turn up to a competition, its possibly the sickest (urban dictionary: best) conditions you’ve ever seen, beautiful sunshine, a consistent tailwind, a good group of positive competitors. Warm-up goes great, you feel like you’re moving well, you’re super confident because training’s being going really well, consistently jumping high on the biggest poles you’ve ever used. Yet…. you have this slight niggle in your foot. Two days ago you couldn’t walk without discomfort, but now it feels really good, nothing in fact, except for a slight discomfort when you take-off. Is this enough to make you pull out? You could probably get through the competition, everything else is feeling good…
I pulled out. It was tough to sit there afterwards but it was the day after that I realised the positive. After saying it continuously for the last year and half, me and my coach had finally internalised the fact that our number one priority was staying healthy. On every goal setting sheet we’d always stated, number one priority, “stay healthy”. At every training session we’d made the sensible decisions, dropping reps, lower weight loadings, even skipping sessions when my recovery wasn’t right. But this was still a conscious process which is easy in the training environment, not competing was another level.
There is a big difference between the coach who says that his priority is keeping his athlete’s healthy, and then four of his athletes are walking round in plastic boots recovering from stress fractures (that guy needs to read about the LD50). And the coach who can help me make the decision that I had to.
World Athletics Centre
The reason I told this story, is not just because I’m beginning to enjoy writing about myself but to make a point. There is a difference between talking a good game and actually acting upon it. The last three weeks, courtesy of Welsh athletics and in conjunction with the World Athletics Centre I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being based in Phoenix Arizona training with and around some of the Worlds Elite athletes and coaches. Having spent time with some of the coaches previously, and attending their coach education day in November, I was well aware that they talked a good game, but getting the chance to see how and if it was implemented as they said was always going to be enlightening.
Unfortunately for anyone not training there, I think they’ve got it pretty spot on.
What is the World Athletics Centre?
So for anyone unfamiliar with the concept, they are not a governing body, they are just focussing on what they do best, that’s creating the best environment they believe possible for athletes to realise their potential. They also run coach education courses and help spread the good word, the easiest way to find out more would be to visit their website.
The advantage they have over say a national governing body is two fold. Firstly they don’t have to deal with bu****it politics which have a tendency to slow down and change necessary actions, or less so than any funded governing body would have to. Secondly, because they operate at a much smaller scale with just one track and weights room to oversee, they have the small company advantage of flexibility. They also have the major advantage in this field that the guys who have the vision of what they want this thing to be are still working on the shop floor, able to see everything that’s going on and make constant tweaks and adjustments to keep the ship on course.
To stretch the ship analogy to it’s limits they have their plan for where they want to be set by their high level and extremely experienced coaches. Then these same guys who planned the route, are their every step of the way guiding the ship to keep it true. They’ve put in place a team who fully believe in the same ideals and process so everyone is working towards the same goal, together, there’s a distinct lack of ego in everybody I encountered. A willingness to share but also listen, equal treatments for all the athletes. This just isn’t from the coaches, this runs through the athletes as well, I sat and had a 20 minute conversation with Aries Merritt the World Record holder the first time I met him!!! A very cool guy. This lack of ego then leads to general feeling of support for each other and encouragement running throughout the people there.
I didn’t really want this to turn into a brown-nosing post, but it does seem to have gone that way.
One last example
Because of the earlier foot problem, I ended up needing treatment while out there. The treatment team is really excellent, a mix of soft tissue, chiro and the coolest traditional acupuncturist I’ve ever met. They have their bases covered. I had help from all of them along the way, but one guy was super helpful and spent an hour and a half working on my foot. An hour and a half working on one foot! That’s attention to detail right there, regardless of my ‘mediocre with room for improvement’ performance level.
Now ruling out him being a podiaphile (that’s podia, as in foot), just the knowledge of the variety of techniques and the patience to work continuously for this amount of time, on his own time as well. I was inspired but also extremely grateful, and amazed that someone so deeply believed they could help and were willing to go that extra mile to help an athlete get back to performing well.
A cohesive group of coaches with this concept internalised and some beautiful sunny weather and a top end weights facility. I think they’re on to a winner.
So what happened to you Paul?
I hear you cry. Well this treatment really worked a treat (so to speak), got me healthy and I ended up jumping the following Thursday in Chula Vista at the olympic training centre, again, immaculate conditions and the highest quality field I’ve ever jumped in, some really cool Americans, high level Germans and Steve Lewis. I jumped a solid 5.20 but enjoyed it thoroughly.
I really enjoyed my time out there and met a lot of very positive and supportive people, I’d name them, but I’d end up with more names than readers of the blog and that would be embarrassing. But I learned from each and every one of them, hopefully I can carry some of that good feeling and supportive nature through the rest of the season.
Thanks again for reading.