My Road to Team Wales

*Disclaimer, if you read the blog for the edge of science performance hints, this one isn’t for you, its mostly about me and my feelings, apologies.

I’ve always known that I work better to a deadline, and by ‘work better’ I mean actually get anything done. I’m currently sat here in Portugal on a preparation camp with Welsh Athletics in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I have absolutely nothing to do out here apart from train and relax, which should give me plenty of time for my writing, and yet, because I decided to ease off on my weekly deadline while I was out here and in Glasgow these are the first words I’ve put down. The idea was to make this camp all about the training and maintain my focus with minimal distractions, and I thought forcing myself into a self-imposed deadline may do that.

Preparing for Glasgow in Portugal?

This is usually the first question people ask. I think the word “anti-acclimatisation?” was thrown around at one point, with the Portuguese Algarve well recognised for its hot and sunny conditions and Glasgow in Scotland generally not. it doesn’t initially seem like the ideal place to prepare.

Lets first consider that on the Welsh Team there is an absolute maximum of 1 professional athlete among us, and even that I’m not sure of. Everyone has studies, or jobs at home, lets be honest, who’s going o take a week off work before Glasgow just to sit at home and rest up? And even if you did, there’d still be the whole host of day to day distractions of friends and family (sorry friends and family, we do love you really) so it wouldn’t necessarily allow that focus.

So this justify’s getting away to a preparation camp somewhere, but why not somewhere of similar climate to Glasgow itself? Well if you’re going to go away, why not somewhere sunny. The sun has so many benefits to the human body, increasing vitamin D levels for one, the healing properties of the infra-red spectrum, but there is also some evidence that certain wavelengths can be used to increase muscle contractile strength. So in a preparation camp, where ideally you’d like to be training at near competition level intensities, the sun can be majorly beneficial in helping achieve this.

Lets also bear in mind that suntanned skin looks awesome in the red vests of Wales, so we’re all going to look amazing on the start line, and I haven’t seen the science to back it up just yet, but I’m fairly sure theres a strong correlation between looking amazing, feeling amazing and then ultimately performing amazing.

Comparing experiences

This is my second Commonwealth Games. I can’t decide whether just that itself makes it feel different or whether its the group of people who are here or where the games is, or where I am as an athlete, but its significantly different.

In 2010 I jumped the qualification standard, but then twisted my ankle, so was rushing back to prove fitness, not fully knowing where I stood. This time I was confident of getting the standard if I stayed healthy, and I did indoors, with plenty of time to spare. This has allowed me to be in a much better place mentally.

In 2010, the games were in Delhi, and we had a holding camp in Qatar, both brand new places to me, and culturally very different to the uk. This time its a home games so the travel is much less of an issue and much less of an experience from a cultural perspective, but the chance to compete in front of a full capacity home crowd truly excites me. India was crazy, so many people genuinely excited just to see some athletics.   You cannot beat the energy generated by the UK fans however, it takes you to another level performance-wise.

The Welsh athletics squad was really cool in 2010, but this year I feel a more genuine team spirit. Maybe because I was younger and less experienced in 2010, I felt a bit more of an outsider, this wasn’t anyones doing except my own perception. In 2014, I feel like we’re spent much more time together already and theres seriously good energy running through the team.

Athletics is the epitome of the individual sport so its interesting to try and foster any kind of a team atmosphere but I do feel like somehow this has been generated in this current group of athletic individuals. Whether this leads to any difference in individual performance is to be seen, but I really don’t think positivity and camaraderie can be a bad thing. This was demonstrated the other day on this camp when for “competition simulation” training sessions in the javelin and shot put the whole team turned out to support and cheer on the throwers, that was pretty cool.

The road from Delhi to Glasgow

So this will be my second Commonwealth Games, I can barely believe its been 4 years since the last one, time passes so quickly as you get older. A quick summary of those 4 years, 2010 I was having achilles problems but had Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT) after the games which fixed a lot of my problems. I did however miss a lot of the winter of 2010, so didn’t compete indoors of 2011, but had a healthy outdoors, no pb’s but some high consistent jumping. More winter training then Christmas of 2011 my achilles flared up again, this scuppered my 2012 indoor season, but with some hard core rehab I managed to get to a point where I was just about pole vaulting by the summer of 2012.

Being Olympic year, the European Championship standard was slightly lower, so I began competing and chasing that standard, despite having not done much training up to this point. Surprisingly I did not jump particularly well and eventually flared up my achilles again after a few competitions and ended up missing most of the season. I then took 3 months out of athletics to try and get some healing followed by another round of ESWT treatments.

I began another comeback in October 2012, this was the most frustrating time. it generally followed a pattern of 8 week extremely slow and progressive build-up before some small issue would cause a major flare-up and 2 weeks off before starting again at square one. Theres only so many times a person can take this mentally and the final straw came in February of 2013, when another flare-up made me come terms with the fact that an operation was the only thing left to try as an out from this personal hell.

I’d put off the operation for a long time because it felt like a last ditch attempt, with not a great guarantee of success and more risks than I would’ve liked. I finally went under the knife in March of 2013. Another season missed but a new start, a reset to point zero, a constant progression from there, always moving forwards with staying injury fee as the one and only goal. I can barely believe that less than 12 months later I jumped a personal best, a new welsh indoor record of 5.45m and had secured my qualification for Glasgow.

Reflecting

When I read that back it seems ludicrous what I’ve put myself through in order to play a game, in order to jump as high as I can using a stick to clear another stick. In simplistic and logical terms it makes no sense where as there are hundreds and thousands of people who go out and put themselves through similar, across all the athletic events every week of every year. Some will be going out and winning Olympic medals, yet far more will be doing it purely for the personal satisfaction of being better than they were yesterday

Its been a very tough 4 years for me personally, so to be able to be back where I am is amazing. But I also write this to make a point, there is probably many athletes out there who have been through similar or worse, but the only people who know their story are those closest to them. The race that you see on the track is only the tip of the iceberg, the main bulk of the icey mass hidden below the surface, all the struggles, the hard work, the years of training put in cannot be seen from your dry and comfortable viewpoint above the water.

What I can’t decide personally is whether by following more of this backstory we could gain more interest in athletics in general, go the x-factor route and build an emotional story so that people truly care who wins and loses and what is at stake, or whether that would spoil the image, are people more comfortable just watching a race as a stand alone entity, no consideration that one guy may have been ill the previous night, or someone has been living on a friends sofa for 3 months because he spent all his rent money on travelling to competitions?

What I do know is that the efforts and work put in by all the athletes in this squad will be under-estimated, probably mostly by themselves. I’m only just coming round to accepting what an achievement even making the games are. All the sacrifices of training 5 or 6 days a week for hours at a time, going to bed early so you can get enough sleep, eating another plate of veg and meat when everyone else is ordering dominoes, passing on yet another night out, they’re tough decisions to make at the time. And they’re numerous. Yet as you look back it doesn’t seem like a struggle, it just seemed like the right thing to do, yet they all add up to make you the person and the athlete that has come out the other end.

In Summary

Portugal is great, I’ve struggled but am good now, athletes in general are excellent, and I’ve rambled far too much. I will try to get back into my normal routine after the Games. I’ve spent the last week living with a physiologist, so although he may now hate me, I’ve got a couple of decent things to write about.

Note to self: Have a point for the next blog you write

Cheers

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