Disclaimer: I don't draft or spend copious amount of time planning or writing these blogs. I just mind dump!
Building Blocks - 09/09/18
Its been a long 4 months in overseas. As I sit here in my hotel room in Ostrava I reflect a little on the year I have had.
After leaving Australia on the 9th May for the Shanghai Diamond League, never would I have imagined that it would be mid September, having competed 9 competitions in Asia and Europe, before I returned.
To say that this season has been a step up from the rest of my career would be an understatement. On paper it seems like a miracle for me to remain injury free for this long, but in reality it has been half a decade of hard work to ensure the irregularities of my body are conditioned to handle the physical loads of my profession, that has led me here.
Starting the season in Australia, after an injury plagued off season where I struggled with hamstring issues and achilles tendinopathy, I led into the Commonwealth Games with 3 muscle tears in the final 10 weeks, including a calf strain 5 days prior to the Qualifying round. So off the back of that preparation I can say that the Silver medal and Personal best I achieved were rather satisfying if not unexpected.
Beyond the Games we set about a plan to head to Shanghai and then to Europe for 3-4 competitions primarily including the first 3 diamond leagues, before returning back to Australia for a training block. This period of my season was probably the most high risk, as my body had not recovered well from the Games and historically I had injured myself year in and year out in these May/June months. However this year there was an added element of 'listening to my body' and 'respecting it' and as such I spent longer between jump sessions or high intensity sessions and generally strayed further from a rigid training schedule towards one based on my feeling. (I should stress that this is a fine balance as it requires the athlete to balance their mental state & physical state - no easy task.) What I found over this period of 5 weeks from May 9th to June 11th was that the training was hard mentally because I felt as if I wasn't training hard physically, but that my results in competition were consistent if not improving with each competition and so was my physical recovery rate. This in time led me to a state of confidence whereby I no longer was fearful of competing due to risk of injury, but instead hungry to compete due to the excitement of furthering my physical condition. This has been one significant development of this season, as for so long I have known I can jump far, but had also drifted into believing that it was unrealistic that I could do it consistently.
These early season growths in confidence led to Gary and I deciding that the better alternative to returning to Australia to train, was to keep the ball rolling and stay in Europe and continue to compete. So I did. Next up was Bad Langensalza - a jumps mecca. This is a meet I recommend any young Long Jumpers target for their futures as it really is unique in experience and opportunity to jump far. Unfortunately I missed my opportunity this year to really smash a great mark there due to fouls, but I can undoubtedly say that my biggest jumps legal or illegal were done there. Luzern was the next meet - a smaller meet I targeted to get the 'winning feeling', this was something in hindsight Im glad I did, as it was subsequently the only win I took of the year. Then it was back onto the Diamond League circuit in London, Birmingham and Zurich. The theme of these meets was consistency & I feel quite proud of my result in Zurich DL final, as although the distance was uninspiring the placing in my eyes at least was impressive.
The final leg of my season brought me to Ostrava for the Continental Cup. As anyone who follows me on twitter will know it has left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth on an otherwise great season. Firstly due to my own performance. A common theme all season has been my run up inconsistency and in this meet combined with the format of the competition, it really undid me. Thats on me. But the format itself was hopeless. I can confidently say I'm in personal best shape & I know a few of the other competitors were too, and yet the results we saw were sub par at best... coincidence ... I think not.
Anyway, returning to a more positive note, this season has taught me a lot. It has returned enjoyment to my job. It has re-establshed the pathway to success that I once saw cleared marked in front of me but had lost sight of. And it has given me the desire to do great things. It has been a season of building blocks. The season I needed. I'm calling it my base year, because it is the closest thing to an offseason base I have had in years. It leaves me with some achievements (10 comp streak of 8m +, Diamond League Final placing, Comm Medal) but also some exciting prospects (Sort out the run up, get some actual base training done, target some meets with good conditions, etc) and thats what I am most excited about!
So stay tuned & get excited 😉
So close to a desirable preparation
After overcoming an achilles insertion injury in February, which had plagued me since the end of November 2016, I set about my 2017 World Championship preparation. Missing the domestic season due to injury is never ideal, however for an athlete who backs them self it is not a disaster either.
Planning to head to Europe in mid June I started roughly a 16 week training block, to build up from three months primarily spent in the gym rehabbing through calf exercises to the level I require to jump competitive distances in the Long Jump. Finishing my two university exams on the 16th June I threw all my stuff in a bag that afternoon and flew out for Europe on a 2am flight that night.
One week in Europe to acclimatise - thats my tip for this blog - Jumping of the plane when flying from Australia is rarely worth your while!
So after putting in my week training and acclimatising I flew out for my first competition in Bilbao (Spain) on the 24th June. This was a small meet and whilst I always back myself to jump 8.15m (the qualifier) I mostly just wanted to blow the cobwebs out on what had been a long break between competitions (Brussels DL 2016 roughly 9 months). A cobweb blow out is exactly what this competition ended up as. 4 fouls (and not small fouls aha) and a lot of steering into the takeoff resulted in a somewhat dismal recording of 7.94m on my last attempt. However whilst this competition presented as an average competition, the foundations were there to foresee something much bigger in the near future.
The next stop for me in my preparation was another small meet in La Chaux de Fonds (Switzerland). A competition known for its perfect altitude of 996m & its 'fast track'. Targeting this competition as my 'qualifying' competition we turned up hoping for sunshine and tailwinds - we got half! Some nice tailwinds, but a temperature range of 11-14 degrees on competition day with some drizzle was less then ideal for a fragile Queenslander. Regardless I felt 'nervous & sore' both good signs of an impending decent competition.
To begin the competition I registered a foul, much like in bilbao but over the board to a lesser extent. My second attempt was a much more controlled attempt as I was eager to take advantage of the 'good feeling' about the competition I had. The result was 8.21m (my qualifier). I then took the limiter of and went for it on the third attempt, a reasonable foul but arguably my best jump (legal or no) to date. The remaining three attempts were more for competition fitness then a realistic attempt at personal bests. (The first 3 attempts can be found under the videos tab). This second competition ended with four fouls much like the first, but I had a sense that the fouls were smaller, the jumps were bigger and Madrid (to be my fourth competition, but 3rd with a proper recovered lead in) would be a very exciting competition.
This of course did not eventuate aha and brings me to the title of the blog - 'so close'. Unfortunately two days post this competition in Switzerland I tore my right hamstring warming up for a competition in Budapest (Hungary). This competition was planned to be used not for distance or even for a full competition but instead to prepare my body so as to be conditioned to handle the rounds at the world championships. In some ways, and with the benefit of hindsight, I have regrets about this competition, however in other ways I have no regret as I am always striving for the top of the dias, making up the numbers does not factor into my preparations and thus I am always operating on the edge. In this case I toed the line in an attempt to maximise my World Championship success, and it created a set back. Luckily for me I am not unfamiliar with these little shits.
As I sit here writing, I am rehabilitating very well and am confident of returning to good form for the London World Championships, but can't help thinking about what could have been. The Madrid competition I previously mentioned went ahead with out me and the athletes there jumped in perfect conditions (39 degrees, 1-3m tailwinds) on a brand new track! It was to be the final fine tuner that I would have so dearly liked, so that I could enter a major championships in a manor I had planned. However such a preparation will have to wait until next year.
All is not lost, short preparations/ injured preparations are my specialty and over the last year I have found a new belief in myself as to just how far I can jump.
Ill keep my competitors guessing again this year. And in relation to the future I am excited!
Dark Parts of being an Athlete
Following my LJ final in RIO I was devastated. I couldn't believe that after four years of injuries and hard work, I had managed an improvement of only two positions since London.
I know I can be better then 7th, my training proves it.
So following the 2016 season, I set about preparing to blow the domestic season apart with some monster jumps. I used my disappointment of the previous four years, and in particular my devastation from RIO to fuel what I know can become a Long jump of 8.50m +
After four weeks break, I was back easing into training on the track as well as building up my strength in the gym. Generally it is in the early season prep that we work on our weaknesses. For me one of those had been calf strength. Thus I undertook a very solid calf strengthening program for 6 weeks with the goal of increasing muscle stiffness but also endurance. I also managed my running load so as to not overload my calf by 'double dosing' with gym and running load. Or so I thought....
After 10 weeks of general prep I started to have some calf overload despite our precautions. We immediately cut back all calf load, but apparently the damage was done, within two weeks I had an achilles insertional tendonopathy. Any athlete will know that anything to do with the achilles can be a bit of a disaster. Compounded by the timing, being over the christmas break, when physios etc are away, and you have yourself a very annoying setback!
I knew that this achilles was going to take a prolonged and gradual rehab process. I had had enough. For the first real time in my career I mentally lost out to an injury. This was the straw that broke the camels back. To go from such a high pre olympics, to such disappointment with my Olympic result, to then refocus for another four year block, only to have it all unravel within 10 weeks!
I was set a program of isometrics, but my desire wasn't there. Where I previously would rehab harder even then when I was fighting fit, I couldn’t find the desire to even do the smallest exercises. I spent a week in Adelaide over christmas, but the last thing I wanted to do was visit a gym three times day to do isometrics. I started to ask myself if this is what I really want? If I really cared about the sport anymore? I mean when I look around at other athlete I generally see enjoyment a majority of the time. But I couldn't remember the last time I enjoyed training. I really started to question what if anything I still wanted from the sport and if it was worth it. It seemed like it wasn't.
In all honesty I was pretty hopeless for a couple of months. My friends can probably vouch for that. I constantly thought about the time I had seemingly wasted to achieve what I conceived as very little in my athletic career. I thought about money and making a living. I considered the fact it was four whole years until I could try again at the Olympics and that I would be 30. One thing I always maintained was that at the end of my sport career I didn't want to be a 30+ year old broke man. And given the knifes edge that all most Olympic athletes live on interns of an income, this seemed an ever growing possibility in my mind.
So how did I turn it around?
I got a hobby.
In December (2016) I started surfing regularly. I channeled all my energy into that and it really helped me cope mentally with another long term injury.
Because I was starting from such a low level I was achieving something positive every time I went. And I still am. Unlike Long jumping where I know I have a whole lot of ability on reserve with no current outlet, with surfing I have no reserved ability, only what I gain with each new surf session. It’s refreshing to be in the moment and seeing your improvements day by day. Surfing reminds me of what Long and Triple jump feels like without injuries, when I was young and improving all the time. It’s the sort of feeling I need to get back to if my career is going to continue on into the future. And for at least the moment it has given me a distraction from the negativity and a desire to stick it out for what seems like the ever illusive 'good times'.
I am still weeks if not longer away from full health, but I'm hanging in there. I know despite the down days and the seemingly hopeless run of injuries, that my untapped potential and competitive spirit is to much to give up on just yet.
My Thoughts On Rio
From a performance perspective I entered the games with little external expectations upon me. After four long years of injury I was said to have been, in the words of the Australian Athletics head coach “out in the wilderness” & unexpected to return to world class long jumping. This sort of comment was perhaps ill informed and perhaps representative of a lack of true vision, however it suited me all the same as it meant I was free to fly under the radar as RIO approached. This allowed me & my coach to work on establishing a base of training that injuries had robbed me of for so many years, and thus we set about focusing on training done rather then competitions and performances achieved. This meant that in the lead up to RIO I gained 16 weeks of straight uninjured training which my body had been longing for. However on the flip side it meant that I did not have any competitions to fine tune the intricacies of long jump - mainly run up steering and transition off the takeoff board.
When I arrived in Florida in late July for the Australian team camp I would probably say that in my heart I was targeting a medal but in my head I was aimed at improving upon my London performance of ninth. However things changed in Florida. It became abundantly clear whilst tapering and completing final sessions in Florida that the 16 weeks of home preparation had left me in far better shape then in could have ever expected. For those who know the long jumping world, in Florida I pushed my ten stride PB to 7.86m …. A very solid jump in anyone’s book. So at this point the internal expectation of myself and that of my coach shifted towards the pointy end of the positions on offer in RIO. Leaving Florida for RIO there was an unspoken expectation of a medal.
Well then logically you can guess following this sort pre games form, that 7th place whilst respectable … Certainly didn’t leave me overly satisfied. Again for those in the LJ know, you will understand that adding a mere 20cm from a ten stride approach to a full run up is a horrible conversion at the best of times. In my particular case it is far from the normal as when I set my PB of 8.27m in 2012 I was jumping between 7.15m - 7.30m off ten strides.
There is no hard and fast answer to why I didn’t convert training form to competition form, but my answer to people is that I was ‘competition rusty’ and still unconditioned for back to back days of jumping.
Sport is about learning and growing, RIO left me again disappointed after a major championships however it also gave me hope. I know I can convert these big pre RIO short approach jumps to full competition jumps, it’s just a matter of time! So when you ask me next time if RIO was amazing & I respond with a seemingly negative “no not really” hopefully now you will have some context. 🙂
General Games Experience:
The second half of the question that often follows my performance is the general RIO experience… Was it epic?
And whilst I hate the negative vibes, I feel it is my duty to preach the truth. RIO was an average Olympics. Crowds were low, Atmosphere was mild around the village, fixtures were dated, or unfinished, transport took crazy times (copa to the village 2hours in an uber for 20km one day!!! 1hr 20m on average), organization and pre competition professionalism of processes was poor & crime was a big issue. This is just naming a few things that come to mind.
I think RIO is a beautiful city and I intend to travel it properly one day, but in my humble opinion it was ill prepared to host an Olympics. Perhaps it was just unlucky to come up against such an amazing Olympics such as London was, but I think it failed to meet even humble expectations.
On a positive note the most publicized issue of Zika was a bit of a non issue … So bravo for getting on top of that Brazil.
So to conclude my thoughts, I would like everyone to know that, it was all an experience I wouldn’t change for anything, because the beauty of sport is that you have to seize the day & even more so in the case of the Olympics. That is why it is the greatest sporting event on earth. However hopefully now when you ask an Olympian, or at least me, about how amazing it must have been, and you see in my poor effort to hide my true feelings a sense of negativity, you will understand perhaps why I or they feel that way, rather then just assuming we are mopey sad people 😂.
As athletes at the highest level we expect a lot of our selves & of the Olympic experience … After all no revenue from the games goes back to the athletes so why should there be an excuse for mediocracy? Sincerely Henry