Category: The Events

Canon Ball Heaving and Spear Launching

The object of these events, easily smothered by loads of technique, is to “put” the shot or launch the jav as far as possible.  Anybody who has at least attempted a throwing event can attest to the extreme technicality of the sport.  Especially when you’re not sure what hand to hold the implement in!

A brief history of dexterity confusion:

  • 1992 – Aged 5: broken right wrist.  Perhaps reinforced left-handed dominance in basic activities?
  • 1993 – T-ball: would catch with right hand and throw left, but would occasionally catch, frantically discard right-handed glove, and throw with right hand.  Bat right.
  • 1996 – Recreational tennis: generally would hold racket in left, but would often juggle racket to right instead of hitting a left-handed backhand.
  • 2001 – Houseleague hockey: played right wing with a right stance.
  • 2002 – High School Volleyball: would serve overhand left (just over the net), avoid spiking altogether.
  • 2005 – Begin throwing shot and javelin: left-handed (unnatural, to say the least).
  • 2008 – Shot: shift technique from glide to spin (a little better?).
  • 2009 – Shot: RIGHT HANDED!!!!
  • 2010 – Javelin: RIGHT HANDED!!!!
  • Last week – Learned a secret: flick your wrist!

Everything makes so much more sense when I throw right.  I can feel power and transfer of energy (whether I can fully harness it yet or not).  Further, I can see myself throwing right-handed in my mind’s eye…I am excited!

I’ve been desperately trying to think of a good analogy for the all-important kinetic link, bouncing ideas off my mom and grandma (everything from pirates to trains to synchronized swimmers) and getting uncomprehending stares in return.  But UWO’s Bob Vigars provided me with just the ticket in his biomechanics lecture that I attended this morning: crack the whip.  Although we never tossed people into fences as Bob said was a regular pastime in the school yard in his day, this game satisfied, or perhaps developed in me a need for speed at a very young age…and is a key to throwing success.

We played it on skates, where a line of people join hands and build a little momentum before the lead person turns sharply or stops.  The links between everyone start to strain as the momentum continues to carry the second, third, fourth and remaining people around in a wide arc, the person on the end usually flying off on a tangent when their hand can no longer handle the strain!  Bob explained that as each person stops in sequence, their momentum shifts to the remaining people, compounding and resulting in extreme acceleration.

This is exactly the case in throwing.  Momentum is built, then each body part stops in sequence: foot, hips, trunk, shoulder, upper arm, lower arm, and eventually the hand whips through.  I believe my issues with throwing lie in achieving this kinetic link.  This isn’t new news, but I feel more empowered to make a change with the new understanding of precisely where I am lacking.

Firstly, when I throw many key movements occur at once, when they should happen in sequence.  The most apparent are the rotation of my hips, trunk, and shoulder.  Second, when I do achieve some separation, I don’t stop my body parts.  Without sufficient blocking (as the throwing world calls it), the hip will come through, pulling the trunk and shoulders, but if the momentum remains with the hip as it continues rotating, it will not compound and shift to the arm.  In this case the throw will be as a result of centripetal forces, without the added acceleration that comes as a result of work put in by the bigger muscles of the legs and hips.

So, sequence and blocking.  Easy.

Also, I highly recommend attending cool lectures whenever possible!  Many institutions host lecture series open to the public, and really, nothing is stopping members of the community from walking in to just about any classroom on campus.

Why not???

800m – the hunt

In light of competing yesterday, I’m going to pass on writing about running long jump for a little while.  My long jump competition was very…interesting.  It is early in the season and I haven’t done much technical work yet, but I still thought that jumping would, as usual, be like riding a bike…each spring I just hop back on and go full tilt like we weren’t apart for 6 months.  Nope, not even slightly similar this time.  Although to be fair, we’ve never been apart for this long before.  Every single thing about my jumping felt completely foreign to me, from my approach, to the take off, to my hitch and landing.  I ate sand on one landing.  It was definitely humbling and a little frustrating, but on the other hand it’s exciting.  Although I’ve (momentarily) forgotten what it feels like to do the things I’ve always done right, I’ve also forgotten my bad habits!  So I’m looking forward to starting from scratch, with only good ingredients baked in!

While long jump sits back and relaxes for a little while, I’ll instead move on to the wolf inspired 800m run, the final event of the heptathlon.

Running has always felt natural, and as a kid I regularly competed in the middle distance events – the 800m and 1500m – and the high jump.  Odd combination, I know, although some coaches just nod knowingly upon hearing this…something about the precision of the footplant (not wild power of the sprinter nor the slower ponderous nature of the distance runner – somewhere in between).  Anyway, so while most multi eventers dread the 800m, I kind of look forward to it.  Experiencing lactic acid is a privilege…we get to be intimate with the lovely bear on our backs,the heavy, tree trunk legs and burning lungs that take over on the final stretch; it’s something to be embraced!!

So as the time for the 800m rolls around, we’ve got six events behind us.  Yesterday saw hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200m.  Earlier today was long jump and javelin.  After sitting quietly in the shade for a few minutes in the company of our water bottles, we basically slip on our racing spikes and head to the track, a seventh warm up not really in any of our agendas.  At bigger meets, like national championships, the authorities are quite particular about who can gain access to the track while other events are going on, but multi eventers somehow are exempt from these rules…  We head to the infield, do a few drills and some strides as we watch whatever else is going on.

We’re up next on the track and the announcer sums up the “grueling competition” of our last couple of days, making us feel a little weary yet, through the admiration in her voice, capable of anything.  We toss our warm up gear aside and shake out our legs anxiously, generally wishing we could somehow skip the next couple of minutes of our lives.  At this point I, of course, feel similarly; embracing the pain of almost sprinting for over 2 mins does not make it any less painful.  But alas, we’re called to the line, thought bubbles popping out of the air over our heads like in the cartoons.  It’s time to run.  We all scoot up to delicately put our toes just before the line, and crouch over, awaiting the gun.  This is where the wolf arrives.  When everyone is still, the gun sounds and we’re off, a quick burst of speed generates a sense of urgency, and helps in the jostle for a good position as we go into the first corner.

This brings me to a small side story…  We’re at les Jeux de la Francophonie 2009 in Beirut, Lebanon.  Throughout our stay it wasn’t uncommon to hear popping coming down from the hills, especially around sunset.  It didn’t sound anything like gunfire in the movies, but gunfire, we were told, it was.  During javelin on the second day of the hep it was closer sounding and unmistakably recognizable as gunshots.  So much so that as we took off to start the 800, a second shot went off and we all returned to the line assuming someone had committed a false start.  We looked over, however, to see the officials all looking at each other in confusion…the shot having come from outside the stadium!

Anyway, we take off, settling into each of our practiced race paces, feeling strong.  The first 200m flies by and we round the second corner, approaching the more populated bleachers of the home stretch for the first time.  With that straightaway comes a rush of thoughts…firstly, “I’m starting to feel it in my legs…” then “oh man, a whole nother lap to go?!?”.  Soon this is followed by, “only a lap to go?!?!”, as you hear the bell ring and your split time, and it’s like your head is thrown back in time to a training session where you have one lap left and nothing to lose.

That brief lapse in focus, for me, is the defining factor in the 800.  It’s not a long race, but juuuust long enough to allow time to think about everything.  Solution: either keep from thinking (possible, though unlikely), or ensure your thoughts are constructive (I came across the phrase, “I like myself” in Brian Tracy’s Psychology of achievement CDs.  It was weird at first, yelling that aloud in the car as I listened, but it’s an empowering tool!  …and kinda funny).  Of course looking to the wolf is a great alternative…

So corner number three, back in the groove, on the scent of a delicious elk, definitely thinking about changing gears, but holding in the reins a little…accelerating off the corner though, attacking the final 300m.  A contained attack, stealthy, maintaining form and lucidity.  It’s the attack engaged when approaching the now uneasy elk before it makes the decision to run, when as long as you look like nothing more than a bizarre slowly growing shape, not yet identifiable as an advancing predator, you can gain an advantage.

Into the final corner the kick is well established, the chase is on.  We round the seemingly endless corner to the literally endless straightaway.  The line does approach, but so slowly it is barely noticable.  At this point the bear is usually latched on tight, but sometimes it is a baby bear and the core can hold up under the added weight of it on your back.  With luck there is someone just ahead to chase, to initiate that instinct to disregard the signals your limbs are shooting to your brain because this chase means surviving.  Despite doubt of it not getting any nearer, the finish line is reached.

No matter the results of the competition, the post heptathlon high is glorious!  Crossing that line means an immediate (but temporary) pain storm, and finally setting our minds free to feast on whatever they desire, like a ravished wolf pack feasting on it’s delicious hard earned meal.  The past few days saw a strict mental diet of track events, nutrition, hydration, and maybe a few cloud animals when available.  But now we’re on top of the world!  A great feeling on your own, but it’s especially enjoyable to experience this feeling of immortality with competitors who instatly turn into comrades!

Long Jump, Standing.

Standing long jump (also refered to as the standing broad jump) is a two footed jump preferably into a sand pit.  Begin with your toes behind the line designated by the (elementary school) teacher, feet hip width apart, and shoulders square to the direction you intend to jump (into the pit?).

  1. Stand tall, legs nearly straight, and hold your arms out in front of you at about shoulder height, a gentle bend in the elbows, hands relaxed naturally.
  2. Swing both arms back as far as they go, rotating through the shoulder.  Allow your upper body to lean forward a little, bending slightly at the waist.
  3. Bend your knees quickly and begin swinging your arms back through their natural course, still only slightly bent at the elbow.
  4. When your arms reach the plane of your upper body, ie when your hands pass by your hips, quickly straighten your legs as your arms continue up and forwards.
  5. Extend your legs completely: hip, knee, and ankle, finishing up on your toes with arms extended almost alongside your face.
  6. Repeat several times, smiling and looking about.

With each pump the excited, anxious smile evolves into a focused grimace.  One pump visibly different from the rest, gets more speed, more forward lean, and a significant push off the track.  Arms extended overhead, feet hanging at the end of legs left behind in the epic push.  A moment of absurd weightlessness is experienced at the apex, when upwards velocity reaches zero, before gravity has a chance to effect acceleration back to the centre of the earth.  For a moment time doesn’t exist…it’s hard to imagine while not in that moment, but it’s as if breathing is not permitted, nor is it necessary.  It’s where your heart and stomach and liver and pancreas feel like they’re in your throat, and thanks to inertia, they very well may be oh so slightly shifted in that direction.

You see, an object in motion remains in motion unless an external unbalanced force acts upon it…in this case, once force is applied to the ground by the body (explained by another of Newton’s laws) the body wants to remain in its upward trajectory.  Yet gravity, an external unbalanced force, acts on the body and the force it generates overcomes the initial force upward.  Yet there is a moment when the forces are perfectly balanced.  Only, I think this moment – experienced by one’s internal motion detectors whatever they are, whether it’s the inner ear or through vision (seeing that you’re not moving up or down) …generally somewhere in the head – is slightly separate from the rest of the body and it’s organs.  So while you experience that you are weightless, maybe it is that your inner ear or eyes are, while the other parts of your body (for instance your heart, stomach, liver and pancreas) may still be in motion upwards and may catch up a little to your head or whatever it is that detects no vertical movement.  Put another way, a car (the body) slows when the brakes are applied but the people and things in it that aren’t rigidly attached (organs) do not slow down immediately.  Anyway, MAJOR tangent…

Your heart, stomach, liver, and pancreas are slightly in your throat, you can’t breathe, and you’re hanging suspended in time and space.  After coming to some great epiphany (unfortunately nearly always forgotten immediately), or seeing your life flash before your eyes, the second-hand slips into the next slot with a classically loud TICK as time resumes, and the sand begins approaching at an alarming rate.  Feet that were still hanging back come kicking through, as the hands come down to meet them, your body folding in half at the hips, two parallel lines that are parallel to the sand pit.  Just before your heels hit the sand, you extend your legs even further, leveraging another 10cms of distance before contact.  Once heels touch down, in an aggressive attempt to fling your centre of gravity beyond that initial depression in the sand, hamstrings fire causing knees to bend and your hips to shoot forward.  Feet fly out of the sand, flinging several grains as they go, and almost simultaneously your bum moves in where your feet were.  Forward momentum continues your movement through the sand and you exit the pit, leaving a massive crater amid a beautifully smooth sandy expanse of desert.

Note: the very first attempt may result in disorientation in this reality.  In most cases this disorientation is temporary, but in extreme cases jumpers have been known to be a little wonky.  In fact, as familiarity with this blog will edify, most track and field events are accompanied by some degree of disorientation.  Interestingly, the heptathlon offers a unique blend of disorientation from each event, usually resulting in a perfectly adjusted and oriented athlete…not peculiar or awkward in any way.

Also: I don’t want to, but I feel the need to mention that a couple of years ago my coach, Vickie, in jeans and dressier shoes, standing long jumped further than I.  A rematch will be held soon and I shall report the results (if I win this time).

One more thing: standing long jump was supposed to be an intro to running long jump, but it is quite a bit more involved than even I imagined!  Crazy, I know.  I think I’ll leave it at that for today!

Thanks for your rapt attention and an exceptional Saturday to you!!

Sprinting.

It’s a good feeling to run from a stand or a walk; I am reminded of my childhood, both starting races and charging around the recess school yard.  It’s basically succumbing to the sudden urge to move as fast as possible, arms and legs working in unison (a rare and celebrated feat for most of us at some point in our lives!).  Cutting through the air, flying between every foot fall…and really, who doesn’t dream of flying?  This is a good thing.

Yet, tack on an explosive acceleration before this flight, and you’re dealing with magic.  The straight raw acceleration that can change every time you do it, from the angle your body makes with the ground, to the precise movements of your arms and legs, right down to the fingers and toes.  No matter of the exact technique or clocking of the distance, it’s an ALL OUT effort.  I love placing my feet behind the line, relaxing everything I can think to relax (without looking like a floppy invertebrate), shoulders dropped away from my ears, arms loose by my sides, tension in my face released, breathing in deeply through my nose, head angled slightly down and looking up, focusing like a predator about to initiate the chase on some imaginary prey I’ve been stalking.  I crouch my legs a little and bend at the waist, letting the back of my fingers brush the ground, hips held high, eyes focused unseeing behind my feet while complete consciousness is projected down the track a short ways.  I slowly feel my weight begin to shift to my toes as my folded body leans forward, remaining frozen in the same relative position.

Just as I reach the tipping point, as if waiting any longer will result in me landing flat on my face, I explode into a knee and arm drive, fighting to keep my upper body low, in line with my pushing leg.  It’s all about angles.  Quickly my driving knee shoots back, toes raised and the spikes in my shoes poised like a carnivore’s fangs ready to tear into the track as soon as it’s within striking distance.  My other knee comes driving through, my core stabilizing as I propel myself forward between the push off the track with one leg and the quick sling-shoting of the knee of my other leg forward.  I drive with every step, seeing the textured mondo fly by in front of my eyes as I pick up speed as rapidly as possible.

My acceleration decreases (though still positive…is my scientist showing through?) as I approach top speed and by now I am running taller, covering much ground with every stride, my footfalls are perfectly timed firing of pistons revolving around my ankle.  I am touching the ground and then instantaneously off it again as my legs and arms rhythmically switch positions.

Then there’s the slowing down.  If you’re indoors and significantly close to a matted wall (please make sure it’s matted), quickly figure out your projected steps lining up a safe sideways shoulder check into the mat, bounce off and land lightly on your feet travelling at a significantly decreased rate in the opposite direction.  Probably more preferred is the gradual deceleration, knees still coming up, but leaning slightly back, offering a little resistance with each contact.  This takes some time and space.  Finally there is the kid stop, feet flapping loudly as the same effort that went into accelerating as quickly as possible goes into stopping as quickly as possible.  Not the best for your body.

Note: warm up first, or else hold the very strong belief that there’s no reason you cannot sprint safely at the drop of a hat (I’ll likely get to the topic of beliefs at a future date).

When trying to decide what to write about (rule number one of blogging is to have SOMETHING to write about), I floundered at first: “write what I know…well, what do I know?  Track and field.  Track’s not very interesting, I do it every day.”  It’s easy to overlook the things that you’re used to seeing.  I soon realized that although I full out sprint over and over again at least six days a week, most people don’t…unless they’re being chased?  Or coming in for a skydiving landing?

Thus I decided to begin this blog with sprinting as I know it, as a predator…chasing as opposed to being chased.  I hope you relish in it as much as I do!