I read an article a couple of months ago that didn’t sit well with me and my peers, “Gains: Canadian track and field athletes have a lot to learn”. Paul … Continue reading Something to gain from Gains
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!
Dedicated to my pack…
As early as I can remember (earlier, even, than my earliest canine sketch), I would always look out the car window at my wolf friends running along beside me, smiling at the world as they went.
They would be easily clearing snowbanks and fire hydrants, loping around parked cars and children, who would be standing at attention and staring as we interrupt road hockey games in the suburbs; weaving gracefully through the oblivious throngs downtown, claws clicking on the pavement, patiently waiting with us at red lights before trotting on; and tirelessly charging along the transcanada highway or the 401…I’d sometimes catch glimpses of them through the forests, other times I’d track them trekking single file through a field half a kilometre away. Needless to say they were always happiest in the countryside along the highway, exploring, following smells and whims. But no matter where, they were always running, and always smiling.
I’m sure anyone who has seen a happy dog knows of the smile. Alert at first – focused eyes, brows poised, closed mouth with tight lips but loose jowls, ears flexed and precisely directed, and nose quivering – all melting into blissful momentary reflection. Reflection, yet amazingly still ultimately present in the moment. The nose tips up in silent laughter, ears swivel back unintimidatingly, lips loosen and part, freeing the tongue while cheeks tighten, and eyes relax, eyelids nearing each other, completing the epitome of contentment. Equally as important as the expression itself is the lightning fast return of the alertness given the slightest impetus for a new reaction. (As a side note: I’m going to guess that 2/3 of the people who read that, attempted the “dog smile”…)
It’s hard to explain but everything about the wolf speaks to me. The stealth, strength, endurance, stillness, beauty, mystery, family values, instinctual, nomadic ability to survive, existing perfectly in its niche in the environment. In fact, I think my respect for the animal runs deeper than my respect for…well, gravity (which, by the way, I don’t believe is entirely immutable). Similar to gravity, as another basic law of my universe I expected a deep respect for wolves to be shared by all, at least to some degree. However, I was genuinely surprised to relatively recently discover otherwise, that people actually harbour fear of wolves! As Bertrand Russel said, “he who fears an animal will only see its threatening behaviour”. I encourage everyone to choose to respect and you will see much to warrant it!
It’s funny that the characteristics that likely inspire fear in many people are precisely those that inspire me athletically: the predatory nature, chasing as if in a life or death circumstance, eyes on the prize with nothing else of any importance in the moment. The focus, drive, and courage of the hunting wolf are precisely what I attempt to emanate in athletics.
I’m not suggesting necessarily that everyone must love wolves, but I am suggesting that everyone would do well to love and be open to learning from the natural world. I’ve had some awesome teachers throughout my schooling, but I assure you, none have been quite like the wolf!
“In wildness is the salvation of the world.” – Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes it’s enough to just know something with your heart. But sometimes knowing the whys behind it can put your mind at ease too. After graduating and making the bitter-sweet transition away from the university track world, I found myself with a lot of questions, including wondering about the continuing role of athletics in my life. Despite my love for the sport and the right feeling it gives me, I found myself wondering why, out of all the other things in the world that I love doing, I should focus my energy on track?
The simple yet surprisingly meaningful answer is, “because I can”. I wrongfully assumed that being a full time athlete meant being so at the exclusion of being other things. Seeing that written down, it’s apparent that the prospect is a foolish one. We can, and actually should be and do everything we desire. Personally I have found sparks of concentrated interest in art, nature, science, space, flying, and others…heck I could throw in cow milking, if I were to so desire! No two things are mutually exclusive unless we believe they are. I was initially afraid of committing to track because I thought it meant closing other doors I really wanted to explore. But it doesn’t! I can achieve my goals in track while doing everything that I love, so I do.
Another answer: I’ve come to realize that it’s the emotions that are important, not necessarily the means we find to experience them. For example, I think a major reason that I enjoy track is because of the feeling of accomplishment I get when I master a skill, finish a tough workout on top, or achieve a new personal best. Realizing that the accomplishment is what is truly meaningful to me, adds even more meaning to the means of achieving that accomplishment (WOW that’s a lot of ‘mean’s, I like it!).
So the feeling of accomplishment gives athletics added value to me, but I also recently realized that the potential for philanthropy is huge as an athlete, and also a personal draw for me to athletics. I really can’t put my finger on why sport is so valuable in society; why athletes are such widely regarded role models. Any ideas? Is it the commitment to something, specifically a dream? Is it being involved in the thrill of competition? Does it remind people of their desire to move and be free and fit? Regardless, athletes are held in high esteem and are often given the opportunity to offer whatever insights they have discovered to many, many people. For instance Andre Agassi describes the school he has founded, the passion he has for assisting others, and the influence over people that was provided to him for being a great athlete in his sport in his startling autobiography Open. It really gave me an idea of where an athletic career could turn. Many athletes are involved in foundations and organizations and are really using their notoriety to make differences.
Another amazing example of athletes doing big things is Athletes for Hope (coincidently, of which Andre Agassi is a founder). I have yet to really dig into it, but the misison of the group of professional athletes involved is to “educate, encourage and assist athletes in their efforts to contribute to community and charitable causes, to increase public awareness of those efforts, and to inspire others to do the same”. I’m excited to learn more!
Philanthropy is important to a lot of athletes, and the fact that something about it strikes a chord with me gives athletics even that much more meaning to me. I not only strive to achieve the goals I set for myself, I strive also to accomplish big things so as to gain a platform from which to give back to a huge degree.
And just to inspire any people reading, athletes and non-athletes alike, here are some wise words from Steve Nash:
“Athletes are not obligated to give back. PEOPLE are obligated to give back.” 🙂
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?).
- 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.
- 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.
- Bend your knees quickly and begin swinging your arms back through their natural course, still only slightly bent at the elbow.
- 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.
- Extend your legs completely: hip, knee, and ankle, finishing up on your toes with arms extended almost alongside your face.
- 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!!
Not Homer’s Odyssey, just to clarify. Though upon a perusal of the sparknotes plot, I think I’m going to have to investigate this literary masterpiece in greater detail!!
Now I feel like Frodo and Homer! And Shadow from Homeward Bound…
My point is, I am on a journey to the Olympic Games and although the path ahead is surely fraught with what some may refer to as “obstacles”, I am confident that with the aid of my Aragorns and Athenas, and my paramount determination to crawl, dirty and broken out of any dark holes that I may find myself in, this chapter of my story will have a happy ending too!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, for lessons have been imparted upon this eager student at every turn and I am precisely where I am because of it all. From my family and friends, to my coaches and teammates, to my formal teachers, to the parking lot attendant I chatted with today, to the girl on the train a few years back who was smiling contentedly to herself as she looked out the window, to the tree I climb to reach the other tree that I like to sit in, to the spider on the tree that I like to sit in… Thank You.
The only reason I have the confidence to entertain a vision of achieving my goals is because of you. I only vainly hope that in some way I have reciprocated a fraction of this inspiration back!
As I mentioned, my ultimate goal is to represent Canada in the heptathlon at the Olympic Games next year. For those reading who are unfamiliar with athletics administration procedures, I must be selected to the Olympic team after achieving a standard set by our national sport organization, Athletics Canada, next spring – a standard that I have achieved several times already (in my head). For the mp3 (the newer version of the record), I’ve already been on the Olympic podium a few times too (need I say it, also in my head)…feels better than I can imagine!
This summer I aim to gain more international experience, while achieving the standard to qualify to be nationally carded. This entails continuing to improve in each event in the heptathlon, with special emphasis placed on the throwing events. I AM A THROWER (just so you know).
If you’re interested in learning more about my track pursuits (like boring point totals and pbs and heptathlon jibber jabber) feel free to visit my facebook page.
Thanks so very much for reading and tune in next time for…