Saturday, March 29, 2014

Texas Relays

I just drove back into Colorado Springs after spending two weeks in Austin, Texas in preparation for the 87th Annual Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays!  Yes, I drove down there because a) plane tickets were super expensive, b) oversize baggage fees for my javelins are super expensive (now more than ever) and c) I wanted to.  I listened to Divergent by Veronica Roth on the way down and Insurgent, the second of the three-part series, on the way home today.  Books for fun, YAY!  I also refuse to see movies before I've read the books, and I'm going to see it next week.

Anyway, I competed yesterday!  My two weeks of practice with Ty leading up to this meet were good, but like I said already, I was nervous.  Just like the one time I got to see him last year, I showed up in Austin and was really tight in my upper body: I short-armed the throw a lot and just got away from the pressure too quickly.  I've known for a while that this is a problem, but struggled to fix it on my own.  I focused on my arm instead of keeping a big chest, lengthening my left arm and initiating the throw with my legs.  To fix a technical issue, the majority of the time you need to figure out the cause rather than just address the symptom!  I always know what I feel, but visiting Ty helps me figure out why I feel those things.  So important.

So, because of what we worked on in practice, my two main technical cues going into competition were keeping my entire left side solid (related to initiating the throw with my legs) and keeping a big chest at the front of the throw.  My other goal was to enjoy myself!!  I talked to Wendy on Thursday about how to do that: I had some pictures that make me happy printed and stuck them in my binder as a reminder to smile.  Nervous energy+happiness+solid technical cues (that I had been visualizing like crazy)?  Good stuff.

My warm-ups felt nice and relaxed, but weren't awesome, which I love.  I like to feel connection, but I'm not a big fan of perfect warm-ups.  On my first attempt, I was as relaxed as I could be with all those first-meet jitters, led the throw with my legs okay, and remembered to keep a big chest!  All of those things could have been executed better and I didn't have much speed on the throw since my approach was a bit short for this meet, but when I looked up, the javelin was invisible.  I love those throws, and it has been a long time since I've seen one of mine fly that way!
That first attempt was 60.45m, which I am thrilled with for a meet that is a month earlier than I would normally open a season, and especially after 18 months of rehab and climbing my way back to throwing confidence.  After throw number 1, shaking hands and a congratulatory hug from Ty, my nerves dissipated a little too much, and I didn't have a whole lot of energy for the rest of the meet!  My series suffered from a lack of competition mental endurance I think, and even though I know my knee is strong and sturdy, it still hurts a little when I throw hard on it.  I'm excited to build that competition experience back up! 

I'll compete again at Drake Relays, and I can't wait to see my family (both ASICS and biological, haha)!  I'd love to see you there if you can make it. :) Until then, I'm focusing on having a strong left side and nice big chest in practice.  So pumped about the next few years!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nerves

I’m opening my season on Friday morning!!!

OMG, I’m opening my season on Friday morning.

Mike A. Myers Stadium

Remember how I said I’d shout my schedule from the rooftops, and do it early?  I do too, and I’m sorry that I’ve been a chicken and haven’t done that.  Not only does the 9:30am start time of women’s javelin on Friday atTexas Relays prevent any local high schoolers from coming, but the truth is, I’m nervous.  I know I’m in great shape.  I know that all I need to do is trust the process and trust my body and eventually things will work out, but that doesn’t stop the nerves from bubbling up.  This will be my first full season back from major injury, and I’m excited about that, but I want to be open with everyone following along about just the kind of experiences this journey is giving me.  Real, semi-gut-wrenching ones.  I’ve been hiding because I’m scared, and competition will be the only thing that can break me of that fear.  You have to throw in higher-pressure situations to get used to truly throwing harder!  Fear has never stopped me before, and it won't now, but I am feeling it.

Looking back, I felt the same way upon my return to competition after hurting my back and missing a season in 2007.  My attitude toward throwing has been similar to what it was that year, and my training this year has been similar to what we did leading up to 2010.  Ty’s words after my first throw off the runway with him last Wednesday were, “Oh, Kara, you’re gonna throw so far this year.”  I wholeheartedly believe him.  I wholeheartedly believe in myself.  There is just always this nerves hurdle when you’re returning from a hiatus!  Expectant nerves.

I always expect a lot from myself, in every aspect of life.  Surgery (and subsequent recovery) taught me how to manage expectation over a long period of time though, and that’s a lesson I feel like I’m applying now to throwing.  In 2010, I was awesome.  In 2011, I was not.  And in 2012, when it mattered the most, I was injured.  Patiently waiting for my knee to heal and for my body to be ready to throw again has been a huge challenge, but one I’ll carry with me in this three-season push toward the next Summer Olympic Games.  I’ve always wanted to throw far, all the time, but both being injured and feeling embarrassed in 2011 helped me see that timing is everything.  The build to the most important stage in my sport can take a while, and I need to be prepared to continue being patient.  I’ve known this for a long time, but I hadn’t truly learned it until being forced through the long ACL healing process.  Knowing that the road to Rio is still a long one will help me keep each meet’s results in perspective.

So, on Friday, these things are important:

1.       Have fun!  My nerves will continue to build until then, so I have to remember to enjoy what I’m doing to be successful.  Being extra serious when I’m nervous does NOT help me.  I remember enough about competing to know that!

2.       Hit good positions.  I’m finally getting a little bit of a feel for the javelin after months of training with overweight implements and throwing into a net.  This meet is EARLY as far as when I “normally” open up my season, so I know that my timing isn’t there yet, and being disciplined in hitting strong positions gives me my best shot at throwing far.  That’s ALWAYS true, but especially early.  Set a standard for the rest of the season.

Those are the important things.  Keeping it simple in my first meet will hopefully let me relax even more about it.  I don’t need to put extra pressure on myself when I know I’ll already have tons of built-up nervous energy.  I just have to channel it the right way!
Ultimately, I’m really looking forward to continuing my javelin journey again.  I have this unyielding dream that I can’t quite grasp yet but I feel every day in my bones.  Getting back on the runway is the only way to reach for my lofty goals, and I’m embracing the emotions that come with each step of my process so that I can learn from them later, need-be.
Bevo, the University of Texas at Austin's living mascot!
 
Austin is fun!  Texas Relays looks like it’s shaping up to be a really cool event, and one that I’ve wanted to attend in the past!  I’ve met some really great people in the week I’ve already spent here, and a lot of them are planning to come to the track on Friday, so I’m looking forward to seeing them in the stands.  I have every reason to have an excellent experience here!  I just have to get out of my own way, which I've done before. :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Video Action!

Heeeeey!  So, I've been getting more and more comfortable with my knee and my technique with each practice, and wanted to share a bit.  In an effort to be totally transparent with you all in this recovery process and climbing back to where I know I belong, I want to talk about the difficulties and the victories!

December 16:


December 19:


January 19 (lower intensity):
video

January 29 (getting better):
video

January 29 (best):
video


January 23 (fast forward to about 20 seconds):


January 27:


Things I'm happy about:
  • Attacking my block.  I can't tell you how fun it is to have confidence in my left leg.
  • Carrying more speed into my throw than I ever could last year, followed by chasing the javelin out over my block. 
  • Controlling the tip of the javelin better than I have in a good while.
Things I'm working on:
  • Not pushing with my right leg after my impulse.  This is an old, stubborn habit that I knew I would probably need to re-break after surgery.  I guess I'm happy with how it's going, but (unreasonably) frustrated with the fact that it reared its ugly head again.  I need to give myself a break on this one, but I'm a perfectionist I guess.
  • The pushing with the right leg makes my upper body shift forward, the tip of the javelin come up, and my left shoulder open.  So those are three technical cues that I'm working on, but all of them can be fixed (the way my mind and body work) by waiting to put my right foot down and not pushing onto my block leg.
  • Carrying more energy through my impulse into the throw.  I feel floaty a lot of times, and I don't like it. 
  • Not being blocked off.  Allowing my right hip room to move through so I put more power into the javelin.   
I've been throwing a lot of overweight implements and doing just a ton of ball throws (medball and single arm little weighted ball alike), so I'm really excited about the coming months when I get to throw mostly competition-weight implements.  The session in Chula Vista (January 19 above) was the first time all year that I've thrown just 600g javelins, and even though my timing felt a little weird, it was a super fun session!!  Excited!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013

Merry Christmas!!  I've written a lot of reflective posts in the past year, as surgery and the subsequent recovery makes you look at where you've been and where you're going while challenging you in the present.  This is slightly different, as in order to move forward completely, you can't keep dwelling on the past, but you should try to learn from it and apply those lessons to your future success. 

I love being with my family.  Russ is almost (and has always felt like) my family, so he counts in a lot of situations, but it has been super fun to come home to Washington so much more now that we live in Colorado Springs.  I'm extremely grateful for the extra bridge games we've gotten in and the multitude of puppy pictures I've been able to take, among other things.  I've learned how to value family time over almost everything else in the last few years, but this year has taught me even more about how wonderful it truly is.  Make that trip home, even if it costs a few extra bucks.

Soreness comes in different forms.  Every athlete knows this, but not every athlete consciously recognizes when the different kinds of soreness are happening.  Some types you should be grateful for: My single-leg dumbbell RDLs with a band around my hips have had my glutes screaming for mercy since I did them for the first time on Monday!  Other forms of soreness need to be paid attention to.  That little nagging hip flexor super tightness has me resting on Christmas when I might have pushed through in the past.  Soreness is not soreness, and going through major injury has me extra aware of when I should be getting more rest vs. getting my workouts in anyway.  I've immensely enjoyed the normal soreness that has come with normal fall training this year.  I haven't trained normally in the fall for two years because of my surgery, so body parts that forgot what an entire year of javelin training is like have been complaining (shoulders, intercostals, adductors, etc.).  For normal soreness, be grateful!!  In response to abnormal soreness, be careful. 

Those are the two major lessons I'm thinking about today, as I listen to the bridge tournament starting without me and have already taken photos of the dogs in Santa hats.  What are the biggest lessons you've learned this year?  Merry Christmas :)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2014

Since July, I've camped, road-tripped, backpacked, fished, photographed, played card games, seen old friends, made new friends, and slept to my heart's content.  I started bodybuilding (higher volume lifting with specific recovery times and such) in mid-September, coupled with whatever cardio I wanted (hikes and interval runs).  After five weeks of that, I started my first block of training, which is now over!  I'm currently in the beginning of my first week of block 2, and loving what my future looks like.

Have you ever experienced a major injury?  I've had a few, and the seasons following those years are always so fun to train for.  Grateful doesn't begin to describe how I feel for the fire and attentiveness I experience at practice every day, and I've never lived my life more purposefully.  I felt this way in the year leading up to 2008, after a stress fracture in my back in 2007 left me on the sidelines for a year.  If I made the Beijing Olympic team the year after that injury, what could happen now?  I'm excited.

This year won't happen without its own challenges.  I'm already experiencing some of my old SI joint pain, but since I know what helped me with that before, I can attack it head-on instead of wasting months trying to figure it out like the first time around.  You really do live and learn!  I still get to work on being confident in my block leg, but after yesterday's first practice on the runway, I'm feeling really good about it.

Kibwe asked me how my approach to this season might be different from seasons of the past.  The reason for that question is that 2014, like 2010, is an "off" year.  A non-championship year.  A year without a major medal up for grabs.  The Continental Cup lurks at the end of the summer, and would be a fabulous place to go back to and redeem myself, but there is no Olympic or World Championship for outdoor track and field athletes to compete in (meaning Kib and I are in the same boat). 

I definitely want to use this year to get back out on the international circuit.  I need that experience for the future, and I've been removed from those meets for two years now, so getting my feet wet again will be good.  However, I would moreso love to use this season to compete a lot domestically and bring the javelin to the people!  In Chicago in July, I absolutely loved having friends come watch and meeting up-and-coming javelin throwers who were both spectating and competing alongside me.  In the same way, I had a total blast teaching my campers at Iron Wood last summer, and would love to help instill a passion for javelin in even more kids around the country.  I plan on posting my competition schedule completely and as early as possible, inviting anyone and everyone I know (and probably people I don't know) in the areas I'll be competing in to come watch, and actually spending time with those that do.  There are hardly any opportunities for young people to be exposed to javelin throwing, and I'd like to do my best to fix that.  Keep your eyes peeled for competitions in your area. :)

Here's to 2014!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Season wrap-up!

So my short, somewhat-miracle of a season has come to a close!  My bronze medal at USAs this year allowed me to chase the World Championships A standard of 62.00m to potentially make my third Worlds team and travel to Moscow, Russia.  I was fully capable of doing that physically, but my technique didn't allow for it.

I only gave myself one chance at the A.  My knee was sore for two weeks after USAs, and I knew it was silly to even consider competing every week in a desperate attempt at a trip to World Championships.  Tom Pukstys was awesome enough to set up a meet at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) for myself and a few other javelin throwers to throw at on July 20, the last day of the chase period.  All or nothing! 

The difference between my left knee on June 20 (USAs) and July 20 was ridiculous.  I felt so powerful, so fast, and so much more comfortable on the runway than I had a month prior.  I had had two great practices at Iron Wood the week before, and I felt more confident than I have since before my injury more than a year ago.  More than anything, it was fun.  National championships were fun this year simply because I was releasing a javelin in competition again, but Chicago was fun because I finally felt strong and sure on the runway.  I've been patiently waiting for that feeling all year, and even though I only managed a 57.12m toss (a season's best and a win!) and will miss Worlds, I couldn't be happier looking at the future of my career.  I also had a huge group of Purdue friends in attendance in Chicago, and couldn't be sad about spending time with them immediately following the competition!

This year, I started throwing javelins in practice in April.  In the previous three training seasons of my career, I've thrown javelins from November (at least) through the end of the season (usually the end of August).  That's five months of technique work that I missed out on this year; I can't duplicate javelin throwing with med balls, as many as I may have thrown!  My shoulders, core, back, SI joints, glutes, and even knees felt awesome in Chicago, but a few great sessions out of only a few months of throwing practices are difficult to duplicate when the pressure is on.  It's hard to not be disappointed about missing a third straight World Championships team, but I knew that if this was the outcome of this year I would be left hungrier than ever for future seasons, and that's exactly how I feel.  I also know what I need to work on and what I loved about my training this year, and am empowered to put those things into practice in the Fall.

I've blogged about how long this journey back to health has felt and I've shared about the hard days, but I hope that the overwhelming feeling I have of gratitude has shined through.  I took a few yoga classes in the week after my season ended, and one day we were asked to consider something that we take for granted in our lives.  Honestly, moving to a new place, making new friends and cherishing the old ones, earning my health back day by day with the help of the best athletic trainers, relying on Russ and my family for support when I needed it, being lucky enough to re-sign with ASICS after a major injury, understanding how awesome my management team is, and knowing that I still have a place at the CSOTC by the grace of USATF even after a post-injury sub-par season left me hard-pressed to think of something.  This year has been amazing despite the challenges I faced each day, and many days because I overcame those challenges.  I'm going to stock up on seeing the beauty in the world through my camera lens during all of August and September before taking this grateful attitude and renewed hunger into my Fall training.  So excited!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

USAs and Iron Wood


I COMPETED! 
photo by Becky Miller
2013 USATF National Championships happened in Des Moines, Iowa at Drake University on June 20th.  When I say, "I competed," I don't just mean that I threw in a competition.  I was absolutely thrilled when my first toss flew 50 meters, but wanted more.  By round 5, I finally got it together and measured a throw at 55.88 meters to eventually place third!  With a short approach, only weeks of throwing practice, and still 6 days shy of nine months post-op, I knew I needed to focus on the basics, and it felt really, really successful.  The competitiveness that shined through was an awesome surprise after so much time away from meets.  The distance was fine, but a top 3 finish means that I can chase the World Championships A standard of 62 meters until July 20th.  I wanted to give myself that chance even in this "bonus" of a season after having my knee surgery.  Why not try?  Overall, USAs was FUN.





photo by Becky Miller
Super proud of this Bronze.




Russ also competed well!  After years and years of solid showings in both shot and disc, he finally earned Silver in the discus.  He's also chasing a World Championships standard, and I'm so pumped about how he looks this summer.  It'd be fun to go to Moscow together!!
 
What a cutie!  Victory Lap.
After USAs, Russ and I had the opportunity to help out at Iron Wood Throws Camp, run in its 24th consecutive year for the first time by Jarred Rome.  Jarred wanted currently-competing professional athletes to be involved with the kids this year, and I had a blast.
 
All my campers who wear ASICS. :)
 
Duncan Atwood and I had twice-daily sessions with our javelin thrower kids from Tuesday to Friday, with an optional session on Saturday.  These kids were so fun to work with, listened, stayed positive even through the soreness that comes along with walking a college campus and training 5 hours a day, and had a huge impact on me. 
 
Sterling controls the javelin by throwing through a hoop.

Russ shares his story with the campers. :)
I went into camp thinking that I'd probably benefit from talking about the basics with the kids all week.  I thought I might be reminded that keeping things simple can help anyone out, not just a high-schooler.  That happened, but I benefitted even more from their enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and pure love of the sport and event.  On Thursday, my group of beginners released their first few javelins ever, looked back at me with giant, round eyes, and said,
"I LOVE this."

I almost cried, I was so happy.  I relate to these kids now more than ever: I've felt that way all year, too.  I got frustrated right after USAs this year, because all of a sudden, my expectations were sky high.  I threw almost 56 meters, so why am I now not consistently throwing 60?  Silly Kara.  I realized that I needed to calm down, and that going to Iron Wood might be what I needed to do that.  After laughing with the kids and seeing lots of improvement in one morning session, I had the best practice I've had since right before the Trials last year.  Keeping it simple and having fun throwing again was the perfect recipe for connection to my implement and easy, far throws.  On Friday, after three more days of laughing and love for the sport, with extremely tired legs from a week of feverish coaching and demonstration, I had an even better practice on the same runway with these awesome kids.  Working with Duncan in those practices was really fun too, and both of us giving tips to the kids in between my throws was a fabulous experience.  Feeling like a real part of the national javelin throwing community is so important to me, and I won't forget Friday's practice for a long time.  Thank YOU to my Iron Wood campers.  You are amazing.
 
Duncan taught me how to handstand!  Finally!!
photo by Eryn Vanney :)