It presents in an endless stream of sunny pictures on social media and an enviable tan during races: training camps. There’re an integral part of the trainings programme of any (semi-) professional athlete. But why do all we all go on training camps and why is it so important that we do?
There are several components of a training camp that make it such an important part of an athlete’s success story. One of the nicest advantages is the heat. During winter The Netherlands can be pretty cold. It’s not great when you have to do a couple laps around the park twice a week, and it’s a lot worse when you have to show up at the track at 10 a.m. every day. Above that: muscles prefer warm weather, which makes a sunny destination a better place for technical or hard training sessions than home.
The difference in surroundings can also be of value. It can have a great mental advantage to not to have to show up to the same track every day for a year, running the same laps. Training on different tracks also mean that mean that the skills you learn will be more translatable; especially when it comes to the more technical aspects. This translatability can be vital during Championships, when the first time you see a track could be during the first round.
There’s other advantages to leaving your usual stomping ground behind: it eliminates distractions. At home you have to consider groceries, cooking, cleaning, friends, family, (school, work), whereas on training camps everything outside of training is taken care of for you. You have one job and one purpose: to train fucking hard. And when you’re not busy training hard, to make sure you recover in such a way, that you’re ready to train hard again at the next opportunity.
This is also the pitfall of training camps. Rarely does your world become so small, as when you’re sitting in your hotel room, with food and coffee only three floors down, the track right around the corner and the same people around for 3-4 weeks. Just like many of the side effects of being a professional athlete, training camps are something you have to learn. When do you wanna hang out with the group, when do you wanna be alone, when do you have to take some extra recovery time and when do you need to get out of the hotel for a bit to reload. Like most things about being a professional athlete, it’s a complicated balance. (More complicated for some than others.)
Of course there are other (more budget-friendly) options to mimic the effects of a training camp. Finding warmth in The Netherlands during the winter might be a tad challenging, but you can add some variations to your runs by simply changing up your route, or you can find a new challenge by taking a look at the going-ons of a different track club than where you usually train, or join a new running group for a different experience. There very small variations that can make your training just that bit more interesting (and effective).
Best of Both
There’s an almost endless number of sports, and one of the main ways to categorize them is as team or individual sport. Both individual and team sports come with their own set of advantages, especially when you’re considering the development of (young) children. One of the most commonly named advantages of team sports is that it teaches (kids) to work together. Sports in which rely on a team are often more social in nature than individual sports.
This dependency on teammates will not set will with everyone, however; people who enjoy to a little more control over their success will often find team sports very frustrating. Airing this frustrations rarely does any good to performance, as a good social cohesion van be vital in a team when you want an optimal result.
In individual sports, you are, however, not dependent on other people for your performance. This might suit some people better, but it also comes with more pressure. A bad day can’t be masked by someone else’s good day, and when you lose there’s no one to blame but yourself.
When it comes to social skills you don’t learn as much in individual sports; being ego-centrical has no consequences and you’re not dependent on people-skills to get a win.
But, a social aspect can be built into your training as an individual athlete, if you so wish. When you’re just started a new sport, an common tip is to train in a group- the social pressure means you won’t skip a training as easily and you can push and support each other to get more out of your workout. The same goes for teamsports, which have fixed training times that are ‘mandatory’ and where competition within the team during training can push the entire team to a higher level. The advantage of training together has been so well-documented and researched, that even in the most individual sports, many athletes still choose to train together. Especially training with people who are better than you (or good at other aspects of training) can make you work harder during training in order to close that gap.
Track and field is most definitely a sport like that: an individual sport in which most athletes choose to train in a team setting. Above that, it includes competitions (Team Championships) and events (relay) that do include a team aspect. In this manner, you can get all the advantages of an individual sport and the advantages of a team sport, all in one.
2018: Succes or failure
It’s the end of the year. Usually the time for good intentions – but also a good moment to reflect. What did I achieve this year, did I achieve my goals? Which mistakes have I made (again)? What have I learned this year, and what should I have learned that I didn’t?
These are question you can ask yourself, (professional) athlete or not. But it’s not usually very easy to mark a year a ‘success’ or ‘failure’. Even when you set yourself very specific goals as an athlete. Because goals are black and white, and life is not. Sprinter and longer-distance runners often have a set time as a benchmark, high-jumpers heights and throwers distances and all of them can have a specific placing at a Championship before they deem a year ‘successful’.
But it can be hard to set (realistic) goals. You can work really hard without running PB’s, and make huge progress in training that won’t translate to races right away. You can make huge progress in a year- but if the steps you make are a tad smaller than those of the people around you, you could still miss out on the placing you aimed for. Does that mean your year is a total failure? As a professional athlete (or in any other job that values performance) it can be hard to look past the outcome and to the bigger picture. That there’s more to life than checks on a to-do list.
Goals are black and white, but life is not, so it’s important to take a look at those (unmeasurable) ‘grey’ areas before you decide 2018 has been unsuccessful. So, here are some other questions you could ask yourself: Was I happy this year, did I make other people happy? Did I grow as a person? What did I do for the first time this year, and what am I most proud of?
At the start of this year I decided (and wrote down) that I wanted to find balance this year. And I did find balance. And then I lost it again, only to find it back again somewhere. I accomplished some of my (athletic) goals, and failed at others, and I can honestly say I’ve grown as a person. Should I really mark 2018 ‘failed’ just because I didn’t go sub-11.2 and I kinda really wanted to?
The never-satisfied athlete part of my wants to, but the regular person inside definitely won’t.
And for all of you guys: Happy New Year’s!
The fake beauty of Instagram
The world looks better through a filter. And that goes for more than selfies with zits carefully photoshopped out, or sunsets that get edited for half an hour before being posted. On social media (and especially Instagram) everyone likes to show the best version of themselves.
I’m not any less guilty of that than anyone else. If I’ve had a bad training session I won’t post about it. After a bad race I’m quite to post #ontothenextone, whilst a good race can take up to three posts – especially if the pictures turn out good. In this manner I create, and with me many others (athletes), a version of reality that’s a tad bit brighter than reality. It’s not a terrible thing, but it’s something that people should be aware of.
It’s human nature to compare yourself with the people around you, but in our technologically advanced world it’s so easy to take a peep into other people’s lives, that the group we’re comparing ourselves to gets increasingly bigger. We’re no longer just comparing our faces with that of our friends but also with that of (world-) famous influencers. Our bodies with endless pictures shared by models throughout the day. I can compare my daily training with not only my trainingpartners, but any World Champion or any of my competitors. And they seldomly make me feel better…
It’s easy to get lost amidst endless photoshopped Instagram-proofed images, and start doubting yourself. So it’s important to step back from time to time and remember what you do before you post a picture (take 50 photos, use and editing app/filter, text three friends to pick their absolute favourite), is also what many other people do before posting a picture. And that all your edited pictures can make other people insecure the same way theirs do you.
To conclude: don’t use Instagram as a tool to measure your reality against.
From a distance it seems quite glamorous, being a professional athlete. You get paid to train for the most beautiful sport in the world, spent the better part of the year in sunny destinations, get flown all over the world for races where even the hotel and food gets arranged for you, you never have a 9-5 workday in a stuffy office, and then there comes a point where boxes filled with clothes show up to your doorstep.
There’s a downside to all these things though. Because you’re away from home a lot, you spend a lot of time missing family and friends- especially if you need to make a move to the other side of the country (or even another country) in order to get to the level you want to achieve in your sport. And the travelling can become lonely as well, when you’re in your third country in a week for another race, with a roommate you’ve known for about half an hour and who speaks only the littlest of English, there can be moments when you want nothing more than to just be at home on your own couch.
Being a professional athlete is not a job that ends when you get home from training. You still have to think about recovery and eat right and sleep enough and there’s tomorrow’s workout to get ready for. You will never get home from work and not be a professional athlete anymore- you don’t get to clock out on until the season ends.
Besides that, it’s not always easy for (Dutch) athletes to make ends meet. I’ve always been lucky to be part of a relay team that consistently places for global finals, which means that we get to have funding. It’s not going to make anyone rich but it does an excellent job of paying rent. A lot of other athletes fall a little short of this. So next to a similar amount of hours at the track, they also have to show up for a (part-time) job. This takes up a lot of energy and can be a very intense combination.
It’s also the most important reason a lot of Dutch talent quits before reaching elite levels: they simply can’t afford to keep doing it. Being a professional athlete requires a large investment, of time, of money (for coaches, for trainingcamps, for treatments, etc), and until you’re part of the World’s best there’s not much of a pay-out. At least, not of the monetary kind. Because, glamourous or not- there’s few things that compare to standing on the starting line and hear a stadium filled with 50.000 people get more quiet than you could’ve thought they could, and you get to be one of the people running there.
That’s it for 2017
Traditionally a new year means new beginnings, new chances and for a lot of people also new good intentions (or just the ones you couldn´t stick to a year ago). I’m no exception.
My good intention for 2018 is balance. It sounds simple, but it usually isn’t, especially for professional athletes. My life is a just too full combination of training, school, family, friends and recovery.
And it’s exactly this balance that tends to be key when it comes to performing at this level. Most people think medals are won on the track, or in weight rooms, and sure, I guess they get won there too. But it’s not that complicated to train hard. With enough discipline anyone can make it to track every day, so it’s a difficult place to make the difference – especially if consistently working harder than your competition mostly leads to injury. So there’s nothing else to do than make the difference next to the track. And that’s where that balance comes in. How will you shape your life in such a way that every single training session (or your school, or your work, or whatever applies) you do, you do to the absolute best of your abilities. Of course there’s no one answer to that question, there might not be just one answer for one person. Some people reload through social activities, for other people those can cost a lot of energy and they reload better by staying in and reading a book. I know athletes that enjoy going out for a short drink with friends the day before a race, whereas I cannot by moved from the couch by any means on those nights. So total seclusion – Also not ideal. It’s been proven people need a certain amount of social contact and warmth in order to be happy. As I said: balance. For me this also means factoring in classes and study time, whereas other athletes might have to balance training with a (part-time) job.
In other words, everyone has their ingredients to form into a not too overwhelming combination. And that’s the task I’ve set myself in 2018 (and kinda been working on for the last couple of months – whoever said that you can only work on yourself at the start of the new year), with the underlying idea that if I succeed at that, I’ll be a happier person… and happier people run faster.
Happy 2018, everyone!
Diversity in track and field
In case anyone hasn’t noticed: I’m taking a holiday. And so are many other track athletes who’s offseason started past September. Obviously there´s … and 11 months out of a year is a ratio that requires some serious time off.
That doesn´t mean that (professional) track and field halts for a month. Au contraire, there’s an abundance of competitions! And how could it be any differently, taking into account that track and field encompasses 24 Olympic disciplines, and next to those a whole list of unofficial distances (some of which have world records under the IAAF and some of which don’t). These disciplines can either be outside (outdoor) or inside (indoor), and the track distances can be run on the track, on the road or even through the mud. Autumn races mostly consist of the latter two: road racing and crossing.
Now, obviously, these have nothing to do with me. The distances common to these competitions are a lot longer than I’m commonly used to, and you cannot pay me enough to fight my way through mud and rain. But for the track fan inside of me it’s nice. I can hang on my couch with a good book and the tv on in the background, always a little connected to what I’m most passionate about doing. And that’s also when the motivation to start training starts creeping back in, looking at the amazing performances and PB’s of other athletes.
And I believe this diversity, this permanent presence in the calendar, is one of the most powerful aspects of track and field. You can blindly point at any weekend throughout the year, and somewhere there will be a track meet, of some level, of one of the disciplines… there’s always a place for an athlete to perform or a spectator to come cheer. In the same way track and field is a sport that has something for everyone to enjoy, it’s something that can be enjoyed anytime: 365 days of availability.