Rachel's Skeleton Blog #6
Posted: 26th May 2018 by Lewis Smith
Blog 6- Drawing the Year to a Close
By Rachel Hanagan
Hello again, I’m back with my next blog instalment... But don’t worry you’ll be pleased to hear this one won’t be as long as previous blogs (well that’s what I’m intending anyway). It’s a bit later than anticipated, simply because the past few months have been so busy and rather stressful particularly recently (yes I’m still optimistic that this blog will be condensed!) - The main reason being the dreaded PPI (Personal Performance Interview) which I mentioned briefly at the end of my last blog. However before I get on to that and how it went, let me try and BRIEFLY explain what I have been up to since the final ice camp in Austria.
The season was not quite over then- After just 1 day off after travelling back to the UK, having been away for a month, we were back into a solid 2 week block of training. The idea of this block was to keep us in a condition, that when we came back after our break, we would be working from a higher baseline. It was TOUGH! Not only was I physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted from what has been a long sliding season, but we were having double gym sessions a day. I mean I was bigging up the return of the capacity session in the last blog, and was really excited about pushing myself to the limits and feeling sick, but then quickly feeling the great sense of achievement once you’ve completed it. However having to do such a gruelling session just a couple of hours after a heavy lifting session, took being pushed to the limits to a whole new level! (Effectively we were cramming a month’s worth of training into 2 weeks).
Talking about cramming, my sister’s wedding fell slap bang in the middle of this training block- creating a whole new meaning this time to pushing yourself to the limits. When I accepted my place on the programme we were told that we will have to sacrifice a lot of things including missing family occasions. With this in mind I had spoken to the coaches and I weren’t allowed to miss training, so instead had to come up with a plan that would mean I’d get the training in and still be able to attend my sister’s wedding. The only viable solution was to split the Friday’s sessions over the Thursday and Saturday, leaving me the whole of Friday (wedding day) free. Oh my, was that an exhausting few days...
Don’t get me wrong the Wedding was AMAZING (pleased to say the bridesmaid dress did fit having only tried it on the night before), and it was so lovely seeing everyone. However to make sure I got everything in I was practically non-stop with Saturday being the worst, and my word did that soon catch up on me... As soon as I arrived in Bath I got the bus straight to the Sports Training Village and began my first of 4 training sessions. Yes you read that correctly, I had a pillar session followed by gym, capacity and then finished off (literally) with core. I don’t know how but I managed to complete all the sessions with a just a short break between for lunch; without refuelling I wouldn’t have survived as I was struggling to keep my eyes open at one point (only had 5hrs sleep). It was safe to say that when I got home Saturday afternoon, I was spending the rest of the weekend sleeping and I did as the following week would be our last and was sure to be a toughie!
And it was! By the end of the week everywhere was hurting- even my DOMS had DOMS! But in a way I kind of liked that feeling of not being able to move properly and being afraid to sit down in case I couldn’t stand up. It was a sign that I had worked hard and gave it my all to finish on a high- after all we were getting 2 weeks completely off so there was plenty of time to recover. To thank our coach and celebrate our past year with our group I bought in a homemade cake for our final session. Unfortunately myself, and a couple of the guys were unable to eat any, because for the next few weeks we were on a reduction diet, as we had got “too big!”.
You may remember me mentioning in previous blogs that I was concerned I’d got too heavy (83kg) but the coaches were not worried as my performances were improving. However they decided that perhaps I might be too heavy after all and so will see how my training/performance changes if I was lighter. It was agreed with the nutritionist that I would aim to get down to 80kg over the following 5 weeks, so instead of relaxing and eating whatever I wanted over the break (so looking forward to that), I was instead having to follow a strict diet schedule.
What was the plan? Well seeing as training wasn’t priority for the next few weeks I had to seriously cut down on the food I was eating. That meant for me eating roughly half the amount of carbs I have been for breakfast and lunch, whilst completely eliminating them at dinner and topping up heavily on veg. Between lunch and dinner I was allowed 2 protein dense snacks, 1 with ¼ carbs, and also a protein snack in the evening. It wasn’t just that simple either e.g. I weren’t allowed sauces, and had to have particular types and cuts of meat. As somebody who was known as “the garbage bin” because I ate anything and everything, this was really tough for me- particularly the first 2 weeks (and resulted in some interesting meals being concocted to make it more exciting- see pics below).
The next challenge was when we got back into training- it was just a case of experimenting with timing and amounts of macros to fuel sessions and maintain weight. To start with I didn’t quite get it right and was struggling to get through training either due to hunger or just lack of energy, and the weight was still dropping. With numerous meetings, weigh-ins and skin fold measurements with the nutritionist I was able to start reintroducing carbs, and finally got to a point where I was maintaining my weight and body composition. At the start of the “reduction diet” ( 14th March) I was at 82.6kg and at my most recent weigh in (18th May) I was 75.4kg and have lost around 33ml from my skin folds, meaning I’m the lightest and leanest I have been (if anyone wants any tips on weight loss/diet let me know). I felt 80kg was around my peak performance weight so now I’m trying to get used to and training with my new body mass. I was a bit apprehensive about being this light, but my performances in testing week showed I hadn’t lost any strength and was running faster than our last testing week at the end of summer last year.
We just recently found out the real reason for getting some of us to cut our weight down, and unfortunately it seems the weight loss may not be stopping there. And that reason is that the IBSF may be implementing a combined weight limit of sled and athlete (currently there is only a maximum sled weight limit). So under the new rule it is suggested that female athletes can weigh no more than 73kg in order to level the playing field! I think this is ridiculous, because it is completely dismissing the skill of the athlete to drive the sled, rather just saying you can only be successful if you are heavy. Look at the likes of Shelley Rudman and Amy Williams, they were some of the lightest competitors and were also successful Olympic medallists. Not only that but if this rule does come into place, it will surely decrease the athlete pool and the naturally heavier athletes like me will be forced to lose weight or be naturally deselected from the sport?! Apologies for that rant, I am aware I have gone on a bit so I’ll leave this discussion for another day and will wait to see what the verdict is.
So onto the dreaded PPI (no nothing to do with the annoying phone calls)! I mentioned at the end of the last blog that this was where I would sit in front of several coaches, support staff and managers to present a review of the season and show why I deserve to remain in the programme, and what makes me a realistic podium athlete in Beijing 2022. Despite the weeks of preparation beforehand I was so extremely nervous- after all it was the future of my Skeleton journey at stake and so wanted to do the best I could. I actually got that nervous I barely slept the night before and woke up a whole KG lighter! (That’s not a weight loss technique I would recommend!) I was so glad I was first thing in the morning because I don’t think I could have coped with waiting all day. Anyway I went into the boardroom with my book of notes and presented my review. I was one of only a few athletes to opt not to do a PowerPoint (the projector wasn’t working anyway, so pointless really), I just felt I could be more open and speak honestly without having a script/ formal presentation in front of me. Plus I was nervous enough as it was, I didn’t need the worry of changing slides at the right time etc.
In the end though I don’t know what all the worry was about because it actually went really well. It was a really positive PPI and there was no negative feedback from those in the meeting, and I came out of it feeling a lot more confident about my year (I am very critical, and have a tendency to let a small bad experience taint what was overall a great first season). Then it was just an agonising wait to find out if I along with the other T1’s (what we are referred to in terms of our position on the programme so we’re talent year 1) will be continuing on the programme. What made it worse was that the D-DAY was a week later than they had told us so despite saying they didn’t want us going round like stress heads- we were! On the day of receiving the verdict, my heart was beating so fast in apprehension, and I remember sitting in front of the talent staff feeling physically sick. After a really long awkward silence the Talent Manager confirmed that I was in the programme (what a relief)... but this is when I was reminded of the harsh reality of elite sport.
So what does all this mean for me? Well myself, along with the other T1’s are now classed as T2’s and have a place secured in the programme for the summer. Within this period we have a push benchmark to hit in order for us to go out to Lillehammer in October for the pre-season selection camp. If we do not achieve the push target by the end of summer it’s an automatic removal from the programme. If we do achieve the target we go out to Lillehammer where we will have a push target on ice to achieve along with a down time target. Like summer, if these aren’t met we do not get to go out on circuit this winter and are removed from the programme. What is more, our place along with every athlete on the programme is not safe. There are currently 22 athletes on the World Class Performance Programme which is the maximum British Skeleton is willing to have, so if any athletes in the current Talent ID scheme or future schemes are identified as having more potential, they will simply be switched in with those currently on the programme. This means we will be ranked against each other and simply the lowest ranked will be the first to leave (scary to think of it like that, but sadly we can’t be in the sport forever).
However it is what it is, all I can do is train my hardest to give me the best opportunity to achieve the benchmarks set out. As we were told in our meetings, we don’t want to just reach the targets we want to smash them and challenge those at the top. It won’t be easy but that’s what I intend to do- it has just got serious and I’m leaving nothing behind! After all, it’s the start of the new Olympic cycle and the road to Beijing 2022 is now officially well and truly underway... 1350 DAYS TO GO!!!
British Race Walking Championships
Posted: 26th May 2018 by Lewis Smith
It seems that Jacqueline Benson gets better every time she races. With six personal best performances in six races this year, Race Walker Jacqueline Benson had the race of her life at the British Race Walking Championships.
On a hot afternoon in Coventry, for the British 10km Race Walking Championships, Jacqueline demonstrated great technique and pace judgement. While many older athletes wilted in the heat, 17 year old, future meteorologist, Jacqueline, kept a cool head and smashed her previous personal best with a time of 63m39s. This performance allowed Jacqueline to win her first ever national medal with the Bronze.