Olympic Training

As I was watching the Sochi Olympics and remembered back to our 2010 Olympic run and the lessons we had applied to manage the stress of playing for Canada, in Canada at one of our biggest Olympics ever. I will never forget our sports psychologist, Penny Werthner telling us, “You have no hope at these Olympics if you can’t manage your stress, recovery time and maintain a healthy perspective.”

As my marathon training progresses, I have been having some doubts about making it across that finish line in June. Life has been busy and am having a hard time fitting the training days in and then on top of that running in the cold and wind in Calgary has not been fun or very “confidence building!”
So the Olympics got me thinking. Why not apply my curling training to my marathon training?

These were the four items I focused on leading up to, and during those 2010 games.

  1. Be strict with your training routines, on and off the ice.
  2. Meditate and breath, before, during and after games.
  3. Maintain a healthy perspective, this is sport, something we love. Don’t make it more than that.
  4. We have a choice as to how we are going to react to the situations that arise in sport and life.

In 2010 our curling team walked onto the Olympic stage with no prior World experience.  I won’t kid you it was tough and stressful. However, I  attribute our success during those Olympics to all the work we did under Penny’s guidance in the years leading up to, and during those 2010 Olympic games.

Mental preparation was huge for us,  and for  the 4 years leading up to the 2009 Olympic Trials we worked on breathing & relaxation before games and as a recovery tool after competitions. I also learned to quiet my mind with breathing at certain times during a game and prior to throwing high pressure shots. And as those high pressure games progressed…I would breathe more and more to relax and would also try centering and muscle relaxation. There were always continual self-checks on the tightness of my jaw, shoulders and hands.

This was a work in progress for me. Penny and I had a lot of discussion around the fact that I was the skip, I couldn’t afford to take a mental break during a game. But over time I realized that I had to take those breaks and find small moments in a game to just “go on vacation”.
And that’s literally what I did, I would think of the heat, the sun, the beach….it just let me relax for a few seconds.
Besides doing this during competition, I also tried to implement it during my practice, so it wasn’t something I just used in games. Practice like you play was something we all tried to follow.

I also worked hard to have a scripted pre-shot routine. And I think it always provided me with a safe zone – it was like going home, the minute I went there it was comfortable and I felt confident in my ability. Included in my pre-shot routine was a mantra I would repeat right before I threw, its similar to Rory McIlory  who talks about humming a song during his swing. And I think that repetitive mantra would stop my mind from thinking of the outcome and I would  just go into auto pilot.
The year leading up to the Olympic Trials we added in a lot of discussion around perspective. We spent many hours as a team asking ourselves, “What’s the worst that can happen at those Trials?”
Well if we don’t win we go back to great family, great friends and a great life. We would be fine win or lose.
I think it freed us up to just play at those Trials, without fear. We had dealt in our mind with the possibility of losing and what it would look like,  and realized we would be ok if that happened. It didn’t mean that we didn’t expect the best,  It just allowed us to look at the “worst case” and  just go play those 10 days, without any fear. And we did.
I still remember after winning the 2009 Olympic trials and realization hit that we are now Olympians, Penny’s first words to us. She said, “You cannot always choose or change your situations in life – but it is your choice on how you react to them.”
WE could choose to view the 30 millon plus Canadians cheering us on as a positive or a negative. We could say, this is awesome we have 30 million plus fans or oh my gosh we have 30 million plus people counting on us to medal….
So we made the choice to view it as a positive thing. And I think that was an aha moment for all of us. Going forward, we could choose how we reacted to anything that was thrown at us during those games.
I did a lot of mental work between the Trials and the Olympics…breathing and meditation. And I really worked on transforming myself mentally into a place that I didn’t need a certain result, that I was ok with me if we didn’t medal.
I think we are all continually caught up in society’s definition of success – and it blinds us to what we decide our own success is. So that was the way I went into those games – I was not going to chase anyone elses definition of success but my own.

So can I apply all of this to my marathon training? You bet. I can be strict with my training regime. I can meditate and practice relaxation before and during runs and I can choose to have a healthy perspective in my life. Will I medal at this marathon?  Not in the Olympic gold, silver or bronze type of medal way. But I will medal at this event, because I am accomplishing two personal goals. To complete a marathon and  to help raise awareness for World Vision – and both of those will win me gold!