The winter is certainly a tough time for athletes to dig in and expose themselves to the hardships of mother nature. The bitter cold winds sweeping uncomfortably up the shorts, numb hands suffering from peripheral shutdown, hailstorms, sleet, early darkness. All these factors are a tough test for the athlete psychologically and physically. The University of Nottingham’s very own Thomas Green provides us with some insight into his winter training.
Winter training has proved to be an elusive concept for me over recent years. A bit like Blackburn Rovers’ proposed marquee signing, it is a potentially beneficial quantity that has shown little or no sign of ever becoming reality. Due to a combination of a particularly aggressive strain of Freshers’ flu and being selected for two different world championships between January and April last year, I haven’t managed to have a normal winter’s training since 2008, which is far from ideal. This year, however, it looks like I might buck that trend. I am leading a boring enough life to stay consistently healthy, whilst the only upcoming world championship that I’m aware of is the Ladbrokes World Darts Championship in December – for which my chances of qualification look slim.
Perhaps I should explain what winter training is actually meant to be. Long ago, athletics dispensed with the increasingly forlorn notions of autumn and spring, so we as athletes divide our years simply into summer and winter – thus putting ourselves about a hundred years ahead of the rest of the world and saving some money on aerosols in the process. In disabled athletics, we don’t even have the complication of an indoor season, and so the division is very clear. In the summer, we run, jump, throw and do all the things that any self-respecting athlete would be expected to do. Then, come the winter (aka October 1st), focus shifts away from competition, and it’s time to get fit. Seven months of gruelling strength and conditioning, trying to get in the best possible shape for the next season, it’s the time of year when gyms up and down the country start to fill up with Neanderthal-looking men wearing T-shirts with slogans such as “Champions Are Made In The Off-Season” and “I Eat Small Children” (paraphrasing slightly). It’s so macho it makes WWE look effeminate.
Another thing about winter training is you have to enjoy it. I don’t know many other sports where the off-season lasts over half the year, and I don’t think it’s possible to just grit your teeth and get through it in athletics. If you spend seven months every year doing stuff you hate then you’re bound to pack it in sooner or later, so you have to find a way to be positive about it. I remember not being too enamoured with the idea of spending that amount of time on fitness work when I first started athletics, but then I went to a training weekend with CP Sport and saw Paralympians Stephen Miller and Danny West in training and realised it didn’t have to be boring. Bearing in mind Stephen has a similar level of cerebral palsy to me, I couldn’t believe it when I saw him tearing around doing star jumps, squat thrusts and God knows what else. I guess I’d never realised the extremes you could push your body to – and that you could have fun at the same time.
It helps if you can be competitive with yourself. I’m the kind of person who is never fully satisfied with what they’ve done, so in the next session I always want to do better. This attitude can be a problem though. I remember once trying to keep up with Stephen and Danny in a circuits session when I was only fourteen. I lasted about half an hour before turning green and spending the rest of the day meandering about like a concussed toddler.
I’ve tried loads of different things over the years of winter training. There are countless types of fitness training you can do, which is a good job because I have roughly the same attention span as my four-month-old nephew. Circuit training, interval training, weights, gym machines – you name it and I’ve probably done it at some point. My favourite was probably the sprint training I did for a couple of years. I can actually run quite well (relatively speaking) with the assistance of a K-walker, which is like a backwards Zimmer frame, and I spent many a cold night at the local athletics track doing 40-metre sprints. The only trouble was that a K-walker is obviously on wheels, so once you get it going it’s rather hard to stop. This is normally fine when training outside, but becomes slightly more problematic when you move indoors. There was one particular occasion at another training weekend when we were doing a relay of shuttle runs as a warm up. I went first for my team and strode into an impressive lead before reaching the point where I had to turn round and run back. I realised from quite far out that I wasn’t going to make it, and proceeded to carry on running until I crashed into the wall at the end of the sports hall. Eager to make amends, I got back up and raced back – straight past the rest of my team and head-first into the wall at the other end of the hall. I felt claims that I cost my team the race were unfair.
Sadly, however, my training has had to become more sport-specific as I’ve got older. My coach and I came to the decision that, whilst good for general fitness, stuff like sprinting isn’t especially relevant to the art of throwing a club, so I probably won’t do things like that again until I’m middle-aged and fat. My training programme this year is more focused than it has ever been, and I’m already starting to feel the benefits. I’m also taking advantage of the university’s ‘gym buddy’ scheme this year, where someone comes to the gym with you to help you setting up machines etc., which is going very well. With all this positivity surrounding my training, I might actually end up throwing decently come the summer…
Thomas Green is 20 years of age, an F32 club thrower and currently studying Maths at the University of Nottingham, the current IWAS Junior World Champion and ranked 5th in the world for his sport. His recent record saw him throw a new personal best of 29.34 metres, the next aim being 30 metres.
For more on Thomas Green and the life of a disabled athlete follow him on his blog online He created this blog to help give people an insight in to what life is like for an disabled elite athlete.