Sunday, 27 April 2014

Back On The Pitch

It took me a while to get to sleep last night. I was getting a bit excited about being allowed to warm up with the team playing Canada today!

Now for those of you who know me you'll know my feelings on warm ups! I really believe that what you do in your mind to be ready is the most important before a game, physiologically there is clearly a need but it doesn't mean I enjoy it. I often wonder how many warm ups I've done in my lifetime: in the last week I've done 12, which is quite typical, so that multiplied by the number of training weeks and years I’ve been playing it must be getting close to tens of thousands. This surely makes my feelings on warm ups more understandable, today’s warm up though was a special one.

One thing I’ve not mentioned up until now is the role of nutrition on my recovery. This is something I’m extremely conscious of anyway as over the years I’ve learnt to appreciate the impact it can have on performance. The last two weeks have been particularly crucial; due to the increase in training my susceptibility to illness has also increased, and getting ill was something I couldn’t afford to happen. Supplements have played their part: fish oils, vitamin C, creatine, beetroot juice, cherry active are all things I wouldn’t normally take but my nutritionist wanted to not leave any stone unturned.

Daily supplements which have massively helped my recovery

I know I won’t get any sympathy for this comment but one of the hardest challenges for me has been to get enough calories in! I’ve been getting up early to make smoothies, and eating snacks left, right and centre to get the right amount of carbohydrates and protein. I’m a really slow eater though and sometimes there just isn’t enough time for me to eat enough food. It did at one point take me back to my U21 England days, when the coach would force me to stay at breakfast and eat toast against my will. I’d sit there for ages, chewing away, trying to get it down me and I hated it.

I definitely feel better and very strong for all the calories. A few test results have shown that my legs have grown in size by two to three centimetres in diameter and I’m more powerful because I can jump higher. Even though I know it will be tough, this is really encouraging for when I return to hockey this week.

I’m obviously looking forward to returning to the group and joining in training for the first time since February. It will be weird to be back as my identity for the last eight weeks has been as a rehab athlete, where I’ve been in control of my own training, working with a small group of professionals who have all done all they can to help me and I’ve become comfortable within that environment. Now I need to change to being a hockey player again, getting my astro shoes on, checking I’ve got my stick, shin pads and gum shield. I’ve worked incredibly hard to be here at this point in time and this is the time to not let up and keep pushing on.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Keep My Head Up; Keep My Heart Strong

Whenever I go on twitter I will often see one of the FIH’s (International Hockey Federation) tweets counting down the days to the World Cup. The excitement for the tournament is building, but in all honesty whenever I catch a glimpse of it I get a sickening tug in the pit of my stomach.

FIH World Cup Countdown

Today’s countdown says there’s forty days to go which is still a great deal of time to for me to make huge strides forward. That’s just less than six weeks away, and with how things are going I really believe I can be fit in time. To be at the World Cup though I need to get selected into the team; and that date comes much sooner. Everyday I tell myself to keep fighting and put myself in the strongest position possible, ignoring that feeling in my stomach as much as I can.

I’ve had one hell of a week: it’s seen me go from just starting to run, to doing hockey-running sessions, 1 v 1’s and sprinting on the treadmill at altitude. The hockey-running sessions involve different types of movement you’d expect to see on the pitch like tackling, passing and dribbling which were interspersed with the hard yards including accelerations and decelerations, which is the thing that really takes it out of you. It felt so good to get a stick in my hand and instead of any chocolate eggs this year, my gift on Easter Sunday was to do some 1 v 1’s.

I’ve also completed four killer running sessions and two hideous bike sessions at an altitude of 3000m: the equivalent of the third of the way up Mt. Everest. We are very lucky to have a chamber at Bisham Abbey and the resident EIS (English Institute of Sport) physiologist Luke Gupta, has kindly agreed to oversee my intense two week programme which will hopefully speed up my adaptation and accelerate my fitness, so when I get back onto the pitch I’ll be better able to cope.

At that altitude, because there is less oxygen in the air, the sessions have definitely tested my mental reserve. It starts to become very easy to question whether this is all worth it. The answer is always yes and always will be. Having the opportunity to get in the altitude chamber to speed all this up does give me a lot more hope.

Unfortunately I’ve never been blessed with a great deal of natural speed, strength or endurance. I’ve always had to work extremely hard on this part of my game. Not surprisingly it probably wasn’t until I endured two years of rehab between 2003-2004 after my perineal tendon ruptured, requiring three operations, when I really learnt how to train properly.

Back then rehab taught me how to: set goals, short cuts don’t exist and how to push myself physically. On the pitch I always played with a great deal of passion, but that didn’t necessarily transfer to the fitness sessions. I personally believe that knowing how hard you can work in a sporting context is something that’s learnt. Some learn quickly, others a bit longer. Inevitably for some, they never get there. Of course being told by one consultant that I would never play hockey for England or Great Britain again, made me realise how much I wanted it and more determined than ever.

Back in the chamber Luke has been measuring my lactate levels, so between each set he’ll stab my ear and milk my lobe to collect my blood for testing. He’s even been monitoring my sleep with the use of a device I wear on my wrist. This recognises movement and so can tell how many hours sleep I get each night, which is massively important in how well I recover between sessions.

Sleep Monitor

Mentally it’s getting tougher as the final preparations are starting to take place. The team hockey sessions have occasionally been tough viewing; my main aim is to keep up with everything tactically and to not become isolated by contributing whenever I can. That will be even more important as we now approach a period of match play against various visiting nations.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Back On The Track

I hate watching hockey! Well, let me clarify that: I hate sitting on the sideline when I should be out on the pitch playing. The Investec League Play-offs have just finished and having to miss out for the second year running was just painful. These are the weekends that everyone wants to play in and it’s just gutting not to be involved. Having learnt from experience I’ve now taken to staying more in the background when it comes to my team; lets just say it’s better for the health of my heart by not living every tackle, pass and goal.

I did have lots of lovely support though wherever I went. Many hockey supporters who were avidly following my blog wished me well in my recovery and believe me all the support and encouragement really helps.

The last week of training has gone well. Obviously I’m pushing things along as quickly as possible, and after surgery or any injury pain is inevitable on the road back to recovery; but what is the difference between pain and pain? When I’ve had any pain, particularly in my back (which thankfully hasn’t been that often), I get so many annoying thoughts running through my mind. Why’s it painful? What have I done? Should I carry on training? Is it good or bad pain?

I tried to explain to someone the other day that because I have no visual concept really of what the surgeon has done, I keep imagining things popping out of places they shouldn’t! Again, completely irrational thoughts take over my mind to the point where I end up in tears whilst trying to convince myself that I’ve not done anything different that could’ve caused it. Normally it’ll last that day, the next morning I’ll wake up and it all feels fine again and I’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s completely ridiculous; I know it is. Even when I’m in this state of mind I try to tell myself it’ll be fine tomorrow, but it doesn’t seem to help.

On the whole I’ve enjoyed a good week’s training led by Ben Rosenblatt, our strength and conditioning coach who has also been working all hours to not only write my programmes, but to support me through many of my sessions. The blood flow restriction training has finally come to an end and I really feel like my legs are strong. My trunk exercises are now including some flexion, rotation and side bends. Progression can definitely be seen which keeps morale high. I also reached a huge milestone this week: I ran for the first time! That definitely makes me feel even closer to my target.

Three running sessions and five footwork sessions down: many, many more to come. It’s time to ramp this up!

The short movie below introduces Ben and also shows some of my exercises from the last two weeks including the dreaded blood flow restriction session.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Putting My Back Into It

It hurts to sit on the toilet and I get the shakes when my foot’s on the clutch: This week has been an absolute killer and it comes to something when my favourite time of the day is sitting in an ice bath! I’ve pretty much been non-stop all week and the DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) I’ve got is absolutely reaffirming this for me.

My Calendar - 5th Week Post Surgery

Being busy, in general has felt great, even the DOMS to a certain extent. Usually I hate getting DOMS but at the moment it’s a sign that my muscles are working very hard and ultimately will be getting strong. The assignment I had to finish early on in the week for my psychology degree, basically took away my chance to just go home and flop on the sofa after a hard day’s training. It’s also delayed this blog to a certain extent but now is definitely a time to prioritise my rehab, which includes rest and recovery.

Annoyingly a common misconception from others of being injured is that you can’t do much and therefore have loads of time. That could not be further from the truth as my schedule shows: I guess in some ways it would depend on what kind of person you are and how you approach the training but for me I’ve always found it much more time consuming. I also think it’s because I’m not in control of my daily timings, relying on when I can get a physio appointment, trying to fit my sessions in around watching the team hockey sessions whilst sometimes completing three or four sessions a day.

On a positive note my training is quite varied now. There’s nothing worse than to be stuck on the bike for weeks on end. I’ve been continuing with my reformer and physio exercises, whilst my strength and conditioning coach Ben, has gradually been building in movement stability, ankle stiffness, trunk, glutes and hamstring endurance, footwork skills and finally, the daily dose of blood flow restriction strength training!

Blood flow restriction training does exactly what it says on the tin. It involves me pumping up a blood pressure cuff around the top of my leg to limit the blood that can get through, and then performing a Bulgarian squat and a single leg bridge. That in itself wouldn’t be too bad; it’s the fact I have to do maximum repetitions, have only thirty seconds rest and repeat four times. The burn is just excruciating. It takes every ounce I’ve got to keep going, pushing out one. More. Rep. The release of pressure and return of blood is a relief, however twenty-four hours later it’s time to repeat it: this time with DOMS.

I’ve been very lonely in my sessions this week. The majority of my sessions have been by myself and this is by far the hardest part. The team are often on the pitch and obviously Ben (who has been amazing) can’t be in two places at once. Not many really have a clue what I’m up to day to day, and it’s down to me to do the work and I’ve often relied on my trusty visualisation skills to get me through. I’ve always done it.

Ever since the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games where I sat in the stands as an ambitious eighteen year old watching the medal ceremony, absolutely gutted with finishing eighth, completely naive because I thought we could win it, and wishing I was one of the Australian’s receiving their gold medals. Chris Pickett, who was our manager at the time, turned to me and said “that’ll be you one day”. I looked at him, then back at the women standing on top of that podium and I thought yes, that’s what I want to do, I want to be Olympic Champion. I had always wanted to win a gold medal but I didn’t realise how much. I was prepared to do whatever it took. I took a photo and that became my vision. It still is.

2000 Olympic Games Medal Ceremony
Argentina Silver, Australia Gold, Holland Bronze

In the lead up to London 2012 in particular it gave me a great source of motivation. During the hard sessions, or when difficult decisions needed to be made, I would see myself, along with the team, standing, arms aloft on top on the podium in front of the home crowd. We all know how this ended, but it definitely helped. So now I picture myself at the back of the line-up, walking out for the first match against USA in eight weeks time.

I have to believe it. Otherwise I might as well give up now.