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.


  1. As a hockey follower from NZ (and one lucky enough to be going to the World Cup) I have enjoyed reading your blog. Having trekked in the Himalayas in Nepal at between 3000 - 4000m I can only take my hat off to you. Walking at the altitude can be tough enough let alone completing running and bike sessions. You are one very determined and inspiring athlete.