Winter training: the fabled activity of athletes, something we hear a little about at the open and close of each outdoor season but generally something conducted in grim solitude while most are nestled in at home.
So, when asked to write about one of our Olympic hopefuls’ winter training regimens, I thought to myself… what do they do for all those months?
Being a below average junior sprinter, occasional park runner and recent recipient of a new anterior cruciate ligament, I had the bright idea of asking Trafford athlete, 400 metre runner Seren Bundy-Davies (above right) if I could join her for a spot of winter training.
How hard could it be?
Then the news came in… ‘Seren Bundy-Davies has set a World Lead time of 51.60 in Vienna’.
Pretty hard, as it turns out.
The hail lashed at my car windscreen as I sat in a wind-whipped car park somewhere in the bowels of Trafford.
Surely it would be called off – no one trains in this weather do they?
To my surprise, I was greeted by a cheerful group of brightly dressed and extremely fit looking people and was informed that we were to participate in a ‘Tempo session’, this evening.
Bundy-Davies’ coach Steve Ball informed me that this meant eight reps of 200 metre efforts and that in no way must I feel compelled to do them all.
The first rep was actually quite enjoyable: it felt good to be sprinting again, albeit trailing about 50 metres behind everyone else.
After a two-minute break, timed by Bundy-Davies with the unfailing accuracy of someone who isn’t suffering at all, the second rep burnt the lungs but I still managed a good effort.
By rep three I was so far behind the group I only had about 90 second rests.
Rep four turned my legs to jelly and my spit to an iron-tasting paste.
Then I did the unthinkable; I sat the next two out.
After finishing the seventh and eighth reps as hard as I could to restore my sense of self-worth, I asked Ball to talk me through an average week of Seren’s training.
“We do three main track sessions, Tuesday, Thursday and Sundays,” he said.
“Tuesday night, like tonight would be medium tempo, Thursday more event specific and Sundays we’d be off the track, on hills or wood loops.
“Seren would usually do a short speed session on a Wednesday and two weights sessions on a Monday and Friday.”
Ball said that the emphasis at this time of the year is on quantity of training and then as spring approaches the sessions drop down to focus on quality.
“We tend not to do blocks of training,” he said.
“Some coaches will do blocks of aerobic and then move over but I believe that we have to do lactic training all year round so we’ll start doing sessions in October because the body should adapt to the stresses of LT training.
“Once they do that hopefully when they finish a race they can walk off, nice and tall, they’re not flat on the floor – it’s all about preparing them for the event.”
He added that winter brings with it colds and muscular niggles and his approach involves a flexible timetable.
“I believe you’ve got to respond and keep your finger on the pulse, be flexible and know your athletes,” he said.
“I’ve found that if you have all your training planned weeks in advance a small thing can disrupt everything so you can tweak the plan – if the weather’s bad then we can flip the sessions over.”
So how does Bundy-Davies manage to galvanize herself for her gruelling winter schedule?
“The one thing you can’t really learn or be taught is motivation,” she said.
“If you can motivate yourself to run in the horrible sessions in winter, you know when you step on the line for a race that you’ve done much worse things!”
Both coach and athlete agreed that their training rarely takes a hit, even in the worst winter conditions.
“We only call off outdoor sessions if it’s dangerous – if it’s icy on the track we’re a bit cautious but we run in the wind and the mud and the rain,” said Bundy-Davies.
“Manchester is renowned for its rain and bad weather but we’ve been quite lucky this winter it’s not been too cold.”
She added that she’d been happy with her world lead time, set in Vienna.
“Training indicated that I was in that kind of shape and it was nice to go Vienna and get a good run out, in early season,” she said.
“I’m focussing on the long term aim of Rio, so that was a small stepping stone on the path to get there.”
Bundy-Davies has chosen not to contest the World Indoor medals in Oregon later this month, despite having the third fastest time in the world, instead choosing to focus solely on her Olympic ambitions.
Images courtesy of Instagram, and Global Sport in Colour via YouTube, with thanks.