Monday, 13 December 2010

The South African Adventure

Hi to all back home in Northern Ireland, I hope you all survived the early part of winter! I heard there was alot of snow, not to mention freezin!That made me feel so much better,(sorry), that I had made the right decision to get out of there before the white stuff arrived.

I am at the end of my fourth week in Potchefstroom, South Africa, at 1400m altitude, with blue skies and average temperature of 30+ degrees. Awesome.

I arrived here after a bit of a problem, as I was due to go to Florida with Jason (Smyth), but it all fell through and I knew I had to get away. So I contacted James Nolan three-time olympian and also my new Paralympics Ireland team manager and he put me in contact with Jean Verster, the Mr. Fixit for world class athletes who want to train in South Africa.

So I had a flight to Heathrow on Saturday 13th November, and then an 11 hour journey to Johannesbourg. After being picked up at the airport by ATP rep Jenny, I made the final 90 minute transfer to my new "home in the sun", Huys Ten Bosch, right on the edge of the Potchefstroom High Performance Centre.

I spent the first day getting to know my surroundings and the next day I met with a group of local athletes that I have since trained with on occasions, that includes Samuel Seppeng, brother of former Olympic 800m champion Ezekiel.

The first few days I found it very difficult to adapt to my new situation, I was away from home, in a strange country, knowing absolutely no-one and staying in a B&B that can accommodate 26, but I was the only person there! To make things worse, the owners didn't live there and when they locked up I felt like a bit of a prisoner in isolation. Add to that the fact that it was dark by 7 o'clock and you start to get the picture. I was more than a little homesick! I spoke to my dad on facebook on the third night of solitude and said I didn't know if I could hack it or not; he then told me some home truths and talked me round and my little sister's comment was "Man up!" From there I took her advice and moved on with the adventure.

Since then, I spent 6-7 days getting used to the altitude and the heat with daily visits to the grass track and the trails that surround it,just running easy miles and trying to keep my heart rate below 200!!, interspersed with trips to the gym and ice bath, where initially my tolerance lasted about 30 seconds!Lol Unfortunately the South African group of athletes took off to a high altitude training camp at 2400m above sea level, which didn't help. But hey!

Did my first workout on Tues 23rd 6x800m + 2x400m on the grass track(beautiful surface) and then 10 x 300m on thursday.

At the weekend, I was taken to a private farm where Jean has an agreement with the land owner, so that athletes can use the roads that run through his land.Contained within was a perfectly smooth road surface that I was to use for my sat hill session. Oh joy! The hill goes on forever! But perfect for what I need with no through traffic.

With my own weekly routine established with tues, thurs,sat session interspersed with wed and fri gym sessions I was firmly in the groove and enjoying the routine of a full-time athlete, with the realisation that being out of my comfort zone was actually good for me and was so I can be the best I can be in January, in the IPC World Paralympic Championships in New Zealand.

In the last ten days a group of Slovenian athletes have arrived and I have made good friends with them and do some of my easy runs in company, as well as having company at dinner each night, and watching plenty of Premier league and Champions league football together.

I have just over a week to go here, before I head back home for christmas, but before that I have 2 more sessions and a time trial to go. Just hoping the weather is kind when I get home and allows me to continue my build up to the championships.

This has been a real journey for me in many different ways, a real learning curve, about athletics and about myself and what I want from life. Very worthwhile and hopefully building the foundations for a great season ahead and hopefully contributing to among other things, St. Malachy's A.C. retaining their Senior Cross Country title!

Best Wishes
Michael McKillop
St. Malachy's A.C.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Lee Valley Experience Blog 3

Thursday was the group’s recovery day following the heavy lactic session on Wednesday. This consisted of a slightly reduced warm up routine, multiple jumps unit, general strength, multiple throws (Medball), hurdle mobility and finally body building (gym session). Dan feels that this type of recovery acts to reboot the parasympathetic nervous system.

It was a fairly quiet morning for Lee Valley as many had struggled to get there through the snow. The group were adamant that I join in the session as it was an “Easy” day and it was the best way to learn. Secretly I had been dying to get involved although a bit apprehensive of training beside these guys.

Marlon Devonish proceeded to take me through the full warm up grid, giving me great feedback. It was definitely more of a learning curve than just watching the drills from the side. I learned more about the correct body positioning and execution than I ever could from observing. The drills looked easy when you were watching but doing them correctly was a whole other ball game. When it came to the build up runs over 30m the thought of running beside Marlon made me feel sick. However I tried to relax and think about my own acceleration mechanics. Maybe it was the nerves but I went for it and was a stride ahead at 30m. Obviously he was going easy but I think he was slightly shocked. Go me! HeHe

Next up was two Multiple Jumps Circuits, “Everest” and “Kilimanjaro.” As the names suggest they are not exactly easy. The jumps were plyometric and multi-directional as Dan believes in working the body in all planes (sagittal, frontal and transverse). This was followed then by a multiple throws session and lastly into the gym for some ancillary lifts. It was not a shock to me to find some rotational type lifts in the programme, which are quite indicative of Dan’s programme. The variety in the programme helped to keep the mind fresh throughout the session whilst stimulating the body in a holistic manner, reawakening areas that had “Shut down” due to the hard work inflicted on them the previous day thus encouraging active recovery.

Friday came too soon and all of a sudden it was my last day with the team. The morning started with some of the athletes having their skin folds taken. Steve Lewis very kindly let me practice on him. My data was slightly lower than that of Stuart’s initial assessment, however it was consistently lower and so Steve was convinced I was more accurate giving him a better result. Sorry Steve but I think Stuart was right! Once the warm up was complete it was onto Acceleration Development, the session I had been waiting on all week! I decided to do some video analysis, mainly to assist my own learning but the guys were happy with the trackside feedback the recordings could give them. It was during this session that it was drilled home to me that if I have a “Coaching Eye” at all, Dan has “Coaching Binoculars.” Where I observe things almost in one dimension as this is all my “Coaching Eye” can cope with at present and I need time to analyse what I see before I can make a judgement. Dan’s “Coaching Binoculars” observe movement in three dimensions and he can instantly assess what the problem is using his Knowledge of functional anatomy and instantly cue the athletes to correct or intervene with therapy to make the necessary change. Dan has developed these skills over many years coaching and I feel that this is the key to his success. Boy, have I a long way to go to develop my “Coaching Eye.” I think I have cataracts!

The highlight of the week for me (and it was very hard to choose one) had to be during this session when Rhys Williams (400mh) and Gianni Frankis (110mh) actually asked me for feedback on their acceleration mechanics. Using my “Coaching Catarats” I gave it my best shot and they seemed to take it on board. The highpoint in my Coaching Career to date!

My experience at Lee Valley working closely with Dan Pfaff, Stuart McMillan and their group has been the biggest learning curve for me and really has identified how much I have to learn and develop to get to where I want to be with my coaching. Not only that, but it has given me direction as to where I need to go with my learning. Coaching is a vocation, were you must have a balance between the art and the science and sometimes it is hard to know where to start. This past week has made that decision a little bit easier for me and for that I would like to thank Dan and Stuart for inviting me to shadow them and for their time and patience over the week. I would also like to thank Athletics Northern Ireland for their support and encouragement to take advantage of the opportunity. Time to get my head down!

Elaine McCaffrey

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Elaine McCaffrey Lee Valley Experience- Blog 2

Tuesday was a very fun day at Lee Valley with many top training groups present and working hard.  For a novice like me in this environment it was very hard to decide who to focus my attention on.  The choice was too tantalising with Tony Lester working with Nicola Sanders in one corner, Ayo Falola putting Marilyn Okoro through her paces in another and of course Dan’s group.  In my initial attempts to take it all in I noticed that the coaches were working very hard on drills and skill of running technique and again the focus was on correct execution.  I feel this may become the theme of the week!
Later in the session I got the chance to work with Pole Vaulter Steve Lewis, Videoing his vaults and then working with him on some Medball Multiple Throws Exercises.  Unfortunately as it was just the two of us and most of the exercises required a partner I had to join in.  It was great to experience the exercises first hand and so fully understand what effort was required. 

Wednesday was a big day for Dan’s Group with lactate profiling planned during the running session.  The warm up was extremely important and each drill is used as a screening tool to assess if the athletes have any mechanical issue cause by soft tissue dysfunction.  These issues are then worked on immediately at the track side using therapy techniques, most notably active release.  Active release enables the issue to be resolved whilst keeping the athletes fired up so not to interrupt the warm up. 
15 minutes after the warm up the lactate profiling started.  It was then repeated during and after the session at specific times.  The lactate profiling will be done over a number of weeks and the team hope the data will give an indicator of where the athletes are at and alter training to try and develop any issues uncovered.  This was a very exciting task for me and I was in my element testing Marlon Devonish, Ryan Moseley and Steve Lewis throughout the session.  The results were instantaneous but further analysis of the trends will produce some areas for the guys to work on. 
After this gruelling workout the guys then went on to some multiple jumps.  The aim of this is to teach the body to work with the lactate in the system.  This was then followed by weight training in the gym.  This really is a full time job for these athletes.  From witnessing and being involved with this heavy training day and questioning Dan as to how this would work for part time athletes I learned that the similar training protocols can be utilised by part-time athletes however the work should be spread over a longer period of time with adequate rest and recovery factored in, taking into consideration their other commitments.  If you do not have the luxury of time on your side you must stick to the correct training philosophies but be smart about how your training is structured.
This was probably the best day of my career so far, learning from the best athletes and coaches and being right there in the middle of everything.  I’m not sure if it can get any better but here’s hoping for tomorrow!