wHEN you’re in idyllic surroundings, hard work is often the last thing on your mind. But here in South Africa, hard work is the whole reason for being in the country, and the fact that the facilities are excellent and the weather has been good are simply bonuses – albeit extremely welcome ones.
A number of us flew out last week to the British Athletics warm-weather training camp in Stellenbosch, which for me represents a very welcome return to the feeling of being part of a bigger team again. Although I think I did my best while out injured for much of last year to remain completely focused on my career as an athlete, it is virtually impossible to maintain the same intensity when you’re an individual on the sidelines. So, having resumed full training, that was the first benefit for me of coming out here: simply living the life of an athlete again along with my fellow-professionals.
I know some of the other athletes who are here from Loughborough, where I live. The 400-metre hurdler Nathan Woodward, for example, is a bit of a kindred spirit for me, because we were both recovering from lower-leg injuries at the same time last year. And Andrew Osagie, being an 800m runner like me, is also someone I know well.
Most of the group, however, are sprinters, and I’m rooming with Hayley Jones, who ran the last leg when the 4x100m relay team won bronze at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow last year. I didn’t really know her before, and you always worry a little about how compatible you might be with your room-mate, but fortunately we’re getting on really well. So that’s another benefit.
What has really made the difference for me, however, has been feeling completely worn out at the end of one of our first days. It may sound strange that such a feeling can be enjoyable, but it was for me.
The reason was that it was the first time for ages that I’d actually felt like that. Doing everything possible to maintain your fitness levels while you’re injured is important, but it’s never the same as being a fully-fit athlete capable of pushing herself to the limit. In my case, my leg injury obviously restricted the amount of running I could do.
Now, though, I’m back to doing everything I’d normally do, and one day last week that consisted of running outside on the grass for one session, then doing strength and conditioning work in the afternoon, and then doing a bike session as well. At the end of all that I was utterly exhausted – and it was great to have that feeling again.
This is when you realise that you’re back doing the proper work of a professional athlete, when the pain of the effort is offset by the sheer pleasure of getting through it all. One morning this week provided another example of that, as I shed a few tears midway through a session of jump squats. When I was out injured I could sometimes be moved to tears by the sheer frustration of not being able to train fully, so there is now an element of relief to be back in a position where I can get everything done, no matter how tough the work is. And in fact, it’s not just getting everything done the way I used to before the injury. It’s getting more done.
One of the advantages of my time out last year was that I was able to really work on strength and conditioning in general, and weight-training in particular, for the first time. Because of a couple of lengthy periods of injury during the developmental stage of my career, this was an area of training that had not been explored, so I can already feel the real benefit of it.
At first, last year, strength and conditioning was primarily about building up my muscles again after months of enforced rest. But I’ve gone beyond that now, to the stage where I feel stronger than ever before.
We have all the facilities required here for me to continue with my weights programme, and the good thing last month was that I was able to get home for Christmas without interrupting my training. I had been doing a lot of work on the Alter G anti-gravity treadmill, and they have one at Murray Park which Rangers were good enough to let me use.
I’ve been using the Alter G out here too, and when you’re in a hot country and there’s no air conditioning it can be utterly exhausting. Again, though, that feeling is counterbalanced by the absolute joy of feeling myself get fitter and fitter.
So the weather is good, the food is excellent and extremely healthy, the company is great and the work is really rewarding. But just in case you think this three-week stay is too enjoyable, bear in mind that I’ve also been trying to fill in my tax-return form while I’m here.
I studied taxation law at university but still can’t fathom it. Some things do feel too much like hard work whatever your surroundings.