Last week at this time I was running my fist 60m sprint at Lake Placid High School. As I was warming up and practicing my starts, I could look one way and watch random bush planes take off for remote parts of the Adirondack Mountains. Then I could look the other way and see the massive towers that were built for the Ski Jump events of the 1980 Winter Olympics. The whole reason I made the trek to Lake Placid was to partake in the USA Bobsled/Skeleton Combine.
Why you ask? Because I can, that's why. But also because competition, deadlines, and being graded by others are all factors in staying focused in your training.
I signed up in April for a test date in June. Ultimately, I had to push that back to July. Those 3.5 months of training were the most focused and intense that I've experienced in a little over 18 months.
When you put up the money for flights, rental cars, and lodging you'll be a bit more focused on making the most of the opportunity. When you know that you chances of making the team are based on the assessment of a coach who has worked with Olympic gold medalists...that focus turns into obsession.
How I trained
So, knowing that I had 3.5 months to train (2.5 at first, but that didn't change the approach to training) and that the standards were right on the website, I chose the program that would get me the most return on investment and keep the likelihood of injury to a minimum.
The combine consisted of a 60m sprint, broad jump, underhand shot toss, 1RM power clean, and 3RM back squat.
For the lifting part, 5/3/1 was the best approach and there wasn't a doubt in my mind that it would deliver. After creating the plan and adjusting the numbers to abilities, any work or worry about the program was non-existent. Three days a week I would open the file on my phone, warm up, then do exactly what it said.
No changing half way through to a "better" program and no winging when I felt like I could take on the world. Walk in, do the weight prescribed for the reps prescribed and that's it. The only adjustment I'd make is if I felt a twinge or something not right during the main lifts. In those cases I would toss out an accessory exercises that might make the problem worse and then call it a day.
I also included 3 de-load weeks, as prescribed by 5/3/1, even though my time was short. Each one allowed me to come back fresher, and stronger, than if I would have kept pushing.
This slow methodically approach was the key to my PRs in both the power clean and squat.
For the running, I modeled the 5/3/1 approach and slowly ramped up the intensity each week. Two days I week would work on sprints ranging from 30m to 250m. Some days would focus on shorter distances with a powerful start, others would focus on longer distances and maintaining form.
Total distance per session was kept between 540m and 900m for "short" days, and between 900m and 2250m for "long" days. Rest, and this is important here, was always 3-5 minutes between sprints.
These were not conditioning workouts, they were speed and skill workouts, so full rest was the focus of the workout right after using proper form. On that note, some days would be cut short when I felt my form slipping.
This is the same approach was taken, in both lifting and running, to make sure I didn't end up hurting myself. With such a short timetable to improve and peak, any type of injury would have set me back more than I would have been able to afford.
Everything was going right according to plan until I got lazy and complacent. Right around the beginning of June I skipped parts of the warmup (dumb mistake) and went out on the first sprints at or near 100% (even dumber mistake). This pulled hamstring kept me off the track for 2 weeks. By the time I got back on the track I felt like I hadn't lost a step, but without hard times to compare there was no way of knowing for sure.
How I performed
To but it bluntly....like shit. The combine was scored on a scale of 100 points for each test, and a total score of 600 was what they were looking for.
The first test of the morning was the sprint test. The coaches marked out a 60m course on a standard rubber track and placed timing eyes at 15m, 30m, 45m, and 60m. These times were part of the test, as well as a flying 30m that was just the 45m time minus the 15m time.
SIDE NOTE - The area is fucking beautiful. I grew up in upstate New York, but the Adirondack Mountains are a completely different part of upstate New York. If you ever have the chance to go there, do it.
So around 9am, my roommate and I head down to the track to warmup for our 10am start time. A few of the other guys/gals are there and we all just kinda bullshit with each other in between warming up and staring at the ski jumps.
Right around 950...it starts to pour. Not usually a big deal, except it causing false readings in the timing eyes. So off we go to our cars to stay dry. About 30 minutes later it clears up enough for us to start, so we head back out to the track and attempt to re-warm up.
Now the way they wanted the start isn't like a normal 40 yd dash you'd see at the NFL combine. You were allowed a rolling start, so it's not based off of your first movement, and you get a box that extends back from the start like about 1m to use. So, theoretically, you can get a 1m head start and shave a few thousandths of a second off your time...if you do it right.
At this point I'm still waiting to get my real score sheet back, so I'm not completely confident that I remembered these times accurately. I believe my 15m was a 2.22s and my 60m was a 7.14s. Both wildly mediocre and well below what I was planning to run.
Next were the broad jump and the underhand shot toss. The broad jump, again, was a fairly "meh" performance. I'm well aware that it could be worse, but also well aware that I can do better...because I have done better. After three attempts my best jump was 2.89m (9.4 feet). In college I was able to get up around 11 feet, but this isn't college and that's not how I performed.
Then, the most embarrassing part of the day, the under hand shot toss. For mens bobsled we had to use a 16 pound shot, all others (womens bobsled, and both mens/womens skeleton used a 12 pound shot). After three attempts my best was 12.6m (41.3 feet) and my worst was right at 11m. In training I was able to toss a 16 pound kettlebell to 16m consistently, so I was obviously disappointed with this performance. But, again, how to perform in training isn't what wins games of medals. You need to be able to perform in competition too.
After a few hours to get lunch and nap we headed to the weight room for the last two tests of the combine. The 1RM clean and 3RM squat were not an issue and I performed pretty well in both of those, scoring 93 and 95 points. This equaled a 135Kg (297 pound) clean, and a 190Kg (418 pound) squat. At the time, I felt like that was pretty much as far as I'd be able to go. But looking back at it now I'm confident I could have added 5-10Kg to both and gotten a few extra points.
UPDATE: Here is the combine score sheet with my performances highlighted. For Bobsled everything is counted except the 45m. For Skeleton the 60m isn't counted AND the shot toss is with a 12lb shot instead of the 16lb shot used for Bobsled.
I don't care how well an event goes, if you don't learn something from it then it wasn't worth it. As for an event that doesn't go well for you...well...it isn't all that bad as long as you learn something from it.
The most glaring lesson I learned from this was to not neglect the things you don't enjoy doing. For me this is usually upper body power or plyometric work. This became clear after the shot toss event.
Every strength coach worth his weight in protein powder knows this. Putting it into practice is much, much harder. Especially when you're the only one involved in creating the training program.
Getting another coach to make my program, or at least look it over and compare it to the tests in the combine, would have proven to be well worth it. Lesson here is that you might be on point with parts of your programming, but unless you have a few sets of extra eyes on it you might as well assume that you're overlooking something.
The second lesson is that the weeks leading up to the event are just as important as the overall training period. Especially when it comes to diet and nutrition. In the six week prior to the combine I had spent 2.5 weeks on the road and, more often that not, scrambling to eat right and find a decent place on the side of the highway.
Again, something that many coaches know, but something a little trickier to put into practice when you're not used to that type of environment.
So, could I have planned and prepared better? Yes. Would that have meant a better overall performance? Possibly. But that's life. You make mistakes and learn along the way.
Where do I go from here So now that it's over and the coaches weren't putting me on he fast track to the National team, what's on deck? Well, my visit wasn't all that bad because I'm on the list to be invited to a Skeleton driving camp in November. If I actually get the call is dependent on their other combines throughout the country, but it's a better result than a hand shake and a pat on the ass as I left the training center.
The skeleton is a bit different than bobsled, and frankly a better fit for the size that I am.
You can bet your ass that between now and then upper body plyometrics and power will get a higher priority in my training.
Overall it was a great experience and am happy I made the choice to do it. Now it's just a matter of improving my weak areas and working my ass off for the next opportunity.