A Holistic, Process-Oriented Approach to Training

First off, I’d like to thank those of you who reached out with positive comments regarding my previous blog post. As it turns out, I’m not alone in feeling this way from time to time. Simply writing the post alleviated some of the negativity I was concealing, but the support from friends, family, and readers really put the situation into perspective.

All Or Nothing Approach

Finding a balance between training, resting, and competing can be difficult, and I often find myself taking an “all or nothing” approach, both mentally and physically. I tend to push myself hard mentally and physically when my motivation and energy is high, and then slowly crash. The slow crash is tough. Sometimes my body feels good, but I’m mentally drained, and other times it’s the opposite, where I really want to work hard, but my body has had enough. Usually on Sundays (my rest day), both my mind and my body need a break.

A Brief Training History

In years past, I would be forced to take a break, usually due to mass amounts of school work which not only distracted me, but also required my full attention. During my high school years, I would eagerly look forward to 3:20 pm, when I could rush off to practice for a couple of hours. Sometimes I would even go play squash during lunch hour, if it coincided with a spare period!

In university, I would hop on the bike for a moderate 30 minute ride either before class, or before practice to warm up my mind and my body for the day. It felt good to accomplish something right off the bat. If I biked before class, I almost always had a more productive day and was more attentive in lectures. Similarly, a 20-30 minute warm up on the bike, or a solo-hit before practice helped me start practice with a positive mindset (and warm muscles!). In other words, bouts of physical activity benefited both my mind and body.

Throughout my high school and college years, I always aimed to do more. More sprints, more spin classes, more hours on court. I really felt that “more” always meant I would get better. Part of me sometimes wished I was a rower, because they had training twice a day! However, at meal times, rowers and swimmers would often complain of their massive volume of training. In fact, apparently most collegiate swimmers burn out due to the extremely high volume of training. (I never really wished I was a swimmer, because I don’t think I could stare at the bottom of the pool for hours on end). Looking back, I can imagine that these athletes had lost their appreciation for the sport, and lost some perspective. Given the academic workload and social scenes in college, I suppose this is why burnout eventually occurs in many college athletes of various disciplines.

Alright, I’m deviating a bit here, but bear with me.

Complacency and Training

Fast forward to current times, and my whole life revolves around health, fitness, and squash. Do I wish I had a desk job? Not at all. Are there times I wish I could sit down and blog for two hours instead of being on my feet? Sure. And I have learned  that when I feel that way, I need to take a break. It’s not always possible, since I have practice hits scheduled and lessons planned, and moreover, I feel badly saying “no”, both to others, and to myself.

I suppose this fear of saying “no” stems from a deep-rooted habit of always doing more training, for better or for worse. Since high school, I have been fearful of becoming complacent, despite being told by my coaches and family that this should not be a concern of mine. After all, to the outside, an overtrained athlete is someone who always wants to train, no matter their mental or physical state. This is not true. While there are times I have overtrained because I love working out and playing squash, there are also numerous occasions where I dragged myself onto the bike or pavement because of the fear of saying “no” or missing out.

I would be lying if I said I had overcome this. It is a balancing act, trying to figure out how much training to plan. If I’ve planned too much training, I feel badly if I don’t accomplish it all. If I plan too little, I fear it won’t be enough and that I’ll be missing out.

Learning to Not Think (Kind of)

While I continue to physically create a balance between training and resting (mostly through trial and error), my main area of focus is on the mind. Since last summer, I have been trying to grasp this notion of “a clear mind”. Have you ever tried not thinking? It’s very difficult, if not almost impossible. However, my focus is not to eradicate thinking, but rather to not let the thoughts have any power over me. My squash coach, John Musto, first introduced this concept to me at the end of last season. He lent me a book, The Path of No Resistance, which, to be honest, I’ve had a very difficult time reading. While the content is very good, it is complicated to read, and I found it even more difficult to explain to others, which just confused me further.

A few weeks after I opened the book, my nutritionist, Richard, introduced me to Headspace, a meditation app. I began to follow the 10-minute guided meditations every day, and finally, began to start to understand what John was trying to help me with.

During this time, I wasn’t playing squash at all (it was the off-season), so I was able to let go any sorts of worries (aka THOUGHTS), that I had pertaining to the sport. Using Headspace helped me reset my mind and my body, and allowed me to live my day to day life with more awareness and clarity. Sure, thoughts would still pass through my mind, but I felt better equipped to let them pass and not dwell on them. This not only altered my perception of training, but also my relationships with friends and coworkers. I felt more in control of my own life, rather than having my mood be subject to the actions and words of others, or random situations.

Process-Oriented Approach

When I lost to Hollie last week, John pulled me into his office to talk. We didn’t discuss a single thing that was tactical, technical, or physical. For 20 minutes, we discussed my mental approach to not only the game, but life in general. In the moment, I had lots of thoughts going through my mind, both positive and negative: I’m hitting the ball really well! Why are my arches cramping? Am I doing too much running? At least I seem fast. Maybe I should have tied my headband tighter. Uh oh, I’m down 9-3! That’s not very respectable. Yikes, I can’t catch my breath, and it’s 0-3 in the first game. I hope my friends aren’t disappointed they came all this way to watch me.

No wonder I was an anxious mess- it was exhausting just writing all of that out!

Since then, I have made a plan to regain my appreciation for competing and training, while not spending copious amounts of time and mental energy analyzing and dissecting thoughts.

The plan, or approach, is simple enough:

Mental:

Meditate using Headspace every day. The sessions can be anywhere from 1 minute to 10 minutes, but I do my best to accomplish a 10-minute session. Lately, instead of listening to music on Spotify, I have found myself wanting to listen to a guided meditation while commuting or walking around the city. I consider it “active rejuvenation”. How’s that for an oxymoron!?

Physical:

My physical “goals” are to do each of the activities for 10-30 minutes a week.

  • Yoga
  • Spin (can be by myself)
  • Solo hitting
  • Ghosting

The physical aspect of the process-oriented approach is as much mental as it is physical. As I mentioned earlier, accomplishing something physical not only gives you physical energy, but also provides you with a mental boost. Furthermore, it’s going to keep me accountable!

Moving Forward

If you’re still reading this- wow! You made it through a lot. I know that this post was kind of all over the map, but I just had to dive in. I’ll definitely be referring to the themes discussed in this post throughout the next little while, but look for more content regarding workouts and recipes too!

 

 

 

 

 

Slumps Happen

Happy 2018! I was meaning to write a post earlier in the month, but I got distracted by other things that needed attention. So here I am, almost at the end of January, finally settling down to write and publish my first post of the year.

A Foreword

The first part of this post is not the most upbeat. While I love my active and competitive lifestyle, there are occasional slumps, most of which I don’t discuss outwardly online. As an athlete, it can be difficult to acknowledge these times and figure out how to get through them- especially when there are competitions on the horizon. I almost didn’t write this post, because it doesn’t quite vibe with the rest of my writing, but figured it is reality, and there is no use in hiding it. I’m happy to report that I’ve worked hard to turn things around now, and am feeling much more like myself both on and off the court!

Beginning of 2018

This year got off to a bit of a rocky start. I returned to NYC feeling pretty tired physically, and mentally flat. Not once during my trip home over the holidays did I feel I played my best squash, or even enjoy it to the full extent, which was a bit demoralizing. A good part of my social life back home revolves around my beloved squash club, so I spent quite a bit of time at the courts playing, chatting, and training, despite the lacklustre squash.

Off the court, I really enjoyed my time back in Victoria. On the court, however, it was a different story. I was overly critical of my game, and I felt slow, lethargic, and heavy. In retrospect, I probably should have taken a week off of squash right before going home for Christmas. I had just come off of a string of tournaments where I had finally started to develop a game where I felt confident competing, and just lost the edge towards the end. In an effort to regain this “edge”, I played more and more, trying harder and harder to get “it” back. Funny how working harder isn’t always the right decision.

The first few weeks of this new year were a challenge. I returned to NYC still playing what I considered to be extremely flat squash, and this took a toll on me mentally. I felt pretty unmotivated to not only train on court, but off court as well. It’s a bit unnerving to have two of my favourite activities feel like a burden, and I so badly wanted to snap out of this funk.

Match vs Hollie Naughton (CAN)

Finally, about a week ago, I physically began to find my stride on court again, right in time for the Tournament of Champions. Unfortunately, my match against my compatriot, Hollie Naughton, didn’t go so well. While I wasn’t nervous going into the match, I did feel anxious. From the first point to the last, I couldn’t catch my breath, and my arches completely seized up. The rallies weren’t that long or exhausting, but nevertheless, my heart rate felt as though it had skyrocketed.

One of the most interesting yet frustrating things I encountered was the discrepancy between my perceived feeling of hitting the ball, and the result of the rallies. Technically, I felt like I was right there, stroke for stroke. Yet, somehow, I was losing most of the rallies. At the end of the match, I couldn’t even remember how I lost the points. The games seemed to go on forever, yet at the same time it was over in a blur. I was so stuck in my own head, while simultaneously thinking about things going on around me, mostly off the court. Doesn’t sound like a clear mind, nor a recipe for success, does it?!

Post-match Blues

Needless to say, I wasn’t pleased after my game with Hollie. I was definitely a bit sad and confused, and hoped that I would wake up on Friday and feel better. Friday morning arrived, and while physically I felt just fine, mentally, I was very much still in a fog. I felt tired and slow, and didn’t really know what to do with the day. ( I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like that before!). As planned, I took Friday off of squash completely, and ended up doing a light circuit as a workout at Body Space before watching the rest of the qualifying matches that evening. Spending time with friends on Friday night certainly helped put things in perspective, and put me back in a more positive mindset.

Finding Some Perspective

I woke up on Saturday feeling better, and knowing that I had to take action to change my mindset. I started by writing out a to do list, comprised of very achievable tasks (ie. making my bed, grocery shopping, emails, 30 minute workout). After making my bed (first accomplishment of the day!), I began with a 35 minute steady state bike at the gym. This not only gave me energy, but helped motivate me to continue on this productive path. I looked up interesting recipes to try out for meal prep, got another workout in, and perhaps most importantly, wrote a plan to get back on track with training, both mentally and physically. Having done all of this, plus enjoying a nice relaxing evening at home, I felt much better going into Sunday and the week having some guidelines and practices to help get me back into the swing of things.

This Week so Far

This week has started off very well. I’ve enjoyed every single moment on court and in training, and have generally been in a more positive mood. So far, my plan seems to be working well. In a nutshell, I’m trying to reset by focusing on the process of training, as opposed to purely outcomes. This has been helping me see every day as a new challenge and opportunity, rather than an obstacle that needs to be conquered.

Well, that’s all from me! I hope to be back soon with some updates regarding new training focuses, meals/nutrition, and some workouts!

Sprint to the Mid-Season Finish Line {Tournament Recaps}

Happy December!

I cannot believe the holidays are upon us, and that Christmas (and 2018!) is in only a week or so. Time flies when you’re training, working, traveling, and competing!

It was a busy first half of the season, and while I didn’t get too many great results, I learned and improved with (nearly) every match. In 10 weeks I competed in 7 tournaments. It sounds like quit a lot, which it is, but keep in mind that some of these were only one-match tourneys. In professional squash, as soon as you lose, you’re out of the tournament. Yep, that means you could fly all the way across the world for one match. Multiple times a year. It happens.

Here’s a little recap of the last 3 tournaments, which took place in Sarnia ON, London UK, and Monaco!

Sarnia Simon Warder Memorial Tournament

Last time I blogged, I was in Sarnia but had not yet played any matches. I won my first match against a top Canadian junior, Emma Jinks, putting me in the quarters against Micaala Seth, another fellow Canadian. I played pretty well against Micaala and managed to pull out a strong 3-0 win.

My third match was against Diana Garica (MEX), whom I’ve played twice before in PSA. The first time we played was early 2016, and I played quite poorly and lost 3-0. I managed to get some revenge a couple months later when I beat her 3-1 in Seattle.

Diana is a hard-hitting opponent, with a bit of deception if you leave the ball short and loose. Unfortunately, my accuracy was completely off, and while I almost got the second game, I went down 3-0 in the Semis. As the number 2 seed, this was a disappointing loss for me, but proved to be a good lesson. Despite being pretty out of whack physically, I should have better prepared myself mentally to go toe-to-toe with Diana. There are no easy matches in the pro leagues, and while I wouldn’t say I underestimated my opponent, I did not come out firing the way I had in my previous two matches.

London Open

After Sarnia, I had a week in NYC to recuperate and tune up for my next two events, both of which would take place in Europe!

I flew to London on a Sunday night red eye, arriving Monday morning in Gatwick. Since I was scheduled to compete Tuesday, this was a bit of a risky choice on my part. However, when I’d booked my flight, I hadn’t figured out where I was going to stay yet, and I didn’t feel like shelling out an extra $50-100 for a hotel, so I took the chance.

In the end, no hotel was necessary, as I ended up staying at Ally’s house, along with 5 other girls in the tournament. It was a bit of a commute to the club every day, but the price was right, and the company couldn’t be beat. There was always someone around to chat, hang out, or hit with. Plus, our daily “team” breakfasts of scrambled egg + avocado toast was worthy of 5 stars.

As for the squash, I dodged a bit of a bullet on Tuesday morning. I woke up to find I had been slotted into the main draw, as one of the Egyptian girls pulled out, allowing me to bypass all of qualification. I now had a couple extra days to acclimate and rest, before playing Amanda Landers-Murphy in the first round.

I played Amanda a month prior in the Granite tournament in Toronto, going down 3-0. Towards the end of the match I started to find my range, and honestly wished the match could have either continued or just started over! Needless to say, I was excited for the opportunity to play Amanda again, this time starting off with a bit more confidence.

Physically, I felt pretty good on court. I covered the court well, and found a decent length on the dead-as-a-graveyard court. However, my short game was absolutely non-existent. I must have hit 11 points worth of tins on volley drops- a shot which I usually enjoy hitting (much more often than normal drops). This tin-fest, combined with rollercoaster-like focus made it tough to win big points. I ended up losing in 11-9 in the 4th- a close result with lots to learn from, but I’m still kicking myself for losing focus at the end of the fourth. Amanda is quite experienced, and plays a solid, mature game, which stood up well in the crucial points. She also did a good job of punishing my weaker areas, and then using those lose shots to put the ball away.

Overall, I was pleased that I had played better than in Toronto (and of course, Sarnia), and was excited to get a bit more training in before flying down to the Cote d’Azur for my next event.

Monte Carlo Squash Classic

Saturday night I flew from London to Nice, where I’d be competing in the Monte Carlo Squash classic. Yes, Monte Carlo, Monaco! 

I’d never been to the south of France before, let alone Monaco, and was pumped to finish my Eurotrip in such an iconic place. Our hotel was amazing, overlooking a marina with yachts and sailboats, and a 2-minute walk from the squash venue. Plus, we had the most amazing breakfast included with our stay. Since Monaco is ridiculously expensive, we tried to cut corners with money as best we could, which meant making sandwiches for lunch out of breakfast food!

Although it wasn’t very good squash, I won my first round qualifying match 3-1, which put me up against Julianne Courtice later that day. I felt much better technically against Julianne than I had in my first round match, but felt tactically lost. Despite feeling pretty comfortable on court, I lost 3-0. Julianne played a very smart game, and didn’t give me much to work with. I hope I get the chance to play her again in the new year, because I’d like the chance to go toe-to-toe with her.

Next Up: Tournament of Champions, NYC

Now I’ve got a little break until my next tournament, which will be held here in NYC. I’m looking forward to some time away from competition, so that I can reset my mind and body before the second half of the season starts up.

Baking, NYC Marathon, and a Headband

This weekend went by very quickly. After a hard week of training, I was prepared to take the weekend off of training if necessary, and I did just that. However, I didn’t spend the entire weekend resting, as I spent Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday coaching. I’ve recently started loading up my Sundays with lessons and clinics, which I’ve started to enjoy as it gives me the flexibility to focus on training and work a bit less during the weekdays.

Despite a lack of training, there were some fun and exciting things that happened, so today’s post is going to be a little catch-up of my weekend!

Baking Muffins

Friday night I wasn’t in the mood to do much other than bake and chill out. I made two batches of grainless (almond flour) zucchini banana muffins.

With some chocolate chips, of course!

I have nearly perfected my recipe now, which is turning into a bad thing, since it means I can easily put away 6 muffins in one sitting and feel absolutely fine. Granted, they’re lighter than normal muffins and healthy (no sugar/syrup), but still… it’s Monday and one batch is already entirely gone. I’m obsessed!

NYC Marathon

Yesterday, some of my friends and I went to Clinton Hill (Brooklyn), to watch some of the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon. Apparently, it’s the largest marathon in the world, attracting ~50 000 participants!

Todd held a little “marathon party” at his place starting around 9:30 am, where we made signs to cheer on our (few) marathon-ing friends. It was so fun to get together and track the athletes online, while thinking of punny sayings for our posters.

Around 11:15 am we headed out to cheer on the runners. Although I’ve now lived through 3 NYC marathons, this is the first one I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me wished I was running it, and the rest of me wished I could travel to different spots in the city and watch it all day long! My friends and I had a blast cheering on friends and also random people. Tip: if you ever run a marathon, write your name on your shirt so that strangers on the sidelines can cheer for you by name!

Halo Headbands

For the past year, I’ve been struggling with my hair up-do for squash. I’ve got a lot of hair which I need to keep out of my face, and the simple ponytail doesn’t quite work anymore. My hair is too long, and a ponytail will whip me in the face if I turn suddenly (which happens a lot in squash!).

After a lot of experimenting, I’ve finally found a way to secure my hair in a bun, which doesn’t annoy me or fall out mid-match. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to tame the little fly-away pieces of hair around the fringe of my face. Previously, cloth headbands/sweatbands have never, ever stayed on my head (I have a weird shaped head, it seems), so bobby pins, barrettes, and plastic headbands litter my bags and pockets.

White, Blue, and Black Halo Tie-headbands

Lately, the bobby pins haven’t been cutting it. My fly-away situation has gotten out of control, so I decided to try out a couple of cloth headbands I’d received for free as a sample. They worked out pretty well, so I expanded my horizons.  I stumbled upon Halo Headbands on Amazon, and after doing some research online and talking to a friend who is a loyal Halo user, I was sold! I bought a couple on sale on Amazon, and tried it out in practice this morning. Practice didn’t go so well, but I was relieved that the headband stayed put, and I had no issues with it.

Monaco…!?

As I was about to book my flight home from London for the beginning of next month, I logged on to the PSA website to look up some of the tournaments. Last time I’d checked, I was a reserve for the 25k in Monte Carlo, Monaco, immediately following the London tournament. Looks like some people pulled out, because when I looked at the entry list, I had magically been bumped up to #5 in Qualifying! I’m pretty excited, as not only do I get to go visit Monte Carlo, but now I will be traveling to Europe for two tournaments, not solely the London event.

That’s it for now! Time to go coach, before heading home for the evening.

Carol Weymuller + Granite Open 2017

Happy Friday! Coming in a couple weeks late here, but better late than never for a tournament recap! Since the US Open, I’ve had two tournaments: a 50k close to home in Brooklyn, and a 15k in Toronto. In between the tournaments I had a chance to rest, and also get some solid training in.

Does watching squash while I cook count as training?

Although my in-season training schedule is always in flux, I’m doing a better job of staying consistent with on-court practices, off-court training, and rest. Last year I found myself overtired/overtrained all too often, but at the same time felt I wasn’t fit enough. So far, this season has started off much better in that respect, as I feel more confident in my game, and in my base level of fitness.

Carol Weymuller : Match vs Mayar Hany (EGY)

I went into my match vs Mayar pretty positive and optimistic. Since the US Open, I’d been practicing a dominant style of play, and felt confident that I could implement it.

What went wrong? Simply put, she implemented my game plan better. Mayar took the ball very early and crushed the ball, putting me under consistent pressure. I found it very difficult to retrieve both her hard drives and short shots with the fast front wall and 17 inch tin. I popped up a lot of loose shots in the middle (perhaps due to nerves), which she had no trouble taking advantage of. This frantic style of play kept me from gaining much confidence and settling in.

Although I lost rather quickly, there were some key takeaways from the match.

  1. I should really take advantage of practicing on the courts before. I only had one hit and didn’t feel very good on there. Since I live so close to the facility, I should have made more of an effort prior to the tournament to practice.
  2. I need to realize and accept that opportunities are going to be harder to produce when playing a higher ranked player. This is obvious, but is hard to accept when you’re in the match!
  3. Keep trying to play the right way, even if you make some “good errors”. In the end, this was a learning experience!
  4. Improve my game at the back of the court. If you’re losing the back-court game, it’s going to be difficult to produce opportunities and a dominant position.

Thank you to the sponsors for putting on a great tournament! It is amazing to have such high quality squash come to New York, and these events are not possible without the time and support of countless volunteers.

Granite Open : Match vs Amanda Landers-Murphy (NZL)

I arrived in Toronto on Friday in plenty of time for my match. I was originally supposed to play Sunday, but my match got pushed back to Tuesday due to a couple of withdrawals. I wasn’t too upset by this, as I used the time to rest, train, and acquaint myself with the courts at the Granite club.

 

Spent a good amount of time in the awesome gym at the Granite!

Danielle, Mary, Colette, and I also spent some time cooking at our billet’s house, which was a fun way to pass some of our down time. (I also watched several episodes of Narcos and the Mindy Project…).

Greek yogurt, cinnamon maple roasted butternut squash and apples, almonds, and more cinnamon

My practice hit on Tuesday morning was rough, to say the least. I felt slow and lethargic, which was concerning as I knew there would be no path to victory if I played like that in the evening. I tried not to focus on it that day, and made sure I got a good warmup in before the match.

I started off the match against Amanda pretty slowly, managed to work my way into it. Unfortunately, by the time I had found a groove, it was already the third game and I was down 2-0. Amanda did a much better job of taking advantage of any opportunities I gave her, and neutralizing some of my attacks. If I had started the first game the way I started the third, the 3-0 scoreline might have been different. However, once I started to feel comfortable with my racquet and footwork on court, I was cautious not to get too carried away. One of the habits I’ve been trying to break is attacking soon and at the wrong time. Against Amanda, I worked myself into the match, making sure I didn’t open up the court too early. In retrospect, I could have attacked a bit more to the front, perhaps not to win the rally on that shot, but to produce an opening.

All in all, I learned a lot from the match, and was relieved to finally feel like myself on court and feel comfortable. I wish it could have been a best of 7 match, as opposed to a best of 5!

I’d like to thank all of the sponsors and billets that helped out with this tournament. There is a lot of work behind the scenes that the players and spectators never see, but it is crucial to the success of the event. Thank you, Granite Club and Slaight Music, and everyone else who helped make the tournament possible.

What’s Next?

I’ve been back in NYC for a week or so now, and have another 10 days before I head up to Sarnia, Ontario for a 5k. Following Sarnia, I have a week to gear up for my last PSA tournament of 2017, the London Open! I’ve never been to London (Heathrow airport doesn’t count), so I’m looking forward to not only playing squash, but also checking out popular sights of the city.

Alright that’s all from me for now! Have a great weekend.