Interview with Craig Pickering, UK Sprinter and Bobsledder

This is part 5 of the Freelap Friday Five Series, 2013 Edition. To review the 16 part 2012 edition, click here.

Part 1 was Matt Scherer, Professional Pacer-Rabbit.

Part 2 was Stuart McMillan, Bobsled and former UKA Sprint Coach.

Part 3 was Dean Starkey, PV Coach and former Elite Pole Vaulter.

Part 4 was Mike Hurst, Journalist and Australian 400 meter Coach.

Recently, Craig Pickering and Lolo Jones made headlines converting from track to bobsled, but both with full intention of returning to track.

Craig’s PBs are 6.55 / 10.14 / 20.89 for the 60m / 100m / 200m.

He has a 60m silver from the 2007 European Championships in Birmingham, and a bronze medal in the 4x100m relay at the 2007 WC in Osaka.

Preamble: before we begin, everyone should start by reading Craig’s guest blog on Stuart McMillan’s Blog on his first 6 weeks of the Bobsled circuit, just to give you an idea on this rookie season.

This Q&A is meant for all the aspiring sprinters (or any speed/power athlete for that matter) who wish to convert to bobsled, or veteran sprinters looking for a change.

John Jackson Craig Pickering Bobsled

Photo courtesy Getty images

Friday Five is sponsored by Freelap Track and Field, a leader in electronic timing.

Interview with Craig Pickering, UK Sprinter and Bobsledder

Freelap Friday Five

Q1) This is really 3 questions in one.  (i) How much different is track training or dry land training? (ii) How different is weight training? Is there a focus on certain exercises?  (iii) What is a typical day or workout for dry-land training? (i.e. number of push-offs, etc.)

Since pushing a bobsled only requires about 30m-40m of pushing and is composed of primarily acceleration phase mechanics, what kind of max velocity training should be done, if any? I believe over speed training is beneficial to a brakeman since he is the last one in the sled and is required to open his stride length. Is this similar to the max velocity phase of a sprinter?

Craig Pickering:  For me, I trying to keep my physical training more or less the same for bobsleigh as it is for athletics. I broke all the testing records off the back of my athletics training, so it makes sense to maintain that. In off season most bobsledders sprint and lift weights as their main training sessions anyway, which is what I do for athletics. The main difference comes with the technical aspect – in sprinting, there is no requirement to push anything, whereas in bobsleigh you need to push a heavy sled. This takes some getting used to, and you do have to run bit differently. A lot of this training takes place on ice itself, or on dry land push tracks. We also have a roll-bob (basically a mental frame on wheels) that we can use on sprint tracks. There will be some physical conditioning from this work too, similar to how technical sprint work also elicits physical benefits.

Weight training for me is really different. I had back surgery just under a year a go, which means I cannot axially load my spine. So I can now do squats, cleans, snatches, etc. This obviously means I had to re-design my conditioning programme completely, but I’m pretty happy with where it is at now.

As I stated above, a typical day for me is predominately the same as when training for athletics. As we get closer to next bobsleigh season, and I do more push track/roll-bob work I might do up to fifteen runs (if its technical in nature) or as low as 3-4 runs (if the intensity is really high).

As for pushing the bobsled question, this is a difficult one for me to answer as I am new to the sport and also still hoping to compete over 100m, which definitely requires maxV training. One thing I will say is that in Sochi, the start section was on a strong downhill gradient. This played into my strengths as I could run behind the sled for a longer distance (without braking its forward acceleration) than other athletes, as my maxV was better – so in this instance you can see how maxV training could be useful. The knock-on effect of me being able to run with the sled for further is that our velocity at the 50m mark was higher than other teams.

Craig Pickering

Photo courtesy Getty images

Q2) I know you are a big believer is science based research, especially nutrition, as I wrote an article about your diet 2 years ago titled Diet of an Elite Level 100m Runner.  How much did you weigh (in Kg) during your sprinting career, and what is your idea bobsled weight?  How are you going to gain all that mass and still be strong AND fast?  Eat, eat and eat?

While sprinters and bobsledders are very similar in speed and strength, one key difference is that bobsledders do it all at a much higher body weight. When transitioning from track to bobsled, what is the best to go about gaining weight properly, without it affecting speed too much? Is there a way to condition you body during a significant weigh gaining phase to adapt to significant weight gain? I heard Nick Cunningham, the USA-2 driver, mention that during this time for him, he would simply go out and run 10x100m tempo strides everyday or so to keep his body conditioned to the weight gain.

Craig Pickering:  When I ran my personal bests 6 years ago, I was about 84kg. In 2008 at the Olympics I was 85kg, in 2009 (when I ran 10.08w) I was 86kg, and in 2011 (10.19 having missed 6 weeks in March/April through injury) I was 88kg. Now I am 92kg. The general trend here is that a greater training history has led to increases in weight. I monitor my body fat levels through the use of calipers, and I maintain the same level of leanness, so over the last 6 years I have put on 8kg of fat-free mass. My aim for now is to get up to 94-95kg by October, but at a similar level of leanness. I don’t think it will be easy, but it won’t be too hard either – since switching to a high fat/low carb diet I have found it really easy to put on muscle. In my early athletic days, I was eating about 1800kcal per day to artificially keep my bodyweight low – I was not healthy, and I was constantly hungry. Now I eat 3500kcal per day, and feel brilliant Smile!

[JIMSON’S NOTE: click here to check out Darren Campbell shocking low diet vs. Peter Radford’s diet]

My nutrition beliefs are constantly evolving, and the article linked in your question is two years old now! I’m currently following a predominately paleo diet, and no longer believe in vitamin tablets or lots of antioxidant tablets. Instead, I try to get as much nutrition from my diet as possible, which involves eating a lot of food!

Again, having done bobsleigh for only 6 weeks, this is difficult for me to answer as I haven’t put on any weight in that period. Also, as I will be doing sprint training 4 times per week from now on, I will still have a high volume of running in place, and I’m not looking for massive weight gain either.

Q3)  Home field advantage usually helps as the more runs you do on a certain course, the better you will perform in competition.  Tell us how you memorize the course.  I remember teaching our guys, after the push, it’s jump in, tuck your head down, and count left-right-left-right-right-etc. to lean into the curves.  Those G forces are brutal!

Craig Pickering:  I tend to pick two or three corners to memorise, so I know where I am. These tend to be high g-force corners – this makes it easier as you can actually feel them, and work out where you are. In St Moritz (where the World Champs are) my usual policy was to run, jump in, get low, wait for a strong right hander, breathe in in prep for horseshoe (which feels like about 10G!!), take horseshoe, relax for a bit, count off four continuous rights, two lefts, then break.

The Olympic Test in Sochi was unusual as there are not a ton of high pressure corners, so it can be quite hard to know where you are. My landmarks there were an uphill section where you feel yourself lift off the floor of the bob, and three continuous left handers to finish. By the time of the Olympics next year I will have a slightly better idea of the track, but to know each corner is unnecessary in my opinion.

Q4) Track is easy when you think of it.  Just make sure you bring your spikes.  But in Bobsled, you are your own pit-crew.  Tell us the daily grind of taking care and transporting equipment, early mornings, trying to stay warm before you push off, and all the logistics  behind it.  (I remember our guys having problems with the Eastern European breakfasts)

Craig Pickering:  Bobsleigh is very, very different to athletics in terms of admin and preparation. For a typical race we will spend 2-3 hours the day before polishing the metal runners to a very high standard, removing any scratches in the metal surface. We will also polish the bob, and put in any padding we need. The driver will then run mechanical tests, testing the steering etc.

The day of the competition we arrive at the venue, unload the sled and carry it to where it needs to go, and put on the runners. Then its time to warm up, which is often on a snow covered car park (thus limiting what you can do) in -20 degree temperature. Regarding the heat, its just a case of having as many layers on as possible. Then about 30 minutes before my push I head inside to the changing rooms to keep myself warm and mentally prepare, then head out to push.

Most races in bobsleigh tend to be early morning, whereas athletics races tend to be evening. I like to be awake for at least 4 hours pre-race, which means getting up very early. Food can be difficult too – most hotels don’t seem to comprehend that if you’re a physically active 90kg man you need significantly more food than your average person, so its usually a case of going to the supermarket to buy food to supplement your diet with.

Q5) Any advice or words of wisdom for future 2-sport athletes (football/bobsled, or track/bobsled)?  How would an athlete “transition” to bobsled, other than the obvious (i.e. get stronger, get explosive, get faster, and gain some muscle… easier said than that, I know Smile )

One key difference between sprint and push mechanics is ground contact. In sprinting you want to decrease ground contact, but when pushing a bobsled, I have been taught to maintain ground contact because that is where you are applying force into the sled, where airtime you can’t apply any force. What is the best way to train this? Sled pulls/pushes would simulate applying force to a weight, but is there any more methods?

Craig Pickering:  The main thing is to maintain your strengths. I’m good at bobsleigh because I am fast. If I decided to get unto 105kg and spend ages in the gym, I wouldn’t be as fast anymore – and therefore not as good. This summer through athletics I will hopefully get even faster, and the knock on result should be a better performance next bobsleigh season. You also need to learn all you can about your new sport, the technical and physical demands, and develop a programme to address all of these.

Reagarding ground contact, this is actually something that only clicked for me in the last race of the season. I tried to keep my hips a bit lower when running (a cardinal sin in sprinting) so that I could maintain ground contact for longer. For me, it was just experimentation behind the bob, so I don’t know if there are any training methods you could utilise.