So to celebrate International Women’s Day, I interviewed Canada’s Jessica Zelinka.
She is a pentathlete, heptathlete, 100m hurdler, and Canada’s National record holder with 6599 points for the heptathlon. She won silver in that event at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Jessica finished 7th overall in both the Women’s Heptathlon event AND 7th in the 100m hurdles.
Part 1 was Jeff Cubos, Chiropractor and Performance Therapist
Part 2 was John Godina, World Athletics Center founder & Elite Shot Putter
Part 3 was Questions & Answers from Peter Weyand’s Research
Part 4 was Dr. Thomas Lam, focusing on Movement Based Sports Science
Part 5 was Landon Evans, Strength & Conditioning Coach & Nutrition Coordinator
Part 6 was Gabe Sanders, Assistant T&F coach of Boston University
Part 7 was Dr Jess Greaux, on Rehab and Biomechanics
Part 8 was Merlene Ottey – Queen of the Track
Part 10 was
Jay DeMayo, U of Richmond’s S&C Coach.
Friday Five is sponsored by Freelap Track and Field, a leader in electronic timing.
Interview with Jessica Zelinka, Elite Heptathlete and SuperMom
Question 1) First, congrats on setting 4 PRs in a season opener (60mH 8.14, 8.02; 60m 7.41, 7.39). Obviously your preparation is going well! How was the transition from living in Calgary with a full time coach (Les Gramantik) to training on your own? How hard is it to find motivation, and is your schedule dictated by family and motherhood duties?
Jessica Zelinka: How hard is it to find motivation? For me I think it comes down to knowing that I can still improve, and realizing that the doors are always open to walk away if I choose to. I think people would have understood along the way if I chose to retire after having a baby, or after moving away from Calgary, but I think it has been through these experiences that I’ve gained a better appreciation for how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do, and have the means and support to follow my passion. Having the opportunity to continue to strive to reach my goals on the track excites me!
Yes, of course, my lifestyle has changed immensely since becoming a mother and a wife, and now with not having a coach on a daily basis at my training session. But as long as I feel like I’m still able to put my full efforts in when it comes to training and competing, and I’m still making progress (through the ups and downs) then I’ll stay motivated. Even in my current situation of just moving to a new set-up in Montreal and working with a new coach long distance, I’ve managed to open my indoor season with 4 personal bests. This gives me a lot of confidence and will refill my motivation tank for the outdoor season!
Question 2) I don’t need to remind you that you are 32 years old and Rio 2016 is 2 years away. How is training different now, compared to a 21 year old? Do you focus more on quality workouts? Technique? Do you find your explosiveness slowing down (i.e. high jump)? Do you find your experience really helps on the technical events? Have you considered focusing on individual events if the demands of a Hept is too much?
Jessica Zelinka: Great questions. I think there are many factors that affect an athlete’s ability to improve and continue to make gains throughout an extended career. It’s not as simple as, she’s past 30 so her explosiveness is on the decline or the demands of combined events are suddenly too much to recover from. In my case, I was very successful when I was young, in grade school and high school. I was then plagued with many years of injury during my transition of being on my own, trying to balance a full-time university course load, working part-time and training- all on a very restricted budget.
This phase in my career held me back and my training at 21 was interrupted with injuries and illness due to my not being able to properly manage my time and recovery. I also didn’t have the maturity or experience to know when to listen to my body and when it was just my ego talking. Looking back I know my training sessions weren’t as effective as they could have been because I was chronically fatigued and did not have the mental energy to focus. I was able to find my rhythm before my first Olympics after graduating from University, but then I got pregnant which put a stop to that momentum pretty quickly!
When I was pregnant I took a break from the track and everything to do with track and after having a baby I took my time before jumping into a full-on training routine. With my husband and daughter in my corner supporting me, and my coach Les Gramantik waiting for me at the track every day, I felt I had the freedom to “start over” and do it right. I focused more on my recovery routines, sleep, diet, and getting in consistent physio and massage treatments for injury prevention. I also showed up to training prepared to put my full focus and energy into each session. At the track I was an athlete, and only an athlete; when I left the track I was a mother (with a very healthy diet and good sleep patterns!). I also discovered a new appreciation for listening to my body, and this was the gauge both my coach and I used to help us figure out how to do what neither of us had ever done before.
I believe I’ve been able to extend my career and improve because of those “set-backs” that I had during times when I couldn’t keep pushing and pushing it due to injury or pregnancy/post-pregnancy. These challenges, along with the new challenge of working with a coach long distance, have prevented me from getting too comfortable or complacent in my career if I ever hoped to persevere. I also used these experiences to help refine my overall perspective on training and recovery and lifestyle. This is why, at the age of 32, I’m stronger and more resilient than I was at 21.
At 32 years old, quality in every aspect of my training is my number one focus. It’s not necessarily because I’m older and less able to physically get in the quantity; if anything, I’m able to get more quantity at this stage because of my focus being on quality. My training actually has become less focussed on the technique (in a nit-picky sense) with my new coach and in my new situation. It’s hard to have that technical feedback in training when my coach is in Kansas and I’m training in Montreal.
Instead, my experience has helped my technical events by my having the discipline to focus on, and being consistent at, executing the basics in everything I do. That means bringing back intention into my warm ups, my drills, my weight sessions, running sessions and technical sessions. It’s hard to believe, but even after all this time I’ve invested in training, there’s still so much room for improvement and consistency in just the basic mechanics and body positions in everything that I do- from my “A” skips to my approach run in high jump.
Question 3) Going back to training, and how is (was?) it training alone, or do you now have training partners? Is there anything that helps in terms of technology? High speed video analysis?
Jessica Zelinka: Training alone has been a big transition. In my previous training environment in Calgary, my coach, Les Gramantik, was always at the track early, waiting for us pretty much every single day. I also had a great training group of heptathletes that relocated to Calgary to work with Les, so it was a professional and positive training environment. I went from that setting to being completely on my own when our family first left Calgary and moved to Connecticut USA for all of last year. I often had my daughter joining me at my training sessions in Connecticut since we didn’t have child care. I would carry my own plastic pipe hurdles and set of blocks to practice with me because I didn’t have access to equipment. I ended up investing in an electric timing system called Freelap that basically became my new training partner. For intense workouts, it really made a difference to have something to race against, even if it was just a clock! I could easily set-up and transport the portable probes to record electric times for my running workouts or record my split times between hurdles. When you have a coach all the time you don’t realize how much you depend on them, not only for timing your sprints and rests, but for other things such as setting up your hurdles, measuring approach runs, giving you starting commands or taking videos.
All these things become much more complicated when you’re on your own, trust me, I was able to teach my 4 year old daughter to hold the measuring tape for me, but taking videos with my phone was a failure; and there’s no way I’d trust her taking my running times!
I started working with my new coach Cliff Rovelto, who is based in Kansas, last spring; and we depend a lot on long distance communication. I sometimes send him videos, but mostly feedback on how I’m feeling or how training went.
Especially with a family, I enjoy the freedom of making my own schedule that can even vary on a day-to-day basis. Training on my own has allowed me to be a bit more in-tune with my inner voice for feedback. It has also forced me to problem-solve more on my own than rely on instant feedback or commands from a coach. Knowing that I have a coach that might not be at the track every day, but is still 100% committed to me and my program; a coach who checks in every day to see how training was; a coach who is just a text message away if I have any questions; and a coach that is excited to be working with me even if the logistics are far from perfect, is the thread that holds it all together. If I were really “on my own”, as I was I was when I first moved to Connecticut, it would be difficult to sustain that for a long period of time. I can’t rely solely on my family for emotional and moral support when it comes to track (or it will drive them crazy!). I need a coach I can trust, a coach I can be honest with, a coach that believes in me, and a coach that I can use to let off steam (especially after a brutal workout)!
Question 4) I want to rewind back to the 2012 CDN Olympic Trials 100m hurdles. In Canada, it’s extremely rare to find an event with so many A & B qualifiers where the top 3 finishers at the trials actually go to the Games. The media was hyping a Dan & Dave ’92 moment, with Perdita and Priscilla. Neither of them made the team, but YOU did. How did you approach the race? Was it a big distraction, or just another race? And when you did make the team, there was some suggestions about you giving up your spot because you were going anyways. (You did compete in the individual 100mH in London, whereas the other Jessica did not :)
Jessica Zelinka: I think it worked to my favour to compete in the heptathlon a couple of days before the hurdle race at the Olympic Trials. Competing in the heptathlon was a great distraction and then preparing my body and mind “last minute” for the hurdles after the heptathlon was also a great distraction. I went into the race convincing myself I had nothing to lose, but it was a hard sell for me since I can be very competitive. I considered myself as ONLY a heptathlete when I lined up with the hurdlers, and I made this an advantage in my mind (and was able to easily forget about all the disadvantages!). I was fit, I was versatile, I was mentally resilient, and I was not a hurdler…and nobody wants to lose to a combined-event athlete! I had one of the best races of my life that day from sticking to my plan, focusing on myself and making the other competitors completely invisible from the moment I was in their presence. It’s what I had to do because I know the girls so well (I trained with Perdita), but I needed to stay in my zone and protect my zone. When the race was over and I realized what I just done, it was very emotional at first. The feelings that I numbed prior to the competition started to flow in, and when I saw the other hurdlers (whom I had always watched and cheered for) would not be going to the Olympics, it was bitter-sweet. Prior to the race, I didn’t make a decision on whether I would compete at the Olympics in the hurdles if I qualified. I used it as a test to see if I was capable of handling the demands of competing in a heptathlon, then the multiple hurdle races. If I had placed third in the Trials in Calgary and with an OK time, then I would have decided not to go. That wasn’t the case…I won and got a personal best and world-class time, so I passed my personal test and decided to take on the challenge knowing that all eyes would be on me (especially if I failed)- but I believed it was a great opportunity I earned.
Question 5: Your PB is 6599, what will it take to win Commonwealth?
Jessica Zelinka: What will it take to win the Commonwealth Games? I no longer try to predict these things. My goal is to score 6400+ points and if I can stay healthy in my training and make some grounds with my new coach, I think I’m capable of much more.
SpeedEndurance: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, and good luck with the upcoming season! We won’t see you competing in Sopot (World Indoor Championships), but that’s another story!