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Olympics2012Diamond League podium a big step toward London

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 | 12:05 PM

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Canadian 100-metre hurdler Phylicia George, pictured on left at last year's world championships, nabbed her second career Diamond League podium spot, and first of this season, earlier this month in Doha. (Stu Forster/Getty Images) Canadian 100-metre hurdler Phylicia George, pictured on left at last year's world championships, nabbed her second career Diamond League podium spot, and first of this season, earlier this month in Doha. (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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Placing third in a cream-of-the-crop Diamond League meet for the second time in my career earlier this month in Dohah was a great step for me towards making my name known amongst the best hurdlers.

With an "A+" Olympic standard in my back pocket, I definitely feel like I'm moving in the right direction toward the London Games.
In the past month I've been in four different countries and on 12 airplanes. Actually, I'm writing this from an airplane. All this travelling could only mean one thing for a track and field athlete: It's outdoor season!

Outdoor season is what every track athlete looks forward to. After months of hard training we finally get to compete and reap the benefits of our training. I started my final prep for the outdoor season with two warm-weather training camps. My first one was a week in Phoenix, followed by two weeks in St. Kitts.

As a summer-sport athlete, training in the Great White North can be challenging. In order to prepare fully for outdoor competition, we need to be outdoors on a 400-metre track. But in the months of May and April, it's usually still too cold in Canada for sprinters to train outside.

If there's one thing sprinters are afraid of, it's cold weather. The fast speeds that we run at put great stress on our muscles, so it's imperative to make sure they're warm before we start sprinting. In cold weather, this is next to impossible.

As a 100m hurdler, I face even more issues when I'm forced to train inside. The 100m hurdles is a race that consists of 10 hurdles, but it's only possible to fit about six or seven on an indoor track's 60m straightaways. The result is that I've had my fair share of track seasons in which I wasn't prepared to run those crucial last three hurdles. Trust me, it's not a pretty sight. Hence, the great importance of warm-weather training camps in my preparation for the 2012 season. I'm able to train outdoors in great weather and put in all the necessary work, without having to compromise due to circumstances.

As you'll see, it paid off.

Life's no beach for a pro athlete

From my training in St.Kitts, I travelled directly to Guadeloupe for my season debut in the 100m hurdles. I stayed at a beautiful hotel, with the beach right on the resort. Now, while the life of a professional track and field athlete seems glamorous in terms of travelling to many exotic destinations, we rarely get to explore the countries we visit. We become well acquainted with airports, hotel rooms and the view of the city on the bus from the hotel to the track.

Typically, we arrive in a country a day or two before we compete, and we leave the day right after competition, often heading to another race. In addition, we're very limited in the activities we can do prior to competition, considering our bodies are our main equipment. We don't want to be walking around tiring out our legs. Most athletes spend their time getting ample rest in their hotel rooms to ensure they're at their best on race day.  

I ran in Guadeloupe last year, finishing with a personal best (PB), so I was looking forward to competing there. On race day, there was a torrential downpour, which is probably the one thing everyone hopes doesn't happen. But that's outdoor season for you. Sometime you have to battle the elements. Like Forrest Gump said, you never know what you're going to get: strong headwinds, thunderstorms, bright sun... it's all a part of the beauty of the sport.

Luckily, the rain stopped once it was time for me to start warming up, but the damage was already done to the grass field, leaving it muddy (so much for my brand-new sneakers). I finished a disappointing fifth in the race, running a time of 13.11. I pretty much ran the race as a spectator, aware of everything that was happening around me, instead of focusing on my 10 hurdles. I have high expectations for myself, so I wasn't pleased with the race.

After having a quick pity party for myself, I looked at the positives from the race and examined the things I needed to work on for next time. Put in perspective, last year I ran 13.22 for my season opener, and it's always great to open your season faster than the year before.

Hot, hot heat

Next, I travelled to Saint Martin, another beautiful island in the Caribbean and another opportunity to run fast.

One factor that usually makes or breaks my overall experience at a track meet is the food. The meet directors in Saint Martin strayed from the typical buffet and drove us to local restaurants. This was a great experience, and being of West Indian background it was like getting home-cooked food.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the island. This was helped by the fact that I also ran well. There were heats and finals at this meet. I ran 12.92 in the heats, feeling like I executed much better in comparison to Guadeloupe. In the finals, I felt like I didn't quite tap into my speed and I was sure that I probably ran much slower than my heat. But, to my surprise, I ran 12.86. Early in the season, I love the feeling of having an incomplete race yet still running faster than expected. It lets me know that I have a lot more in the tank, and a lot faster to run.

I travelled back home on May 6, unsure of when I would race again. When I landed in Toronto, I had a message waiting for me from my agent informing me that I'd just been confirmed for the Doha Diamond League meet, so I enjoyed my one day at home and then hopped back on a plane for a 14-hour trip to Qatar.

Diamond League meets are the cream of the crop when it comes to track and field. They're where the best of the best compete, with the best accommodations, stadiums and crowds. So no complaints from this young runner, who jumps at any chance to establish herself amongst the best.

When I stepped off the plane in Doha, it was like opening a hot oven. I felt a blast of hot air. I had been warned that it was hot there, but no descriptions could have prepared me for that. It's a picturesque city with breathtaking architecture. When the bus rolled up to a hotel shaped like a pyramid, I couldn't wait to see the inside, and it definitely didn't disappoint.

On race day, despite running in the evening, the heat was still very high. When I arrived at the track I sought a spot with some AC to chill out, relax and collect my thoughts. I had a great warmup. I felt fast and my coach's cues were clicking. I have this eerie sense of focus and confidence that comes over me every once in a while, and when it's there I know I'm ready to run.

Big step forward

I ran 12.79, a season best, and finished third. My university coach once told me the only places that matter are the top three, and after awhile in the track world you realize how true that is. Placing third in a Diamond League meet for the second time in my career was a great step for me towards making my name known amongst the best hurdlers.

I was pleased with the time and some parts of my execution of the race. I had a very strong finish, which was lacking in my previous races. However, there were a lot of things that I did in the race that I could have improved upon. I'm well aware that it takes me awhile to get this 5-foot-10 frame moving and to race sharp. I'm the type of athlete that gets progressively better with every race, so running a time close to my personal best in only my third race is a good sign.

In the same way that I don't let myself feel too bad after a bad race, I don't like to get overly excited after a good race. I take the positives from the race and look for what I can improve upon. In track and field, there's always more to do, and satisfaction is a recipe for disaster. But with an "A+" Olympic standard in my back pocket, I definitely feel like I'm moving in the right direction.

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