Sophie Vowden with Team GB at Warm Weather Training Camp as they Prepared for London 2012
University of Hertfordshire Graduate and Sports Therapist, Sophie Vowden, worked with members of Team GB as they prepared for London 2012. She travelled to Portugal where the athletes undertook warm weather training.
We heard from Sophie last year after she supported elite marathon runner Andy
McMenemy on Challenge 66, where he ran 66 ultra-marathons in 66 days.
Sophie spoke to the Society after returning from Portugal.
How have things changed for you since Challenge 66?
Challenge 66 was a fantastic professional and life-changing opportunity. The experience has led me to alter the way I work in a clinical environment. I now work in a much more functional way, which a lot of my patients prefer.
Challenge 66 has opened up numerous professional opportunities for me and I am truly grateful.
You recently spent time working with Team GB athletes in Portugal. How did the opportunity to work with the team come about and how long were you there for?
I work with one of the UK’s top sprint coaches and was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work in Monte Gordo, Portugal, at the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) accredited sports complex, Vila Real. The team was there for about 2.5 weeks and I joined them for seven days.
The Vila Real Athletics Track where the athletes trained
Can you give us a little bit of background about warm weather training camps and how they help the athletes?
There are two main key benefits to warm weather training camps; the physiological and psychological.
The camps allow athletes to train more consistently at higher intensities compared to regular training back in the UK. They are in a better environment. Facilities are often superior and the camps allow high quality and greater volume of training.
The camps have fewer distractions. Athletes have pressures of commitments back at home, such as promotional endorsements and other areas linked to the professionalism. Training abroad and away from these added demands creates a more ambient environment, rich in Vitamin D, and it increases their attention span to high-quality training.
Adam Gemili and Luke Fagan recover after a training session
The training coach is also less distracted from daily living and this often creates a stronger coach–athlete relationship in camp.
Jeanette Kwakye (2008 Beijing Olympic 100m Sprint finalist) says:
It has many uses to me: fine tuning in the sunshine is key for good quality work and great recovery.”
Adam Gemili (2012 World Youth 100m Champion, fastest British Junior of all time, 2012 Olympic 100m sprinter and 4 X 100m) says:
From L to R: Adam Gemeli, Jeanette Kwakye and Luke Fagan take time for a photo
What was a typical day in Portugal like? Were you working with any athletes in particular?
We would get to the athletics track at 9.00am. The athletes would warm up and then begin their training session. This could consist of speed/tempo session, weights, plyometric work or technique-specific. Depending whether they were holding an injury or needed attention, they would see the appointed United Kingdom Athletics (UKA) Physiotherapist. The morning training session would last approximately 2–3 hours and we would then travel back to the hotel for lunch. Athletes would rest and then go back to the track for the afternoon session.
I was fortunate enough to shadow their highly experienced Physiotherapist trackside. In my view, one of the key advantages with athletics is that you treat trackside. This allows the Sports Therapist/Physiotherapist/Osteopath insight into how that particular athlete is moving during their training session.
I worked with Jeanette Kwakye and Adam Gemili. I was also fortunate enough to be in the presence of Olympic Triple Jumpers Phillips Idowu, Larry Achike, Yamile Aldama, Olympic Long Jumper Chris Tomlinson and Commonwealth Games Gold Medalist, Heptathlete Louise Hazel.
Jeanette Kwakye and Coach Michael Afilaka during training
What was the medical set-up in Portugal? How did your role fit in?
The selected athletes training in Monte Gordo were appointed a UKA Physiotherapist. Alongside the Physiotherapist, I carried out a lot of soft tissue work and recovery treatment modalities, usually working on the athletes in the evening once their training had finished for the day.
What were your highlights from the camp?
Highlights included watching the athletes train. Anyone who is not familiar with the world of athletics, I urge you to go and watch professionals train – it is awe inspiring. Their speed and power are phenomenal.
Team GB Athletes pictured with Army Athletes who were also training at the Vila Real Athletics Track
What experience have you gained from your time working with Team GB?
I have learnt how to manage different situations in the limited time frame available, similar to Challenge 66. For example, being trackside whilst athletes are training is completely different from treating them once they have completed training for the day. There is more pressure whilst treating trackside as the athlete is there to train. Having now experienced life at a training camp, I can appreciate the difference and the psychological emphasis it has on an athlete’s outlook to training.
What are your future plans?
My future plans are to continue working with these amazing athletes.
Sophie worked in the holding camp at the London 2012 Olympics and will also be on hand at the Paralympics.