Competition Strategies for Combined Events
BY HARRY KENDALL
The outdoor season is fast approaching, so this new blog ties in nicely with the previous entry on adapting your training to be ready for competition as a combined eventer. In this post, I'll cover how to mentally and physically prepare for a decathlon or heptathlon and some tips for strategy during the competition to maximise performance.
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE A BIG ATHLETIC COMPETITION?
First, let's look at the week leading up to a multi-events competition and how you should prepare your body and mind for the competition.
A strategy I like to utilise before every competition is called visualisation. This is where I mentally go through every event in order, breaking down my technique and trying to get a feel of how I would like to compete.
Watching videos of your good performances is another excellent form of visualisation. By watching yourself back, you can reimagine the feelings you experienced and reinforce the good cues you executed previously. In conjunction with this, if you suffer from performance or competition anxiety, mindfulness techniques can be helpful to calm your nerves and compose you for your competition. Even something as simple as 10 minutes of yoga or writing down your realistic goals and aims for the competition can positively affect your mindset and your competition behaviour.
Let's now focus on the other routines that can maximise performance right before your competitions.
FOODS THAT ATHLETES SHOULD EAT IN THEIR DIET
A good diet can be beneficial in the run-up to an event to prepare your body with the energy it needs to compete maximally and recover too. You'll hear a lot about "carb loading", and while that will be your primary energy source, it doesn't mean you should eat huge bowls of pasta all week beforehand. Your usual balanced diet will do just fine, with enough of every food source to sustain you through a tough weekend of competition.
During the competition, you want to avoid big starchy meals that will make you feel bloated, as that is definitely not what you want to feel before running any lactic-inducing events. I don't like to eat a massive amount during competitions, maybe a sandwich before shot put or pole vault on day two and high-energy snacks throughout the day. I like Jaffa Cakes and Jelly Babies, just for a quick glucose boost before an event.
WHY MENTAL PREPARATION IS IMPORTANT IN ATHLETICS
In combined events, staying positive and mentally strong is critical to a successful performance. I'm going to try to help you here with some ways you can calm yourself and prepare yourself for the competition.
The most important thing to remember is that there are 10 or 7 events in outdoor competitions, which means there are 10/7 to pick up points and 10/7 to achieve personal bests. I often see athletes beating themselves up and dwelling on past events, getting really angry and losing concentration on the combined events competition overall. Of course, it's natural to be disappointed or even angry after a bad performance, but in combined events, you don't have time to dwell on it. You must reset and go again for the following discipline. Allow yourself some time to analyse an event which didn't go to plan, maybe 5/10 minutes and then turn your mind towards the next event and how you will prepare yourself for it.
Many people dread the last event, the 800 or 1500m. I get it. We're big, strong, powerful athletes. We've been out there for two days. We're tired.
However, the worst thing you can do before this somewhat daunting event is to work yourself up into an even bigger panic and get all frantic before the event. This will lead to more nerves and head loss; in some cases, people get physically sick before the event. The tactic I have found the most helpful is to pick a tempo you can run at and aim for that. For example, if you're seeking a 5-minute 1500m, that equates to 80s per lap, and if you aim to run at that tempo, you know you won't overdo it by accident and will not finish the race. Everyone has their own little ways of making these events seem more manageable. When I ran my personal best at Bedford in 2022, I broke it down into chunks, where I had to run the first 800, which isn't too tiring, then a 300m, then there's only one lap left anyway, so in my head, the rationale was that I only had to run 300m really.
PLANNING YOUR COMBINED EVENTS
Moving onto how to select your combined events competitions and what your competitive schedule should look like, picking events that will lead to the best results throughout the season is imperative. Although you may feel ready for competition straight out of a block of training, competition rust is real, so it's good to go through the motions before all your biggest events.
Before my first combined events competition of the season, I try to practice every event of the decathlon in a competition beforehand, just so I can get that competitive feel, except for the 1500m, as that should only be run when necessary due to how unenjoyable it can be. Events such as hurdles can be beneficial to do beforehand, as it requires a lot of rhythm and can feel different in competition than in training. This also goes for other events that require a set-up, such as the high jump, long jump and pole vault.
In the UK, your best bet for competitions will be one-off open or league meetings with your club. League matches are a great way to fit in 3 or 4 events in one day without overworking yourself too much or spending £350 on entry fees. Sometimes open meetings can be tricky to source, but England Athletics and websites such as OpenTrack can have lists of competitions you could find in your area.
UK ATHLETICS COMPETITIONS IN 2023
After you have warmed up with other, smaller competitions, it may be time for your first combined events meeting of the season, so selecting the right one is essential. I'll be focussing only on competitions for UK athletes here, so if you're from around the world, hopefully, some of this information will be useful.
There are a few meetings at the start of the year which could interest you, if you fancy getting into the season as early as possible. However, one of the most significant risks you run with this is that with it being slightly earlier, the weather could be a little more temperamental, with wind, rain and cooler temperatures compared to later in the year.
If you want to wait a month or so, the England Athletics Championships for Senior and U20 athletes kick off at the end of May. This competition is usually held in Bedford but has been moved to Manchester this year due to the unavailability of the track. Last year, this event was upgraded to a World Tour Silver meeting, meaning it offered more ranking points and prize money for the first four finishers. This makes it a more competitive meeting than previously and could be an excellent competition to enter if you're an up-and-coming athlete and want a more significant competition experience.
For the younger athletes, the U15 and U17 combined events Championships are at the beginning of August, on the 5th and 6th. These are also being held in Manchester and would be a competitive meeting to attend, where you can compete for national titles and improve your best. Regarding other competitions, the Southern Champs are held at the end of July every year, usually in Horspath in Oxford. I have done this competition a few times myself, and it is always well-run with a good turnout.
Previously, British Athletics placed the Decathlon and Heptathlon in the main British Championships event. However, this year, these events were moved to a different date. Moving forward, I personally want to see British Athletics place more of a spotlight on the Decathlon and Heptathlon, as combined events athletes inspire many other young, up-and-coming athletes from various disciplines. Furthermore, reinstating Decathlon and Heptathlon into the main Championships would also give some athletes on the cusp of breaking into the top echelons of the National rankings a meaningful competition to attempt to qualify for, and this will make themselves proud if they are selected.
I hope this blog has helped you better understand what is required in the lead-up to your big competitions. And most importantly, make sure to enjoy your athletics throughout the whole process!
ABOUT HARRY KENDALL
Harry is a decathlete who represented England at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham!
He has also won bronze at the 2021 British Athletics Championship, and he claimed victory at the 2022 English National Championship after scoring a record of 7843 points!
Currently a member of Tonbridge AC, one of his goals is to make it to the World Championships in Budapest this year.