July 21, 2017

Brianne Theisen-Eaton

(info about Brianne Theisen-Eaton)

Heptathlon, live it to the fullest

Thomas Kieller

Photo – Copyright AFP Photo/Geoff Robins

Brianne Theisen-Eaton: Focused in the women's 4 x 400 metres relay at the 2015 Pan American Games.

Well trained and prepared for the several events of running, throwing and jumping, Brianne competed without holding back in heptathlon and pentathlon. She had her share of successes with the University of Oregon by winning seven championships of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA): three in heptathlon, three in pentathlon and one in the 4 x 400 metres relay. The Canadian worked hard during training in order to improve herself in the different disciplines of her sport. Besides, the women of the prairies, born in Saskatoon, saw her work rewarded numerous times with a dozen of podiums from 2013 to 2016. We can remember her first place in pentathlon at the 2016 World Indoor Championships in Athletics. Crowned champion and motivated, she went the same year to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with great expectations. With some excellent performance in long jump and javelin throw during the second day, she leaped herself once more on the podium by winning a bronze medal. Already holder of the Canadian record in indoor pentathlon, she added during those Olympics her final touch to her career with a national record in heptathlon. Motivated and passionate about her sport, Brianne left her mark in athletics.

The phone-interview took place on July 11, 2017 at 08:30 when Brianne was in Oregon, United States.

Training for heptathlon

Thomas Kieller: What are the important physical characteristics in order to perform well in heptathlon?

Brianne Theisen-Eaton: Basically, it is about speed, power and explosiveness. The only endurance event is the 800 meter race and pretty much all heptathletes run it on speed. We use our speed in the first 600 meters and after that we hang on for our life. In practice, we don’t do long runs at all. I train like a 400 meter runner because I have the 200 and 800 meter runs. So, it is why I could run also a decent 400 meters.

We need power and explosiveness in order to spring off the ground like in the long jump, to drive from the blocks in a race or being able to use efficiently our shoulders and our arms during the shot put. During training, we could do squats and box jumps in order to develop strength and explosiveness. However, it is not about getting big and strong. You have to stay light in a way because you have to get off the ground in high jump, pole vault or whatever. So, we did our training in an explosive manner.

Thomas: How did you train for all the seven events in a common training week?

Brianne: Actually, we usually did it in a three week cycle, two weeks of hard training and then a recovery week. During this recovery week, we did technical events but not so much hard running workout and heavy lifting.

For a typical week such as the two hard training weeks, we would do on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday a hard training. Sometimes, it would be two practices a day with two events in the morning. For example, on Monday it could be shot put and hurdles. We took a break and we would do some technical stuff. After we took another break and we came back and did high jump and a really hard running workout. It will be like this on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. We would not do the same events every day but we would do two to three technical events followed by a running workout.

Tuesday, Thursday and Friday were the throwing or lifting days which we felt were little bit easier because we did not have that hard running workout where you leave practice totally drained. When you do throwing, it can be hard but it is not like pounding hard on the body.

After a hard Wednesday training, we would come on practice on Thursday so tired. Sometimes our coach sent us home or told us just do a warm up and go home. Sunday was always recovery.

Thomas: Is it a long process to learn the different techniques for those events? Did you get some help from a coaching staff?

Brianne: Yes. I have been doing this for so long that I don’t remember learning everything. I started doing the heptathlon in grade nine. I have done sprint, long jump and hurdles long before I started the heptathlon but I had to learn high jump, shot put, javelin and the 800 meter race which I never ran. So, I started to learn those things in grade nine and I had some great coaches to help me. I had one coach who did most of the sprinting, long jump and hurdling. Another one helped me in long jump and javelin because surprisingly those two events are similar. Then, I had another coach who helped me with the shot put. That was in high school. When I got to college, I had a coach who oversaw everything.

Thomas: By the way, which event on the technical aspect was the toughest for you to learn?

Brianne: The shot put for sure. I just wanted to grit my teeth and throw it. I knew it was not right because I saw the smallest heptathlete who was throwing it really far. So, I knew it was all about transferring your energy and using your legs and not just throwing with your arms and upper body which I tended to do a lot. So yes, I struggled with this and obviously it was frustrating. Also, in shot put, it is about relaxation. You have to be relaxed and allow your body to move and pop the shot put. It is hard to do when you are nervous or to fire up.

Thomas: During practice, did you want to focus more on the difficult events or you prefer to work out on your strong points?

Brianne: I struggled with javelin for a long time. It was my favorite event to work on and it still is. I was getting excited when we were practicing this event because I was hoping to figure it out. I pretty much had that mentality.

On the other hand, there were some days I absolutely did not want to throw the shot put. I hated it. It was always my least favorite event because I sucked at it. However, some days, I had a good attitude about it and I was excited to practice it. I was positive and I was trying to learn something new. In brief, it’s not because I was not doing well at it that I did not want to work on it. Actually, the events which came easier for me were sometimes boring to practice because there was nothing new to learn. Also, we would not focus on the ones I was good at because we had to fix the other ones.

Thomas: Obviously, you trained a lot on the track, but did you train also in the gymnasium and elsewhere?

Brianne: Off the track, we did some exercises in the lift room. Sometimes, we would go play basketball or volleyball for the plyometrics. With basketball, we did a lot of exercises in order to practice the high jump. We did not want to pound out her legs with high jumping over and over. Also, we could just go on a hill trail and do the workout there. But most of the time, we stayed on the track quite a bit. The fall will be the time when we were a little bit more off the track. During this season, we did some runs on soft bark trails when we were working on our physical conditioning.

Events and how to perform well in competition

Thomas: What were the events that you knew that you could lose points compared to other athletes?

Brianne: High jump is the main event that I knew I could lose a lot of points because it is a lot of points overall. If your competitor makes one bar (which is three cm) and you don’t, well that’s 35 points. Two bars, it’s 70 points. After three heights, she can make 100 points on you. The caliber in women high jump in heptathlon is unbelievable. Two women in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil jumped 1.98 m. If they jumped two meters, they would have won the Olympic medal in high jump. It was really good. I’m a good high jumper and I have jumped 1.89 m but when the other competitors are jumping near two meters that’s like 120 points. So, I could not afford not to jump my personal best. That was super stressful. You have to stay calm and not try to worry about something else like they cleared the bar. You have to focus on yourself and work on the things you have trained. You have to listen to your coach and execute the cues that you are supposed to do.

Thomas: And in general, what is the attitude you must have?

Brianne: When I woke up on the first day of the heptathlon, I did the first event which is the hurdles. There, I was just a hurdler. I was focusing on the 100 meter hurdles. After that, I was done. I will go to the next event which is the high jump and I was just focusing on that. So, it is just one event at a time. For example, when the hurdles were over, I did not think about it and I did not criticize about it because there was nothing else I could do. I have to focus on the high jump and how I will jump the highest.

Thomas: Does pressure play a factor in some events like high jump and long jump where you see the performance of other athletes?

Brianne: Yes it does. High jump is an easy event to see how other athletes are doing because the bar is up there and you see them jump. However for long jump, shot put and events like that, you can miss their attempts because you might be talking to your coach. If you have missed it, you don’t really know what happened. In high jump, it’s easy to see that they are still in and they have cleared the bar. High jump is definitely a little bit more mental.

Thomas: Is the throwing events like javelin and shot put more challenging for the typical athlete in heptathlon?

Brianne: Not necessarily, some heptathletes can be great at javelin and shot put. You can have some heptathletes who are really good at one and they really suck at the other one. This is interesting. Some people could think that if she throws far the shot put, she must be strong. So, how come she cannot throw the javelin! Well, it’s two different events and the feeling is not the same. There was one heptathlete from Greece who was throwing the javelin ridiculous far and she was only 5 feet 2 inches. You can have some big people who can throw the shot put very far and some they can’t. It really depends on the understanding of the event and be able to use the momentum in your body to be able to throw it well.

Thomas: We can see that the heptathlon pushes the athlete to her limits. Did you feel fatigue after all the events that you do in two days? And is it like on purpose that you finished with an 800 meter run?

Brianne (says on a happy tone): I think we finished with the 800 meter race because it is the event which will drain you the most. So, the officials don’t want to put it on the first day. I cannot imagine running an 800 meters and after having to do high jump. There is no way you can do that well. It is also an event which brings a climax. You can see the competitors fight for their positioning during two laps. So, it is exciting!

As far as finishing the heptathlon, it is not really exhausting. I mean you are really well trained, especially going to the Olympics. I think the hard part is the mental aspect and the schedule at the Olympics. The first event is at 9 o’clock in the morning which means you have to wake up at 04:30. Your last event is at 21:30. However, you have a big break in the middle of the day like six or seven hours. A part of you says: “Just let’s get over with it and let’s do the two other events”. So, it is mentally tiring because of the long days.

If I had to compete over seven days, meaning one event a day, I will still find that mentally fatiguing. It is the stress, the worrying and the anticipation which goes along… It is why many heptathletes would say why can we just not do four events in a row and get it done. And why we have a seven hour break where you think and wonder if I am going to do well? You are anxious and you are anticipating it. That’s the fatiguing part because concerning the physical part we were training a ridiculous amount of time. For example, I took 20 high jumps and I did 30 shot put throws in practice. In competition, I took three throws and nine high jumps. It’s more tiring in practices. In competition, it is more about the stress of the whole environment.


Thomas: As an athlete who competed in heptathlon, did you give a special attention to your nutrition?

Brianne: I put a lot of emphasis on nutrition. I worked with a sport physiologist who did a great job helping me find my plan and especially what I should eat during competition in foreign countries which is a big deal. For example, competing in London, United Kingdom at the Olympics was much different than competing in Beijing, China at the World championships. In London, you are able to find easily rice, chicken, vegetables and whatever you are usually eating, but in Beijing they had fish sandwiches that where seating in a cooler for three days. You know you will not eat that. So, it was a lot about being prepared and bringing your own snacks. When you are seating at the stadium for 13 hours in a day, you have to pack your own food. You cannot rely on those fish sandwiches. It is very much about what works for you, avoiding what makes your stomach upset, are you eating enough food and all those things.

Thomas: You started a website about food. What is the main objective of it and where did the idea come from?

Brianne: Yes. Actually, I started this website when I was an athlete but when I retired with my husband I turned it into a nutritional website. It’s really simple. I feel a lot of people are making diet which can be very stressful and confusing because there are so many. So, I wanted to share with the readers who many of them are everyday recreational runners what I knew and what worked for me as an athlete. How do you fuel for a marathon or a triathlon? What are the best things to eat and what I should not eat? In brief, I just wanted to share that knowledge with people and keep them updated in what Ashton and I have going on in our life.

Thomas: What are the key things that you will recommend for a sportsman and sportswoman concerning nutrition?

Brianne: I would say the number one thing is what is working on for you. There is not a one size fits all, meaning that what works for me would not necessarily work for Joe who is a football player. It is pretty much an individual approach and I think you have to experiment with the different foods. An important thing is to listen to your body. Does that thing make me feel heavy? Does it upset my stomach or does it make me feel good? You have to try hard to eat healthy and to be organized. You have to make your snacks. Listen to yourself. If it works for you, that’s great. If not, find what does.

Thomas: Thanks Brianne for the interview. It was really interesting to know more about heptathlon.

Brianne: No problem! Thank you.