Photo: Sophie Nina Mortimore | Jess (right) with teammate Vicky
What’s life like as an athlete gearing up for the Commonwealth Games? Medal hopeful and one half of England’s #1 ranked women’s beach volleyball team, Jessica Grimson, knows all about late-night training sessions and early mornings, which up until recently she’s had to squeeze in alongside her fulltime job as a sports therapist.
With the Commonwealth Games just weeks away, 27-year-old Jess and teammate Vicky Palmer are preparing to fly out to a Team England holding camp in Australia. Here, she shares some insights into what goes on behind the scenes.
The idea of competing in the Commonwealth Games is still all very surreal, but when we were in Fort Lauderdale last month at the 2018 Beach Volleyball Major Series, we saw their stadium and the set-up and it hit me. The stadium, the crowd, that atmosphere – not that I need to be any more excited, but I got a glimpse of what it might be like!
While we were away it was amazing to be able to focus on training twice a day, two extra gym sessions, two extra cardio sessions, our nutrition, and to see how our life will be in the Commonwealth Games athletes’ village. We had the opportunity to train with Japan, Austria, Switzerland, Thailand and some top American teams, which was a huge stepping stone for us, as when we’re at home we can’t find the competition we need and have to train with the boys’ team.
We definitely made a lot of progress and we’re feeling very confident with where we’re at. I don’t think we could have done much more, preparation-wise.
Vicky and I are a self-funded team and always have been, which means it’s down to us to pay for everything from flights to hotels and training camps. We’ve always had to fit our training in alongside work, often not getting home from a session until 11pm. I work fulltime as a sports therapist and Vicky works in the police force, but now we’ve both totally stopped working. It was very scary – a big step for us – but it was absolutely the right decision. We don’t want to come back from Australia with any regrets.
Vicky is on a sabbatical leave so can come back when we return from the Games, whereas I went to zero hours. I worked a few days here and there in January but have no guarantee that I will have a job when I get back. I hope that I don’t need a job, but with funding as it is at the moment, I’m not optimistic.
Mornings: Breakfast and training session #1
Our days at the moment are totally geared around training – from the time we go to bed to working out when we need to get up, making sure that we’re awake 3 hours before we have training, and eating/hydrating two hours before.
At the moment a typical breakfast is poached eggs on sourdough bread, avocado, coffee and orange juice.
We then head to practice around an hour before training to ensure we have time to warm-up and prepare. We have at least one court session a day. In the UK we train at an indoor training facility in Bournemouth, but it’s not heated and sometimes it’s colder inside than it is outside! It’s basically a big tarpaulin cover with three sand courts inside. We’ve played in there when it’s been -3, but it’s not great in winter so we travel to places like Prague, where facilities are heated, for training and competitions.
I’m a defender, Vicky’s a blocker, so I run a lot of back-court. It’s important for me to be really quick, really agile – whatever comes over Vicky’s head is mine, basically! In pre-season, training includes heavy lifting and cardio on the bike at the gym. We also do sprints. One session might be 10 sprints where you go max-out for 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, ten times.
After around two hours of training we cool down, stretch, have a protein shake and head back to fuel for the next session. Depending on when the next session is, we may have a nap (well, Vicky will, as I can’t sleep in the day!)
Lunch: Time to refuel
My diet has improved a lot since I was younger, when I never used to eat fruit and veg and always lived off carbs. Now, we have to record every single thing that enters our mouth, whether it’s food, drink, or supplements, and that makes you more conscious of what you’re eating. Also the fact you’re in a bikini for most of the year is an incentive to eat well.
Currently my diet heavily consists of protein and carbs; I eat a lot of lentils, chickpeas, sweet potato, spinach, chicken and turkey.
Afternoon: Training, prehab and rehab
The process for the afternoon is exactly the same as the morning, making sure we eat two hours before training again.
In pre-season we have four programmed gym sessions a week – two sprint/cardio sessions on the bike and then two weight sessions. We do a lot of Olympic lifting, squatting and deadlifts.
During summer or when the weather’s good we do a lot of running on the sand. Beach volleyball games are much shorter than indoor volleyball (ours typically take 45-minutes), but you’re guaranteed to touch the ball once or twice every single rally, so you’re always moving or anticipating. I like the responsibility of being on the sand because there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t blame anything on anyone else.
I do a lot of prehab and rehab, including stability work, as I’m prone to getting injured. My body’s not built for sport with all the injuries I’ve had – I’m constantly patching it up. I have to be strict with myself, as I have a tendency to overtrain, so I need to make sure I only have things like yoga, pilates or flexibility sessions rather than extra weight sessions.
Evening: Prep kit, eat and collapse into bed
When we’re back from the second session we shower, eat, have a stretch and foam roll. In the last few months, evenings have been about preparing kit for the next day and sending emails about sponsorship (Rokill and Penfold Verrall are our major sponsors and we’re also sponsored by Tan Cream, and Celek and Celek), or booking flights.
Recently we had the Commonwealth Games kitting-out day. That was pretty cool. We went into a fitting room and tried one of everything, got sized by our own personal shopper and then had to check-out with our suitcase! We got home and took everything back out just to see the magnitude of stuff we’d been given. It was amazing and having all our kit with our flag on was a very proud moment. We can’t wait to wear it at the Games next month!
In the evening we’re knackered and go to bed early to make sure we get enough sleep. We’re quite boring – in America we were getting to bed between 8-9pm!
You can follow Team Palmer-Grimson’s progress and training for the Commonwealth Games via their website: www.palmergrimson.com or by following www.twitter.com/palmergrimson, www.instagram.com/palmergrimson and www.twitter.com/jess_grimson.