Photo Credit: Neil Shearer Photography
28-year old British athlete, Kimberley Murray, was a long-jump Olympic prospect until a hip injury prompted her to take the leap into the adrenalin-fuelled world of bob Skeleton. With a new Olympic dream in the pipeline, she’s now gunning for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Ahead of jetting to Vancouver (where she is now), Kim gave me an insider look at pre-season life as a skeleton athlete in Lillehammer, including what she gets up to when she isn’t hurtling down the ice at more than 120 kilometres an hour…
My year is split into distinct halves. Between April and October I live in Bath and train at the University with the rest of the British Skeleton programme athletes. I have a flat in Bath which I rent with my boyfriend and we try to be a normal couple! Although the team doesn’t slide during the summer months, we don’t just chill out and wait for winter – we train hard in the gym and on the track to improve the ‘push’ aspect of skeleton. It can sometimes feel harder than sliding.
Early October we pack up and leave the UK for colder climates, usually starting with pre-season in Lillehammer (where I’m writing this). I’m away for eight weeks to begin with and travel with 101kg of luggage! There is no skeleton track in the UK so we have no ‘home’ base over winter and life is a bit nomadic, as we travel from race to race or to training camps. When we’re away we stay in a variety of types of accommodation. I currently live in a wooden cabin with two of my teammates and next stop is the athlete village from the Vancouver Olympic games. North American hotels are usually the most comfortable as you usually get a double bed! Over the winter, we typically train 5-6 days a week and will have one rest day or a travel day; it can be relentless flying or driving across continents.
Morning – sled prep, visualisation and warm-up
I usually wake around 7am as that’s my regular time – even when I don’t need to be up that early, I wake up. It’s really annoying as I’m not particularly a morning person! Breakfast is the first order of the day. Here in Lillehammer it’s a short walk to the hotel and restaurant so a couple of layers of clothing are needed. I try to eat a decent breakfast (harder on the days when I am nervous) and favour eggs and toast as this is a good combination of protein and carbohydrate.
If there’s time before training, I’ll try to do some mobility and yoga in my room as there isn’t always enough time to fit everything in at the track. We typically slide five days in a row and will also gym or sprint three of those days. Sliding can be any time of the day; our first runs this year were at 10:45pm! I like to slide in the morning; we’ll leave for the track so that we arrive about an hour before the session to allow for sled preparations and warming up. I have quite a strong routine for the top of the track which includes sled preparation, visualisation, warming up and getting kitted up. A sliding session can take a couple of hours even though you only actually slide for 2-3 minutes; it depends how many people are sliding in your session. On race days, it can be half the day.
Between runs, we usually get feedback from our coaches, make our notes, eat and prepare for the next run. The time usually goes pretty quickly. I used to get very nervous before sliding but so far this year it’s been much better. There are always some nerves – after all, I’m about to descend an icy water slide on a small sled with my chin inches from the ice at 120+ kph! A skeleton run consists of the push and the drive; and the quickest top-to-bottom time wins. A smooth, fast run is very exhilarating whilst a rough one is pretty horrid; you get plenty of both types! The push is really important as it provides your initial velocity; it’s usually around 14 steps [of sprinting] depending on which track you’re at. Every track is different.
Midday – lunch!
Food is important for me as I’m not that heavy compared to some of my teammates and in a gravity-based sport that can be a disadvantage. I also lose weight very easily so I’m constantly having to snack and eat a lot to meet what I’m expending. I like to snack on biltong, banana Soreen and Jaffa Cakes. I also have a soft spot for a fizzy fang (Sainsbury’s – you’re welcome)! We’re almost always fully catered in our accommodation so we’ll usually have a meal at lunch (sometimes a packed lunch), everyone eats together and we all eat whatever is on the menu. It’s not often that there’s much choice. For a fussy eater (me!) it’s sometimes less than ideal and I use Sport Kitchen quick sports meals (think of a high protein pot noodle) if I don’t like the food. This is one of the big differences between summer and winter. When I’m away all my meals are cooked, room cleaned, washing-up done. It saves a lot of time and just makes life easier, so that I can concentrate on performing in training.
Afternoon – Leg training, core and coach catch-up
Afternoons usually include gym, video analysis, sled work and recovery. A double session day can be very full-on, especially if we’re sliding early the next day as there isn’t time to get anything done in the morning. It essentially means we’re scheduled for about 12 hours on these days. Gym sessions on-season are quite short and sweet compared to summer. They take about an hour to an hour and a half including warm-up and core. We predominantly train legs in the gym, as we want to be strong and powerful to push the sled. Core stability is also important when pushing and for steering and form on the sled; our coach usually sneaks some upper body into core too, which is not my favourite.
I tend to use leg press or hip thrust in the gym as my main exercise, but we have to be adaptable depending on what the gym has available. For instance, here the leg press doesn’t have enough space for the weight I need so my coach jumped on to add another 90kg! I’ll usually have a protein and carbohydrate snack (e.g. protein shake with full fat milk) on the way home from the gym, and then it’s back into the sled room to polish runners and check the sled or to meet with my coach and go over the video from the day’s sliding. This allows me to prepare for the next day and go into with goals to keep me focussed. On some camps, we have a physio or soft tissue therapist travelling with us and we can get treatment usually every other day. Everyone always thinks it must be a relaxing experience getting a massage, but these ones are anything but! Due to pushing and the forces on our body from sliding, treatment tends to involve a lot of elbows in hips, glutes and even abdominals to release tight muscles. Sometimes I sweat more on the massage table than at the track!
Evening – Recovery, work and chill
The day usually winds down by 8/8:30pm. It’s great when dinner is the end of the ‘schedule’, but if it’s been a full day sometimes there’s sled work or video to get done post-dinner. Once home (i.e. back in the cabin/room), if there’s free time and I’m being a good athlete I’ll get on a foam roller or do some yoga to recover. Despite skeleton looking like you’re just lying on a sled for the ride, it takes a big toll on the body! I usually put something on Netflix whilst I am doing this as some extra motivation or persuade some of my teammates to join in. I’m currently re-watching the O.C., throwing it back to being a 17-year-old!
Sometimes I have work to catch up on as I run a personal training and coaching business, KimFit, and need to check in on clients or write articles for a magazine. I try to leave this to days off though, as I’m usually quite shattered by this point and need to switch off before bed. I aim for eight hours of sleep, minimum, but going to bed early has never been my forte. I sleep with a cuddly toy bunny called Pancakes; she was a present from my boyfriend and she travels the world with me despite me being 28! And I always finish my day with some HeadSpace; a meditation practise which really helps me relax and fall asleep.
That’s it! Sleep, eat, train repeat!
To keep up with Kim’s skeleton training and competitions, you can follow her on social media via https://www.facebook.com/kimberleymurrayskeleton/?ref=bookmarks, https://twitter.com/KimMurray88, www.instagram.com/kimberleymurray88 and via her website, http://www.kimberleymurray.com/news-blog/.
For more information about Kim’s personal training and coaching, KimFit, visit http://www.thekimfitway.com and follow Kim via www.twitter.com/kimfitbath, www.instagram.com/kimfitbath and www.facebook.com/kimfitskeleton