I’m thrilled to have current Heptathlon world champion and European indoor pentathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson as today’s interview! As a heptathlete, Katarina competes across seven different events – 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m sprint, long jump, javelin and 800m track – and is currently gearing up for this summer’s rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In this quick-fire Q&A, 28-year-old KJT, who is a bulk ambassador, fields my questions on the emotional rollercoaster that is preparing for an on-off-on Olympics, the challenges of training across seven events during lockdown, and the importance of goal-setting.
#1. In the last 11 months, you’ve experienced multiple lockdowns, 2020 Olympic cancellation and training facility closures. How has this affected your motivation levels?
As someone who is very goal-orientated, it has been really tough to stay motivated after the cancellation of all major championships this last year. As athletes, we work towards the dates given to us, so when we are left in limbo, it’s easy to lose the motivation to train just for the sake of it.
#2. You’re currently in lockdown in the UK. How much have you had to adapt your usual training?
Normally, for 10 months of the year, I live and train in France. When the lockdown hit and it was apparent we couldn’t get onto a track or in a gym to do normal training, I thought it would be better to be at home with my family [in Liverpool], instead of isolated in my apartment out there.
I’m rehabbing at the moment, so my training is fairly specific to my recovery. In the first lockdown, I had limited access to a deserted track but had plenty of opportunities to do hill running and could do the workouts I’d usually do in a gym from home. What I struggled with was the technical work – the heptathlon is seven different events, so keeping them all up to standard was tough. I would send videos to my coach and he would tell me what to work on from afar.
#3. What does a typical week of training currently look like for you?
Eat, sleep, train! Haha, but seriously, that is about it. Routine is so important and consistently makes life easier. I wake up at the same time, try to keep consistency in my days, whether that’s training at a certain time or scheduling my meals and bulk protein shakes throughout the day. With so much uncertainty, it does help having a little bit of certainty in my daily routine!
#4. Can you detail one of your favourite training sessions right now?
My favourite training sessions are the technical sessions, where I’m working on changing or refining the particular event I’m working on. My favourite event is high jump, so my favourite session would be short approach high jump! Otherwise, my go-to ‘workout’ type would be Saturday hill runs. We normally do it as a big group and it always feels like hell, but there’s always a sense of achievement by ending the week with something nasty.
#5. How important is goal-setting to you in terms of your mental and physical performance?
Goal-setting is everything to me. At the start of each year, I sit down with my coach and we discuss what we want to achieve that year, and the best way for us to get there. In between those big goals, there are weekly training goals, which could be about technique or about getting to a certain point to push on. Even then I break it down to daily goals to get myself best prepared for the session. I write down what works and how I feel each time I train, and then I try to work on that in the next session.
#6. Ahead of competitions such as the Olympics, what mental strategies do you use to stay focused and calm under pressure? E.g. Do you step away from social media or have any pre-event rituals?
I don’t step away from social media but I step away from reading the written press, which tends to build up the stakes or a rivalry for the general public.
I stay focussed and calm because I know that I’m literally the most ready I’ll ever be for this moment. It’s what I’ve been preparing for and what all the hard work has been for over the last year – this is where I can enjoy the results!
It’s not a ritual, it’s more of a habit, but I now get to the track maybe half an hour or so before I need to do anything. I lay down, listen to music and just chill out. I used to try and stay in bed as long as I could and get to the track with a minute to spare before I needed to warm up, and I used to rush things. But now, I get there early and take my time.
#7. How do you fuel your training and has your nutritional approach changed over the years?
I use protein supplements from bulk to prep my body pre-training and to help my muscles recover post-training. Pure Whey Protein, in Vanilla, is a staple and I love their Macro Munch bars, they’re really tasty and great for busy training days. As I’ve developed as an athlete, I’ve paid more attention to my nutrition and over the last couple of years, since I’ve been working with bulk, it’s been great having access to great products and a great team to help me understand which products are right for me, my goals and objectives. I know the team at bulk are making products that fuel my performance so it’s one less thing for me to worry about.
#8. Looking to the Olympics in Japan this summer, how are you feeling about it?
All the uncertainty around the games has definitely taken its toll. It feels like I’ve been waiting forever for this moment, but I just want to fast-forward to August now. I’m excited and raring to get on that start line!
#9. What are your favourite items of kit for training?
I always have a cricket ball for the self-massage technique, it doesn’t feel like a spa massage but gets the job done! I’ve also always got my trusty bulk Shaker Bottle with me, so that I’m staying hydrated as I train.
#10. Who are you sponsored by right now?
I am an ambassador for sports and active nutrition brand, bulk. I’ve been a fan of their products for years, so it felt like a really natural partnership. I love the variety and quality of their products, from traditional protein powders to vitamins, minerals and health foods like nut butter – they help to keep my body fuelled. There is also a huge focus on sustainability within the company with a pledge to be 100% plastic-free by the end of the year. This is so important in the industry, so I’m proud to be involved with a company that is so focused on looking after the planet!
Katarina Johnson-Thompson is a bulk athlete. Visit www.bulk.com/uk for all your active nutrition needs, from protein and sports nutrition products to health and wellbeing supplements – there’s something for everyone, no matter the goal.
You can follow Katarina’s training and Olympic journey via her social media: www.instagram.com/johnsonthompson, www.twitter.com/johnsonthompson and www.facebook.com/johnsonthompson. You can visit Katarina’s website at www.k-j-t.com.