The Welsh canoe slalom champion discusses the importance of setting goals and planning your time effectively.
Raise Your Game: What was it that attracted you to canoeing?
Toby Jones: I started from an early age with my family and I really enjoyed it. I moved to Wales in 1999 and met my coach Richard Lee who was head of Bala Canoe club. It really kicked off from there and I really started training when I was 11-years-old.
28 June 1990
Canoe slalom K1M (Mens kayak)
- Two times Welsh Champion (2008, 2009)
- 2nd - British Open Championships (2008)
- Bronze - Junior European Championships, Slovenia (2008)
- 9th - Junior Pre-World Championships, Czech Republic (2007)
- 4th - Australian Youth Olympic Festival, Sydney (2007)
RYG: The slalom event is an ultimate test of skill. What skills do you need to have?
TJ: It's really important to have good reaction times because the water is so unpredictable and this means you have to change your plan.
It's also especially tough going from an artificial course to a natural course. An artificial course is very unpredictable and is usually bigger, faster water. The style of your paddling has to change often to accommodate that, so you have to be really focused.
RYG: What does a typical weeks training involve?
Toby: To be competitive you need to be training two to three times a day, six days a week for many years. My week comprises of three gym sessions, two aerobic sessions and the rest of my training week is in the kayak either working on technique or fitness. It depends on the time of the year and what races are coming up.
RYG: How do you balance your time between a busy training schedule and your education?
TJ: It has been difficult at times. My advice would be to use the time you have effectively rather than going out with your mates and just watching TV. You have to be strict with yourself.
My coach also provides me with a training programme and I build my own timetable from that to plan when I can fit my college work in. It's also important to schedule in social time so you can relax and get away from it all
RYG: How do you stay motivated on rainy days when you are feeling tired and you have to go training?
TJ: It is tough. I make goals with my coach and I also make my own goals. I'll have a goal for each week and each session.
RYG: How do you keep going when your muscles are really starting to ache and your body's crying out to stop?
TJ: It's realising that there's a lot of other people out there on that course that are doing the same thing and pushing themselves. You've got to go that one step further.
RYG: How do your preparations differ between an individual and team event?
TJ: I like working on my own to be honest, but it's quite enjoyable as a change to go into a team and motivate each other. It also puts a bit more pressure on you to perform for each other.
RYG: How important is a healthy diet in fuelling your body for your sport?
TJ: With the Welsh team I had the opportunity to go to Banger University to learn from nutritionists about the right foods for sport and how to keep yourself hydrated.
Diet affects the general way I feel and therefore the way I train. You need to make sure you eat carbohydrates for energy and protein for repair.
RYG: Do you have any pre-race preparations?
TJ: The night before I often try to eat carbohydrates, such as pasta and spaghetti bolognese, and then on the day of the race I make a little pot of pasta, eat fruit and I like Jaffa cakes (laughs!)
RYG: You are currently the Welsh Champion, how does it feel to represent your country?
TJ: It's a tremendous honour and a privilege. When you come back with a medal, you have something to show for all the hard training you've done and it makes it all worth it.
RYG: How do you deal with setbacks and disappointment?
TJ: I guess it just motivates you to train harder for the next competition. For me it's a matter of focus, which I am working to improve on at the moment.
RYG: Small mistakes are punished severely in your sport, how do you deal with that pressure?
TJ: It is hard to carry on and finish what you have started. Small mistakes are often amplified in the water and just make it a massive problem. If you miss a gate you are penalised 50 seconds and there's no chance of getting back from that really. It can be a high pressured sport.
RYG: How do you deal with nerves?
TJ: I don't tend to get nervous until I'm on the start line and then I focus on my breathing to help me relax and concentrate on the task.
I also use visualisation, picturing the whole course from start to finish in my head. I go over every stroke and every break out, but it's also important not to get to attached to a plan in your head because that might have to change.
RYG: Are you given a trial run?
TJ: The course is set up the night before and they usually have demo runners, which are often ex-paddlers, to do the course and you get to watch from the side on how they do it. You don't get a practice run, but you do get two runs and they take your best time.
RYG: What are your goals for the future?
TJ: I want to make the final at the 2012 Olympics, and win a medal at the next 2016 Olympics. There's a lot of short term goals leading up to that as well.
RYG: How would you encourage young people to take up canoeing?
TJ: Canoeing is a great way to keep fit and to meet new people. Go for it, find a local canoe club and enjoy paddling!
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