Amy Hunt column: Training in Dubai, Olympic event decisions and the late-night essay grind

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt, the fastest under-18 sprinter in the world, hopes to make the Great Britain team for the Tokyo Olympics this summer. The 18-year-old has another challenge, however. She is studying English at Cambridge University. This is the third of her BBC Sport columns as she juggles sport with student life. You can read her first here. And her second here.

Spikes, kit and recovery drink. Usually it is pretty easy to pack for training. But it was so cold at the start of this year, we needed to add a snow shovel to our kit list.

My coach Joe McDonnell and I had decided to not race indoors, considering the difficulty of travel at the moment, our focus on outdoors and a few other factors.

With this in mind, we started a new block of training at the start of the year which was very much skewed towards speed endurance. This meant lots of runs of 150 metres, 200 metres, 250 metres and even longer if Joe was feeling particularly horrible.

I train at the National Performance Institute at Loughborough University, which has a superb track as well as an indoor 110-metre straight. The indoor facilities are particularly useful during the winter but as it started to snow every day, it soon became clear that we would encounter some problems.

Lots of athletes and staff went outside to shovel the snow out of the inside lane but as it got cold again overnight, it would freeze over and the shovelled snow would turn into ice, making it even more dangerous on the track.

The prospect of warm-weather training suddenly became very real.

I had planned to go to South Africa, but coronavirus restrictions had meant that this wasn’t feasible from December. So, like a lot of British athletes, I quickly put together plans to go to Dubai – being practically one of the only places in the world still open to travel and with the right facilities and conditions for training.

Amu Hunt warm-weather training in Dubai
Amy Hunt swapped sub-zero temperatures in the UK for warm-weather training in Dubai

It’s difficult to describe all the advantages that you get from warm-weather training. It isn’t just going from dodging ice to training in a crop top and shorts.

As someone who has asthma, it is so much easier and less painful on my lungs, meaning I quite often found myself pushing myself beyond limits I had in the UK as it wouldn’t result in an asthma attack.

But for every athlete, you find that your muscles recover faster, your repetitions are higher quality, every aspect of your training is improved.

It is something that lots of other sportspeople take advantage of and was considered and allowed as part of the government’s latest lockdown restrictions.

All British athletes were kept separate from everyone else as part of our safety measures, but Formula 1 driver Pierre Gasly was staying nearby.

My sister Holly was heartbroken that I didn’t come back with any tales of the Love Island stars who were out there at the time. I had to tell her that we only went between our hotel and the track – I don’t think that was part of a reality star’s itinerary!

Decision time over distances

So much of this season is still up in the air, but one thing I have decided is that I will be focusing on 200m as I try to make the Olympics. Last year, I concentrated on 60m and 100m, but having run the Olympic qualifying time over 200m back in 2019, making Tokyo in that event is my goal for this year.

Last year was one of learning for me and my coach. The transition from junior to senior is one that is beginning to be spoken about but remains a hugely complex issue. With youthful naivety and nothing to lose, senior races can be the chance to step up to the highest stage. But it’s hard to put a finger on why races in the bigger leagues are so different.

For one, just being on the start line in humbling. Going from pre-race favourite with a middle lane to an outsider in lane seven or eight is a huge shift physically but more importantly, mentally. With this and lots of other issues in mind, Joe and I utilised last year to get used to being out of my depth in events that weren’t my favourites.

Last season helped me to develop my start and high-end speed. This year, the focus has been on maintaining my strength in the final 50 metres of the 200m, where keeping your form and technique under fatigue can win or lose you races.

Amy Hunt lifting weights in Dubai
Hunt has increased her gym work as she switches back to focus on the 200m and qualification for the Tokyo Games

It has meant a big increase in gym work. And while I really enjoy most of it, I have to say I’m not a huge fan of upper-body work.

There’s lots of speculation over whether the Olympics will go ahead this summer. And it’s definitely hard to ignore these stories when you are so invested in going and they pop up all over your social media. But you have to be able to quickly scroll past and not engage with them.

You can’t afford to spend time worrying about what is conjecture, not when your job is to train as hard, as smart and as effectively as possible.

There is often a slew of negative press preceding the Olympics. This time around is certainly different and the challenges we face are more extreme but, as athletes, it’s definitely best to try to avoid the media speculation.

Remote learning

Since coming back from Dubai, I have been back at home in Newark, continuing my English degree at Cambridge remotely.

It has been lovely being able to escape from everything on family walks, and sometimes I can even convince my sister Holly, who is studying for her GCSEs, to bring me a coffee.

With my dad also working from home, my mum, who is furloughed, says it is a really weird experience to walk around the house and hear three separate video calls going on.

This term involves studying for the paper focused on the period from 1500 to 1700, and I am really, really enjoying it. I have to say that I didn’t really know what to expect with this term, especially having not done History at A Level. But it’s proving to be absolutely fascinating.

It makes the work and reading so much easier to get stuck into. The hours spent on Zoom and the late nights that slip into early mornings as I write are definitely worth it.

It is sad to be missing out on all the other aspects of university life. I miss the social side of college so much, as well as library access and the city itself. What I wouldn’t give to be cycling into town for a coffee and catch up with a friend right now.

But as a first-year student I haven’t really known any different. All of my teaching has been online since I started uni which definitely makes it easier to cope with because I don’t feel as if I’ve lost something and I can look forward to supervisions in person at some point in the future.

I promised myself this term I would try to keep up with leisure reading, to give myself a break from studying. I raced through Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given and also started The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller out in Dubai, but I have come to a complete standstill with it with all the late-night essay writing.

I have found myself making more progress with American legal TV drama Suits though, even if I’m very late to it. My boyfriend and I are racing through the series, albeit from separate houses, as it’s very easy to watch and relax to. Which is probably what I need most sometimes, after a gruelling 8am session and an afternoon spent with Renaissance poetry!

Amy Hunt's home set-up for learning
Hunt’s home set-up with learning for her English degree continuing at home

Amy Hunt was speaking to BBC Sport’s Mike Henson.

Find out more about our Generation Next athletes

The BBC Sport Generation Next 2021 line-up
Hunt is one of seven athletes who will be part of BBC Sport’s ‘Generation Next’ along with (left to right) Delicious Orie, Karam Singh, Kyra Edwards, Elynor Backstedt, Tegan Vincent-Cooke and Ruth Mwandumba.

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