World University Games 400m hurdles champion and Olympic fourth-placer Thomas Barr offers some sage words of advice.
Work on technique. I am coached by Hayley and Drew Harrison. Hayley is my main technical coach for stride pattern and technique. I am a decent – although far from exceptional – 400m flat runner, but Hayley always makes sure I can make up for my lack of speed by being the most technically efficient runner I can be.
There is no need to be afraid. No matter the size or scale of the event, you are still competing over the same 400m distance over ten hurdles. There is some pressure, of course, but these days it no longer overwhelms me.
I recall at the 2014 European Championships, I was tipped for a medal but I didn’t make it through the semi-finals. As cheesy as it may sound, I live by the code ‘you don’t lose, you either win or you learn’ and I learned from that experience to believe I deserved to be there – competing against the very best on the international stage.
My parents are my biggest influence and they told me to enjoy the sport, that there is a life outside athletics and that no matter what happens, the sun will still rise the next day and there will still be something to look forward to.
It is important to run your own race. Stride pattern is so important in the 400m hurdles and I generally run 13 strides to [hurdle] six and 14 home on a good day. Yet everyone runs the race differently, so it is about running your own race and finding your own path.
I don’t have a signature dish and I’m not going to bring out a cook book soon, but my most important learnings are timing and meal portions sizes. I discovered I was eating far too much for my evening meal and not eating enough protein. As an athlete, I would say it is important to get that right balance between protein and carbohydrates.
Tip for surviving the athletics circuit
Enjoy it. It has taken me time to reach the top level, so I enjoy every second of it. I say to embrace it, because it won’t last forever.
I remember when I first raced in the Diamond League, Felix Sanchez came up to me, shook my hand and said, ‘welcome to the big league’. It was a comment that sent a shiver down my spine. Since that moment, every time I’ve competed in a top tier hurdles competition, I’ve always made sure I’ve enjoyed the experience.
I’m far from a fashionista and I often just wear what is comfortable – unless it says semi-formal or black tie, that is the only time I adhere to fashion rules.
What keeps me going is to have a good group of training partners. I find it hard to train on my own, so to have a group of training partners with similar goals and ability to me is really important.
I draw upon three guys in the group – two of whom have great speed and one with very good endurance. We are also all great friends.
Social media tip
Anything posted on social media can be seen anywhere in the world, so I am very careful what I post.
To perform at my best, I need to be as relaxed and confident. Some athletes prefer to get very psyched. I prefer to be relaxed and to enjoy the moment.
I am an avid driver and spend a lot of time on the road. I used to suffer from road rage but over time I discovered that passing the car ahead might only allow me to reach my destination 30secs quicker. So now when I get in a car, I cruise along and get to my destination when I get there.
I like to look for someone who is laidback, good fun and on the same wavelength.
About five or six years ago I experienced my first snowboarding trip and ever since then I’ve been hooked. It is so much fun and a great way to keep active. I would never go back to a sun holiday. I would urge anyone to try it.