An interview with Katherine Grainger CBE

Katherine Grainger smiling holding her Olympic medal

Looking for professional advice on your training and race day tactics?

We caught up with Katherine Grainger CBE, British rower and 2012 Olympic Gold medallist, to find out how she juggles training with everyday life and her recommendations for a perfect competition.

How do you juggle your training schedule with your other commitments, such as writing your PhD?

I'll admit it, it's not always easy! But I had two things that were important to me - my PhD and my Olympic training. I was really motivated to do both as they were both things i took pride in. It helps when they are things you have signed up for and want to do. I was aware of deadlines and had to be very efficient in everything I did. The more you take on the better you get at not wasting time and doing things effectively. Working smarter, not necessarily harder.

Do you have any advice for getting to sleep the night before a big race?

This isn't an easy one! Everyone is different but before a big race I'll make sure everything is done that can be done for the next day, so your kit is laid out, your bag packed as much as it can be, a note left to yourself if you need to add in any last minute things. I'll know where I need to be when and how I'm getting there. Once you know everything has been done that can be, then it's a little easier to switch off. Then do what you enjoy to relax, it might be watching tv or listening to music or reading a book. And if when you get to bed and you still can't sleep then try not to let it worry you. The worst thing to do is to get stressed about the fact that you are not sleeping. One bad night of sleep doesn't need to negatively affect your performance, but getting worked up about it might.

How early do you get there on race day?

This totally depends on what race it is and the timings. Go early enough to avoid any potential traffic problems and enough time to stretch or find where you need to register or drop your bags. But don't give yourself too many hours of extra time, because you'll get exhausted from the nervous energy that can come from waiting too long.

Do you have any pre-race rituals?

I don't have any rituals as such, but I will have habits that I go through which are reassuring and remind me that I'm about to race.

How do you calm your nerves before a big race?

You need to accept that there will be nerves, and that they are not a bad thing. They are part of performance. But I try not to let them take over my thinking. Breathe deep and stay focussed on the things you need to do. 

What thought goes through your head on the start line?

Every race has been different. Ideally I keep it simple and positive.

When you fly out of the start, how do you control yourself into an even pace so that you don’t burn out too early?

All the training should help me to know the pace I need to be at in a race, but of course the adrenaline can bring in tension or extra speed, especially at the start. So I force myself to be very aware of how I've started and adjust things if I need to.


Do you visualise anything to push yourself harder? What keeps you going when it hurts so bad you can’t image going on!

Sometimes it helps to think about how much training you've done and that gives you confidence to dig a bit deeper - this day is what all those painful training days have been for. Sometimes tapping into personal thoughts can help, maybe about special family or friends. I am lucky in that I've generally always been part of a team and I enjoy feeling a responsibility to those other team mates and doing my absolute best for them.  And remembering how much it means to you to complete the race.

Did you have someone that you aspired to be and what affect did that have on getting where you are?

I have been inspired by many many people throughout my career - fellow athletes, coaches, family, friends, trailblazers - having people to look up to and admire helps to believe in what might be possible. 

Is there anything particular you treat yourself to after a big competition?

That's the best thing about finishing competition sometimes - you are justified to eat and drink all the things that you've tried to avoid in the lead up!  I've always loved the relaxed satisfaction after a competition of sitting around with your teammates and sharing stories over a drink of how the day went.  The mood is still alive with adrenaline until slowly an inevitable wave of satisfied exhaustion catches up with everyone. 


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