Tough workouts build mental strength for athletes in multiple events


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If there is one thing immediately obvious about the Iowa track and field women’s sprint group, it is that the members are tough, both physically and mentally.

Many of associate head coach Clive Roberts’ athletes, including MonTayla Holder, Elexis Guster, Lake Kwaza, and Brittany Brown compete at a high level in three or more events, testing both their physical capabilities as well as their mental strength.

Roberts teaches mental toughness early in the season through high-intensity workouts in all of the tracksters’ events. 

“We just try to put a good base earlier in the season,” he said. “We’ve got kids in the group who may come and do four events at the Big Ten Championships, so we have to put a good base earlier in the year at a high intensity for that. We just try to get them really fit early in the year.”

Some days, the workouts push the athletes to their limits — vomiting and tears included.

While this could be shocking to an outsider, the Hawkeyes buy into Roberts’ philosophy.

“It does get tiring, because our workouts are longer than other people’s … it’s more workouts but mentally, it makes you tougher and physically, it makes you tougher,” said Guster, a 2014 Big Ten champion in the 400 meters. “There are those days that you are tired, though.”

All the workouts prepare the runners for competition, and so far this season, they seem to be working.

Brown is ranked No. 8 nationally in the 200-meters, Holder has the 12th spot in the 400-meter hurdles, and the 400-meter relay consisting of Holder, Guster, Kwaza, and Brown is tied for 18th. The quartet is also is also ranked No. 21 in the 1,600-meter relay.

In order to make sure the women are ready to go for each event during the meets, the coaches stress the importance of dialing in to one event at a time.

“They just have to be able to flip the switch,” Director of Track and Field Joey Woody said.

“Anytime that you’re changing events, you can’t get caught up in your other events. You have to focus on that event and be really driven on that, then move on once it’s over.”

It’s that same mental toughness Roberts teaches that allows his athletes to compete at a high level in each of their events and focus solely on the task at hand.

Holder, a junior, noted that it can be tough to switch from one event to another, but the cross-training the team does between speed and endurance helps.

While Roberts’ workouts push the women he coaches to their limits, it’s part of his larger coaching philosophy to build the mental strength needed to switch between events.

“What I try to tell my girls is that at the end of the day, most of the kids that you will compete against have the same physical makeup,” Roberts said. “It’s the ones who are able to be more mentally tough, who are willing to endure, who are willing to put their bodies in places that maybe not a lot are willing to do. Those are the ones that are usually going to be standing at the top of the podium.

“We talk a lot about being tough.“

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