Training in a freezer with Jenn Suhr

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When we interviewed US Olympic pole vault champion Jenn Suhr earlier this year she told us about her quirky training facility in Riga, New York state. The freezing base has helped propel her to the world indoor pole vault record, so SPIKES braved the cold to find out more…

Do-it-yourself training

"My husband and coach, Rick [Suhr] built the facilities over a dozen years ago as a means for training out of the wind and the rain. Originally, it was only built to train in the summer and not the winter months, but over time it was used all the year around as football players and vaulters started to use it.

"It is positioned about 200 feet away from the house, in our backyard. It is made of two connected Quonset huts [semi-circular corrugated iron army-style huts], a bit like an aircraft hangar.

"One part is like a hallway, which is where the runway is, before it opens out into a bigger room. That’s about 20 feet [6.1m] high from where the pole vault bed is positioned. It is only about 15 feet [4.6m] either side of the pole vault pad, so there is not a lot of room."

Braving the cold

"In the winter months, the temperature in the facility can get down to around the teens in fahrenheit [around -10°C]. We heat the room with two propane heaters, mind I swear that it has gotten colder over the years.

"I’ve learned to layer up. I jump in spandex leggings with shorts over the top. I wear long socks and also a long shirt. The great challenge is heating your body up. I don’t think you ever officially warm up, or break into a sweat. The danger is picking up injuries because your body is never warm.

"The runway is also a lot slower than a competition runway, so I often train on smaller poles than I do in competition. So often in a competition I face timing issues when I jump. I always joke that I feel much faster on the runway at a comp because I’ve shed the pounds of clothes I wear during training."

Home-made comforts

"I have thought about training elsewhere but home is home, it is where I feel comfortable. I am able to concentrate very well in that building and during a meeting I’m able to transfer that feeling. I guess, though, the winter seems to last forever and each year it takes longer and longer for the spring and the summer to hit."