The women of Vaulter Fit are thoroughly excited to share with you guys an interview with one of our fitness role models, Mary Saxer, a professional pole vaulter from Buffalo, New York. She has jumped a season best of 15’2″ during the 2015 outdoor competition season, which finishes up by the middle of September. As an aspiring 2016 Olympic hopeful, Mary talks training schedule, diet, motivation, advice, and much more in her interview with Vaulter Fit! To learn more about Mary, check out her website!
How many years have you been a professional pole vaulter? Is it a year-round commitment or is it just during the season?
I have been a professional vaulter for 6 years. Thinking about that, man time sure flies. Until recently I thought of myself as a recent college grad, but that surely is no longer the case! Professional pole vaulting is a year round commitment. I usually take about a month away from vaulting and training in the early fall, but otherwise I am training or competing.
When you are in training, what does your workout schedule look like? Do you workout every day or do you take days off? How long are your workouts?
My training varies depending on the time of year. After my month hiatus in the fall I begin training pretty hard. Fall training consists of running workouts, such as short speed endurance in order to get the heart rate up, but without pounding my legs into the ground by running unnecessary miles on end. I begin vaulting from short runs to overly focus on technique. During this time, vaulting is high rep in order to really feel out body positioning. Vaulting on the runway is complimented with drills off the runway. Drills are often gymnastics based. During the fall, the weight room is heavy in order to gain strength to withstand the training and long year of competitions ahead. This time of year my workouts are usually several hours and sometimes twice a day.
Once January hits, competitions begin and the training lightens up so that I can successfully make it down the runway and clear bars in competitions! I still do similar training to the fall, however the reps and weight lighten up. Throughout the year, especially the month between indoor and outdoor season, we put in training blocks with higher reps and weight just to make sure the body is maintaining its fitness. This time of year my workouts range from 2-3 hours on average, depending on if I am vaulting or not. Vault days are always longer practices.
Once the summer months hit I am pretty much on cruise control. The majority of the summer is spent competing in Europe. It is not always easy to find consistent training locations on the road, so my coach and I make due with what we have. I often compete every few days so the summer mostly consists of meet prep, competitions, and recovery to prepare for the next meet. Late in the summer is when I need to trust that my training from earlier in the year will carry me through.
I usually take one or two days off per week, depending on the training cycle, travel, and competitions. I will say that recovery is crucial to performing at the highest level and is just as important as my hard training days. Never underestimate the power of recovery!
As a professional vaulter, what type of exercises/workouts are most important to your training?
While my entire training regimen is very important to my success, there is no replacement for actually pole-vaulting. Unfortunately my body can only withstand a limited number of vault reps so that is where other training comes into play, especially drills. Pole vault is such a technical event so allowing your body to feel the necessary positions over and over again is crucial.
Is there a specific workout that stands out in your mind as being the craziest/hardest workout you’ve ever done?
My freshman year of college particularly stands out in my head because I came in not knowing what to expect. They had us jumpers run fall workouts with the sprinters and each day was quite a challenge for a girl that only runs 112 feet down the pole vault runway. One of the hardest workouts I remember was repeat 300s. One day each week was the dreaded 300 workout. They were so tough and there seemed to always be a few people getting sick during or afterwards. Oh the joys. I sort of view it now as my initiation to college track. Workouts just got easier from there.
What is your favorite part about training? What is your least favorite?
My favorite part about training is thinking about how cool it is I get to go out to the track each day and chase my dream. I work my butt off because I love my sport and want to be the best version of myself as a vaulter that I can be. When I look back on my career I want to be able to say I truly gave it my all each and every day. No regrets. And so far I can say that – regardless of results. Plus, it is pretty cool soaring through the air and landing in a big squishy mat.
My least favorite part about training is that pole vault is an individual event and I often wish I was part of a team. I miss the college days showing up to practice knowing I got to spend several hours a day with teammates who essentially became family. I do feel blessed to be in an event group that is so close though. One of my best friends is another pro vaulter and in a sense I view her, and some others, as my team even though we are actually competitors.
I’m sure working out as a job can get pretty exhausting. What keeps you motivated on days when you don’t feel like working out? Do you have any tricks to get yourself in the right frame of mind?
Everyday sure isn’t sunshine and rainbows and my body often wants to just lay on the couch. What prevents me from just plopping on the couch on those days I may not feel like heading to the track is thinking about my ultimate goal and how bad I want it. When I think about missing the 2012 Olympic team and being named the alternate based on a tie breaker or missing the 2013 World Championship by one place during my most consistent year yet, I remember how I felt at those moments and how I don’t want to feel that again. That is my motivation. On the other hand, I know what it feels like to be a national champion (2014) and compete for the USA at two world championships and what an incredible feeling that is. I want to feel that again, and that is my motivation.
When you are working out in the off-season, what type of exercises do you like to do? Do you keep doing the same workouts as in-season or do you do any cross-training?
In the off-season I really enjoy supplementing my training with yoga classes. I love that it is so different from my pole vault training. It is a breath of fresh air for me to go to a yoga studio, surround myself with people that know nothing about pole vault, and just listen to the music. It is sort of an escape from the daily training grind. I also love that it challenges me in a different way. I attempt poses and stretches that are not a part of my usual routine and I find that fun. I always leave feeling refreshed both mentally and physically.
As a professional athlete, I’m sure nutrition plays a major role in your training. What is your approach to a healthy, balanced diet? Do you follow certain guidelines, keep track of calories, etc?
Generally my approach is to eat a lot of protein and watch my carbs. I do eat carbs, of course, but I limit them and try to make sure they are good carbs such as quinoa and whole wheat grains. Including as many vegetables as possible is also very important. Fruits are a great natural sugar for breakfast and snacks. I don’t count calories because I have found that between watching my carbs, and choosing foods high in protein, fiber, and natural ingredients I feel pretty good.
What is your go-to healthy snack when you are in training?
Recently I have been bringing a bag full of grapes to practice for some natural sugar. I love cottage cheese or an apple with peanut butter though after training at home.
What advice would you give someone who wants to get stronger and more powerful like a pole vaulter?
I would say it’s about balance. Being a pole vaulter requires upper body, lower body and core. It requires speed, strength and body awareness. I want to remind people not to neglect one area of their body. Mix up your workouts. Run sprints, jog, lift weights, do core, stretch, do yoga, treat yourself to massages, be aware of your diet, and get plenty of sleep. When you combine all these things you will find energy, strength…and balance!
All photos courtesy of www.marysaxer.com
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