World titles hopeful shares frustration, how best to cope
BITTERSWEET is the most appropriate word international athletics prospect Jude Thomas offered to describe his rollercoaster past few months.
Gearing up for another massive year of elite competition, Thomas was among the Ipswich regional competitors suddenly left frustrated when all Athletics Australia events were called off for the year.
That was back in March, shortly after the City of Ipswich Junior Sportsperson of the Year had won his division and placed second overall in a personal best time (18:18.30) at the Queensland 3000m championships in Brisbane.
He won gold as the top under-20 runner and collected silver in the open ranks, all in pouring rain and severe weather conditions.
However, the highly-rated former St Edmund's College student at that stage knew little about what was to happen with the coronavirus shutdown.
Aiming to represent Australia at two world junior events, Thomas admitted that only being able to train with one other person at first under social distancing rules was tough to take.
"It was a bit upsetting,'' Thomas, 18, said. "It's also like a bittersweet thing because I also have a bit of time for now to relax a bit I guess.
"Even though I'm running more than I ever have, I'm able to just not stress about racing and just have a bit more fun with it.
"I will admit I have struggled a little bit on the training side of things because of the two-person (limit) . . . when it was really bad.''
Karalee-based Thomas appreciated running at that time with Ipswich Eagles footballer Mark "Kanga'' Kennedy.
As the COVID-19 restrictions have eased, Thomas has rejoined some of his NANCI Running Squad training partners, doing innovative courses in small groups around Ipswich.
He has also changed his mindset without any competitions, putting the initial disappointment behind him to refocus on strengthening his body for a tilt at two world championship events next year.
The first is the World Athletics Cross Country Championships at Bathurst in March, with trials in January.
The World U20 Championships in Kenya have been rescheduled from July this year to a new date in 2021.
With Nairobi being at an 1800m altitude, Thomas will need to acclimatise to avoid any health issues.
More than 170 nations are expected to compete at the championships.
With those higher level motivations, Thomas has a new purpose on his training runs.
He'll be aged 19 - instead of originally expecting to be 18 - at next year's elite under-20 competitions.
While Thomas regularly matches older athletes, an extra year of training in his age group will be most helpful.
"So it's a great chance for me, and with no races on right now, just to build up a huge aerobic base,'' the 2019 Oceania title gold medallist said.
"This is my 11th week at 150km a week, or more.''
Fresh from a "shorter one today, only 21k (run)'' , the Ipswich and District Athletic Club star planned to continue a similar program for the foreseeable future.
"There's just a few virtual races here and there but nothing too serious,'' he said, having been a member of the Ipswich club since 2016.
"That why we've been trying to just work with what we've got. It's been a very disruptive season for everybody.
"A lot of athletes are struggling because they rely upon races. But we kind of use it as a great training opportunity to just build a loaded base.''
Thomas explained his change in approach.
"What we would usually do over the Christmas holidays is do this base work to get ready for nationals in February and March, and all the road athletics races that are early in the year,'' he said. "Since we did that and then the races got cancelled, we've just sort of gone back into it.''