The world champion sprinter talks how to be happy on and off the track.
Dina Asher-Smith is the fastest woman in the world, and Britain’s fastest woman ever. But what goes on in the mind and body of someone that successful? Here, Asher-Smith shares how she trains, recovers and relaxes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, and how she manages to always be her best.
You recently posted a quote on Instagram saying ‘What’s done in the winter will show up in the summer’. Can you tell us about what that means, and what your training regime is like at the moment?
Quite simply, that just means that when nobody’s watching, when it’s raining, when it’s snowing, when it’s windy and wet, that’s when you’ve got to put in the work. Whatever you do in the background translates to how well you run in the summer.
I train six days a week. I’m not on track every day, but I’m always doing something towards being faster and at this time of year typically I’ll do lots of speed endurance, lots of high intensity runs and focus on getting stronger and faster to be the best athlete that I can be. The one day that I’m not training, I’m sleeping or with my friends.
So how different do you think your life is now for 2020 compared to 2019?
In some ways, it’s quite markedly different. I am World Champion and so I’m getting a lot more opportunities to do things. But my day to day life is the same as last year, and training is still the priority because I want to be as fast as I can be.
Weirdly, I actually don’t feel any more pressure this year because ironically, in track and field, in order to get faster, in order to keep achieving bigger goals, you have to keep things the same. So even though I had a great season last year I still always have to be here, training six days a week and I have to keep pushing boundaries. If you want to keep getting faster and go on to bigger things, you have to just act like [the wins] didn’t happen. You always have to start at zero and keep working hard.
I’m really happy to be world champion, but at the same time, sometimes I forget about it because I’m so focused on just being better than I was last year and just keep going.
Why do you train in Bromley?
I was born in Bromley. I lived in Bromley. My friends are from down here. I’ve been coming to this track since I was eight years old and I absolutely love it here. I’m not just saying that, it’s like a second home to me. I think that that’s really helped me be the athlete that I am today and contributed to my success.
My philosophy is that you run with your whole self, it’s like an expression of your being. My coach and I believe in being holistically happy and being the best woman you can be first and foremost, and then the best athlete. If you’re not comfortable in your surroundings, if you’re not comfortable with who you are, how are you meant to go and perform to the best of your ability in front of a stadium in front of 80,000 people halfway across the world? It’s just not going to happen. So training here, being here, within my community, with my friends and my parents, I just think is the best way to stay happy.
You still train with youngsters at your club, Bromley Harriers. Are you conscious of your influence on them as a role model?
Because I’ve been coming to the same track since I was eight years old and I’ve grown up with many of these people so I don’t feel any different to any of them. And when I see the [younger people] doing their sessions I identify with them because I was here doing the same thing. The younger athletes here… they’re just me in a few years. I think most the time they’re too tired with their own sessions to be watching me!
You’ve had some high profile injuries, how did you deal with them?
In some other sports, maybe like football, it can be possible to carry a niggle, but in sprinting you need to be 100%. I think the most important thing is to always focus on your end goal. So, whether, that’s getting back to fitness, winning medals, making a team or running personal best, you just have to spend every single day focused.
Even if you’ve got some time off track or time off the activity that you would normally do, making sure that you’re using that time productively to accomplish things you might not have been able to do whilst you’re running.
Describe your mental state in the run-up to a major competition such as Tokyo?
Prior to a major competition or race you don’t engage with negative thoughts. You don’t really think about not doing well or what could go wrong because you don’t want to don’t want to speak or think it into existence. So, you always got to think positively, and you always just have to think about what you’re trying to do and what you’ve trained to do and how well it could go.
What goes through your mind when the gun goes off?
Nothing and everything – a brilliant contradiction. I’m thinking about what my coach has told me. So just to push through the training. You’re putting everything you trained for into one moment. So, it’s a lot, you’re working really hard trying to hit all the technical points that my coach has told me in training. Everything you need to do is going through your head, but in a relaxed almost zen-like state of calm while you’re doing it. You know when you see those Road Runner cartoons like the whole background blurs? That’s what it’s like. My coach always says, if you remember too much about the race, then you weren’t doing it right. You should be in the moment!
When you’re standing in starting line, do you think about other athletes?–
It’s just me that I focus on. When I’m racing, I only focus on myself because I can only control what I’m doing. If somebody’s in the lane next to me who wants to go and, I don’t know, break the world record and run the fastest time that the world’s ever seen, I can’t control that. Focusing on what other people are doing will throw off my performance.
The reason I love track and field is because it’s about doing your personal best. I might run out my skin and do fantastically for me, and if that places me well, hey, great, I’ll be world champion.
You’re using the new React Infinity Run, can you tell us about it?
Nobody wants any interruptions in the lead up [to their race]. I wore the original Epic Reacts – and the new React Infinity Run trainers are a fantastic next step. I particularly like the smooth ride and the improved cushioning, which is important if you’re running regularly. They’re designed to help reduce injury and keep you on the run which is important for me as it’s all about being Fit and Fast for Tokyo.
Images: Liam Arthur
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).