Interview | Dannish Walker-Khan
Danish Walker-Khan has been marked as one to watch by almost everyone in UK athletics. Part of the European U20 and U23 medal winning 4x100m relay teams, Dannish's career is already on a steady incline... which is certainly one of the reasons why former World, and Olympic Champion Linford Christie has taken him under his wing.
While Dannish was in the studio with us, making his go-to recovery recipe, we took the time to chat with him about coaching, athletics & his career so far...
What is it like to be coached by Linford Christie, one of the most successful sprinters in history? "Oh it's amazing, so I've been coached by him for six years now... just the fact that he has won everything; the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships, he's won everything there is to win, and he's been in every situation you can imagine. So, for example, if you turn up to a race, and you've not done a full warm-up, or you've not slept well the night before - he can immediately tell, and he'll say 'oh that's happened to me before, this is what I did', so you can adjust yourself accordingly... and the coaching sessions that he does as well; you know they work because they helped him win the Olympics; so all the stuff we do, is what he did back in the day... maybe his training was a little more intense [than how it is now], just because back then it was a bit more old-school. Now there is a lot more emphasis on rest and recovery, but old school... it was just 'beast yourself' [laughs]. He's an amazing coach, and he's like a father figure as well... I didn't really have a dad growing up, so he'd really looked after me in that sense".
So does he take you through the training programmes he did as an athlete himself? "Yeah he does; he usually tells us what he did, but actually this winter he brought out one of his old training plans, which was just a beautiful thing to look at! It had details about what session it was, how he was feeling in the session, there would be a little smiley face if it was good; really detailed descriptions of how each session was, if he had a 5 minute recovery... just really in-depth... after seeing that, he always gets on to you about having training diaries, and I always say 'I'll write it in my phone', but now I've started writing it down more in a proper diary"
So how do you fund yourself as a junior athlete? "British Athletics fund the athletes in the senior team; so once you've made that team, and you're on track to go to the World Champs and the Olympics, they'll fund you. But for athletes below that, it's a lot harder; so I went to the Europeans, and perhaps its because I just did the relay (setting a new record) rather than an individual event... they'll only fund the top one or two athletes in an event.... so third or fourth get nothing. Just being a couple of tenths of seconds off the top spot, means you get nothing".
You've had a lot of success in a very short space of time, is Tokyo 2020 in your sights now? "Well right now I'm actually injured; tore my groin last June, trained on it all winter as I thought I had done my rehab properly, but now I have an inflamed pubic bone, so in my mind, I've pretty much written-off this season. At the moment I am working, and still training lightly; but if I work & save up some money, then next winter I can focus solely on training".
Take me back to before you stepped out onto the track at the U23 European Finals, what are you doing before a race? "Before a race, I like to listen to some uplifting music; have you seen Braveheart? You know the song Freedom? It starts off slow and builds up... things like that to get me feeling like I'm going to be great on the day. Then I'll have a bit of pre-workout; get some caffeine in to improve my focus, then I'm ready for the race.. I'll listen to my music while I'm warming up to pump myself up as well. Sometimes I'll have some aggressive music, like rap, to get me in the mood too".
And during training? "Actually, Linford banned headphones during training, we're only allowed music on race-day; that way we've got something to take us to the next-level. During training, you just train like normal, then when you get to a race, you have your music & it can give you an extra boost".
So, how do you relax after a hard session? "Just go home.... I always nap... so I'll have a bit to eat, shower, and then nap if I can. For the rest of the evening, I'll watch movies, go to the cinema, meet some friends. You don't want to be on your feet too much as that can impact your training the next day".
You've already served up your recovery meal; what else would you eat on race day, if at all? "Quite often the races are in the evening, so I have a huge breakfast; get everything in... on race day it doesn't even matter too much if it's healthy, so I'll have toast, eggs, beans, hash browns, stuff like that. Then I might have a nap after all of that, lunch will be about 1 or 2 o'clock, before a race at 7 or 8, so I'll have a banana in the warm up, or a primal pantry bar".
If you race are so late in the day, do you eat afterwards? "I'll always have a protein shake; if I've had a good race, I might go to a restaurant... maybe Nando's. I tend to use Optimum Nutrition for my shakes - rocky road is the best. Sometimes I'll have that, then some coffee from a company called Black Sheep coffee; there is a product called a cold-brew; throw that in with the protein, then some condensed milk, which is reeeallyy unhealthy, but it tastes good; then put in a banana, blend it all together. Amazing in the mornings".
Does your diet change much in & out of season? "During the off-season; when you're doing a lot of weights and longer runs, you can eat a lot more carbs, and you can put on a bit of weight. I eat a lot of red-meat during this time
When you're in season, you need to reduce the amount of carbs in each meal, and maybe add in a bit more protein. That way you can lose some of the weight you've put on. I'll stop with the red meat and have a lot more fish during this time too".
Do you get your food made for you during training sessions? "Nah, you got to meal prep and take it with you. We do a lot of training camps in the US; usually in Orlando, Florida, but I also did some training in Arizona. I also did my Masters in New York, so I studied and trained out there, and competed in the NCAA which was pretty fun".
How do you cope, training and competing whilst having Diabetes? "You just have to be really strict with what you eat, you can't miss a meal; so lets say you just get in from training and you just want to wait a couple of hours before you eat - you can't, because your sugar level will just drop; it's good in some ways, because you;re getting your nutrients on board straight away.
It can effect training quite a bit; if my sugar level drops or goes too high, you can get really tired and will be unable to train as hard or good. I have to take an insulin shot everytime I eat carbs; so if I eat 50g of carbs, I'll take 5 unit of insulin. I've had diabetes since I was 11yrs old, so I am used to it now".
Has there been a race that really stands out for you? "Yeah, the European U23 Championships, we won the relay & got the British and European Records. To begin with, I didn't know we'd won because it was so close. I went third leg, and passed it to Adam Gemeli, who went fourth leg, and I couldn't tell if we'd won it, because it was so close between us & Poland, and Adam didn't know either... so we're just looking up at the screen to see if we won, and when we saw that it said 'Great Britain', we were just 'yyyeeaahahhhhh'; and were buzzing afterwards. Winning that made me want to do it as a senior, not just as U23; because that's when you've made it. If you can win at the Olympics, and break the Olympic Record... when I was a kid, I really wanted to compete for the juniors, and once you've done it, you want to move to the seniors".
When you're in the blocks, seconds from starting, what do you do to stay focused? "You've just got to be confident, that everything you've done leading up to that moment has been good enough, you couldn't have done any more. When you're in the starting blocks, whatever happens, happens, and you just have to try and execute each part of the race properly. Just don't doubt yourself".
What specific things do you do to get you to Tokyo 2020 and get you a medal? "We just do drills.. making sure the your foot hits the track at the right angle; you want to stay on the ball of the foot the whole time, just getting as much power as you can into every stride; all the power you've got from doing squats, cleans and all the Olympic lifts; all the power you built up jumping onto boxes, and everything like that, you want to transfer that to the track, so if you can hit the ground with the right part of the foot in the proper way... but I find it difficult, I was brought up just running, technique wasn't a big thing, so this is all quite new to me. My start is good, but my top-end speed need to improve".
Aside from Linford, do you look up to anyone? Yeah, one of my closest friends, who I train with - James Ellington. He's a few years older, and kind of like a big brother to me, so he's passed on loads of experience and advice to me. He's made the Olympic Finals, won at the European Senior Champs, which is what I want to do, won the commonwealth games - he's someone I look up to and respect a lot.