Bring on the Water!

I finally put the yellow submarine in the water!

Does anyone else feel like they suck during their first practice on the water in months?

The first weekend of December was the last time I hit the water. Almost four months married to a erg. Today it the last day of March.

Kentucky’s spring weather this season has left much to be desired. Two BIG late season snows, a roller coaster between cold and less cold, and nearly nonstop rain. The sun came out for the first time ALL WEEK today. And the highs reached the 50s. Yay!

I rowed on a new location, Lake Linville in Mount Vernon. That’s so Alan could work on his parents’ house and Mimi could watch the baby. Want people to stare at you? Drive a rowing shell down I-75 in Kentucky.

The Lake makes a bit of an “L” with two fingers, each about 2k, give or take. Wind had a wicked chop at the launch. Local fishermen were taking advantage of a decent weather day and were sipping around all over the place.

I tried to make it a technique row, but I can’t help staring at the numbers. When you think you’re going faster than the stroke coach says, that’s demoralizing. Like a 13 stroke rate instead of your perceived 18spm.

And steering? Hahaha. That was always a problem before winter hit, and in that wicked head/crosswind, keeping point was like throwing darts in a hurricane.

I did take the time to do some drills in a sheltered cove I found. Essentially I scouted the whole lake, rowing along the shore line. I tried to coach my catch timing, but it’s hard. I kept working on different things- cheat high, open chest, inhale the catch, hang, thumbs pushing out…but when you can’t see yourself, you’re constantly wondering if it’s the right change.

Don’t get me wrong. Super happy to have squeaked in a row! The lake is mostly farms, fishing cabins, and woods, and I saw a bald eagle. Why not make it in a mix of chop, flat, head and tailwind? A little disappointed it was only 9k, but figured that’s a decent go when it’s the first day back in the tank. Last night’s kettlebell workout finally feels like it worked something out.

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You Row a Whole Hour!o

Funny little story.

Yesterday’s workout started as normal. Warm-up. Some guy jumps on, pretends like he knows how to row. I stretch, program the monitor, start rowing. Guy keeps on for a half-hour piece, keeps looking at my screen, seems vexed. You know, the usual.

Immediately after dude #1 jumps off, dude #2 jumps on. Three minutes later, I finish the first piece.

“‘Cuse me,” says dude #2, with a heavy foreign accent. “I see you look strong.” He points at the screen. “Can you help me make harder? Dees, dees is too easy for me.” He rows with just his arms.

I half-smile. “It’s in the legs. Push harder with your legs.”

“Okay, okay, I understand what you are saying. But dees is too easy. I want make harder.” Points at the screen again.

Internal sigh. I clear the screen from the previous dude #1. I point at the big average spilt. “Row 2:20 or less. That’s a strong number.”

“What?”

Anyway, this goes on for two of my three minutes rest. I try to tell him to use his legs to row harder. To push harder off the footplate. I jump back on my machine and start rowing for the last 30 seconds of my ‘rest.’ He starts rowing. Wondering if he has knee problems, I ask him if he can bend his knees.

“What?” Dude #2 looks confused.

“Bend your knees.” I gesture to him to keep bending, bending, bending until his shins are perpendicular. “Now push with your legs.”

Time’s up. Piece is on. I put on the sideways blinders. The first six minutes of my piece are 16 strokes per minute. Dude #2 is clearly trying to copy and match pace. He rows about five minutes and stops. Fiddles. Rolls back and forth. A minute later, he rows a little longer. Maybe two minutes, tops.

For the remaining time of my piece, he’s clearly watching my screen and waiting for me to finish. It’s a 21-minute piece.

Piece is over. I row a lightly for a minute into the rest before getting water. He turns, stands, and thrusts out his hand.

Confused, I shake it. He declares, in his heavy accent, “YOU are a CHAMPION. Truly! Wow! A champion.”

I don’t know what to say, but an awkward thanks.

“You row a whole HOUR. I row twenty minutes, and whew.” He shakes his head.

Note: It wasn’t really an hour. A 10-minute warm up, and 2 x 21m x 3r. But sure, whatever. An hour. A middle-of-the-road workout, really.

“You a champion.”

I guess it’s perspective.

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‘Tis the Season to be Bored

Spring is upon us. Crews all over my Instagram feed are hitting the water or making preparations. Or they’re in Florida so they never stopped water training. Jealous.

This has been my first year with true winter training. February sucked. Every day blended into the next. Yet another erg. *Sigh.

At least I made gains.

Rowing is equally tough physically and mentally. Beating the inner wimp into submission and whole-heartedly jumping on the session is a necessary evil. I learned a lot about boxing with the inner voice in February.

The problem now, being March, is I know water days are around the corner. But most of my rowing training will still be erging, because baby. I will have to find a way to stay inspired while everyone else posts pretty sunrise photos over the water.

So, on this blog day, sitting down for another long session, a 15k piece, at the same erg, the same window…it’s mentally tiring. I understand why northern crews escape South for spring break training.

YMCA View

Sometimes I count how many semi-trucks go by on the Interstate during an interval.

I am looking forward to breaking the monotony with more cross-training. For the last week of March I plan to take an erg break. Workouts will be other stuff. Keeping weightlifting, but maybe some more spinning, swimming, classes.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have been doing some cross training, but it’s still inside. The walls are still orange, the same lifting nerds are dropping cleans, and the parking lot hasn’t moved.

It’s much easier to do outside work like bicycling with baby in the spring than when the high is 34F. That, and his helmet finally fits. Bonus points: resistance training!

Only six months, two weeks to go…

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I PR’d so Hard!

I knew for about three weeks I would be doing a 2k test at the end of February to establish a sprint baseline. I didn’t change my monthly training objective to prepare, but based on my 5k test and numbers during workout, I felt confident I could pull a 2:02-2:03.

But beforehand, I felt stupidly nervous. Question after question spun around. “Could I PR? What if I tank? What if I’m not as fast as I think? If I break 8, could I make a unicorn boat?” And then the answers. “It’s just a baseline. You’re just seeing how fast you are right now. You haven’t trained for rate or sprint speed. Just stick with your plan and see how it goes. Don’t worry about PRs. Anything is a PR right now.”

None of that helps when you’re in a downward dog pose, heart racing, palms sweaty, facing the unknown 8 minutes of pain.

I have more fingers than 2k testing experience. The programs I rowed valued on-water results more than erg testing.

——

Saturday morning. I’m nervous, but I have a plan. I suck down as much water as I can handle. Breakfast is a banana-chia-almond milk-protein smoothie. I wear my unicorn unisuit for motivation. At home, I foam roll. At the Y, a few minutes on the elliptical, then yoga stretches. I’m listening to “Champions” by Fall Out Boy, “Maneater,” by Nelly Furtado, and “Narcisstic Cannibal” by Korn/Skrillex. The self talk wavers back and forth. Staying calm and talking down is a challenge.

The erg is free. Warm up is picks, another quick stretching session, then the 2k warmup. This 20-minute sequence is from a rowing pal in Sarasota. It ends with you all nice and sweaty, ready to work. A brief rest to drink, inhale, and set my three erg test songs. I like my sprint tests to have driving, hardcore beats. I pick Rob Zombie, “Superfreak,” because you have to be to do a 2k test when no one’s asked you to; Korn, “Hold On,” because it’s the middle of the piece and you just need to; Ozzy Osborne, “I Don’t Wanna Stop,” because that’s what you need to hear at the end.

Set the screen. Music start. Brief interlude. Go.

——

The 2k is a strategy test. Rowers know the term, “fly and die.” Some, like New Zealand, opt for machine-like consistency. Many marry consistency with an all-out, leave-it-on-the-die, puke-your-guts out finish. We tend to break the test into 500s. An even four of these equals 2000m.

I opted to break the test into 400 meter increments. I started this earlier in the month when thinking about my high school track days. I’m usually at my best when everyone is dying. When coach entered me in the mile, each lap had a strategy. I visualized exactly where I would be strategically and physically in relation to my HS track according to my meters rowed. Since a 2k is one extra lap, I extended my second-lap strategy into the third. I completed a repeater 2k workout with this plan, and I really liked how this made the time pass.

For simplicity during the test, I summarized each “lap” into one word.

2000-1600: Relax.  (Let everyone else go. Find your pace and breathe.)

1600-1200: Technique. (Every 10 strokes, focus in on a tech point. Shoulders, swing, breath, leg drive)

1200-800: Persevere. (The middle. Find a number. Stay above the number.)

800-400: Go. (Half mile remains. Start picking them off, one by one.)

400-0: Accelerate. (The final push. Add power. At 200, go, go, go!)

—-

The test goal: 2:02.5 average spilt. I felt confident I could do this because my repeater workout averaged 2:05 at an easy 24spm. Because I wanted a true baseline, I turned the units to watts and used the large font screen. I do have an inkling of how wattage translates to spilt time, but it’s different from staring at the spilt numbers the whole time.

The start showed faster numbers than I anticipated. I worried about blowing out in the back third of the test. I constantly reminded myself to relax. “You have a long way to go. Don’t get excited yet.”

But at halfway, when I didn’t hit a wall, and the numbers were staying up, I started thinking I could pull a PR. In this section of the test, the burn builds in. I had some strokes that dropped under the wattage number I picked. I struggled a bit with consistency, technically and in power application. The inner voice stayed positive. I could still make up the time in the final push.

Then it came. The last lap. I knew it was going to be good. The watts cranked higher than I expected at this stage in the game. I haven’t done much high rate work and it looked good. Oh, it burned, but what a sweet, sweet burn.

The 200 is a countdown. “You can do anything for 20 strokes.”  And then it’s over. You’re sucking wind. I didn’t need to fall off the machine this time. I rubbed my sweaty palms over my face and sweaty hair, wondering, hoping, as I hit the units button to see…

I whooped and thrust my hands in the air. The guy weightlifting next to me clearly thought I’d lost my mind.

As I said in a phone voicemail immediately after, still breathing like a serial killer, “girl, I just PR’d so hard you’re going to shit yourself.”

Rowing PR 2k testMaybe my time isn’t a big deal to you. 8:00.4/ 2:00.1 spilt. It’s a big deal to me. In two weeks, Caelan will be one year old. The bulk of my training has been getting in shape and building a base. I erged my best time ever, even before baby-six seconds faster!

I see I can, and I will, break that 8:00 milestone. Now my training will be shifting to include more anaerobic and rate work. I still have five months to improve. I can’t wait!

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Blowing Off the Dust

And a huff, and a puff, and a poof! New blog!

I have decided to dust off the ol’ rowing blog and begin documenting again the struggles of amateur mature athlete with a passion for an obscure sport training to row against other amateurs that are more talented, more dedicated, and plain fast. My latest goal is to compete in the World Rowing Masters Regatta in September 2018.

Since the last blog in 2015, there have been two big changes.

  1. I moved from the rowing mecca of Sarasota, its amazing facilities, waterways, and training pool, into what someone recently aptly described as a “gigantic void of rowing.” Lexington, Kentucky.  There are literally three locations for rowing clubs in the state of Kentucky, and all three are along or near the state’s Ohio River border: Louisville, Newport (aka Cincinnati), and Murray State at the Land Between the Lakes. There are more rowing clubs in West Virginia than Kentucky.
  2. I had a kid.  We landed in Lexington in January 2016, and in March 2017 Caelan joined the party. Talk about a major shift in your training schedule!
Baby Caelan

Baby Caelan, 11 months

It took a few months post-baby to get a rhythm going again. Plus there’s the whole issue of getting your basic body back before even thinking about competitive rowing. While I can’t train with the same intense schedule as I did in 2013, I intend to make the most of the time I can give. The good news is I have a “push present,” aka a single (more on that later), and some pretty sweet new oars. I’m training to race a Women’s A 2- and look forward to adding a few more boats.

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Now for something a bit different…

Two months later….

First erging session since the fracture rib. 4 x 4:00 at easiest damper, lower rate. Slightly tender from time to time but nothing unbearable or warning.

A good sign.

I couldn’t resist a few full pressure strokes. 😉 But otherwise, trying to take it easy.

Looking forward to being on water soon!

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Rowing snaps to a halt

The Head of the Giblet was one of my last days rowing. I just didn’t know it yet.

Right after Giblet, I followed in the footsteps of many Americans and hit the road to visit my family for the Thanksgiving holiday. By Monday afternoon, my two-year-old niece was tugging me around my Mom’s jacuzzi saying “wawa.” Tuesday the skies dumped bucket after bucket on us for my Grandmother’s surprise 90th birthday party. I texted an old rowing pal who lived in the area about possibly rowing later in the week. The next day I knocked out three desserts in three hours before family photo day. On turkey day I trotted out my awesome turkey plaque to a horrified or impressed (depending on the person) audience of 20+ people between eating and stuff like that. But Thanksgiving was the day things started to go downhill. By that afternoon, a tickle in the back of my throat was the first warning I’d been targeted as the next victim of this family present.

Everything hurts, and it’s not from rowing

Before we left, I’d heard Mom coughing and complaining about how her back hurt. As soon as I hung up, I’d warned the husband Mom was sick. We started downing Emergen-C.

On that rainy Tuesday, my brother woke up with the sniffles but gamely attended the party. By the next day, he was down and out, with a monstrous headache. The rest of us played babysitter and reminded our niece, yelling, “Daddy,” that, “ssh, Daddy’s sleeping.” (“WAKE UP DADDY!”) He groggily emerged briefly Thursday to say hello before trundling back to bed and sleeping through the horde in the house. It’s that day that I felt the cough coming on and knew I was in for it.

By the next day, the flu squeezed me in an its achy tendrils. I curled up as far away from everyone as possible, tucked under a sleeping bag trying to stay warm. The husband began coughing that night, the flu’s next victim.

The rest of the weekend we ignored the piles of luggage strewn around the house, curled up on the sofa, alternating between hot flashes and chills. Rowing was out of the question, not when my knees throbbed and my back protested attempts at sitting up.

I started to emerge from the flu-induced stupor around Monday. The aches and pains were gone, my mini-menopausal state over, all that lingered was a sore throat and voice. For practice, I stayed on shore and let someone else herd the middle schoolers on water.

Starts looking up

A little peeved that my endurance would be shot, partially from lack of working out, partially from flu recovery, I forced myself to erg Tuesday. Part of my brain hoped it would help knock some of the junk from my chest. The session proceeded a little like this: Pick drill warm up to 1000k, coughing fit. 750m, Dad calls. Another 500m, cough. Row 1000k, really thirsty. Cough. Convince myself to keep going. 250m, cough. At 4500 meters, I gave up.

I thought I’d join Night Crew for a Wednesday morning row. Instead, I spent a sleepless night banished to the sofa, coughing despite taking cough medicine. At 5 a.m., I bailed. The day passed in a sleepless haze, full of coughing and moments staring into space. I forced myself to join my Wednesday group erging in the Holiday Challenge, rowing 750m with 1 minute off. That minute grew into 2…then 3…but I racked 4500m.

Wednesday night was a rerun of Tuesday, banished on the sofa, coughing endlessly.

The erging effort repeated on Thursday, with more spacious breaks. That evening, the significant other asked about my Friday plans.

“I’m going rowing.”

“You’re what? Seriously?”

“Yeah, I gotta get back into it sometime.”

The morning was one of those rare perfect rowing days. Crystal clear, flat water, no wind, little current, a rosy sunrise, and a fly-by dozens of water birds. Night Crew took off, I paddled about 3k down, turned, paddled back, with a nice, big, coughing fit at 4.5k. I focused on patient catching and accelerating through the drive, but not at full pressure. I wished I’d been well enough to even have wanted to take off rowing and make use of the morning.

Warning Signs

Saturday is the first day I remember my right side hurting. I rolled out of bed with the ache but passed it off as sore from my week of hacking up a lung.

I committed to rowing Sunday. That morning was the first day in two weeks I woke up feeling like myself again. Definitely not 100%, but the cloudiness was gone, I was perky and ready to go. The cough still lingered. Everyone was so hopeful about rowing a quad, that I said fine. I’d just bow out if I needed to.

The moment I sat down, the oars in my hands, I knew it was going to a long, painful row. I just thought I’d suck it up. But every stroke hurt. I apologized for my rough rowing–I couldn’t swing forward at all, and very little backwards. Stroke called for different powers; half-pressure was a knife stabbing in my side. I didn’t want to seem like a sissy; I was trying to tough it out. When the front of the boat asked how I was doing, I said ok, just ribs hurt. Apparently I was being rather quiet. Breathing wasn’t an issue; I couldn’t apply enough power to get my heart rate up to need to breathe hard.

Of course it hurt the remainder of the day. I opted to skip Monday rowing and give my sore ribs a day of rest. That day, they didn’t feel any better, which concerned me, but I remained hopeful they’d chill out by Wednesday and I could pick back up rowing.

The Hammer Cracks

Tuesday morning, I prepared to take my dog for a walk. In one hand, I was talking to Alan on the phone, complaining my ribs still ached, in the other hand the leash. The tickle in my throat forced me to cough–and I froze mid-sentence, squeezing my eyes shut, gasping for air. “Hey–you there–hey!” Tears welled up in my eyes. “Use your words!”

I couldn’t; I was trying to take deep breaths. My entire core was seized up in a pain-wracking spasms as I leaned against the doorway.

No more. I called the doctor, who had an opening in half an hour. By 10, the good ol’ doc was pressing on my side ribs, causing more sharp gasps and groans.

“I’m so sorry,” She said. “It’s at very least sprained. We’ll get x-rays, too. I’ll write you a prescription for pain medication. You’re out at least three weeks. But don’t worry–you’re the second person I’ve seen in the last month having sprained ribs from the flu. The other girl was an avid runner.”

Three weeks of nothing. I texted my crew, sad face and all, in the waiting room for the x-ray. On the way home, I picked up my pain meds, and tried to resign myself to three weeks. Early January. Still time to recover for sprint season.

Wednesday, 10 a.m. The medicated stupor was making editing a challenge. Phone rings with a Sarasota number. It’s the doctor’s office with my x-ray results.

“I’m sorry. You do have a fracture. It’s rib #9.”

She rattles on more information while I sit numb, processing. Something finally clicks and I grab a pen, take notes and repeating what she’s said about the injury. Heat and ice as needed. No heavy lifting, no rowing, at least 6-8 weeks.

First I’m stunned. I fractured a rib *coughing* from the flu. All the crazy stuff I’ve done in the last 365 days–the 24000 meter row, all the racing, the pulled muscles, the hit markers, the duathlon–and I fracture a rib from the flu.

The second thought–no running, no rowing, any weight training must be zero-core, I don’t have a bike–now what do I do?

Third–there goes my sprint season.

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