Friday, January 20, 2006

Training Camp

It's about halfway through the winter training camp that my team's on in Florida. We're training in the same area as a very good women's crew; let the libidinous collegiate sex games begin!

Honestly, as a college male, I can safely say there are fewer factors more motivating that the opposite sex. Coxswains, I'm afraid to say, don't count. We spend all our time with them as it is already, so it's really hard to impress them. I will confess, whenever we're on the water with the other crew and we row by one another, our catches are a little crisper, our tapdown is a little faster, and our set is always a little more...well, set.

In any case...

I have always had doubts about whatever it is that I do at one time or another. I don't know if that makes sense, so I'll try again. Every once in a while, I get despondent with my choice to row; I wonder "why am I doing this? What compels me to sit in these ridiculous looking boats and row for over two hours a day, while my amount of racing time is maybe 1/100th of what I practice?" Sometimes it's a bad practice that sets me off, and other times it comes out of nowhere. Maybe one day I just feel I'm too tired of working as hard as I've been doing, and I don't think I want to do it anymore. It's rare, and I've found the more I do the sport, the less it happens, but it still does occur.

That's why trips like this don't just mean spring speed. Personally speaking, they're also a break from the monotony of winter training, when the 15th minute of a piece is the same as the 25th, when there's no difference at the start and the finish of a 6K because you've been staring at the same damn wall/mirror/whatever for the past 100 strokes. It's a time to get back to the basics of the sport: your boat, your teammates, and moving with both of them over the water, together. It's a time when raw power and aerobic capacity aren't always the most important traits to have to move a boat. It's a reminder of what proper backsplash looks like.

I'm sure anyone who's been on a team trip knows, these kinds of training camps also help bring oarsmen together. Living in close quarters, spending most of your waking moments with them, even cooking with them (as in our case) teaches you things about teammates, whether you've known them for a year or four. It's where those lifetime bonds that the novice coaches sold to us at the recruitment meetings (remember those) are made, and you experience much of what life is about in such a short time. That is what the sport is about, beyond finish lines and 2K times, and I think if you ask almost any oarsman, he'll tell you that that is what makes crew so special.

EDIT: We returned to our homes after one of the team's most successful camps in recent memory. No booty of the neighboring women's crew was tapped, making this camp a little less successful, but still the most in recent memory. Because they were good looking. And they talked to us. And we didn't know them before we got there.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Christmas Post, A Little Late

12/25/05 9:37 PM

My feelings about the holidays are not a secret; being a lightweight, is probably just as bad as being single around this time of year. What if you're a lightweight and single? It's a situation without a solution, one has to go. To mess around with the fairer sex is akin to tampering with weapons of mass destruction, so I ended up giving up on worrying about my weight and enjoying the bounty that awaited me this afternoon. My coach would've killed me had he seen me at dinner on Christmas Eve. I'm over, but I don't have to worry about weight-ins for another two months. And hey, CRASH-B weight is 165.

Winter Break is much tougher, training-wise, than any other break during the school year. It's too long that you can't take some time away from the erg (like Thanksgiving, where running or cycling can keep your fitness levels up), yet too short to waste money on a membership at a gym or the summer rowing club's winter training program. Here in the northeast, it's also tough to train outdoors. The temperature outside today was about 35 degrees F, compounded by a cold drizzle that keeps even the heartiest runners indoors. I've been able to wrangle some temporary training ergs at a university that's in close proximity, but they'll be closed until the New Year. The next best thing? Go to every health club you can find around town and inquire about a free trial membership. They usually last about a week, but it's enough to keep you where you won't crap out the next time you hit the ergs.

Here at home, we don't have high-speed internet, so on my downtime, I've been watching rowing tapes that I've recorded from TV. I've got tapes of most of the '05 IRA grand finals, and some of the heats and finals from the Athens games. Every time I watch them, I can feel my heart rate start to climb. These tapes, well, I've watched them so many times, I can quote the commentators and know who's going to finish where about 80% of the time. It's not the general excitement that I get from watching a boat race, either. It's the knowledge of what the men and women in the video are going through as the tape plays that makes my heartbeat speed up. I'm already starting to imagine our duals this season, rowing down the course at Quinsigamond.

It's always grey, and I can feel the chill of the April wind on my shoulders. It's never at the start; usually it's the middle thousand of the race, when you've settled into your rhythm and are doing what you can to attack or hold off the crews you're racing. In my mind, we're usually about an oars length apart from our opponent, the boats locked in a dead heat. The lead changes with each stroke, as the team currently on the drive pushes their bow ball ahead of the other. We are rowing very aggressively, attacking the body of the race at a 36. From my position in the bow, I can see the spray from the oars at the finish leaping out of the water to chase our boat as we fly down towards the finish. The set is perfect (hey, it is a dream), and our blades square in unison as they hook into the water at the catch. My heart is pounding out of my chest, my breath coming in massive gulps as I try to consume as much air with each inhalation. This is where the dream merges with reality, as I can feel my heart pounding in my chest as I recline in my chair, thinking about a reality that has not yet come true.

I never finish the race. The dream always stops around the 500 to go mark, where the rate starts to come up and we start our sprint. The vision that dances before my eyes is not of the result, but of the act, of the race itself. I an at once nervous and excited, terrified and eager, to get to that point in the season. Don't get me wrong, I can see victories, and I can imagine the joy and excitement that comes from winning t-shirts and medals. But that really isn't part of the dream. It's what I'm working for between now and April, therefore it wouldn't be right to drift idly off into fantasyland thinking about the winning stroke, or the medals dock. Those are more lucid, and at the same time, less tangible; they are the images that motivate me through the solitary hours of winter training at home.


Erging isn't as bad as most people say it is.

I just got through with my first erg of the New Year. It was bad, realizing how much you can lose in just a week and a half.

Okay, maybe bad is the wrong word. I love erging, the solitary joy of pushing my body, on my own, with just me, my music, the handle, and the flywheel. I usually end up forgetting about everything; concentrating on split times and rates are a great way to forget about problems with women and domestic issues and worrying about where the gas money is going to come from when the tank is almost on empty. In a way, erging is like my drug. It's very habit-forming. I go and do it when I feel bad and it makes me feel better about myself. I get a little high from the adrenaline or the endorphins or whatever's flowing through my veins. I come down and all my problems are still there, but I had an escape. A great escape.

Okay, maybe erging is as bad as most people say it is.