Sunday, August 26, 2018

Pre Worlds Interview

This weekend I had a chance to do a quick interview with my good friend and former Coach Kevin MacDermott about the year of training, this summer's racing, and the upcoming racing at Worlds. Thanks a lot, Kevin! 

Pre World Champs Interview

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Singles vid

Here is a video of Ben and I cruising in singles together last week. This was during a 20k side by side row where we cycled from 16 spm up to 22 spm and back down pushing the speed at each rate but making sure to keep our heart rates in zone. Thanks to Val Stepanchuk for coming out and taking some great pictures and video.

Ben and John 1x

We are down in Princeton this week doing some work against the W4x and then will be back up in Craftsbury for a week before leaving for Bulgaria on Sept. 2nd. Bigger update to come once we get back up north, but so far we've had a productive week and have really enjoyed having some training buddies.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Worlds Prep

After a quick bout of racing at Trials, Lucerne, and U23's, Ben and I are back in Craftsbury and locked into our prep for World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. It was great being able to hop in the boat and just get right into the fun stuff of racing overseas, but now we are faced with a full training load, and that doesn't feel quite as good. It definitely took me a couple weeks to feel normal again in training after Lucerne and I think Ben is still recovering from racing hard three out of four weekends in July.

Looking back at Trials and Lucerne, I am pleased with how we executed our plan and then mixed it up with the M2x field at WC3. We knew that we would have a far from ideal lead up for both events, but we felt like there was a lot to be gained by going overseas and getting a sense for where we are and informing our training going forward. Given the circumstances, I thought we raced well but we were bummed not to make the Final. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to race the Dutch double that was 6th in the Final--a crew we felt confident we could beat. In our semifinal, we just did not have the training to draw upon to find a sustainable rhythm early, so we blasted off and rowed 39-40 the entire race. This was brave, but the next day in the B Final, we found that we could find similar speed 4-5 beats lower for the first half and then shift into the higher gear. Like I said, we were not upset that we didn't do this in the Semi, it would have been unrealistic for us to expect that level of patience from ourselves given our preparation. We had not spent any time working on base rhythm, we only had one speed: on or off. Leaving Lucerne, we felt like if we could find a sustainable rhythm that could carry us with the pack for 1k-1250, we would be able to change speeds and make a formidable charge. This is what we are working on now and will continue to address in the next four weeks.

We are still spending a decent amount of time in singles, but now that we are passed U23's, we are probably closer to 70% of our practices in the double and 30 % in the single. With four Empower Oarlocks now rigged up on our boat, we are able to see in real time how we are matching with our  main focus being matching arc lengths. It's been incredibly helpful as a bowman to be able to see what Ben is doing and using the information to help me match perfectly. We will have the oarlocks on for two weeks and then will take them off for the last couple of weeks leading into Worlds. It's important to have the data and to use it to implement changes but it's also crucial that those changes are linked with our boat feel. I worry that if we kept the oarlocks on we would begin relying too heavily on what the speed coach is saying and not what we are feeling. The Empower Oarlock is not allowed at FISA events, so we don't want to be dependent on it.

This week, Steve is a away with the U23s in Canada, but we've been lucky that my brother Peter has been around to coach us for a few days. It's been really great having his voice back in our boat and bringing our focus back to a few of our staple technical concepts from last year. Peter is getting married in two weeks, so he has his hands full this summer, but I'm thankful that we were able to work with him a little bit. We are fortunate that we have a lot of people that are looking out for us and  everyone has something slightly different to say or a slightly different way of saying it. We try to keep our ears open because we never know when we might hear a tidbit that sparks new speed.

Recently, I have started feeling an extra level of relaxation, flow, and togetherness in our boat. I hesitate to say that time and miles in the boat together fixes everything, but it does seem like in the last couple of weeks we have started to become more unified. I feel it mostly in patience to let the drive unfold naturally and in our effective length. The tendency when you first get into a combination is to over push the front end in an effort to hit speeds. This works for short distances but in the second thousand you need the relaxed suspension to carry you when you are tired. At Trials and Lucerne, not surprisingly, this is exactly what we were doing. Just pushing as hard as we can and rowing high. A notable breakthrough for me has been finding Ben's length and matching the speed of his drive better. When that happens it feels like we are really tying our body weight together and getting uncomplicated, sustainable speed.

We have a week and a half in Craftsbury before heading down to Princeton for some pieces on the buoys. We will then be back up north for a week before flying out of Montreal on September 2nd for Bulgaria. Thanks to everyone who is supporting us and cheering from afar. Every stroke we are getting closer to that A Final, we can feel it. I'll try to keep the updates coming. Go USA!

photos: Val Stepanchuk 

Monday, June 25, 2018

After not making it through my Quarterfinal at World Cup 1 and being relegated to the D Final, I had a great opportunity all day Sunday to write a lengthy post recounting racing, but I guess I can chalk that up to one of many missed opportunities during my stay in Belgrade.

Maybe it's best that post remains unwritten. At this point, readers of this blog are probably tired of my sob stories about why I didn't make it through. Just imagine how sick I am of writing about it! Upon my return to the states, Tom T encouraged me to have a short term memory and remember that for all the European countries World Cups are like Club Nationals. If they have a bad race, they just brush it off and move on to the next one. As a Americans, we spend so much time and money going over there to compete that it feels much more tragic when/if we don't perform well. But as Tom reminded me, the result doesn't change my goals and it's important to just get back to full training.  I am sure I will revisit some of my thoughts on WC1 racing at some point, but for now its in my rear view and I've moved on to getting the double up to speed for Trials. 

Ben and I just finished our first full week of training back together in Craftsbury and so far so good. With Ben going for the U23 1x in addition to the M2x at Trials, we have charted a challenging course for ourselves, but so far its been exciting and invigorating. In the context of the quadrennial, I feel like this summer is most important for getting a lot of training in together, having fun racing, and setting ourselves up really well for next year. Some might feel like the U23 1x is a distraction from the 2x, but as long as we are in the same place training together I feel like it can be a productive distraction. It has created a very competitive training atmosphere between our two singles and is keeping the double fresh. It's so rare that a boat from the US stays in tact year to year, and I am proud that we have found a way to keep this project alive. An unfortunate truth is that I have never rowed in the same boat at Worlds in consecutive years and there were times this year when I wasn't optimistic that Ben and I would be back together again. For all of my talk about continuity and building from year to year, I have never successfully kept a boat together. After Worlds last year, we had no choice but to put an ellipses on our story as Ben went back to school, but after a year of weathering storms and fending off distractions that threatened our partnership, I'm thrilled to say that we are adding new content to the story. Steve Whelpley and Craftsbury deserve a ton of credit for believing in us and clearing a path for us to continue on. We are so lucky to be in a place that appreciates us and sees the value in what we are trying to do.

There is a tangible humility in Ben and I. It feels like it is a clear grasp of the reality that we face in the double and in the world of rowing, in general. It's fast out there. Every event is scary deep and faster than its ever been and you're kidding yourself if you think anything you do is good enough. Last year, we were convinced we were medal contenders because we broke all sorts of records in training and yet, we were 9th. By every measure I am the fastest I've ever been in the single and on the erg and yet, I got 19th at World Cup. Ben PR'd on everything he did this year at UW and yet, he was in the 2V. Neither of us have an ego right now and that is our biggest strength. That humility informs our dialogue in the boat-- not just what we say but how we say it. We are rowing like underdogs because that exactly what we are.

 Ben knows that he is a very promising young rower, but out there on the world circuit, talents like his are dime a dozen. If he is going to be great, he needs to be doing the little things better than he's ever done it. For the first time, I see that maturity in him and it is very encouraging to me. When I say Ben is not special, I am being hyperbolic. I believe Ben has incredible abilities and he is capable of things that I will never be able to do. I'm just saying that his awareness of how he needs to change and be better is what he had yet to show and now that he is demonstrating it, there is nothing he can't do. Experience gives you foresight and it's incredible for him to have that type of experience at age 21.

Rigging up our new double that we had only rowed last year at Worlds and introducing it to the Hosmer was a great moment. It was awesome being able to slap the riggers on and sit in the exact seats we raced at Worlds and get back to work without any time wondering whether the rig was right. Just the equipment alone has made the transition back to the boat much easier than last year. Before Trials last year,  Ben was coming off U23's in the 4+ and while we had trained in the quad together in 2016, we really did not quite know what to expect in the double. Fortunately, Peter and Larry did an excellent job bringing us together over a very short time line. Because we are confident in the equipment and Peter's rigging job at Worlds last year, we are able to isolate the variables and just run down our checklist of things we know bring us together.

At the moment, our big focus is flexibility from the hips, getting length from the dead slide, and simplifying the front end. Steve has done a great job of bringing our awareness to these things and making sure we are addressing them every practice. The boat is already noticeably more balanced and more free compared to last year and I hope we just continue to build from it. We have both been held back by our flexibility and imbalances and while we still have a long ways to go, we are moving in the right direction.

We will put in another solid week of training this week and then head down to Princeton. We are not sure who will show up at Trials, but the competition won't change our approach. We are not only preparing ourselves to face the fastest doubles in the World but preparing to be one of them. We will need to be very precise about our recovery as we Ben tries to manage doubling up, but I am confident that if we stay focused can navigate the week successfully.

Here is a little clip of Ben and I doing some work at 24 spm this morning. Thanks for all the support and believing in the underdog.

Friday, June 1, 2018

WC1 Heats

About an hour until I get on the bus to go down to the course and get ready for my Heat. I'll put my boat down in slings, go over things, and then lay low until I begin my warm up. There are 34 entries in the M1x and it is going to be very tough racing from the moment the flag goes down today. It's not atypical to have this number of entries, but I think the depth and quality of this field is particularly notable. There are a lot of guys, including myself, who typically row in other events that are starting the season in the single and make it so there is no drop off in the field. I need to get top 4 in my heat to progress to the quarterfinals this evening at 6 pm. In my Heat, I have two German scullers including 21 year old Oliver Ziegler who began sculling just two years ago and recently went 5:38 on the erg and finished second at German Trials. My buddy and Olympic medalist Kjetil Borch of Norway will be right next to me. Rounding out the field will be the Hungarian and Korean scullers. I've beaten both of them in the past, but especially the Hungarian, who was second at the Last Chance Regatta in 2016 and finished in the C Final in Rio, has some really good speed. So plenty of competition to push me along out there! Looking forward to getting going and seeing what I can do. I feel like this has been my best year of training yet and that I'm ready to attack this regatta one stroke at a time. Thanks to everyone who is following back in the states, GO USA!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Hanging out in Vienna waiting for my connection to Belgrade and am thoroughly enjoying the local fare.

I get into Belgrade mid afternoon and hopefully will get a chance to go down to the course and rig up my boat. I'll try to post something more substantial about the upcoming racing once I get settled in.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Part 2: NSR

Predictably, it was a difficult transition back to the cold weather and water at Mercer, but we tried to take it in stride and understand that we had a lot of good prep under our belts already. As racing approached, we were forced to do some of the speed work on the erg but the week before the regatta was actually beautiful and I had a couple very high quality race rehearsal pieces. Prior to those workouts I was a little worried about the lack of speed work I had done, but I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly it came back. My final hard workout leading into racing was 3 x 750m consisting of a race rehearsal starting piece, a base piece, and sprint piece. The last piece was particularly solid clocking a 2:28. Given the water temp( <50F), I was really encouraged by the speed and how the rig felt at race pace. I would find that the speed I was producing in this workout and the perfect conditions I had for it would lull me into a false sense of security.

When racing kicked off with the Time Trial on Tuesday morning, it felt like we were rowing on a different planet. As I paddled to the start, I told every referee that I saw that I thought it should be cancelled. It seemed like everyone I talked to was using the Single Heats in Rio as an excuse for why the racing should not be cancelled. Yes, I understand they held the Olympics in dismally unfair and unrowable water. So bad, in fact, that the Mexican lightweight sculler beat Kim Crow. Yes, well done to the Mexican sculler handling the conditions, but just because they ran that race does not mean, in my opinion, that it should now be standard practice to run a singles race in 3 foot chop. I digress. Needless to say, the Time Trial really changed the landscape of the field. When I crossed the line, I was sure I didn't make the top 16. How could I have!? I was dead stopped on the course probably three times. My last 500 meters in a 20 mph tailwind was a 2:01. As I paddled back to the dock, I laughed it off, and honestly was not mad. It was just such an outrageous experience. I quickly learned that I was not the only person that had a bad time. Tom Pezsek and last year's USA M1x Michael Clougher were 19th and 22nd respectively and would not be in the Heats. I snuck into the top 16 at 9th place. I was really looking forward to racing those guys and I felt really bad for them.  I was lucky to be moving on and  hopefully I could get back on track in the Heats.

Nope, sorry. Conditions were just as bad in the Heats. I got off the line and once I was in qualifying position, I did whatever I could to just stay afloat. I didn't have to work very hard and ended up finishing second behind Justin Keen. When I got off the water, I got word that the Semis were moved to later that evening and the Final would be the next morning. This really changed my approach to the regatta. I felt a little vulnerable because despite going down the course twice, I had not gotten even remotely close to race pace yet due to the conditions. Typically, I will warm up into a regatta and practice certain elements of the race with the hope of putting it all together in the Final. All the sudden, the Final was in 16 hours and I had not really woken up my system. So, I went out in the Semifinal to do just that. I blasted out off the line and went out searching for a brick wall. It was really important that I go and find it so that the next day I would be prepared to break through it. I had a good enough lead that I was able to ease off for the last 600 meters or so and still qualify for the Final, but man, that was painful. I basically went out there to hurt myself knowing that I would adapt for the Final. It's all good in concept until you actually feel what its like to hit your limit and then start  dealing with the doubts that cloud your mind. It feels like there's nowhere to go and you just have to accept the fact that's all you have. A lot of people just stop right there and never get to see that the fun really starts after that seal is broken.  I came into the dock totally wounded and my system shocked to its core, but I knew that if I could cool down, refuel, rest up and attack again tomorrow morning, I'd be ready.

When I arrived to the course Thursday morning, the wind was fairly calm but it was blowing in the forecasted cross headwind direction. This worried me a little bit because I knew that the other guys were substantially bigger and would love to lean into a nice headwind. A couple minutes before I launched, the wind really picked up. I could see the water darken and what was 3-4 mph looked like 7-8. I made a quick decision to lighten my gearing and shorten by oars by a half centimeter. In the warm up, I practiced rowing a little lower and longer into the headwind and prepared myself mentally for a longer race. My tens and twenties with the direction of the course were jarringly slow and I wondered whether we might be dealing with a race in the 7:40s. Regardless of conditions, my plan was to be more conservative than usual in the first 1k and to then drop speed similarly to the way I did on the 2k time trials in Chula Vista. I had a clean first 5 strokes and quickly got to a relaxed long rhythm into the headwind. It was a huge leap of faith for me to not go crazy off the start and to just trust my rhythm. My boat felt smooth and I felt relaxed and I was pleasantly surprised that I was slightly in the lead over Justin Keen and Erik Frid. As we passed the 750m marker, I shifted to a quieter and longer rhythm and focused on finding a couple inches of run every stroke. This focus got me a little more and as I approached the 1250 I was sitting about a length up on Justin and Frid. I was feeling great and the race was right there for me to crack open. I shifted to 36 and began the build to the line. I was pouring it on and totally forgot where I was on the course, I was just flat out going and my body and rowing felt great. Forearms were loose, legs were connected, and the boat was jumping. After some very difficult losses from while in the lead last year, it felt great to be the one accelerating away. I didn't notice the 1500m mark until I was already into the last 250m. I could see Frid had made a move and gone into second but he wasn't catching me, I was still moving away. My Dad got a little upset at me for this after the race but I stopped rowing a couple strokes early and floated across the line. In hindsight, I wish I hadn't done it, but the reality was that in the moment, I had done the work and the race was done. It was a great end to a very eventful few days. The overwhelming feeling when I crossed the line was not fatigue or pain, I was honestly proud of myself for being a mature and smart racer and executing the plan. It would have been very easy to get derailed by any number of things during the week but I was proud of the way I stayed even keeled and performed when it counted. I don't want to get too caught up in the times, but I was a little bit upset about how the changing conditions reflected poorly on our race. As I was getting off the water, the wind had shifted to a cross tailwind and stayed that way for the rest of racing. There's no question Kara and Felice are going insanely fast, I know, I have been matching up with them on percentage all spring and they've been unbelievable. But I also have a very good idea of where I stack up with them and I'm about 1-1.5 percent slower depending on the distance. It's not a big deal, anyone who was there saw what happened with the conditions, but the last thing the men's scullers need is more people telling them they are a lost cause and so far off the pace. If anything we could have used the conditions getting worse for the rest of the races! Regardless, I actually think guys are considerably faster than last year at this time and are doing a good job. That all being said, Felice and Kara are off the charts. I honestly think if the W1x medalists from 2017 Worlds were in that race they would be in places 3,4,5. They have both continually raised the standard and it has been awesome to be around.

Over the next five weeks I will continue training in Princeton alongside the women and then go race WC1 in the 1x. WC is the same weekend as IRA's, so Ben and I will get going in the double the following week. We will then have about a month until M2x/ U23 1x Trials. While our main focus will be shifting to the double post WC1, the foundation of our speed will be in the singles. One and half years out from Olympic Qualification and two and a half years out from the Olympics, its important that we are both building speed in singles. Some might say that Ben rowing U23's is a distraction from the 2x, but I actually think its a great short term goal for him, the same way trying to make the A Final at WC1 is for me. When U23's is done, we will have a month and a half to prepare for Worlds in Bulgaria.  Should be a fun summer. Thanks for reading.