Sunday, January 21, 2018

Apologies in advance for the stream of consciousness nature of this post, but I haven't posted in a while and I just feel like writing. 

A few days ago, a good friend sent me a well-timed e-mail and reminded me of these quotes. For anyone who has seen the movie Without Limits, the story of middle distance running prodigy Steve Prefontaine, these will be familiar. 

"All of my life – man and boy – I’ve operated under the assumption that the main idea in running was to win the damn race. Actually, when I became a coach I tried to teach people how to do that. I tried to teach Pre how to do that. I tried like Hell to teach Pre to do that… and Pre taught me – taught me I was wrong.
Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort could win a race, and a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn’t necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish. He never ran any other way. I tried to get him to. God knows I tried.
But Pre was stubborn. He insisted on holding himself to a higher standard than victory.
A race is a work of art. That’s what he said. That’s what he believed. And he was out to make it one every step of the way." --Bill Bowerman
I saw Without Limits when I was 16. I remember watching it in between soccer practices during a particularly hot and humid summer in Cincinnati. I think it was right there, that summer, when my interest in endurance sports was engendered and my curiosity about Pre started me down a path to explore my own limits as an athlete. At the time, I'm not sure I fully understood what about him appealed to me, but something just resonated with me. Pre was the embodiment of the idea that talent was a myth and that our limits were self prescribed. There's a quote in the movie where Pre famously reveals his secret: " I can endure more pain than any man I've ever raced. That's why I can beat any man I've ever raced." To him, his success was an act of will and he largely downplayed his own physiology or god given gifts and discredited anyone who tried to say that his physiology was why he won races. I've read that Pre recorded(without knowing it) some of the highest V02 max numbers ever, but the question is, did his physiology come largely as a result of his psychology or the other way around?  Its a fascinating question and we certainly know what Pre believed the answer to that question to be. It is foolhardy to think that Pre was nearly an Olympic Champion in the 5k in his early twenties solely because he wanted it more than the other guys he raced, but I think it similarly would be wrong of a physiologist to say that he was in that position only because he had a higher maximal oxygen consumption than his opponents. Without Limits and the Matt Fitzgerald book How Bad Do You Want It both do a great job exploring this debate. 

Pre may also be responsible for my affinity for a good mustache.

Yes, Pre planted the seed, but I was so fortunate to cross paths with another that helped that seed grow and thrive. It's a little known fact that in Craftsbury in the fall of 2012, my first full year there, 1992 Olympic Bronze medallist 10k runner Lynn Jennings trained alongside the GRP as she prepared for the Head of the Charles( a race she went on to win and break the course record). At the time, I remember feeling very fortunate and grateful for the situation I was in, both in my own training and in my new life in Vermont. I didn't quite understand just how special it was to be able to talk with Lynn before and after practice, but I do remember feeling that it was special and significant in the moment.  I could go on and on about Lynn. I see her so infrequently, but my daily pursuit makes me feel very close to her. She reminds me every now and then via email that she is thinking of me and that is always enough to stoke my fire. To me, Lynn is the living breathing personification of mind over muscle that keeps me pushing for more, because I know if she were in my position, she would be attacking every workout with total abandon. Lynn is famously quoted as saying "Mental will is a muscle and it needs exercise just like every other muscle in the body." She taught me many things but I give her credit for helping me to unleash the wild animal inside me. In 2013, when I rowed the M1x at World Cups, she sent me off with a a picture of her breaking the tape at one of her many National Championship victories and a message:  "Be the man that pursues victory harder and smarter than anyone else. No one will do this for you, this is your task." I think about those words all the time. 


 Snap back to reality. I'm realizing that I have done very little to give the readers of this blog any information on my current whereabouts, training location, marital status, etc. I feel like I owe you some answers. In fact, there have been changes in all of those categories. I guess engaged doesn't quite change my marital status(yet), but over Christmas break I proposed to Felice and she said YES! She and I are both thrilled and couldn't be happier. No wedding plans as of yet, but we are having fun throwing ideas around and just enjoying being engaged for now. 

Future Mr. and Mrs. Graves!

As far as training goes, Felice and I are both training in Princeton with the women's national team group while continuing to row singles. Tom T has been very supportive and helpful and I can't overstate how awesome it has been to have the stability, predictability, and energy of the group in training. Showing up to practice and just executing the work without any extra contemplation or thought on whether its the right thing or whether it is enough has been a wonderful change. From afar, I have always admired how hard and systematically the women train, so its been very cool being a part of it for the last 10 weeks. 

 We are getting into the thick of winter training right now and I am constantly being humbled by the training. I have been rowing at a high level for many years at this point but Tom's training is exposing that I may not have been training quite as much or as well as I thought I was. Felice tells me, in her opinion, the volume is low compared to years past, but for me its still been a challenge so far. I compared my total training volume over the last 10 weeks compared to the same stretch last year and the result was pretty jarring. I would say I expected an increase, but not 40 hours of increase. Extrapolated over 50 weeks that is 200 hours, or 8.3 days. It's sobering to see the quantifiable difference. When I was training on my own or making my own training plan, I generally only trained when my body felt like training, so it has been tough adjusting to doing a 20k when my body is sending me very clear messages that it does not want to exercise. It's a testament to the strength of the team that people carry each other through the tough times and keep coming back for more. 

Despite some quite unenjoyable jaunts, I endure knowing that where there is struggle there is room for improvement. My hope is that this will help my aerobic system become more robust and help give me legs in the moments I have desperately missed them. The title of this blog alludes to the enjoyable low intensity aerobic training that is necessary to achieve sustainable improvements over a long period of time. The orginal idea( back in 2010-11) was that training didn't have to be hard to be effective and in fact to be most effective in the long term, the easier the better. I was very interested in running training at the time, specifically Chris Lear's Running With The Buffaloes and New Zealand legend Arthur Lydiard's Running the Lydiard Way. They argued that, sure, there needs to be development of speed, power, and anaerobic power, but relatively those things take less time to develop and have a fixed ceiling. The aerobic system, in contrast, is limitless in its potential to improve. This concept felt transcendental to me. Jaunting began with this notion at its core. I wasn't the biggest or the strongest and would never be, but if something truly was limitless in its potential, it meant I had a chance in the long term. Of course, there would be moments of prodigious pain and exertion, but in order for it to be sustainable over the years, I would always need to find enjoyment in the process and put my energy into the system that could continue to improve. In this last training cycle, that paradigm seems to be shifting for me or maybe just continuing to evolve.

 I am not rejecting the thesis I just outlined, after all, it has helped get to where I am today. In many ways, that theory has proved itself. I'm 29 years old, have been training post college for almost 8 years, and I'm still healthy and motivated. That is a success in itself. But in order to go places I've never gone, I need to do things I've never done. In no way am I saying that I need to change everything, more just recognizing that I haven't made an Olympic team and being fast enough to row  at the Olympics in today's world of rowing is not about feeling good or enjoying every single workout. It's about going really fucking fast. That doesn't always feel good, in fact, it almost never does. So jaunting or not, I know where I'm trying to go and I know that on this path you only get what you earn, when you earn it. The days of going to Olympics just because you are your country's best are gone. 

 On my last post, I alluded to my somewhat frustrated mindset after Sarasota. I don't want to go on a rant about the things that contributed to that mindset but I'll just say it had nothing to do with Ben or our performance. I think I was just annoyed with the circumstances and having to deal with things none of the boats we were racing against had to think about. It has taken me some time to wrap my head around what is really important to me, quiet some of the unnecessary noise, and feel confident in a path going forward to 2020.  I set Jan 1, 2018 as a goal setting deadline for myself. Sure, maybe its unwise to lay out so specifically what I/we are going for, what if someone gets injured? what if? what if? I'm more worried about the what if scenario where I am not proactive and don't prepare well enough to be at my best at 2019 Worlds. This will be over in a flash and I think our best chance for 2020 is to stick to our guns and milk every ounce of speed out of ourselves as we possibly can. This is what I came up with:

1. Qualify the 2x for the 2020 Olympics at the 2019 World Champs( Top 11)

2. Make the 2020 Olympic Team in the M2x( Win US Trials)

3. Make the M2x Final at the Olympics.

4. Fight for a medal in the M2x Final. 

Feels good to put that down. Now, how are we going to do that? 

Yes, its a little tricky with Ben in school but he is training hard and getting faster. I think having time during the year for us to improve individually is actually a positive circumstance and will create a highly focused and exciting atmosphere once we are in the boat together. Coach Callahan seems supportive of our ambitions in the double and is letting me come out in early February and do some sculling with Ben and Carlos. That camp will be really important for us to just check in and make sure we are on the same page technically so that when we meet up in June, we will know what we want to focus on. 

After a week in Seattle,  I'll be going down to Chula Vista to meet back up with the women's team and train in the single from mid Feb to the end of March. I'll be back in Princeton at the beginning of April preparing for NSR1 in the single at the end of the month. Luckily, the M2x/W2x Trial is July 5-8, so Ben and I will have about 4 weeks from the end of IRA's to get ready for Trials. Post Trials, we will have a good chunk of time to get ready for World Champs in Plovdiv in early September. Not sure yet if Ben wants to go for the U23 1x in his last year of eligibility, but I would definitely be supportive of him if he wanted to do it. 

Time to watch some football. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Post Worlds

I've really been wanting to just sit still and write my thoughts out about that last month or so, but I have been constantly in motion since Worlds ended last Sunday. Sometimes, I think its important to just keep moving, not reflect too much, and just continue focusing on the task at hand, but at the conclusion of a massive push to World Champs, I want to make sure I am not just letting myself get sucked into another year without understanding how and why I ended up in the position I'm in. And probably more importantly understanding what exactly that position is. I've touched on this a few times on the blog, but throughout this year and this summer it has been crucial for me to maintain an honest and strong internal dialogue and connection with my personal goals and to not get too discouraged if something went badly or overly encouraged if something went particularly well, I needed to stay even keeled and  in touch with my purpose and my process so as to not get taken off track. Over the years this blog has been the constant that has helped me to stay honest in my pursuit. In this post, I hope to recount our preparation for Worlds, our racing at Worlds, and my perspective looking ahead.

Let me start by saying that working with brother Peter and Ben on this project in the double was a blast. Obviously, having spent so much time in the quad together last year made the dynamic between the three of us feel natural and comfortable. I think Peter did an excellent job melding us together as a double and also preparing us for a very challenging set of races in an incredibly difficult event. I mentioned this in my last post, but training in this boat was very exciting for all three of us because it felt like every day we were doing something faster than we'd ever done and there was an ever-present optimism to our training and approach. We cultivated an attitude and a swagger that we not only could race with the top doubles but we could beat them. Knowing our result now, I do not look back and say that we were wrong, I just think we found out that there incredible depth in the double field right now. I will touch on that later when I get into our racing.

I think this confidence that we kindled was very important and will be very important down the road. Peter made sure that we were familiar with our speed over the full 2k distance and the times we were doing gave us ample reason to believe that we would be up there with the top boats, but making the Final would be as much about our heat draw, rep draw, and semi draw,  not to mention lane draw, as it would be about our raw speed. Before leaving for Florida, we went 6:12 in a light tail by ourselves in Princeton, so we knew that would be flirting with 6:10 with some competition. We were working on being more reserved in the first 500 and then building speed at around 1250 to the finish. There is certainly a risk, especially in the double, to being conservative early, but we had a lot of data to suggest that we were covering the distance faster when we conserved energy early. Ben and I both really like getting our boat out early and can both produce a lot of speed in the first 1k, but it is typically at a cost.  Two weeks before racing started, we did three straight days of 2k time trials on Canal 54 working on our pacing. It was brutally hot and incredibly difficult going out day after day, all alone and ripping off 2k's, but this was a really important segment of race pace work for us. Time after time, we engrained building speed to the line and it felt like we were really starting to cultivate a  lights out last 750. While this was one of the more challenging segments of training I can remember because of the heat, it was also notable and fun because of the outrageous times we were putting down. This was just a few days after Hurricane Irma passed through and as a result there was a bit of flow on the Canal. We broke 6 on consecutive days going 5:52, 5:57, and 5:55. My guess is the current was worth around 20 seconds but it was a lot of fun covering the distance that fast. After these pieces on Canal 54, our hard training was behind us and apart from a couple 500's we would be just doing 8-12k easy rows on the course, getting ready to go.

When the entries came out for Worlds, I must confess we were a little intimidated. While we were confident in our speed, these entries showed us that it was definitely not going to be a typical post olympic year field and conservatively there were three finals worth of boats that had a real claim at making the A Final. I would say that all summer in the back of my mind I was expecting a slightly smaller turnout for Worlds this year. In Korea in 2013, Ben Dann and I finished 10th, but the depth of the event was nowhere close to what it was as the quadrennial progressed, so I expected a similar trend this year. I felt like if we encountered a field like 2013, being in the final and fighting for the medals was within our reach. After looking at the entries, that fantasy disappeared and we realized that it would be very easy to find ourselves in the C Final. The M2x featured the most in tact boats from the Rio Olympics and a handful of other potent combinations. We would need to stay very internal and not get caught up in who we were racing because with this much depth in the field one  thing was certain: some very fast and established boats would be finishing in the C Final.

By the time the Heats rolled around on Monday, Ben and I were so sick of paddling around on the course. Its definitely nice resting and feeling good as you taper before racing starts, but at the same time, practicing at World Championships is literally the worst. Its fun to go down to the boat park, see friends, and shoot the shit, but the rowing itself is utterly miserable. There are hundreds of boats out there training at the same time, waking each other, and my sense is that no one is really enjoying the rowing. It is so important to be able to keep an even keel out there because every row feels bad. The majority of the crews are coming off the water complaining about how bad the row felt, and these are the best rowers in the world! Its so easy to get discouraged by how the boat is feeling and let the bouncy water dictate how you are rowing, but I think the best athletes have a short term memory and just let it go. Ben and I definitely had rows where we were frustrated with how the boat was feeling but I feel like I did a better job than in years past of not sweating the small stuff and assuring Ben that what we were feeling was mostly due to the bounce and less to do with our actual rowing. Ben is only 21, but he has rowed in enough international races at this point to know that I was not just saying that. In our final week leading up to the Heats, we did a couple sets of pieces with the LM4x and also did our fastest flat out 500m piece. We went 1:23.1 which really made us feel like we had ticked off all of the boxes, from max speed to over distance, we were as ready as we were going to be.

Italy, Australia, GB, USA, Argentina. Top 2 to the Semi Final, rest to the Rep. Out of this group, us and GB were the biggest unknowns. GB's boat was comprised of arguably two of their best guys, Angus Groom and Graeme Thomas who were both in the GBM4x selected for Rio. Graeme came down ill before the games and was withdrawn from competition. In 2014-2016, these guys were stalwarts on the podium in the M4x but due to injury both of them were not on the GB squad throughout this year. After a long rehab, they won Holland Beker and were announced as the double for World Champs. The GB M4x was thought of as their priority boat but I knew these two guys well and that they would not want to play second fiddle to anyone. The Italians were a young combination that had beaten Lithuania early in the season to win the European Championships and then followed that up with another medal in Lucerne. Australia and Argentina had both raced the World Cups and finished in the A Final. On paper this looked like the deepest heat out of the four, and it did not disappoint. As we pulled into the starting area, I could see the light cross headwind coming across the course and noted that we would need to be careful with our steering right out of the gates. Our plan was to stick to our guns and no matter what, take it to the line. We were confident that if someone was out on us early, they will be working for it. We got off cleanly and after about 200m we began finding our base rhythm. Looking back, we probably were much too relaxed in this first 1k, but I have to say, the boat felt great. We were rowing low, 34-35, and spending a lot of time at the front end. I could feel that we were moving away from Australia and that we were only slightly down to GB. Given our level of exertion at this point, this was perfect. What I couldn't see right away was on the other side of the course, Italy was getting the hell out of there. Still, its ok, a lot of racing still to be done, and we continued to move away from Argentina and Australia. At the 1k, GB put on a clear move and walked to a length lead on us. I almost called or us to stay with them but our downhill move was at the 1250, so we stayed patient and waited. When we shifted, we began to match GB's move and I could feel that we were reeling Italy in, but the race course was running out quickly. It was awesome to feel the clear shift in energy and speed in our boat. This was exactly how we had trained it and now were on the offensive, hunting Italy. We ate into their lead and finished about a half length down to Italy and a length own to GB, finishing third and bound for the Rep. We crossed the line feeling gassed and knowing we didn't make it through but feeling very encouraged. Those guys knew that we were for real and that next time we might not spot them as much in the beginning. We had the fastest non qualifying time and hoped for a kind Rep draw.

Like I mentioned before, when all things are even, luck is quite an important factor. In order to get into the A final, we were going to need a few things to go our way, but it just didn't happen. Our Rep looked like a Semifinal. We had the four fastest 1500m times from the Heats in the same Rep. The lineup was Australia, Belarus, Germany, Canada, and Netherlands. Top 2 would progress to the AB semi, the remainder to the CD Semi. All the sudden, we are looking at elimination from contention for the A Final. With just a minor slip up, we could find ourselves in the C Final. There's no doubt about it, Ben and I were nervous for this one. Ben was also racing against two other Washington rowers, Olympic silver medalist Conlin McCabe from Canada and his current teammate Bram Schwarz, so there was a little extra on the line. We were definitely pleased with the way we were rowing in the heat and so we didn't want to change much, we just wanted to be a little more aggressive in the second 500 and assert ourselves. Even though it was just a rep, we really wanted to send a message to these crews and everyone else that we were for real and that we know how to win races. Given the cross headwind coming from the East, we had a decent lane in the middle of the course from which to work. We blasted off and got right to work. At 500 down, we were sitting up on the field and were rowing a couple beats higher, 36-37, compared to the heat. This extra cadence was clearly giving us more speed so we pinned it there and focused on rhythm. As we crossed the 1k and began to anticipate our downhill call, we could see the field in a line about a length back to us, but Netherlands and Canada were only about a three quarters of a boat down to us. Australia, Belarus, and Germany were dead even trying to push up into qualifying position. When we shifted, our boat surged and we were moving away from the field. As we crossed 500 to go, we had broken open water with Netherlands and Canada and it felt like we could win this race by open water. But faced with elimination, Canada and Netherlands ignited a massive charge in the last 500 that we were forced to respond to. With twenty strokes to go we were clinging on to only a half boat or less lead and they continued to charge. All three boats crossed the line at their limit and we were fortunate enough to come away with a very narrow win over Netherlands who got the qualifying spot over Canada. Canada who won the petite final in Lucerne, would be heading to C Final along with World Cup A Finalists Australia, Argentina and European Champs Best Time Holder, Belarus. It was tough not to feel a big sense of relief after this race. I wish we had the luxury of just focusing on the Semi, but the truth is that if we had taken this race lightly, I would be here writing about racing in the C Final. But still, we were happy with how we executed the race, happy to come out on the good end of a tight finish, and excited to have a earned a chance to make the A Final on Friday.

The Semi was really the opportunity that we had been working to earn. We had visualized it time after time and we felt ready to go make the top 6. Our mindset after the Rep was that we had just been in a battle and that the crews in the Semi would not want to deal with us. Unfortunately, when we saw our draw and the weather forecast, I particularly was not too encouraged. Peter did a good job of downplaying it as much as he could, but the fact of the matter is that being in Lane 1 or 0 when there is an easterly wind is not a place you want to be. Typically this is the scenario in which they would reseed the lanes and lane 1 would be the unfavored lane. For our next two races, the Semi and the B Final, we would be stuck out in lane zero. There are definitely examples of crews that made it work for them, Robbie Manson is a good example, however, I would also say that the current world record holder had to claw his way tooth and nail from that lane just to make the Final. In our Semi, we were giving it full throttle from stroke one and it just felt like we weren't going anywhere for the amount of energy we were putting in. After 1k, we had given it a massive effort to stay in qualifying position and it felt like we were getting dropped. The top 4 crews were engaged in a huge fight that we lost contact with and we fell out of contention in the second thousand. It was a terrible feeling to feel so disconnected from the fight at the top of the field. We limped in across the line finishing last and having our hopes of making the final dashed. Meanwhile, on the other side of the course in lane 6, Romania missed qualifying by 1 second. In the other Rep in Lane 6, Norway, who we had posted faster times then in both previous rounds, cruised through their Semi to the Final.  I know how this sounds and I don't want to put too much stock in questions of fairness, but I guess all I am trying to point out is that with a little luck we might have been singing a different tune. Obviously Olaf and Kjetil are the Olympic bronze medalists and people expect them to make the Final, but I honestly think that they were struggling during this regatta and that being in lane 6 during that Semi was a significant advantage. But like I said, we would have needed some luck to make the Final and we just didn't get it. The clear goal for the future is to become so robustly fast that we don't need everything to go our way to make the Final or to Medal. I really don't think we are that far off of that speed. Its obtainable and it comes with focused effort together over time. See: Meg and Ellen.

As you might imagine, the Semi was a big let down for us. We took the evening to see our families and let our guard down a little bit. We missed achieving our primary goal of making the Final and I think we both needed to take a moment to be a little sad and then come back and attack the B Final. Peter reminded us that we need to practice qualifying for the Olympics and having to do that at World Championships from the B Final is a likely scenario. This would be the perfect opportunity to rehearse making the top 11. The lineup for the B Final was Netherlands, USA, Romania, Switzerland,  GB, and Bulgaria. This the type of race where you just have no idea where you might end up. We could conceivably get first or last depending on the day. Again the wind was from the northeast and again we were over in Lane zero. We knew we needed to get ourselves up into the fight to defend against getting dropped like we did in the semi. I felt like right away we were being very assertive with our entries and it was allowing us to get a really solid lock off the front. We jumped out to a lead over GB and Switzerland and I think that caught them off guard. At 1250, Romania was actually leading, we were in second, and GB and Swiss were charging hard. We made our move and broke Romania, but as we crossed into the last 500, it was clear that the Swiss and GB had more left in the tank. They shifted gears and left us solidly in third. My sense was that was burned way more fuel in the first 1250 then they did to be where we were, but thats just what we had to do given our situation. We crossed the line in third, finishing 9th overall. I would have liked to have been closer to the top two but all in all, I was proud of the way we attacked the race and I thought we put together a ballsy race to finish out the Regatta.

We got off the water derigged quickly and then headed over to the Budweiser truck to enjoy the A Finals. As the Finals started, the wind shifted around into a pretty nice cross tail and they ended up reseeding the lanes. I didn't quite understand that decision considering the wind was the most tail it had been all week. New Zealand came through at the end to win the M2x in a time of 6:10.1 with Italy and Poland getting silver and bronze. Yes, we didn't make the final, but if we had raced in those conditions theres no way we go much more than 2-3 seconds slower than that. It just shows how many quality doubles there are. As it stands now, Ben and I don't have a whole lot of people telling us to continue in the 2x. It seems like most would rather see us give it up and row in a sweep boat, especially given the M8+'s success.  I received an email a couple days ago saying that given our finish at Worlds I did not meet the criteria to get Elite Athlete Health Insurance. So there is not a whole lot of incentive to continue on rowing in one of the hardest events without much support. My heart tells me that we have something special in the double are close to doing something very cool, but my head tells me that its just stupid to continue going against the grain. Its only been a couple weeks since Worlds and I am definitely still digesting things but its also already mid October and 2018 will be here before I know it.  For now, I am just getting ready for the Charles and HOSR and hopefully afterwards will have a better sense of what I want my year to look like. I will be starting first in the Champ 1x and then rowing in the Scullers Great 8 on Sunday. Its a pretty different group of scullers compare to 2014 but its still going to be a blast to row with those guys. I'll be arriving Wednesday evening and then meeting up with the guys for our first row in the 8+ on Thursday morning. Luckily, this year Robbie Manson is organizing everything so I hopefully won't be doing nearly as much busy work before the singles race as I did in 2014. That being said, these guys like to have a good time and while I am eager to lay down a great piece in the single, peer pressure is a powerful force!

Thanks to everyone that was following us during Worlds, we really appreciated all the support.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

When Ben and I crossed the finish line at Trials, we knew that our work was just beginning. I don't want to belittle the act of making the National Team because I remember what it felt like to make my first U23 team, my first Senior team, and its a very special feeling. But deciding to pursue this double together was not about just making the team. When Ben got back from U23's, we only had 10 days to get to a reasonable speed and it was very impressive to watch how seamlessly Ben picked up sculling again. Sure there was plenty of residual imbalance from rowing sweep for the last year, but for the most part he looked at home in stroke seat, laying down rhythm and I really enjoyed having him back. Right off the bat he wasn't quite as smooth as he was last year stroking the quad but it was obvious to me that I was rowing with a bigger, stronger, and more mature version. Since Trials he has only gotten smoother and we have enjoyed having the time to really dig into the details of melding together.

 Before I get into specifically what we have been doing, I should mention that we named my brother Peter as our Coach for Worlds. Larry Gluckman will also be helping us, but Peter will be with us all the time. I think the blend of Larry and Peter has been excellent for us because they both bring different things to the table but the main thing that we wanted out of this entire project was maximum continuity from the quad project last year. We felt like we really found something that worked last year in the quad and that we didn't need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to keep perfecting and executing the same technical points, focuses, maintaining the attention to detail, and just not starting over from scratch. Leaving Lucerne last year, I had a long conversation with Larry about continuity and about how that is what makes a boat like the German 4x so successful. I don't think they have anything that the other quads in the event don't also have other than time together and a proven system that they trust. By keeping our team together, I really feel like we are starting from a much better point than we did in the Fall of 2015. Larry, Peter, Ben, and I are all speaking the same technical language and have trust in the same process.

 While we are confident in where we are aiming and what the end game is technically, Ben and I have both faced unique sets of challenges individually. Ben is obviously just looking to get more comfortable sculling after a year rowing in exceptionally fast sweep boats and I am faced with the nuances of matching another's stroke and adjusting to the speed of the double. I would say one of Ben's great strengths is his ability to row a stroke that is highly effective at race ratings. He does a really good job of rowing the suspension and not messing around with anything that is not actually moving the boat. He keeps his hands flowing and keeps the work in front of his body and always attached to the front end. Rowing with Ben reminds me that if you're rowing well, there is no back end, the entire stroke happens at the front end. Right away, Ben and I matched up very well at race rates, just thinking about rowing the quad rhythm, but paddling around at lower rates it was challenging for us to find commonality. I am used to cruising around in the single and spending a lot of time letting the boat run at the finish and Ben is doing a really good job of keeping everything moving. Gradually, as we get more time together, that rhythm is becoming more natural to me again but its clear that coming from the single my hands were slow and not assertive. Peter has done a really good job running us through drills that pin point our trouble spots in the stroke and expose them. Sitting in bow, Peter was our voice in the 4x last year and was able to see the slight differences in each of our strokes. He is very good at troubleshooting problems in the boat; listening to feedback and making suggestions. Specifically with Ben and I, he knows well what it feels like to row with each of us in the double and knows how to match us. This intimate knowledge of each of our rowing styles is invaluable because it feels like the changes are not abstract ideas, they are rooted in experience. 
At Trials, we were struggling with feeling off balance in the boat and since then Peter has been able to give us both small changes to get us both sitting in a neutral position and feeling even  in the boat. For me, he hypothesized that if I led out with my starboard hand more and reached with my left hip that would get me sitting evenly on the seat and free up the boat at the catch. Last week this was a big breakthrough for me. I felt like I was able to press evenly on my feet and catch evenly from side to side. This has made rowing the double much more enjoyable for me. Peter has done an excellent job of getting video and showing it to us immediately after practice. It has helped tremendously to be able to see what we're doing and for all three of us to collectively be on the same page about what we are seeing and how we want to change. 

The first two weeks we were in Craftsbury, we went straight through without any rest days. This was  a very tough block of high volume, lifting, lower rate power( 4 x 10' and 4 x 2k @ 24), and our test pieces being the Head of the Hosmer( 2.8k) and 4 x 1500m at base rate. This was a highly productive two weeks that I thoroughly enjoyed. Part of this is because we have barely rowed together this year, but it just felt like we were getting tangibly faster everyday and getting really high quality work in. Having Peter with us every step of the way and holding us accountable for getting the work done has shown me just how valuable that is, as well.  For instance, two afternoons a week right now we are doing 60' bike erg/40' erg and it would be very easy for us to skimp on that, but its been great having Peter there to remind us of why we are doing it and why its important not to cut corners. We are paying a lot of attention to recovery because we know that arriving to the AB Semi and the A Final having our best race is as much about recovering between races as it is about our raw speed. We need to make sure our aerobic systems are at their very best so that we can recover better than anyone. We might have medalist speed, but can we arrive to the A Final on Sunday with 100% of our speed? That's something I've been working on a lot this year but even at Henley this year I felt like I arrived to Sunday's Final maybe without with my full bag of tricks. 

60' bike erg/40' erg

There is definitely a palpable sense of excitement every time we do pieces in double because it feels like every time out we go faster than anything I've done previously. I am confident in what I bring to the table but there's no question Ben has brought this boat to another level of speed that I haven't seen. Across the board, our numbers are just in a different category than what I'm used to and as you might  imagine, that makes this really exciting and fun. The workout that was most notable to me was last week's 4 x 2k @ 24 spm on 5 min rest. We went right at 90% of GMS on our second and fourth piece, both in tailwinds obviously. Ben Dann and I always hovered around 87-88%, so I thought this showed some real aerobic power. Another staple workout has been the Head of the Hosmer, but instead of rowing into it we have been doing a starting 250, shifting to 30 spm for 2250m, then sprinting for 250m. The idea of this is to teach us to hold rhythm and speed for an extended period of time after a full start and also to be able to sprint under massive duress. Tomorrow we will do our third all out trip down the Hosmer and this time we will be doing a finishing 500m instead of 250. 

 This period of newness and ebullience is bound to end soon but I think we are in a unique position to be able to show up to Worlds with this sense of freshness and eagerness that maybe some of the other boats are lacking after a full season of racing together.  Tomorrow will be our last day here in Craftsbury before heading down to Princeton for two days of pieces and then finally to Florida on Saturday afternoon. We are doing a 2k on the buoyed course in Princeton and then we will be training in Orlando for two weeks. We will be staying with Ben's family and rowing at Moss Park. It will be great to have the support of Ben's family while we are down there. I have found memories of staying with them last year and having mandatory viewings of " The Highlander", Ben's Dad's favorite movie( and now mine). This is a home World Championships for all of us but for Ben it truly is. He grew up racing in Sarasota and has competed on the course countless times as a junior. Obviously we spent quite a bit of time on the course last year in the quad and it will be familiar to me too, but this will be particularly special for Ben. 

Below are a couple video clips and pictures from the last couple of weeks. I will update once we get settled in Florida. Thank you to everyone who has donated to our fundraising page, we have been humbled by all the support we have gotten so far.  If you would like to contribute,  click here. Thanks for following and GO USA!

photo and video cred: Peter Graves

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Much bigger update coming soon on how the double is going, but first just wanted to send out a link to our fundraising page. I should mention that I have gotten incredible support this year working for John Chatzky at Swing Ventures and Ben just completed an 8 week internship at Swing. Chatz has gone above and beyond to support our boat and is excited about helping us push to Tokyo; however, the reality is that supporting multiple athletes and a coach is a very expensive endeavor, especially when we are trying to give ourselves every possible advantage. We cannot afford to skimp on anything, whether it be the top of the line boat,  PT/massage, recovery fuel, etc.  Our goal is to have no compromise, to leave no stone unturned, and to approach this as professionally as possible--the way an Olympic Medalist M2x would approach it. Despite being somewhat satellite members of the team at Craftsbury, Dick and Judy again have been very generous by housing and feeding us for the better part of three weeks but as we transition down to Florida for final preparations we are looking to raise around $6,000 to cover our travel expenses and equipment costs. Thank you so much to everyone that has read the blog over the years and has believed in this journey, it means everything to me. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have something up about how the last two weeks have been and then have a pretty steady flow of video and pictures as we ramp up into Worlds. For now, he's a little clip of Ben and I doing 4 x 1500m at base rate and pace against a throw together M4x last weekend.

4 x 1500

Friday, July 14, 2017


First things first, over the last couple of weeks and especially this week at Nationals in Cincinnati, I've had so many come up to me and tell me they've been following and reading the blog for the last few years and I have loved hearing everyone's different stories. It makes me very happy to know that my pursuit has provided some sort of inspiration or fuel to others out there. My guess is that I don't need to recount the events of Henley considering how public all of the races were, but I'll just say that it has been very difficult for me to put that one behind me. Because of how much that race meant to me, it will sting for a while. But because of how much I felt that loss, I came back to Princeton last Monday energized in a renewed pursuit of speed. I think just the way in which I lost has made me re think the way I'm rowing, how I'm rigged, what my race strategy is, etc. I got an up close and personal look into the world of New Zealand rowing and that has really influenced the way I have been proceeding. The last week in Princeton was one of the most engaged weeks of training of had in a long time. I was excited to come down to the boathouse every day and experiment with changes that I had observed in the NZL crews and that had peaked my interest. I knew I only had a week before I left for Nationals in Cincinnati, but I felt like that racing would be the perfect chance to test out on a buoyed 2k course in a race environment whether these changes had merit or not. Before I left I experimented with various oar lengths, loads, and foot stretcher placements in an effort to find a lighter more sustainable load that might allow me to rate a touch higher and keep the speed more constant and even throughout the race. I have been racing the single with the Fat2 blades for as long as I can remember and have loved them, but especially after having the sprint of my life in Henley and still coming up short, I wondered whether my rig was too far through the pin and hence allowing me to be too fast early and paying for it later. So, I guess and checked, I trialed and errored. I had a particularly good  3 x 4.5k workout at 24,26,28 against some of the Training Center pairs where I felt like I was able to maintain consistent fast splits over this distance compared to what I was used to with the Fats.  Although I think a lot of this may have had a lot to do with just moving to bow slightly and having a lighter overall load. The problem with this, however, is that testing this at mid cadences is not the best way to test for 2k speed. But I reasoned that I had three races coming up at Nationals to do that. Fast forward to right now where I am sitting in my hotel room in Cincinnati feeling bummed about how my Final went this morning at Nationals. Internally and conceptually, I'm OK and I understand that there were risks with changing things up in and around racing, but no matter how you slice it, it sucks to lose. My intention for the rigging change was a combination of learning from Robbie Manson and the rest of the NZL team and to change to what Ben Davison and I will use in the 2x starting next week. Manson uses standard skinny smoothie 2's which is also what we used in the 4x last year and what Ben and I will use in the 2x. I also wanted to emulate Manson's higher cadence and even splitting race tactics. The Time Trial on Wednesday was my first race pace work with the new rig and honestly it went great. It was a light headwind, maybe 2 mph, and my goal was to rate around a 35, a couple beats lower than I planned to race the Final. I just held 1.45 wire to wire and the rhythm felt great. I crossed the line feeling like I had more to give and that this was a rhythm that was really carrying me. It didn't feel labored, just light and well suspended. I got off the water feeling like I had really found something. In the Semi yesterday, conditions were considerably faster, probably a tailwind of 6-8 mph. I rolled off the start much more reserved than I typically race in hopes of not overdoing it early and finding an even pace. I was down off the start to my brother Tom, but my plan was to just hold one split the entire race and watch people fall back. In the faster conditions, I really struggled to find the suspension and the lock at the front end--something was missing. I gradually moved through and qualifying for the final was not of concern to me but the lack of rhythm and pace was of real concern. The rate was lower and it really felt like I was chasing it at the front end. This time, I crossed the line feeling discouraged and like maybe I better switch back to my known rig for the Final. I was struggling so much to find connection in the tail that I felt very vulnerable; like I wasn't capable of the speed I know I can hit with my normal set up. Last night I thought about it a lot and finally came to the conclusion that if I just switch back now I will not have learned anything. Essentially, nothing ventured nothing gained. I decided to stick with the new rig and to just race it up. This morning, conditions were slightly calmer than yesterday but there was still a really nice tailwind on the course, probably 4-5 mph. I had a solid warm up but still was experimenting with different focuses and rhythms in the warm up to find the sweet spot of the rig. My plan was to be aggressive off the line but to cap my high(er) strokes to 20 seconds and then go right to 37. I had a clean and relaxed start, shifted and found rhythm. I was focusing today on hooking the catch better to find suspension in the tail and keep consistent traction. The boat was lively and it was clear right away that I had made a great change from the semi. I was creating good connection and the rate and relaxation were both there. To row this high, its counterintuitive, but you do have to be ultra relaxed. I was pinning 37-38 and leaving town. I crossed the first 500 in 1.38.7 and everything felt aerobic. I was executing very close to what I had visualized. At 750 down, I made a concerted move to hold the speed and keep it consistent through the 1250. Crossed 1000m, 3.21.9. I remember saying to myself, " Yeah, legs, breathe" And I was breathing, really well. I crossed 1250 and was thinking of reeling the 1500m mark in. I was being carried by the rhythm and it felt simple and repeatable. I crossed 1500: 5:05. At this point, all systems are go and I am thinking that I just need to stay in this rhythm and this boat is just going to keep moving for me. I would say it was around the 1650m mark where I started to feel my forearms but its really tough to put my finger on exactly when it was. But somewhere in there, I started to feel the handles rolling down into my palm and my dexterity disappear. I remember looking up to see where everyone else was because up to that point I literally hadn't thought about it. I was just thinking about suspending at 38 spm. I saw that Mike was a few lengths away and so I had a good cushion even if things were failing a little bit. I didn't know just how bad it was going to get. It got to the point where I could barely square the blade or hang through the middle of the stroke. We got hit by a little wake ( it really wasn't very big!) and it was enough for me to lose my oar a little bit. But still, I had a cushion. I would say with even 10 strokes to go I still had a length lead but I was limping along at 1:53's. I felt like I was in quicksand. Mike passed me in the last couple strokes and beat me by .8 seconds in 6:53.0. Ugh. Just what I needed, another loss in the last ten strokes. This one was very different though. In Henley, I had the sprint of my life and somehow it was matched time after time for about 500 meters. This time its a combination of factors INCLUDING but not limited to Mike being fast and going 6:53. I don't want to discredit him because that is really impressive and I'm happy for him. That being said, theres no doubt that my head, heart, lungs, and legs were ready to go in the mid 6:40's but my forearms were not having it. I knew Andy Sudduth had gone 6:44 at the 1988 Olympic Trials on this course and thats what I was going for. Time and time again this sport teaches me that preparation is king and the honest truth is that I hadn't prepared to row a 2k at 38 spm with this rig and I took a risk by choosing to give it a try. Today I lost and Mike was better, but I'm trying not to let this result distract me from why I was trying out new things. I'm doing it to be faster, I'm doing it to go to the Olympics and win a medal. I'm doing it because I don't want to be changing things or feeling like I left a stone unturned when it really matters. I want to be sitting on the start line in Sarasota and in Tokyo knowing that I am rowing the rig and the style that maximizes my effort. This was the perfect setting to try these things out but unfortunately, like Henley, my failures recently have been quite public and that makes it tougher. These have not just been training sessions where I am learning things privately to bring out on race day. My flaws and my shortcomings, my entire process has been out in the open for people to see and to judge and thats fine, I can handle it. I have thick skin. In years past when I've had a disappointment I have second guessed myself and let the result dictate and influence my path going forward, but Carlos really called me out on that this winter. He told me, " if someone challenges you, or if someone beats you, you say THANK YOU, because they are helping you achieve your dreams. They will make you better. If you have a bad piece, you go eat some food, get some sleep, and then come back harder!! The goal doesn't change." This really hit home for me and has been shaping how I've been training and racing this year. Everything is learning and experience for when it gets real in 2019 and 2020. So, yes, today, I lost. It sucked. I hate losing. It makes me feel sick to lose like this, but I am also proud of the way I went after it and the way I chose to take a risk and not do what was comfortable or easy. On the road to Tokyo, today was actually a great day. Henley Sunday brought me to tears, but choosing to learn from it got me asking myself the right questions. Just because I'm losing doesn't mean I'm lost.

3 weeks to Trials.

10 weeks to Worlds.

( You can watch the full Nationals Final here, scroll to 21:10 for the beginning)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hanging out on an afternoon off and am feeling like writing for the first time in a while. I think part of my lack of motivation to write recently has had a lot to do with how much I have been moving around. After I returned from Belgrade, I spent a little bit of time back in Ann Arbor, then Craftsbury for a couple weeks, and now I am in Princeton getting ready to go across the pond to Henley next week. I finished racing in Belgrade feeling tired but very energized to get back to work in the US. I felt confident in the way I was rowing and with the speed I was producing given my training leading up to the racing, but before I could get back to work, I was fighting a severe fever and migraines. I spent the next week at home feeling miserable and it took me almost two weeks to get back to feeling normal in training again. Spending two weeks in Craftsbury was crucial to me regenerating and getting back on track. I then transitioned down to Princeton to join the Training Center group that was also preparing for Henley. When Teti arrived last week, he nixed the guys' Henley trip, but I have still been able to get some good work in with the pairs that were not boated in the eights. Teti has drastically changed things here and I have to say, I think its great. I have mixed in every now and then rowing both in the eight and the four on some steady state rows and I have enjoyed the simplicity and clarity of his message and technique. He has a very good sense of what is important and what is not, and more specifically, what is important to making an eight fast and what is not. There are definitely some guys that are experiencing some growing pains with the change of leadership, but that is natural. I am definitely still committed to the 2x with Ben but I also want to keep my options open and find myself wanting to buy in to what Teti is selling. The allure probably has a lot to do with contrast to training on my own and doing so much on my own. Showing up to practice, hopping in the bow seat of an 8, and just going to work is wonderfully simple. There seems to be this clear on and off switch right now for me that has very rarely existed in my training when I am on my own or feeling like I have a stake in making the training plan or helping coach the boat. The ability to just turn the focus up all the way for 90 minutes and lean and absorb what the coach is saying, then shut it off. The coach can think about what he wants us to do at practice--not me. I'll just rest. Obviously, it would be wrong for me to say that I don't enjoy, in some extent, thinking about what I want to do at practice and controlling that. There is certainly great value in taking ownership of your training and your results. Anyone who has read this blog would know that I truly value that type of self-reliance, but I guess I am simply asking, at what point is it counter productive? At what point am I not being the best athlete I can be. I am not trying to be the best athlete/physiologist/coach/logistics coordinator. If I truly want to be the best athlete version of myself, it feels like this set up is ideal for that, but who knows. I believe Ben and I can be an A finalist M2x and could challenge for medals this year,  I really do. But I have to say, sculling and organizing everything with no support from USRowing feels like fighting to stay awake when you're really tired and sweeping at the Training Center feels like giving in and just falling asleep. Sometimes I just wonder why I am trying to stay awake so badly, It would feel really nice to just doze off and get some rest.

But for now, the focus is on the Diamonds at Henley. This has been my number one goal from the onset of this year and if I'm totally honest, probably since I saw Jamie Koven win the Diamonds in 1998. I was 9 years old walking on the banks of the Thames with my brothers wreaking havoc and watching the boats go by. Our Dad had told us about Jamie Koven, World Champ in 97, and I thought Jamie Koven was as cool as Michael Jordan. I have always wanted to come back and win the Diamonds. I have competed in it twice, the last time being in 2013 when I lost in the Semifinal to Alan Campbell by 2 lengths. I am eager to improve upon that showing. The entries came out today and the top names include Robbie Manson from NZL and Cam Girdlestone from AUS, among many other talented guys. Obviously these are top caliber scullers but I do not feel scared to get on the plane. I am going over there with loads of respect for them and all the other competitors but all the confidence in the world in myself.  Belgrade showed me that I have as much raw speed as anyone and I am excited to use a couple new tricks to allocate it better over the course. I felt like my biggest limiting factors at WC1 were poor pacing and not having enough belief in myself that I could hold anyone off in the last 500. I hadn't spent enough time in training visualizing crossing the line first, not just being competitive. I have thought about Mahe a lot. Many call him self centered and egotistical but his confidence is his greatest tool in his racing. He has the strongest belief on the course that he will cross that line first, no matter what. Yes, he goes 5:40 and is an absolute machine, but that alone does not make you as consistently dominant as he has been. All those heats, semis, and finals over all of those years. The only way you can produce time after time is with a rock solid belief in yourself, an unbreakable confidence. When analyzing how I raced in Belgrade, thats where I saw the biggest room for improvement. If I am a length up at the 1500m mark, no matter who I am racing, the only reason I lose that race is if my belief in myself is not strong enough. In Belgrade, I thought, " I am length up on Aleksandrov, but he's stronger than me, so he will probably come back on me". And thats bullshit.  I've been told for so long by people that I am not strong enough to be a top sculler, that my erg score isn't good enough. I block the majority of that out and don't listen, but even if I let 5 % of that in, over time that adds up and you begin to believe it. When things are going well those thoughts don't come up, but its when you are in the 6th or 7th minute and you are in real pain, thats when that 5% I let in comes to the forefront of my conscience. After having those thoughts in Belgrade it occurred to me that the only thing holding me back from being up there with the best is allowing those thoughts in my head. So I've been working on bringing the Mahe mentality into the second K of my race. I've been working on introducing a Damir belief into my last 500. But it also can't be totally plagiarized, it has to be my own, and it needs to be authentic. I've written on this blog before that " I am as strong as I believe I am". I have never thought that to be more true than now, I am just not sure I truly bought into it they way I do now when I wrote it last.

Also, the website The Frynge is running a campaign on my behalf over the next couple of weeks. 10% of every purchase made on the website will go directly to helping me fund my season. They have some cool stuff on there so check it out. Here is a link to an article they published a couple days ago about last year's experience in the quad. Thanks a lot!

Point Seven From Rio

The Hosmer was a little angry when I first arrived, but she finally calmed down.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Great video on polarized training with extensive research done on Norwegian xc skiers and rowers: