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.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Part 1

About a week before NSR began, I finished writing a post recounting the last few months including but not limited to my trip to Seattle to see Ben, the Chula Vista camp, and how things were going in the single leading into racing. I probably should have just posted it, but I guess I felt like I didn't want to do any talking with anything other than my rowing in the Final. Here is that post including a recap of last week's racing.

When I last posted, I was on my way out to Seattle and coming off of a challenging but really productive two months indoors in Princeton with the women's team. For the most part, I was really enjoying the structure of the training and was motivated by the fact that I was training more than I ever had; however, looking back, there were plenty of times when I found myself mid-erg dreaming of cross country skiing in Craftsbury-- a much more enjoyable training alternative. By the end of January it seemed like my body had adapted to the volume. This was most apparent in the quality of my afternoon workouts. Don't get me wrong, I love cross country skiing and I think the injury prevention and body balancing aspects are especially useful for rowers, but for me especially, its possible to hide in an afternoon workout on skis. By that I mean, it's possible to keep it light and not have to produce power. The erg demands you produce power all the time and I think putting in 200k a week specifically on the erg actually helped my body become more robustly strong and not get off easy. I don't think there is a one size fits all path to the best version of yourself, more likely everyone needs different stimuli at different times depending on where they are coming from. For instance, I don't know if its something I need to do every winter, but I do believe it helped me to get stronger in these specific set of circumstances. Just like cross country skiing helped make me a significantly faster rower in 2013. This all being said, when January came to a close, I was very eager to get out West and get on the water.

I arrived in Seattle on Super Bowl Sunday and was just in time to head over to Yaz Farooq's house for what is now very memorable party. Between Colin Sykes' Duck Chili and Yaz's margaritas, I was well fueled for the game and the week of training that lay ahead. Coach Callahan was great about letting me use a single and letting Ben get out in the double with me a couple times. Unfortunately, Ben was battling some tightness in his rib, so we didn't get as much rowing in together as we would have liked, but it was still very much worth it to feel the double again. We took a couple awkward strokes off the dock, but then after five minutes or so we could have easily been paddling to the start line at Worlds. It goes without saying that not being able to train together all year is not ideal, but being able to sit in the boat together even for a short time and shoot some energy down the right neuro pathways helps to at least keep our chances in the double alive. There's no question Ben is fitter and stronger than he's ever been and continuing to improve, so we just need to make sure he's touching some sculls every now and then.

 When I wasn't with Ben, I went out with Carlos and Conal's group of scullers that train out of Seattle Rowing Center. I am not crazy about how bouncy the water is out there but it truly is a special place to train. The views of the city and of the mountains from Lake Union are incredible. This was only my second time visiting the pacific northwest, but its definitely a place I could see myself living in the future. I feel like I am a little too much of a city boy to live in the northeast kingdom, but too woodsy to live in a city. Seattle is a perfect blend. You can get all of the upside of city life and culture while still being able to quickly and easily escape to national parks and mountain ranges. My week in Seattle was capped off with an all out 20k piece at 22 spm in the 1x with Carlos's group. What I did not factor in was that I would row 7k to meet up with the group and 7k to get home to UW after the piece. Luckily, Seattle Rowing Center had some Pop Tarts they could give me to fuel the remainder of the 34k row. I clocked the 20k in just over 82 minutes or around 2:03 split. Given cold water, current, and building headwind for the last 5k this was a really good piece for me. This is not a workout I would want to do very often, because it's very depleting, but looking back, there's a lot of value to the technical endurance it requires and the mental space it puts you in. This piece showed me that, even though I was far from race ready, I had laid a good foundation this winter.

Sunday morning, I flew from Seattle to San Diego and got settled in with my host family in Chula Vista, about 10 minutes drive from the Olympic Training Center. While I was extremely fortunate to be able to come out on the women's team's training trip, as an unfunded athlete I was still responsible to pay my own way, so staying at the TC was not an affordable option. I was very lucky that I was able to stay with Kara Peter and her family. For 6 weeks, they went above and beyond in every way to make sure that I was taken care of and I can't thank them enough. Kara Kohler also stayed off campus with the Peters and I was able to hitch a ride to practice with her everyday. Suffice to say, without the two Karas this trip would have not been possible.

In 2012, when my brother Peter was training in Chula Vista for the London Olympics, I remember him telling me how special of a training location it was. He called it Craftsbury of the West. With San Diego and Tijuana so close, the analogy doesn't really hold up, but when you are out in the single on Lake Otay on a calm, quiet evening, with the mountains surrounding you, its true that it stirs some of the same emotions you feel on a peaceful summer night on Hosmer. Although, I do think the similarities lie less in the landscape and more in the set up of the OTC. It is laid out with the sole purpose of high performance. Physical therapy, dining hall, strength training, dorms--everything within walking distance. It boggles my mind that we don't just set up shop out there all year. It's 70 and sunny every. single. day.

Looking back at the specific training over the 6 weeks in Chula Vista, there was really nothing remarkable about it but it was just very consistent and solid. I did not get sick or injured or miss any workouts. It was a rare period where the training schedule would have resembled my training journal exactly. For the most part, we were doing two hard water workouts a week and a 2 x 6k erg on the weekend. I really enjoyed getting to match up against all the other boats, pairs, singles, etc, on percentage every week. It was very helpful to gauge how training was going both on the water and then on the erg. I had my fastest 2 x 6k ergs the first and second week we were there and then I stagnated for the next four weeks. Tom said it was pretty typical for it to plateau as you get more accumulated fatigued throughout the camp but it was a bummer not to keep the progress going. I would say, however, that even when I wasn't PR'ing, all my performances were close and there was not a big swing between my best and my worst. This is a signifiant change for me and something I've been working on a lot. In the past, my best has been decent, but theres a big drop off. I need to be able to qualify for the Olympics even when I'm not having a great day.

A bad day for me would typically include a swollen forearm or an imbalance in the boat that held me, my partner, or my boat mates back from performing to our potential. Whenever something like that would happen, for example not being able to row the last 250m of Nationals last year due to a complete forearm failure, I would just chalk it up to gripping too tight or bad luck. Somehow I would reason that magically the next time I raced everything would be fine without any extra work. When Felice and I moved to Princeton, she urged me to seek out Marc Nowak, the USRowing PT, to address some of these issues. Days went by, weeks went by, and I never went in and made an appointment with Marc. I guess I felt like I was largely healthy and had not been had to stop training because of these problems so why should I go see anyone about them?  Sometime in early December, Marc came up to me and said he had an open time slot that night if I needed any work done. I showed up that evening and it was the beginning of a beautiful bromance. Working with Marc this year has been such a wonderfully pleasant surprise and a huge reason why I have been able to handle the training this year and why my forearms and hips are looser than ever. It was not an overnight fix and he would remind me that I have a long ways to go, but he showed me that you cannot just ignore what your body is telling you. He likes to say, " You wouldn't not change the oil in your car...why is your body any different? " Or the famous, " Tight hips sink ships."

Another resource I have been trying to make use of is Liz Fusco, the team nutritionist. She did my body composition a couple days after the Spring Speed Order, made a couple of recommendations, but I was moving around so much during the summer that it was difficult to make implement the changes. She tested me again this November and we set some concrete goals for the winter and spring. I told her that in an ideal world I could be racing at 185 instead of 175-177. She thought that was a lofty but realistic goal for the spring and she set out a plan to help me get there. I think being in Princeton and not traveling too much this winter really allowed me to set up a predictable routine and make lasting changes. The main change she had me make was to eat a bigger breakfast and to eat more frequently throughout the day instead of three big meals. The change felt significant. I was eating smaller meals but more of them and I never felt hungry. The idea is that your body can only process a certain amount of protein in a given window, so when you eat a big meal, most of that energy cannot be absorbed and is instead absorbed as fat. If you, instead, eat a smaller meal every three hours or so, you will absorb all of the nutrients and the net absorption of protein will be far greater than eating three big meals per day. This subtle reallocation and balancing of my diet had a profound impact on my energy in training throughout a day and throughout the week. In the past, I have had a lot of trouble keeping weight on during the week and was always run down towards the end of the week. Since I have been eating this way, my weight has been very predictable and steady even late in the week when it would have plummeted in the past. After three months, Liz tested my body composition again and I was 6 lbs heavier at the same body fat percentage. I successfully put on a substantial amount of muscle. This was particularly exciting for me because I put on muscle while also doing more volume. This past week at NSR,  I raced at my goal of 185 lbs. I'm hoping that this weight and new method of fueling will help me to stay strong throughout the summer and fast through the long grueling week of racing at World Champs.

Adopting a more professional approach in training, physical therapy, and nutrition has clearly been helpful in enabling me to get in the boat feeling healthy and strong, but it's important to remember that these things are still peripheral to what I am doing inside the boat. I can be the fittest and most flexible I've ever been and still go slow.  If I were a cyclist, it would be as simple as building wattage throughout the winter then lose weight and maintain wattage during the racing season. But it's the unique blend of power, endurance, body awareness, feel, and technical endurance that make rowing such a challenging sport to prepare for. A shortcoming of my current training set up with the women's team is a lack of hands on coaching, so I have been really fortunate to have the NK Empower oarlock to help provide some objective data about how I am rowing.  I was a little bummed that they do not have an interface to look at the data from both oarlocks at once for sculling, but I'm not sure I would be able to handle all that data at once. 250 meters into my first row with the oarlock, I was paying such close attention to the numbers that I hit a huge buoy, my oarlock popped open, and I flipped! As a result, I began doing my 3k warm up before turning the oarlock on. At that point I figured I was ready and aware enough to handle the feedback. Before NK came out with this product,  the only way to get this type of biomechanical feedback would have been to pay Valery Kleshnev to rig up your boat with telemetry and measure your catch/finish angle, wash, slip, force, work and other metrics. Kleshnev is an incredibly valuable resource because he has tested many top crews in the World and is able to compare your biomechanics to that of the best in the sport. Kleshnev demystifies and quantifies parts of the stroke so that an athlete can make concrete changes that bring them closer to the gold standard. This is something Gevvie did very well last quadrennial. She worked with Kleshnev every year and brought her technique and power numbers closer and closer to what the top girls in the event were doing. As an amazing athlete and fierce competitor, Gevvie already had the prerequisites to be great, so once she had the information about what it would take to reach an Olympic medalist standard from a biomechanical standpoint, I feel like it was only a matter of time until she got there.

The NK oarlock does not come with Kleshnev's analysis but it provides the objective feedback to learn the anatomy of your stroke and the root of your speed. I would say that even just bringing a rower's awareness to these metrics will yield improvement. Once someone can see the real time correlation between a technical change and the corresponding change in boat speed, they can begin engraining it and repeating it. For me specifically, a chief interest of mine in using the oarlock was to settle on a rig and set up in my new boat. This Fall, I sold my X08 and got a slightly smaller hull, an X16, which was the boat I raced at WC1 and Henley last summer. It is made for an 80-85 kg rower and is the hull that Kim Crow won the Olympics in. I had three set ups in mind that I wanted to test and the oarlock was an incredible tool to help rank each set up over various distances. Interestingly enough, the ranking changed based on the distance of the piece and I ended up settling on the equipment and rig that was the fastest at 2k race pace. It is definitely tempting to go for the low hanging fruit of what is producing the most speed at low rates and long distances, but in my experience this is a trap-- unless your main goal is the Head of the Charles. After 4 weeks of compiling numbers, I chose to row with C2 plain edge smoothies at 289/88 and 161.0 spread. This rig  was slower over 3k and 6k time trials at 24-26 compared to the Fat2's at 282 and 160 spread, but was faster over 2k( 1k @ 30 spm, 1k open). The most encouraging thing was the profile of the piece and what was happening in the second thousand at the open rate. As the rate was coming up the splits continued to drop and drop. With the fats, I was able to produce a faster first 1k and considerably faster low rate speed over long distance, but then would stagnate as I got into the mid 30's and above. The oarlock's data showed me that I was producing more joules( work) with the Fats but I was not able to replicate that work as I went up in rate. With the Smoothies I was able to hold close to constant joules throughout the 2k even as the rate came up significantly. It was satisfying to see clearly when, where, and how my stroke was breaking down and then see it remedied. The process of exploring different rigs showed me that there is not just one magic number out there for everyone. We all have our own unique set of circumstances and its important to take that all into account and set things up in a way that works for you and not against you.

Tim McLaren once said to me when looking over my boat and rig, " Oh its all wrong. There's certain biomechanical principles you've got to pay attention to, I don't care what blade you use." One of those principles is sculling a particular arc length. I have never paid much attention to catch or finish angles, probably because I didn't have the tools to do so, but this has been a major focus now that I am getting real time angles from the oarlock. I am typically around 67-68 degrees at the catch and around 47-48 degrees at the finish. The target angles for the M1x are around 70 and 43-44. My first reaction was that I couldn't and shouldn't row the same catch angle as Mahe Drysdale or Ondrej Synek. However, as I've done a little more research about the target angles, it seems like it is really important to be close to the target from a mechanical perspective. The wash value is the number that showed me that my relatively long finish angle of 47-48 is not actually doing much for me. It feels like you are moving the boat with the extra few degrees of blade travel to stern at the release, but really I'm putting on the brakes, particularly at higher rates. As I began to focus more on finishing more in front of the body and hitting the target angle of 44, the wash value dropped significantly. The most exciting thing about that change was that if everything else stayed the same and the wash value dropped, the split would always drop, as well. As the six week camp came to a close, I took a moment to bottle what I had learned and make note to trust the changes I had made once we return to Princeton.

Ben's backside. 

Evening in Chula. 

Lake Otay. 

Cross training in San Diego.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Working on a post chronicling the last couple months, NSR, and moving forward into the summer. Thanks to everyone who has reached out over the last few days, I really appreciate it.

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.