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)