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.

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