Friday, November 30, 2007

The International Perspective

I had the opportunity to travel to Switzerland over Thanksgiving break and learn a bit about how the national team there operates. It's very different than ours--while the athletes train just as rigorously and measure themselves against the same international standards, the fact that there are so few rowers competing for positions on the team changes the priorities and focus of the program as a whole. There is not a women's team, for example, because there isn't a demand for it--the women who want to compete at an international level must do so in small boats and with their own coaches. The men's 8+ program became a focus after the 2004 Athens Games; this is the longest-lasting priority focus on the 8+ in the country's rowing history. However, the failure to qualify the 8+ through the Munich WRC's this summer means that the boat is up against two very strong crews from Australia and the Netherlands in the Poznan qualifier--and only one of the three will earn a spot. So the priority may become the 4-...

It was definitely eye-opening, also, to see the different style of team management. The Swiss Rowing Federation is much more like a professional sports team than USRowing, which in my opinion is run more like a university team. On our end, this means a generally more conservative approach in terms of coaching turnover and program focuses. For the Swiss, it means that the rowers have a bigger input into coaching and program decisions. Tradeoffs, I guess...

We are getting ready to head out to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA, in just one more week. I'm excited to be training somewhere near home for the first time in almost five years! After hearing a good deal about life "on the compound", I'm looking forward to experiencing it for myself. It's also where selection will start taking place for all of our boats--the 8+, the 2-, the 4x, the 2x, and even the 1x, as Michelle will be joining in the fun.

I'll do my best to keep the workout log better updated and maybe add some photos to mix things up a bit. In the meantime--happy winter training!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Workout Log

Based on a few requests and because it will be helpful for me to keep track of things this way too, I've decided to start keeping track of my workouts online. I'll be doing my best to keep things updated and accurate.

My workout log can be found at:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pJTz9snDLTXZY3j_h5_23PQ

Keep in mind that these are only basic parameters and a general outline of my current training plan. If you are a collegiate rower looking for workouts to add on, I would recommend 20-50 minute pieces on the erg or water, keeping your heartrate under 145 and trying to stay continuously active. Running for similar amounts of time with HR under 155 is also beneficial.

On some days additional workouts can be done, such as yoga, running, or additional low heartrate work. Weight training also falls into this category. Some extra squats, leg presses, pullups, bench pulls, cleans, etc. can be beneficial to training. It's helpful to figure out what you feel you need to work on (endurance or power) in doing additional weights: for the former, lower weight but higher reps (15-40) is the general scheme, whereas for the latter, higher weight that increases through the sets and lower reps (5-12) is used. In both areas, it's VERY important to listen to your body and make sure that good form is being maintained. In general, you should try to make the recovery or reset phase of the lift itself take 2-3 times as long as the "drive" phase of the lift--the time when you "fire" the muscle group that is being used. Thus, if it takes you one second to drive a bench press up, you should spend three seconds lowering the bar back down to your sternum. This mirrors the rowing stroke but more importantly it gives the partnering muscle groups a workout too--so during leg press, you're working out both your quads and your hamstrings/glutes, etc.

Happy training!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Starting the last year of the 08 training cycle

Tomorrow begins the training we'll do for our racing next summer. Every woman here has been training for what she'll be doing next August for so much longer than just this past year or even the past few years. At the same time, this year feels like it will be the most serious, the most rigorous, the most dedicated of the cycle. An interesting time to join the full-time crew down here in Princeton, but I am so excited to see what we're all able to accomplish this year with training and technique and with all this time spent rowing together.

I'm living with a great group of women--sweepers, scullers, lots of Californians, so it will definitely be a brilliant year. As of right now, we'll be training here for a few months before moving out to San Diego for a few more, then returning to either Mercer or P.T.C.

I don't know yet what is in store for all of us who've just joined up this year--sweep or sculling or any boat-size focus. It's hard to think about training now without a more definite focus, but hopefully we'll be getting one soon. The squad that raced a few weeks ago is an incredibly strong one, and I know that I will learn so much from training with this group for the next eleven months. So...here's to a great year!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Preparations for Munich

Since returning victorious from Scotland on July 30th, three of us from the U-23 4x (and dynamo Elle Logan from the bronze-medalling U-23 8+) have been training with the senior national team in Princeton. The focus has largely been technical, although there is still a huge emphasis on fitness, with multiple days thus far of over 40K in small boats. I have been rowing for the past week primarily in the 8+ and 2- as a spare, as Anna Mickelson, the woman I'm filling in for, can't practice in both boats at the same time, although she will be racing in both in Munich.

It has been and continues to be an amazing experience. Megan Cooke, who is Anna's partner in the pair, is an incredible coach as well as a phenomenal rower, and I learn so much every day I am out there training with her. Rowing in the 8 is also really amazing, both because of the technical finesse and the sheer power. The highest rating we've been at when I've been in there was a 32 for a 5-to-build and a 10, and although I was pulling the absolute hardest I could, I felt like I could barely keep up with the strength the other 7 women were translating into the drive.

All of us who returned to Princeton were disappointed that we were unable to try out for the senior boats, but it has been phenomenal so far to practice with them and be training with the squad. We're excited to continue as part of the team this fall and hopefully beyond--there are so many amazing athletes here, and it's so motivating to try and push ourselves to become one of them.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Last week of U23 race prep in the US

We've finally come into the home stretch of hard work in preparation for racing in Strathclyde. It's funny how 45K a day seemed a daunting amount of work a month and a half ago, and now it just means the normal 3 practices a day. We still have all of this week, leaving on Saturday from Newark to Heathrow and then on to Glasgow, albeit after an 8 hour layover that has us all debating bringing running shoes to the airport. 36 giant athletes jogging through the concourses...security would have an absolute field day with that one. Not sure that the Brits have a contingency plan in that arena.

Yesterday afternoon we had a tremendously successful practice--hit some splits doing 20 at race pace that we haven't seen yet in the boat, and into a headwind to boot. The morning pieces were frustrating--our boat has a tendency to be unable to walk back into other boats if we're not sure that we can, like when we race our 8 and we're both at the same stroke ratings. It seems like as the other boat starts to move through us, we stop racing and flounder a bit, each trying to do it ourselves; then we switch into making it very technically sound, but the power application gets lost in the focus. We rearranged the lineup for the second morning swing row, with me stroking and Gevvie back in 2. It wasn't a particularly good-feeling row, but I was able to feel what strokes felt like for her and Lindsay when Alie and I aren't together with them, and also see how the recovery can be rushed even at a 15 1/2 or 16 if the knees don't break properly. Also, feeling how important it is to gather at the catch, placing the blades before engaging the quads--the stroke has to hesitate for soooo long in order that everyone else has a slight breath. So, frustrating, but very educational. Coming back in the afternoon, I had moved my feet down two cm, and the extra compression/room for my shoulders feels just brilliant. I feel like I'm not lifting up and out the way I was before we decided to keep my feet high, so I'm probably getting an even longer stroke but with much more effective technique.

Everyone is making good changes--Gevvie is keeping power on through the entire stroke, Lindsay is keeping tension out of her shoulders and power down in her lats, I'm gathering at the catch and driving out with the hips without lifting the work into the shoulders, and Alie is gathering at the catch and keeping suspension on during the drive for longer. We are finding so much free speed, and it's really exciting!

There are 11 possible entries listed on the Strathclyde website at present--meaning heats, reps (although hopefully not reps), and finals. Looks like we'll be racing around 5pm Thursday and hopefully not again until 3:30pm Sunday. Anyhow, there is lots of work to be done in the meantime--for instance, trying to track down some longsleeve shirts for racing in, since we won't be issued any but...it's supposed to be 40-60 deg F, rainy, windy, cold...the whole time we're there. Sounds just like home :)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Updates from P.T.C.*

I'm finally starting to get the hang of this sculling thing in an effective way. The technical changes we were asked to make after arriving here are starting to become more natural and less a mental effort to maintain throughout practices and pieces.

Some of the new and effective changes we've made include a "gather" at the finish and a very separate recovery/drive cycle. The blades exit the water at the finish and the hands are held for a moment in the lap, while holding the body upright with very little layback. Then the arms lead out of the release, followed by the knees breaking and the body coming forward simultaneously with the knees compressing up. At the catch, the blades are placed quickly but fully before the legs are engaged, rather than being "rowed in". Then the legs drive back with a forceful suspension, keeping the core engaged but not opening with the shoulders until the very end of the drive, and with the body still being kept almost entirely upright.

It's difficult to "convince" myself that even if the leg drive doesn't start until I can feel that the blades are fully buried, the blades will not be slowing the boat down. But it makes sense that the boat isn't moving as fast as we think it is, and as we get better and the rates get higher, we'll be able to place the blades more quickly and unconsciously, and it won't be an issue. The gather is also something I am still having to work at remembering to do the same way on every stroke--it's hard because it turns the stroke cycle into a 6 count instead of a 4 count. But I'm getting more consistent, and as all of us do, it's showing in the times we've been able to post. With the lineup changes we've had this week and our continual improvement in becoming technically more proficient rowers, I think we'll be able to get very, very close to the gold medal time standard by race day. We'll be getting a chance to test all the improvements we've made with our time trial on Thursday!

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*Pterodactyl Training Center

Sunday, June 17, 2007

(Pre?)Elite Summer Rowing

We are now roughly halfway through the selection phase of U23 camp, training at the University of Virginia's Rivanna Reservoir Boathouse. I am competing for a spot in the 4x; pending time qualification, this will be the first year the US has sent a women's quad to U23's/the Nations' Cup. We are training with the 8+ camp here, and the entire camp will be moving to Princeton on Tuesday to race at Elite Nationals and then train alongside the Senior team.

We just finished a very challenging week--18 practices (not including three of Dave O'Neill's 45-minute core workouts) without a single morning or afternoon off. At the beginning of the practice marathon, we took a 1' test; one rising sophomore pulled only a few watts off of the best woman on the Senior team. A few practices from the end of the stretch was the camp 2k erg; the majority of rowers at the camp set personal records, including another rising sophomore who pulled an astounding 6:42. All in all, it is a very strong group, and the elite rowers training in Princeton will perhaps have a more difficult job ahead of themselves then they may have thought in retaining their seats this year and in the coming summers.

Some technical notes: erg technique is actually useful for on-the-water training. Some focuses I've been working on include holding my arms higher during the recovery, so that my hands stay at the same level throughout the entire cycle of the stroke. This puts my lats in a better position to be already engaged at the catch, and prevents too much layback or collapsing at the finish. I've also been working on keeping my chin level at the finish, since I've picked up the habit of looking down at the finish. Finally, keeping the hips rotated forward so that almost all of the power in the stroke comes from the leg drive and pushing the footboard away--this enables a steeper power curve and more total power to be put into the drive.

On the water, I've been trying to get more consistent with stroke technique. Some things I can't pick up quickly because I simply haven't taken enough strokes--both in general and at the kind of ratings we'll be racing at. Some things I have been able to realize and am starting to internalize: (1) the simpler the stroke, the better. Eliminating excess motion, whether layback, reach, wobbles in hands and knees, digging a blade or both, or clenching the shoulders, enables a cleaner and more powerful stroke when the rating is 22 and when it's 36. (2) little differences in body position mean big differences in boat set and rhythm and run. Reaching a little further with one hand than the other, rushing a little into the stern, lifting more on the drive than the other rowers--all these slow the boat down both by making one's own stroke less effective and by making the other rowers much less able to take good strokes. (3) it's easy to be conscious of what you're doing wrong and fix it; it's much harder to be able to retain those changes unconsciously when you need to be going fast enough to take them for granted and think about other things, like a race plan. I realized that in the U23 8+ and the Senior 4- last summer, but it is a different ball game for me at least when it comes to sculling.

We have another 30 hours or so off, so I will hopefully be doing lots of things that I don't have the energy to do normally tomorrow--seeing movies, going lazily swimming in a creek, visiting Monticello, and getting a big mental break from camp. I am excited to get lineups set and head up to Princeton for some racing against completely new people--and to see old friends as well, of course! The camp bubble is necessary but it is pretty mentally fatiguing.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Looking Ahead to Sprints and Beyond

Our dual racing season ended a week ago today with a victory in the Beanpot Challenge Cup, a race among all the D1 squads on the Charles River. This coming weekend brings the Eastern Sprints in Camden, NJ; we are heading into it ranked 5th, behind Yale (beat us by 5.3 seconds), Brown (beat us by 3.6 seconds), Princeton (whom we beat by 5.6 seconds), and Dartmouth (who beat us by 4.7 seconds). Because of the way heats are drawn, we will be facing Brown first thing on Sunday, and then likely again in the afternoon final.

It's exciting to think about a whole year of training boiling down to our performance at this championships, and that doing well will bring the opportunity to continue on to the NCAAs and to contend against the nation's top teams. I think that the Eastern Sprints league is extremely fast this year, with USC on the West Coast and some burgeoning midwest and southern teams, such as Minnesota and Notre Dame, bringing very competitive racing to the table as well. We have really begun to hit our stride as a boat, and although we are still at a place where we are less consistent than we need to be, I have a trust with the other women in my boat that we are committed to pulling the best race we are physically and mentally able to. Outside of individual boat performance, the entire squad has posted fast times and satisfying wins in dual racing, and it is going to be exciting to see how the team performs next weekend. I don't want to think too much about NCAAs--one race at a time--but I think the amount of effort we have put in this year, and our racing abilities as demonstrated this spring, would make our squad a serious competitor there as well.

USRowing
also released the invitations for this summer's U23 and Senior camps this week; it looks like I'll be spending June and July training in Charlottesville, VA at the U23 quad camp. I'm really excited to have my first real experience with intensely coached sculling. Even though I have been able to keep a boat set since 1999 or so, and we won the SW Jr Regionals in the quad back in 2003, I am so much stronger and fitter and knowledgeable about rowing. It has made the sessions I've had with Linda and Michelle Guerette so much more useful, because even though I'm not rowing well, I know how to make the changes they advise me to make, and I have the fitness and focus to keep the changes permanent. The other scullers are all extremely talented--most have at least a US National Championship or Canadian Henley division title to their name--so I am excited to get to row with them too. I think that if I learn at much as I did last summer, it will definitely be time well-spent.

So, all the squads here are heading to sprints with very respectable seedings. We're 5th, as are our lightweight women; our heavyweight and lightweight men are both ranked 1st. It should all make for some great racing by both the Black-and-White and the Crimson.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Notes on 1x Training

So this may be more of a personal training journal entry than a blog entry, but I had a really great training session in the single yesterday and thought I would share some of my realizations. Well, mostly the things that Linda told me to think about, because I have been rowing and racing and training in the 1x since my junior year of high school, and I made more effective changes in the 45 minutes I spent with her than I did in the last 5, 6 years of trying to figure things out on my own! Part of me thinks I should be upset about that (think about how many training sessions I have spent working so hard at taking bad strokes!), but instead I am so happy to finally be starting to have a more effective technique that that doesn't even enter the equation. Anyways, here are the 4 things Linda had me focus on:

  1. Wrapping my hands further around the oar. This feels slightly uncomfortable, because the sensation is one of diminished control over the feathering and squaring of the blade. The goal with this is to have flat wrists when the fingers start to roll the oar out at the finish, so the wrists are actually slightly lifted at the catch and throughout the drive. When this is done properly, the work can be felt as locked on through the arms throughout the drive, and the legs' drive is effectively translated through the lats and then the arms onto the blade.
  2. Holding my shoulders down and engaging the lats just before the catch. This is tricky because it doesn't feel loose and relaxed, the way it's easy to think a recovery should feel. When I was able to do this, the catch was quicker and the leg drive more effective off of it because my whole body was ready to go as soon as the blade was buried. The feeling is almost like I'd imagine it feels to wear those big football shoulder pads, sort of a solid locked feeling in the shoulders which pushes them down. Then, off the drive, the only feeling in the arms is after the elbows break for the finish, and all of the work is down in the lats--it feels like all the power is in the engaged lats, swinging low back, and the quads as they drive the hips back.
  3. Transfer of pressure on the hands from drive to release. Linda gave the visualization of the left-hand handle as a clock face as you look along the shaft towards the blade. As you pull in, the pressure is felt in the fingers and is geometrically aligned at "3 o'clock". At the finish, the pressure switches instantaneously to "12 o'clock"--there is no transition through 2 and 1, and no pushing around at 10 or 11 to get the blade out. In order to do this, the stroke has to finish a bit earlier than with maximal layback--essentially a visualization of releasing at almost the shorts line, which results in a finish a couple of inches in front of the shirt. The result is a powerful drive the entire time the blade is in the water, and a quick release that doesn't slow the boat down or wobble the set with an uneven blade extraction. This is helped further by keeping the elbows high during the drive and at the release, which feels kind of like a bench pull into somewhere between your sportsbra line and bellybutton while swinging the elbows out from your sides (I suppose like a narrow-grip bench pull, then).
  4. Lowering the hands slightly and gradually from release to catch. This results in the blades being high enough off the water to square them cleanly, while also better enabling the lats to pre-engage (1). Thinking about bringing the blades from a fairly high release a few inches in front of the shirt, closer to the toes as the seat starts up the slide, results in more room to square up just before the catch. This is one of the things I need to work on the most, since it feels a bit like I need training wheels once I have that much more space in which to work!

Anyhow, those are a few of the things I am learning and working on...It's kind of difficult to hold all of them in my head at the same time while steering and trying to stay clear of crazy high school crews, so I end up thinking about one or maybe two for twenty strokes at a time, but I feel like a new rower! Hopefully, this extremely helpful coaching will result in me being able to move a boat more effectively…and feel faster and more powerful…which is really what this whole sport is about anyway!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Saturday Night (Racing) Fever

One of perhaps the least enjoyable things about the spring racing season is just how sorry the social scene gets for rowers. Sure, there's nothing in the medical literature that says going out on saturday night and having a couple of beers will affect your racing abilities the following Saturday morning. And yet, if you are focused on your team's performance, on trying to hold your seat in the boat, on anything having to do with winning--you find that you suddenly have a diminished desire to go out and live it up. Exciting Saturday nights include checking out the day's results on row2k.com, looking at entries for the next NSR, maybe some gossip time with rowers at other schools to hear how the day went and secretly trying to evaluate what you hear as being indicative of how your team ranks against theirs. It's a far cry from a fall filled with Solo cups and poor life decisions, but year and again this is where spring season finds us...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

C.R.A.S.H.-B.'s

This evening was everyone's favourite February indoor race, the 2K CRASH-B race. One of our men (Toby Medaris) won the heavy collegiate men's race, with my friend from Northeastern (Pat Sullivan) pulling a strong piece to take second. On our side, a couple of friends had phenomenal races (Kady Glessner and Catherine Starr), and Radcliffe overall had an extremely strong showing. I'm very excited for our spring racing season, based on how many people PRd and pulled very hard-fought pieces--right now, I think we're stronger than the year we took 3rd at NCAAs!

CRASH-Bs is an interesting race because all the factors that affect you individually, and usually stay within your own boathouse and team, are pulled out into the public eye. If you falter for five or six strokes, it's not just on your own monitor, it's on a jumbotron. As Blocker said, "it's not just a race, it's a performance."

I had a disappointing piece--I wasn't able to maintain the goal pace I had set for myself after the first 750 meters, which I think was largely due to having forgotten what it felt like to be in that much pain (rather, in the normal amount of pain you're in during a 2k). The good thing about that is that as Sullivan says, "there's a pretty steep learning curve between the first and second spring 2k." I'm not worried about it (last year I was 13 seconds faster in June than I was at this race), but it would have been nice to PR. However, now I have a lot of good things to focus on, and some mental toughness to get back.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Season of Self-Renunciation?

Lent begins this Wednesday and with it, a renewed focus on abnegation. There's not a lot I can do to change rowing and training into something that fits that focus, but I think that sharing my training with other members of the rowing community might be a step in that general direction.

I feel like there is a dearth of resources for female collegiate rowers, so that's what my general focus will be. I'll be publishing workouts, thoughts on training and where training fits into the life of a student athlete, linking to articles, and writing about some things that I feel are especially relevant to female rowers, such as nutrition and the team community.

This sport has made a huge impact on the person I am today, and I believe in its power to affect positive changes in the lives of just about everyone. The lessons it has taught me, and continues to teach me--among other things, about interdependence with a team, personal focus and fortitude, and what a difference a mentor can make in one's life--are ones I will truly value for the rest of my career as an athlete and also for the rest of my life. To quote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"One would sometimes think, from the speech of young men, that things had changed recently, and that indifference was now the virtue to be cultivated. I have never heard anyone profess indifference to a boat race. Why should you row a boat race? Why endure long months of pain in preparation of a fierce half-hour, or even six minutes, that will leave you all but dead? Does anyone ask the question? Is there anyone who would not go through all its costs, and more, for the moment when anguish breaks into triumph--or even for the glory of having nobly lost? Is life less than a boat race? If a man will give all the blood in his body to win the one, will he not spend all the might of his soul to prevail in the other?"
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