Monday, December 16, 2013

Winter Training: Sucking it up now so you can hit the GoFast button later

Last Sunday I went to a great class in Seattle at Flywheel, a cycling studio that my former coxswain and always badass Mary Whipple now teaches at. What’s different about a Flywheel class (versus a standard spin/indoor cycling class) is that competition—if you want it—is there for the taking. You zero in on targeting certain RPMs or power output as you’re cycling along, but a few times throughout the class, everyone’s total work done—listed with a username which can be as anonymous as you want—flashes up on a screen, so you can race others if that’s your thing (yes, that’s my thing.)

The instructor, Aina, a past rower at Trinity College, said a few things during the class that made me think about winter training. Besides “Suck it up!”, which she announced at the start of class was her motto, she also said, “Getting faster is what you do when no one is watching. Getting tougher is what you do when you keep working even when your body says it’s done.” And then: “What is your goal for this practice? For this minute?”

Winter training is about all of those things. There’s a lot more work on land, and maybe only work on land. Land workouts, in general, require a lot more sucking it up. The erg, like the single, is honest and makes you accountable for your speed and power. So does the weight room. That can be harder, but it can also be so much more motivating. Thinking back to high school—sometimes on the water I’d be working on something technical, or pouring everything I had into a piece, and we weren’t clicking as a crew and working together, and there wasn’t any feedback on whether I was getting better or faster. When you're just starting out, that can be pretty frustrating.

The erg, as much sucking it up as it requires sometimes, is by and large a what-you-put-into-it-is-what-you-get-out-of-it tool. You can either look at December, January, and February as three hellish months, and spend each practice feeling sorry for yourself that your team isn’t on the water—or you can show up to each practice, each day with a goal in mind. What goal? Well, that’s up to you. Going faster or being more consistent than the last time you did that workout is a start. Test your limits on what you think your 5K/6K, 2K, and max paces are. Chase down the teammate whose seat you’re after. If you’re the fastest one already, see how much you can widen the gap. Each day you set, pursue with your best effort, and accomplish these little goals, you get closer to your big ones—making the boat you want to make, helping your team build the fitness, strength and mental toughness you’ll need to win together, and getting faster than you ever thought you could be.

Michelle Guerette, one of my first erg inspirations, in our college erg room. Photo: NYTimes.

In a race, you have to be confident in the work you’ve put in, sitting on that starting line. You have to trust your teammates because you’ve seen them push themselves beyond their limits. And you have to trust yourself that you aren’t going to let up for even one stroke, no matter how much your legs or lungs are burning, because you know that you’ve pushed yourself so many times through workouts that hurt even more than this race is going to. In a race, you don’t get to see your teammates pushing themselves, and they can’t see you. You can only feel each other committing and trust that you will go to the absolute bottom of the well for each other to get across that line first.

What motivates me on these dark, freezing mornings or pitch-black evenings when I’m heading down to the boathouse or erg room or the little alcove in the basement where the old rattle-y erg lives is knowing, like the instructor said Sunday, that getting faster and getting tougher is about being your own competitor. It’s knowing that I am working alongside my teammates, even from far away, because we know how hard we are working towards our goals each practice, each day. And it’s about loving to win and to put in the work it takes to do that.

Happy Winter Training,

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