After a relentless week of Spring break training, I have a number of thoughts on training. It is impossible to not learn a lesson every day. However, I want to focus on one thing I have been struggling with almost every day this spring break.
How and who you choose to measure yourself against can completely change your perspective. It’s important to understand and accept accomplishments, but in competition it is always necessary to be aware of where you stack up.
Early in the week, we had an extremely rough row up Lake Lanier’s racing course. Upon reaching the top with serious frustrations, a boat mate asked what could be done about the constant leans. I laughed a little and said ‘Relax - there are too many things going on. It could be any number of things. Let’s just focus on being together.’ Sometimes, your perspective needs to just acknowledge that it’s early in the season, it’s a new line-up, it’s a stiff crosswind, new rigging, etc. Those are the days where you can really only ask what can be done, and set out to do it.
Other days, however, you come to realize that you won’t stack up if you accept where you are. While doing timed pieces, I quickly realized one of our boats would not hold up in competition. Despite a great feel to the boat, the times just would not get us where I wanted to be. They were acceptable times, but to get into finals at ACRA we would need to seriously pick up the pace. While I could have celebrated the small victory of a set boat with good timing, I could not help but focus on the lack of power or speed. There was a lot of work to be done to get race ready.
The most rewarding experiences, however, are when you find you do stack up well. Piecing against other teams, proved that we could hold our own. That where other teams may have raw power, we could compensate with good form. Where we had true desire and speed, there was always room to gain water with cleaning up the stroke, applying more pressure, and taking a better course.
The early season is all golden days. Training is tough but you get to focus on just pieces of what you will do on the course - hands, body prep, power, communication, and finishing. You accept the small victories, work hard to push past boundaries, and celebrate when you exceed expectations.
I am writing this post on the road, heading to Gainesville, GA. This year’s Spring break trip is over 700 miles from our home base in State College, PA. My final spring break training week has me feeling extremely nostalgic. I remember all of the hours spent rowing and training and working on drills. But for some crazy reason this trip, for the past three years, has been one of the many high points of my college career.
Looking back, however, I wonder what I would say to the 18 year old version of myself that boarded that bus headed to Camp Bob for the first time. Would I tell her to cherish these moments, to try to capture them, write them down and hold them tight? Would I tell her the blisters heal, become calloused hands that you are proud of, and no matter how much it hurts now, using that stinging hydrogen peroxide is 100% necessary? Would I tell her to remember every sunrise, relish every sunny day on a dock, take full advantage of the coaches and alumni?
I would, but I would also tell her this one thing that I was never told by anyone else:
Believe that you can go the distance. Believe it today, and every day you sit in that boat. Every race, you will be challenged whether you truly believe it. And in four years, you will look back and ask yourself was it enough, did you push as hard as you could and bring enough people with you? Did you go the distance?
The only way to get there is to first believe. In one of my favorite Christmas movies, a character said ‘Believing is seeing.’ it sounds corny, but it is true. Very few people can see deep into your soul an know the measure of your character - they cannot possibly believe in you first and in the few cases where they do, they can’t take the journey for you. Believing in our dreams is always the first step to realizing them.
As promised, I am back to talking about the self. This week, however, I want to talk about something that every person needs, but often gets in the way of our success - Ego.
In most athletics, but especially rowing, you need a strong Ego. I do not mean you need an inflated estimation of yourself. One of the best rowers I know once told me, “Fake it, till you make it.” For me, this means, understand where you are, push yourself like where you want to be, and assuredly you will get there. For that, you need an Ego that is on its game.
In psychology, Ego is defined by the balancing act between the inner self that is completely reactive upon whims, needs, and desires and the proactive inner self that solely abides by constraints and expectations. That leaves Ego to determine what to act upon and how to reconcile any differences - whether it be desires or expectations.
An Ego on its game, knows when to make sacrifices and when to indulge. It holds the expectations of success on the water in balance with the desires to relax or slack off. It keeps the internal desire for victory front and center when external peer pressures to give up and give in present themselves. An Ego, on its game, can be a rowers best asset.
However, this same Ego can get in our way. We spend so much time building ourselves up and tearing through old personal records, that we can forget what it means to be humble - to actually learn something. We are forgetting that we are actually still faking it.
When I was a novice rower, I was ambitious. I threw myself into rowing, because it added a rhythm to my life and an outlet for my competitive drive. I became viciously proud of my team and myself. I spent countless extra hours outside of practice learning to row, working on the erg, and going to cycling or circuit training. When we were told one novice would be pulled up to row with the varsity ‘B’ boat, I fully expected it would be me. It wasn’t. This was my first lesson in humility.
What I was missing, was the ability to humbly add value to a team with people who knew a lot more about rowing than I did. If I had practiced more humility, perhaps, I would have learned a lot from those women. That boat, although labeled a ‘B’ boat, went on to be faster and more driven than the top eight. I cannot imagine what I would have learned about being underestimated and overcoming obstacles. A hard lesson I learned the next year.
An Ego on its game does not go into overdrive, it does not take a day off. It remembers the sting of failure to meet expectations and yearns to experience sweet victory every day. Keep your Ego on its game and eventually all the faking it becomes making it.
After several weeks of imploring you to seek power from within and push yourself beyond anything you ever thought possible, I am going to change my tune. Do not worry, it will be just for a brief minute.
While getting ready to start a poorly attended early morning practice, I realized the importance of good teammates. Good teammates are those that you always depend on to be there. They are the ones you actually call when you do not see them in the morning, because their absence is uncharacteristic. Only under some extreme circumstance would they be unexcused.
I am fortunate to have known some of the best teammates. They are the kind of women and men who after a practice want to meet later to log more minutes, lift more weights or finish up an unfinished workout. They hold themselves accountable, and keep you honest as far as goals and progress. They are the women that tell it to you straight and the men that breathlessly tell you to dig deeper in the middle of a workout. If you are a good teammate - you know it.
While those that are not good teammates are always disappointing - you see their potential, you crave for them to put in their full effort and you know they would be essential teammates if they could just get out of their funk - it is the toxic teammates that I really want to address. Toxic teammates are those that bring negative attitudes to practice. They insist they cannot achieve the goal, are skeptical, envious and perhaps even spiteful of others achievements and often rebel against the expectations to sacrifice for success.
There are a lot of reasons people become toxic teammates. Perhaps it is disappointment, lack of self-esteem, or a power struggle within the team. Whatever the reason, when you are part of any group you have to make a conscientious decision to be a good teammate. Rarely do you just become one - you will have bad days, horrible workouts, and awful life events that all get in the way of being the best teammate. However, avoiding toxicity is also always a choice. I am not encouraging people to be lackluster teammates, but rather to be good teammates that sometimes have lackluster days. Avoid the negative, keep positive and some friends will certainly join you along the way.
Athletic training teaches us a lot about who we are. Early mornings, physical pain, and limited sleep reduce you down to the very core of your person. Your fears, hopes and dreams, they all become part of your motivation to test limits, to move forward, and to push harder. What continues to surprise me, even today, is the depth of our abilities when we are pushed past our limits.
In rowing, we are constantly measuring ourselves. We analyze our times, watts, and ratings to determine progress, as if the sum of all these numbers could even begin to measure our actual abilities. While we celebrate the victory of a new personal record, we simultaneously challenge ourselves to go beyond that, to dig deep and be even faster next time. With each goal we achieve, we realize new potential. There is reason it is called a personal record and not our ultimate best. We refuse to accept our personal record as our limit.
I often wonder, if we applied this mindset to our every day lives, what would our world look like? If we refused to accept mediocrity, if we demanded the very best of ourselves and if we focused on becoming better rather than just getting by, how different would your life be?
Fears, hopes and dreams, they push our lives beyond limits and move us forward. Reduced down to our core, we are faster than our last race, stronger than our last workout, and greater than the sum of our parts.