Olympic Silver Medal!!!!!!

I am beside myself right now.  We just had the race of our lives and won a hard-fought silver medal at the Olympics.  This adventure has tested me to the depths of my character.  I am so proud of my teammates and what we have accomplished.  Dream big and you never know what will happen.  I will do a lengthy post on my entire Olympic experience soon.  Go Canada!!

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Olympic Excitement, or Not?

As we get closer and closer to the Olympics I find myself running into the question: “Are you excited for the Olympics!?!”  The knee jerk response is of course yes, I am excited.  But if I’m being honest the only time I am really rested enough to ponder the future and consider the grandeur of the Games is right now -a Sunday afternoon (Sundays are our only day off).  Our coach, Mike Spracklen, is keeping us focused on each and every session with a very demanding program as we leave no stone unturned in finding more speed.  I am thankful that I put in the punishing miles on the lake this last year.  I don’t think my body could endure the current intensity otherwise. So, the honest answer to the question: “Are you excited for the Olympics” is that I am not really thinking about it too often.

This is always how it has been since shortly after I started in this sport.  I remember sitting in my condo back in 2009 and thinking for the first time that I could really do it; I could really make it to the Olympics if I went for it.  That is the last time I remember being truly excited, with goosebumps even, thinking about the Olympics.  This was after an erg test in the winter that I thought indicated I had some real potential (6:04 on the 2k -not very impressive now, but a momentum-booster for me at the time).  I was so excited I even called both my sisters to tell them that I thought I could get to the Olympics.

Shortly after this epiphany, this new goal became my burden and would stay that way until this very day.  I wear the stress better now, but it truly has been a struggle -more than I ever imagined- to get to the doorstep of the Games.  Looking back, I basically took a set-and-forget approach.  I set the goal in my mind that winter in 2009 and then quickly became focused on just getting to the next stroke, next training run, next practice and never further than that.  It’s still that way for me.  I’m just trying to get through the day and I’m sure if you asked any of my teammates they’d tell you the same thing.  The work keeps you firmly in the present.  There will be plenty of time for reflection after the Games.  We are doing everything we can now to make sure looking back will bring great memories and pride in having represented Canada well.

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From Beginner to Pro in Less Than 10,000 Hours

I got the idea for the title of this post based on an interview I did last week in which Jeff King, the interviewer, remarks I look like an “old pro” on the water.  I’ve also read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers in which he uses several examples to determine that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill and that being in the right place in the right time also has a big impact on one’s success.  I’m not going to write an essay on this, but this is really a bunch of nonsense in my opinion.  A midget is probably not going to win the high jump, even after 10,000 hours.  Nor is a guy my size going to get close to beating a Simon Whitfield in triathlon even after 10,000 hours.  I had an ambitious goal of winning a gold medal at the Olympics before I had ever tried rowing.  But I didn’t just eeny meeny miny mo my way to choosing rowing.  More than just having a rower’s build, I knew I also had decent physiology based on things like being near the front of the pack during dry-land training runs in hockey as a teenager.  I also seemed to naturally have decent form when learning technical lifts in the gym like hang cleans and snatches when I was training for football in university.  Similarly, the rowing stroke requires a very precise technique for max efficiency.  These are the kind of clues that gave me the idea that dedicating 100% of my effort to rowing might make my goal attainable before I had even tried the sport.  Not an exact science, I know, but better than nothing.

The 10,000 hour rule doesn’t apply to all new skills, so don’t use it as a cop out.  I’m at about 2,646 hours into rowing on the national team and 1,728 hours of learning how to row and training on my own while working full time.  Grand total = 4,374 hours.  Find out what strengths you have already and how they might combine toward a goal that seems lofty.  You might surprise yourself.

By the way, I have nothing against midgets.  Check out this cool clip of a midget boxing match.

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2K Erg Test

Our M8+ group just finished a 2k erg test earlier today.  We had a great team performance with a lot of powerful guys showing their stuff.  When you have a solid team performance with every guy putting forth fast times with many personal bests it builds tremendous confidence within the boat.  

I executed my plan for this erg test and I am satisfied with the result.  I think in hindsight you always think about different points of time during the test which could have been better in some way.  You start asking questions like: Would it have hurt me to go a second faster per 500 meters?  Did I go off too hard, or not hard enough?  Did I sprint too soon, or not soon enough?  I don’t think there is a correct answer to these questions as everyone likes to approach the test slightly differently.  Some guys like to hold a more manageable pace through the body of the test and then really hammer it down at the end to improve their score as much as possible.  Some, including me, like to get into a challenging pace that we try to maintain for most of the 2k with an emptying of the tank somewhere between 200 and 300 meters to go.  The sweet spot (or I-hate-my-life-but-I-can-survive-this-spot) is finding a pace that you can barely maintain, yet still gives you confidence to keep attacking when you come off it a bit in the later stages of the race.

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Appreciating the Journey

We are back in California just about three quarters of the way through our second training camp.  The weather was perfect today -sunny, light breeze, and about 21 degrees.  A lot has happened since my last post and I’ve been procrastinating, but whenever I drop the ball on some other project of mine outside of rowing I always forgive myself by telling myself that it’s because I’m so focused on my goal of winning at the Olympics.  The truth is I’m lazy and rowing doesn’t allow me to be lazy, so I have to be lazy in other parts of my life, like with this blog.  But, I will try to keep you guys in the loop more as we approach racing.  I just got back to the Marriott hotel we’re staying at after our morning row.  I was driving back from the lake with my teammates Andrew Byrnes and Kevin Light, the endorphins from the workout just past were coursing through my brain, it was the most beautiful day yet, the radio was playing good music, we were sticking our heads out the car windows like dogs, and I couldn’t help but feel a deep appreciation for the moment.  Not many people get to feel those moments as often as we do.  Sure, most people don’t suffer as much either.  But, I’m convinced that I’ll never have quite the same camaraderie with a group of guys who sometimes go through hell and back for each other to get faster.  Given the toll the mind and body takes during long days of repetitive and grueling training, I’ve come to understand the importance of enjoying every second of those small blissful moments.  It’s a good time for just being and letting the mind momentarily stop thinking about outcomes, competition, performance anxiety, injuries, or whatever else is on your mind.  Shortly after lunch we are going to feel the legs burn and the brain scream for oxygen and reprieve.  But for now I’m going to enjoy the sunshine.

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California Camp Take 2 and Outbursts and Passion

The team is back in Ranco Cordova near Sacramento for winter training camp.  This is where I cut my teeth sweeping last year and it’s nice to be back.  We’re training hard in the eight, fours, and pairs.  It’s back to the usual psycho babble that comes with draining yourself in the morning and then trying to find energy to drain yourself again in the afternoon.  I have truly conditioned myself during the past year to focus on one workout at a time and living in the moment.  If you think too far ahead, it’s easy to become discouraged with the workload and lose your focus on the immediate workout.  My athlete irritability syndrome is fairly mild right now, although I did have a bit of an outburst at the end of a training run just a couple hours ago.  Mike (my coach) asked me what caused me to lose my composure and I didn’t really have an answer for him.  It didn’t take long to get it back and refocus on the next run.  Different coaches and athletes have different opinions on the firey and passionate athlete and the inevitable flare ups that come with that kind of personality.  I think they’re fine from time to time, but they can hinder your performance if you allow yourself to get tunnel vision on the negatives instead of what’s going well for you.  Speaking of passion, my dad sent me an interesting essay by Hume on passion and taste:  http://www.econlib.org/library/LFBooks/Hume/hmMPL1.html  I like that first paragraph -it’s probably true about a lot of us.  Hume was a smart guy, but he probably never got his heart rate above 160 once. 

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Beast Mode

I will eat your children

This is a funny picture taken during our 6k test a few days ago. I can explain the foaming mouth! You see, I just started taking a BCAA supplement and this foam seems to be one of the side effects when I start breathing hard. That said, I can’t explain anything else. Like why I look possessed, angry, and hungry for human flesh. I have always thought rowing can bring out the worst as well as the best in someone and that right there is a glimpse of my dark side.

Every 6 weeks we do a round of testing including erg, and on water time trials to measure our progress. We had a lot of guys setting a good standard from this first round of testing. I was not sure what my 6k erg time was going to be. In the past I have done a lot more erg workouts leading up to a 2k or 6k erg test and I usually know within a few seconds where I should be based on my training. This time around we have been training a lot more on the water and so I wasn’t so sure what split (time/500 meters) I should be hitting. I ended up being a bit conservative at the start and then negative splitting -reducing my 500m split time by a second each 2k and then again in the last 1k before a final sprint.

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