Back on the Erg Again

Dec 16, 2011

You know how, during the holidays, you find yourself reverting back to childhood family dynamics with your family? Your sister steals the bathroom, your mom starts nagging, and your parents inquire about your whereabouts as if you have a curfew again. Well, for ex-collegiate rowers, the Concept2 Holiday Challenge can feel like a similar homecoming with the indoor rower. It is familiar, annoying, and loving all at the same time.

Last week, a friend of mine who rowed in college mentioned that she hopped on the erg at the gym for a 2k, rowed a few hundred meters, and couldn’t finish the rest. I immediately knew the experience. For competitive rowers who have left the sport for many years, the indoor rower is an alluring workout. It is familiar: we intimately know the technique and how to apply power. But without consistent training on the indoor rower, workouts can quickly become annoying. While competitively training, rowers know the exact splits they can reach during a workout. They know which splits will help them make boats, which splits will make the team faster, and which splits will end their rowing career.

Checking the Performance Monitor for progress

A 2k test at the gym seems like a great way to gauge fitness, but it is a mentally tough game when you haven’t been training. On each stroke, the Performance Monitor gives accurate, reliable feedback that, to a former competitive athlete, screams YOU’RE NOT PULLING HARD ENOUGH. The splits you “know you can achieve” are so ingrained, that when the Performance Monitor doesn’t reflect your old times, it is easier to drop the handle than to adjust to your current abilities. Mentally, you’ve already accepted that you’re off the team.

The Holiday Challenge has been a homecoming of sorts for me. I’ve stayed fit in the past decade competing in running and triathlon events and mostly avoided rowing. My 2k times still haunt me every time I sit down on the erg. I know what numbers I “can” pull, but need to mentally adjust to what’s reasonable. Many of my Holiday Challenge workouts have been lazy strokes while watching reruns of The Office. I’ve tried to do my best to leave judgment at the door. The beauty of the erg for competitive rowers is that we know how to row strong. What is overwhelming is remembering how much work it takes to make that happen again.

But that’s where the loving part of the erg comes in: yesterday, there were glimpses of strength in my stroke. Now that I’ve rowed over 78,000 meters on my way towards the 100k goal, my body is starting to adjust back to rowing. Mentally, I started to see the same splits. They may not have been for an entire 2k, but they were there, and they were mine.

Somehow, I mentioned at last year’s C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints World Indoor Rowing Championship that I would race in 2012. I can be quickly overwhelmed by this idea. My former coaches will be in attendance, and mentally my emotions revert back to erg tests and wanting to make varsity boats. I have to remember that my 2k race is mine alone, and I’ve had plenty of race experiences, both great and not-so-great. The CRASH-Bs is as much about participating in the great culture of indoor rowing as it is about competition. I have to let go of racing my collegiate self and worry about just racing.

As I prepare for my third CRASH-Bs, I’ll share some insight into coming back to training. I’m busy building a base through December 2011, with a plan to ramp up some speed in January. There’s a friendly bet on the line for this race (more about that later) so there is still some real competition for this “old” girl yet.

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