Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rowing Hard

I worked 2 jobs when I was a college student at the University of Delaware. Weekdays I worked at the campus fitness center and weekends I worked double shifts waiting tables at the Ground Round. This on top of a full course load and Crew practice 6 times per week. I was busy!

One night I was closing up the fitness center and thought I'd get a 5000 meter row in on the erg before I left. It was a spur of the moment thing; my coach said he wanted to see us pulling 5000's in addition to the practices. So I shut down most of the lights, put the stereo on, sat on the machine and starting pulling.

About 200 meters into it I realized that I felt unusually strong. Why not go for a PR (personal record) at the distance? I notched up my pace faster than I normally would at that distance because I had wasted 200 meters pulling lightly.

I wish I could find the words to describe the pain that comes over your body during rowing. Rowing is not like other sports. It's a full body effort on every stroke. Your legs, back, shoulders and arms are working in concert and hard on every pull. Your lungs cannot feed oxygen to such a large group of muscles fast enough, so, with every passing stroke lactic acid accumulates. And it begins to burn. Getting that burning feeling in one muscle when you're lifting weights is one thing, but throughout your entire body? That is something else.

I was aiming to break the 17 minute barrier for 5,000 meters. If I could do it, it would have been only the 2nd time anyone would have done it in UD Crew history.

One thing I have learned through training is how to surrender to pain. You know it will hurt, so you just accept it and deal with it along the way. Not by slowing down, but by actually rowing through it.

It was at the 2200 meter mark that the pain started to dominate my thoughts. It's a feeling of despair - "How can I keep up this pace for 2800 meters? There's no way." I took a hair off the pace - 1 click down and that's it. Just a gesture really. A mental negotiation with my body as in "alright, I'll give you 1 second off my 500 meter pace if you just get me to 3800 meters."

Somewhere along the way my body started tingling, and with the lights dimmed, I was having trouble focusing. My mouth was open as if I were a snake dislocating my jaw to feed. It was my lungs' way of saying, "I need more air so you need to make your airway bigger."

I couldn't hear anymore either. I'm not sure how or why this happens. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe you just go so within yourself that you can't focus on the external world. I heard my breathing, not from my mouth, but from the vibration of my chest expanding and collapsing as fast as possible.

Usually rowers turn it up a few notches with 500 meters to go. It's called a 'power 10.' I started my power 10 at 900 meters because I wanted to get to that 500 meter mark as fast as possible. I knew that if I could keep my pace to that point I was in the clear from blowing up.

Maybe there was pain and my memory is choosing to not remember it. I'm not really sure. I think its more that I reached a certain fitness level and my body learned and adapted to persist in a highly toxic anaerobic state.

I remember being wide-eyed as I crossed the 4500 meter mark, did the quick math, and realized that I was in fact going to break 17 minutes. When something is that close to happening, you simply cannot let it go - right? You have to get it. You have to fight for it.

Remember I said that. When you are competing for something - and I'm not just talking about sports - go and get what's yours. But therein lies a big secret - you need to feel that it is yours for taking.

Time: 16:46

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About Me

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NY, New York, United States
I'm 34 years old, the proud father of 2 beautiful children and husband to Jennifer, a beautiful, smart, and very caring woman. I'm an athlete - someone that was blessed with the ability to move fast and fluidly past, around, up and over my opponents. But, my body now reminds me that those days are numbered. I'm the Founder of Agile Fitness, a company dedicated to helping others achieve their fitness goals. Resume: - Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist ('96). - Bachelor of Arts & Science, University of Delaware, ('95) - Masters in Business Administration, Baruch College Zicklin School of Business ('01)