adventures in wiring, Ernie’s lightbulb, & chub rub: slowly making strides in a single.

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Since I was down at the Menagerie for a few days two weeks ago, I had two goals: get m’damn boat wired properly, & do at least one session of purely technique work.

The wiring… should have been easy. I had a whole new wiring set, the spare HR wiring that I’d found in a closet appeared to work when I tested it on the setup I have on Z’s boat up at Bear!Boathouse, and despite my annoyance at the fact that a pin costs $25, & the entire setup is $30, I had scavenged the parts for a new hull mount to just set everything up anew.

How do you wire a 1x, you may ask? Well, my teammate Derrick got to learn that as I affixed everything in the proper place, discovered that the most likely reason the original wiring set didn’t work was that the seat had no magnet (which I highly suggest everyone check before they make any parts orders, I’m just sayin’, the damn magnet only costs $5 I can’t believe none of us thought of it but whatever), and then got to the part where I had to say, “Okay Derrick, let’s flip the boat seat down, & then I need you to lay on the ground.”

A wiring set w/ impeller has two magnet sets — the one on the deck & the seat which gives you a stroke rate, and then the one on the inside bottom of the hull & the outside on the hull mount for the impeller, which is a little spinny thing that goes around & offers an (approximate) idea of your split.

For Stevie:
Stroke rate – how many strokes per minute.
Split – how long it takes you to travel 500m at that speed.

Seat-magnet isn’t horribly hard (or so I’d thought), but the impeller set is the wackier of the two. The fastest way to do it is to affix the inside hull magnet to a spot, then take a guesstimate of matching the hull mount to the outside of the boat. One person lays under the boat watching the speed coach, & the other stands up, holds the hull mount in place & blows on the impeller. If the person on the ground sees the split change on the speed coach while the impeller is moving, then voíla! you’ve found where the magnets match up, so you quickly mark that spot with a pencil, do two or three more tries to make sure it’s really the right spot, and then double-stick tape that little mother on.

I know, it’s all so very scientific. And to think rowing is highly populated by engineers.

How I learned this lovely process was about three years ago when I was the one laying on the shore of Lake Natoma trying to wire Z’s 1x so I could row it in Head of the American the next day. My old coach Webster was the one blowing on the impeller, & because he’s 6’7″, bending down to about three feet high & trying to blow into the very tiny space kept giving him a head rush & he’d have to stand up every few tries, which may have caused me to offer that next we could see what happened when he drank beer through a straw, a comment that possibly earned me A Glare.
Compound his annoyance with the equipment with the fact that we were trying to hurry since theoretically that should have been my practice row, and then add in that at the time he was quarreling with his significant other, so she kept calling him over & over & over again during all this, and due to the fact that she had custom-programmed his ring tone for when she called him, to this day I have an actual physical aversion to Love Story by Taylor Swift.
It’s not your fault, Taylor – I actually really like some of your other songs!

Now, thankfully, because I was taking off old wiring, having to hunt for the right spots wasn’t that bad because I had the old markings to start off from, so we got things done way faster, and since Pomatto showed up to go out in the 2x, the test row was done by … Derrick.
the boys at Bear!Boathouse are really liking that my oddly proportioned skeletal frame results in me fitting best into a men’s lightweight boat. I warned them – Filippi F-15 over Peinert any day, baby. Any. Day.

That accomplished, Pomatto & I grabbed the M (2x) & headed out to do technique practice with Daddy McG. Daddy McG is Flyweight’s dad (hence the title – nomenclature, what can I say, I got a gift) and also a former Nat’l team member with some shinies to put up on the wall in his own right. Along with rowing with our group at Beach!Boathouse, on Mon, Wed & Fri mornings he jumps in a launch & does free coaching for whomever happens to be in the stadium at the time.

Now, neither Pomatto nor I have delusions of grandeur — she just got done sweeping with a bunch of Trojans for the last four years & while I have been sculling for… oh god, I’ve actually been sculling the whole time she’s been in college. (wow, I feel old) But between running the Renegades & my own injuries, I have never actually raced the single in a sprint race outside of a random Sunday Funday, so we decided to just approach SW Regionals this year in the “F*ck it, let’s just give it a whirl & see how things shake out” sort of mentality. That in mind, she’s hitting up the AA 1x, I’ve got the A 1x, & we’re gonna take four minutes to play in the A 2x.
Thank god we’re both late fall babies, ’cause with end-of-year age by US Rowing, 32 & 23 averages to exactly 27. For once in my life, regulations & math have combined in my favor!

However, while we’re both just sort of getting our feet wet (hopefully just figuratively), neither of us wanted to suck completely, so we went out with Daddy McG, who watched us row together for about ten strokes & was like, “oh, stop stop! you both have completely different problems.”
As Pomatto is a ltwt who’s just been rowing sweep for 4 yrs & I’m an open weight engine room that’s been primarily sculling a 1x, this isn’t exactly a shocking diagnosis.

Daddy McG hit up three things with my technique – breaking my arms, relaxing through the recovery, and really planting the blade in before I start to drive with the legs.

Breaking my arms wasn’t hard to get the hang of, it was more me reminding myself to remember to correct an old problem. It’s not like an actual bend in the arms so much as like, a micro-softening of the elbow to create a better connection through the drive & facilitate a synergy between legs coming down & finishing the stroke with your arms. We’re all taught it as legs->body->arms on the drive, and I think somewhere along the way of teaching Sculling I over & over again, I got too much in the habit of that separation of movement, which just gives you a completely ineffective power curve to round out the back end of your stroke.

Relaxing through the recovery – I have heard about this my entire time rowing. Everyone’s like, relax your shoulders on the recovery, don’t be so tense, etc. But the truth is, I am relaxed, I swear to god — I’m pushing my shoulders away from my ears, I’m not clenching my back, it just looks tense because I had posture drilled in my spine at an early age. Long-time rowers have a tendency to slump to begin with (yes, guys, you totally do) but for me, the slight stooping of the shoulders at the catch just goes against everything my mother & every nun in elementary school trained into me, so what looks tense to a coach is actually completely comfortable for me.

As I said to Daddy McG, “I’m sorry, I swear I really am relaxed. I can’t help it – I have really prominent clavicles and I went to Catholic school.”

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Planting the blade. Ugh. This is another one. I’ve always, always been just a smidge off on my catch, and I’ve never been able to feel that little eensy bit that three different coaches have tried to squinch out of my stroke. But for some reason, sitting in the 2x w/ Pomatto & just walking through the problem with Daddy McG, I had this stroke where I just went up onto my toes at the catch, and lifted a scoche more in my fingertips, and holy crap!

:insert choir of cherubim singing here:

It was like a whole new world, I just can’t even tell you.

While I was potty-training Ernie, there was this moment where he went poo outside, & realized that yes this is what I wanted him to do, and after that he’s never had an accident in the house again. I refer to that as Ernie’s Light bulb Moment, because just like in cartoons, you could almost see a light bulb flicker to life.

In that stroke, I totally had an Ernie Light bulb Moment. After years of trying to hold the slide in an 8+, hitting my timing in sculling feels like I’m lunging the last quarter inch at the top of my recovery, but the slight backing in of the oar to the water & lock in of the blade were so much more solid, I just can’t even tell you. Honestly, I haven’t felt that solid hanging off an oar outside of a good 8+ — that feeling where you can just clench your abs & suspend your whole body off the shaft of the blade to the point where you have to pull back just a wee bit or you’re in danger of skipping over your seat. It takes a certain amount of trust to hit that in sweep with 3 to 7 other rowers to help steady the boat, never mind in a single where it’s you, yourself & you to keep things in line.

Why trust? Because for the smallest fraction of time, you have to let go of the boat completely — you’re not in it, your butt is not on the seat. The only connection you have is the top two or three phalanges of your hands on the oar, and the balls of your feet on the foot stretchers, and you have to have faith you are moving at the same speed as your boat so that when you come back down that inch your butt has lifted off the seat, everything will be where it’s supposed to be.

Why, after almost 5 years of rowing, did I figure out in that moment? I seriously can’t tell you. I think part of it was Daddy McG. Daddy McG just has what I find to be very positive energy in how he approaches things. And yes, while I am aware that like many a rower, Daddy McG has his own plan for world domination, I’m not someone that’s central to that in any way, so in going out with him in the launch, it just feels like way less pressure, and because I can relax a little more, I think I was willing to take the little bit of risk that Esther talks about.

The result of all of the above, combined with Pomatto in the boat to steady things = me being willing to roll up that extra nth of an inch & feel an exponential increase in how my oar bites down into the water.

Of course, being rowing, once you do it correctly the first time, you need to reinforce, so off I went to recreate that feeling again. And again. And again. And then, as they say in Hollywood, once more for safety. As we got to the bridge, Daddy McG cheerfully informed me, “You’ll know you’re doing it right because you’ll feel it in your abs and lower back since you haven’t been using them to row before now.”

Ya know where else you feel it? Your ass. Hard core. It’s possible that I got out on the dock & maybe made a sad little whimpering noise. And that, in applying improved technique, I may have made that same noise every time I docked for the rest of the weekend, and maybe just a little again when we combined Saturday’s practice with the 3×30 dyno afterwards, ’cause um… owie. I’m just sayin’. It might have happened, and theoretically has repeated itself on every row in the last week.

All of this, to attempt to make a moment somewhere, anywhere near as cool as this:

I realize that there are a lot of rowers who will immediately critique what Michelle is & isn’t doing wrong, (as you’ll be able to see if you click through & scroll the comments) but honestly, as someone who will never row at the elite level, the professional internet nerd in me decided to go with this particular video just for this:
if she was washing out, she’s winning and she can probably outscull you, so don’t be so quick to get your keyboard warrior on
–> now, that commenter sounds a little bit snippy until you take into account the shiny silver medal Michelle brought home from a trip she took to Bejing about three years ago. so if the day ever comes that I can row as “badly” as her — I’m totally down with that.

But also? I think “keyboard warrior” just might be my new favorite phrase. ;)

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In other news, chub rub for the win!
All that aside, altering the way I roll up also forced me to really start working with the position of my knees. The lower body portion of a rowing stroke is basically a horizontal squat, and you would never do a squat with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees stuck together. As you can see by this great picture of Natalie Dell from last week at Henley, what you should have is at least a fist’s width distance between your kneecaps, as such:

Somewhere along the way of teaching myself to balance a single, I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping my knees together for stability at the catch. This is bad, & furthers my theory that rowing is a reflection of life, as it seems things would greatly improve if I would just relax & not worry about keeping my knees together.

So, armed with a fabulous new roll up onto my toes, I went back to Beach!Boathouse on Saturday afternoon for our steady state row, which it turns out also doubled as our rough water training thanks to some illegally accelerated motorboats & wind that kicked up chop all the way down the back channel, which on our water is no small feat.

However, in the course of dodging people expressing their mid-life crisis via cigarette boats and bridge pylons, I realized something: I can use my chub rub.

Remember Susan Powter? The blond bald chick who had all those Stop the Insanity weight-loss infomercials in the 90′s? Yeah, her. My mom used to leave infomercials on while we were kids (yeah, don’t ask) and I remember this thing that Susan Powter used to do where she would talk about how in her weight loss, there was a day where she realized she could see space between her thighs. And she’d make this whole big deal about “omg, can you do that? Because before I lost weight, I could never do that!”

Yah, well, ya know what Susan? Much like when I was a kid back in New Hampshire being put through the paces of every fad diet that existed in the 90′s, I couldn’t do it then, & I can’t do it now, so bugger off. Also? I find your new blond dreds even scarier than your bald look.

Now, yes, there is a lot less of me than there used to be, but admittedly I could still work on being a little more ecologically-minded & streamline the packaging. I like to think of it as the anatomical version of ultra-concentrated Tide – I believe it’s possible for me to achieve at least the same amount of work as before, and take up less space doing so.

Future goals aside, being out in the midday sun & wearing my shorter summer spandex did reveal what the extra 17 lbs of pudge on my wudge could provide: an reminder to keep my knees apart.

When I don’t correct my form, these new spandex are short enough that all the way up the recovery, I can feel my inner thighs brushing each other. For those of you that have never experienced the joy of being outside of the optimal BMI range for your height, this continued brushing sensation is a quick recipe for the dreaded chub rub, a seasonal irritation nobody wants to deal with.

This leaves me with a choice: either fix my form, or end up unable to wear anything other than jeans for the entirety of the summer. If you’ve ever been in the sweaty Easy Bake Oven that is Los Angeles during August, you might understand why I found this to be an incredibly motivational reason to pay attention to my form.

The result of this being that, in the space of two days, I learned enough to at least make progress on trying to row in a way that sucks a little less. Preferably, I would have had this revelation sometime sooner than two weeks before Southwest Regionals so that implementing said lessons would involve far more reflex & far less aches & pains, but hey – better before the race than after, right? As it is, while I’ve managed to get the timing in a 2x, I’m still just like, the tiniest smidgen short when rowing my single, so as always, something to learn & work on.

I realize that, for non-rowers, all of this can sound a bit* crazy & obsessive, and a wee bit OCD with regards to minutiae.
*Okay, yes non-rower-friends, it sounds totally crazy & obsessive, but let’s not forget how some of you were during they heyday of boy bands in the early 2000′s, & I completely weathered that whole thing with what I like to think was a great deal of tolerant aplomb. I’m just sayin’.

The thing you learn very quickly in rowing is that figuring out one thing means you inevitably have to fix something else. And once you break it down to a boat where the only person is you, it’s really hard to avoid the fact that the only person you can pin the blame on is… you.

In my experience, there are mainly two ways to approach the single – you can be convinced that your way is the only way, or you can start by be willing to accept your own fallibility and work from there.
For instance, I totally just had to go to & double-check how to spell “fallibility“. ’cause I’m awesome that way.

Way I figure it, a rowing stroke is a constant evolution of what your body does, just as your life should be the continuous development of who you are. Sometimes it’ll be great, and you’ll rock that train all the way down the buoy line, and then there will be times where you literally have to just force yourself to row a thousand meters at a time because all you want is to sit in the middle of the marina and cry.

Things are going to change no matter how hard you try to control them — the only thing you can do is make the decision every morning about whether you’re going to be there to lower a stern into the water.


In news of rowers who are better than me, and because the shot I used of her 4x made her all blurry, completely gratuitous picture of @Steeesh and the girls rockin’ through their warm-up over in Jolly Olde England as they got ready to race Henley last week. Now it’s on to Lucerne so that Team USA can show the World Cup what’s what.

Music: What Goes Around Comes Around – Justin TimberlakeFutureSex/LoveSounds (Deluxe Edition) - Justin Timberlake

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  • Mr. Whyt

    (32+23)/2 =27.5… I’m sorry I’ll show myself out

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