Rowing creek: letting go, finding flow & being really freakin’ selfish.

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Bear!Boathouse sits on a finger of land that separates two bodies of water – marina & creek.

Marina is just that – it’s an open marina that you row in a counter-clockwise loop, and depending on your course it can be about 6000m, not counting inlets. You’re out there with everyone else – rowers from other boathouses, recreational motorboats, sailboats, a couple of commercial tourist fishing expedition boats, and the occasional Catalina-bound ferry. As you might guess, sometimes that makes for an adventure wrapped in chaos punctuated by many an utterance of “What the fuck?”

Creek is different. It’s an outlet of the LA river which has about 2400m of protected water between two bridges that’s two, maybe three boat lanes wide. Thanks to our location, Bear!Boathouse has a dock that lowers down directly to the water. Everyone else has to actually row out of the marina, go out around the breakwater & surf about five or six hundred meters of ocean waves to get access. As such, the course doesn’t get much play beyond some of the local Masters who know how to manage that sort of hazard and college crews who have a coach launch as safety escort.

I like rowing in the creek. Not just because the water is flat – after six years in our marina, shit water is just part of the game. No, I like creek because it helps me let go.

Truth told, I really needed that this week.

Laziest. 2k. Ever.

I did a 2k piece last weekend. I went to SD & did their Indoor Classic, and while everybody else in my heat was busting their ass racing, I just went ahead and… did a piece.

One of the Juniors described it later as “the most casual 2k ever”, and it’s true – I pretty much did the anti-2k.

I sat down, I did a nice steady state piece. I adjusted the volume on my ipod twice, I deliberately didn’t go faster than the girl who was winning the lightweight division (open & open ltwt went together) & and I really only put pressure on for the last 400m when I looked the screen & saw that Hoff (who came in 2nd in the lightweight division) was +10m up on me, which the junior rowers described as, “it literally looked like you said, ‘ehhh, screw it, I’m gonna go ahead & beat Hoff‘.”
That was actually a very accurate assessment, except that longtime readers will not be surprised to know that in my mental version of that statement, I dropped the f-bomb.

After I was done, I put my handle in place, reached back for my phone, took a picture of my screen, then cheered on the girl next to me for her last 500m & waited for everyone else to finish.

Rowers reading this story are either laughing or horrified right now. Or, as JRo said to me at work on Tuesday when she heard, “Wow. You seriously did that & still won your race? You’re kind of an asshole.”

Salter: hahaha…what a good example you lead for the high school kids
Claris: what? i cheered the girl next to me on – that’s totally sportsmanship!

Why did I do a piece instead of a race?

Because the problem isn’t my body, it’s my head.


For me, last weekend wasn’t about winning or busting my shit out, it was about composure. It was about rowing a piece without freaking out. Last Saturday, I pulled a 1.53.7 average split – pretty much the same time I pulled last year. The difference is that this year, it wasn’t a fight. I wasn’t hyperventilating. There were no panic attacks. Honestly, if I was anything last week, I would describe that piece as oddly detached.

I wasn’t rowing for time. I was rowing for flow.

One of the things that I’ve come to realize over the last few months is how much I’ve lost my flow.

High School Locker People: where you the shover or the shovee?

On the water, athletically, I love rowing.

Off the water… well let’s be honest, folks – the rowing community has a lot of crap.

Rowing is a small group of people to begin with, and each individual boathouse is a bit isolated from others, so oftentimes you end up in what I can only describe as high school, only nobody is ever forced to graduate, so they just sit at that maturity level. Forever.

The result? You see a lot of dumbass crap.

For people like me, who didn’t participate in high school when I was in high school, being different can make you a target. Add in that I’ve never been one to duck a punch, and you learn real fast what it means to stand alone.

But having to deal with that sort of thing, to keep taking care of yourself over & over… after a time, expending that energy takes its toll. And in the course of that, I’d lost much of what made me love my sport.

So I retreated. I purposely backed away from people & just concentrated on the rowing. Z changed the metrics of my training plan so that I couldn’t measure things the way I usually would. And while the detailed entirety of the tale will no doubt be a different blog entry at another time, for the last four months, I have simply dialed things back & worked the problem.

All of which is why, last weekend, I rowed a piece for flow. I rowed it like I was in the creek.

While the water conditions are mostly flat, unless you have very specific conditions, the split you pull in the creek isn’t really an indicator of your actual speed – since we tend to row early in the morning & later in the evening, the tide is almost always either coming in or out, so one direction your split will be really great, and the other… not so much.

If I really wanted to, I could I find those perfect conditions – as Z happily pulled out his phone on Sunday to demonstrate, there’s totally an app for that.

Do I bother? Nah.

Right now I just need to row to row. After Saturday’s 2k, I came home, went to sleep, headed over to Bear!Boathouse on Sunday and hit the creek for a 4×20′ under 155 HR where I literally spent and hour & twenty minutes just playing around with the technicality of my stroke.

The truth is that right now, I am a selfish rower.

Christmas Day, I rowed a 2x with Stesha Carle.
@Steeesh & I had known each other for a bit, but really only started talking over the last year or so, & have never actually rowed together, so when there was nobody around & neither of us had a training plan for Christmas, we decided to meander out & see what there is to see.

…and I was reminded that damn. I row selfish.

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Overall, it was decent for never having rowed together. Balance was good, & as someone who normally rows a single, I was perfectly happy to let the little control freak bow so I didn’t have to steer.

There was some slight mismatch – due to yoga having allowed me to develop the ability to scrunch my body into as tiny a ball as one could be when 5’10″, I have a fair compression at the catch so my front angle is deeper, but Stesha comes off the footplates & turns around into the drive much quicker & harder than I do — which is probably why she’s got the silver medal for team USA from this year’s Worlds in Bled and I’m just mucking about in a creek on my own. ;)

…but the thing that struck me the most about that row was the difference in how we balance.

As we would go up the slide, I could feel Stesha behind me – there were wiggles and twitches and movement from her calves and toes as she counterbalanced me.

For me, balance comes from relaxing – I tend to deliberately loosen my upper body as I go up the slide, push my shoulders away from my ears, finesse the oar handles, and allow the boat to roll around me.

Now, to be clear, neither approach is wrong. It just illustrated to me a difference in mindset.

Competitively, Stesha rows a quad, so she’s used to counterbalancing and working with other people in the boat. As much as she concentrates on her own performance, there’s always a part of her brain that also constantly adjusts what she’s doing to better mesh with her teammates.

For the most part, I row a single – because I don’t have to worry about what anyone else might do to offset my motion, my instinct is to just keep my body in line, allow the shell to go where it’s gotta go, & re-engage as I approach the front in order to allow for as little disturbance as possible.

While neither of us knew it at the time, looking back, I know now that really needed that row. For me, that row, and the lesson that I learned from it – athletically, it was a kind of blessing.

When you learn to row, you’re taught to row with others – the most common boat is the 8+. You work as a team, you compete against others for your seat. So much of what & how you do things involves other people.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love an 8+. Rowing-wise, I was born & raised to be an engine room, and after the practice row for last year’s Crew Classic, I was the one going, “Sweeeeeeep – wait, why are we stopping? Let’s go again!”

But, much like the fact that my parents raised me in a Catholic Republican environment only to have their daughter send them a copy of Farenheit 9/11 right before the 2004 presidential election, how I was raised is not who I turned out to be.

What that row with Stesha taught me is that right now, I’m a single rower. And there’s nothing wrong with that other than that I hadn’t accepted that because what I row has changed, how I approach how I row has to change. I have to be selfish. More importantly, I have to be okay with being selfish, and doing what I need to do for me, no matter how that stacks up to what other people think or expect.

I’m just now getting to the point where I can start to put my head back in the game. Last weekend was the first time in three years where I rowed 2000 meters on something other than the paddle and didn’t feel like my heart was going to explode from neurosis.

Was I at full pressure? Hell no.
Athletically can I do better than that? Yah, I totally can.

But mentally, that was the best 2k I’ve rowed in four years.
There was no psychologically abusive coach telling me I’m not “a real athlete” because I hadn’t hit a certain split, no lung-stealing panic, no feeling that the walls were gonna close in on me. I stopped thinking about anything other than what I needed to do for me, & I did a piece. I did okay. I didn’t freak out. I was okay.
I am okay.

This weekend? Round 2.

There’s another erg sprint at Beach!Boathouse, so I’m going to build on what I did last Saturday & try it again. Based on the heat sheets, I know there’s at least one other girl who’ll probably beat me in the event, and honestly… I don’t care. All I want to do this week is to be able to go a little faster than last week & still have the same composure. To push out of my comfort zone a bit more & still be okay.

This isn’t my endgame. This is a step. This is part of my process. To get to there, I have to get through here. So if I lose on Saturday, that’s fine. Right now, I’m finding my flow.

I’m not racing to win. I’m not there yet. Today, I’m just rowing for me.

Music: Falling – Staind (Chapter V)Chapter V - Staind

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