Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sweet Sweat Runs

On the docks in Banyoles, Spain
Sweat runs are often a mixture of love/hate. Tired legs from depleted body carries you out the door to lose weight, to make weight or maintain weight. Unlike the performance factor you push up against in your rowing race, this part of your training is something between stretching and heart rate sustenance. You don't want to work too hard, tiring you out for your real race, but you don't want to walk either. The job needs to get done as quick as possible. To sweat. And if you can get distracted by the surroundings, all the better, with sweet memories to follow. Here are some of mine gathered from my rowing racing sweet runs.

Banyoles, Spain
In 2009 for the Memorial Paolo d'Aloja, I remember running through the streets of Italy in Piediluco. My first experience of running to make weight. The other lightweights thought this was a drag. But I thought this was the coolest experience ever. The setting sun made all things European flicker in their difference to what was familiar. Cobbled roads, old ruins from ancient times, Italian voices. A snapshot of a European way of life that I physically, was being a part of and moving through with all the senses. I never felt so alive.

My second rowing-running memories are gathered in Spain, Banyoles where running becomes more than just weight-making. Its my pre-race focus in a warm-up and my after race recovery cool-down. Its just that ‘me’ time where I align all my anxieties, get ready to show my stuff on the water. Rowing is very technical and having the ease of the run sets me up to have all my nerves ready to perform.
Running in Galicia, Spain

Somewhere in the northern part of Spain, we went to a race.  It was possibly in Galacia, but I can't remember the exact location. I just remember running around the lake area to see little delicate vines, around huge power lines that overlooked a grand lake on which the rowing races were happening. I also saw the European villa houses that were movie tuscany-dreamy quality. The  orange trees added more beauty to the scene. It was nice!
River Trail in New Zealand

Hunt Drive - Fulmer's loop
Running for the 2010 World Champs in New Zealand was quite a fair. It was in November (Spring-Summer for the Southern hemisphere) and it was not as warm as I would have liked. Sweating took some work and more run-exploring. We stayed at the Kingsgate Hotel in Hamilton but the rowing happened in Cambridge, Karapiro. My explorations at pace soon found me at Minogue Park, near our Hotel. Like a child the large open fields and hills made me giddy as I covered the distance. When on top of the hill (koppie) I would have a stare out moment over my world. One day Netball games were being played close by. That was a great blast from the past. Haven't seen or played Netball since 2002, and it was such a big part of my life for 12 years. Just off Minogue Park, there was a horse track. Running laps around this track also gave me motivation to keep going on my sweat run. Perhaps remembering track training days with Mrs Erasmus at Willowridge, or perhaps thinking of the sheer strength, power and grace that the thoroughbreds exurb as they are jocked around the track. Those galloping strides paced me. From Kingsgate I was also recommend to head east towards the River Trail. This was a runner's haven. Long, unending trail roads, free of cars, winding along the river. Green luscious ferns pathed your way. Sometimes I thought I was on-set for a dinosaur scene. Once I also ran along the main street to just see the businesses and shops. Along the way there was a huge pile of tracker tyres. It was meant to be climbed and I couldn't resist. Like a obstacle course, jungle gym, I went up and over the tyre mount. A little embarrassed, I carried on running.
Wooded trails run
from my Garmin Connect
Another simple place to run is in the neighborhood of the Fulmer's. I run loops in the circular cul-de-sac. I turned my focus to my pace instead of frustration of limited space and making circles. I let my pace set in a deep rhythm needed to win my race. Further down the road is a great park I exploring the trials. Somehow it all connects Although once I ended up really far out. Thank goodness I had my iphone maps to direct me back.

Now running in Seattle, around Lake Union is also a staple run. Along the path of house boats, to wood panel boardwalk of South Lake Union. Running up the stairs to get over the Freemont bridge, and dropping back down into the Burke Gillman trial. Inside gasworks parks, running up the hill, close the water wall and back out. Along the trail, passing the rowing clubs of Lake Washington, Pocock until I get to my club, Lake Union crew.
Lake Union Run 
Lake Union View over towers of Queen Anne
View when running over Freemont Bridge

Another staple run takes place in Amsterdam. Running around the Aalsmeer lake is my ultimate distance run. Just under half a marathon, the run takes you in and out of the water's view. At times you feel like it just won't end, but then you see the water tower (which looks like it was built for the set of Transformers) and like a lighthouse, it brings you home. Thank you Otimus Prime for some stamina! Also in Amsterdam are my Bosbaan runs. This is the course where we row as well, so great to run the 2km out, there and back, and then also to wonder into the forests that surround the bosbaan. At first getting lost in the wooden trails was very overwhelming. Now I have it down, and found many little hidden gems in the wood. Like pools, big hockey fields, restaurants, and forest theaters. But the biggest surprise was finding the obstacle course. This is just like something we would do at veldschool (bush school) with ropes, tyres and legs to walk along, get over and conquer!
Bosbaan - Amsterdam
Around Aalsmeer Lake
More runs in the Netherlands also include the City of Delft along the River Schie and in Rotterdam along the River Rotte. Delft is a small quaint little city. Running through the square is also charming, finding little bridges crossing the ever winding waters ways. Or you could run out into the polders and the bike trails and just really run or bike for hours. Seeing bikes broken, warped and locked are common all over Delft, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

Kandelaar Bridge in Delft
500m board on Lake Lucerne
Running around the city of Lucerne, Switzerland at the World Cup planted some great memories. I remember the cow bells clanging on the hills as I ran along the course. I would hear them when we rowed too. The Rotzee is beautiful. The jewel for all rowers! I also enjoyed running out to the bigger Lake Lucerne with views of Mount Pilatus. The out and back run to the 500 mile mark cafe would get me through. To see that 500m sign and look over the water and setting sun was magical. As I run back and get back into the little city, seeing Helvetica-typeface signs constructed on top of the buildings also delighted this designer's viewpoint. Helvetica developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann aimed to have neural properties that exhibited great clarity. Perfect proportions in spacing and lines, just like the Swiss-German culture. 'Helvetica' means 'Swiss' in latin.

Track in Bled
In Slovenia, we competed at Lake Bled. So I ran around Lake Bled. A beautiful foot path that also have horse and carriage coming by. People strolling with big ice-creams was also a common site. Its a nice loop. I also started exploring the outskirts of the city and came across a beautiful athletes track. This excited me to no end. I made my loops around the track, and even did some harder 400m's work. Man, I remember those 400 days with coach Garry and Mrs Erasmus clocking every one. The rest in between just a painful pause to when you need to line up again!

Running around Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Samish, Bellingham
Back in the USA, I have also spend hours pounding the pavement around Lake Samish in beautiful Bellingham: a town north of Seattle, just a stone throw from the Canadian border. Also a lake loop letting you see the waters you are row from a different perspective. One side of the run is not as pleasent as it borders the highway (I-5). That was motivation to run faster so it could be over quicker. There was also another small lake called Lake Padden that was super fun to run around. This was all trails and Abby and I would run this more competitively though, for real training, while others bbq's and swam.

Lake Stevens
I used to live in Lake Stevens, and so wasn't long before I found myself making the lake loop. I rode it first on my bike figuring out the path. Then later we got a little furry companion, and he was soon trained to make the run. Remus is a american pit. Unlike his breed his known for, he is slender and swims like a fish. We start the lake loop in different strides. First he will be pulling me, and then after 50min, I pulling him to make the last 20min. Good team work I would say. Miss my little guy! Best running partner I ever had.
Remus, best running partner

From one side of the globe to another, running in South Africa, even now after my junior days is till a blast. There is a nature reserve close to where I live called Groenkloof, with hiking trails that I ran through. This sounds unreal, but as I ran, there were Zebra's and Giraff and Rhino. Only in Africa!
Groenkloof nature reserve

Willowridge High School Track

Thank you to Super Jock 'n Jill in Greenlake who fitted me in Brooks and I have never looked up. I love my Brooks, that support my pronating running style and have reduced my shin split injury to zero! Super Jock 'n Jill supplied me with sponsored shoes for my olympic endeavor. Please support these guys and they have me. I would recommend this store over and over if you are looking to buy good running shoes!


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Moving the Start

When I was running around the Willem-Alexander Baan, and I saw Martijn standing on the starting platform while it was being moved from the 1000m mark back to the start of the 2000m, I had to capture this camotion. Now when you tell me the start has been moved, I might think twice about the time or the actual whole starting platform.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Understanding boat selection in USRowing

I have been asked many times how the USRowing boats are selected, mainly because the process seems unfair. So to date, subject to change, this is how it goes:

In USRowing there are two systems that are the same for the men and women's team:
1. Camp Selection
2. Trial Selection

-with some overlap of training support and centers in between.

The distinction of Olympic and Non-Olympic events are also treated differently.

All small boats are trial selection: 1x, 2x, 2- (lightweight & openweight).
Big boats are camp selection: 4x, 8-, M4- and LM4-. But the lightweight quads and women's four fall into trial selection because they are Non-Olympic events.
Thus funded, Olympic, trial events racing at NSR are: W1x, M1x, W2x, M2x, LW2x, LM2x, W2-, M2-.
Unfunded, non-Olympic, trial events racing at Senior Trials are: LW1x, LM1x, LM2-, W4-, LW4x, LM4x, LM8-.
Funded Olympic camp events named by the coaches are: W4x, M4x, M4-, LM4-, W8-, M8-.

Camp selection means the national team coach is picking all the seats. Athletes are required to train together at a USRowing supported venue, such as Princeton, San Diego or Oklahoma City and most expenses like coaching, training venue, equipment and training center gear is covered. There is also an athlete income for most of the rowers in in the camp selection.

In trial selection, athletes are free to pick partners, coaches and a training place. However they, personally or through their club will need to cover all costs for this. In trial selection to be on the national team you need to win the final at NSR or senior trials. It's a great cowboy-maverick approach where you row, train, race all on your own, wherever you want, and with who ever you want, coached by who ever you chose. If your event is Olympic, then your hotel, flights, coach and equipment will be paid for when you go race the World Cups and World Championships after winning the NSR. You also start to earn a little monthly income that is helpful with health care benefits. However, if your event is Non-Olympic, then after you are named to the national team from winning the senior trials you need to pay for everything when you go race at World Cups or World Champs (hotel, flight, boats, coach, equipment rental, transport). And there is no income or health insurance. So when I'm raising funds for my lightweight single I sometimes feel like a starving beggar, palms open, happy with any scraps spared.

USRowing has limited liability as they are a non-profit, organizing federation. Thus their endeavors of goodwill are scrutinized to buffoonery because they have to compete as a governing body against professional federations with government funding. And whilst rowing is revered for its amateur status in the United States (going for the dream with no financial gains) it doesn't make a culture of winning sustainable. Its a random diamond in the rough moment with great stories.

Further the USA is the only country that is governed by a law called the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. It says that athletes cannot be denied opportunity. At our national team trials there is no selection procedure based on results. Absolutely anyone can enter and race.
"No member of the corporation may deny or threaten to deny any amateur athlete the opportunity to participate in 
    • the Olympic Games, 
    • the Pan American Games, 
    • the Paralympic Games, 
    • a World Championship competition, or 
    • other such protected competition as defined in Section 1.3 of these Bylaws..."
Further or firstly, this Act also grants legal monopoly status to the USOC, a non-profit corporation, which is in turn empowered to recognize other corporations (e.g., USRowing) as "National Governing Bodies" (NGBs) for their respective sports. All stay non-profits. In 1998 the Act was modified to include arbitration requirements imposed on NGBs for conflict resolution in athlete grievances.

A wonderful concept in principle, just like a non-profit rowing federation. But in reality these things make achieving medals in rowing that little bit harder. Teams and selections in the USA are done at the very last moments. With no platform for development the trial boat athletes will rather continue in their self-selected boats with their partners and setup, because they have invested so much outside resources into in. In other words, if your 2x is not meeting up to the speed checks in racing, athletes rather just stick it out because the options to go back to a base with other athletes to retest is not in place. If this way of thinking was in place, it might mean that the athlete might not end up on the team. So there is pressure to decide between making the team or doing what ever makes the boat faster, even at your expense.

Coaches too get the chance to go to world cups as paid USRowing coaches if they are named by the athletes in Olympic trial boats. Athletes have the capacity to name family or friends as their ‘coach’ to join them at international rowing venues, paid for by USRowing. If your event is non-Olympic, athletes must factor in their fundraising monies, paying for the coach as well as themselves.

So fair or not, this is the process. It has a short term focus. Athletes are required to pick their boat and race in that selected event only. Athletes in small boats trials are not in a squad and the possibility of changing boats or partners is not possible. This process runs on eligibility instead of selection. It is more about filling the team than making selection decisions based on competition results. In business, if after 3 years you don't show profit, your business is termed a hobby. Could this be applied to 3 years, or 3 races without a result, does that then start looking like a hobby?