Rowing After Rio

The dust is settling on the 2016 Olympics. We wait now for another four years for the the world to be swept up again. But this year was different for me and for all Irish rowers. This year we broke down walls and built up belief.

 

Rowing is a sport that goes relatively unnoticed in Ireland. It’s not in the big leagues like GAA, hurling, rugby, football etc. We have less of a fanbase than many, many other disciplines. Basically, it’s just rowers watching rowers. And sometimes our parents (if they’re especially awesome). We’re a small, tight community of people who have all grown up together even though we’re all from different parts of the country. We gather by rivers, lakes, canals. Congregate in forests, carparks or water-logged fields. We battle in nearly all weather conditions, from bitterly cold (where condensation freezes on your leg hairs) to blisteringly hot. Strip down to very little and race backwards for two thousand meters, starting and ending the race with a sprint. There is no denying it, it’s a tough sport and because of that we respect each other. There is never any sore losers or poor winners. But we don’t make the news. Most of my rowing friends have competed for their country and nobody knows this.

 

And that’s ok. It’s how it’s always been. We happily plug away at our own sport, baffling non-rowers as to why we get up at 6am and why were kill ourselves on rowing machines and why oh why do we wear teeny tiny one-pieces (they are very comfy BTW).

 

But this year something changed. We were on everybody’s minds.

 

This year we had not one but TWO crews in the A finals for rowing at the Olympics. THE OLYMPICS, PEOPLE! That in itself is an achievement, and for one of them to be a female crew, even better. Our first crew to make it to a women’s A final of the Olympics ever! And with the other crew we did the unthinkable, the unbelievable, the ‘dare we not speak it’s name’. We only went and got ourselves a medal. A silver medal, for the first time in Irish rowing history. And the country sat up and took notice!

 

I sat there with pride as my office talked about the rowers and learned everything about them. I was beside myself when we watch the races on my colleagues computer. I cried as they received their medals and beamed as my Facebook feed filled up with love and support for the rowers. These kids in college were now household names. All of a sudden people wanted to row, give it a go and see what it’s all about. Rowing camps are over-flowing with eager young teenagers and parents with hopes for gold in their eyes. Rowing is now a sport that people wanted to partake in, to live, to breathe.

 

And for us already rowing, what did that medal mean. It meant pride. All of us are so very proud of our rowers who have battled for us on this grand stage. Proud of the sport, of the discipline, of all rowers. It meant hope for the future. Hope that the sport will continue to blossom and grow as a community in this little country of ours. Hope that our top athletes start getting a little more coverage and maybe even a little more funding. Make life easier in a sport that is 100% amateur. It meant belief. We have done it and we can do it again and again… and again. We have jumped that final hurdle and we are up there with the other top rowing countries. We can be taken seriously and we are a force to be reckoned with.

 

But most importantly for me it meant justification. As I’ve said before it is a hard sport, a lot of pain and sweat and tough hours go into it and half the time you are wondering why you are doing it all. You want to quit, go home, rest, find another sport where your hands don’t blister up and your back doesn’t ache and you don’t work until your legs are jelly. But when those boys won their medal I was consumed with this warm glow of love and appreciation for rowing. I realised I truly loved the sport, the people and what it does for me. It reminded me why I do it, day in day out.

 

And that’s enough.

 

5 ways to get through an erg session without wanting to kill yourself!

If you’ve ever been on an erg/rowing machine you know that it’s a motherfupper of a thing! A tool of pure torture, discomfort and also sheer boredom. If you’re a rower you’ll have spent the winter months having arguments with yourself about whether to actual sit on one or not and then cursing yourself when you do and cursing yourself when you don’t. Some people think it’s great for a total body workout and a great way to measure progress. I, myself hate the bastarding thing and have had to find ways to make myself actually stay on one and put the work in and you know, not hate life. I thought I’d share my tips to my fellow erg goers and maybe you have some tips of your own 🙂

 

1. Don’t go on the erg: Do anything else! Get in a actual boat and go for a row, or go for a long run, a billion squats, forty laps of the pool. Any other kind of exercise that will get your heart rate up but you will actually enjoy! Sport is meant to be fun after all. Do whatever you can to avoid sitting down on that machine.

 

2. Don’t look at the screen: Ok so you failed at tip number 1 or your coach told you to stop being such a whinge bag. Either way you’re now on the machine. I find for long sessions it is always better to push the screen the other way. Get it out of your vision, out of your line of sight. When I stare at the screen my score gets worse and worse and the times goes sloooooowly by. When I can’t see what I’m doing my score actually improves and I also don’t have the feeling of being controlled by a machine. You still put in the effort but there is no measurement til the end. No judgement but your scores stays the same. Win, win!

 

3. Count the strokes: If I am doing shorter pieces I like to keep my head up and count my strokes. If I’m doing a 5 minute piece at rate 26/28 I like to count back from 135/140. It is surprisingly relaxing, a great way to keep controlled and you KNOW that when you get to zero it’ll all be over.

 

4. Erg with someone else: Are you usually rowing alone, doesn’t that make you want to cry? Try doing pieces with a buddy to help you get through them and even push yourself. And on the long, slow slogs you’ll have someone to have the chats with. Just think of it like a very uncomfortable stroll in the park with your bestie. Now if you natter on during the whole piece then your score won’t be great but if you have small convos and take breaks from talking, your score will be good and so will your morale!

 

5. Have some kick ass music: Stuff that really gets you going. You know that music that makes you imagine the best version of yourself that’s winning gold at every race, beating every score, triumphing over every obstacle and is on the cover of vogue and has her own line of leggings that make your ass look great! That kind of music that is going make you say let’s do this! Make it loud, make it pumpin’, make it so that the neighbours/fellow rowers/gym goers look at you with both annoyance and envy!

 

It is possible to sit on the rowing machine and live to tell the tale, it is possible to do it more than once a month without dreading it. These tips are only to help you mentally overcome it because you are physically a badass and it is only your fear stopping you from making that erg your bitch!

 

So make that erg your bitch because those people are right, it is great for total body workout, that’s why it sucks.

 

BONUS TIP: Take erging selfies and put them up on Instagram, people are uber supportive in the fitness world and will egg you on to do better!

 

Changing my life and getting fit…

This is a post I wrote about 8 months ago on my old blog. I’m reposting it because a) it’s a topic close to my heart and b) weightloss and changing one’s fitness has not been addressed yet and I feel it’s important. So on that note I hope you enjoy this post 🙂 

PS: Image was taken by the super talented Coriel O’Brien.

I was sort of sporty as a teenager. Sure that’s how I met my boyfriend. I was a rower then and fitness came easy to me. But the Leaving Cert came around and I felt I needed to “sort out my priorities.” Really, I think I just got sick of daily exercise and pushing myself physically (there is indeed a lazy bone in my body!) and I used my portfolio and the looming Leaving Cert as an excuse to quit. When I stopped, I stopped completely, I mean COMPLETELY. Looking back, I can see now how lazy I became. This must have annoyed the boyfriend no end as he was super fit and loved to be active. All I did was watch telly, hang out and eat. I ate a lot, like an athlete. No one mentioned calories to me, I had no idea what I was doing to myself. And it wasn’t until half way through my first year of college that my poor mum felt she had to tell me that I had lost my way. She was so upset when she was telling me, she felt like she was the worst person in the world. But she was right…

So I decided to make a change. But only with food. My diet changed but my activity level was still really low. This carried on for years. Trying to be healthy through food alone and completely half-assing any exercise I attempted. Starting off with great potential but getting bored and giving up again. I was sluggish, I was slow and I was deeply unhappy. It all came to a head one day when I just burst into tears because another dress in my wardrobe was too tight, was suffocating me. My weight was suffocating me. I wanted to run away from it, rip it off me and be free. My boyfriend simply said if I hate how I look and how I felt that much then change. It was only myself holding me back. My fear of the effort. This thought that I’m not really going to change, not like the people do in the magazines, not like those weightloss spokes-people. This stuck with me. But I started to run (with help and a wee bit of coaching from himself). Admittedly, my main goal was to lose weight but I started to have a little bit of energy, then a load of energy, soon there was an obvious spring in my step. I loved how agile, how nimble, how quick I was becoming.

So nearly two years passed and I got really into running, doing weekly 10k’s as if they were nothing! But I started to feel the niggle of that lazy bone again. I didn’t stop exercising but I began shortening my runs, I ran less frequently, no longer feeling guilty if I missed a run or two. I had the mindset that I had already achieved my goal. I had lost over 3 stone, I was a healthy, active person now, I didn’t need to kill myself on a 10k anymore. This was dangerous, but I fought this mindset and I managed to stay active, not letting long workdays and lazy Sundays to be the end of my new lifestyle. I was determined to not go back to that unhappy girl I used to be.

Then, by chance, an old work colleague needed an extra bum in a new sport she was trying. That new sport was rowing. Went to one session and was nagged to join the team (thanks Emily). And all of a sudden I was out rowing a few times a week, only leisurely at first but then we started to get a taste for it and then, shockingly, we wanted to compete. This changed everything. Suddenly, we realised we had to up our training to five/six sessions a week. Long sessions on the rowing machine, tough intervals, a little bit of weight training and drills after drills after drills. Instead of becoming more sedentary, I was becoming more active, becoming really fit, really fast, really strong. I’m a million miles away from the girl I used to be. I just wish I could tell her that it was all going to be worth it. That not only her body would change, but her health would improve, her attitude to life would change and she’d finally feel good in her skin.

People, if you’ve done what I’ve done, changed your life and became fit and are worried about falling back, find a sport you enjoy and join a team. There is no better motivation than not wanting to let your teammates down. There is no better way to get through a tough session than doing it right next to someone going through the same shit. One goal in mind, motivating each other, being there together.

I am forever thankful to my boyfriend for pushing me to achieve what I wanted and I want to thank my crew for not letting me fall back. Anything is possible with the right people beside you.

CREW: Six Reasons To Celebrate Your Crew

So as you all know I took up rowing again about a year and a half ago. And as you rowers know, all you ever do is train so you gotta really like the peeps you row with!  Since rowing has began I’ve become really close to the women I train with. They work hard, they train hard and I find them a constant source of inspiration. So I’ve made a small list of how I know they’ve cemented themselves into my life… Maybe your team has become the same. Let’s see!

 

1. You don’t own any socks.

You own several socks. Odd pairs that don’t actually belong to you. They belong to one or all of your crew but you have never given them back because well, you need socks. And they’re not going to begrudge you at all. After all crew is for life and they’ve some of yours!

 

2. Your training wardrobe just got much larger.

You know when you borrow your friend’s fabarooni white dress!? That one that always gets compliments? Yeah, it’s like that except you are borrowing her ultra snuggly Nike tech top thingy which is way too long on you but hey, you were stuck! And you are so comfortable with each other that gear is not a personal thing anymore. She doesn’t mind if you get it all dirty or sweaty!

 

3. Non-crew people don’t get you.

So you hang out with your crew so often that when it’s time to be around regular folk you have a hard time not babbling on about your sport. Your coworkers learn a lot but frankly only your crew besties care how much you can squat and whether or not you beat your score from last week. But it’s ok, you’ll see them later on today for training and you can tell them then.

 

4. Post training chill out.

Post training normally just becomes a squishy couch and warm drinks binge that inevitably goes on a lot longer than it really should until you Significant Other (SO) comes home and states that he feels like a third wheel! But you’re sleepy and have DOMS and these people are going through the same so why not chill for an hour or two… You get them and they get you so there is no need to move. Besides your SO is actually thrilled because he can go and play Grand Theft Auto for the billionth time.

 

5. You’re outings become one of two things.

Training or eating. When you guys venture out into the world it is either to stuff your faces (because you are always hungry and so are they so there is never any judgement) or to get a personal best! Ye can’t drink so that’s out the window  and let’s face you don’t have time to do anything else. But hey you love to eat! Andy ditto for training… somedays.

 

6. They are why you push yourself.

In all seriousness, you know you’ve made some serious besties when you are in the middle of the race and your lungs are burning and your thighs are screaming and your head is thinking about nothing but stopping and you realise that if you give up that you’re letting your crew down and that’s when you push. And that’s when you know you’ve made friends for life…. When you do it all for them.

 

I’m glad I’m friends with my crew… because they keep me going when nothing else will.

 

 

 

 

Progress is progress…

When I started back at rowing last year after a good six (seven?) years out of the sport I took to it quite quickly and I was far more used to the dreaded rowing machines than the others. My fitness wasn’t fully there but it was slowly creeping up. Me erg (rowing machine) scores improved quite quickly as I got into the swing of things. Soon, I was ranking second on our erg scoreboard which is no mean feat for the shortest lady in the crew.

But then my scores started to slow down. I was still beating my previous scores but each week the margin became less and less. Some weeks I’d do worse! (Heaven forbid!) I grew frustrated in my progress. My boyfriend had to sit me down and explain that once you get to a certain point in your fitness, progress will slow down but it will always be there. Even if it isn’t so obvious. And some weeks it will be very hard and seem much harder for me than the other women who are brand new to the sport. I kept this in mind and focused on my scores and my scores alone. Watching my progress, so feint that only I could truly see it. There, of course, were setbacks but I kept on top of my training as much as I could and by the end I think my progress was visible to all.

I’ve aired out the old lungs and I’m ready to kick ass!

Fast forward a year and we’ve started all over again! Back to the training grindstone after a blissful (and lazy) six weeks off. And that of course means that we’re back on the ergs, back on the water and back to tracking our progress. I figured (for some reason) that I would repeat how last years training went. Start slow and watch my scores go down… First week, benchmark. The scores were alright but not great. Seocond week, gonna knock last week out of the park. I’ve aired out the old lungs and I’m ready to kick ass! Eh, not so much. I knocked 0.1 second off my score… 0.1! What the arse wiping nonsense is that!? I thought surely after my rest I’d be able to make more of a dent in my score than that.

After some tough words in my head and beating myself up over what little progress I had made and wondering whether I should have trained more during the off season, the boyfriend had to sit me down (again!) to tell me that it was still progress and that my weeks spent resting were important. He made me realise that my rest will stand to me when the work gets tougher. That every 0.1 counts. That progress is still progress.

And he’s right. I know it seems so obvious but when you are buried so deep in a goal and you see how far you have to go to achieve it, well it can be daunting and frustrating. It is easy to forget that progress (no matter how little) is getting you towards your goal and if you are at the stage where progress comes inch by inch or 0.1 by 0.1 then you have already come so far.

Oh and find someone who can spell it out for you when you need them…

 

 

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