Rowing Diary: An Almost-Full Moon Vanishes

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I woke up at 4:15 this morning in the midst of a dream, turned off the alarm and fell back to sleep. It was that strange sensation of waking up busy – I can’t recall what was happening in the dream, but I was definitely working and waking up was an interruption.

Boats in a boathouse

Boats in a boathouse

When my second alarm went off at 4:25 I realized what was happening and rose easily. Waking up early hasn’t been a problem since my return … easier than I remembered. Maybe my body is still a bit on Colombia time (three hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time); if so, I’m grateful for this advantage.

The wind forecast had me believing we’d be doing a land workout, so I dressed for the ergs, in a short-sleeve tee and capris. I wore my club’s fleece vest, but when I arrived to the boathouse and joined in on core exercises, Coach was putting together a lineup for an on-the-water row. Luckily, a new member of the team whom I knew from a previous program lent me a long-sleeved, high-necked, fitted jacket. I owe her a debt of gratitude because the wind was biting.

This was my first day touching an oar in nearly three months and I was nervous about stepping into a four. I’ve rowed in fours before, but not much, and I had a perception of them as tippy. And I lacked confidence in the skill-set of one of the people in the boat. This is all a problem, a psychological problem. Being tense, looking for confirmation of ones biases about another rower, not owning ones own flaws, expecting any moment to end up in the water, in short – waiting for something bad to happen: it’s all a distraction!

The sky was mostly clear at first so the water was dark; the wind blew from the south and southwest, and I could feel the apprehension pooling around my feet and beginning to rise. Past experience said to me that this was not the way. Caution is one thing, being freaked out is something else, so I took a few deep breaths and threw my fears into the water, then pictured them drifting away. I settled down, and the apprehension dissolved but for a few puddles.

As we warmed up, the boat was more set than I’d expected. Ahh, the difference between being in a four with members of the local women’s competitive team and being in a four with … people who were definitely not on the competitive team! I tried not to think about my stamina and whether muscle memory would kick in. I decided to focus on what was happening now and not what might happen later in the boat. I floated trust as an option, and trust came through for me.

The water felt heavy at the start – the oar felt heavy!  I didn’t remember having to pull so hard in the past, a sure sign I’m not as strong as I was three months ago. But everything else felt familiar. My foot stretcher and oar required no adjusting, so I didn’t fiddle with or even think about them.  I didn’t feel wildly out of tune, there was no confusion.  

I didn’t focus on any one particular thing, instead reviewing all the basic movements of rowing. My body did remember how to row and the mechanics weren’t a problem. I felt a small strain near my hamstring where I’d pulled my popliteal muscle months ago. I paid attention to that, but the twinges decreased as practice progressed, to my relief! I kept reminding myself to sit up tall, to square up early, to be ready for the catch. Our coxswan was good about reminding us to have fast hands out of bow, so I focused on that as well.

As we headed west toward the ship canal, I could see what appeared to be an almost-full (full moon is tomorrow) moon – bright and yellow in the dark sky – right behind the Aurora Bridge. It was large and really yellow. But by the time we got to the other side of the bridge and I glanced up, it was gone. I couldn’t even tell where it had been. Even though the patchy clouds looked to be flimsy and stretched thin, I couldn’t find that yellow moon anywhere again.

Being in bow, I could see just about everything without feeling self-conscious. The lake was windy but Coach took us and the two 8s toward the Locks, and the shipping canal was largely sheltered and calm. We did warm ups to Seattle Pacific University, then began three minute pieces of 26 spm (for two) and 28spm (for one minute), then upped it, 28spm for two minutes, and 30spm for one, several times … and then upped it again, 30spm for two minutes, 32spm for one, several times, and then ended with 32spm for two minutes and 34spm for one.

Our boat’s stroke coach stopped working right as we began this regimen. I’d had this issue with a stroke coach when I’d coxed on Tuesday so maybe it was the same device. What this meant was our rates were not as challenging. We were able to do the 26 and  28, and probably the 28 and 30, but I have a pretty decent sense of stroke rates and we were not doing 30 and 32 or 34. This was perhaps in my favor – wouldn’t want to pull a muscle on my first day out!

I felt slower than the woman in front of me: was her slide too fast or was my slide too slow? I couldn’t tell. I may have been shortening my stroke, even, to sync up with her without sliding too fast (not good). It was difficult to fix a point in terms of slide control, but I erred on the side of slowing my slide because going into the stern too rapidly is the more common problem. The surprise of the day was my right hand, the pulling hand, began to ache; my wrist felt weak and crinkly. In between pieces, I shook my hands at the wrist to loosen them up, and stretched them. This seemed to help, but my upper body definitely needs strengthening.

Well, it all worked out. My first day on the water worked out okay after all. I didn’t feel hopeless out there. I don’t know how I looked to Coach but I didn’t feel I was so much worse than the rest of my boat.  For the moment, that’s good enough for me!

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