Obviously there are multiple answers to this question, but most of you reading this will relate to it in a training capacity. Sessions we’re familiar with or find easier to complete are definitely in our ‘comfort zone’, whereas those we find physically or mentally demanding are clearly outside it. From my own perspective I’m learning a whole new answer to this question.
Before I started any form of rowing coaching I was your regular competitor. Although there’s plenty to dislike about racing in my opinion, it was effectively my comfort zone. I have often wondered why I do it to myself , but up until recently carried on regardless. Competing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s what I do. Putting myself in these positions has over the years not only become the norm, it’s also become what people expect. More recently as my coaching role has developed I have participated in events on more than one level, as a coach, a cox AND as a competitor aiming for the podium. All within the same event! This isn’t an impossible task but it does involve the need to divide attention and also gives a very different feel to race day. On these occasions, making my way home, I have often wondered whether I could have been any better at any, if not all of the roles I tried to fulfill during the day. I’m yet to reach a conclusion on that one.
Up until this point despite the task of multiple ‘hats’ being a large one, there’s always an element of comfort in knowing that I’d compete…the bit that I do…the bit that I know well. Last week however, I was able to try something new. To step outside my comfort zone, which is ironically the opposite to a lot of people’s! The British Rowing Indoor Championships (BRIC) took place at the Olympic Velodrome and I had initially planned to race when I entered well in advance of the date. A few months prior however I took the decision not to compete until after Christmas. It felt like time to change tack. Largely as a means to encourage growth and personal development. I was asked the question many times before, during and after the event as to why I wasn’t racing when there was essentially a medal for the taking. My answer – My focus is currently elsewhere in relation to rowing and as I always like to be totally prepared for an event I didn’t feel like this was the right time. That isn’t to say things will ever be perfect on the day, but I always aim to give myself the best chance. The real test for me was to show up and tolerate the discomfort of not doing what I usually do as a way of being able to maintain my focus on the other goals I have in relation to the sport. I recently chose not to compete at the Welsh Indoor Championships for similar reasons but wasn’t exposed in the same way as I wasn’t able to be there on the day. BRIC was my first opportunity to stay away from the race floor, focus on coaching and generally enjoy the day.
When I arrived I realised, unknowingly, that I had stepped firmly out of my comfort zone. No race environment and prep to fall back on, no nerves or apprehension, but still the lure of a medal. Thankfully my category was early in the schedule and my race came and went without temptation lingering for too long. Once I’d surfed that temporary urge from there on in I focussed on enjoying the races, seeing so many people take themselves outside of their own comfort zones, with many experiencing the unique race environment for the first time. The day was a great success and ended with a night out in London of the highest quality. The indoor rowing community really are a great bunch.
Was I glad I did it this way? Well I definitely didn’t miss the race build up! I’m proud I stuck to my plan and stayed true to the journey I have currently put myself on, but perhaps there’s a part of me that was left wondering what might have been (that ‘familiar’ part of me). Either way I have a deeper understanding of myself which is great from a personal development perspective. I’ve now experienced all three scenarios: competing, coaching and competing, and just coaching.
When I honestly reflect on my experiences, I don’t think I’d agree that progress (in performance terms) is purely to be found outside of comfort zones. From a personal development perspective however what seems to be the case, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is that once something becomes routine it’s probably time to look beyond. What I’ve also found after avoiding taking this step for quite some time is that often that place beyond isn’t nearly as daunting as you first think. One thing’s for sure if we want to change and make improvements in our life we need to find the courage to take that first. There’s a whole lot to experience out there.
I have always said training goes in waves. When you are on a wave everything is going well, you feel motivated and feel you are making progress. Hitting your daily targets seems routine and you look forward to the next session. The other side of the coin feels more like treading water. Effort levels are the same, but everything seems a bit of a slog. Targets more difficult to reach which is harder to be motivated for. The thing is you never know how long each respective streak will last so you must remain consistent and dig in through those perceived hard times as they are ultimately building the foundations for catching the next wave.
Up until 7 days ago I had definitely been treading water for what felt like an eternity , to the point I questioned whether that was my peak gone. It was ever since I had got back from a family holiday, had a bug and missed a whole nights sleep that I just seemed to fight with the machine to hit my numbers. I started to resent how hard things felt and the thought of another ‘hurt session’ was bottom of my list, but I kept the faith. My relentless consistency and a change of mindset last Saturday and things felt like they were on the turn finally. The mental side of all sports, not least rowing, is huge and tentatively it felt like I had at long last found a wave.
My 10km Time Trial
My last week of training has felt brutal, but positive in the way I am attacking things again. I have been mixing the start of 2km training with half an eye on the City Regatta 1000m final on Wednesday this week where we head as a team of 4 in good shape. Yesterday I finished on my target pace for a 10km TT which I had set up as a race at FM HQ. This is another savage distance where the mind is at least as important as the body.
Race set up at FM HQ
So if you are currently on a wave, make the most of it and push on as we never know how long they last. If things are not quite feeling in a groove, hang in there as the tide may well be about to turn.
All of my adult life, in fact most of my life, I have competed. As a young lad playing local and representative football, through my school years playing every sport going, leaving school and having a pro career in rugby, and now competing in indoor rowing. At no point in that timeline when I thought about coaching did I have any real interest in it. That was until more recently when my relative success across the distances in indoor rowing and some race wins along the way (whilst not being your average rowing type) lead to others asking me for training plans. So without any grand plan I just went with it and it seemed my coaching career was up and running.At this stage I was both competing and coaching individuals (I still am) and hadn’t considered the impact these roles may have on each other. The relationship became more apparent when I started running group training plans where individuals, including myself, follow a generic plan that has individual targets for pace and stroke rates for each session. The group plan idea was formed following an early morning session with a client where I had remarked how this particular style of session would really help people of all abilities improve their rowing. His reply was simply ‘trial it’. So I did. Little did I know the Plan would have over 100 applicants! In my usual ‘no grand plan’ style, I just went with it and the FM Plan has been running ever since with great success.In theory if I separated coaching and performing into two challenges in their own right then the relationship is easy. As there wouldn’t be a relationship! The tricky part comes when my style of coaching/leadership is considered. I naturally try to lead by example, something I’ve always done. Therefore if I’m not performing at what I consider to be an acceptable level then I automatically question my credibility as a coach. I recognize that this is my issue and not necessarily how I’m perceived by others during tougher training times, but it’s a difficult balance to strike. At it’s extremes, in the blink of an eye I can switch from having confidence in my coaching abilities, to questioning my approach to pretty much everything.The fact is that the two aspects don’t need to effect each other. Ultimately I want to continue to perform AND coach, as both are hugely rewarding. What I really want to achieve however is that sense of balance and flexibility between the two, so that my perception of how credible I am to others doesn’t suffer every time my individual performances do. This is the next step for me. It’s both a personal battle and a professional development I need to undertake. As a starting point I made a parallel with parenting. In raising my 5 kids, I want them to acquire the ability to approach life and all it’s challenges with a ‘balanced’ perspective. In order to do that I’m required to guide them through their experiences with all my expertise and flaws so that they can learn from my successes and my mistakes and make their own path. We are at the end of the day, all different. They will hopefully take from me what they need to shape a life where they experience contentment. They are of course more likely to achieve that if I can demonstrate tolerance and an ability to do the same. If I can maintain my belief in my expertise as a coach when I perceive my performances to be flawed, then that’s a win…in the meantime I think if I remind myself that others have faith in me, and they can accept my ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach, then I’ll have the courage to progress.
In short, it really depends on whereabouts in your rowing or exercise journey you are at. I have trained for lots of different events in my life, most recently they have almost exclusively been indoor rowing events and I have always planned my own training in advance depending on what the goal was and made sure sessions were specific to it. This sounds obvious to me, but it far more common that people will not do this. Whether they are not sure how to, or don’t feel the need I am not sure.
The most important thing is that people are staying fit and active and introduce exercise into their lives in an enjoyable and sustainable way as without this the next level can’t be reached. However, as we become more experienced and interested in a sport very often we want to progress and following a plan brings a structure, focus and accountability to help this. Very often there are ups and downs along the way, but remaining consistent at what ever level you are at will always bring you the best chance of improving. Having a plan at this point is vital to remain on track especially as those margins for improvement become finer and the level of effort needed to achieve will increase.
If you feel you need some structure then I would encourage you to take a look at the many plans out there. This year I have developed a plan myself with a system for all abilities to follow. It is a generic plan that provides individual targets, feedback and motivation via a group of likeminded people with a common goal. Details are at www.fmrowing.com/rowing-programme/.
Consistency will always be the stand out factor for me when trying to make progress, but following the structure of a plan will make that task a whole lot easier.
Apparently the phrase defines the modern concept of synergy, and echoes the concept of team spirit…”Together everyone achieves more”. Whilst each individual has a meaning on their own, taken together that meaning may change to create an effect which is greater than the sum of their independent parts…
April 9th 2016 9.00 am saw the start of something new that’s hopefully going to be around for a while. After the success of the Fitness Matters Devon Indoor Rowing Championships (DIRC) back in September 2015, it was time to open the doors on the next FM installment on the race calendar. People travelled for many miles to mark the end of the indoor rowing season with this final event. A valuable collection of both new and familiar faces. Things have gathered momentum since September, the word has spread…and we welcomed just over 100 participants with a mere handful of people who were sadly unable to make the event at the last minute.
I’ve only recently committed to a partnership with Sam Blythe in the context of Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing, although I have been involved with the online community he’s organically grown for much longer. This was also my first experience of hosting AND participating in an event so in some respects although you could say my view is biased (being a ‘FM Newbie’).
So the day itself was a real cocktail of athletes (I figure anyone that enters a sporting competition warrants the title of athlete if only for the duration), thrown together by a common aim…to achieve . Ergo fanatics and rowing rookies stood side by side to applaud the races.
The kids took on 4 minutes of complete madness whilst their parents willingly volunteered and signed up for the 1k. The armed forces did what they do best and made us all proud by turning up en mass to participate and support the event. There were British and World records broken, 17 races in all, and more PBs and SBs than you could shake a stick at (season’s bests not Sam Blythes) Many an indoor rowing seal got broken by those who bravely entered in the absence of any experience alongside the ‘big guns’ which included an array of English, British and World Indoor Rowing Championship competitors.
The relay finale meant the day ended with a bang, 2000m of chaos for those that took part (or was that just me?) and roughly 5 to 6 minutes of mass hysteria for those watching…a real recipe for success and definitely one we won’t be messing too much with for the future.
As the title suggests the biggest impression I was left with after I sat and reflected during the lengthy drive home was the sense that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing would not be what it is without its participants, either at our races, following our training plans/WOD’s, or taking part in our Facebook Concept 2 Rowing Hub. I also believe that we (speaking as a participant in the sport) would not be what we are without the opportunities the Fitness Matters offers us as a sporting community. In essence, together, we do achieve more. There’s a definite hum of productivity and growth when the 2 interact, things mostly click, and things definitely evolve. Two completely independent agents (the ‘Us’ and ‘Them’) acting in common to create an effect which is truly greater than the sum of those effects (the ‘We’). It’s a great feeling…and that synergy makes for a great sport.
For me this day was a success, a real pleasure to be involved in on every level and a huge motivator in terms of my desire to innovate, build, progress (never stand still lol) in a sport that I have great passion for. A new insight, a chance to socialise, compete, support and be supported. So for now a massive thanks to those that were involved in the planning, the set up, the delivery and the execution of what was a very memorable day. We’re really hoping to see you all and many more at the next one…
Most people, including me, seem to prefer routine, although it’s not always obvious to ourselves. Perhaps it is just human nature, but when routine changes or stops, things don’t seem to run as smoothly. Christmas is one of those times for nearly everyone as there is a natural break in our standard lifestyle. This usually involves less work and more relaxation and playtime, in theory giving more training time and energy….in theory….
I have been on a great run of things lately, training very hard as normal and in the month leading up to Christmas I had hit two long term targets and milestones for myself. I broke 6 mins for 2km and broke 16 mins for 5km which was nice. I felt I had huge momentum on my side and wanted to push on.
My sub 6 min 2000m.
My sub 16m 5000m.
Flat out is the only real gear I have in life and that seems to be when I am at my happiest. Well Christmas and the natural break to my standard routine came at a funny time for me, or at least I didn’t handle it very well this time around as I have had many mixed thoughts and emotions recently. Perhaps I was on a slight come down from a few fast times, but I definitely felt like I was fighting being derailed. I only had 2 days off work in the festive period, but very often was in less familiar surroundings which gave a very different feeling to life. My training continued as it always does, but delivering the numbers I set myself was significantly harder both mentally and physically.
I set my own standards very high and expect supreme consistency from myself, but the last few weeks have been a real test for of those demands, one I am still trying to make my way through. Many of my recent sessions have looked ok on paper, but delivering them has been a different story. Today’s workout was a great example of this. My mental capacity is definitely a real strength of mine, but this tested that to the max. I could happily have not started. I could also happily have stopped after, or midway through any of the three reps. Only the thought of being disappointed in myself for the rest of the day made me continue on to what looks a pretty screen shot in the end. Do I feel better for it? Well it has prompted me to finally write this blog so it was definitely worth it as I think I have needed to put pen to paper over this sticky phase for a while now. I hope it will help me to once again move forward as I generally find getting my thoughts out helps clear my brain.
Today’s mental and physical challenge.
I am not sure if I have been lacking a bit of desire or maybe the realisation of what is required now from me now to keep moving the bar forward and breaking new ground is sinking in. It is going to take one huge mental and physical effort along with some smart training. I have some answers, but not all. Putting them into practice is a very different issue so answers appreciated on a postcard please….
Happy new year and I hope your training goes from strength to strength.
That phrase is a great one as the destination is continually evolving the more we achieve. Rowing has always been a part of my training schedule for the last 20 years or so, but in the last 2 or 3 years it has taken over from rugby and general strength and fitness as my main focus. In the rowing community the 2000m is generally accepted as the main distance, although I have never really thought of it as my strength. However in the last year or so it became more of a possibility and belief for me that it could be a strength and I could break the 6 minute barrier. Well today that happened….
Finally sub 6.
I think many people think I am overachieving given my non rowing background and my shape and size etc. So how did I get to this point?
In general this is easy to answer. I enjoy adversity. I think how we deal with it is actually a mark of how we are. If things were easy then everyone would be a world record holder. I train hard (maybe too hard), I live my life as close to being an athlete as I can with the support of a lot of people – not least my family. I eat and prepare well for training and have a good lifestyle. Perhaps the biggest reason is that I am consistent, relentless even, fiercely competative and expect a lot of myself. I don’t make excuses ever. Sometimes there are reasons that we are disappointed, but they are the times we can learn and improve in the future. Every session has its place and every metre needs to be earned and respected.
My biggest challenge has been remaining patient. This is not a strength of mine, but to reach potential on the rowing machine we need to grasp this concept. It is sometimes hard to see where the next improvement is coming from, it almost feels like treading water, but it is those sessions and metres that will allow you to catch the next wave where we suddenly see continual improvement. Without that consistency and patience then this doesn’t happen.
I try to train smart. When things aren’t right I change them, but my goals remain. I have seen significant improvements recently through slowly downscaling (over the last few years) the amount of extra curricular training I am doing. I have run once in 6 months and have not been on a Wattbike or SkiErg at all for a month or so. I still weight train, usually two, or sometimes 3 times per week and the focus has switched to overall conditioning rather than raw strength and power. I still believe weights are very important, but less so once you are at a certain level of strength and have a long history of training with them. In short, if you want to maximise your potential on the rower, there seems to be no substitute to rowing. Sounds obvious, but many miss this point.
In the last 3 weeks I have learned more about rowing, and 2 km in particular, than in the last 2 or 3 years. I took myself off plan, and out of my comfort zone. It was not nice to start with, but became more familiar and in 21 days I have rowed 7 personal best times – 4 x 2km and 3 x 1km. That resulted in this time today and the belief that now this is in the bank I can go faster.
So to get the best out of your body there is no magic formula. Train hard, live and eat well, expect a lot of yourself, don’t make excuses, deal with adversity, be consistent and……. believe. The more of these you can achieve the more your body will give you.
Thanks for all those that have helped me get to this point.
Back in April of this year I had the initial idea to host some sort of indoor rowing event and I wanted to offer the community an alternative to the common place distance of 2000m. I didn’t have a grand plan at the start, but I imagined I could get 20 or so people together for a race and I had enough machines and a venue so the idea excited me! I threw the question out there to social media asking for thoughts on possible distance etc and the feedback was great and the idea seemed very popular. 5000m and 500m it was and the DIRC was born.
Yesterday the months of planning came to its conclusion and I was hopeful of a good day. Leaving the venue late Saturday night having set up most of that day I felt I had done all I could to ensure race day went smoothly. I tried to research and seek advice from those who had run events before, but on your first attempt many things come down to trial and error.
Race machines in place
As the hall looked Saturday night
Well the day could not have gone a lot better. No technichal issues – other than a slight wobble before my race, typical ! We had over 100 entries to race and saw participants aged between 6 and 84 prepared to take themselves well out of their comfort zones and battle their way through the prolonged pain of a 5km race. Not may sports can boast that age range at events and is one of the things that makes indoor rowing unique and why it is a great community. The feel at the school was great – competitive, but friendly and race conditions were spot on. We also stumbled across a great pairing on the microphones in Jon and Ollie. Familiar faces to many and have a definite chemistry…
Double act with the mics
We had entries from as far away as France and many people travelled several hours to get to race, and ultimately without that commitment then there is no event. It is hard to pick out performances as times are all relative and it is effort levels that need to be applauded. Thanks to all who made the effort to prepare themselves for the day and give us all some thrilling races. We were however privileged to see 2 British record broken yesterday. Clare Busst lowering the women 30-39 lightweight 5000m record to 18m.44.4s and Collin Leiba powering his way to 1m 18.9s to break the men’s heavyweight 500m record. The world record is in sight for Collin.
Winners T shirts
Seeing Charles Morley competing at the age of 84 is nothing short of inspirational and leaves the rest of us with no excuses! On a personal note I found it pretty moving to see 2 of my children, Tom (6) and Megan (11), completely empty their tanks in the kids 500m race. Kids know no limits and we can learn a lot from them.
84 years young Charles Morley
It is hard to know where to start to say thank you! You realise how much help you receive as the arranging, set up and finally the day goes on. I was frequently asking myself how I would have managed without this or that being done for me. There were some hugely generous people involved who were so unselfish with their time and all added to the success of the day. The bad news for them is they did such a great job I am already planning the next Devon based race in the near future!!!
Thanks to all who supported in some way and to all racers on the day, I really hope to see you at our next event.
My advice to people is to always concentrate on your own rowing and training, and if you maximise yourself you stand the best chance of being competitive with those around you and the rest takes care of itself. There will always be exceptions of course, but I think this is sound advice.
Today rowing was not in my schedule as I had done a weights session this morning, but events transpired to give me a chance to have a second shot at this month’s CTC (www.c2ctc.com). For those of you not familiar with it, it is a friendly, lighthearted but competitive online monthly competition (individual and team elements) for all ages and abilities. It has great participation, but if you are after joining in then there are many teams you can join….including Fitness Matters!! This month’s challenge was as follows….
As a rule I do the CTC only once per month as it can be so painful lol.
Well this month I broke this rule and ignored my own advice!! My first CTC attempt a few days ago was indeed very hard, but I finished it believing there was a tiny bit more in the tank. The fact that I had no further opportunity (or desire for the pain!) to do it was immaterial, but definitely good for the confidence. Tough rows followed Wednesday and Thursday and I had a decent weights session today. Then came an opportunity with a late client cancellation. So this is where I ignored my advice! I went at it again and I targeted Dave Marshall’s top time as we were so close after he edged past me yesterday on his second attempt.
My targets today. Thanks Dave!
On this occasion breaking the rules, although painful, moved me on and you consciously have to do this. It doesn’t just happen. My game plan was to go harder on the sprints and I was backing my recovery to hang on to a semi decent 2km at the end. It definitely hurt more and was closer to my limit. I fought off being sick 500-600m to go, but gained 5s overall. Done for another day and more metres and experience in the bank. Do as I say, not as I do!!
Generally if I have a day that doesn’t go according to plan I seem to end up writing a blog, I think it helps me reflect and if I can learn why it may have gone wrong it can end up being a better day. Still frustrating and disappointing, but ‘bad’ days are all relative and this is only training.
We all have off days, but I pride myself on consistency in training so is a bigger hit when I don’t perform as I can. It is a case of me working out whether there are genuine reasons, or whether I was weak. Today was a 10,000m time trial and pre session, both last night and this morning, I felt ok. Didn’t have a usual glass of red that often comes my way on a Friday either (perhaps this was the problem lol). I was not expecting to PB, but wanted to hit sub 33.20 (1.40/500m pace) and felt confident enough of this. I even dragged out Row Pro with 3 pace boats – PB, 1.40 and 1.42. They ended up all beating me !!
Row Pro pace boats
So I went off ok from the start and wanted to keep rate at 28. 2 or 3 Km in wasn’t feeling great, but thought it would pass. It didn’t really and was sick (well retching) just before half way. No idea why as clearly have regularly gone further than this at that pace.Can only summise my brain not wanting to go on. So after a brief pause, I took stock and tried to make up ground by half way. This took a lot of doing as the split had dropped to 1.40.8 by then. I think after pausing and it was clear I wouldn’t then keep that pace till the end. I don’t believe in HD so dropped the rate and saw it home. Slightly faster last km for a bit of self respectability.
So what was the issue as I hate excuses and clearly couldn’t maintain the required pace today?
I have been trying to lean out a bit more recently so there could be an issue of fuel as some of my recent sessions have been a little underpowered (dropped 3kgs in the last 2 weeks). I have been a bit ill and had a bad back yes. But none of those counted today I don’t think. One of those days where in the middle third the brain thinks it is a long way to go at that pace! Bit annoyed with my 10km so will reflect further over the weekend and plan how to move forward again.
Row Pro analysis
Clearly unhappy with today, but having things to work on means I have a chance to improve further, at least that is what I would tell my clients. Harder to accept that when you are your own coach. Just have to reflect further and establish what they are… or am I clutching at straws……?