I might as well call this a Florida update. I left for Florida on March 11th, expecting to be heading back to Connecticut after the Spring ...

Training Update - Spring Selection 2019

I might as well call this a Florida update. I left for Florida on March 11th, expecting to be heading back to Connecticut after the Spring Speed Order in late April. I didn’t drive out of the Sunshine State until June 11th. So what happened?

First, let’s talk about lightweight women in the United States. Unlike the heavy/openweight men and women, the lightweight women have no centralized training location. What we do have, though, is a crazy amount of talent scattered throughout the country. In the past, we’ve struggled to field strong lightweight boats across the available boat classes and, finally, there’s some momentum to change that.

Last year, Rosa Kemp, one of my fellow athletes, and I were talking about what we wanted to see from the lightweight women in the U.S.: a big, scary goal that would get us excited about the upcoming year of training and also unite the talent in the country. The second she said it, we both got chills: “Medal in every boat class at the World Championships.”

So, before singles racing, when her coach put out an open invitation to a lightweight women’s camp in Sarasota to put together doubles and select a quad, I knew something good was happening.

And two and a half months later, I emerged from the other side of that quad camp a better, stronger athlete.

But let’s start with the single. My goal for the year was to make the lightweight double. Every decision I made was with that end in mind. And so when I came into singles racing with an invitation to doubles camp already secured, it put me in a tough position mentally. Unfortunately, I didn’t handle that situation well. It took me too long to recognize that budding apathy and check in to racing. I had a solid race, but didn’t attack the opportunity with the ferocity I saw from the top athletes at that event.

Still, I ended up coming into doubles camp in a good position. I was moving boats well and was motivated to overcome my deficiencies in the single. And it wasn’t enough. I rowed a double at Trials with a quad-mate from last year, Margaret Bertasi. Our personalities meshed well and we pushed each other in all the right ways to be better athletes, but a week and a half wasn’t enough time to develop into all we could be. Plus, Michelle Sechser and Christine Cavallo were crazy fast. They set the standard across all boat classes at Trials 2. I’m excited to see what they do at this year’s World Championships. I was very much not on their level and have a lot of work left to do before next year’s doubles trials.

On the bright side, though, it was clear that the depth of field was there to put together an awesome quad. The speed in the lightweight women’s doubles was phenomenal: boats that didn’t make the final at Trials were outperforming winners in other boat classes. And so I came into quad camp very excited about the possibilities.

Twelve fast women showed up in Sarasota ready to fight for their seats. Most days, we ran three quads across and battled and pushed each other to be better than we had ever been. I had the pleasure of rooming with Margaret during camp, and she asked more of me than I could have asked of myself. Somebody told me this winter, “If you’re stuck on a plateau, what you’re missing is a person.” Margy has been that person for me these past two months.

Overall, quad camp was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. I almost quit camp at least three times, exhausted and beaten down. I cried. I sweat, a lot (Florida). I definitely got a few bloody knuckles. Through it all, it was difficult to keep faith in the process, especially in a process I felt wasn’t very clear or logical.

And then, two days before the end of camp, I got in a boat and it was magical.

All of the boats had been moving fast, hitting time standards on steady state workouts. This lineup, though, hit those standards effortlessly.

When we were boated in that lineup to kick off the final day of racing—four 1500m pieces with switches—we got to the start line with the intention of hitting world record pace. On our second row together. And while we didn’t quite hit our target, we moved fast. 

Then I got switched out of the boat. I had to sit on the sidelines, hoping I’d done enough over the last weeks, months, years to make the boat move faster than anybody else could. I felt sick to my stomach, but also at ease, knowing that I had given my best effort that day and also in my preparation.

Practice ended around 8:30am and it felt like an endless wait until results were published at noon, followed by the coach’s recommendations later that afternoon.

I made the boat.

Not only that, but we were fast. You’ll have to wait until Trials 3, when we’ll race for our spots on Team USA, to see just how fast. And I think you’ll want to see.

For now, though, it’s down to business, getting a little fitter and a little faster, and seeing if, through that process, we can become a real team, full of love and commitment to each other.

Catch us at Trials 3 from July 7th-10th. The preliminary race schedule will be published about a week out from the start of racing on the USRowing website. Results will be on herenow.com and there will, unfortunately, be no live streaming of this event, so you’ll have to come watch in person. Racing is held on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, NJ, and you can cheer from the gazebo on the south side of the course, at 500m to go. The boats pass by just meters from shore.

Keep your eyes on my Instagram and Twitter for somewhat regular updates closer to race day.

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Greetings from Florida! My season opener is in a little under a week and I've been in the Sunshine State for about a month preparing for...

Training Update - February/March 2019

Greetings from Florida! My season opener is in a little under a week and I've been in the Sunshine State for about a month preparing for my first trip down the race course. I've learned so much in the last few months, so let's start at the beginning: February.

As I mentioned at the end of my last update, February was my first full month at home since June of 2018 and I was hoping to take full advantage of it. That's what I did.

In the Northeast Kingdom, February is one of the hardest months. The days are still short, the cold still bitter, and the end far away. Rather than fighting this truth with willpower, I chose to accept it and lean on the power of team to get me through. My coach, Guenter, and I made sure I had training partners for almost every session.

I'm particularly grateful to one of our juniors, Gabby, who fearlessly chased me down (and occasionally beat me) on the ergs throughout February. From sitting next to her, I learned to trust my racing instinct: whenever she closed in on me, a switch flipped and I was able to work harder than I thought possible. I'm also grateful to one of our masters athletes, Paula, who showed up every morning and helped me get through a lot of 75-minute steady state session.

Throughout the month, I saw improvements and personal records on a variety of workouts and came into March full of optimism.

In early March, I got my bloodwork done again with InsideTracker (that link gets you and me both 15% off if you want to try InsideTracker) and things were heading in the right direction. (Again, big thanks to Paula, who's also a registered dietitian and who helped me interpret the results and make effective changes). More optimism there.

I also started working with a sports psychologist in early March. My 2k erg score has never been fast, but recently, it's been slower than expected despite other improvements. I had somehow convinced myself that it was just my peculiar biology holding me back, but after both Paula and Margaret (my boatmate from this summer) told me it was a mental thing, I decided to believe them and do something about it.

We 2k tested three times in two weeks. I'd had very little time working with the sports psychologist, but felt the utility of the tools she gave me as I improved each 2k test. Ultimately, I didn't reach my PR, but finished out my indoor training block with my best 2k since 2016 and my first well-executed piece in years.

On March 10th, I loaded up my car and hit the road, spending two days driving into the heart of spring. On my first row, it felt like somebody had finally plugged in my solar panels: my energy levels were incredibly high. In fact, much of that first week was spent holding myself back. I came off the water after every row wanting to keep going, fighting the urge to tack on an extra run or a quick bike ride.

This was especially difficult as I was surrounded by other women who were doing more volume than me. Over the years, Guenter and I have found that I thrive on a lower volume plan than most of my competitors, usually averaging 800-900 minutes a week of active work. Seeing the women around me continue on for 1200 or 1400 minutes in a week made me feel lazy and inadequate, like maybe I just didn't want it as badly as they did. It took a huge amount of self-confidence, trust in Guenter and faith in the process to stick to my own plan. This is something I spent most of March actively working on in my time outside of practice. It turns out, the amount of work you do is not directly correlated to the amount you want it. In fact, sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to step away from the grind. Maybe someday, I'll fully believe that.

The time down here in Florida has been exactly what I hoped for.

My first goal was to get comfortable in my boat. I've spent the last weeks figuring out how to work hard without trying hard, and I'm finally starting to figure it out. When it clicks, it's the most magical feeling: something worth chasing regardless of the outcome of racing.

My second goal was to work with the group down here to get faster. I didn't know who would be here or how cooperative they would be, but I knew how much team had helped me in February. It turned out to be better than I could have imagined. We ended up with a group of 6-10 fast lightweight women here, pushing each other in singles and doubles, and supporting each other, despite being competitors. Helping your competitor improve is terrifying. All of us have demonstrated a stupendous amount of courage these last weeks, pushing each other to be better. But our faith has paid off: we are all the faster for it. And, if nothing else, I now fully understand the power of courage.

And suddenly, it's just the finishing touches.

Racing starts on Thursday, April 18th. With 27 entries in the lightweight single, it's going to be a full four days. Live results will be available at HereNow and information about the event (including a tentative schedule) is posted at USRowing. There are no direction selection implications for lightweights at this event. Instead, it's an opportunity to gauge our early season speed before we hop into doubles and prepare for the first trials of the year in mid-May.

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When athletes go quiet online, it's usually a sign that things aren't going super well. And to say that November and December we...

Training Update November 2018-January 2019

When athletes go quiet online, it's usually a sign that things aren't going super well. And to say that November and December were rough is an understatement. I had a few major setbacks in the late fall that, at the time, were incredibly frustrating.

First, on November 20th, I had an awful 6k test. I was more than 45 seconds off of my PR and spent the whole test gasping for air. Guenter thought we just needed to develop my lungs by incorporating more running, which led to an aggressive 80-minute run the following day. Deep down, though, I suspected something more was going on.

Then, in the wee hours November 24th, as I was getting ready to rage on a 2x6k workout and turn things around, I woke up and vomited 4 times in a row (and then got my period five minutes later). Great. I couldn't stomach anything for breakfast the next morning and ended up spending the whole day in bed, four hour nap included.

Finally, on December 4th, after a hard lift Monday afternoon, I tweaked by back during the morning erg session and found myself hardly able to walk by Thursday morning. Putting on pants was a struggle and getting onto an erg was absolutely out of the question.


Somehow, though, one month later, I snagged a PR on a 4x1500m workout and haven't looked back since. So what happened?

Well, first things first, I signed up with InsideTracker and got some bloodwork done. It turns out I was pretty low in both iron and vitamin D, and had worryingly high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. To fix the first two, I started taking supplements and about four weeks later started noticing marked improvements. I'll be re-testing in early March to see how things are looking.

The cortisol was its own issue.

The summer racing season was incredibly stressful and I never really took the break that my body needed. After Worlds, I rushed my time off to jump back in to training for Head of the Charles. All fall, my body was screaming at me for a break, and I ignored it. Hurting myself was exactly what I needed.

I spent about two weeks training primarily on the bike, which gave me the mental and physical break I needed from the erg. Although the sessions were challenging, they didn't use my whole body and so they didn't leave me as deeply exhausted as workouts on the erg would have. I came out of my injury feeling refreshed and ready to go, when I'd started it burned out.

I also made some serious changes to my sleeping habits. After skipping coffee on November 24th (like I said, couldn't stomach anything for breakfast) and taking the world's best nap, I decided to try skipping coffee on November 25th as well. I thought it might help me get back to training faster. I was rewarded with another epic nap. And so, I cut out coffee on November 26th (nap) and 27th (nap) and 28th (nap). It turns out, I was hiding a lot of my fatigue with caffeine.

I've always known I was a strong responder to and slow processor of caffeine, but I hadn't realized just how much it was interfering with my sleep. Nearly overnight, I added 60-90 minutes to my daily sleep totals. What a difference!

Now, in the back half of January, I'm feeling strong and ready for the challenges ahead. I just finished up a 10-day training trip to Florida with my highest weekly volume ever. More importantly, I was able to recover enough throughout the week to get something out of all that work. Next week, I'm back in Connecticut, training indoors and hoping to see some of the fitness improvements reflected in my erg scores.

February brings my first full month with no travel since June '18. I'll be using the four weeks to test my limits indoors and hopefully rack up a few more PRs before heading back to Florida in March to prepare for racing season.

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After a whirlwind September of travel, racing and some much-needed vacation, I got back into my boat on September 24th and was immediately h...

Training Update October 2018

After a whirlwind September of travel, racing and some much-needed vacation, I got back into my boat on September 24th and was immediately humbled. See, when I wrote my training program for the fall racing season, I had these grand plans of going full tilt from the get-go and hitting peak volume by week two. It turns out, that was more than a little ambitious.

I’m back! I have a lot of thoughts about our fourth place finish at Worlds, but most of them are going into a blog post. For now: thank you thank you thank you to everybody who helped me get there. . This past week has been about getting back into the swing of things. I had grand plans of 20km rows and three days of solid weights sessions. My body had other plans. It’s been pretty frustrating to have to stop every workout short or cut them altogether, as I deal with fatigue and soreness. But the goal right now is to build fitness and if I can do it with less work, maybe I should be glad. . Next race on the schedule is @hocr1965, terrifyingly soon. . #rowing #lightweightrowing #veganrower #lw1x #rowingrelated #justrowing #tokyrow #fitness #motivation #athlete #dreambig #nomeatathlete #veganathlete
A post shared by Michaela Copenhaver (@lightweighteats) on

Not only was my body not fully in the game, but my head was also still not screwed on straight. I wasn't quite ready to grind.

By week two back to training, which fell on the first week of October, I had tempered my expectations and adjusted my training plan. Our river/lake was flooding due to heavy rains, making it frequently unrowable. Instead of forcing myself onto the erg, I decided to let the season guide me, and take a more lax approach to my training plan. I got myself onto the bike and spent some time pounding pavement. I didn't worry so much about hitting specific targets and just did some work every day.

But Head of the Charles was coming and I knew I needed to get my sh*t together, fast. I'd seen plenty of athletes, after achieving big goals, flounder for months. I have more big goals and they won't wait for me. So, although I was letting myself go with the flow a little bit, I was also searching for the floodwaters—the mental space where I would be swept up with the momentum of my training and the grind would become easy again.

Despite the groggy start, I had actually performed really well on a lactate test (a measure of lactate threshold that we do a few times a year) on the first day of October, which was a confidence booster among some otherwise pretty dismal indicators of fitness. The week of Head of the Charles, I had  two really great workouts that further boosted my confidence. So, although I felt underprepared, I convinced myself that my perception of my fitness was not an indication of my actual fitness, and I lined up on October 20th to race.

And it was awesome.

If I needed something to switch me back 'on', Head of the Charles was it. I came back to training the following Tuesday ready to rip, doing a extensive endurance workout in the morning and 2x3k race pieces in the afternoon. I crushed some lifts and a few 18-20km rows, distances that I hadn't been able to go just a few weeks prior.

I finished out October down in Princeton, preparing for the Fall Speed Order. Our river/lake was drained on October 26th for dam inspections/maintenance, sending me in search of rowable water. Training on Carnegie Lake, it's easy to find the metaphorical floodwaters—the actual water is perfectly rowable every day, beckoning the eager rower to do one more loop, a few extra meters, maybe just a quick extra session.

So, two weeks after Head of the Charles, I'm ready to face off again. This time, race day won't be my second longest row of the season (unless something goes terribly wrong...). Fall Speed Order kicks off Saturday with a 6k erg test, which seeds starting order for a 4.25km singles race on Sunday.

Follow results on herenow.com.

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Photo courtesy of  Dan Copenhaver Every single woman from the USRowing team had a chance to race in an A-final at the 2018 World Rowing ...

World Rowing Championships 2018

Photo courtesy of Dan Copenhaver

Every single woman from the USRowing team had a chance to race in an A-final at the 2018 World Rowing Championships.

This year, that included me.

We also came away from Plovdiv with 10 medals, the most of any team, with 5 from the women’s team, 3 from the para athletes, and 2 from the men’s program.

This year, that didn’t include me.

I thought I would be more upset about that result than I am. Don’t get me wrong: fourth place is a tough place to be and I wanted more than anything to earn a place on the podium. Seeing my teammates and competitors celebrating their medals makes my heart ache for what might have been but wasn’t. But ultimately, my pursuit of rowing isn’t about the result; it’s about putting myself in challenging situations and seeing what I make of them, day in and day out.

From that perspective, this year was an absolute success.

Photo courtesy of USRowing

Racing at the World Championships was the biggest test I’ve had as an athlete. Could I handle the pressure? How would I engage with the other women in my boat as we all faced that pressure? Did I belong at this level? What would I bring on race day?

Yes, there are things that I could have done differently in my preparation and during competition. I hope to have the opportunity to try again next year. But given the resources and context I brought to every decision I've made and action I've taken this year, I know that I gave my all. Next year, maybe I will have a little bit more to give.

One of my proudest accomplishments from the World Championships was performing at my highest level despite the pressure and the distractions. I've heard stories of and experience first hand so many athletes who, on the biggest stage of their career, freak out. They try to do something special or different from what they've been preparing for and in that trying, fall flat.  Instead, I found myself sitting on the start line of my very first race at the World Championships, smiling. I was excited and calm, if it's possible to be both at once.

Photo courtesy of USRowing

My biggest lesson from the World Championships was that I belonged there. Every time I've just missed making a team and seen US athletes go on to incredible performances at Worlds, I told myself that I, too, could perform on that level. This was the first time I truly believed that. No, we didn't win a medal. But we were less than two seconds from the podium. Clearly, all of us belonged there, in that final on that day.

The difference between fifth (background), fourth and third (foreground)
Photo courtesy of Dan Copenhaver

So where do I go from here? Back to the calm waters of the Housatonic in New Milford. After a crazy summer of travel and racing, I'm looking forward to settling in to home life for a few months as I build a bigger, better base of fitness.

Last year, I spent much of this preparation phase scared of how fast I was going. I know that sounds silly, but when you're seeing splits you've never seen, and numbers that you know incredible athletes can produce, but you don't yet think of yourself in that group of incredible athletes, it can be terrifying. With only a week under my belt, I'm only seeing bits and pieces of my fitness as I work to remind my body what base training looks like. What I have seen is very encouraging and I'm looking forward to building off of that, instead of fearing it.

As a final note:
By the time we left for the World Championships, our boat had fundraised enough to cover all of our expenses. A large chunk of that funding came through the Boston Rowing Federation, who helped support the two Boston-based athletes in our boat. The rest of that came from individual donations through our fundraising page. To those of you that donated or shared the page: thank you. I'm sorry we couldn't bring back a medal as a thank you for your belief in us, but know that being able to focus on our performance instead of finances made a huge difference in our results throughout the week. When the difference between a silver medal and sixth place is 5 seconds, you have to bring your best and all of your best. You helped us do that.

If you missed our fundraising page and want to help me achieve that same focus throughout my training, please consider a tax-deductible donation through the Northeast High Performance Rowing Foundation. Many of my training expenses are covered through the NEHPRF and I wouldn't be where I am without their financial support. Funds cover things like training trips, equipment and race fees.

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Thank you so much to everybody who has donated to our World Championships fundraiser so far. I'm part of a lot of communities and they&#...

Training Update August 2018

Thank you so much to everybody who has donated to our World Championships fundraiser so far. I'm part of a lot of communities and they've all stepped up in big ways. It's taken a lot of stress off of us to know that we have help with the financial piece of this endeavor.

Those little donations mean we can pay to make sure we have comfortable seats on our overnight flight, so we arrive in Bulgaria ready to go. (Red eye in a middle seat a week before the most important race of my life? No, thanks.) They're the difference between being able to bring the nutrition we need and having to rely on what we can find abroad. ("Excuse me, is this powder, whose ingredients I can't read, Certified Safe for Sport?") Those little things add up.

(If you haven't given yet, it's not too late. Even $5 helps a lot! Please donate.)

photo courtesy of Linda Muri
The conclusion of trials marked a month and two days until our first race in Bulgaria. Even though we put down a solid time, our performance at Trials definitely left us hungry for more. 

photo courtesy of USRowing
We spent the first few days training independently, getting ready for a focused block of work. There were also a LOT of logistics to figure out, from booking flights, to fundraising, to coordinating with family, to sharing the great news. We also needed to recover from a hot, exhausting week at Trials. (Our coach Linda's idea of recovery is 48km a day in singles, option for 50km on the erg. Refreshing!)

We're back in Boston now and will train here, out of Cambridge and Riverside Boat Clubs, until we leave for Bulgaria on September 3rd.

When we train, you can feel the unrelenting spirit of five women pursuing perfection. We have gold medal expectations of ourselves. Every one of us shows up to practice relentless, ready to chase higher standards. And we are starting to see glimmers of our potential, which leaves us all the hungrier.

The atmosphere is exhilarating. This is why we chase the dream: for times like this with women like these.

photo courtesy of USRowing
Three weeks until the A Final at Worlds. Help us meet our expectations. Donate.

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Last week, I qualified for my first national team! This September, I'll be heading to Bulgaria to compete in the lightweight women's...

Going to Worlds!

Last week, I qualified for my first national team! This September, I'll be heading to Bulgaria to compete in the lightweight women's quadruple sculls with Hillary Saeger, Christine Cavallo and Margaret Bertasi. I've been working towards this goal for six years, now, with more near misses than I care to count.

Photo courtesy of USRowing

It doesn't always feel real, but when the excitement comes, in waves, it's almost enough to bring me to tears. One of my teammates described the atmosphere at Worlds, walking among the best in the world, who have all showed up in their best and with their best, and we both got a little choked up thinking about it.

Photo courtesy of USRowing
This year, I leaned on the people around me so heavily. It's not a coincidence that the year I asked for the most help is also the year I made my first team. It really does take a village. I can't say thank you enough to the many people who let me stay in their houses, who hosted my training partners, who helped cover my expenses, who listened to my emergencies or excitement, who showed up to one or most of my many training sessions or who pulled me down the race course. It's been really important to me in so many different ways and it has all added up to something spectacular.

And now, I need to ask for help again.

Going to the World Championships is expensive. USRowing only funds Olympic boat classes, which for lightweight women only covers two seats, the lightweight double. For the rest of us, we have to cover 100% of our costs. That includes flights to and from Bulgaria, hotel, entry fees, boat rental, ground transportation and more. The expected total cost per person in our boat is around $6000.

I want to go show the world all the hard work I've put in for the last six years. But I also want to represent the USA to the world. And I want you to be a part of that journey. Every person that has helped me along the way has felt like a piece of my story and the more full my story gets of great people, the easier it is to tell. Even if it's only $5, please add your name to my story.

All donations are tax-deductible through the National Rowing Foundation.

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