Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How to Make a U.S. National Team

The process of qualifying for the World Championships in the United States is extraordinarily confusing. For those of you following my journey, I thought I would explain the process.

First things first:
As a lightweight woman, there are three boats that compete at the World Championships, held in August each year—a quad (4x, four people/eight oars), double (2x, two people) and single (1x, one person). The double, the only Olympic class boat, is the premier event and has a different selection procedure than the 1x or 4x.

Let's start with the DOUBLE
Every spring, US Rowing hosts two "national selection regattas"—NSR1 and NSR2. For sculling (two oars per person), NSR1 is in singles (1x) and NSR2 is in doubles (2x).

Lightweight women from around the country show up at NSR1 as an opportunity to show how fast they've gotten. US Rowing calls this a "speed order" event, and it's a great way to find a partner for NSR2, about three weeks later.

NSR2 is the first opportunity to make the US National Team for lightweights. The winner of this regatta earns the right to represent the USA at one of the three World Cups. (This year, I placed fourth at NSR2.)
NB: The World Cup Series different from the World Championships. There are three World Cup races are various locations throughout the year. They are international racing opportunities hosted by World Rowing that culiminate in a points trophy.
IF that double attends a World Cup AND places in the top 4, they earn an automatic spot on the team for the World Championships.
Otherwise, US Rowing hosts a trial. The winner of that trials race earns a spot on the team for the World Championships.

... PHEW

But what about the 1x and 4x???

Since those boats are non-Olympic boats (bummer!), they have a different qualification system. Both 1x and 4x go directly to trials. Individual clubs host camps and send athletes to compete at trials, and the winner earns a spot on the team for the World Championships.

It seems simpler, and for the 1x it may be, but there are a lot of politics behind the assembly of four athletes into a 4x. Getting enough and fast enough athletes in one place for enough time for a fair selection process can be rather tricky. That, however, is a topic for another day.

Does that make sense?? Any questions I didn't answer?
Expect an upcoming post on the Road to Rio, and how the OLYMPIC qualification works.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reader Question: Why Veganism?

When people find out I'm vegan, they usually ask why. Great question! People go vegan for all sorts of reasons.

Since weight-restricted athletes also often have very specific eating habits, a lot of people assume I'm vegan to help me make weight. At first, I thought it might help as well. Not the case! It's actually quite difficult to balance making weight, athletics and veganism.

I can't go more than 3-4 hours without eating—no matter how much I eat, it's like throwing twigs on a bonfire. This is especially true when I'm cutting calories to lose weight. When I'm hungry, I descend quickly into hangry (so hungry I'm angry) and that's bad for everybody. If I'm out and about and hunger strikes, I often can't find balanced food to eat, so I have to bring my own snacks everywhere.

Of course, that means I eat better food when I'm on the road, and stick to normalcy even when traveling. But I have definitely been caught out longer than expected with nothing to eat!

So why did I become a vegan?

That's a hard question to answer, but it all starts with vegetables. Have you ever tracked your daily vegetable intake? Are you getting the recommended servings? When I was really honest with myself, I wasn't eating enough vegetables (unless you count cookies as vegetables).

Vegetarianism was a step in the right direction—it got me thinking about my food, branching out to new plants and generally eating better foods. But cookies, muffins, cakes and fried mozzarella sticks are all vegetarian. Veganism has pushed my diet in the healthiest direction and I needed that help.

Trying veganism/eating more vegan food is very different than being vegan, though. The reason I've stopped buying leather and wool, started using cruelty free soaps, and opened my eyes to the exploitation around me? It's the right thing to do.

Once you make the connection between the items around you and the life that provided them, it becomes very difficult to ignore. I would abandon my dreams before abandoning that compassion for the lives around me. There are certainly drawbacks to veganism—but nothing that justifies taking an animal's life or free will to avoid.

Are you vegan? If so, why? If not, what's your favorite vegan food?

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Back to the Grind

Although winning Nationals was a great mid-summer confidence boost, I'm back to work chasing my dreams. I spent last weekend in Philadelphia racing at the Independence Day Regatta and celebrating July 4th with friends.

Although it was great experience, and I came away with a 2nd place finish in the lightweight women's single, it was a tough weekend physically and mentally.
The race course is in the middle of a park, which makes it extraordinarily isolated—on Friday, I walked 8 miles round trip to get some coffee and lunch. It was hot and unprotected, with high winds and strong current. Given the circumstances, I'm proud of my performance, but it certainly was not my best.

Going forward, I'd like to re-focus on getting faster. Over the last month, I've gotten a good sense of where I am and where I need to be. It's time to close the gap between those two.

I took Monday and Tuesday of this week off to recover from the whirlwind of racing and traveling. Wednesday, I hit the weight room, and Thursday I complete a tough workout on the ergs.

15' warmup
3x3000m (1k@23, 1k@25, 1k@23)
#1 11:54.6 (1:59.1)
#2 11:58.4 (1:59.7)
#3 11:59.3 (1:59.8)
15' cool down

I would have liked to be in the 1:58's, but for being off the ergs for several months now, it wasn't terrible. I'll definitely be checking back in with that workout over the rest of 2014, and hopefully seeing good gains.

I'm now fully back into the swing of things. This morning, we did a 75' row and this afternoon is an epic weight-lifting session. Tomorrow, I'll duke it out in the single with the rest of the GMS athletes for four by 500 meters.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

National Champion!

We're just settling back in to life in New Milford, after a crazy fun week of racing. Last week, US Rowing held Senior World Championship Trials and the Elite National Championships at Mercer Lake in New Jersey.

To recap my week of racing, let's take it one day at a time:

This was the first race for Trials. I raced former teammate Kristin Hedstrom and current teammate Sam Brecht. Top two progressed directly to Tuesday's semi-final. Despite nerves, everything went as expected—I had a solid race and did exactly what I needed to.

California (K. Hedstrom)8:18.05
GMS Rowing (M. Copenhaver)8:21.77
GMS Rowing (S. Brecht)8:50.45

Things played out about as expected across the other three heats, which the exception of newcomer Mary Maginnis. In her first race as a lightweight, she posted really fast times that got everybody talking.

Semi-finals proved a tough battle for me. I faced off against Kate Bertko, Nicole Dinion and Laurissa Gulich. I had a great race and pulled my best time in the single, but Nicole managed to hold me off for the second spot in Wednesday's grand final.

California (K. Bertko)7:57.53
OKC Riversport (N. Dinion)7:59.86
GMS Rowing (M. Copenhaver)8:02.47
Riverside (L. Gulich)8:26.93

Despite not making the final, I was really happy with my performance. I've gained a lot of speed in the single already this summer, and it is really beginning to show.

No racing! There was a time-trial scheduled for the evening for Nationals, but enough people dropped out of the regatta that it was cancelled.

The twelve athletes were placed randomly into two heats for the morning session. Only the winner of each heat went directly to the final—everybody else went to an afternoon repechage.

Potomac A (E. Schmieg)7:52.760
GMS Rowing A (M. Copenhaver)7:58.278
Vesper A (E. Euiler)8:07.730
Vesper B (E. Maxwell)8:10.592
ROWONT A (A. Fogarty)8:21.148
GMS Rowing C (O. Jamrog)8:27.992

Tailwind conditions made for fast times, and I made one of my summer goals: break 8 minutes in the single! Emily Schmieg took the top spot, and sent the remaining 5 athletes to the afternoon repechage.

I drew a mostly GMS rep, and had another outstanding race, almost hitting the 8-minute mark again, despite already-raced legs.

GMS Rowing A (M. Copenhaver)8:01.811
Craftsbury A (S. Keller)8:05.877
ROWONT A (A. Fogarty)8:13.003
GMS Rowing D (A. Shapiro)8:19.359
GMS Rowing C (O. Jamrog)8:26.949

Two races again! First up, the single.

14NTC - ON A (T. Berkholtz)8:26.900
25St. Catharines A (L. Sferrazza)8:33.464
32GMS Rowing A (M. Copenhaver)8:33.832
43Potomac A (E. Schmieg)8:45.040
56Craftsbury A (S. Keller)8:50.900
61Vesper A (E. Euiler)8:59.208

I'd let the results speak for themselves, but it would be as exciting. The first and second place crews were both Canadian, and therefore ineligible for our national title. That put me, unknowingly, in first place among American competitors! I'm the NATIONAL CHAMPION in the lightweight women's single!!

As for my second race, I got an email mid-week asking me to jump into a lightweight quad that was missing a rower. It was only one race, it was after all of my single racing was done, and it didn't even require an additional weigh-in, so I decided to go for it. Our first row together was the race day warm-up, but it felt pretty great.

And despite racing on tired legs and in a new boat and line-up, we managed to put together another really great race.

Vesper/Riverside/GMS (C. Stawicki)7:05.005
Potomac A (E. Schmieg)7:10.987

Our time wasn't spectacular, largely due to windy conditions, but we managed to win another national title.

Overall, it was a great learning experience. This holiday weekend, I head down to Philadelphia for another weekend of racing at the Independence Day Regatta. This is a much less formal regatta, but it's an opportunity to face off against some of the lightweight women I haven't raced much this season.

If you or anybody you know is interested in sponsoring my trip to IDR or any future racing, please be in touch! You can reach me by email (lightweighteats [at] gmail [dot] com) or via social media.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

World Championship Trials & Elite Nationals

All images thanks to the wonderful Dan Copenhaver. For more of his work, or to hire him to photograph your rowing club or event, visit


Next week, the GMS athletes head back to Princeton for another round of racing. The first round of trials for the World Championships are happening this week, followed immediately by the US Rowing National Championships. The schedule and more information can be found here and here.

I will be racing the lightweight women's single at both events. At World Championship Trials, I will face 9 other athletes, including 2012 Olympian Kristin Hedstrom and 2013 Head of the Charles winner Kate Bertko. The event begins on Monday (6/23) with heats, where the top 2 will progress directly to the semi-final and the remainder will race the repechage in the afternoon. There are no consolation finals at this regatta, and only 4 athletes will progress to the Grand Final on Wednesday.

At the US Rowing National Championships (aka Elite Nationals), I face a slightly deeper field of 15 athletes, many of whom I will be racing for the first time. The group includes three Canadians. This event is also Grand Final only, with 6 athletes progressing through. Racing begins Wednesday evening (yes, the same Wednesday) with a time trial, where the top 12 athletes continue to Thursday's heats and repechages.

Yes, this is where we row. Tough life.
We've been busy in New Milford getting prepared to race. Two weeks ago, the GMS Under-23 camp started and we've managed to do a lot of head-to-head and time-trial racing on the water.

I've had some pretty solid results in the single, which has boosted my confidence for trials. I recently switched boats, moving from the Hudson S1.31 (size 160-190lbs) to the S1.21 (size 145-170lbs). In California, I was rowing the S1.11, the smallest size (115-145lbs). After trying all three, it feels like the S1.21 was made for me. Despite falling into the weight class for the S1.11, the S1.21 fits like a dream. I'm really happy I made the switch, and many thanks to Guenter and Hudson for making that possible.

This morning, I did 500m pieces against a gaggle of girls in singles. We had great representation—senior lightweight, senior openweight, U23 openweight and junior—and everybody had fast times. My fastest 500m time was 1:51.8 in a mild tailwind, which is 100.8% of the 2000m world record pace. (The fastest percentage for the day was 104% of 2k world record pace—our U23 women's 2x. Super impressive!)

From now until racing begins, we will just be biding our time and trying to maintain fitness and keep calm. As a generally active person who passes time in the garden and on her bicycle, I find it very difficult to properly execute a taper—I get really bored and want to do nothing more than haul logs, till dirt or bike around town. While that's great for weight management, it's less great for race day performance. Any suggestions for ways to entertain myself?

In other rowing related news, the second Rowing World Cup is also going right now. (In rowing, unlike soccer, there are three World Cups, followed by the World Championships—the premier event.) The USA has a ton of boats racing in France right now, including a lightweight women's double! Information can be found on the World Rowing website.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Not a Summer Vacation

So much has happened since the first National Selection Regatta! As I mentioned, Sarah and I went up to Boston to do some race pieces with the lightweights at Riverside. We got the crap kicked out of us, came home, trained hard, and went to NSR2... and came in fourth!

This is old news by now, but there was a MAJOR upset at NSR2. Last year's lightweight women's double, that many had called "untouchable", was taken down by Devery Karz and Michelle Sechser from Oklahoma City. Their duel for 1st place meant the LW2x was the fastest event at the regatta. Our 4th place finish was great...

... but not where I want to be.

The next step was deciding summer plans. In late June, the first round of World Championship Trials will be held in Princeton. The LW1x and LW4x will be decided at that regatta. After many discussions, Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia became the prime destination for a camp to put together a lightweight women's quad.

I definitely considered attending. I've come a long way since last summer, and I think I could have clawed my way into a seat in the boat. I expect the boat that comes out of the United States this summer will be blazing fast.

Ultimately, though, attending the World Championships in the quad is not my goal. Looking at the bigger picture, spending the summer in selection and maintaining a super low body weight isn't going to get me where I want to be.

It was a difficult decision, but I'm going to be spending the summer training independently at GMS. I will race the single at the Worlds Trials later this month, with no illusion of winning. (That "untouchable double? They split into singles and will both be racing at Trials.) And I'm also going to push the boundaries of what I can do in a week.. every week. I've been crushing my weight lifting (I'm now doing pull-ups with an extra 5 pound weight), working on boat feel and putting in tons of extra volume.

These are my goals for the summer and fall seasons:
2k erg: 7:10
6k erg: 23:00 (and top 3 on the water at Fall Speed Order)
2k water: 8:00
4mmol lactate/L wattage: 215+

Those are super ambitious goals, especially the first one. (My current PR is a 7:22.1 at 57.5kg.) But the more ambitious my goals, the fewer excuses I have to joke around this summer. Now is the time to see how fast I can go!

What are your summer plans? Racing, training, both?

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Race Recap

When I left off, we were just headed into the finals on Saturday morning.

Our 7:14AM race time meant the weigh-in window began at 5:14AM. I was incredibly thankful to not be worried about weight—I heard of others waking up in the 3's to sweat down to 130 pounds for the weigh-in.

Everything went according to plan, and the six rowers in the B final took off down the course more or less together. It was great racing—the field was really tight the whole way. The early leaders, Mary Foster and Emily Schmieg, ended up in first and second, with my teammate Sarah Giancola coming in third. Lauren Ayers and I were head to head the whole course, but she opened up about a second lead in the last 400m to take fourth. I came in fifth, followed by Morgan McGovern in sixth.

This was a much closer racing experience than last year's NSR1, despite not going through the full progression of racing. It will be fun to see how all of the lightweight women stack up when we pair off into doubles for the next regatta—the second national selection regatta.

This weekend, Sarah and I will be headed up to Boston to do some informal racing in doubles with some of the girls from Riverside Boat Club. It will be a good chance to connect with more of the lightweights training around the country—we are so dispersed that I regularly race people I've never met!!

Over the next few weeks, I will also be losing weight—what fun! For the single, at NSR1, all competitors are required to be under 59kg (130lbs). For the double, the average weight of the crew must be 57kg or under—four pounds lighter!

Based on results from my DEXA scan and previous experience, I've planned on getting down to a bit under 57kg for NSR2. This is fairly light for me, but I know I don't lose as much strength as many other lightweights as I drop in weight. I never imagined myself as a "weight maker" but I'm glad to have the option—my erg scores aren't fast enough yet for anything else!

Did you race at the first NSR? What did you think? What are your plans for the rest of spring and summer racing?

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