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.
Donate.

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When I last updated you all , I want coming off of a great training block heading into the Senior Trials 1 for the single. It's impossi...

Trials 1 and July Training Update

When I last updated you all, I want coming off of a great training block heading into the Senior Trials 1 for the single. It's impossible to summarize that race in a word or a sentence or probably even a paragraph.

We had beautiful conditions for the time trial and heats.
Thanks, Lady Mercer.

There were some really great things about the week. It was clear that my crazy hard 10 week training block had paid off with fast times: 7:54 in flat to headwind conditions vs. 7:59 in a ripping tailwind from April. I played around with the weigh-in (sweating out 1-2 pounds in July is way easier than I remembered). The field of lightweight women was stronger and deeper than I've ever seen it, so races were tight enough to be fun and strategic. And I discovered that I have a kick-ass sprint.


To get the better semi-final, I needed to win this heat, but I was
too conservative and wasn't able to challenge Hillary for the win 

But there were also some really disappointing things about the week. I made a few bad racing decisions that landed me with a really tough semi-final. And that kick-ass sprint wasn't good enough to earn me a spot in the four boat final. The depth of the field also meant that, even had I qualified for the final and despite my huge improvements, I wasn't even close to fast enough to qualify the single.

I made up 3-4 seconds in the last 200m, but still missed the final by 0.4 seconds

Keep an eye out for Michelle Sechser, the trials winner, at this year's World Champs. She won bronze in the lightweight double last year, but missed the selection process for that boat due to injury. She will be a strong contender for the top of the podium in the lightweight single.



So where do we go from here? Well.. Boston, naturally.

The Charles River

US Rowing made some positive changes to selection procedures this year, separating the trials for the lightweight single and the lightweight quad and pair. (Previously, the big and small boats were contested simultaneously, forcing athletes to choose.) The trials for the quad and pair will be held August 5-8 once again on Mercer Lake in New Jersey.

With only a month between trials, the scramble began to get a fast lightweight quad together. Plans changed at least three times in as many days before the dust settled, and ultimately, I ended up in Boston with three of the four finalists from the singles (everybody except Michelle, who will be racing the single). Christine Cavallo, Hillary Saeger, Margy Bertasi and I have been training under coach Linda Muri out of Riverside and Cambridge Boat Clubs on the Charles River.

Linda has been kicking our butt with hard work in the quad and in doubles almost every day. It's awesome! And slowly but surely, we are taking four super strong single scullers and becoming one super strong quad.

We'll be racing at trials uncontested. (A lot of lightweight women chose to focus on the newly added lightweight pair or on getting race experience at Canadian Henley.) As long as we can make weight and make it down the course in one piece, we'll qualify to race at the World Championships this September. Of course, we want to do much more than that. Opportunities to do a 2000m race on buoyed courses are few and far between, so we'll be looking to practice our racing and build our confidence with a fast time.

Once we've made it down the course, check back here for a post about just how excited I am (I'm holding it at bay until we cross that finish line) and how to help us get to Worlds. The lightweight quad, as a non-Olympic boat class, is self-funded, meaning we have to pay for every aspect of our trip. The total bill is a little daunting.

As always, schedule and live results from trials will be posted on HereNow (under Senior 2 Trials). Live video streaming will be available on the US Rowing YouTube page. And up-to-date regatta information can be found on the US Rowing website.  I'll be posting more regular updates to Instagram and Twitter as the race approaches, so click on over and follow me there!

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I get a lot of questions about fueling and eating a vegan diet while training. My eating has evolved a lot over the last six years, but I...

What I Ate Wednesday

I get a lot of questions about fueling and eating a vegan diet while training. My eating has evolved a lot over the last six years, but I'm really happy with my current diet.

I try to follow intuitive eating practices as often as possible (i.e. eat when you want to, don't eat when you don't want to) rather than counting calories or tracking nutrients. There are a few exceptions to that. Sometimes, I need to time food intake around practice times and end up eating before I'm truly hungry. I also have made a habit of eating meals and snacks that have a good balance of carbs, proteins and fats so that I don't have to track nutrients.

Another thing worth pointing out: the vegan and lightweight rowing communities are both rife with disordered eating, and there is a lot of negative pressure on social media from those communities. A few years ago, I found myself falling into the trap of thinking "this is healthy/not healthy and therefore I should/shouldn't eat this". Hello, slippery slope. I've worked really hard the past two years to change my narrative into "this makes me feel good/bad and therefore I want to eat more/less of this".

And, you guys, I love eating. So it's important to me that I feel happy about how and when and what I'm eating. It pained me that something so integral to me caused me so much stress. So if it's causing you stress, please know that there's a different way!

This is from a typical training day: 75 minutes/15km in the morning and an endurance lift in the afternoon (30 minutes of cardio and 45 minutes of hard weights). I also walked about 2 miles.

Breakfast. I eat this every day. A toasted sesame seed bagel, peanut butter, apple(s). I love it. A couple times a week, I'll think about eating something different... and then end up eating this.

Second breakfast. Oatmeal with raisins, peanut butter, brown sugar, soy milk. This is probably my second favorite breakfast option.

 Lunch. Baked tofu and potatoes, sauteed kale and carrots.

Snacks. Banana. About half of the pineapple shown. Homemade carrot cake waffle and banana oat muffin.



Dinner. Burger night! Burgers are basically my favorite food. (Sorry not sorry, dad, for always ordering them at restaurants as a kid.) I'm a huge fan of the Gardein and Beyond Meat veggie burgers. This is the Gardein burger on an everything bagel with avocado, tomato, bell pepper, lettuce and ketchup. Dan and I also shared this fruit salad.




Dessert(s). Dark chocolate with sea salt. This stuff from Aldi is excellent. And a protein shake before bed.


Please reach out if you have questions but know that I'm not a nutritionist so I can't tell you what you should be eating or analyze your diet. I'm more than happy to answer questions about things like transitioning to veganism, tips for fueling enough, etc.
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For years, my body has taken very good care of me, taking hours of hard training everyday with hardly a complaint. My last (and only) injury...

Training Update June 2018

For years, my body has taken very good care of me, taking hours of hard training everyday with hardly a complaint. My last (and only) injury was in high school. My spirit, on the other hand, has been much more delicate.



I have often pushed myself to emotional failure, which can be as debilitating to training progress as an injury. For me, it looks like crying 30 minutes into an easy session and feeling overcome with fear at the thought of a hard workout. And over time, even as I have recovered from those individual periods of exhaustion, I built a fear of pushing too hard.

Peak emotional exhaustion occurred in the lead up to the 2016 Olympic trials. I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to perform, while also increasing my training volume, losing 10 pounds, and getting inadequate sleep. When I decided to continue rowing for another quadrennial, I knew that I had to break that cycle and figure out how to train and live happy.

I took a big break after trials in 2016 and came back in not great shape. Fall of 2016, we made some big changes to my training program, backing off a lot.

I wanted to create a baseline of training where I could execute every workout, every week, without failure. And that place feels good. It's comfortable. It's fun. But it also doesn't produce improvement. And I almost got lulled into staying there... until I went down to Philadelphia to try out some double combinations and got pushed way out of my comfort zone—hard pieces two days in a row, with three practices (including a lift!) on the second day—and didn't break down or fail.

After that trip, I started to push my boundaries a little bit. In the first three months of 2017, I averaged 680 minutes of training a week. In the three months after that trip (May, June, July), I bumped my average up to 750. It felt good to struggle sometimes. But I was still only allowing myself to struggle through individual training sessions. And my improvements were still small.

A graph of weekly minutes this quadrennial, with trend line
In the fall of 2017 and early 2018, I stepped up to 775 minutes a week, but I also fell back into a comfortable rhythm. I was still avoiding some of the workouts and back-to-back combinations I feared the most. I was still backing off instead of pushing through.

Then, I failed.

I went to the first race of the 2018 season and I didn't perform as well as I needed to. I raced the same way I had trained—afraid. I find it ironic that my fear of failure ended up causing me to fail. But it also lit a fire. I came back the following week and wrote a training program that included all of the things that scared me the most. The first three weeks were 950 minutes each and over the last seven weeks I've averaged 875 minutes. I scheduled Guenter's crazy circuit lift on Monday and Thursday afternoons, with a really long, hard endurance session on Tuesday morning. I did two hard sessions every Saturday. And week after week after week, I checked off workouts.

Two weeks ago, I executed a week that felt like everything I'd been building towards for the last 18 months. 900 minutes. Crushed all of my lifting sessions. Did two sets of hard pieces and some speed work. Worked hard, got tired, recovered and adapted.

Boat rigger or neck pillow?

And then last week, I did what scared me the most: three hard days in a row. What that looked like:
Th - AM off, PM 3x2k hard (16km total)
F - AM 3x1k (15km total), PM 75' easy
Sa - AM 3x750m (13km total), PM heavy lift

And here's the thing, it wasn't that bad. Yes, my body hated me a little bit on Friday morning. And yes, we did all three 750m pieces with the tailwind on Saturday. But I hit great paces on all three sets of pieces, knocking a few seconds off my previous best times.

I have no idea what the rest of the season holds for me. There is a lot of great racing ahead and I'm looking forward to finding out what I can do. I still need to work on a lot, especially my headspace. Fast splits scare me and my self-confidence can be pretty flaky. And, despite the help of Jasyoga and consistent practice, I am not great at switching between the aggression of working out and the calmness of working in.

But most importantly, I'm excited to be back training at this level, and doing it from a place of joy rather than obligation. It's been a difficult journey these past two years trying to find love and purpose while also chasing speed and intensity.

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Last week, I raced the open weight double at the second Spring Speed Order event hosted by US Rowing. Practice Rosa, my doubles partner, ...

Spring Speed Order 2

Last week, I raced the open weight double at the second Spring Speed Order event hosted by US Rowing.

Practice
Rosa, my doubles partner, arrived Monday morning, giving us just four rows together before the first race. We had rowed together once in January, on a 35 degree Florida day featuring 20mph winds. We knew we matched well, but also had a lot of work to do.

The first session was a good indicator. We took a series of 10s and 20s at increasing rate and felt good up to stroke rate 28, when things started to tense up. Not bad for a first outing.

Our second session involved some longer work at race pace (start 250m, base 1km, finishing 250m), which was also promising, but again featuring that tension at the higher rates. We also seriously botched our pacing, heading out way too fast on the 1km piece. That's not surprising: both of us have spent a lot of time in singles recently and pacing a double is pretty different.

Our remaining sessions in the boat were easy paddles, working to find our rhythm and where we were most likely to mismatch.

Time Trials
Originally, the time trial would have seeded us into semi-finals, but two late scratches to the event meant the time trial was just a race for lanes: all boats would progress directly to the A-final. We wanted to put together a fast race, but more importantly we wanted to put together a solid piece. After our poor pacing earlier in the week, we decided to treat this race as a builder, starting at a lower stroke rate and slightly slower pace and building over the 2000 meters.

This resulted in a relatively slow time, but allowed us to find a good racing rhythm. Our last 500 meters were strong and fast. This was my first trip down a 2k course in bow seat of a double, and I was terrified that I would botch it. I've never been comfortable with my skills at matching. This piece gave me a lot of confidence, though. It wasn't quite magic, but we were very in sync. We still had some of the tension we felt during the practice pieces, but that was a manageable error.

Finals
During the one practice window between the time trial and finals, we made really good progress on relaxation. We especially focused on coming off our starting sequence relaxed. I also needed to be more aggressive in the first 500 meters of the race. I've lost a lot of races in the first quarter, afraid the pace was too hot. So that was the goal: make the first 500m aggressive and relaxed, then reassess the situation.

We got off the line really cleanly, and were actually right with the pack. Our rhythm was relaxed and I was going way harder than I thought was appropriate, so everything was on track. We came through the first 500m just under 1:50, a very solid pace given the headwind. We were still in contact with the back of the pack, and we held that through the 1k mark, splitting 1:53 for the second 500.

Going into the race, we knew it would be very challenging to stick with the rest of the field. Our race featured some of the best open weight scullers in the world (and ultimately, some of the fastest times of the day). On top of that, both Rosa and I are lightweights, and while neither of us were prepared to weigh in for this race, we were still much smaller than our competitors. Difficult under normal circumstances, the addition of a 6-7mph headwind put us at a serious disadvantage. Contact at the 1k mark was really good.

Then sh*t got real. Physically, we were still pretty ok: in pain, but tolerable. What we didn't expect was the wake. With two doubles duking it out 15-20 seconds in front of us, we got sucked into a wake so big we thought a motorboat had gone by. The boat was getting slammed from one buoy line to the other, and the splits would rise and fall as we sunk into troughs and rode crests. The brunt of the wake hit us in the third 500, also the most difficult portion of the race mentally. We came through in 1:54.

By the last quarter, things had smoothed out a bit. We could still feel the wake, but we weren't reeling in it. Our plans for a lift at 800m to go hadn't really panned out, so we hit the gas at 400m to go, accelerating through the line. Final 500m time was 1:52.


We were far off the back of the pack by the finish line. But the winners' 94% of world's best time was an exceptionally fast result for the day. The next fastest winner (in the women's pair) was 91.4%.

In addition, our time was very solid compared to the lightweight doubles. Obviously, we didn't earn the right to line up next to them by weighing in and I know that being that light would have affected our finish time. Still, it's exciting to move boats fast.


What's next? 
I'll be continuing with my current training block, working towards Senior Trials in the lightweight single in early July. My first three weeks were a low rate, base-building phase. (Yes, I raced a double off of three weeks of exclusively low-rate work. It was... exciting.) The next four weeks, I'll be working mid-rate, trying to add a layer of fitness and some confidence in my boat skills. At the end of that mini-block, I'm planning to test my speed at the Schuylkill Navy Regatta on June 16th. The last few weeks, I'll be doing race-specific work, including a lot of short pieces at or above race pace, and a few 2k time trials here at GMS.

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