Sunday, February 21, 2016

Olympic Trials

Last weekend, I watched Olympic marathon trials on TV.

If you aren't following the brand Oiselle on social media, you should start. One of their favorite hashtags, #WomanUp, embodies everything about this brand. They have made it very easy to follow and cheer for a group of hard working female athletes, including Lauren Fleshman and Kara Goucher.

In my own lead up to Olympic trials, I have found lots of moments of doubt. Do I deserve to be dreaming this big? If I dare to think that I can win, what does that say about my ego?

So watching Kara Goucher, a two-time Olympian, place a heart breaking fourth place, was incredibly moving. It told me that you are allowed to dream big, even if you don't make it. If some of the biggest names in a sport can reach for the stars and still fall short, there is no shame in falling short.

I had lofty goals for my training this winter, and, although I'm ahead of where I was last year, I'm still facing the disappointment of not quite reaching them. Every missed or poorly executed workout, I could feel some of my dream slipping through my fingers.

Maybe I was crazy to expect a 7:10 2k from myself this year, a 9 second improvement from my PR. But maybe I can still keep dreaming. There is no shame in falling short.

Our last training block was a 10-week lead up to a 2k test. We started with a huge block of high volume, low intensity cross-training, followed by a rapid transition to higher intensity erg work. I nailed the first half of this block, and then really struggled with the second half.

Physically, it can be great to push so hard you have to back down. But mentally, I was left with a lot of doubt heading into our 2k test. I ended up nailing the execution, just a full split slower than I'd wanted, and pulled an exact match of my 7:19.5 PR from last year—definitely not the 7:16 of my fantasies. Although it was a great piece, the combination of doubt and missed opportunity left me with mixed feelings.

Fortunately, our coach, Guenter, is super responsive. I asked to add some confidence building work into our training schedule, and he also added another 2k erg test after another 4 week training block.

Already, I've hit some personal bests on some of our bread and butter workouts. Guenter is optimistic that we have nailed the timing of a final buildup before trials. Hopefully our next 2k lives up to those expectations!

That will be our last big erg session before Olympic Rowing Trials in late April. Here at GMS, we have had some intermittent access to rowable water. Morgan and I will head down to Florida in March to get consistent water time in the lead up to Trials. Hopefully we can get a few sessions out on the water before heading south, to work out some kinks and break in our hands.

It is also the beginning of weight loss season. I have started a slow and steady descent from winter weight of about 134 pounds down to racing weight of 124 pounds. I like to give myself at least a week for each pound I have to lose, and even that rarely feels generous enough.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Fall Racing

The docks came out today, officially marking the end of the fall season. Granted, fall racing has been over for a month, but this seems like an appropriate time to recap the season. Sometimes, we need a month of space to make a valuable reflection on our performances.

Fall racing has never been my favorite. I'm not very good at it, and I have trouble taking it seriously without taking it too seriously. The best way to get better at something, though, is to practice, so that's what I've been doing.

I started my fall racing season with the Head of the Riverfront. To help me take it less seriously, Guenter had us 2k test the day before. Clearly, that did the trick—in a strong headwind/current combination against open weight competitors, I just went out to race hard and have some fun in the single. I came home with my first win of the season!

More importantly, I learned a lot. I learned that a second every 500 meters adds up over 5 kilometers. I learned to look back more often to find the best course. I learned that I sink into lulls when I'm by myself. I learned to race, and enjoy the back and forth of passing other crews.

All good lessons before the big event: Head of the Charles!

Last year, I put in a bid for both the single and double and got neither. I was super excited this year to get a doubles bid with Morgan—my doubles partner from Elite Nationals and 2 seat from our quad this summer.

We entered the Championship Double category, with a special lightweight medal designation. That meant that we had to weigh in (133lbs maximum weight) the morning of our event, and were much smaller than many of our competitors. This was a big disadvantage in the crazy headwind. The heavy double that started directly behind us made up almost 20 seconds in the first 500m as we barreled into the worst wind on the course.

Top 10 finishers in our event
Fortunately, our lightweight competitors were equally small in the wind. Morgan and I won the lightweight category, and placed lucky #7 overall.

We won a medal!
My final race of the fall season is by far my least favorite: Fall Speed Order. This race is a special kind of torture. Saturday there is a 130 pound weigh-in (way too light for this time of year) followed by a 6000 meter test on the Concept 2 ergometer. Sunday, on still tired legs, there is a 4.5km rowing racing in singles.

We were coming off of a few hard weeks of training, and had seriously backed off of training for a full week to try to recover for this race. I was starting to feel better, and so set myself three goals. Good: Just do better than last year. Better: Improve on the previous week's 6k test. Best: Set a PR.

It turns out none of those three were in the cards. I finished 11 seconds slower than last year's time, also a poor performance.

And so, with less than 24 hours, I had to pick my sorry butt up and get ready to attack a new day on the water. Overall, I was really pleased with a second place finish, closing the margin on Emily, the event winner on the erg and the water.

Once racing was over, we hit the ground running. Our next big regatta is US Rowing Olympic Trials in Sarasota this April. With 5 months to prepare, I've got a lot of fitness left to build.

Fortunately, I've taken nearly 30 seconds off of my 6k erg since Fall Speed Order! If I can continue that rate of improvement, I'll have the world record by trials. ;)

How did your fall go? Ready for winter training?


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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Finding a Training Rhythm

Since I started training three and a half years ago, I've always been a big fan of "work smarter, not harder".

It has gotten me really far without any serious injury or illness along the way. I've dropped almost a minute on my 2k erg score, built out incredible base fitness, and learned to move a single incredibly efficiently.

But as my progress has slowed short of my ultimate goal, I have realized that working smarter is no longer enough. All of the athletes at the level I hope to reach are working smartly. They all have great training plans, great coaches, great habits and great boat skills.

Three and a half years is long enough to figure out the "right way" for me. And I think I've done just that–I'm on a training plan I love, in a place I enjoy training, with a coach I trust, in a boat that fits, eating food that makes me feel good.

It's time to start working harder at it.

Of course, that's easier said than done.

Unlearning the habits of three years of training is uncomfortable. No more calculations. If I pull 2:08 for another 1000 meters and then 2:02 for the last 300m, I can bring my split down by 2 seconds. No more strategizing. I can switch these two workouts and it will be the same volume but feel easier. Just work.
"Stopping thinking about the shoulds and the coulds—I should be lifting more or I could be fitter. Accept where you are and focus on just doing." - Krystal Melendez
There is constant discomfort during both training and recovery. I'm learning to accept, even embrace, it, rather than working to fix it.

During workouts, I've been searching for "flow", a concept Wil Heywood introduced to me several years back and I promptly dismissed. I find it best during my cool downs after weight-lifting sessions, when the lights in the erg room have shut off and it's too dark to see the Concept2 monitor. I set a timer on my phone, and just swing with the music until my time is up.

In the weight room, I've learned to stop thinking about how I'm going to finish the workout, and instead focus on just doing. I'm adding weight to the bar with no intention or thought of the repercussions—just to do it.

Most importantly, I'm learning to silence the voice in my head—the voice that tells me I'm tired, no exhausted. I'm learning to listen to the training plan and accept the wave of exhaustion that hits me midday on Wednesday, letting it drag my body through the riptide of Thursday morning and out to the calm seas of our afternoon off.

I expect it now. I know that fatigue and emptiness lingers with training or with rest and that sometimes the familiar discomfort of a long slow slog on the erg is better than the uncontrolled discomfort of moping in bed.

"Americans: they want everything yesterday." Guenter Beutter, coach extraordinaire

Now, I wait. You can never compare one training plan or approach to another, because you've only executed one of them. The most you can do is hope what you're doing takes you to your destination.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sweet Cinnamon Tofu Sandwich

What do you do when you suddenly come by 30+ pounds of tasty local organic apples? Put them in everything!

I was worried this sandwich would be too weird, but it was a tasty way to use apples and improve the protein count of a sweeter sandwich. A great alternative to PB&J, we actually ate these for dinner!

Here are the instructions:
- Slice the tofu into thin pieces and press to get out some of the water
- Dip tofu in liquid/fat (I used melted coconut oil, Earth Balance and cinnamon whiskey!)
- Dip wet tofu in cinnamon sugar mix (use some brown sugar for bonus points)
- Bake in the oven at 350°F for about 30 minutes, or until the sugar gets gooey
- Serve on soft whole wheat bread with sliced tart apples and a thin layer of peanut butter.


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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Vacation, Worlds and the Beginning of Fall

Last month, Dan and I took a much needed vacation! We are both fortunate with flexible work schedules, and were able to head west for three weeks.

My coach gave me permission to take 1-2 weeks completely off. I knew it would be difficult to train away from home, so I fit in training where I could. I ended up taking about 1.5 weeks completely off and another 2 weeks of half-time training.

We started in California, where we were able to visit my parents, grandparents and sister. I went on some nice long runs and bike rides, saw a baseball game, hiked to Land's End, ate a lot of food, drank a lot of wine and generally recovered from a pretty stressful 11 months.

Mom and Dad during our Land's End hike.
Dan doing Dan things.
All of the fruits and veggies all the time.
My Dad's fresh bread
New sneakers!

The second half of vacation was spent in Oregon. I flew into Eugene, and immediately fell in love with the place. We had an awesome vegan brunch before heading to the coast to escape the heat.

On the coast, Dan found a crazy awesome camp site. We stayed two nights while we visited Dan's dad, who was docked in Coos Bay for boat repairs. We then drove up the coast, visited Dan's mom, picked blackberries, had an amazing meal in Portland and flew back to Connecticut.

Just a small haul of berries.
The only person in the world that makes Dan look short.
Our campsite.
Sunset in Coos Bay.
Back in Connecticut, it was time to get back to serious training. Our return coincided quite nicely with the Rowing World Championships. We were able to watch the races most morning before our training sessions, which was great motivation those first uncomfortable weeks.

Although the U.S. was plagued with injury and illness in this important year, the country still had a fabulous showing, particularly on the women's side. The U.S. women qualified all of the Olympic boat classes, and reached the A-final in all of the non-Olympic boat classes (including one gold and one bronze medal, no less!).

However, if you have to pick just two races to watch, I recommend the LM4x and M1x A-finals. Very exciting. Watch at

Now that the 2014-15 season is all wrapped up, it's time to start looking forward to the Olympic year! I have always known that making the team in 2016 was a stretch. Gaining speed takes a long time, and improvements have been slow for me. However, I'm in a good place going into this fall season and poised to have my best year yet. Who knows what it will bring, but I'm excited to see where it will take me.

Check back soon for updates on my fall racing schedule, winter training plans and ways you can help support my dreams!

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Getting your Caffeine Fix on the Road

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Dan and I are loyal Aeropress users at home. But bringing an electric kettle and the Aeropress, however portable, on the road is a hassle. And hotel coffee? Not even worth it.

When you're travelling for races, morning caffeine is a necessity, not a choice. So I've found some alternatives:

1. Cold brew with a French press
If you prep your coffee 24 hours in advance, you can have a delicious cup of cold brew from tap water. I've found it to be not as strong as hot brew, but it's a decent substitute and is perfect for tropical vacations and hot training trips.

  • Starbucks and Peets will grind their beans for you in store, so you can get them ground for a French press
  • Look for sources of hot water—many hotels have microwaves or hot water for tea
  • You can use the press to brew loose leaf tea as well!
  • There are also travel mug french presses. (It's on my birthday wish list.)

2. Go out for coffee
I know this one is obvious, but I always forget it on road trips until we're already out the door. Hotel and gas station coffee is generally horrendous. Instead, check out local places on Yelp (or just find your nearest chain coffee shop) and make a date of it.

  • For race mornings, I put my coffee into a travel coffee mug (the Contigo autoseal mug is awesome) so I can drink it hot after weigh-ins
  • If you don't plan to drink it right away, iced coffee is much better at room temperature than hot coffee

3. Califia iced coffee
The price of this stuff was a bit off-putting, but when my only alternative was to go out on the daily, it became pretty economical. It's a pre-brewed, pre-sweetened iced coffee made with almond milk. The double espresso packs a mighty punch and is also delicious!

  • Make sure you have a refrigerated storage option for this stuff.
  • Pour it into a small re-usable bottle (or one of the hotel coffee cups!) and bring it with you

4. Trader Joe's cold brew concentrate
This definitely wasn't my favorite coffee, but they sell a decent size bottle of concentrate for about $8, which makes this one of the least expensive options.

  • Dilute it with sweetened non-dairy milk

5. Caffeinated Clif bars and nuun tabs
When you're on a road trip, or about to launch your boat for a race, you really don't want to worry about bathroom breaks every 30 minutes. Coffee has a knack for running through your system and hitting your bladder hard. The Clif bar/nuun tab combination is great for combatting this!

  • My favorites are the chocolate mint bar and the lemon-lime energy tab—but they admittedly don't go very well together.
  • There are a lot of other caffeinated sport foods if you don't like Clif bars or nuun

6. Chocolate covered espresso beans
I have yet to find a vegan version of these in stores, but they're pretty easy to make. Mix melted chocolate with espresso beans and let cool. These are also excellent for bladder management, and an AWESOME excuse to eat chocolate for breakfast.

  • Add them to yogurt, granola or trail mix to prevent over-caffeination
  • Use a hair dryer to melt the chocolate—your hotel room should have one

7. Unsweetened iced tea
Most grocery stores carry bottled unsweetened black iced tea. I don't think there's anything wrong with sweetened iced tea, or the green stuff, but for purely caffeine purposes, the unsweetened black stuff is the best. You can drink more of it and there's more caffeine per ounce than green tea. Win-win. (Or at least as win as you can get without a hot cuppa joe.)

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Looking Forward

With an anti-climatic end to the summer racing season, I can only looking forward to an exciting year to come.

My racing for 2015 is over, but the World Championships are still to come for Team USA. I will be watching carefully, as this year is the first chance to qualify boats for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Here's how it works:
- Countries can earn a spot at the Olympic games by meeting certain performance standards at this year's World Championships
- Those spots are by country—the athletes can change
- In the lightweight women's double, the Olympic qualification standard is top 11 at the World Championships
- For boats that don't qualify this year, there is another opportunity to qualify next year

With the great performance of the US lightweight double at their most recent international race, I am hopeful that we can meet the Olympic qualification standard this year.

The next major regatta for me is US Olympic Trials, to be held in Sarasota, Florida, from April 18th to 24th. Assuming all goes well at this year's World Championships, a win at that regatta would be a direct path to Rio 2016.

So what happens between now and then?

First, I am taking a much needed break. I've been working my tail off since December of last year, and made some great improvements. And now, I'm pretty tired. My body and mind need a good rest before I gear up for our next huge training block—which lasts until April! I will be spending some time with family in California and Oregon, some of it completely off and some of it cross-training.

Second, I'll be prepping for fall racing season. I'm considering a few different fall races, including Head of the Potomac/Green Mountain Head (same weekend), Head of the Charles, Head of the Fish, and Fall Speed Order. I won't attend all five of those races, but I'd like to fit in at least three.

Third, we'll be heading indoors to get fitter. We usually come off the water in mid-November. I'm a strong believer in getting in at least 8 weeks primarily on the ergs—with maybe a week of either rowing or cross-training sometime in the middle. That will take me through mid-January indoors.

Fourth, we are hoping for an extended trip to Sarasota to row and prep for Trials. Typically, we can't get on the water until early March, sometimes later. That is not enough time to prep for Trials, and 40°F days in New Milford are not productive training for 80°F racing in Florida.

Which brings me to money. At the moment, only two lightweight women receive any financial support from US Rowing, and that is minimal. I have been self-funded (and husband-funded) through this journey. As we come into the home stretch before Olympic trials, it's time to focus on training, not finances.

Over the next month, I will be putting together a budget for training and living expenses through April. Donations through our non-profit foundation (the Northeast High Performance Rowing Foundation) helped me take a three week training trip to Sarasota last spring that made a huge difference in my performance in the important early spring races. If you are able to donate, keep an eye out here for details about how to make a tax-deductible donation!

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