One of the simplest ways to introduce outsiders into our niche of the elite athletics community is to create a basic understanding of one of the most fundamental elements of the sport that we as athletes may at times take for granted: the training facilities. I know that I am guilty of complaining about not having security lights in the parking lot, or the cloud of stink floating out of the men’s locker room that you have to walk through in order to get to the women’s locker room, but the fact remains that the facilities at Princeton are some of the best in the country and we rarely have any real complaints to lodge with our training facilities. In this week’s entry, I’ll try to show you what it looks like to row and train at the Princeton Training Center. Nat’l teamers bear with me, I know you all know what it looks like, but there is a remote possibility that not everyone in the world knows what it’s like to train at PTC, since people seem to ask me all the time.
The U.S. team trains in a variety of places across the country and internationally, but for all intensive purposes our home base is in Princeton, New Jersey. For a spot of geography, Princeton is in central New Jersey, and nearly equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia. So while it can feel quaint and isolated at times, there are lots of cultural and entertainment resources available if you’re willing to make the forty-five minute drive or train ride.
Recently the women’s squad and the men’s scullers have training out of the Princeton Training Center, an adjunct to Princeton University’s beautiful boathouse. The U.S. athletes share this facility with the university’s four crews (Heavy and Lightweight men and women), and the Carnegie Lakers masters crew. Space at Princeton is roomy but not limitless, so there are restrictions placed on training times and schedules, and we are not allowed at the boathouse while Princeton trains, from 3:30pm to 6:30pm.
The men’s sweep team, though they are currently training at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, has been training at the Mercer Lake training facility in West Windsor. The two facilities are about fifteen minutes apart, and are used somewhat interchangeably between the two teams, with all crews training and racing at Mercer Lake immediately before and during official USRowing sanctioned selection regattas (National Selection Regattas, senior team time trials).
At Princeton, crews row on Lake Carnegie. The lake is an artificial body of water created by means of a dam on the Millstone River, erected in the early twentieth century by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The lake was a gift to the Princeton University varsity men’s crew, and so is privately owned but is available for public recreation. The rowable water on Lake Carnegie amounts to about 4.5-5k each way, including a four-lane buoyed 2k course which runs south-to-north (start-to-finish). There are two bridges crossing Lake Carnegie: “the stone bridge” (Washington Road) and “the green bridge” (Harrison Street). I have learned that neither one is very forgiving if you run into them with your boat or oars.
While the water is rarely too bad to row on at Carnegie, it isn’t the most desirable water around; the water in the lake is extremely polluted due to excess litter, automotive and agricultural runoff, and…goose poop. That means you have to be extra careful when docking boats on windy days, because no one wants a reason to have to jump into the water to fetch a boat that’s floating to the opposite shore, right Malcos? We don’t need to worry all that much about jumping in right now, however, since standard Jersey winters freeze the lake.
In addition to the lake itself, the Delaware and Raritan canal and its dirt towpath run along the eastern shore of the lake, and are the sites of many women’s team runs throughout the training season, regardless of the chemical state of the water in the lake. The towpath is prone to getting extremely muddy when it rains, attracts a lot of goose traffic (look out, sometimes they poop when they’re flustered), and also serves as a public bike and recreation trail.
In addition to the outdoor training that we do at the Princeton Training Center, a large part of our conditioning takes place indoors on the ergometers and in the weight room. Rest assured that Princeton’s vast alumni base does not allow their athletes to want for anything. The Princeton indoor facility is situated with a few dozen Concept2 model Ds and newly updated model Es in two different erg rooms on the second floor of the boathouse. Both rooms are equipped with full-length mirrors, and stereo equipment that can be turned up to “eleven” (most days it is turned to eleven or higher so you don’t have to worry about hearing yourself think). Additionally there are several bike trainers in the back of the main training room to provide some variety for cardio work.
Adjacent to the cardio training rooms is a weight room where athletes can pump some serious iron, work on core strength, and of course, stretch. Now that we’re into the beef of our winter training the women’s team has been spending a great deal more quality time in the weight room, up to four workouts per week. Bench pulls are still a part of the routine, but the competitive edge that made this particular lift my favorite at Washington just hasn’t caught on at PTC yet. Lindsay Shoop and I have started working together to make it a trend, but so far the progress has been slow.
Not to be forgotten, the Princeton boathouse has a beautiful rowing tank facility on the lower level. So far this year we have only used the tanks for minor technical instruction, and save the harder, longer work for the erg.
One of the benefits of training at PTC or being an affiliate of the U.S. training program is that, with few exceptions, you can train in any number of locations across the country. The northeast is a hotbed of very active rowing communities and clubs, with large groups of U.S. team alumni and hopefuls training in Boston, Philadelphia, Connecticut, New York, and Washington D.C. Occasionally, athletes will travel from their home clubs to participate in weekend rows or camps at PTC and to touch base with the U.S. coaches.
On the other hand, if you happen to find yourself in a community with limited rowing or athletic facilities, it is also possible to call in favors for temporary training facilities. Former national team coach and current women’s head coach at the University of Minnesota, Wendy Davis, granted me that privilege when I was home in Wisconsin for the holidays with no cardio options except running for two hours per day on long stretches of icy country roads. A quick email to her and a brief call to her strength and conditioning staff had me on my way to the UofM campus and on an erg in a matter of hours. It was a beautiful thing.
In about ten days, the women’s squad will be flying down to Chula Vista to replace the men’s team at the training center there, cozying up to Otay Lake’s windy waves and whitecaps and (hopefully) some nice California sunshine.
See you out there,