Winter Fatigue

It’s before 7 am on Sunday — my day off.  I’ve been up since about 5:30, wide awake and trying to rest quietly for as long as I could without disturbing my roommate.  By about 6:15 the sound of the fishing boats on the lake had ensured I wasn’t going to be getting any more sleep this morning, so I got up, put in a load of laundry, and started a pot of coffee.  The sun is just about to break over the San Ysidros, which I can see from my second floor dormitory room at the Olympic Training Center.  It looks like it’s going to be another clear, beautiful day in San Diego.  I just wish I had the energy to enjoy it a little more.

We are about halfway through our winter training camp.  The Team has been here at the OTC since the beginning of January; I arrived just after Christmas for an extra nine or so days of training with the University of Washington.  This year, Kerry also jumped in for part of the Husky winter camp so we were able to get some time on the CII and in the pair together in December and January before camp with the US women started.  This was my sixth (?) year attending UW Winter Camp, and as always, it was a really fun, low-key way to kick off a long stretch of intense training with the US team.
While the team has been here, training has been excellent.  We have had near perfect rowing conditions almost every day, and even a little bit of rain.  We have a great group of athletes here in addition to the light and open men, plus our W2X, some lightweight women, and short visits from some of the men’s sculling group at CRC.  It is busy and even a little crowded down at the boathouse, but the atmosphere is dynamic, and the entire team is working very hard together to get the training in this winter.

On the women’s side, we are doing more, and performing consistently on a higher level than I have ever seen during my time on the team.  Both the amount of work, and the quality at which we complete it, has only continued to go up since coming back after London, and while it is not easy, it is awesome to be part of  it.  Seeing my teammates continuing to gain strength, confidence, fitness and skill in the weight room, on the CII and on the water has been really fun for me to watch.  I am also seeing continued improvements in my personal performances, including some critical CII scores.

Though I have been through the system many times, the rules of the game have not changed for the US Women:  PHYSIOLOGY IS KING.  Continuing to push my own scores on the CII has multiple implications for me beyond just the raw times needed to contend for rankings with some of the heaviest hitters on the team.  I’m both smaller and also older than most of the women I am currently training with–two traits which can be limiting factors (or excuses) in some cases when it comes to posting big erg scores.  The numbers say that on any given day, I’m probably not going to have an advantage on the erg over a woman who is 10-20 pounds heavier than me.  And the numbers also say that the physiology (peak power and also recovery) of a 31-year old body is lesser than those who are 5-10 years younger than me.  So if that’s what the numbers say, it’s up to me to use whatever skills I have to dissent when I have the opportunity.  I probably won’t ever catch the fastest women on our team on the erg; but if I can prove that I am consistently continuing to get faster (despite my age), and learning how to push harder for longer (despite my size), the scores will come, and my reward will be that I might be able to pick someone off the erg ladder here and there. It is a long process.  No one erg score will ultimately decide anything, and being able to translate CII performance to a boat is still very important since our selection is so directly correlated to the 2-.  But learning how to use the CII within our system to constantly push and to demonstrate physical potential, consistency and improvement, is a huge part of training with our group.  Not glamorous, not very-often pleasant, but honest, and fair.  Those who say it isn’t, probably aren’t performing.

When I returned after London, I told my coach that I wanted to continue to get faster on the erg because I didn’t feel that I had achieved my full potential yet.  And also to commit to the mindset, both with him and with myself, that being older (and also starting up very out of shape in 2013) was not going to be prohibitive to my ability to get faster and be a better athlete. I’m glad I did.  There are a few big markers I’d like to try to tick off for my 6k and my 2k before I retire, and now I have just 17 months left to do it.  The training we are doing now is going to help prepare me to get there.

But it doesn’t come without a price.   The training block we are in right now is some of the toughest we will do during the year.  It is long, focused, and requires a great deal of physical and mental effort to complete well.  No one workout is ever too difficult; rather it is the cumulative effect of weeks upon weeks of work that has put us in to our winter fatigue.  This past week in particular had many of the women on the team feeling that they were maybe experiencing more exhaustion than they ever had (aka “PRing on being tired”).  I can’t be sure if I’ve ever felt more tired, mostly because I’m in such a fog for most of the day, I can’t actually devote any energy to thinking about being in a state of physical exhaustion, now or in the past, without going a little crazy.  Deep fatigue manifests itself differently in individual athletes.  Mood swings seem to be pretty common — from temper flares to sporadic “slap-happy” bursts of frenetic energy and everything in between.  Changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, and decreased mental acuity (I start saying words in the wrong order more frequently) are all part of the game.  We have all identified and recognized these behaviors in ourselves and each other, so the bright side is that no one is ever too surprised by someone else’s bizarre behaviors or outbursts, because we’re all going through the same thing.  We all grant passes, and are granted them in return, daily.

The physical challenges of trying to complete workouts at the same, or higher level, while your body is so broken down are maybe the most frustrating, however.  This week especially I felt like I wasn’t “myself” in the boat — my timing, coordination, and balance were all just a little ragged, which, compounded with feeling tired and sore makes training that much more difficult, when the boat doesn’t run quite right, or isn’t quite set, or things aren’t quite matched up.  And feeling that way left me coming off the water more than once feeling as if I had let down my boatmates or that we had not had our best row because I wasn’t able to train as precisely as I know I can when I am not so dug-in.  Not much else is getting done right now beyond training.  My normal training camp distractions, Netflix, books, knitting, blogging… are all going untouched because there is no time, and no energy to commit to them.  I am left wondering how I managed to do any of those things during past camps.

So this is how we train, and how we learn to get through.  To trust in the work we have been doing, and to keep applying what we have in order to continue to get results even when things get murky, or weird.  Coming out of the other side of winter training confident, happy, and strong is a big ask, but it’s how we all continue to get faster.  The biggest help we have is: each other.  The team here is doing a really great job of balancing the tasks of achieving their best personal results with supporting the rest of the team.  Everyone wants to be at the top of the list each week, and no one likes to be at the bottom.  But we all know how it feels to be both places, and no one is letting any one result dictate who we are as a team.  What we achieve is always collective, and surviving the next few weeks isn’t going to be any different.

I am so proud of my team for their hard work and dedication during these long, hard weeks.  And so grateful that we are here in California with the aid of our beautiful venue and perfect weather to lighten the load.  It is an absolutely awesome time to be a part of this team. Even if I can’t always formulate coherent sentences.

Long Live the Dream,

–MK

 

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3 responses to “Winter Fatigue

  1. Many thanks, Megan. That’s timely for me because I’ve been ramping up my own winter training. Although I’m a totally non-elite, non-rower recreational athlete your current experiences and insights are extremely useful. And, of course, your dedication is extremely inspirational. Keep up the great work.

  2. Megan, a simple piece of advice that I know sounds trite but really is true: Make sure you’re having fun. I rowed for years, never at the caliber you are at now, but raced at a high level in high school and college with all the torture of winter erging, and for the last three years I’ve been with the San Diego Rowing Club. This year is the first year I am not racing at Crew Classic. It’s for injury reasons, but now that I’m taking mornings off and taking out a 1x when I feel like it, I’m enjoying it more I’m having fun every time I’m out on the water.

    In no way am I telling you to abandon your Olympic pursuits. Just make sure you’re having fun. Nothing, not even gold, is worth pushing yourself to the point where you’re not enjoying it. Every rower in the country supports you, whatever you do. Go get ’em.

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