Motivation and Rowing

I have never considered myself a sporty individual. I am neither athletically gifted nor competitive when it comes to sports but there is one area that I have some experience in: Rowing.

I am lucky enough to go to a great school that provides, among many things, the opportunity to row. And to row at a decent level of competition too. After 13 years of athletic disinterest I signed up to rowing because, as my friends pointed out, I was tall and lanky. Still am. But in rowing this is a considerable advantage as with height comes plenty of physical leverage. However, 3 years into my ‘career’ I quit rowing (last year) because despite growing to love the sport I just wasn’t getting into the races and competitions. I wasn’t motivated.

And this brings us to the theme of today’s post. Motivation, alongside actual physical condition and fitness, is the key to performance and rowing is a perfect example of this.

The thing about a race, or any competition, is that the winner is not the person, team or crew that is physically fitter but the one that chooses to perform better. Any rowing race is soul-crushingly tiring and the only way to do well is to have the mental toughness to not slow down. Not only do you need to not slow down but you need to sprint flat out. For about 200 strokes you must be at 100% power output or you will lose.

Now this is all easier said than done. “Row really fast and you’ll win guys. Simple right?” But halfway through a race it can become very difficult to put into perspective your present discomfort and your potential reward in the future. For any one who feels a bit lost by all the rowing examples I suggest heading to your nearest gym and rowing 2000m. As a skinny teenager I have never been able to beat a time of 7:29. It is not pleasant.

The best way to improve, aside from the obvious fitness training, is to improve mental toughness. When you exert yourself the way you do in rowing, running or any other race there is a delay between when you choose to give way and when your body would have actually given way. Mental collapse always occurs long before true physical collapse. From an evolutionary setting this makes sense. It serves as a defence mechanism of sorts against ourselves. The job of a racer is to extend the time before both mental and physical exhaustion overcomes them.

This can be extended to form the second of rowing’s many life lessons. The first lesson is being able to remember the difference between the bow and stern of a boat (that’s the front and back for all you filthy landlubbers out there). But equally the principle that we give up before we need to and before we should is something to always remember. It seems obvious and intuitive but is not really something that is ever thought about much.

I love rowing, almost as much as I love talking about rowing but I feel like this is probably a good place to stop… for now.