The quote “Don’t promise when you are happy, don’t reply when you are angry, and don’t decide when you are sad.” -Ziad K. Abdelnour is often thrown around to imply that intelligent and logical people often make unwise decisions based on emotion. I’ll add “Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry and don’t make a race plan in the middle of a race” because no, of course I don’t need the ice cream and the donuts, and no, of course backing off to “save for the sprint” isn’t going to get me to my goal.
Why should you have a race plan? What does having a race plan mean? And most commonly, what is the best race plan? Often I’ve gotten these questions just before or even during the warmup on 2k day. It’s a desperate rower’s hail-Mary, the hope that “there must be a key, some secret that if I can learn and execute will unlock the mystical erg test.” By then it’s too late to teach - too late to equip the rowers to answer those questions, so at that point I’ll give an example race plan, and if they’re lucky, they’ll have a relatively recent score to use as a starting point and we can craft a serviceable plan on the fly. But here in writing, when we have the luxuries of ample time and of logical thought, when we’re several stages removed from the heightened, anxious state that exists pre-erg test, here we can go into how and why to build an effective race plan. If there were such thing as a best race plan, then this wouldn’t be much of an article. Alas (or perhaps thankfully?) rowers will encounter different circumstances that require different race plans, and rather than try to prescribe a plan for every eventuality, we’ll lay out how to build your race plan based on your circumstances.
“Why” to have a plan is summarized in the first paragraph - if you have no plan, then you’re going to fall back into emotional decision making. In the middle of an erg test or race piece, while the lizard-brain is elbowing in on your logical self with cries of “stop this madness!” is not the time to plan anything at all, let alone how hard you want to keep working for the next couple minutes.
Circumstance 1 - “I don’t really know what I should aim for” This happens to novices, athletes coming off a long injury, or rowers who have come back to the sport after years off. If this is you, then, as soon as you can, get out of circumstance 1 - figure out what to aim for! How to do this? There are lots of “predictive workouts” (6x500, dirty dozen, 4x1k, etc), but in Philosophy of Science Norbert Wiener suggests that “The best material model of a cat is… the same cat” and I tend to agree. If you’re prepping for a 5k, do a 5k, if you’re prepping for a 2k, do a 2k. In fact, do several, because that’s the best way to simultaneously find an appropriate pacing and eliminate the foreboding that can accompany the erg test. Bear in mind that doing several 2ks isn’t “training” for a 2k, rather it’s a way of finding your correct pace. If you’re in this category, don’t get bogged down with an intricately detailed race plan, because at this point you’re just turning the coarse adjustment knob to get your pace somewhat in-focus. This is also where the “fly and die” has some value. While fly and die is not a good strategy for athletes who are trying to optimize and shave off 1 more second, for those who don’t know their pacing, it helps to “find your edge” if you’ve seen it from both sides.
Circumstance 2 - “I have a goal, but how do I get there?” NOW, we can start building a race plan around something meaningful, and here are some questions to consider. What do you want your pacing to look like? Do you want to just hold steady for the bulk of the piece, or start 1-2 splits higher and work it down to -2/-3? Do you want to break it down by 500s/400s/300s and “castle” around your target average. Any of these are valid, but my usual prescription is to start a little slow, and accelerate throughout the piece. I like to think of it in terms of the percentage of the piece that is uncomfortable - see the charts below for a hypothetical comparison.
The red line is a rower who paced to accelerate throughout the piece and the blue line is a rower who came out too fast (by about 7 splits) and then crashed. Both rowers wind up with the same time, but the blue rower is miserable starting at about 600, while the red rower probably gets uncomfortable around 800, but isn’t truly miserable until about 1200! What a savings! The red and blue examples are hypothetical, but are meant to trace more or less what a well paced, and poorly paced 2k could look like.
In general, the more you know about where you’re aiming, the more precise and tighter your pacing should be, for example: you’ve only done one 2k this season and it was 2 months ago? You could aim for +3/+0/-3/-(6+) over each 500, but if you’ve done several and you’ve got a pretty tight grouping, maybe you go for +1/+0/-1/-2. These are just examples, and I want to emphasize that the details of the plan aren’t as important as committing yourself to it- whatever it is.
The Sprint - over the last ~15% or so you want to start committing a little harder, pushing deeper into the hole, so that by the last 20ish strokes, you’re going flat out. Use all the tools at your disposal here - pressure, rate, tech (efficiency). If your last 10 flat out strokes are just a couple splits below your average, or even if you crash in the last 5 and the split starts to climb, then you paced pretty well, but if your last 10 are wildly faster than your average, then you know you underestimated your capabilities, and you’ll want to try again and pace a little faster to home in on your hypothetical potential.
Takeaway: build your race plan well in advance, Design it logically based off of previous (ideally recent) scores. If you don’t know where to aim, there’s nothing like the real thing to give you an idea.
Consider: What is training?
Your first thought is probably that training is the act of working out, probably repeatedly. Maybe it’s taking a 30 minute break from your job to do a core circuit, or maybe it’s going on a 16 mile run on Saturdays. Maybe it’s rowing for 2 hours three times a week, or maybe it’s rowing for 12 sessions a week as you try to make the national team.
What is a training plan?
Chances are, it makes you think of some sort of cycle or calendar, with workouts of varying intensity and duration spread throughout. And depending on how serious or experienced of an athlete you are, the more workouts you’ll have and the harder they’ll be. Seemingly, a training plan is just a list of workouts arranged throughout the week (or month, or day, or year).
Alas, this conception of training and training plans is incomplete. A fuller picture of training needs to consider a number of factors, including nutrition, hydration, injury prevention, and--crucially--recovery, which we’ll focus on here.
So let’s be clear: A hard workout will never make you faster on its own. Working out doesn’t improve your performance; recovery after a workout does. Adaptation to a physiological stressor occurs while you are in recovery. Quite literally: you become a faster rower during the periods of time when you are NOT working hard! If you want to engage in a well-rounded, effective training program, the recovery period is equally as important as the exercise stimulus.
Let’s walk through the graph above:
1. Baseline Level
This is pretty obvious. It’s basically how fast of a rower you are right now, prior to a workout.
2. Training Stimulus
This is the workout itself. You stress your body in some way. Maybe it’s crazy hard sprint pieces; maybe it’s a long, light steady state piece. You tax the various energy systems in your body and the immediate effect is to actually get slower.
3. Recovery Period
This is where the magic happens. This is when your performance sinks below your baseline level for an extended period of time; the entire time when the curve dips below the horizontal line in the graph. If you do 12x500m on the erg, and 12 hours later I ask you to pull a 2k--you probably won’t PR, because your body will not have fully recovered.
During this time, your body undergoes a number of physiological adaptations as it replenishes your energy stores, repairs muscle and tissue tears from the workout, and improvements at the cellular level (i.e. increasing the density of mitochondria). Fundamentally, this is the period during which your body is actually adapting and improving. If you don’t let yourself properly recover from a workout, you’ll never get faster.
At a certain point, your performance level continues to creep up and up, until you’ve surpassed the initial baseline level. Congratulations--your body is now in supercompensation! You’re officially a faster rower than you were before the last workout. This is the best time for you to apply another training stimulus and repeat the process all over again.
Performance Over Time
If you don’t allow for proper recovery, your performance over time could look something like this (exaggerated) graph. Your performance level continues to sink, and in spite of numerous hard workouts, you are only getting slower! Bummer.
With a properly executed training program, you can recover properly between workouts. Then, when your body is in the supercompensation period, your current performance level is higher than the baseline level. If you apply a training stimulus now, you will undergo another recovery period and come out the other side even faster!
Keeping Track of Recovery
How do you use this information to be a better rower? Well, it’s important to keep track of your recovery process with a training journal. This will help you notice patterns in your recovery that can inform important decisions in your training. For instance, you may notice that anytime you do a good hard Anaerobic Threshold workout, the next day’s session is always subpar, no matter what it is. This is an indication that your body might need two days to recover properly, and the day after AT would be a good chance for a light session, or no session at all.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of stressors outside of rowing, since those can play an important role in recovery. Record how much sleep you get. Make a note of how much you have going on at work or school. Consider repeated, stressful social situations. A busy week at work might be a good opportunity to have a lighter week of training, since your body might be less able to recover quickly.
But without a training journal where you can keep track of your workouts and the factors that impact your recovery, you won’t be able to notice these patterns.
Keeping a Recovery Journal
In addition to keeping track of your workouts, try adding in some extra information. Here are a few basic questions to get you started. If you rank each question 1-10, then you can formulate a “recovery score” for yourself. You don’t have to answer these questions every single day--just once a week will be enough to start noticing patterns. This is also not an exhaustive list of stressors that can impact your recovery, but try it out and see if it helps give you a more complete picture of your training.
How many hours of quality sleep do you get each night?
How well have you been hydrating every day?
How well have you been fueling with proper nutrition?
Do you have adequate downtime during the week to relax?
How much emotional stress have you experienced this week?
How busy are you with work/family/school?
While it’s easy to get caught up in the workouts, a complete training program has to consider recovery as an essential component to improving over time. Adding more and more, harder and harder workouts will not necessarily improve your performance. Physiological, psychological, and technical adaptation actually occurs during the recovery period after the stress of a workout, so without adequate recovery, additional sessions won’t yield additional speed. Fundamentally, recovery is as important to training as the workout itself.
These past few weeks in almost totally isolation have felt incredibly long. SRA has been proud that our community has listened to the orders of local and national officials in regards to staying home, limiting exposure to others, and helping flatten the curve so our communities can recover from COVID-19. However, extended time at home has been a challenge for many. While some people are finding extra time to get house projects completed, extra work done, and time with family squeezed in- for others this lockdown has seemed to drag on much longer and has caused a lack of motivation.
The importance of keeping a consistent and productive schedule is more important than ever. Creating some sense of normalcy (while in your own home) is important for your mental, physical, and emotional health. Read below some tips on how to keep your life more manageable and structured. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home!
Singles During COVID-19
If you are single and living alone during this time it will be incredibly important to work a little harder at maintaining a healthy and realistic schedule during your days to keep your occupied. You need to self motivate! What you lack compared to other people is access to just that... people. Even though you probably have plenty of friends and family you could see, you are being a responsible citizen (as well as adhering to local laws) and are not coming in contact with friends of family to protect yourself as well as them.
To maintain contact with friends and family, write down a list of those you really want to stay connected to or catch up with. Mom, dad, sisters, brothers, best friend, book club buddies- you name it. Reach out to them to schedule phone calls, zoom chats, or other audio/visual ways to connect. To make your conversations even more fun, try playing games together. Jackbox Games is a great online gaming platform that provides fun, and often really funny games for you to play on your phone or computer with people you know all over the world. Check it out HERE! (Quiplash is my favorite game)
Here are some other things you should be sure to work into your schedule:
Couples During COVID-19
Married or unmarried couples living together are getting the ultimate relationship test of a lifetime! As much as we love our SO, for some, so much time together can be a little taxing if you're used to or enjoy some time alone. It is key to have a conversation with your partner about your boundaries, needs, and expectations during this time together at home. Sit down with your partner and have a conversation where feelings are left aside so you both can honestly talk about the best approach to this enhanced time at home.
For others- this isn't as much of a problem. Perhaps both of you really enjoy constant companionship or interaction so this extra time at home is a blessing- good for you! Either way- no relationship is better than the other. Different people have different needs so it's important for both types of couples to still have a chat about home life.
For couples, you can use the suggested bullet points from Singles During COVID-19 to plan a productive day, but you might want to add a few other items. For example, feel free to add some of the bullet points below to your daily schedule:
It is also important to keep in mind that there has been a rise in domestic abuse reports in recent weeks. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship please reach out to a trusted family member or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Families During COVID-19
What a wonderful time for extra family time! A few of you may have just rolled your eyes, and I totally understand where you are coming from, but my main advice here is to try as be as positive as possible. Compared to singles and couples right now, you've got quite a few extra bodies in your household making messes, getting in the way, possibly making demands, and much more. Take a deep breath- you can and will survive!
The single most important thing for families quarantining or staying home together is creating a schedule and having structure. Making sure that schedule communicated clearly and adhered to is also important. Make sure this schedule is realistic and allows for some wiggle room. You and your spouse or the adults of the household need to work together as a team, especially when handling children. Create a schedule for the kids first, and then create your own schedule around theirs. As much as you want to sleep in, waking up earlier than the kids can give you more time together as a couple, to squeeze in a workout, or just prepare yourself for the day. Set an early alarm.
For the kids- try to sympathize with them. They have tons of energy usually taken up by school and activities. Now they are stuck inside. Give them a disciplined schedule and have them help with household tasks too! Kids schedules can look like the following:
Every family's schedule will look different, but make sure there is one written down. Write it on a white board or a poster and place it for everyone to easily see. You can even let your family help make it and add cool stickers, bright colors, and fun patterns to it.
Again, parents should work as a team- possibly splitting supervisory duties so each adult can get work done and their own time away from their beloved children (hey, mental health is important folks!). Try to start each day with clear communication on who is doing what. Keep a positive mindset about using this time to strengthen your bonds as a family and make some memories.
For older children, keep in mind that a schedule is also important. Don't let them take off on their own simply because they are driving you a bit nuts. Teens and young adults have been congregating in parks and other public areas which is only more of a danger to themselves and others. Older children are capable of helping out more around the house with cleaning, yard work, cooking, and more. You might get a few initial groans, but communicate to them how much you appreciate their help during this time (and that as long as they live under your roof they do what you say!).
For tips on working from home CLICK HERE.
For professional advice on parenting during the pandemic, CLICK HERE.
Family activities to do during COVID-19.
You've got this. Create a schedule, stick to it, be easy on yourself for mistakes or frustration, look on the positive side, stay in touch with loved ones, and use this time at home as an opportunity as opposed to a jail-sentence. Remember that staying home is the least we can do to hep our communities get through an incredibly tough time. Every day at home is one step closer towards flattening the curve. SRA wishes you the best, asks you to stay home, and hopes to see you on the water when it is safe again.
On Race Warmups:
How many times have you heard your coach proclaim on an erg test day, “Do a race warmup, we’ll begin in xx minutes.” What do you do? If you find you’re spending the first half of the allotted time wondering exactly that, then here are some tips you can use to arm yourself for the next time it happens!
Race warm up should be built around 3 basic steps:
1. The specifics of each segment will vary person to person, and you should pay attention to your body and what seems to work for YOU. You might need 20 minutes of light steady state to get your joints ready to work hard, or you might be fine with only 5 minutes light before moving on to the higher intensity of the rate builders. On the water at races, this often involves a drill to help everybody clear their heads and get the crew swinging together.
2. Getting ready for higher rates should look something like 1' on/ 1' off or 20 strokes on/ 20 strokes off, or 30 str/30 str, 20 str/30 str, 30"/45" etc. These should be at race pressure, and you should build starting at steady-state rate up to your race rate (for example, starting at 20 spm and building up 2 or 3 beats each interval through 32 spm.) Do a couple bursts at your race rate (depending on your interval format). The goal is to be breathing hard by the end; get your heart rate up above your aerobic zone to cue your metabolism that it's time to fight-or-flight. Again, you should be breathing hard after a race warm up, you should be sweating, you should be just a little worried that you went too hard on the warm up and started dipping into your "race reserves" - that’s a perfectly normal worry, and 10-to-1 you didn’t! You should not be gasping or falling off the erg unable to stand.
3. Getting a quick rest to recover before the race is important, since if you're adequately warmed up for a 2k, it means you worked hard. It means you primed your aerobic and anaerobic systems, burned through some glycogen stores, and that stuff needs some time to restock. Generally this is between 5-10 minutes of resting and active recovery. Again, the correct proportions will vary person to person (except on the water, when this part looks like rowing to the staging area and waiting to get called up, and you’re more or less at the mercy of the race officials and if it’s running on time). Do some dynamic stretching here, some more light recovery-paced steady state, or walking (this is your chance for a last-minute haircut!).
Once you get your 2k warm up dialed in, start thinking about how it applies to your pre-race warm up at regattas. Start with your event time, and work backwards through the three steps. Remember, that at a regatta, your warm up is the same for the whole crew, so if you know you're an "I need 30 whole minutes of steady state before I can start applying the rate/press" person, then you know that you need to start doing that 20-30 minutes before your hands-on is scheduled (go for a run, lunges, jumping jacks, etc.)
Whew that was a lot about just warming up! Takeaway is: include the 3 basic steps, don't be afraid to experiment on your own, listen to your body!
On this post we hear from Denise Rockett, mid-morning rower and mother to two junior rowers. Denise Rockett and her family have been incredible members of the Sammamish Rowing community, and have truly given back to the organization in so many ways. We are so fortunate to have many amazing members like the Rockett's, but we want to share their experience today. Read her story below!
When we first moved to Seattle, it was very difficult for our children to make friends at school as we moved in the middle of the school year. That first summer, Adam did the Learn to Row Camp and loved it! It was the first time we saw him truly smile since we moved to the area. The following fall, he became a Novice rower, where he trained with Coach Simon and made some like-minded friends who were good students, passionate rowers, and knew how to have a good time. After that, he became an experienced rower with Coach Steven Freygang and then in his senior year, with Coach Dennis Ferrer where he took the LtWt 8+ all the way from Regionals to Nationals, which I believe was the first time the boys sent a LtWt8+ to nationals! The friends Adam made through rowing are still his best friends today. The integrity, teamwork, grit, competition and mentoring he received from the SRA rowing program has shaped the man Adam has become today as he starts his career right here in Seattle.
Renee watched her brother work hard, be part of a team, and bring home medals. Being a swimmer, she was accustomed to competition but felt like rowing at SRA offered more of a team atmosphere and decided to follow in her brother’s footsteps making the leap to switch sports. Renee caught the competitive rowing spirit and pushed herself during her novice year and earned a place in the Varsity boat her sophomore year. She represented SRA and Washington by competing on the US Rowing team competing in the U17 8+ earning a gold and U17 4+ earning a bronze in Camden, NJ. She has been coached by the best- Molly Lawrence, Marilyn Proby, Kelley Pope, David DeWinter, Nicki Hughes and Dennis Ferrer and so many more leaders at SRA. Their leadership and coaching styles have definitely prepared Renee to be a great student athlete for next fall as a recruited part of the UW rowing team.
Not long after Renee started excelling at rowing and became more independent, I found my home to be far too quiet and decided to join the Master’s rowing team as a way to connect with my children, make some new friends, and work on my own fitness level. It was much harder than I thought it would be and I had a new respect for my family and teammates. Being on the novice team and competing at races like Tail of the Lake, Row for the Cure, and Regionals were some of the best memories I will ever have. I think being on the Row for the Cure committee for SRA was one of my proudest moments. Helping to plan a successful event, raise money in honor of my mom who is a survivor, and bring the Pink Erg back to the SRA boathouse were all personal highlights.
Our family certainly appreciates all of the influence and hard work the coaches and staff give to our kids. Volunteering was something I always wanted to do. Whether selling flower baskets back in the day, flipping pancakes in the food tent, or raising money for Coach Appreciation Week four years running, the Rockett family shows up. I quickly realized that by giving I received so much more through the life long friendships I have gained. SRA is truly an extended family for us and we are ever so grateful for all the years we have had at SRA and look forward to an amazing evening at the gala to celebrate the club!
Sally Solaro, Barb Calvert, Trisha Miller, Jennifer Teschke, and Genevieve Carrillo have rowed together as a boat for the past two Head of the Charles races in the Women’s 50+ category. These five women have been with SRA as long as eight years to at least four. All of them said that the reason they came together as a boat was because of their rowing coach- Tom Woodman.
What was also new was their coxswain, Genevieve Carrillo. Calvert met Carrillo on a plane. Calvert said, “We were coming back from the HOCR the year before. She (Carrillo) was sitting next to me on the plane so we had a few conversations. She had just coxed for the Cambridge Boat Club men. They had flown her out there and she spent the week going up and down the course with them. The men taught her how to cut every single curve and corner possible and what her sightlines should be. I asked ‘well would you ever be interested in coxing for us?’ We ended up exchanging phone numbers.”
They got an extra boost of motivation when they passed other boats. Solaro said, “We were bow 7 in that race and passed about 3 boats.”
Eventually the women finished and were told by Scott Winter that they placed second. Later on they verified it. They had won a silver medal at the HOCR. Calvert said, “We were very confident that we would make the top ten, but we wanted top five.” It turns out they certainly did make the top five with a boat from Cambridge being the only one to beat them. It’s important to point out that this Cambridge boat was comprised of Olympians and National Champions whereas the Sammamish boat had only one rower with collegiate rowing experience. Everyone else had learned as adults, two at SRA.
Fast forward to this year and the women again made top five, earning a bronze medal in the same race. While they still felt confident in each other, each woman experienced some setbacks. Miller said, “Going into 2019 I wasn’t less confident with the boat, I was less confident with myself.” Miller had been experiencing shoulder problems, and Calvert had broken her toe and hand earlier in the year so they had to work hard to keep up with training.
For all of these women, training was brutal. Not only did they practice as a team on the water and on the ergs putting in several hours of hard work a week, but on top of that they trained individually. To achieve the success they had each woman had to put in numerous hours on their own spending extra time in the gym. Sacrifices were made to go the extra mile, and training without a teammate constantly by your side can be hard. Calvert said, “Training by yourself can be boring but I find the focus and dedication in this process is important. It carries into the boat. When I get into the boat I think about all the hours, the focus, dedication I've put in. Now it's all about just getting the job done.”
Armed with the superior Sammamish Rowing coaching, and hours upon hours of training on their own, these five women were able to succeed year after year at the HOCR. Each of them had their own piece of advice towards creating a successful boat. Most of the successful characteristics of their boat included trust, chemistry, laughter, hard work, and practice.
Miller said, “I’m always talking to the juniors about this, but we always assume the best intent. The trust is there because I know they all trust me too. They know I’m working as hard as I can and they are too. There’s a seed of doubt in some boats whether everyone is trying hard enough and training on their off days, and with this boat there isn’t that doubt.”
This boat from SRA’s 5am team has enjoyed incredible success and they credit not only themselves, but a talented coxswain, loyal coach, and supportive team. These women who wear matching loud leggings on the Friday before their HOCR race, are both relaxed and intensely focused. Their training was an intense mix of personal dedication and trust in their coach, Tom Woodman. Their practically daily dedication to hours of difficult, and sometimes very painful, workouts yielded results to be very proud of.
They look forward to a growing masters team as Sammamish welcomes in new rowers every year. While they would love to row in more HOCR events together, they leave their future in the trusted hands of Tom Woodman. They trust his process without question.
Congratulations Sally, Trisha, Barb, Genevieve, and Jennifer! Sammamish Rowing looks forward to more success from you all and great memories!
As rowers, we learn to push ourselves to the limit. We encounter moments in which we discover our potential and realize just how far we can go to achieve a goal. These moments and experiences look different for everyone, especially Sammamish Rowing Association’s (SRA) coach, David DeWinter. DeWinter joined SRA over 10 years ago as a rower with no prior experience. Since then, his many years of hard work, smart training, and willingness to learn new things have resulted in multiple medal-winning performances at some of the world's most prestigious regattas for masters, including the Head of the Charles, Masters' Nationals, and Masters' Worlds. He has also spent some time as a coach for both masters and juniors to share what he’s learned during his time at SRA.
“Throughout my time at SRA, I slowly learned the importance of mindset and its impact on successful performances, and I had to find my own ways to train it. I came up with these challenges outside of rowing that would help me become a mentally tougher person. I figured if I could do these things, then racing in a single for four or so minutes would be a piece of cake.” These challenges included car camping for 7 days while hiking 100 miles solo along the Mountain Loop Highway, and walking 110 miles around King County without set places to sleep—from Redmond to Edmonds to South Seattle and back across I-90.
This summer, DeWinter was itching for something new, and with a milestone birthday encouraging him to go big, he came up with the idea for Epic Mountain Rowing. He stumbled on the story of Matthew Disney—an ex-Royal Marine who walked between and climbed the 3 highest peaks in the UK all while carrying an erg (rowing machine), over 700km in total. At the top of each peak, Disney rowed the height of the mountain. “I thought this guy was crazy,” DeWinter added. “His challenge was called the ‘Three Peaks Challenge,’ which made me think of the ‘North Bend Triple Crown’ challenge, and what it would mean to apply the rowing machine to that.”
The North Bend Triple Crown is a local bragging right bestowed on hikers who scale Mt. Teneriffe, Mailbox Peak, and Mt. Si in 24 hours. The mountains range in height from 3900ft to 4800ft, so taking an erg up each of them in the same amount of time was non-trivial. “It was definitely crazy,” DeWinter added, “but at least it seemed possible.”
That’s when DeWinter learned about external frame backpacks. Hikers use these packs to secure all sorts of loads to the rigid frame they provide. For example, hunters often use them to carry out large game from the backcountry. He ordered a pack and got to work on attaching the erg. It took him several attempts, some including boat straps, bungees, and other configurations, before he found something that worked. He would test each configuration by walking longer and longer distances. “At some point I thought, ‘Okay, I better try carrying this up a mountain.’”
In early August, Coach Ethan Currie and DeWinter went to Bandera Mountain and made their way up slowly with the erg. “It was so difficult, because I had not done a lot of training to do a whole mountain,” he admitted. Even though the 8-mile hike took around seven hours to complete, they were successful, and the challenge became real.
Joining the junior rowers’ Ergathon fundraising efforts that will end on November 15th, DeWinter created social media for the challenge he branded Epic Mountain Rowing. On August 14th, the day after hiking Bandera, his adventure was announced, and he was committed.
While DeWinter was experimenting with the frame pack, junior rowing alumnus, Alex Sitzman, asked if he could join in on the challenge. Sitzman trained independently from DeWinter, but they collaborated on pack set-up before Sitzman went to Oregon in mid-September to begin his first year of college.
Training was unique. Unlike a marathon or weight lifting competition there were no training plans to buy or personal trainers to hire.
DeWinter said about his training, “Here’s what I knew. I’d be hiking with a bunch of weight, and I’d be hiking for 30 miles. Those were the key components. The training involved identifying my current weaknesses, and being laser-focused on correcting as much as possible before the actual event. For example, I have to be on my feet for 30 miles, so I need to practice getting that much mileage without worrying about blisters. A lot of the training involved walking, running, and hiking without the pack for many miles. This told me whether or not my shoes were right. If I felt debilitating pain, I needed to change something.
“The second part of it was handling the weight. This one I didn’t feel as regimented about. Due to external pressure I had to be time-efficient with my workouts, so I did lunges with weights up and down the path and focused on heavy lifts in the gym. I couldn’t make it up to the mountains as much as I originally intended, but I went just enough to feel that I had fixed my major problems. About four days before the event, I did one last hike up Mount Si with the erg, and I felt incredibly powerful and confident for the challenge.
DeWinter had recruited a team of volunteers for each mountain for both Sitzman and himself. Their job was to help with safety, provide support, talk to people on the trail who were curious about the group, and document the effort for social media. Although it seemed like smooth sailing on the day, DeWinter had to deal with some stress after a last-minute volunteer cancellation and a nervous rush to get the GPS tracking system running about 15 minutes before the start time. With all of that out of the way, all he had to do now was focus on the mountains.
At 1 PM, they set off on the trail to the summit of Mount Teneriffe. The 13-mile trail was the longest of the 3 mountains, but despite that, DeWinter mentioned that the first peak went relatively well. He kept a good pace and felt confident about his progress. His strategy for each mountain included planned stops for refueling and rest as well as tracking landmarks to help break up the mountain into manageable chunks.
At 8:30 PM, DeWinter moved on to Mailbox Peak, where he began to feel the difficulty of his challenge. In the darkness, he and his crew marched onward, but DeWinter began to struggle. “I didn’t want to stop,” he said, “but the environment and the circumstances made me really frustrated.” Even though he had broken the trail down into sections, and he was aware that the boulder field had many false summits, the trail just seemed to be longer and more difficult in the dark.
After summiting at midnight, DeWinter was tired, agitated, and clearly not at the top of his game. In a moment of clarity, he recognized his struggle and asked his friend and SRA 5am rower Trish Miller to videotape him. It was important to him not to hide struggles from the camera. “There are so few chances that I get to be real with an audience about struggle. I know sometimes athletes see us [coaches] as invincible, and it was important to me to break down that myth.” That exercise, while excruciating, helped him calm down and rediscover his rhythm. He and his crew eventually made it off Mailbox about 3 hours later.
“5 minutes after Celine and I sat together, I was in good spirits to continue. My body clearly needed some way to deal with the stress, and in that situation, crying was the path of least resistance. Having a supportive crew to feel comfortable enough to do that in front of was also important.”
Despite the struggle and moments of darkness on his adventure, DeWinter ultimately succeeded and finished his Triple Crown Challenge in under 24 hours. The final time was 21 hours, 25 minutes, and 19 seconds.
When asked how he felt once he had finally finished, he said, “It’s interesting that there wasn’t the grand sense of relief that you might expect. Towards the end of Si, maybe the last 1,000 meters, it wasn’t a sprint to the finish line. At that point I knew I could finish in the time limit, and the pressure dissolved. I just wanted to get the erg to the car. After some moments of reflection, it was really satisfying to feel this sense of connection that we [the SRA community] could make together in such a short amount of time: Alex and I doing this crazy adventure, volunteers going with us who didn't know each other before this... We had created this crew that was kind of like the Lord of the Rings. Then there was everyone watching, donating, following along, and it just felt so powerful. My little idea created such a broad impact, and it felt quite special.”
While DeWinter and Sitzman were just individuals taking on an extraordinary challenge, they had the support of the SRA community behind them and physically with them on their journey. “I think that a characteristic of a really powerful community is the ability for the people inside of it to do extraordinary things, and the community rises to support them,” DeWinter said. “Sammamish is one of those communities.”
Congratulations Dave on one of the most incredible athletic feats you've ever accomplished! Dave and Alex ended up raising just over $11,000 for the Sammamish Rowing Scholarship Fund, which is more than double their goal! Continue to read “Rower Stories” from the SRA website to discover more amazing individuals of our rowing community.
One of those individuals is a recent alumni of our high school junior rowing program. Alex Sitzman, SRA class of 2019, spent considerable time at the boathouse this past summer volunteering with the summer middle school rowing program. He was also keeping up with his training by partaking in a summer rowing program when he noticed David (Dave) DeWinter fiddling around with an erg and a backpack.
DeWinter was trying to figure out how to somewhat comfortably carry an erg for a challenge inspired by Matthew Disney- an ex-royal marine in the UK who hiked up three of the UK’s highest peaks to raise money for a cause important to him. DeWinter was applying the same idea to the local North Bend Triple Crown Challenge. DeWinter’s plan was to carry an erg up Mount Teneriffe, Mailbox Peak, and Mount Si in 24 hours while also erging the height of each mountain at the top to raise money for the scholarship fund in tandem with SRA’s Ergathon.
“Sammamish has been one of the biggest parts of my life for a long time,” Sitzman said while reflecting on why he wanted to join DeWinter in climbing three peaks with an erg on his back. “I’m going on almost seven years since I started rec (the middle school program at the time) there. It’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t part of SRA. The structure and team helped me develop as a person. I became so much more fit, and structured, and overall SRA improved every aspect of my life.” In addition to the personal gains Sitzman enjoyed, he saw first hand the impact of the scholarship fund on his friends’ lives and the opportunity it gave them to row. “ It was a personal objective for me to raise money for that (the scholarship fund) specifically. I’ve seen it’s impact first hand,” he said.
The few months leading up to October 12th at 1:00pm, the official start time of the Epic Mountain Rowing challenge, Alex had nothing but support from friends and family. Even though a few considered him a bit crazy they still gave him their full support.
Eventually October 12th did come and Alex flew from Oregon to Seattle after his Friday 6K test at practice. He prepared by eating a large bowl of pasta for breakfast and set out to tackle Mount Teneriffe first. Sitzman reported that Mount Teneriffe was nerve racking, but also helped him set a good pace. “I was feeling great all up Teneriffe. I started going up and knew I could keep a pretty fast pace,” he said.
It was Mailbox Peak, the second mountain, where he began to feel the fatigue set in. “Mailbox I had done before, and I remembered how unbelievably long it feels to do,” Sitzman mentioned. The boulder field near the top was incredibly hard for him to navigate, and he found that going up and down that section took a huge toll on his knees. His rests were more frequent, and he admitted that as he came down Mailbox Peak he realized he wasn’t getting in enough fuel. Eventually he made it down Mailbox and headed to his last mountain- Mount Si. He took a long break to give his knees a rest before starting his final ascent.
Going up Mount Si was slow. Sitzman was not on pace. By the time he reached the last tenth of the mountain, he had gotten to the point where his legs hurt, but that wasn’t what was slowing him down. He said he couldn’t get enough energy to pick up a leg up and move it forward. Somehow he persevered.
One thing that kept Sitzman moving was a message left on the Epic Mountain Rowing Instagram page by his friend Landon Fick. Fick, also on the Oregon State Crew Team, told Sitzman their rowing coach was watching Sitzman’s effort via social media and his GPS tracker. That truly shows the mental power a crew coach has over his or her rowers!
A little over 24 hours since the start of his journey Sitzman finished. There was no grand celebration or triumphant post-hike speech. Sitzman took off his pack with the erg, got in his moms car, and instantly fell asleep from his sheer exhaustion. That night he flew back to school, woke up for his 6:30am practice, and completed his Monday morning erg workout with the rest of his teammates like normal.
“It felt like a weird dream,” Sitzman said. A few teammates knew what he had done, and his coach was quite proud of his effort. His muscles were so sore at this point that a typical ten minute walk to class took him thirty minutes. All in all he recovered, and can now say he has completed the Triple Crown with an erg on his back in just over 24 hours. Together, he and DeWinter raised over $10,000 for the scholarship fund.
It was 1985 when Sue McKain’s husband stumbled across the Corinthian Yacht Club newsletter that had an announcement. The newsletter stated that any woman who wanted to learn to row could show up at the University of Washington boathouse and learn. The women would then have the opportunity to race in the Opening Day Regatta against women who belonged to other yacht clubs. McKain took the opportunity and was coached by Dick Erickson for three months. “That got me hooked,” McKain said.
Before her personal start in rowing in 1985, McKain was already familiar with the sport. Her dad rowed at the University of California, Berkeley in 1931 as a Freshman. When his family moved to Los Angeles, he was on the first men’s crew team at UCLA. He was in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics trials in a coxed four. McKain’s father had a whole album dedicated to rowing photos. She remembers thumbing through the album often. “I was always fascinated by the sport,” she said.
Before coming to row for Sammamish Rowing Association (SRA) in 2015, McKain had rowed many years starting with Conibear, Seattle Yacht Club and Montlake Rowing Club. Her early days of rowing took her on many adventures including Masters FISA regattas in Scotland, France, and Italy. Just like her dad she has a thick album dedicated to preserving the memories of her ongoing rowing career. Inside were photos from practices and races, poems written by her teammates about the sport, posters from renowned regattas, crew comics, news articles, and even more precious pieces of memorabilia.
When McKain retired, she no longer had to row with a group early in the morning. Her 4:30am alarms were now in the past, and she was hoping to join a new team. That’s when Paul Harvey suggested SRA. “He and I rowed together when he was part of Ancient Mariners and I was part of the Seattle Yacht Team. He said I had to come to SRA,” McKain added.
It wasn’t only friendships and good memories that the sport gave McKain. Rowing was a way for her to keep her mind off three cancer diagnoses. McKain had skin cancer a few years ago and just this past year went through treatments for breast and thyroid cancer. Thankfully McKain is currently cancer free and still rowing! “Life doesn’t stop,” she said when discussing how she got through her treatments. “You need to have something to look forward to. Rowing provided that.”
Every day she continues to make new memories, but one of her favorite rowing memories was at the 2016 San Diego Crew Classic. “It flew by,” she said. “It was such a great row. I felt that moment where it seems so easy even though you’re working so hard. We would've won it if it wasn’t for the Chinook’s composite boat! We still felt great about getting second place. The common focus, common excitement, common support where we all trusted each other was amazing.”
Earlier this week I notified the board of directors that I will be resigning from my position as executive director to accept an opportunity with the Woodland Park Zoo as their capital campaign senior manager. The decision to leave SRA was immensely difficult for me and my family. We love SRA and the opportunities this community has afforded us personally and professionally. However, with the arrival of our daughter this past spring Whitney and I have come to realize that the work-life balance and long-term career growth at the zoo will be a better fit for us in the years ahead.
We have an incredibly competent staff and strong leadership in our board. I have offered to remain available on a volunteer basis to assist with critical tasks while the board searches for an executive director, and I am confident that our rowers will not be adversely impacted by the leadership transition.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you over the past six years. I am VERY proud of what we have accomplished together, and I am excited to see SRA continue to grow and prosper under new leadership.
From SRA Board President Dee Walker
On behalf of the Board of Directors, I want to congratulate Steven on pursuing his next step in his career, and thank him for his leadership of SRA at a critical time. While we are sorry to see him go, we respect his decision and wish him and his young family well. During Steven’s tenure, SRA has blossomed into a nationally recognized rowing community, known for its excellence on the water at all levels and ages. A long-term strategic plan, highly talented coaches and staff, a new fleet, record enrollment, and fiscal health are among the many legacies Steven leaves behind. We will miss him.
The board has appreciated the transparent and productive engagement with Steven, particularly during inevitable moments that challenge the community, including the upcoming search for his replacement. In partnership with the board, we have already set in motion ways to ease the transition and help reduce any ambiguity for staff, parents, or rowers. I would like to share with you the following steps we are taking:
First, we are grateful that Anne Corley has agreed to serve as Interim Executive Director. Anne has a long history and deep knowledge of SRA having served on the staff for the past three years, and before that on the SRA board of directors, including a term as president. Together with the help of the professional staff, Anne will keep this complex and growing organization running smoothly.
Second, Leslie Moser will lead a search committee that consists of several board members and staff. We anticipate a great deal of competition for this role from national clubs and organizations, as well as local ones. As immediate past president of SRA Leslie knows well the values and competencies we are looking for, and will work with others to bring several finalists to the full board for final consideration. The search committee and board will work transparently, expeditiously, but thoughtfully to land a new leader worthy of this great, growing community. Please send any suggestions for candidates directly to Leslie by October 1. You can contact Leslie at email@example.com
Finally, I want to thank the professional staff and coaches for their continued focus and commitment to make SRA a great experience for hundreds of rowers. We want to make sure you are fully supported during this transition so you can do what you do best: go fast and win! Please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly or any other member of the board if you have questions or concerns.
Please join me in wishing Steven well, and thanking him for his stewardship of this great community. Thanks to him, and all of you, our best days are ahead of us.