Archive for the 'Rowing' Category

Oct 25 2013

The Illustrated History of the Union Boat Club

Published by under Books,Rowing,sculling

You can't buy it (which is a shame), but the Illustrated History of the Union Boat Club has been published. My copy arrived yesterday via the mail. This is a project I was honored to help draft in the late 1980s when I was fresh from publishing The Book of Rowing with Overlook Press and had just joined Boston's Union Boat Club, the oldest rowing club in a city known for its rowing.

David Thorndike, Charlie Clapp, Cap Kane and countless UBC members contributed to the effort which took a herculean effort over a decade and half to be born. I wrote the first draft of the manuscript, picking through the club's archives, interviewing the most venerable members, and identifying the big gaps in the historical record which needed to be filled in before the project was ready for the printer. I confess to fading out of the picture for a while, but the project was revived and finally pushed over the deadline this past year, emerging as a gorgeous "coffee table" book printed privately for the membership.

Which is a shame, as I'd stack this tome against any book in the rowing history pantheon. The photography is gorgeous, the historical archive priceless.

The project was pushed by David Thorndike in the 80s as the 150th anniversary of the club approached and its first history, published at the turn of the previous century was in desperate need of an update. The club has a unique place in the history of American rowing, coming as it did in antebellum Boston at a time when Harvard and Yale were only just beginning their rivalry on the water, now the oldest intercollegiate competition in the country. The early logs are a humorous and plucky look at sporting life before spinning classes, Crossfit and paleo diets. When men obsessed more about their uniforms than actual exercise, when rowing consisted of leisurely rows up and down the tidal Charles River and through the islands of Boston Harbor, never really racing, just touring around in the novel pursuit of leisure time.

The role of the UBC in the history of American and international rowing is deep and storied. Basically emerging as an alumni club for Harvard rowers, it sent championship crews to the Henley Royal Regatta, counted nearly a dozen Olympians among its alumni, and sits, socially, at the center of Brahmin Boston, its clubhouse standing at the foot of Beacon Hill near the Hatch concert Shell. A tour of the boathouse and clubhouse is a trip back in time to the 19th century, the walls and floors permeated with the sweat of generations after generations of politicians, lawyers, bankers, surgeons and eccentric characters from another era. The club has seen its share of challenges. The state dammed up the Charles and filled in the Embankment cutting it off from the river. The club went coed in the late 80s after years of being a men's club. Rowing faded in popularity in the 60s and 70s as the sport went into a general decline, but today the place flourishes, alongside the sport, anchoring down the competitive rowing scene on the Charles, sending crews up river to do their best.

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Sep 08 2013

Indoor Rowing Makes It to the Big Leagues

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

It was only a matter of time before the exercise-cultists discovered the rowing machine, aka "ergometer", aka "erg."  I wondered why the concept of group rowing classes haven't taken off -- Chris Ives sort of pioneered the concept in the 90s, Swiss sculler Xeno Mueller has a devoted following out of his studio in Newport Beach, Josh Crosby breathed a new life into the Water Rower (the stylish piece of furniture rowed by Kevin Spacey in House of Cards) and now, thanks to Crossfit, the wheel-of-pain has come into its own as the flavor of the month for gym rats seeking the next big thing to go along with their smart wristbands and perpetual search for the new and different.

While it would be tempting to point at the Sunday New York Times Style Section article as either the moment in time when ergs came into their own .... or jumped the shark, it is good to see the misunderstood, much maligned erg make its debut in the national press as something other than a weird thing used by masochists.

You can read the piece here.

Here's where Crossfit gets credit for taking the erg out of the boathouse and into the gym:

"Why the surge in popularity? Thank CrossFit — and nearly everybody selling indoor rowing does. That craze’s high-intensity strength and conditioning workouts sometimes require ergs, and CrossFit offers rowing certification for instructors. Some CrossFit boxes, as the gyms are called, offer temporary homes for group indoor rowing start-ups as they already have the machines and the space."

My Yale buddy and fellow-rower Mike Ives gets a prominent mention in the piece:

"And on a steamy recent Tuesday at the West Side Y.M.C.A. in Manhattan, Michael Ives, 55, a former Yale rower (toting the gold medal he and his team had recently won at the Henley Masters Regatta in England) had to turn away some 10 hopefuls from one of his evening classes.

“I don’t think it’s a case of misery loves company,” Mr. Ives said. “It feels good, and it sounds good,” he added, referring to the rhythmic, almost meditative, whooshing of all of the ergs moving in unison. His class — pioneered by his younger brother Chris, widely credited with being the first to offer indoor group rowing, in 1995 — is a polished version of what crew teams might do off-season. There is no music, only the sound of Mr. Ives’s preternaturally calm voice offering pacing instructions."

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Jun 27 2013

Harry Parker God of the Charles

Published by under Rowing,sculling

I never rowed for Harry Parker, but I rowed against him, and I lost.  Since I have written on rowing, I thought it appropriate to remember the most successful coach, or at the very least, the best known, in the entire sport.

In his 50 years of coaching the Harvard men's crew, Harry had 22 undefeated seasons, about 16 unofficial national championships, and most regretfully for me, a Yalie, beat Yale 44 our of the 51 times the two colleges went head to head on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut -- that's the oldest competition in American sports.

I met him several times -- once as an applicant (I didn't get in) -- twice as a competitors (I lost both times to his crews) -- and once as a writer when I was researching The Book of Rowing. He was a difficult interview, maybe it was me, but Harry personified the word "taciturn" and was renowned for his sphinx-like demeanor among those who rowed for him on the Charles.

I'm not a sports statistician or historian, but I don't think there is another coach of any sport -- amateur, professional, collegiate -- with as long and successful career as Harry Parker's.

When I rowed the Harvard-Yale race in 1978 -- still the single hardest thing I have ever done in my life -- I spent close to 20 minutes in an oxygen-starved. lactic acid-soaked near-death state staring straight astern at Harry's craggy visage as he rode along confidently in the coaches launch as his boat pulled away with open water and kicked our ass. I literally lost my shirt.

The Harvard Gazette has a great recounting of the legend that was Harry Parker.

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Jan 27 2013

Countdown to agony

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

The indoor rowing season's first race happened this morning -- Cape Cod Rowing's Cranberry Crunch -- and I am glad to have that behind me. Nothing personally compares to the pre-race dread I feel about the 2,000 meter distance. It's short enough to demand a maximum effort sprint but long enough to punish the rower foolish enough to go out too fast with the dreaded "fly-and-die" strategy.

I finished under 7 minutes -- always the big threshold -- with a 6:53, coming in second in the master's division to a beast of a man, Rick Martin, who smoked me by ten seconds with a 6:43. This was not my best shot -- I rowed a 6:50 after Thanksgiving -- but since excuses must be made I'll blame the flu that knocked me out during the holidays. I've been underwater ever since, fighting to regain my lung capacity.

Now I have a month to get it together for the Crash-B sprints in Boston. I'll buckle down on the paleo program, keep throwing some interval work into my usual Crossfit regimen, and hopefully come closer to the increasingly dim goal of breaking 6:30 in my last year in the 50-54 heavyweight class.

 

 

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Dec 30 2012

Erg race registration reminder

If by any remote chance you are thinking about competing on the indoor rowing circuit this winter, my two favorite races are now open for registration.

Cape Cod Rowing's Cranberry Crunch, aka "The Cape Cod Indoor Rowing Championships" takes place Sunday, January 27 at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, MA. Doors open at 10, racing begins at 11:30, distance is 2,000 meters across various age groups and by gender. There is a 500 meter sprint challenge as well. Registration is at Regatta Central for $20.

And the mother of all indoor regattas, the venerable CRASH-B Sprints, aka "The World Indoor Rowing Championships", is taking place February 19, Sunday, at Boston University's Agganis Arena. Registration deadline is January 14 and costs $25 for masters, $20 for collegiate and high school rowers. The distance is 2,000 meters across lightweight and heavyweight classes for men and women. If you miss the registration there is a walk-on "bullpen" race where you show up, pull your piece and get counted against your class. This is my last year in the men's heavyweight 50-54 category and perhaps my eighth year racing at the Sprints.

 

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Dec 12 2012

Erg Playlists — 2013 edition from Row2K

I've written before about the necessity of a good playlist to make it through a winter's worth of erg rowing. Now that I am training for the CRASH-B sprints (Feb. 17 in Boston, registration now open until Jan 7), I back to messing around with playlists on my android phone.

Row2k -- the best source of all rowing news online -- has a feature on erg playlists and a poll to vote for your favorite (I voted for Rammstein's Du Hast as it is prominent on my go-to list and is utterly teutonic sturm und drang). I also respect the Rage Against the Machine on Row2k's list, but have to puke on Jackson Brown. Now to go compile this sucker off of Amazon and load it up for my next bout with the Wheel of Pain.

If you row and you read Row2k you owe them a contribution. Send them $60 and get an awesome t-shirt. No site matches the depth of their coverage, the completeness of their calendar, the awesomeness of the features, the relevance of their news and the usefulness of their classifieds.

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Nov 25 2012

The erg beckons…..part 2

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

As part of my annual and irrational race against age, I did the second 2,000 meter test on the erg yesterday, and cut eight seconds from the first a week before.

I pulled a 6:50.1, averaging 1:42.5 per/500 meters, five seconds faster than the 6:55 I set out to row in my quest to break 6:30 by mid-February. I tried to negative split the piece, but as I always do, I started too fast -- pulling 1:28 over the first 100 meters before settling down and finishing the first quarter of the piece at an average 1:40 pace.

I settled down more to a 1:44 for the second 500 meters, went into the pain cave at the mid-point and maintained another 1:44, but brightened up and flogged a 1:41.3 to finish the last 500 meters in a grunting sprint of ugliness.

My coach Mark is determined to get these last 20 seconds standing between me and my goal stripped away, and is emailing me nutritional advice. His demand that I start "eating like a man" is duly noted. The pecan pie remnants are in the trash, no more obsessive-compulsive carrot stick crap, just back to the  paleo diet and some common sense.

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Aug 02 2012

Olympic Rowing 2012: the US Women do it again

Published by under General,Rowing

I woke up this morning, and before climbing out of bed, turned on my phone's Olympics app and tuned into the finals of the Women's eights just in time to see the US win its second gold medal in two games. My daughter's classmate, Ellie Logan, is a member of the team, so it was very cool to see her on the medal stand a second time.

The highlight of Beijing was watching her crew win their first gold at Shunyi, and to stand in the grandstands as the Star Spangled Banner was played, bellowing the words with my friend Mike Mann while the Chinese fans all around us took our picture.

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Apr 27 2012

And they’re off …. Worst Rowing Start Ever

Published by under Rowing,sculling

There's a reason they call them "the Bumps...."

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What's with the demented squirrel?

Some background from the man who wrote THE goddamn Book of Rowing:

The "Torpids" or "Bumps" are a traditional rowing contest conducted on the River Isis (part of the Thames) in England every Spring. Because the Isis is too narrow to permit side-by-side starts, the crew start about a length and a half apart, with the coxswains (the little people who steer the boats) holding onto ropes secured to the river bank. Everyone starts at once -- when a gun or horn is sounded -- and the object is to row as quickly as one can and "bump" the boat ahead of you.  If bumped you keep on rowing with the possibility of being bumped again. If you are the bumper, then you get to stop rowing and somehow advance up the ladder towards being King of the River. Or something like that.

You try to figure the rules out from Wikipedia. I can't.

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Apr 07 2012

Shock and Oar

Published by under Rowing

The Boat Race, the oldest collegiate athletic competition in the world, delivered a first today in its 157 years of racing down the Thames Tideway when an swimmer popped up in the middle of the course between the Oxford and Cambridge crews and brought the race to a confusing halt.

Keep in mind this is a quintessential eccentric English sporting event, part of the holy circle that includes Ascot, Wimbledon and Henley -- televised live on the BBC, bet fervently on, and followed with excruciating detail in the months leading up the way Americans might obsess about the Superbowl.

Broadcast live on BBC America, the Boat Race is finally accessible to American rowing fans -- fitting given about 50% of the rowers are American ex-pats sitting in ringers' seats.

I settled in with a cup of coffee -- kicking my wife off of the couch and her usual morning diet of Real Housewives and Ru Paul Drag Racing -- and watched with some sense of dreadful nervous empathy as the two crews lined up in the starting blocks and prepared for four miles of hell. The typical collegiate rowing race is 2,000 meters and is over in about six minutes; hence those races are called sprints. Oxford/Cambridge and Harvard/Yale fight it out, boat to boat, over 4 miles in 20 minutes -- basically three and a half 2,000 meter sprints in one long grueling go, with the boat-to-boat pressure incredible for the rowers as they are constantly aware of whether they are leading or losing every hard stroke along the way.

For the non-rower, a rowing race is beyond dull. The sport is about consistency and impeccable timing, and after ten strokes of eight big men in a little boat you've about seen it all you need to see. Not today. This race suddenly erupted in a flash of spray and clashing oars as some "twat" (as the twitter hashtag "#boatrace" instantly dubbed him) popped up under Oxford's port-side oars, just missing decapitation by a carbon fiber Concept2 hatchet blade.

The referee called a halt. Ten confused minutes later, with the streaking/swimmer in custody on a police boat, the two crews were lined up below the island and given a running start with about 7 minutes to row to the finish. For the rowers, flooded with lactic acid and already in agony, the wait in the cold wind must have be nasty, but off they went, in a hard charging re-start.

One minute later, while the referee was constantly warning Oxford to stay away from Cambridge, the two boats clashed and Oxford snapped an oar. Disaster number two and pretty much Race Over. Cambridge pulled ahead, Oxford limped along, the bladeless rower sadly going back and forth with nothing but an impotent handle in his hand. Chuffed, I switched off the telly.

The race ended up with Cambridge winning by five lengths, no official time was taken, no presentation made, and in general the whole affair ended sadly and with a whimper despite being dubbed the most dramatic in Race history.

That's about as amazing as it gets in rowing. Soccer has its World Cut head butts. NASCAR its crashes. Rowing got a swimmer today. I can't wait to see what Fleet Street does to the swimming idiot once he gets identified. Update: the douchenozzle is named Trenton Oldfield and here is his feeble manifesto.

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Mar 17 2012

Personal Analytics: Track Thy Self

I've been logging my physical activities and diet for a while, moving from spreadsheets to programs to web-apps to device apps in search of the best way to keep consistent track of my progress in the belief that if I don't measure it, I won't stick with it.

One of my former rowing coaches, Tom Bohrer, an amazing oarsman and former Olympic-level athlete, told me the first step towards success in losing weight is to log every bite. The discipline of noting what one puts in one's mouth forces an awareness of what is on the plate and the high number of random, thoughtless calories that can creep onto the plate during the day. Tom had me write it down in a simple $1.00 spiral notebook and not bother with calories counts, ounces and grams, or totals. Just have the honesty to admit to the bag of Swedish Fish and the courage to show that transgression to him every week.

In this Moneyball era, some sports are very number/goal based and others are getting more so. Any of the racing sports -- swimming, rowing, running are stark time-over-distance efforts that can be timed, charted, and plotted over time.  Team sports -- football or lacrosse for example -- are subjective and don't lend themselves to improvement-metrics the way baseball does.

I'm most interested in the trend of personal tracking and the rise of technology that allows a person to track every step taken during the day, every session completed on the machine, every moment spent in deep sleep, down to blood glucose levels. Tim Ferris' bestselling The Four Hour Body exemplifies the degree to which a person with enough motivation and money can obsessively test one's self. This is a guy who flies to Central America where he can gets a lot of expensive tests performed cheaply. A guy who is open to any device or toy that will help him plot performance and levels over time.

I learned the discipline of logging early on thanks to the early efforts of Concept2 -- the Vermont maker of the Concept 2 rowing ergometer, the standard indoor rowing machine adopted by most teams because of its high quality and very capable digital monitor, a device called the PM4 which was developed for Concept2 by the Pennsylvania company Nielsen & Kellerman who also make monitors for on-the-water rowing and portable meteorological instruments. Concept2 was smart in opening up the code interface to the PM monitor and equipping it with a USB and ethernet jack. Third party software such as RowPro followed, giving devoted rowers and coaches even more data about their performance. Concept2's smartest move, in my opinion, was serving up an online logbook that allows a rower to enter their workouts and compare themselves on public leaderboards against other rowers of the same weight, gender, age over set benchmark times and distances. The online logbook at Concept2.com sees billions of meters logged every year, and gives a disciplined rower a clear sense of progress and goals.

For more than a year I have been logging my diet through a free tool offered by the Livestrong Foundation called MyPlate.  The web-service is designed and managed by Demand Media and is buried in a content site that delivers nutrition and health stories and social network functions which I pretty much ignore.

The calorie tracker combines the functions of a log book with a deep database of calorie counts and nutritional levels for essentially any food one could imagine, including branded food such as a quarter cup of Trader Joe's organic dried white peaches to a Five Guys Bacon Double Cheeseburger. I can combine ingredients into standard meals to ease the logging of frequently eaten combinations, set nutritional targets ranging from the amount of sodium to the number of net calories consumed per day, and log and plot my weight, body mass index, and specific physical measurements such as the diameter of my neck, check and abdomen over time. MyPlate will calculate calorie levels to achieve specific weight loss or gain goals and does a good job of plotting progress on X,Y charts. A subscription version offers richer functionality.

To log my exercise progress -- I could and do use MyPlate as it calculates calories expended and deducts those from my gross calorie count. Hence I can log a two mile run at 13 minutes, 43 seconds, and it will cough up a calorie expense of 438 and subtract that from the inputs.

Since I am spending most of my workout time in Crossfit -- I also need to track my performance and progress against a lot of benchmarks ranging from my personal records for weight lifting such as deadlifts, back squats, snatches, presses and cleans, as well as specific Crossfit workouts such with names like Fran and Kelly. I had been logging that work in a paper notebook I leave at the gym, but a fellow crossfitter introduced me to a site called Beyondthewhiteboard.com which does an excellent job of letting me log my progress against my gym's prescribed daily workouts. There is a food logging capability on the site, but it isn't driven by a crowd-sourced calorie database, so I tend to ignore it. I do throw my weight in there though to keep a record of progress there as well.

The Four Hour Body piqued my curiosity about the role of supplements in physical well being and improvement. Ferris prescribes some fairly outre tips ranging from his so-called PAGG Stack (policasonol, alpha-lipoic acid, garlic extract and green tea extract) to induce a state of fat-burning thermogenesis , to eating three brazil nuts in the morning and at night to improve selenium levels and testosterone production. I personally agree with the man who said people who take vitamin supplements have the most expensive pee in the world, but I also spend a lot of cash on stuff ranging from Omega-3 fish oil to all sorts of pills, protein powders and vitamins. Since I don't have the free cash to spend on a lot of blood tests to see exactly what is going on in my metabolism I take this stuff as an article of faith.

A good source of deep and usually impenetrable advice about supplements comes from the forums at Longecity.com which is where I learned about the online log service, CRON-O-Meter. This service is essentially MyPlate taken to another level of specificity for total nutrition geeks with automated tracking of very specific vitamin and protein information for those who believe food is essentially culinary pharmaceuticals and who like to geek out by reading every word of Dr. Barry Sears, the Zone diet founder or Gary Taubes, the au courant dispeller of the why we get fat myth. I tried CRON-O-Meter for a while, but I'm just not that anal retentive or well-heeled to figure out if I need more lysine or niacin or vitamin D in my life and then buy it.

Rising in popularity are sleep monitors as the fitness-measurers are pushing the idea that sleep quality and duration has a big effect on health, recovery from exercise, and general well-being.  The owner of my Crossfit gym, Mark Lee has been using a sleep monitor, and there are some that track the time it takes you to fall asleep, how many times a night you wake up, when you go into deep sleep, etc..  One brand I'm aware of is Zeo with a $150 bedside setup.

Then there are the new breed of pedometer like devices that track every step, capture all the data, and can be uploaded and tracked online. Fitbit is probably the best know of these, and at a $100 seems reasonable enough as it also purports to track sleep but I'm not compelled to wear one on my belt.

One can obviously go overboard on the personal tracking obsession and I know I am coming close to being too geeky about the whole thing, but you can expect to see and hear about more of it, not less, as awareness over dietary and supplement chemistry rises thanks to people like Tim Ferris; the paleo diet craze expands because of Reebok's commercial embrace of Crossfit "the Sport of Fitness (Crossfit, aka "Cultfit" to its detractors, embraces paleo principles as part of the program); and the device makers push their meters, gauges, wireless scales and pedometers at you more and more.

My personal testimony to whether any of the tracking works is this: I've dropped 50 pounds in 18 months, cholesterol levels have plummeted (I took myself off prescribed statins and have yet to see if I can manage my HDL/LDL levels through diet and exercise alone), and I eat a fairly strict paleo diet that restricts calories to around the 2,000 per day level. My rowing times are as good, if not better than they were ten years ago, and my running times have improved from a sluggish ten-minute mile pace to a 7 minute mile in a matter of months. Yes, this is insanely narcissistic, but it is efficient, it beats the old method of carrots and cottage cheese, little paper calorie counter books, and endless jogs around the block with a daily visit to the bathroom scale.

 

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Feb 21 2012

Armchair rowing

Published by under Rowing

The CRASH-B Sprints happened this past Sunday. I was 200 miles to the north driving around a snowless Vermont, my messed-up bicep still in its Tron-brace. At one point, as my wife and I drove through Stowe and Morrisville, home to the company that makes the standard racing ergometer, Concept 2, I realized my heat was underway and a few dozen poor fifty-somethings were suffering a very hard 2,000 meter race. Later in the day, when I found WiFi, I saw that the winning time was a blistering 6 minutes, 11.4 seconds,  35 seconds faster than my last time trial back in December. That 6:44 would have been good enough for a 13th place, assuming I didn't improve in the intervening two months.

Now I have 12 months to get recover, re-train, and set my sights on my last remaining year in the 50-54 heavyweight division. Water rowing certainly would be happening right now given this clement winter and some beautifully smooth water the past few weeks, but I don't think I'll have the all-clear until May at least.

 

 

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Feb 13 2012

The Erg Will Not Be Denied

Published by under Rowing

I admit it, I am not happy to be sitting out the indoor rowing racing season. I limped out of the Agganis Arena last February unhappy with my performance at the Crash-B's, joined the local Crossfit gym, and worked my ass off for 12 months with the unreasonable goal of winning a yellow hammer in the 50-59 heavyweight class. I was on track to deliver a good time this year, but it wasn't to be.

Then pop goes the distal bicep tendon and I've had to scratch all two-armed activities for a few months. I recently returned to the gym and have learned the erg can be done with one arm. I don't do a lot of this -- mostly 250 to 1,000 meter intervals. This was shot at the end of a 15 minute workout consisting of 250 meter rows interspersed with 60 single-under jump ropes. I managed ten rounds and can hold a 1:55 - 2:00 split if I work at it. The trick is figuring out what to do with the useless arm.

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Now for 2013.

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Dec 02 2011

Modern Muzak

Muzak, also known as Elevator Music, has always been a great joke. Hearing a Steely Dan tune like "Do It Again" while leafing through a six-month old issue of Field & Stream at the dentist is its own special circle of hell, especially when the mind starts getting infected and singing along silently to the bowdlerized tune ("Back, Jack, Do it Again ...."). And many a great movie has used elevator music to great comic effect. My favorite being Dawn of the Dead (yes, it's Zombie week at Churbuck.com).

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Muzak, at least the true commercial version, is supposed to have a specific effect on the listener. According to the Wikipedia:

"Elevator music is typically set to a very simple melody, so that it can be unobtrusively looped back to the beginning. In a mall or shopping center, elevator music of a specific type has been found to have a psychological effect: slower, more relaxed music tends to make people slow down and browse longer."

Which brings me to my constant musing about the effect that background music has on certain behaviors. I've written in the past* about the way that certain music can improve my ergometer results while other songs effectively kill it. This isn't your usual athletic lockeroom get-psyched cliche music.  I'm not referring to Eye of the Tiger or House of Pain's Jump Around. That Rocky soundtrack stuff isn't what gets my 500 meter splits down an additional two seconds. Indeed, there is some academic research that confirms that some music can improve aerobic results but I'm too lazy at the moment to hunt it down.

When I tended bar it was a given that loud music drove alcohol consumption higher.  At some point in the evening the manager would always step in back, find the big volume control, and crank it when the joint was good and buzzed. Of course the din made it impossible to hear some desperate dipsomaniac shout an order over the heads of her fellow patrons for a pina colada, a peach daiquiri and a sloe gin fizz shortly after midnight on a Saturday night when the only thing that would keep the bar out of the weeds was sloshing wine into glasses and pulling drafts out of the taps. "What?! What?!" we'd shout, handing over a napkin and a pencil with a shrug and the implied suggestion to write it down. Obviously loud music made it difficult to conduct a conversation and all that shouting of "WHAT?" led to a subtle anxiety that could only be slaked by another drink and another drink after that.

Silent restaurants are spooky. I suppose a low volume soundtrack gives one the illusion of being in a sound bubble where one's conversation can't be overheard by the next table.

When I was writing unpublished novels and short stories in great earnest during college, I found I could only enter that special creative zone if there was music playing. Loud music. Something about writing to rock and roll got me into a typing groove. I can read fiction with soft music in the background -- jazz, etc. -- but can't concentrate on academic level stuff if there are lyrics involved -- the word absorption gets mixed up.

My big revelation, and this goes to the post's headline, is my re-discovery of the Ambient genre and how perfectly it suits a day of concentration. In the mid-70s, when I was a college student, I had two roommates with very eccentric tastes in avant garde music. I'm talking stuff by Morton Subotnick, Sun Ra, Stomu Yamashta and most memorably, Brian Eno, in particular his Ambient 1: Music for Airports. For some reason, ambient is way back on my personal playlist these days.

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I think of Eno as the father of ambient music -- he's a genius at elevating background noise from elevators and waiting rooms to high art. Another godfather of ambient has to be Vangelis, particularly his soundtrack for Blade Runner:

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So, it's strange as I age that my taste is music is not the chestnuts from my youth; one more rendition of Freebird or Green Grass and High Tides Forever and I'll lose it. What's surprising me is how my tastes have swung to utterly obscure musicians I would never have encountered were it not for the random intelligence behind Last.fm. So, with that said, here's some names that deserve to be checked out. This is great music to plug into in the background when you've got other things to do.

  • Aphex Twin
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  • Eskmo ( a favorite video)
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  • Lorn
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  • Boards of Canada (note the YouTube comment, "The Ultimate Homework-Doing Music")
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  • Carbon Based Lifeforms
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  • Loscil
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  • Stendeck
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  • Totakeke
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  • Monolake
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  • Robot Koch
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*: My erg playlist, from 2006 pretty much is holding firm. Suggestions always welcome as "erg playlist" seems to be a top search term driving people to this blog.

  1. Scum of the Earth: Rob Zombie
  2. Who Was in My Room Last Night: The Butthole Surfers
  3. Jesus Built my Hot Rod: Ministry
  4. Ain’t my Bitch: Metallica
  5. Rusty Cage: Soundgarden
  6. Sex Type Thing: Stone Temple Pilots
  7. New World Order: Ministry
  8. Hey Man, Nice Shot: Filter
  9. My Own Summer – Deftones
  10. Astro-Creep: White Zombie
  11. Them Bones: Alice in Chains
  12. Time Bomb: Godsmack
  13. Blizzards, Buzzards, Bastards: Scissorfight
  14. Du Hast: Rammstein
  15. God Save the Queen: Sex Pistols
  16. You Think I’m Not Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire, Queens of the New Stone Age
  17. Jump Around: House of Pain
  18. Liberate: Slipknot
  19. She Sells Sanctuary: The Cult
  20. California Uber Alles: The Dead Kennedys

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Oct 24 2011

Row, row, row the boat

Published by under Rowing

Great Head of the Charles -- light wind, smooth water, and a boat that came together surprisingly well for one that hadn't rowed together as a crew before a single practice on Friday afternoon. The event was the Senior Master's Eights -- a 40+ fleet of boat with an average age of 50 or more -- consisting primarily of alumni boats representing past Olympic teams, college classes, and boat clubs. I filled a seat in the Northern Virginia Rowing Association's eight, on the portside four-oar.

from Row2K

(I am fourth from the top in the grey baseball cap, hitting my catch woefully early)

Great race as the crew improved their time over last year's, and personally it felt more than good to just get a chance to participate in the world's largest two day rowing regatta.

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Aug 08 2011

More Hydrofoil coolness

Published by under Rowing,sculling

Tom Friel -- fellow master's sculler and former boat-mate at Brooks in the 70s -- shared this cool video of a Yale project to fit a single scull with hydrofoils.

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Jun 30 2011

Sean Maloney’s Rowing Recovery

Published by under Rowing,sculling

I met Sean Maloney in Beijing in 2008 during the Olympics. A fellow rower, he had just returned from a row down the course at Shunyi, something I was insanely jealous of as my colleague Alice Li hooked him up with a boat and permission. I didn't get a chance to row in China, but the expression on Sean's face as the conversation changed from business to rowing made up for it as he described the awesome feeling of rowing down the lanes where the world's best would compete in a few days.

Viewed as one of the top talents in Intel's executive ranks and the likely successor for the top job, Sean suffered a stroke in 2010. The doctors said he wouldn't row again, so he got in a boat and proved them wrong, competing in the 2010 Head of the Charles.

This video is him telling the tale of rowing and his recovery. I have to say, one year later, he sculls better than I do and has a great finish.

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Jun 21 2011

Training for the Charles in Cotuit

Published by under General,Rowing,sculling

I remembered yesterday that the deadline for entering the Head of the Charles Regatta is coming up soon, so I logged into the HOCR.org site and filed an application for one of the precious slots in the Grand Master Singles scull event. I was lucky enough to score an entry in 2003, pulling a dismal 23'03" and finishing second-from last in a field of 39 senior masters. I had my excuses -- it was my first Head alone, sculling (I've always participated in a team boat with at least four rowers), and I had a torn intercostal muscle in my right rib-cage, necessitating a massive overdose of Advil on the dock.

Update 8.3.11: Entry wasn't accepted by the HOCR Gods so no Head of the Chuck this year for me. I did enter the Green Mountain Head in Putney, Vermont though. Better scenery.

Excuses, excuses and hope springs eternal. So once more I am crossing my fingers and hoping for an entry in this fall's regatta, arguably the greatest rowing event in the world.

Application filed, I woke up this solstice morning to bluebird skies and zero wind. I set out the trash cans, drank a cup of coffee, and ten minutes later was backing away from the beach at the foot of Old Shore Road in my old Empacher. I set out around Grand Island in a counter-clockwise direction, rowing a slow stroke rate with firm power, cranking along on a mirror-like surface completely pleased to be able to do such a graceful thing on a whim on what I parochially consider the best rowing water I've ever rowed on. 8,000 meters and 43 minutes later, and I was pleased to see my average pace at at the same level it was eight years ago in 2003, a good harbinger I hope of some fall regatta success.

Funny, but in the back of my mind looms February and the 2012 CRASH-B sprints, the world championships of indoor rowing. Every pull-up, every overhead power snatch, kettlebell swing and burpee I've done this spring has been with that ugly six and a half minutes of agony in mind. To see them payoff on the water is very rewarding, but for some reason the boat is far more arbitrary a gauge than the merciless ergometer.

Training for the Head of the Charles is a matter of working towards a 5 km distance. Funny how the presence of 100,000 cheering spectators seems to shave a minute or two off the time -- but to give you and idea of what I'm up against. Here's the course on the Charles River as mapped in the g-map pedometer:

And here's the same distance mapped on Cotuit Bay:

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Apr 11 2011

The Real Deal: water rowing resumes

Published by under Rowing,sculling

My rowing club, the Union Boat Club in Boston, has a rule for cold-weather rowing called the "Four-Oar Rule." It's simple, makes sense, and is safe. When the water is under 50 degrees fahrenheit no one can go out on the Charles alone in a single scull, or together in a two-oared pair. The only safe combination is two people in two singles, or four people in a four, or two people in a double (two oars each). It's all about the capsize effect and hypothermia. While thankfully rare, capsizes do happen (I average one or two a year, usually because I hit something because I'm not looking over my shoulder every twenty strokes or so) and are real inconveniences to recover from.  First is the shock effect of rolling into the water after working away and building up a good sweat in the sunshine; the next thing you know you're blowing bubbles under water trying to get your feet out of the sneakers screwed into the foot stretchers.

Having that happen in cold water is not something I ever want to experience, so I tend to be wimpy and stay off of Cotuit Bay until some point in the spring when conditions feel just right -- warm temperatures, calm water -- to make my annual shakedown cruise.

That day came late this year, only this past Saturday, April 9. And this morning the email came in from the Union Boat Club that the Four-Oar Rule has been lifted.

I had an exceptional row -- considering it was the first of 2011 and my hands lack the required calluses - - and right from the first full stroke a few yards off of the Lowell's beach I could tell the past two months of CrossFit and the million of erg meters before that are going to pay off in a big way in terms of control and power.

I'll start following the CrossFit Endurance program which blends the six weekly workouts of the day with three rowing workouts that take place at least three hours after the Xfit WOD.  I'll shoot for one 2,000 meter time trial per month and start training for next year's CRASH-B's in earnest.

I find myself thinking of the current world champion, Michele Marullo, during the worst parts of the Crossfit workouts, and just when I am about to toss the towel and bag that one extra burpee, I think: "What would Marullo do?" Competitive impulses are a bitch.

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Apr 06 2011

The Body is Evil and Must Be Punished

Published by under General,Rowing,sculling

As I finished the indoor rowing season with February's CRASH-B sprints, I considered the dead-spot in my fitness/self-abuse calendar between erg season and  when on- the-water rowing can resume without too much risk of killing myself with a hypothermic capsize on Cotuit Bay. More erging was not an option - I've got 1.3 million meters logged in since June and don't feel the need to pile on any more.

It was obvious to me after the CrashB's, that if I am going to move to the front tier of master's rowers next year I need to focus on sheer strength. My cardio-vascular/VO2 max capacity is fine, my legs and lower body are fine, it's all the rest that needs to go to the next level. Whaling away, an hour a day, on a machine as specific and restrictive as the erg is the very definition of putting oneself into a rut. I needed some cross-training, some exposure to some different routines, and the traditional gym wasn't going to cut it.

Me swinging the kettlebell

So the solution was to join Cape Cod Crossfit.

I've blogged about Crossfit in the past -- I took it up on my own in the spring of 2008 and stuck with it until the following winter when a torn rotator cuff knocked me out of action. The program - or cult, or whatever you want to call it -- was started in the late 1990s by former gymnast Greg Glassman in a couple bays of an industrial park in Santa Cruz. The philosophy is pretty basic and can be stated in 100 words:

"Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, clean & jerk, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouetts, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports."

I took to Crossfit because it can be done solo -- without paying dues or showing up, or worrying about how you look when you do it in a crowd. It prizes fundamental, primitive exercise. No fancy Nautilus machines or stair-steppers or spinning classes. You pick heavy stuff up and put it down. If you can use your own weight to good effect - think a classic pull-up or push-up -- then that's the way to go.  Crossfit also loves the Concept2 ergometer (which is how I became aware of the program in the first place), and more and more Crossfit-trained athletes are starting to dominate the world indoor rowing rankings.

Crossfit happens six days a week in a former Blockbuster store in an upscale strip mall in the next-door town of Mashpee. A big welded pull up rack runs down the center. A couple dozen plywood jumping boxes, four ergometers, an array of cast iron kettlebells, and about 20 Olympic free-weight bars. Add in some gymnastic rings, a couple floor-to-ceiling ropes, and a lot of jump ropes and you pretty much have the classic Crossfit gym or "box."

I prefer the 6:30 am session which starts with a "warm-up" that would be most people's workout.  Burpees (the most evil calisthenic devised), kettlebell swings, wall-ball throws, and 500 meters of rowing gets me far more than just "warmed-up."

The workouts vary wildly from day to day.  Running one day, shoulders the next. Some take a half hour to perform, some five minutes. They are nearly always done as a group and against the clock, so there is an element of competition involved.

Today we did the workout of the day (or WOD) known as "Diane" (standard Crossfit workouts have female names for some reason). This consisted of doing 21-15-9 repetitions of deadlifts and handstand push-ups for time. I loaded the bar with 225 pounds and did the handstands from a kneeling position on a tall jumping box (modifications are permitted and strongly advised). The owner/coach Mark Lee walked everyone through 20 minutes of instruction on how to perform a proper deadlift and pushup, then he set the clock and counted down "Three-Two-One" and I was off.

Lifting 225 pounds off the floor to a standing, hanging position 45 times is not a trivial pursuit. Alternating those lifts with a blood-rush-to-the-head handstand is just plain mean.

I finished just under 7 minutes, stretched out on the floor and was home by 7:30.

Two months in and I am definitely feeling a serious difference. Soon I'll start mixing in rowing workouts and begin testing myself against the 2,000 meter distance.

Marc Monplaisir, a fellow masters rower, is blogging about his experience with Crossfit and rowing.

 


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