Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#GivingTuesday: Why I’m Encouraging You to Give Something that Isn’t Money Today



A challenging aspect of supporting a cause is that a lot of the time it requires you to make your fellow human beings a little uncomfortable. Think about the kids flagging you down on the street to talk about their cause. The cashier who asks you if you’d like to give a dollar to support the store’s charity as a line of folks wait behind you. The often plaintive pictures of suffering that accompany donation letters and infomercials.

Sometimes we’re uncomfortable because we know we’re not supposed to say what we’re thinking: “I already have plans for the time or the money that you’re asking me for.” Sometimes it’s because we know that although the idea of a cause might be good, we’re not sure how what we’re being asked to give is going to translate into the end goal.

Rowers and athletes succeed because we know how to sit with discomfort. We also succeed by seeing our end goals and seeing how our actions move us forward towards achieving them.

Today, on Giving Tuesday, I am asking you to consider giving a gift that fits in that uncomfortable category. It is also a gift that will unequivocally help save lives.


Be The Match is our national bone marrow registry. To register to be listed in it takes about 15 minutes and swabbing the inside of your cheek with a few Q-tips. That’s it.


What does the registry – and what do bone marrow transplants – do?

The registry works to match blood cancer patients with related and unrelated healthy people who have similar genes. If matched, the healthy people are then asked to make a donation – through either a blood donation or through a bone marrow donation, where a very small amount of marrow is taken from the donor’s hip bone – to the patient.


When a leukemia, lymphoma, or other blood cancer patient receives a bone marrow transplant, they receive more years of life and the chance at a higher quality of life for those years, whether the donation and accompanying treatment cure the cancer or not.

Registering is a big ask, even though only about 1 out of every 1,200 registry members will be matched to a patient in need. It’s uncomfortable to think about being asked to help support or save someone else’s life. It’s uncomfortable to think about the 70 percent of patients in need who do not find a donor in time. And it’s uncomfortable to think about how we would feel, standing in their shoes.

But we — rowers and athletes alike — are okay with feeling discomfort when we know how it will motivate us and inspire us to our goal. It’s how the daunting, the seemingly impossible, is achieved. We know how to believe.

So please consider registering today. You can sign up here and visit this page to learn more about Be The Match

In strength,
Esther and the Team Byron

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Get Lean and Strong: The Rowing Machine



Rowing machine. Rower. Ergometer. Erg. Whatever you call it*, the erg is your best choice for a full-body workout, whether strength, weight loss, or fitness is your goal.


Rowing is a "strength-endurance" sport - physiologically, it's like lifting a weight again and again and again. It's not pure strength – all those "reps" limit the amount that you can lift. But neither is it pure endurance – all that weight will put a cap on the number of reps. Because it's both – and because rowing is a full-body motion – you can use rowing to enhance a wide variety of training dimensions.

*FYI: the usual term for a rowing machine is an “erg”.

JBSC (Just Burning Some Calories): Rowing for Fitness


If calorie burn is your goal, rowing to lose weight is a great option. Rowing machines are used by many trainers (and are featured on shows such as The Biggest Loser) because training on rowing machines burns more calories per hour than just about any other activity. Three critical elements: rowing with correct form, easing into rowing as 100% of your workout, and adding variety so that you don't get bored.

Rowing correctly


Check out Concept2's how-to or (shameless self-promotion) my NYTimes Well.Blog video for a quick intro to the rowing stroke. Ideally, get a friend who knows how to row to show you how, or check out a class at a rowing gym for actual instruction. If you're using correct rowing technique, it should feel challenging, but not like you're going to die after two minutes. Aim to take between 20 and 24 strokes per minute and try to go at least 5 to 10 minutes straight before taking it easy for a minute. The "fan setting" on the side of the machine, if there is one, should be at around 4. (Setting the fan at 10 will not give you a better workout on the rowing machine!) Adjust the feet height so that the straps run across the widest part of your foot.

Easing into it


If you've never run for a long (or short) distance before, the smart thing to do is run for a few minutes, walk for a minute, and repeat. Eventually, you'll be able to take shorter and shorter breaks until you can run continuously. The same goes for rowing. Aim for consistency, good form, and simple, strong strokes. Start out aiming to get in 20 minutes of rowing with 5 minutes of "paddling", or easy rowing (total workout length: 25 minutes). Break up the 25 minutes as 1 minute paddle, 4 minutes rowing, and repeat. Warm up before and foam roll/stretch after. Your legs, back and shoulders will thank you for it!

Add variety


The erg screen/monitor (right) and what it means!
Especially once you start getting comfortable with longer sessions on the rowing machine, you'll want to mix it up. The two ways to do this are stroke rating -- how many strokes you take per minute, usually between 20 and 30 -- and power, which you can monitor through your split -- the time it takes you to row 500 meters. Try breaking up your session into pyramids of different ratings or power - or both. For example, row 19 minutes as 4'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3'-4' at stroke ratings 22-24-26-28-26-24-22. Go faster (decrease your time per 500 meters, that is, your "split") as you increase the stroke rating.

Them Backs Though: Power Rowing


Rowing helps with Olympic-caliber strength (David Banks, left) and more power and endurance in your WODs (right).

It's no secret that rowers have some pretty nice backs. And legs. And arms. And abs. Part of that is that aside from rowing, most competitive rowers incorporate a good amount of strength training and core work into their training plans. But the rowing stroke is a great way to increase your "pull" strength and complements many Olympic lifts and related muscle chains. The keys: form and power.

Correct rowing machine technique


Check out the videos above for a visual on form. Even if you're rowing for power and strength, skip the underhand or alternating grip. The idea is to compress with a supported, upright body towards the flywheel, and then drive out powerfully with your legs, layering in a dynamic body swing and the arms finishing the stroke. Think 60-70 percent legs, 20-30 percent body, 10 percent arms. Just like a power clean or a high pull from the ground, the arms are mostly important for connecting the work you started with your legs and your back to the bar (or in this case, the erg handle). On the "drive", the powerful part of the stroke, you should feel engagement in your quads, glutes, core, and lats, and mostly be feeling the contact points of your feet on the footplate and the handle in your hands (more than your butt on the seat).

Power rowing


Some of the muscles activated in the rowing stroke. Image courtesy of GymNomads.

To build strength on the rowing machine, focus on taking powerful strokes at a low stroke rating. You will be able to do this at ANY fan setting; the harder you work, the stronger the machine's resistance will be. Do sets of 10-30 strokes as powerfully as you can with correct form, then "paddle" to recover for 10 strokes. Aim for a total of 80-120 strokes to start.  This is a work-recovery pattern similar to that of football, rugby, lacrosse, and many other sports: short bursts of power followed by some rest. Power-focused rowing is a great addition to just about any lifting program.

Rowing for Endurance and Cross-Training


It's always a hot debate whether rowers, swimmers, or cross-country skiers are the fittest athletes of all. (It's rowers, obviously.) Besides burning calories and building power, rowing is a great way to improve your endurance, whether your end goal is more rowing or another sport entirely. Rowing for running? Rowing for triathlon? Rowing for Ironman? Rowing to help your 10K, half-marathon, or marathon training? Rowing because you are recovering from a sports injury? Rowing will get you fitter! The keys are: good technique and breathing.



Rowing technique


Because rowing is a full-body workout, it's a great training supplement and even recovery tool to help you get in good training and strengthen your non-sport-specific muscle and endurance systems. If you've tweaked a foot or other body part in your training, rowing may allow you to keep training while giving that a rest. Check out the videos above and descriptions of good rowing technique to get started.

Breathing while rowing


Don't forget to breathe!

Whether you use rowing for interval training or to log miles, it will improve your aerobic system. Your goal while rowing should be to keep breathing well by sitting up and supporting your upper body. Most rowers take two breaths per stroke. Take a breath, roll up to the "catch", exhale on the "drive" (which will help you engage your core), then breathe in and out as your arms and body come back up the recovery. Then breathe in again as you roll up to the catch. Timing your breathing to the stroke, just like running, swimming, and cycling, will help you practice relaxation and efficiency.

Rowing Workouts to Lose Weight, Build Strength, and Get Fit

Power Rowing

  •       Minute On, Minute Off. 5 minute warm-up: paddle, get loose, and take a few hard 10s (driving hard, get the stroke rating up between 25 and 30 for 10 strokes). Workout: 1 minute "on", driving hard at stroke rate 28, then 1 minute "off", paddling at stroke rate 20. Do 10 interval sets (20 minutes total). 5 minute cool down. PRO TIP: Try to match your speed or go a little faster each "on" interval.
  •       1, 2, 3 Pyramid. Workout: 3'-2'-1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' "on", with one minute paddle between each interval (i.e., 3’ on, 1’ off, 2’ on, 1’ off, etc.) Do your 3-minute pieces at stroke rate 22, 2-minute pieces at 24, and 1-minute pieces at 26. PRO TIP: If you're worried about keeping track of what piece you're on, use the menu [Select Workout: Intervals: Variable] to set up the whole workout ahead of time.
  •       Rugby Workout. 5 minute warm-up: : paddle, get loose, and take a few hard 10s (driving hard, get the stroke rating up between 25 and 30 for 10 strokes). Workout: 1250m - 750m - 500m - 250m - 750m. All pieces are at max. Rest between pieces is 2'-90"-1'-90". You can also do this workout with a partner, where your work is their rest and vice versa. PRO TIP: Go for consistency as well as aggression - your fastest pieces will be when you hold one speed or get a little faster as the piece goes on.
  •       Partner 500s. Workout: 8x500m, as fast as possible. Your partner's piece is your rest. PRO TIP: Use your average speed from your first piece as your starting point for subsequent pieces. "Negative split" (get faster within each 500m piece) for maximum training benefit.

Rowing Workouts for Fitness and Endurance

  •       Playlist Workout (The Hook Brings You Back). Make a 20-, 30-, 45-, or 60-minute playlist. Press play and start rowing. Every time a song's hook or chorus comes on, raise your stroke rating 2-4 beats and "drop your split" (speed up) 3-6 seconds (i.e., from 2:15 to 2:11) and hold the faster speed and pace for the full hook/chorus. When the hook ends, transition back to your original speed and stroke rating. PRO TIP: Harmonica solo optional. Need to get started with a playlist? Check out the ones right here!
  •       2K Variety. Set the monitor for 2000-meter intervals with 2 minutes of rest (you'll do four total). Treat each piece like four 500-meter pieces. Alternate, so that Piece 1 and Piece 3 are stroke rates 20/22/24/22 per 500, and Piece 2 and Piece 4 are stroke rates 22/24/26/24. "Paddle" (row with zero effort) or stand up and stretch during your 2' rest. PRO TIP: Keep consistent speed at each stroke rating from piece to piece - your stroke rate "24" 500 on Piece 1 should be the same speed as your "24" on Piece 4.
  •       Miles for Miles. If you're looking to go for longer distances and times, still try to mix it up with different stroke ratings and speeds. To boost training, don't stay at any one stroke rating for longer than 1K to 2K (4 to 10 minutes). As you row for longer sessions, aim to keep your stroke rating between 18 and 22, and your heart rate between 130 and 160.

CFit-Specific Workouts and The CrossFit Open

  •       For a faster Jackie and help with CFit Open workouts as soon as they're posted, check out my awesome teammate Erin Cafaro's YouTube channel for Crossfit Rowing tips.
  •       Need help now? Tweet me: @estherlofgren.
  •       What other rowing questions do you need answered? Post to the comment section below!

Monday, March 17, 2014

8 Power Foods for Rowers and Athletes


Whether you're training for your very first rowing race or towards the Olympic Games, choosing great nutrition is one of the biggest ways to up your game. It's not always easy or convenient to have good foods available or incorporated into every meal and snack, but I pulled together 8 of the big ones that you really can utilize every day, along with some recipes that work for real life!




Rower Power Food: Berries




Bang for your buck, these are some of the most potent nutritional nuggets out there. Antioxidants and vitamins give berries high ANDI scores: they help protect against and process the damage you do to your muscles and body from hard workouts or a high-stress day at work.

Quick recipes:
  • Add your favorite berries (or whichever type is on sale at the grocery store that week!) to plain or vanilla Greek yogurt.
  • Add to ½ cup regular or gluten-free oats, add almonds and water or milk, and microwave for 1:30 to get a quick breakfast or pre-workout snack that will stay down but keep you fueled for hours.

Rower Power Food: Quinoa





I love this commercial. But...quinoa (KEEN-wah) can actually be really delicious, and for athletes, it's also 100% superfood. It is one of the smallest grains in the world, which is great because (getting all nerdy here) that means it has a lot of nutrient-dense outer casing compared to the amount stuff inside each grain. Translation? More proteins, fiber, and amino acids (including all 9 essential aminos) than just about any other food.

Quick recipes:
  • Following package instructions, cook quinoa on the stovetop with water or chicken broth. Add spices (I love garlic, a bit of onion, salt and black pepper). Eat as a side dish or a quick pre- or post-workout snack.
  • Cook quinoa with water and make a few cups extra. If you regularly blend pre- or post-workout shakes, add 1/2 cup or more of cooked quinoa to your shake for an extra boost of the good stuff.
  • This recipe (YUM!) for quinoa, kale, walnut and sweet potato goodness. Add some cooked chicken breast for an extra protein boost.

Rower Power Food: Nuts



Nuts (I’m partial to almonds and walnuts) and nut butter are awesome nutritional tools. Adding a small handful of almonds to a primarily-carb meal or piece of fruit will balance your blood sugar out and avoid hangry-ness for longer! They have good fats and protein, so a little goes a long way.

Quick recipes:
  • Buy the individual packages of raw almonds at Trader Joe’s or your grocery store, or make your own by bagging ¼ - 1/3 cup portions for a quick on-the-go snack.
  • This recipe for DIY all-natural gluten-free protein bars. If it’s a little plain for your taste, add a touch more honey or stevia, or go crazy and add chocolate chips. Delicious and nutritious!

Rower Power Food: Fish



Oily fish like salmon (fresh, frozen or canned) and fresh or frozen tuna are huge nutritional boosters because of their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids as well as lean protein. While canned tuna (I prefer water-packed, low-sodium white tuna) lacks the omega-3 boost, it is a tasty and convenient way to get lean protein cheaply and on the go.

Quick recipes:
  • Check out your grocery store selection of canned fish and try something new. My boyfriend, Jake, is often on the go, but makes a healthy lunch by crumbling gluten-free crackers into a bag of tuna. You can also try eating the mix in lettuce wraps, or mix it up and add something sweet or savory, like relish or black beans.
  • Broil a fresh or defrosted salmon filet with a couple of pinches of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Leftovers work well for lunch the next day on a spinach salad with balsalmic vinegar and olive oil!

Rower Power Food: Bananas



Bananas are nature’s perfect on-the-go snack. We went through so many in the Olympic Village cafeteria that the U.S. team staff had to go buy more boxes every day! Water and a banana with some salted almonds after a workout or for breakfast delivers all the food groups, plus the right balance of electrolytes—the natural potassium found in bananas and salt—to hydrate the natural way.

Quick recipes:
  • As is, plus some salted almonds or mixed into plain or vanilla Greek yogurt—balanced nutrition that tastes great!
  • I found out earlier this year that I have a food sensitivity to eggs. You can actually substitute half of a ripe banana for eggs in many baking recipes. Just don’t try to use them to make an omelette!

Rower Power Food: Beans



Beans are the secret way to add lean protein, fiber, nutrients and FLAVOR to your diet without adding saturated fat, found in many meats. If you are trying to limit your meat intake while being an athlete, beans are your friend! As a California girl, I love Mexican food, and you can use healthy bean options to make that cuisine an athlete-friendly option.

Quick recipes:
  • Fat-free refried or whole canned black beans, low-fat cheese, shredded chicken breast, salsa, and a big pile of spinach or shredded lettuce makes a delicious and healthy Mexican salad.
  • Plunking rehydrated or canned black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans, a can of stewed tomatoes, some browned lean ground beef and onions, spices, and beef stock into the slow cooker all day yields a delicious superfood chili with leftovers you can freeze in single-serves and bring to work for lunch.

Rower Power Food: Greens



Whether you eat them straight, juice them, wilt them, or bake them into chip form, leafy greens (my favorites are spinach and kale) are unbelievably good for you. In fact, they get the highest scores of anything we eat on the ANDI guide! Besides great nutrition, greens also provide a great source of fiber. Shooting for at least two big servings of these a day is a great way to help boost your systems across the board.

Quick Recipes:
  • Switch out your regular sandwich bread for lettuce or kale wraps.
  • Try a green juice blend of kale, carrots, spinach, a green apple, and a little ginger. It’s a lot less sweet than the smoothies you can buy off the shelf, but it’s yummy and has a ton more nutrients!

Rower Power Food: Milk



Milk has recently gotten an undeserved bad rap. Yes, we can turn it into ice cream, butter or Brie cheese, but on its own, low-fat or non-fat milk is an awesome power food. Likewise, Greek yogurt (the low or fat-free varieties with no or little added sugar, like plain or some vanillas) and low-fat cheese can be great tools for getting enough protein without a lot of crazy extras. And chocolate milk remains one of the best recovery nutrition tools you can buy in your grocery store.

Quick recipes:
  • Try plain Greek yogurt with berries, a ripe banana, almonds, and/or gluten-free oats. Try making your own version of Bircher Muesli, a popular European breakfast.
  • A glass of low-fat milk with a handful of almonds or a banana is a great pre-workout or for when the afternoon drag hits in the office!
Fueling smart lets you keep training hard. Eat to win!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Acupuncture: Healing and Getting (Un)Stuck from Injury

Acupuncture...ouch?

The #1 question I get when I tell people I use acupuncture as a healing and treatment tool is: "Doesn't it hurt?" We all have memories of being a little kid in the doctor's office as a nurse walked over with what looked like a foot-long needle and stabbed us with it. The agony that could not be calmed, even by the coolest Snoopy bandage!

Actually, acupuncture doesn't feel like that at all. Nor does it feel like getting your ears pierced. Nor does it feel like getting a tattoo. (Sorry, Mom...) The closest approximation I can give is a very localized feeling of using a stim machine--or of a slight electrical tingle--but in your muscles, not across your skin.

Before I finally tried acupuncture in 2011, my thoughts on it--in spite of hearing from some teammates that it was a great healing and injury prevention tool--were that it was somewhere between New Age-y weirdness and masochism. You're suggesting I get someone to stab a bunch of needles into my knotted, injured muscle? Thanks, but I'll stick to my ice packs and stretching and massage.

Acupuncture needles are tiny... 10 of them fit in a typical medical syringe!

And then I found myself racing in Germany on a chronically injured rib--and the only team who'd brought a physical therapist was Japan. A favor was called in and I ended up being lucky enough to be treated by their team physio, who was astounded that I'd never used acupuncture as a treatment option. And...it was amazing. There was certainly no pain from the needles, which looked almost as thin as a human hair. Instead, the needles found some of the nerves that refused to relax, and I felt them "fire"--contract or flex part of the neighboring muscle--and then let go. I could actually feel the muscles around my injury calm down. After that, the physio was able both to adjust my spine (like a chiropractor) and do a smaller amount of massage that really made a difference, because the area was not on lockdown. It took exactly one session for me to become a believer.

A map of our nervous system. What's driving our muscles!

As athletes, as rowers, we focus a lot on our muscles, our lungs, our balance, our mental game. We don't think as much about how all of those are run and impacted by our nervous system. When I drive my legs as hard as I can, that is my brain telling the nerves in my legs to fire the right muscles in the right sequence. Although sometimes muscles sustain actual injuries and damage, it's my experience that many of the common "knots" that don't go away after stretching, foam-rolling, and a nap after practice are often caused by the nervous system being out of whack. Sometimes it's your body trying to protect an injured or weaker muscle or area; sometimes it's a muscle that's been twisted or overused. Either way, acupuncture is a very under-utilized tool that can directly tap into the nervous system and help get the recovery and healing process back on track.

The acupuncture map.

I've been lucky enough to be treated since by some of the best practitioners in the country since: Dana Harbison in Fort Washington, PA; Lili Gould in San Diego, CA; and Dr. Melanie Six as well as Dr. Yong Chen in Alexandria, VA. Definitely cheek them out if they're local to you! Also, check with your insurance--many policies now cover some or all of acupuncture treatments.

Don't write off acupuncture, especially as a tool to add to your healing and recovery arsenal. I'm so thankful I learned about its benefits!

Heal up and keep training hard--here's to hoping this extra-long winter is over soon!
-E

Monday, December 16, 2013

Winter Training: Sucking it up now so you can hit the GoFast button later


Last Sunday I went to a great class in Seattle at Flywheel, a cycling studio that my former coxswain and always badass Mary Whipple now teaches at. What’s different about a Flywheel class (versus a standard spin/indoor cycling class) is that competition—if you want it—is there for the taking. You zero in on targeting certain RPMs or power output as you’re cycling along, but a few times throughout the class, everyone’s total work done—listed with a username which can be as anonymous as you want—flashes up on a screen, so you can race others if that’s your thing (yes, that’s my thing.)



The instructor, Aina, a past rower at Trinity College, said a few things during the class that made me think about winter training. Besides “Suck it up!”, which she announced at the start of class was her motto, she also said, “Getting faster is what you do when no one is watching. Getting tougher is what you do when you keep working even when your body says it’s done.” And then: “What is your goal for this practice? For this minute?”



Winter training is about all of those things. There’s a lot more work on land, and maybe only work on land. Land workouts, in general, require a lot more sucking it up. The erg, like the single, is honest and makes you accountable for your speed and power. So does the weight room. That can be harder, but it can also be so much more motivating. Thinking back to high school—sometimes on the water I’d be working on something technical, or pouring everything I had into a piece, and we weren’t clicking as a crew and working together, and there wasn’t any feedback on whether I was getting better or faster. When you're just starting out, that can be pretty frustrating.

The erg, as much sucking it up as it requires sometimes, is by and large a what-you-put-into-it-is-what-you-get-out-of-it tool. You can either look at December, January, and February as three hellish months, and spend each practice feeling sorry for yourself that your team isn’t on the water—or you can show up to each practice, each day with a goal in mind. What goal? Well, that’s up to you. Going faster or being more consistent than the last time you did that workout is a start. Test your limits on what you think your 5K/6K, 2K, and max paces are. Chase down the teammate whose seat you’re after. If you’re the fastest one already, see how much you can widen the gap. Each day you set, pursue with your best effort, and accomplish these little goals, you get closer to your big ones—making the boat you want to make, helping your team build the fitness, strength and mental toughness you’ll need to win together, and getting faster than you ever thought you could be.


Michelle Guerette, one of my first erg inspirations, in our college erg room. Photo: NYTimes.

In a race, you have to be confident in the work you’ve put in, sitting on that starting line. You have to trust your teammates because you’ve seen them push themselves beyond their limits. And you have to trust yourself that you aren’t going to let up for even one stroke, no matter how much your legs or lungs are burning, because you know that you’ve pushed yourself so many times through workouts that hurt even more than this race is going to. In a race, you don’t get to see your teammates pushing themselves, and they can’t see you. You can only feel each other committing and trust that you will go to the absolute bottom of the well for each other to get across that line first.



What motivates me on these dark, freezing mornings or pitch-black evenings when I’m heading down to the boathouse or erg room or the little alcove in the basement where the old rattle-y erg lives is knowing, like the instructor said Sunday, that getting faster and getting tougher is about being your own competitor. It’s knowing that I am working alongside my teammates, even from far away, because we know how hard we are working towards our goals each practice, each day. And it’s about loving to win and to put in the work it takes to do that.

Happy Winter Training,
Esther

Saturday, October 19, 2013

HOCR 2013: For the Love of the Charles


If all of American rowing has a Homecoming weekend, it's Head of the Charles here in Boston, Mass., and it's glorious. Every year I wonder if it's just something I'm nostalgic about, but day one is done, and no, it's just as wonderful as I thought it would be.

It's impossible to duck into a coffee shop or even walk 20 feet without running into a former teammate or rowing friend. The whole weekend passes in a blur of new stories and familiar faces, although over the years the evolution has shifted from new significant others or fun summer coaching gigs to babies, jobs, houses, rings, surgeries, family, and everything else. Our worlds have gotten so much bigger, but the rowing world, even as the schedule at the Charles is full to bursting, remains so wonderfully interconnected.

Every year I've been in training, no matter how in or out of shape I am, the trip down the race course remains equally lung- and leg-burningly painful, although it never seems as excruciating after, recollecting a magnificently-made turn or boat passed with teammates. In spite of myself, I'm already looking forward to racing again the following year.

And the great thing about the Charles: it is the epitome of the rowing family. We're packed into our extended (rowing) family's living rooms, sleeping on futons and floors. It's unthinkable to have a meal this weekend that isn't shared with a long-missed friend. Rowers span over seven decades, generations upon generations, and it's impossible to tell who's the most excited to be here. We're a family brought together by love--the love of this crazy sport and everything that comes with it.

I'm racing tomorrow in the Championship Four at 2:39pm--I'll be bow #4, sitting in stroke, and could not be more excited to tear up the course with an awesome crew, coxswain, and everything I've got. If you're not on the banks of the river, watch live racing here. Good luck to everyone racing and GO USA!!!




Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chungju WRCs: On to the Final!


WHEW!

200m to go...finished just over a second behind Poland (L), and just over half a second ahead of New Zealand (top). Finding bend and love, L to R: me, Susan, Kara, and Megan. PS...Sue and I are pulling even harder with Team Byron wristbands! And PPS...Radcliffe: yes, that's the Mary McCagg we're racing in! So awesome! Photo Credit: Igor Meijer.

We had many improvements in our repechage ("second-chance race") yesterday and did what we needed to do--net a top-2 finish to advance to the medal-level A final Saturday. It was not an easy, graceful, or pretty race, but we were able to establish a strong and effective rhythm for a good chunk of the race, as well as find another gear at the end to respond to a kitchen-sink sprint from New Zealand.

We now have a couple of days to recover, but more importantly, to keep progressing as we have over the last few weeks since being named as a crew--to keep getting a little bit better every day. There were many things we could see, watching video, that we will be trying to improve on technically for our final. But the most important thing--the will to win and the belief that we, as a crew, CAN win--are there, and we are much stronger going to the line knowing that.

Inline image 3
Your USA W4x...excited to get out there Saturday and give 'em hell! Photo credit: Kara Kohler

Today was awesome as we had our first USA medal--our LTAMix2x, Paul Hurley and Natalie McCarthy, took bronze. LTAMix2x stands for Legs/Trunk/Arms Mixed Double, meaning that these athletes have at least partial use of all limbs and may have other para-abilities, such as blindness, etc. We also had two close 4th-place finishes, in the LTAMix4+ and TAMix2x. It is awesome to have every possible boat class that's training towards the 2016 Paralympics represented on our team here as well as every Olympic and non-Olympic boat class. Paul and Natalie: thanks for inspiring everyone heading into finals here in Chungju! #OneTeam #OneGoal

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Natalie and Paul, USA's first medalists, bronze in LTAMix2x! Photo Credit: Allison Frederick.

Pulling hard for Team USA and Team Byron--every stroke, every day. Thanks for your support and Go USA!
-Esther

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Annyeonghaseyo (안녕하세요) from Chungju, South Korea!


Housemate Emily Huelskamp (W4-) and I ready for our big trip...our first glimpse of South Korea from the air...and our first taste of Korean pop culture, a welcome from a K-Pop boy band!

(That's "Hello!") Team USA arrived in Chungju Thursday and are now fully in the swing of things here in South Korea. After a long (just shy of 14 hours!) but stress-free flight, as well as customs and a two-hour bus ride, we were thankful to simply arrive in one piece. However, our arrival was made very special by the welcoming committee, who brought out their best hospitality, even at 9:00pm!

Team USA with our awesome hotel staff as we arrive!

Posing for a photo with our cheerful regatta volunteers. They told us that instead of "Cheese!", we are supposed to say "Kimchi!"

Many of the regatta staff we interact with daily are volunteers--mostly college students (including college rowers) who are donating their time and English skills to helping us figure things out that might have been lost in translation. Since a few things are a little different--that's really awesome, and we owe you big time!

Regatta mascots...the "fire escape" outside our hotel room, aka a chest strap/pulley to rappel down the building...and a gentle reminder not to lean against the elevator door.

It's hot and humid here, but after a summer in NJ (and before that, for me, in DC), Team USA is doing just fine. Turns out the best training trip to acclimate was training at home!

With Susan and Kara on the Chungju Dam, 322 ft. up!  Photo: Kara Kohler.

The hotel where we're staying--a bank training center campus near a large hydroelectric dam--is awesome, with everything from a giant indoor gym to rooms with balconies overlooking the mountains to a dining hall with great food. On our first morning, we took a run around the neighborhood, including to the dam, which has speakers playing Elvis...in Korean. We also have been enjoying finding some of the more exotic wildlife around the campus and at the course.

Cool bugs spotted at the hotel and course. All larger than they appear! Photo (Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle): Ross James.

The main regatta building at the Chungju course. Really beautiful venue!

Our Para-Rowing team will be arriving tomorrow, which will make our squad complete and ready to take on the world. I think this my first World Championships where Team USA actually has the largest team here, and it's an incredible one to be a part of. Click the photo below to check out more photos and videos from the trip in my Facebook album. Thanks for supporting our journey and Go USA!

Team USA representing #TeamByron as we headed out from Princeton. Go USA!!!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Getting Back on the Horse


One of the hardest things about our sport is the "we would have" stories. You know--that season that the team was doing so well, and then that one guy fell down the stairs and broke his leg and you didn't even make the final. Or the race where there was a miscommunication about which move would happen where, and the boat finished just outside the medals. You swap those stories and inevitably someone says, "Come on, you know that if things had been different, you would have won."

The thing is: they weren't different. The crew that won, won. Our sport, just like every other, is affected by freak acts of nature, mistakes, health problems, and plain bad luck. Just like every other sport, the crew that wins the race is the fastest over that particular course, on that particular day. You train not just to be the fastest, fittest rower, but also the one best able to recover from a bobble, the one healthy enough not to get sick easily, the one who can anticipate not just the expected but also the unexpected.

In our final at the Lucerne World Cup last Sunday, we were in fourth place coming into the final few hundred meters. We called our final sprint...and seconds later, I heard a sickly crunching sound and the boat pulled hard to the side. Looking over my shoulder, I saw something I've never seen before in my career--a teammate's oar sticking directly up, jammed in the oarlock. We responded as practiced rowers do to a crab: (1) get the oar un-stuck! (2) everyone okay? (3) get back in the race! But as we started step 3, the oar snapped completely in half.

It was not a happy feeling for us, nor for any competitive athlete, to paddle across the finish line, make a U-turn, and then row past the medal docks, past every spectator on the course, back up to the dock and the boatyard. We'd all just spent the last several months training for a race that we did not get to finish. Having the opportunity to race taken from you is a feeling worse than losing.

We all took a bit of time to calm down, cool down, and then headed to the grandstand to cheer on the rest of our team--in what turned out to be the United States' best World Cup ever. As we watched our teammates make history, we committed to coming back to our next race with this one as fuel for the fire--to channel our anger and frustration into boat speed.

The next day, someone emailed me the World Cup points tally--the listing of every country's performance across all events. The United States sat at the top, just two points ahead of New Zealand. Tracing my finger down to the women's quad, I saw that for finishing our race--instead of U-turning and taking the broken oar back to the dock--we'd earned our team...two points.

The rest of Team USA set a very high bar at Lucerne, and we are back to training hard and rising to that challenge. For now--lots of miles, more selection, and working every practice to earn the results we want in South Korea. Getting back on the horse is a lot easier when you know exactly where you want to go on it.

From Princeton--happy training and Go USA!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lucerne Finals Day!


First 500, long and strong, in our repechage yesterday.

This morning, we line up against Australia, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Belarus, and race for gold. The women's quadruple sculls will be a great event to watch--there are boats with pedigree and experience, and boats like us that are coming in with focus, excitement, and the knowledge that if we have a great race, we can exceed all expectations.

Staying focused at the start with the swimmers and cowbells!

Yesterday, we raced our repechage, and had our best piece together yet. With so many things going on around you--from the giant, singing Dutch crowd at the starting line swimming area, to the warm-up area wash that shakes up the 500m mark of the course, to the other countries in the race who throw in moves out of nowhere--it is important to be finding our rhythm and race, with awareness but not distraction, and we did a great job of that yesterday. I'm very excited to race today and build on that--and to put all of the work we've done together into something awesome!

We line up at 11:27am local (5:27am EST/2:27am PST) and you can watch a live video and audio feed here. You can also check results post-racing here.

Team USA is doing a fantastic job at this regatta, and we have many, many boats contesting for medals today. Send fast thoughts our way--we're racing to put USA on top of the medal stand!!! Go USA!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

America Rocks: Team Byron and Team USA!


Hi, readers! For the last several years, I've written on here about everything rowing. On this day, celebrating everything amazing about our country, I'm switching gears for a moment to talk about a different goal that's extremely close to my heart. I would love if you would support me in pursuing it.

Right around the time I found out I made the Olympic team for London last year, my cousin, Byron Plapp, was graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, where he was also one of the Black Knights' top swimmers. As I was competing overseas, he was getting married and reporting for duty in Huntsville, Alabama to receive training for flying Blackhawk helicopters.


The timeline of his plans changed very suddenly when he was diagnosed with T-Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, a highly aggressive variety of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, or blood cancer. Byron is now partway through an extremely intense chemotherapy regimen at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, where I had the chance to visit him in February. He's kicking cancer's butt, but I know he'll kick even more with your support.


I am running the Marine Corps Marathon this October for Team in Training, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's fundraising team. We're required to raise a minimum of $1,500, but I'd love to raise much more than that with your help. You have been incredibly supportive helping me with training, and I know that you will continue to be for fundraising towards The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's cure- and treatment-focused research.

Please help my cousin know how many people out there are pulling for him! You can find my fundraising site here: http://pages.teamintraining.org/nca/corps13/elofgrekb9. I'm making him a "Team Byron" shirt with every donor's and sponsoring company's name on it so he'll have something to wear for his first workout back in action this fall--your name will look great on it!


As a thank-you and way to continue to support Byron--and help you say Go U.S.A. year-round!--donors will receive awesome American flag "Team Byron" wristbands, with big thanks to our team sponsor Boathouse Sports! The U.S. National rowing team that competes at the World Championships this year in South Korea will also be rocking them. Donate today to support research for a cure and join Team Byron and Team U.S.A.!

Please make a donation in support of Byron--to get him back swimming and flying helicopters in support of our great country--and to help advance the research for blood cancer cures. If you can't donate now, please leave him a message of support and let him know that you are pulling for him!


Thank you for continuing to support the causes and dreams close to my heart.

-Esther

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hydration: Notes from a Sweaty Kid

Staying hydrated is key to performing at your best.

Holy toledo, it's hot this week. If you are like me, you had at least one practice this week that knocked you on your butt because your body wasn't adjusted yet to training in 80-plus weather with near-100 percent humidity. I am now in full hydration mode and thought I'd share with you some of my tricks for staying hydrated when it's grossly hot out but you have long miles to log and championship racing to do (good luck to everyone racing this weekend and next!)

Delicious, delicious glass of water. It's erg puddle season!
First, hydration happens ON AND OFF the water. You need to be taking in more fluid than before all the time--when you wake up, when you're rowing, when you're in class or at work, and at meals. It will probably make your stomach feel a little weird for the first few days, but stick with it. You should be drinking at least 32 ounces more--that's one more Nalgene-worth of water--per day than when it was colder and drier. If you're not a water bottle carrier when you're not at practice, add a glass of water to every meal, and one more right after practice.

Hydration aids like Nuun, Powerade, and Gatorade are all great tools.

Second, hydration is ESPECIALLY critical DURING PRACTICE. You can see and feel your sweat, but you're also losing water through breathing. When it is this hot out, using hydration products is essential. I am a big fan of Nuun, but other products, like Powerade and Gatorade, and DIY methods (recipe below) will also keep you powering through long, sweaty practices.

If your workout runs over 75', a small electrolyte boost from gels or chews can make a big difference.

When rowing for at least 60', I bring something more hydrating than just water, and for practices longer than 75', I usually bring an additional hydration tool such as electrolyte-enhanced chews or gel. My favorites are Margarita flavored Clif Shot Bloks and Just Plain flavored Gu, but there are many, many products on the market to choose from!

Everything you need for a tasty, electrolyte replacement sports drink!

DIY Electrolyte Drink
Makes 1 Nalgene full (~32 oz/1L)

1/2 c orange juice (ideally not from concentrate--the fresh stuff has the most potassium!)
1/8 c lemon juice (ditto)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda (optional)

Place all ingredients in your water bottle, stir, then fill to the top with water. Make this just before practice as the one downside to DIY is that letting this sit in the sun for hours can make it go bad. If you find yourself short on OJ and lemon juice, you can also substitute things like an Emergen-C drink powder packet or two, or a tart, strong juice like Cheribundi. If you do substitute, you may want to add 1/2 teaspoon of a potassium-based salt replacer like Morton Lite Salt or Morton Salt Substitute.

Stretching after practice is a great time to finish your workout hydration targets.

Finally, remember that hydration is also about timing. As they say...if you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated, so keep on top of your fluid and salt intake. A good goal is to head into practice having had at least 8-16 ounces of fluid within the hour before you start, and aiming for around 8-10 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes you spend actually rowing. Within the 30-minute window after practice, try to take in the balance of fluid if you missed any during practice, plus another 8-16 ounces, along with your normal refueling snack.

80 minutes of active rowing in a workout means half a 32-oz bottle before,  two bottles during, and the remaining half after.

If you still feel like you're bonking, try adding a few shakes of salt to your meals and the fluid you bring to practice. You won't notice a small amount of salt in your morning oatmeal, but it will make a huge difference!

It's never too early to start hydrating!

If you have any other hydration tips, post them in the comments below. Keep training and racing hard, and Go USA!

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