T-minus 6 weeks

T-minus 6 weeks until we leave for Tokyo,

Coming off our successful Olympic qualification at the Last Chance Qualifying Regatta in Switzerland, we found ourselves in a curious position. Flying back to New Zealand during a pandemic and straight into 2 weeks of managed isolation in a Christchurch hotel. What a bizarre build up to the pinnacle event of our lives. Although I was over the moon with qualifying the boat for the big dance, I was very aware that 2 weeks in a hotel room was not ideal preparation, and 2 weeks in a hotel room while training hard was even worse. In each of our rooms we were only allowed 1 piece of exercise equipment, so that meant ergs/rowing machines for all of us bar Hamish who opted for an indoor bike. 

To be completely honest, I was extremely worried about these 2 weeks. Any athlete will know that 2 weeks away from your sport is a long time, and the rust accumulates all too quickly. But the last thing we could afford to do right now was let the foot off the throttle. Our training was already interrupted after competing in Switzerland as we had to pull back on the KMs to make sure we were fresh for that race. So we had some aerobic catching up to do with our only option being the rowing machine. During our 2 week stay, each of us ended up rowing roughly 360-400kms on the rowing machine… An absurd amount. Most days I would wake up early, send it on the erg for 20kms, eat, sleep, recover, send it on the erg for another 10-15kms and then repeat for 2 weeks with the odd body weight session thrown in for good measure.

Over this time we all made massive aerobic gains, as proven by some testing near the end of our stay and a lactate test once we were out. But, the real MVP of that isolation time was infamously mongrel Tom Murray. For perspective, Tom is one of our leaner/lighter athletes, but what he lacks in body weight he more than makes up for with aerobic fitness and extreme mental strength. I call him the ‘glass cannon’, as he has so much fire power at his disposal but is just a ‘tad’ injury prone. Regardless, Tom was laying down some absurd times/watts on the rowing machine during this time, to the point where I was half convinced there must have been something wrong with the calibration on his erg monitor! But all doubts were dismissed when Tom obliterated everyone during his lactate test (which was on a different machine!). This was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in rowing, Tom had improved some 10% since his last lactate test. 10% is bonkers, absolutely bonkers. I cannot express how bonkers that actually is. But from a scale of 1 to 10, it was bonkers.

While writing this, I realise how privileged I've been to be surrounded by such inspiring psychopaths to train with day in day out! On that day it was Tom supplying the inspiration, but everyday it changed. I think it was a sign of a really strong and well rounded crew that every single individual had their moments of heroism. As we got closer and closer to the departure date, everyone was stepping up their game trying to be the daily hero, or just trying to keep pace with the daily hero. It felt like we had made some massive improvements and built momentum since the racing and Switzerland, where our worst rows now would be comparable to some of our best rows just a couple of years earlier.

T-minus 2 weeks until we leave for Tokyo,

Things are really starting to heat up. At the best of times, rowing is an intense sport with not only the physical strain of rowing 200km plus per week, but also the mental strain of getting the most out of every single one of those KMs. But as we approached the final 2 weeks before we left the motherland for Tokyo, the intensity, pressure and crew focus was at a heart palpitation-inducing high. 

In those final 2 weeks before flying out, every time I thought about racing at the Olympics, butterflies would instantly materialize in my stomach, my throat would lock up and my heart rate would jump a solid 20 beats per minute. Nerves and pressure are a powerful thing. They can either be crippling or empowering. I knew the strength of the feelings I was experiencing was a positive thing, it meant my mind and body was getting prepared for the enormity of the challenge that we faced. However it was a fine balance, obsessing on the Olympics too much and getting too wrapped up in those powerful emotions and nerves can be exhausting. In those final 2 weeks I ended up playing a weird little game with myself to keep my mind sharp but also fresh - I compartmentalize thoughts of racing at the Olympics to the back of my mind for the most part, but once a day I would sit down and focus solely on the racing to come in Tokyo. It was a strange sort of torture as I would immediately be flooded with anxiety and nuesa knowing how much of my life I had devoted to this Olympic pursuit. But these little visualisation sessions allowed me to calm the intensity of the emotions to a more manageable level. In the end, I was feeling nervous excitement rather than nervous dread.

The crew was really coming together in these final weeks in NZ. So much training had led to this point and we now felt absurdly fit. It’s an interesting feeling to have deep aerobic, cardiovascular fitness built over thousands of KMs of training - you get to a point where the pain is still there, but your body can just keep on going like an android! At the beginning of the season it’s almost comical the state of exhaustion you can get your body into without the KMs of conditioning under your belt. It’s almost like your brain pushes you to work hard, while your lungs and heart are desperately under prepared and in debt trying to pay off an ever increasing negative balance. While at the end of the season, when you are in peak condition, it’s quite the opposite. We found our bodys were so physiologically prepared from all the training we had done, that no matter how hard we pushed, we almost always were able to maintain, with little to no fade.

Some of my coolest memories from this season are some simple training sessions where we absolutely threw the kitchen sink at it and try to generate as much speed as humanly possible. We would be romping back through a 22km row with every single individual stroke feeling like maximal effort. We began setting lofty training speed targets almost every day, and rowing like animals to try and hit those numbers. It was fun. It felt like a reward for all the gruelling KMs we had put in early in the season, that we now were able to unleash and our bodies could handle it.

Right up until we left for Tokyo, once a week we would break the 8 down into pairs and go for a ‘training’ row with 4 pairs side by side. Everytime we would joke about how this is going to be a nice comfortable row, while we all knew full well that these were the nastiest, cut throat battle paddles. We are all hyper competitive individuals, so when we break down the 8 into quarters and go head to head, you know shit’s going to get real! My pairs partner for these sessions was Phillip Wilson, and our pair just clicked. It worked from day one and we were consistent and fast. However the frustrating thing about rowing in an 8 with so much talent and raw ability, was that every pair combination we put out was fast! We would often end up battling side by side for the entirety of 20-30km rows with almost nothing between us while we all desperately tried to get in front of each other. A frustrating, yet good problem to have when you're trying to make an 8 go fast!

Hamish Bond is obviously the best of the best when it comes to rowing a pair - He’s undefeated in the pair over the course of 8 years and 70 international races. He’s won two Olympic golds and smashed the world record time by 6 seconds with Eric Murray. So yea, he’s a handy oarsman haha. He set the standard along with crew mate Tom Murray in these pair training rows. 

One week before we left, we found ourselves going out on the water for our final pairs row of the season. We all knew this was going to be a big one. We had joked with Hamish how this might be the final pairs row of his career, and if he lost now he would ‘have’ to hand over all his world and Olympic medals - classic school boy winner takes all rules (in my head at least!). Phil and I went out for blood, and ended up going very VERY deep in the pain cave trying to stay in front of a now pissed off Hamish Bond and Tom Murray. On an 11km run from the top of the lake back down to the Rowing NZ building, Phil and I managed to keep our nose in front right until the last 500 meters where we capitulated and popped while Hamish and Tom moved through us. Although they managed to get us in the end, it was a real moment of pride thinking about how far we had come. In the past I had tried multiple times to keep pace with Hamish in the pair and could never quite foot it. And now I felt like I could go toe to toe with him! And it wasn’t just me, we had an entire crew that could go toe to toe with arguably the greatest pairs rower of all time.

It was at about this point where I started to realise how special our team and the people in it were. And now our bags were packed and we were boarding a plane to Tokyo to prove that to the world.


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