Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Three good things

Over the last couple of days, three good things have happened:

1) The twitch that I'd had in my left eye for a month has finally stopped.

2) I picked up my new (well, second-hand, but new to me) bike and went for a little ride on it. I rode along the river, which was beautiful (if VERY cold!) and spent a while just waiting, watching a heron do his fishing.

3) I did an erg. It was only 35 minutes, but that still makes it the longest erg I've done in a while. I aimed to keep my heart rate low and to listen really carefully to the feedback from my body (I had hoped to go for 1 hour, but that was probably a bit optimistic). I waited until my left ankle and hip were ready to give up, pushed it a little further until my hands were ready to join them, then stopped. It wasn't, therefore, a massively difficult work out, but it was still better than nothing.
A cold evening on the Reach.
I can feel that I might have overdone it a bit down my left leg, but I don't care because I still managed to achieve something, even if it wasn't fast or especially technical. My body feels better for having moved about a bit, and my mind definitely feels better for it. In other words, I think today has started well. Hooray!

Tap tap legs and away we go!

Right, time for some positive posts. These ones will be from my alter ego, Bendy Rider.

The last two sessions I have had at the RDA have been brilliant (three weeks ago I was awful and lost the ability to steer, but we won't dwell on that). On both occasions I've ridden a lovely little cob called Rolo. He's completely different from Victor, and although I love Victor dearly it has been quite nice to ride such a responsive steed!
The first time I rode him, I was lucky enough to have effectively a double session, since there was no-one else waiting to ride him. This meant that I rode for about an hour, which gave me a good opportunity to get used to him. I discovered that he is always very keen to get moving, and often slightly less keen to stop. I felt quite sorry for him, because as well as me getting used to him I was also attempting to get used to a different set of reins. Initially I tried some which had a loop across them, that I could hold with just one hand, then I tried ladder reins with a series of bars across them. The bar was definitely the best solution, because the tension created by something solid meant that I didn't have tension build up in my right arm (the one controlling the reins). However, it definitely took me a while to get used to them, so poor old Rolo had some confusing instructions coming his way at times!

At the end of my first session, I had the chance to go for a canter, which was brilliant. This was my first canter at the RDA, but I was more excited than nervous, and I was glad it was with Rolo (who is quite short!). What he lacks in height he makes up for in speed; he was like a little rocket hurtling around the ring. It felt so good to be in control and I just had this huge grin on my face as we slowed back down to a trot (well, it wasn't really that much slower because his trot is also unbelievably fast, but that didn't stop the grin). Although I hadn't actually done much to get him into canter and to keep him there, it still felt like an achievement and it was really exhilarating.
One day!
The second session I had with Rolo didn't involve any cantering, but it did involve another skill that I haven't used in a very, very long time - jumping! Before we got to that, I tried another set of reins which were different again - they were more like normal reins than the ladder ones, but they had a loop on each side that you could put your hand through to help you to keep control of the reins. I hope that sometimes I will be able to use these reins (they make controlling the horse easier than bar reins), but when I tried them the other day I still didn't quite have the function in my left arm/hand to make it work. On the plus side, my arm does seem to be improving (touch wood, hoping I haven't just jinxed it) so with any luck I will be able to use the loop reins from time to time.
Loop reins
The jump I did was quite small but it was exciting nonetheless to take off for a moment. It was also quite fun to try jumping one-handed! Hopefully in future I'll be able to do even more. For now, I'm just really enjoying riding, and hoping that the grading ('classifying', in rowing) process goes smoothly and gives me enough time to enter an event in February.

p.s. if you were wondering about 'Tap tap legs and away we go', this is what the instructor I had when I was about 7 used to say. My older brothers had the same lady teaching them and it became a bit of a family catchphrase. I still like it!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Not rowing (finding motivational animal cartoons instead)

WARNING - quite a bit of this post will be me complaining. If you're fed up of reading that (and who could blame you?), please scoot down towards the bottom, or just to my next entry, which will be following very soon.

Since Nat Champs, I've struggled to get out in a boat. In fact, I haven't held an oar at all, although I have been coxing a couple of times. This is mainly because at the moment I'm not really safe to go out sculling, since the grip in my left hand is still very unreliable. I would be tempted to ignore it and have a go anyway, but that would be really irresponsible (Cambridge is now COLD and the river especially so!) and I'm not interested in doing anything that will make me feel worse.
I coxed a race, and looked OK for some of it...
It does lead to quite a lot of frustration, at both myself and the system. The two are very much intertwined. In rowing, the only way to measure success is by winning races - by being faster than everyone else. There are no competitions where you win points for having beautiful technique, or being able to do jazzy exercises. It's all about speed. That much is fine: that's just what the sport is about and that's the focus of every training session - more strength, more power, better technique, so that the speed is faster.

The problem comes when your body completely refuses to get stronger, fitter, and more powerful; when it starts introducing movements that you cannot control that completely ruin your technique. At that point, you start going backwards, with no guarantee that you'll ever get back to where you were a few months before. This isn't a case of me not training enough, or not pushing through pain. How can you stop a movement that is involuntary? How can you hold yourself strong in the core and sit up tall when you're so dizzy that you can't see? How can you improve your fitness with a tough session on the erg when your heart is going nineteen to the dozen simply trying to roll over in bed?

...and slightly more demonic for other bits. Still, this face also usefully sums up the way I feel about my own rowing!
I hate my body for this, and I hate the way that it is stealing away the sport that I really enjoy and that used to make me feel better about myself. Now, when I sit on an erg, all I see is terrible splits despite huge physical effort. At best, my body is slow and unresponsive; at worst, my legs leap around when I want them to be still and can't be forced down when I need to move them through the drive. Even trying to row technically (instead of powerfully) is difficult, because my mental focus has gone too. After just a few seconds, my mind drifts off, probably because if you've blacked out to the extent that you can't see the numbers on the screen then there's not much point the mind wondering what they are and how they could be better.

I used to take some element of self-worth from the fact that I trained every day - I was stronger than I'd ever been; fitter than I'd ever been; the exercise made me feel good and provided a perfect antidote to sitting hunched over books for the rest of the day. Now that I can't train every day (and that when I do, it's disappointing) I feel lazy and sluggish, and that there's nothing interesting about me anymore.
Work-wise (academically), I find that without the boost provided by invigorating sessions, my brain has stopped ticking over, meaning that I spend hours covering the same amount of material that previously would have taken much less time. It's as if my body has stolen so much from me - the sport I loved, the benefits I got from rowing, and now my ability to work well; to challenge intellectual material and to grasp new skills and concepts.
Lovely - but what does it all mean?!
Perhaps most worryingly, all of this has changed my psychological outlook. Before, I could pretend that being ill and in pain all the time wasn't an issue, because I was still training despite it. Now, I don't really have that reasoning, and on top of the pain and weakness I have a mental slowness which frustrates me and makes me feel depressed. I desperately, desperately want to get back into training, but it's not as simple as 'just do it'. Whenever I get angry at myself and shout, 'JUST DO IT!' internally, I end up being even more disappointed as I attempt to perform at something approaching the same standard as before and just fail utterly. I know that something is better than nothing, but there is a point at which the 'something' gets so small and insignificant that it's almost insulting to myself.

Also, I'm just reminded each time that although my mind feels like mush it isn't really a mental weakness that's holding me back, but a physical one. If you physically cannot hold an oar handle, stop your leg from spasming, prevent your heart from racing after twenty seconds of light paddling, keep your head and vision clear or lift your arms up, then there's very little training you can do no matter how mentally tough you are (I know this. I'VE TRIED. It usually ends with a big thud).

What can be done?

Firstly, I'm going to try to keep coxing. It's a good way to be involved in the sport and at least it gets me out of the flat. Apart from that, I've always felt that the only way to proceed with all this is just to keep on keeping on. I recently found an excellent blog which puts such sentiments into cheerful graphics, as well as reminding me that it's OK to feel that things are difficult, to express that feeling, and not to feel guilty about it. They can express the mental side of how I'm trying to feel better than I think I can by myself, so here we're just going to take a quick journey through the fantastic world of Emm's Positivity Blog.

There were so many amazing drawings that I've had to work really hard to be selective. Hopefully, with the drawings, I can show how I'm feeling better than the rather miserable account I've given above!

I get so tired that...
 I really want my friends to know that...
 I feel bad when I complain, but then I remember...
 I also remind myself of this:
 ...and then this seems like good advice.
 When I'm struggling to get through an erg, this jellyfish has the answer :)
...and this fox has all I need to hear.
 It's also important to remember this:

and this:

and this!

...and although I'm never actually going to 'recover', this is still relevant.

I'm trying to get my body to say this to my head a bit more often...

...and for my head to say this to my body.

And while we're talking about strength...

Final summing up begins with this bat...

...continues with this elephant...

...and is also expressed by these penguins.

However slowly I'm moving, I need to remember this:

...and finally, as a lucky talisman, I will take this giraffe wherever I go.

That's all for now.