Recent Cal-Berkeley grad Mara Allen has always found a way to be successful at things from the get go, and that has never been more evident than the summer of 2009. Mara made her first Senior national team at the age of 22, and then won a World Championship as the 2-seat of the USA Women's 8+.
row2k recently got the chance to chat with her about her experience of making the Senior Team, and what she likes to do in her spare time.
row2k: Describe the first-time World Championships experience from a competitor's standpoint.
Mara Allen: It's hard to describe the experience as a whole because there were so many different aspects. The racing itself was easily the most fun part of the trip, and as usual the warm-up was the least. It felt really awkward having the racing being so spread out and arriving so early before the racing even started. I've never been on any kind of training trip before so this was easily the longest time I have ever spent in a hotel. Luckily there was always some mix of people that would linger in the hotel lobby before and after meals to play cards or chat with. I think I spent more time playing hearts and rummy 500 in those 3 weeks than I did my entire childhood.
The practices were practices. Every once in awhile I'd feel overwhelmed by the whole ordeal of the regatta but then there was always some technical aspect of the stroke to distract me. Then, when that got stressful, I reminded myself that come race time, all I would need to focus on would be pulling my ass off.
row2k: How did the racing go down for the eight? Did it unfold how imagined it would?
Mara Allen: I don't actually remember many of the specifics of the race. and I honestly didn't really picture an outcome beforehand. All I had thought about was how it was going to feel. I didn't expect it to be as windy as it was, so most of the race I just kept thinking "stay calm...LEGS...relax....LEGS... breath...LEGS" over and over again. Then once we were ahead, I remember telling myself to be ready for when Romania and the Netherlands would inevitably push back. Throughout the entire race, it didn't really occur to me that if we were able to hold them off, we would win. I just kept thinking "I'm going to be ready for when they come." So when we finished I was still surprised we had won.
row2k: How does Worlds compare to other big regattas you've raced at, NCAAs/U23s?
Mara Allen: It feels similar. Except, now I've learned to take it as a race and not an "NCAA Championship" or "World Championship." It's a race. period. and I want to get my bow ball ahead.
row2k: How did the selection process play out for you post-Beijing?
Mara Allen: Very well considering I made the 8+! I was very, very excited about that. After Lucerne, I really thought I'd be out becuase I had kind of thought I was only in the 8+ becuase I had qualified for Lucerne in the pair. When we didn't do so well in the pair, a part of me thought "well, that was fun, here's to better luck next summer."
row2k: Did you imagine 12 months ago that you would be a world champ in '09?
Mara Allen: Um... no. I didn't even let myself make making a boat a goal because I didn't want to set myself up for disappointment which is what I was sure would happen if I did make it a goal. At the time, I considered it to be so out of reach and I told myself over and over again "you have four years." My mindset most of the year was "keep your head down, and keep trying to improve."
row2k: The US women arguably had their most successful year ever, in your opinion, what have been some of the key factors in their recent success?
Mara Allen: I'm not sure how it works on other national teams so it's hard to compare, but the US team has a large number of women who just really really want it. Having that mindset, I think raises the level of focus and determination on the day to day basis.
row2k: Being a Cal Bear, did you have any problems being coxed by a Husky?
Mara Allen: Naw, it's all about Pac-10 pride :)
row2k: Training full-time at the elite level has to take up most of your day, what do you like to do in your free time to get away from rowing?
Mara Allen: I work part time in the office at The Princeton Review, (a test prep company) and as a math SAT teacher. That keeps me pretty grounded. I always realize how lucky I am and how selfish I get to be when co-workers are talking about the amount of money they've wasted on a gym membeship because a kid's piano practice got changed.
Other than work, my biggest actual hobby is food. I know it's cliche that as an athlete I love food but it's true. However, for me, it's not just eating, it's every part of food. I love grocery shopping, I love cook books, I love finding new recipes online, I love buying kitchen equimpent (I've spent hours either online or in stores researching kitchen gadgets) I love cooking, I even like cleaning the kitchen, I love helping other people figure out how to cook, I love researching and knowing about nutrition and about what foods do what for the body, I really just can't get enough of it. I find food absolutely fascinating.
Which as a side note, makes training trips that much more difficult. My internet homepage is allrecipes.com, but when we travel, I have to change it becuase it depresses me to look at recipes when I don't have access to a kitchen.
row2k: What types of food are your favorites to prepare, and do you have any recipes to recommend to rowers looking to properly fuel their bodies after a tough workout?
Mara Allen: I really enjoy making things from absolute scratch, so recently I have fallen in love with making homemade chicken soup. I start by cooking a whole chicken with an onion, some carrot ends, celery leaves and a Tbs of whole black pepper corns in a big pan of water. When the meat is cooked, I pull out the chicken and reserve the liquid for the broth. Then I get to de-bone the chicken (which was very unappealing at first, but now I get an odd satisfaction from it).Then saute cut-up carrots, celery, and onion in the broth, which I would have already separated from the fat. Then add the chicken back in along with all the broth and BOOM, 4 hours later fresh soup! It just feels so healthy and natural to use whole fresh ingredients, considering a lot of days I will take in a decent amount of calories from bars and other fairly processed foods.
Right now I'm learning how to cook a lot of different cuts of beef, which is fun becuase I've never really worked with raw meat before. I am doing mostly slow cooked stuff on the stove using a dutch oven I just got.
If I'm actually going to make breakfast though (other than a bowl of cereal) I really like working with pumpkin becuase it creates such a solid base for any recipe from which you are trying to cut the fat out while adding fiber and nutrients. This is a recent recipe i've been using.
Pumpkin Pancakes (based off the recipe from allrecipes.com): 2 cups whole wheat flour (if i have milled flax seed i'll substitute some in) 3 tablespoons brown sugar 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon ground allspice 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups non-fat milk 1 cup pumpkin puree 1 egg white 2 tablespoons apple sauce 2 tablespoons vinegar
Mix the dry and wet ingredients separately and then stir together as little as possible. Batter will be thick but DON'T add more milk! (well at least if you like your pancakes done the way we do: a little undercooked in the middle and very cake like).
row2k: Sounds delicious! Any advice for aspiring national team rowers?
Mara Allen: Have faith, it's the only thing you can control and therefore depend on. Everything else is going to be part chance, so you just have to go with what you've got.