Nick Mead and Alex Karwoski won the men's pair at the Fall Speed Order, and we caught up with Mead after the racing.
Mead, a Tokyo Olympian and seven time senior team athlete who was recently named USRowing's 2023 Male Athlete of the Year, won a silver medal in the Men's Four this past summer. Karwoski, also a world's medalist who has made ten national teams, raced in the Rio Olympics and was an alternate in Tokyo; his last Worlds appearance was in the USA eight that took fourth in Racice in 2022.
You can watch row2k video here of them rowing in the time trial.
row2k: Can you tell us about how you and Alex got together in the pair this fall and what made your combination successful this weekend?
Alex and I have spent a decent amount of time in the pair, although most of that was in the Tokyo cycle. We used to do pair matrices in Oakland, when Mike Teti was the head [National Team] coach. We would cycle through every port and starboard, doing racing on the Estuary, and Alex and I always had a pretty good combo. We raced it in 2018 at the NSR and came in second, so we knew that it could work if we put some time into it.
The way that we came together for the Fall Speed Order is that we both are living in New York. There aren't as many people training here but we could commute together to Overpeck Park over in New Jersey. We knew that we had a pretty good combination already and that if we put in some time together this fall, then we could go fast for the speed order.
We were confident that if we did it right, we would go well, but we were preoccupied with making sure that we were coming into the practice sessions focused, knowing that we did have a side by side 2k coming up in November. I think [that format] was good. A lot of times in the fall, you're just putting in a lot of mileage and you can get really fit but you don't stay as sharp because there isn't a lot of racing. We looked at the Speed Order as an opportunity to keep focused and have a goal on the calendar, something to prepare for rather than just doing training for the sake of training.
row2k: How has this year been different for you, now that you are based in NY instead of Oakland?
Being in a smaller group here in New York, there is a lot more of an onus on myself and Alex to be diligent about the training. Most days there's no one checking to see whether we did the workout, and we're not in a training center, like we were pre-Tokyo, where you have 30 guys showing up every morning competing with each other.
That is both a disadvantage, in that you don't have other people to work off of as much, but it can also be an advantage. The days when you just have to get the mileage in and stick in your lactate or heart-rate zone, it's almost easier to do when you're in a smaller group. Then on the days when you have to go fast and you have to do some racing, we would find other people. We'd do pieces against Jamie Copus and Evan Olson, or some of the Columbia undergrads. So we have the opportunity to do some racing with the people who are around, but on the days when we just need to get the training done and work on the things we need to work on, we also have that opportunity.
Racing the time trial on Saturday morning
This system is a little different than the last quadrennial, in that the high performance director is actually passing down the training program to all the different clubs. We have a training program from Josy Verdonkschot that we follow, and the guys out in Oakland at CRC are doing the same, and same with the people in Texas, Florida, Craftsbury. So even though we're all separate, we do have something to follow. It's not like we're coming up with it on our own.
row2k: Can you talk about the way the current system is working for you, and what is helpful about having a training plan that is uniform for all the athletes regardless of where they are training?
That's one of the biggest changes and, in my opinion, improvements in USRowing High Performance this cycle versus the last: consistency across all the athletes in how we're approaching training and the type of training we're doing. In the Oakland Training Center, pre-Tokyo, we all followed the same training program because we were together, but anytime anyone who was new or had been at a different location would jump in, it was a pretty big change for them to adjust to what we were doing. That was because they had no visibility into what was going on in Oakland until they got there.
But in the current system, we're all doing the same training, and then when we come together in these camps in Colorado or Sarasota, there's not really as big of an adjustment. We keep doing the same workouts and everyone's been doing them for months. Rowing isn't really a complicated sport. It's difficult, but at the end of day, if everyone's following a training program and it's based on science, then everyone's going to get fitter. There's some nuances obviously, but for the most part, it's pretty definitive what makes an athlete get faster: lots of volume and sticking in the appropriate training zones.
I don't think Alex, for instance, would be still in the system if it was still that you had to be in a specific Training Center for all four years and you have to move your life there. That flexibility of training location has allowed a couple of people to stay in the system who might have retired after Tokyo.
row2k: As you train towards Paris, coming off a great performance in the four this year, what are some of the things are you are focusing on and how are you approaching making your second Olympic team?
Last cycle, we had so much internal competition and there were so many good athletes coming through the training center [in Oakland], that I always had this feeling that I had to get better every year and be at my best or else I will get dropped and someone will take my spot. In the new system, there's more preference given to people who were on the previous world championships team, but I never got over that feeling. I am still approaching it in the same way, that there's always someone who was in the eight or the pair, or maybe didn't make the team this summer, who wants to be in the four.
I think a lot of them have some good justification to get a shot or even be in the four. The margin between the guys who were in the four this summer and the guys who weren't isn't very large. Even in our seat racing, that bore out: seat races were not decided by very much at all. Some coaches could argue that's a bad thing, but I think it's pretty useful [for me] to have that concern that there's someone else out there in the country who's training and who wants to be in the boat that won a medal the last world championships. For me, especially, being isolated from the bigger group out in California, that's how I approach it.
With that said, I'd love to be in the four again and have that same exact lineup. We had a lot of chemistry in our rowing styles, but also as a boat. We had four very different personalities, but they worked well together over a long campaign. That's a pretty underrated aspect of competing at the senior level, whether you can improve alongside the rest of your boat over the course of several months of training. Because it is easy to peak too early or plateau or have personalities get in the way. It's difficult to be around someone for that long and still be driven towards the same goal and getting better together.
Mead at 2 in the silver medal USA four at the Belgrade Worlds
We probably did more training in that line-up than I've ever done in a US boat. It was definitely new for all of us to be together in the middle of the summer with the next race not for a long time, just logging miles. I think we did a really good job, along with Casey [Galvanek the coach], of approaching the training the right way and making sure that we were all coming into each week focused and ready to get better.
row2k: One last question: the Fall Speed Order has changed format a few times over the years, so what did you think of the format used this year, the 1900m time trial to straight 2k finals?
Initially, I was surprised that they went with the 2k format, but I'm very happy they did. There's something that sharpens you a little more when it's side by side racing than when the expectation is do a 6k erg and then a 5k on the water. I'm glad they went with this. It's definitely an improvement. Even if people aren't fully race ready in the fall, it is a good opportunity to practice the start and everything you need to do to be successful in a side by side 2k.