Saturday morning. The sun pours through the windows of the ballroom of the boathouse as our group clusters around the television to watch videos of elite scullers. We stretch in preparation for the workout ahead; at the same time, we try to visualize our muscles mimicking the images that glide across the screen. It's yet another mental game, trying to absorb what we see to make ourselves better and tougher.
I try to imagine that unique space we all inhabit when going full tilt down the course. That feeling is where we spend all our time racing, so we might as well make ourselves at home (perhaps comfortable is the wrong word); get used to it, so that when we are pushing ourselves hard, we go about our business with little fuss. I need to recognize the familiar burn.
There is one bright spot in these winter workouts. As much as the hours of steady state make me feel good in a drained, elemental way, and ensure that I will have a base to work with in the summer, the monotony of training can be numbing, and any novelty is welcomed. This morning, however, is special.
A poor excuse for feeling the exhilaration of being on the water and feeling the run in the boat - all the pain, none of the fun of it - but to be able to test well keeps the mind sharp. And right now, that is exactly what I want. Two 6K pieces. This came as a surprise, but it is one I welcome.
I always liked ergs. It's not that erging is my single most favorite activity, but I never understood why people dreaded them so much, or made faces when the subject was mentioned. Tests give you that needed spark of competition, and, if you do well, the satisfaction of knowing that you are that much faster than last time. I know ergs do not float, but brother, they certainly will let you know whether someone has the promise of being quick in the spring.
There is no compromise here; that's what I like about it. No chance to blame people who did not pull as hard in your seatrace; no chance to blame wind, water, or steering. The only thing to look to is yourself, to see where you came up wanting. Or, best yet, where you answered your question - where you did not surrender, despite splits that crept up with every ten you took to hold them down.
Ergs keep you honest. How respectful are all of you of a teammate or a competitor who keeps backing out in the middle of an erg test, or, worse still, lies about their scores? It's far better to push on, even when your body is failing, than to stop - and what are you going to do in a race, stop because it hurts too much? As Goethe once wrote, once you commit, at that very moment, you will be amazed at what comes to support you.
It is not about being the fastest 2K in the country, although that is a fine accomplishment. It is not looking to the accomplishments of others, although they can serve as a useful guide. I'm talking about a personal best, disregarding the numbers for a moment and getting at the feel of the piece. I always feel I could do better on erg tests, and I really believe it's the mental game that makes us faster. But, again, why is it that we do this? The journey we take in this sport has many aspects.
I learned a new term last week from an English acquaintance; she calls ergs "ergoes". It makes me think of the old ad jingle, "leggo my Eggo". Leggo my ergo. Lose that sense of external pressure and of outsiders judging your speed or form. Give yourself the luxury of the space and time to do your thing. Ergs are something quantifiable, so claim that space for yourself. After all, the test is a chance to call out people who talk trash; a chance to show people just what you have done, and what you are capable of doing. It is testing yourself, and it does not require anything other than good solid work. You have everything you need, wherever you are in your journey.
Whether it's a novice making faces to impress the coach and his teammates, or an experienced rower grimacing as they give their all even though the tank is empty, I ask all of you:
Are there egos in your ergos?