Sweating the details – the last 5 percent

One thing I always think about when watching Olympic events such as speedskating is, “how weird would it be if your race only lasted 30 seconds, or 1 minute?”  In rowing we are used to maybe 3:45, 7:30, or 20 minutes.  Water and wind conditions are usually the big variable, which sometimes makes it tough to sweat the small stuff.

One thing I’m starting to learn by doing the Crossfit Endurance workouts on the Concept2 erg is that level of focus on how to get the last 5% out of each interval.  In the 9 x (1:00 on/1:00 off) workout a few days ago, I was able to figure out how to raise the meters per interval from about 315 to about 325.  In the 10 x (0:30 on / 0:30 off) workout today, I figured out how to get it from the low 150s to the low 160s.  This translates into about a 5% improvement over the course of the workout.

In practice, it means figuring out how to cram an extra stroke or two into the interval, which surprisingly has more to do with timing and cadence over pure power.  It means being able to look at the clock, see you have 6 seconds left, feel each second tick off, and focus intensely on getting 4 more strokes in any way possible.  That makes 10 meters of difference, as does, for example, being able to pull the first stroke in the interval at 1:47 instead of 2:00.  I am learning to focus first on cadence and then add power.

I am also learning that the starting sequence makes all the difference on these short short intervals.  Note that the meters on the 0:30 intervals are somewhat  less than half of the meters on the 1:00 intervals.  I believe this is because the splits on the first few strokes are higher as you get the flywheel up to speed, and the first few strokes are a greater percentage of the shorter intervals, meaning that the wheel is spinning slower for a bigger percentage of the time.

I believe the mental focus on a single stroke, or on the last 6 seconds of the piece, will pay significant dividends on the water, especially in 1000-meter masters racing.  At Masters Nationals 2009, in which I came in 5th in the B single, the spread in the final was about 10 seconds.  That’s about 5% of a 208-second race.  If I can translate that focus in squeezing out the last 5% into the boat, it could make all the difference.  In masters racing it’s rare to do the level of mental preparation and visualization that elite athletes take the time to do, and I believe a major benefit of Crossfit is the development of mental focus.

Onward and upward!

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