Back in November, I starting working out at a new gym in the financial district. I had spotted it on a walk a month or so earlier, tucked in a back alley and underground. I peeked in the basement window and saw a long line of rowing machines and made a note to come back some time.
Around that time, John and I had decided to meet up with some friends in Thailand in March. 12 of us would be going, and we'd be spending most of our time at the beach and the pool. I wanted to get in shape by then, and while I loved kickboxing and yoga, and I was feeling great, I wasn't really seeing results. In fact, it had been some time since ANY exercise I was doing was producing visible results, besides just losing a little belly fat (which, don't get me wrong, is great). Most of the guys I'd be going with in Thailand are pretty fit — pretty muscly, even. I wanted to look half-decent next to them.
So I thought I'd give rowing a try, and... I don't know. Something just clicked.
It's been absolutely perfect for me. Like... I thrive in class environments — environments where I am held accountable by the others to show up and put the work in; but I really dislike competing with others. I like competing against myself, I like pushing myself, and I like coaches who will work to help me improve. But I'm never gonna be the person that's gonna be comfortable trying to push myself at a gym while guys much stronger than me wait for me to get off a bench so they can do much more, etc.
So I like rowing — with rowing I could keep cadence with the other, more experienced rowers, but row at my own pressure, working my way towards improving my speed. I could push myself hard, but not draw attention to myself one way or another. But little by little, I realized I was pretty good at rowing. It's an excercise that works and depends on the legs — something I have in spades — but that, to a lesser extent, also requires the shoulders and lats — something I had markedly less of. But my legs were strong enough to keep my speeds up while I developed my upper body.
Over the past couple months I've seen my times drop as I've worked on my technique and gotten stronger. It's been so rewarding to see my shoulders build — I've never had much there, and suddenly I've got three distinct heads. My lats have fanned out. My quads have gotten very defined. It's addicting. But more than anything that feeling I was chasing last year has become a regular occurrence. Back in September I wrote:
I want to feel good about my body, I want it to respond to me without distress, I want it to be capable and strong. I want to be a good rider.
I do, and it does. My coaches have pushed me to the point that I felt like I would collapse, only to suddenly feel a great buoying, like electricity across my skin, and a chill up my spine as I catch a second wind and manage to keep going. In January I was the fourth fastest person on the gym leader board, last night I rowed for 30 minutes straight at sub-2:00 speeds throughout, and tonight I clocked in at a great time for my first 2000m test.
In the changing room of the gym, there's an sheet of xerox paper taped to the wall, on it is printed a slogan that is essentially the "Live, Laugh, Love" of the rowing world: Destitutus ventis, remos adhibe — "if the wind will not serve, take to the oars." I know it's a cliche, but dammit if it doesn't encourage me.
We leave for Thailand in one week, and I think I'm in the best shape of my life.