How To Get Better At It

Rower Me

Practice won’t make perfect (perfection is an illusion) but it sure will make you less crap at something.

A lot of things came easily to me as a child. Spelling, maths, climbing trees. The unfortunate legacy of this is that if something doesn’t come easily, I’m not all that interested in pursuing it. That’s why I’m a Jack of All Trades. I’ll give anything a go but I have a lack of patience in acquiring the requisite skills.

I’ve always held the view that if I’m not good at it the first time, then it’s not a talent I possess so there’s no point in persisting with it.

I don’t expect perfection (well, okay, maybe a bit) but I won’t settle for less than competent. Or at least non-embarrassing.

I like to conveniently overlook the fact that concert pianists, best-selling authors and elite athletes get to where they are by putting in the hours. It’s easier to assume they have some other-worldly gift that makes such success out of reach of we mere mortals.

A Lesson for a Jack of All Trades

About two and a half years ago, I took up rowing. Just for the heck of it. It looked like fun. And it was. Mostly. But, in typical fashion, my enthusiasm waned as my skills did not progress as quickly to the desired level as I thought they should. So, about a month ago, I decided to quit.

Besides, I’d been eyeing off the stand-up paddleboarders on the river.

But as with many an activity I undertake and then think I’m not good enough to continue, there was a friendly community attached to it that made it difficult to give up. I was convinced to give it another go. I paid my membership and explained why it was so late. This then prompted an offer of some coaching which I gladly accepted.

Two sessions back in the single ‘tub’ (wider and heavier than a normal scull) and I was told I was ready to take my sculling test. You are not permitted to train in a racing single scull until you pass a test to show you have the necessary skills in balance and manoeuvring. A racing scull is handy because you can pick it up by yourself. A tub takes two. Independence is impossible. Interdependence is necessary.

By now, in addition to the single, I was rowing in a quad three mornings a week and an eight one morning a week.

I passed the test.

Lesson 1: Doing something more often will make you better at it.

Another Lesson for a Jack of All Trades

On my first outing in a ‘tracer’ (slightly heavier than a racing scull, used for training), I made it about 50 metres up the river before I fell in.

Kind of like this except I didn’t have the excuse of hitting something. I just fell in.

On the upside, I was still in front of the rowing sheds so it was an easy matter of towing the boat over to the landing to get out. Also on the upside, nobody saw me fall in. (The coach hadn’t even made it out of the shed with the bike after helping me launch.)

My coach picked up the boat, tipped the water out, put the boat back on the water and held it while he looked at me expectantly. Right. Dripping wet, a little bit cold and a big bit nervous, I got back into the boat.

Somehow I managed to row the five kilometres up and back without another dousing. And without freezing to death. Hooray for a windless day.

The next morning, with the memory of falling out of the boat rapidly growing to terrifying proportions in my mind, I fronted up to have another go before I could lose my nerve.

I didn’t fall in. I got better at steering. I got better at feeling for the balance of the boat. I got better in my stroke technique. (There’s little margin for error in a skinny little single scull.)

I got better at rowing.

Lesson 2: No, really, doing something more often will make you better at it.

Okay, so maybe all those concert pianists, best-selling authors and elite athletes are on to something.




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The Flying Beetroot: Running With The Boats

You’ve probably been wondering what that ‘dilemma’ in regard to the scheduled 12km Sunday run I hinted at in my last post was about, right?

You may even have been wondering why my caped image has been conspicuously absent from the Comments section of your blog posts the last few days, eh?

Oh. You haven’t?

Right-o then. Just carry on. Nothing to see read here.

Well, okay, so just in case you have been wondering….

Here’s a clue.


Too obscure for you? Okay, here’s another more obvious one.


Still haven’t worked it out? How about this very obvious clue?


Well, if you haven’t worked it out by now, there’s no hope for you at all.

Last weekend I competed in my first rowing regatta at Rutherglen in Northern Victoria. Hosted by the Murray Rowing Association (founded 1861), it is the oldest regatta in Australia.

I was competing in a Female Coxed Quad Scull race and a Mixed Coxed Eight race on each day – 800m on Saturday and 500m on Sunday.

We came last fourth in our race on Saturday morning but apparently we were coming second until about 250m out from the finish. We hadn’t thought we were in contention. We had borrowed a very young cox from another rowing club and while she was very encouraging, I think it would have been helpful to know how close we were to the pack. (It’s hard to know where you are when you’re racing backwards.)

The Mixed Eight race was great fun. The eight is a sweep boat which means you use one oar – a bit different to my usual sculling with two oars. We came second in that race.

It rained all day Saturday – unusual for Rutherglen – but the sun came out for us on Sunday.

Sunday’s races were quick 500m sprints. Our cox for the Quad was a wonderful, very experienced member of our club and the difference was this:


My first ever regatta medal!

Drama was to come in the Mixed Eight race. We started well and were clearly in the lead when, barely halfway through the race, the boat in the lane next to us suddenly veered and ran into us. We stopped and the Stroke’s* hand flew up to raise a protest. The umpire looked at the other two boats who had continued to race down the course and told us to keep rowing. We took off like a rocket, powering that boat on sheer outrage. And we almost caught them. Had the course been 50m longer, we’d have still managed to finish first. At the finish line, the Stroke’s hand went up again. This time the protest was upheld and there was to be a repeat race, the boat causing the accident being ineligible to compete. The three remaining crews made their way back to the start line and we set up to race the course again. This time we were not so smooth in our method but still had strength and speed on our side and this was the result:


My first regatta and I scored two medals and experienced the adrenaline of a protest and repeat race (a rare occurrence I am told). Oh, and we also scored a bottle of wine each as a prize for our Quad race in addition to the medal. (We’re not sure how that happened but I think I can live with it.)


Booty from my first regatta




Now, have you figured out the dilemma?

How to fit in a 12 kilometre training run in the middle of a rowing regatta?

Maybe I could swap the 12km run with the 5km one on Tuesday? And/or maybe I could fit it in between my morning and afternoon races?

Problems: 1. It was ridiculously muddy from all the rain on Saturday and I wasn’t really interested in slipping over and breaking a leg; 2. I felt I owed it to my crew mates not to turn up to a race with already tired legs.

So here’s the spreadsheet as it currently stands:

Training runs 7

“But where’s the red box?”

Right. There isn’t one. You will note, however, that there is a green box out of alignment. So I’ll explain. After packing up the boats


and a four hour drive home, arriving at 11.30pm on Sunday night, I got up at 7am on Monday and ran my 12km run. And you know what? It was one of the easiest runs I’ve done yet. I fairly bounced around that trail on the fun and excitement still coursing through my veins.

I figured that entitled me to just move the green box.

And that last green box? Getting up to row at 6am this morning, I should have known that this


would, when it came to running my 5km later in the morning, turn into this


I still ran. Of course I did. I’m more than a little insane.

Besides, it was kind of exciting to pass waterfalls and lakes on the usual run:



One last thing. Anyone who knows me well will know that what I am about to say is difficult for me. The Inner Critic has a very loud voice in my head and doesn’t often allow things like this to be said, but here goes:

I am incredibly proud of everything I have achieved in the past few days and I think I’m amazing.

There. Phew.

But I won’t let it go to my head.

*The Stroke is the first rower who sets the pace for everyone else to follow.



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When A Night Owl Meets The Dawn

I took up rowing this year. I think I was attracted to that whole Boating-on-the-Thames-Henley-Royal-Regatta vibe.

The Learn to Row program was run at the civilised hour of 9.30am on a Sunday morning. Tootling up and down a tree-lined river on a balmy mid-morning, I was convinced this was the sport for me.

It was only after I paid my club membership, signing up for a year of jolly ol’ spiffing fun on the river, that the truth came out. Rowers don’t generally row on warm, sunny mornings after they’ve had a leisurely breakfast and read the newspaper. They arise at a time when the small hand on the clock has not even made it halfway around the clock. By the time I found this out, it was also outside the normal rowing season which just means that not only is one required to rise before the dawn, but dawn does not make an appearance for quite some time. It would not matter if the river was tree-lined or factory-chimney-lined because there’s nothing to see in the dark.

This was also when I discovered that rowing is perhaps not the best sport for a night owl. Always one prone to heading to bed when the small hand has already begun its journey from the top of the clock, being required to then arise again before the poor small hand has even had a chance to make it to the opposite point to where it started, turned out not to be conducive to a coherent day ahead.

So you’d think I’d give it up, right? Wrong. I am still rowing. Why? Well, apart from the fact that the weather is slowly improving so I no longer spend vast amounts of my first waking hours in the dark, there is one captivating and addictive advantage to rising before the birds.


I mean, could you give this up?






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