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All I Really Need to Know I Learned in a Dragon Boat March 24, 2013

Posted by starshipexercise in Dragon Boat, General Exercise, Uncategorized.
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As any dragon boat paddler will tell you, dragon boat racing is the ultimate team sport. We count on each other to show up and give 100%, both physically and mentally. The mental part of our sport is just as important as the physical part. If you get your head straight on the boat, chances are you’ll have your head straight in life, too.

Focus in the Boat

Some dragon boat races are bigger than others. At the biggest festivals, there can be as many as 8 or 9 dragon boats lining up at the start. There are tillers and callers on all the other boats, and they will be loud, and maybe wearing funny hats. There may be drunken morons nearby doing donuts in speed boats, and there will likely be race officials shouting nonsense at your tiller through a megaphone.

Whatever you do, don’t be distracted by the spectacle going on around you. You’re there to race. You don’t want to be like the dog in Up (Squirrel!). You want to be more like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, and the finish line is “Mine!”

Life Lesson: There are a billion idiots with megaphones out there. Stay focused on what matters.

Race Our Race

We say this a lot at races. There are likely a lot of boats that will be faster than us. But there’s no point in comparing ourselves to the other boats. If we’re looking up to see where the other boats are, we lose timing and cohesion on our boat. All that does is slow us down.

Off the water, I rarely compare myself to others.  Sure, most people are faster, prettier, skinnier and smarter than me, but comparing myself to them certainly won’t make me any faster, prettier, skinnier or smarter…or happier.

Life Lesson:  If you’re busy comparing yourself to others, you’re just slowing yourself down and missing out on your own potential.

Heavy Water

You can paddle at a thousand and crazy percent, but if you’re not pulling heavy water, you’re not contributing any power to the boat. The farther back you sit in the boat, the harder it is to pull heavy water. By bench 10, the water is literally rushing past you. It’s altogether too easy to just let inertia take over, and dip your paddle in at the same time as everyone else. But what are you contributing?

Braking power.

To pull heavy water on the dragon boat, you have to very mindfully flex your core and intentionally create resistance between your foot and the blade (there just happens to be a boat and some water in between your foot and the blade). Make every nano-movement count to maximize the amount of water on your blade. You have to get that blade fully buried in the water BEFORE you pull back, and you have to do it all very quickly, and in time with the rest of the boat. That’s very hard to do. But you have to try.

To pull heavy water in life, you have to find those places where you feel resistance, and make a decision to channel that resistance into something constructive. Also very hard to do. But, you have to try.

Life Lesson: Don’t sit on a doily and lily-dip through life. Contribute something worthwhile, even if it’s hard.

Leave it on the Water

This is what we say when we want to make sure no one is going to save any energy for later. Every drop of power should be used up in every stroke. You should feel like jelly, physically exhausted, when you get off the boat. This is especially important in practices. Unless you’re giving 100% at practices, how will you know what you’re truly capable of in a race?

Unless you continually challenge yourself, how will you know what you’re capable of in life?

Life Lesson:  Being a bad ass takes practice. Don’t save up your best effort for later.

Watch Your Leads (or, Eyes Up for Timing)

Dragon Boat racing is a team sport. Timing is the most important factor in team performance. If everyone is entering the water at different times, we’re just slowing each other down. Want to go fast? Paddle in time! Want to paddle in time? Watch your leads!

The lead strokes sit in bench one, and they set the rate for the rest of the boat. But it’s not about the leads being large and in charge, and everyone meekly following along. The caller, bench one, and bench two are in constant communication. If the leads are out of sync, we call each other on it. If bench two is fast or slow, we let them know. The caller watches us, and we watch the caller. If things are getting out of hand, someone will yell “Watch the rate!” And we constantly ask for feedback from the entire team. Too fast? Too slow? We seem to have better results when we work together to figure out the optimal race rate for our whole boat.

You get better results when you collaborate with others. Pay attention. Listen to people. Put their needs ahead of your own, sometimes.

Life Lesson: Don’t be a self-absorbed asshole.

It’s a Water Sport

Inevitably, we get wet. Sometimes someone will launch a typhoon at the person in front of them, and flood their butt crack with cold lake water. There’s always laughter, and the one who splashed will say “Sorry!” The appropriate response here: “It’s a water sport.”

We knew we were signing up for a water sport when we got in the boat. You can’t set yourself up to get wet and then complain when you get wet. It’s a water sport. We get wet. Duh.

Life Lesson: Take responsibility for the consequences of your choices. Duh.

Those Damn Kids December 28, 2012

Posted by starshipexercise in Dragon Boat, Running.
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A couple of posts ago, I bragged about my frequent ascents up Queen Anne hill, smug in the belief that I was bringing enough cardio into my life.

What a bunch of bull-pucky.

Last Saturday, I had dragon boat practice with six members of the Juniors team. The two older paddlers (including moi) were in bench one, and we had the six kids distributed around the mids and back of the boat.

Let me tell you something about these kids. They’re between the ages of 13 and 17. At 8 AM on a rainy December Saturday, they have dead eyes. They need to be bribed with the promise of dim sum to come to practice. They are never dressed for the weather; one was in shorts and a t-shirt, nothing else, not even shoes! They constantly talk a bunch of inane doo-doo and giggle like hyenas that just ate a baby.

Then the minute we hear “GO,” it’s like a totally different boat. I have never felt a boat surge forward so hard with only 8 paddlers, and the surge in the finish is even more impressive.

On the good news side, I realized on Saturday just how strong I’ve gotten. I could feel and activate my obliques at will, crushing the water between my blade and foot. (In dragon boating, you have to create water resistance by pushing the boat forward with your foot at the same time you pull your body toward the blade, which is buried in the water.)

But despite my big, huge, muscley-muscles, I was completely sucking wind. I’m all poopy-pants about it, too, because now I have to face the unhappy truth that my cardio is for merde. I must have said at least four times that morning, “I have GOT to start running again.”

Duck beans.

Paddlers, Pitters, and Pipers, Oh My! August 21, 2012

Posted by starshipexercise in Dragon Boat, Recipes and Food.
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This weekend we had our final dragon boat race of the season in Victoria BC. The Inner Harbour is an amazing venue for a race, and Victoria is a beautiful city. It’s truly one of our favorite races of the year, so we were amazed when three of our paddlers dropped out of the race and we weren’t able to replace them.

We ended up racing with 17 people instead of 20, which certainly put us at a physical disadvantage compared to the competition. It’s easy to get spun up about the fact that you’re not going out with a full boat, and to feel defeated before the race even starts. I decided, though, that there’s no sense in popping a sprog about something that wouldn’t change. Because here’s the deal: my dragon boat team is comprised of a bunch of fierce, bad-ass, sexy bitches who are going to give 100% no matter what. Whether we had 17 paddlers or 20, we were still going to race our race.

We talked about that before our first race. Everyone seemed to shrug off the fact that we only had 17 and embraced the fact that we are a team and we paddle as one. Through our first three heats, I saw that focus and drive come through on the boat and reflected in our times. Before our final heat on Sunday, we agreed that we were paddling hard enough; everyone was giving 100%. The only way to speed up was to focus even more on cohesion on the boat. Nail that timing. Use that leg drive. Focus in the boat. To paraphrase: paddle smarter, not harder.  If you look at our times below, you’ll see that we sped up in each heat…except for our second race on Saturday.  I knew something was happening when I saw our tiller gesturing to starboard, and then lean hard on the till.  I thought maybe it was a dead body, but it turns out to have been just a rather large log floating in our lane.

Here are our times:

Race 1 – 2:24.04
Race 2 – 2:27.05 (there was a log we had to go around)
Silver Semi – 2:22.03
Silver Championship – 2:18.92

We finished fourth (out of 9) in our division, and just missed getting a medal. We were really happy with our results, and we did it by focusing in and getting our heads on straight.  That’s pretty darn awesome considering the other teams had three more paddlers than us.  So they should feel good about their medals, but not that good.  Next year, it’s on.

This experience just goes to show that the mental part of any sport is just as important as the physical.  One of my team mates recently mentioned that he has started thinking power 10’s on his bike when going uphill.  I do the same thing when I run. Often, the voice in my head calling those powers is one of my former coaches, and it motivates me to keep running just like it motivates me to reach it out another two inches and dig it in on the dragon boat.

But this weekend wasn’t all about paddling.  We ate.  A lot.  One of the great things about Victoria is that everything is in walking distance, including Chinatown. I tried congee for the first time.  Not only was it the only migraine-safe food on the menu, it turned out to be the most ultimate comfort food I’ve ever eaten.  I’m going to have to learn to make it myself.

Another benefit of Victoria’s Chinatown is the produce stands where you can get all kinds of exotic fruit and veggies. I made these up as I went along and eyeballed all of the ingredients, so your guess is as good as mine on servings and nutritional info.  But, if you can get your hands on some longan fruit, I highly recommend giving these combos a try.

Chocolate Covered Balls of (Longan) Love

Servings: I dunno

Ingredients

However much longan fruit you have the patience to peel and pit
A bunch of dark chocolate chips or melting wafers
Enough blueberries (preferably little ones)

Peel longans and remove pits, taking care to leave fruit intact. This is extremely tedious, but worth it. The trick is to detach the top of the pit from the flesh of the longan with a very sharp paring knife and then carefully pry it out. Stuff a small blueberry in each longan to help it keep it’s shape.

Heat chocolate in microwave, 30 seconds at a time and stirring in between, until it’s melted and smooth. Roll each stuffed longan in the chocolate and place on a cutting board, or baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Refrigerate for a while or overnight to allow chocolate to harden. Eat and be amazed.

Longan/Berry Fruit Salad

Servings: Depends on how hungry you are

Ingredients

The longans that didn’t get used for the chocolate longan balls
The blueberries that didn’t get used for the chocolate longan balls
About the same amount of strawberries as longans and blueberries (so, one part longan, one part blueberries, one part strawberries)
A fistful of fresh mint

Peel longans and remove pits (this is a less tedious process than the previous recipe, because you don’t have to keep the longan fruit whole, you can cut the pit out). Wash and cut up strawberries into bite-size pieces. Wash blueberries. Mix all fruit together. Finely chop mint and mix into fruit mixture. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow flavors to combine.  Consume and marvel.

Aside from the actual race, the highlights of my weekend were sitting in the hotel room with my team mates, peeling and pitting longan fruit and talking about everything (like Southern ladies shelling beans), and the bagpipers who showed up at our team party Saturday night. We party like rock stars in Canada, eh?

Put Your Butt Cheeks Into It! June 18, 2012

Posted by starshipexercise in Dragon Boat, General Exercise.
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Howdy!  It’s been a while since I posted. Life has conspired to keep us apart for the last few weeks, my dear Reader, while I’ve been busy with dragon boating and trying to rest a hip injury.  By the way, it turns out those two activities ARE in fact mutually exclusive, and prescription pain killers are a marvelous thing. But I’m over the hump now (and the hip).  We just got back from the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat race (where we finished 7th in the Rec B Championship round, heck yeah!) and I’m looking to get back into a regular routine.

My dragon boat peeps are a funny bunch and are always making me laugh. One of our jokes on the boat is “put your butt cheek into it” because when paddling, 80% of your weight is on one side and you kind of have to let the other butt cheek fly free.  It’s turned into a great way of saying “give it your all” in any situation.

My team mates are also smart, committed to the sport, incredibly hard working, and I’m always learning new things from them.  At the race this weekend, one of them mentioned an exercise idea she picked up from one of those extreme weight loss TV shows.  The advice was to do 15 reps each of push-ups, crunches and squats during every commercial break while watching TV. My knees don’t particularly like squats, so I’m going to do lunges instead. Despite all my activities, I also watch a lot of TV, but that doesn’t mean I have to be a couch potato. I should take my own advice and put my butt cheeks into it…or at least get them off the sofa. (Probably what will actually happen is that I’ll watch less TV so I don’t have to do push-ups, but that’s not such a bad thing, either.)

And now, because I love you (and because hundreds of dragon boaters can’t be wrong), here is one of my personal favorite salad recipes that has also been a big hit at the dragon boat races when we bring pot luck food for lunches:

Beet and Mango Salad with Curried Mango Dressing

Servings: 8

For the dressing:

1.5 ripe mangoes, peeled and pitted, finely chopped
2 tbs white distilled vinegar
1.5 tbs pure maple syrup
1.5 tsp dry mustard, dissolved in 1.5 tsp water
1 tsp curry powder
salt to taste (optional, I didn’t include any in the nutritional info below)
2.5 tbs canola oil

For the salad:

6 medium beets, roasted, peeled, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 head romaine lettuce, washed and separated into whole leaves
1.5 ripe mangoes, peeled and pitted, cut into long strips

To prepare  the dressing, combine mango, vinegar, maple syrup, mustard mixture, curry powder and salt (optional) in food processor and process until smooth.  Add oil and process until emulsified.

To prepare the salad, toss the beets with half of the dressing and let stand at room temp for 30 minutes.  Arrange romaine leaves on platter.  Spoon the beets across the romaine leaves and arrange the mango slices on top and around the beets.  Drizzle remaining dressing over top.

Hint: You can chop up the romaine if you’re bringing the salad to a picnic-type situation, but don’t toss the salad.  The beets will turn the whole thing pink and you’ll lose the pretty orange color of the mango as a contrast against the purple beets.  We eat with our eyes first, right?

Calories: 146.2
Fat: 5.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 50.0 mg
Carbohydrates:  24.7 g
Dietary Fiber 4.2 g
Protein 2.4 g

We Have Superior Paddling Foo April 29, 2012

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Yesterday, my dragon boat team went to our first dragon boat race of the 2012 season.  I think this has to be up there with one of my favorite race experiences ever. We really gelled as a team and morale was super-high. We had more focus and intensity on the boat than I’ve ever seen since I started calling about a year ago. And, just for icing on the cake, we took 2nd place in our division, which means everyone went home with bling.

I learned something about my body, too. I learned that while paddling in a race is more strenuous, it actually takes me longer to recover from calling. Today I have a sore throat, bruises on my inner knees, sore-to-the-touch quads, I’m extremely aware of my core, and I’m damn tired. After years of paddling, I’ve learned to expect to recover from a race basically in the same day, but I called four races yesterday (plus three visualizations and four practice race starts), mostly from a lunge position. Let’s just say I’m still waiting for the recovery to happen.  (Note to self: improve leg strength and practice yelling.)

I didn’t see it coming, either.  I figured Saturday would be dedicated to the race, and Sunday would be a cooking day, as usual.  Because I have so many food restrictions, I really have to plan ahead for my food for the week. Typically, I make a large vat of soup on Sundays, which I can pre-portion out and bring to work for lunches during the week. Sundays are really, really important. Today, however, I’m apparently spending more time on the couch than making food.

Rather than getting some chicken stock on the stove this morning, I took a nap. After my Sunday morning walk around Seward Park, I took a nap. After I woke up, I took another nap.  When I woke up for the fourth time today, I freaked out because it was 4 PM and too late to start a stock so I could make soup tonight.

Fortunately, there is balance in the universe: the dragon boat race that knocked me on my ass is also the thing that has saved my butt this week. I needed something quick and easy, so I decided to attempt a quinoa salad for this week’s lunches, inspired by the dish one of my team mates contributed to our potluck table at the race.

Here’s a dirty little secret I’ve held close to my heart for a long time: I don’t like quinoa. Ew. Please don’t tell the health nuts or they’ll revoke my club membership. My favorite food of all time is spinach. I will happily eat beets, brussels sprouts, lima beans, and almost any other “acquired taste” put in front of me (except sea urchin), but any time I’ve made quinoa I have just hated it. Ptui. Ickisauce.

But life is full of happy surprises if you stay open to the possibilities.   (more…)

But I Thought the Top was the Best Part of the Muffin… April 8, 2012

Posted by starshipexercise in Dragon Boat, General Exercise.
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Recently, a co-worker who is interested in trying dragon boat paddling asked me about exercises he can insert into his workout routine that would work the muscle groups needed for dragon boating.  Of course, I immediately thought of the obliques and lats.  If you belong to a gym, or have equipment at home available to you, it’s not so hard to work out those muscle groups.  Without equipment, you can still do a lot with your obliques, but the lats are tougher to work sufficiently to prepare for paddling.

My new favorite oblique exercise is the side crunch on a fit ball.  I would show you photos of me doing this exercise, but I don’t look anywhere near as pretty as this guy

Of course, you need one of those big fitness balls in order to do this exercise.  Fortunately, there are a bazillion exercises you can do to work out your obliques without any equipment at all:  side plank, oblique crunches, lying jackknifes, oblique v-ups… the list goes on and on.

Lats, on the other hand, are a different story.   It is awfully hard to work the lat muscles without any equipment.  Some of the most effective low back exercises I’ve found are back extensions, quadruped extensions and full swan with rotation.

There are many things I love about dragon boat paddling.  One of them is the great reduction in muffin top that I experienced after I first started paddling.  I can still pinch an inch (and probably always will) but paddling, and exercises like these when I’m not paddling so much, keeps it under control.


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