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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?

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