As I lay on the floor in the middle of the gym, seeing some of my students run by my wrecked self, I became acutely aware of the fact that I had just got owned. It was a day when I would've possibly been better served taking a nap than going to the gym, or going for a nice little paddle on the rower than doing Fight Gone Bad by myself - but nevertheless, there I was, face down on the gym floor. Zero parts of that workout had been easy. From the first rep to the last, all I wanted to do was to give myself an excuse to slow down. One of the curses and blessings of being a teacher, however, is that those excuses are hard to come by most days. How can I ask my students to go hard when I can't ask the same thing of myself? I had come into the gym that day wanting my workout to just flow - to be one that I could walk away from feeling like a total bad ass. Instead I had to peel myself off of the floor with enough time to shower and stop breathing like I had just run a sprint race before I asked my students to do the same workout that just kicked me royally in the pants.
And yet, even though I had just been holistically wrecked, I did indeed feel like a bad ass - a bad ass that just wanted to lay down, but a bad ass nonetheless. I had decided to be owned and achieved that in full. We often discount our ability to decide upon pain, hardship, or even joy (let's throw in something cheery as well,) vs. letting those emotions act upon us. Sure, it is easy to allow ourselves to get wrapped up in the bliss or the sorrow of a moment, but it is effortful to choose how we will respond - to commit to that extra gear in a workout when backing off would be so much easier. But we always have a choice. Always.
Choice is the pillar of rowing. More than once during your rowing career you surely ask yourself why the hell you chose this forsaken sport when all the smart athletes picked things involving games and timeouts - hindsight is a bitch. No, but seriously, when the end game of rowing is pain, you best decide to dive into that pain, or else you will never truly be a successful rower. That choice never gets easy. It is a distinct decision each time, and yet you make it again and again, stroke after stroke.
When we approach a workout – especially one that has been decided for us by a teacher or trainer – it can be all too easy to let go of control, to let go of choice. You’re grumpy, tired, PMSing, MANing, whatever it is that you grasp onto in order to excuse yourself of power. You become a passive element in relation to the work at hand. These instances when we are sub-par, when passivity seems like an awesome choice, are the workouts we often discount. We let them go with the perfunctory excuse, back off on the pace, and tell ourselves we will be better next time. False. These are the workouts we need to take ownership of instead of excuse. Do you think you learn something about yourself in a workout when you feel like a baller and breeze through without a problem? I highly doubt it. You learn something when you have to drag your sorry self through every painful minute and arrive on the other end knowing how hard you worked. You learn something when you are forced to make a choice and to stand by the ramifications of that decision.
Sometimes I think I get too wrapped up in being a spin instructor. Teacher me takes over yelling about mental control, my mascara starts running down my face, and all of a sudden I am like, “whoa, Maddie. This is a freaking spin class.” But you know what, never discount the significance of the lessons you learn within the construct of a workout. How you respond to adversity in the gym – I hate or love to tell you – is probably how you will respond in “real life.” If you continuously remove yourself from control when things get hard in a workout, you are conditioning yourself for that response in life. There is a reason why rowers often trust other rowers. Rowing is all about regulating pain. When 500 meters into a 2000 meter race your body is already telling you this ain’t such a good idea, your mind essentially rows the rest of the race. You have to decide. That’s its. Are you going to race or are you going to give into fatigue. When I meet a rower, I assume they have their shit together. That they will probably work harder than anyone else because they simply make the choice to do so.
We are constantly thrown uncontrollables in life. That does not mean though that life is one large uncontrollable. In fact, it is one large controllable, as you continuously dictate how you respond when things get interesting. You have the ability to press back when the world seems to be acting upon you. Such action won't ever come naturally or easily, but again, what do you learn when things are easy? You learn things when they are hard, different, and unfamiliar. Choice, action are tangible things, but they require verb-age to be so - do not be a passive element in your own life. Make the decision to be more than that.