2k Row – Reframing The Competitive Experience

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In this post, I am documenting a conversation I had with one of my colleagues, Jane Beckwith. I wanted to get her perspective on how to reframe the experience of the 2k row and ultimately perform well on an indoor rowing performance test or race. I think you will agree that what she has to say creates value for those looking for their best performance.

Jane, please introduce yourself and tell us about your background.

Jane Beckwith Educator and Yoga Instructor row 2k mentality
Jane Beckwith – Educator and Yoga Instructor

Jane:

I am a faculty member at Holland Hall and I’ve been a classroom teacher for over 20 years teaching at the fifth, seventh and high school grades. Most recently, I added the role of co-director of Tulsa Term to my experience. I have been an athlete all my life, never in a top competitive way, but definitely throughout my school years and even into my adulthood.

An important part of how I live my life is to remain fit and explore a variety of practices for overall well-being. I am a 500-hour certified yoga teacher. I completed my most recent training at Everyone Yoga School in Tulsa. I’m currently in a 200-hour meditation teacher training with Lorin Roche and Camille Maurine. They live in California, so I’ve traveled to various places to work with them in person, but I also do a lot of my studies online with them. My husband, Chris, and I have two teenage daughters and three dogs.

2k Row and Ergometer Tests

Neil:

One of the things we have in rowing is a 2k row ergometer test. Another benchmark, particularly for college recruitment, is the 6k row. The 2k row test tends to happen more between January and June and the 6k row tends to happen between August and January, and it can go into March as well. There are slightly different energy systems involved in those two distances.

I preface this piece by saying I think a lot of athletes get very anxious about that test. There is a lot of value placed on it in terms of college recruitment and crew selection. I see a lot of athletes build it up in their own minds and that can lead to a lack of peak performance, whereas other athletes really thrive on it.

What thoughts do you have in terms of reframing their relationship with this performance test from a psychological point of view?

Jane:

One psychologist who comes to mind is, Kelly McGonigal. She has a Ted Talk about how to make stress your friend.

McGonigal looks at the physiological responses related to how people perceive stress. She examines the perspective that stress is bad and scary and all the negative outcomes of feeling stressed and what that means in terms of longevity. She compared this perspective to that of people who reframed their thinking about stress in terms of a positive challenge or a signal to be excited about a challenge. When these subjects felt signs of stress in their bodies, they would reframe that feeling mentally by labeling it as their body getting ready for the next thing; being prepared and excited about what’s to come.

We are not talking about those times in our lives when we are grieving or there is a significant stressor or trauma. These types of situations have to be acknowledged and worked through without trying to escape what the reality might be. These are times when we need to acknowledge our suffering and be willing to get the help and support we need.

Harnessing Anxiety

The instances I am referring to are when studentathletes are preparing for major assessments of any kind. These situations are instances that require these physical challenges, anticipating those things with dread, with fear, with the mounting pressure that if I don’t achieve, my whole life or time in this sport will be wasted. They imagine that they might fail and that in this failure they will not get what they want in order to fulfill their goals and dreams.

In McGonigal’s Ted Talk, she discusses people who can reframe and see and experience stress in their bodies as a form of excitement and that the body is serving them by having that stress response. When they can reframe it, the vascular system and the arteries expand and the oxytocin increases and they enter into a euphoric state. The regulation of the heart is more accessible, and because of the release of oxytocin, it actually makes people want to connect more with others and to respond more to social engagement.

These people end up being in a more positive frame of mind. The longevity studies show that these people tend to live longer when they can approach stress in this manner. I do a lot of reading about interoception and embodied cognition in combination with positive psychology. When people have the capacity to recognize the physical manifestations of stress in their bodies and allow themselves to feel those sensations rather than avoiding them or suppressing them, they can actually move through those sensations and use them to their advantage rather than seeing them as a threat. This is a process of self-regulation, and it takes practice.

Embodied Awareness

First of all, you have to be in touch with people and/or read reliable sources that help you understand the science of self-regulation. I have a somewhat basic understanding of the biological aspects of this, but I have a lived experience that is very rich and has informed how I do everything. I have trained with knowledgeable coaches and teachers, and I read a lot. I also practice, practice, practice. And, most importantly, I continue to learn how to meet my needs; what seems to work best for my own unique way of living and moving in my own body.

The practice of embodied awareness is critical for managing how we respond to situations. If I can recognize that my throat feels a little tight, and I’m feeling all nervous inside, and my heart’s beating really fast and be curious about this response, it might prevent me from entering a state of panic. If I can observe and embrace these sensations as signs of excitement and preparation for peak performance, I might be able to avoid thought patterns that the experience I am about to have is going to be awful, and that there is no way I can accomplish the task.

It’s much more productive to be curious about what my body’s telling me right now and what these signals are and how to work with them. It’s really fascinating. For many, this takes time and training; It’s a paradigm shift from the alternative. It’s an education and an understanding that our bodies are actually working in our favor.

Mind-Body Connection

When we develop a healthy mind-body connection, our capacity for performance and for living a more vibrant life is actually elevated. Along those lines, I would say that’s where my yoga and meditation practices have informed me the most. When you’re moving mindfully and you’re connecting with the breath, you are allowing yourself to feel the sensation of each movement and/or moment of relative stillness. You are learning more about how your body moves and what it feels like in certain postures or phases of movement. I love yoga, but it doesn’t have to be yoga. It’s important to find a movement practice that you enjoy.

Whatever the preferred method of movement, it is important to recognize when you are pushing boundaries and edges in your movement patterns and learn how to take care of yourself in those moments. For example, I might recognize that my hamstrings are a little bit (or a lot) tight. In this moment, I can evaluate what I need. Maybe I determine that I should stay right where I am and just experience the sensation and not push further; knowing, that this is enough for today and honoring the mind-body connection.

In this example, I am approaching the situation with compassion and kindness. I am savoring the experience of what’s going on in the body. Rather than taking an approach of, I have to power through this. I have to touch my toes. If I’m not touching my toes, then I’m not doing it right.

We develop a different kind of mind-body relationship when we take an internal posture of self-compassion and curiosity. I think if we approach all of the different challenges in our lives from this place, it changes what we’re able to do in those taxing moments, and how we learn from them later.

Meditation

Just like there are many styles of yoga, there are many styles of meditation. While many people might think that meditation requires a “quiet” mind, our bodies may need time to do a little housekeeping. When practicing Instinctive Meditation, it is appropriate to allow thoughts to be free flowing and not feel like you are failing at your practice or that you are not good at meditating. When you allow for this, your body is taking a moment to rehearse, review, and process your life. It’s an opportunity to integrate your outer and inner experiences during a period of rest. A time when the body is able to repair, recharge, and refresh.

In this style of meditation, you enter into the practice in a way that suits you. For example, if you are really at home in nature, and sitting outside watching the wind blowing leaves makes you feel restful and at ease, that’s your point of entry – either by actually doing it or imagining the sensations of sitting outside in your favorite place. When your body is able to review struggles in a restful state, you are calibrating your system from a place of rest so that when you’re actually in a tense situation, your body has more familiarity with how to process it and how to be with it.

If we don’t take time to review and process our challenges from a restful place, it’s a lot harder to do in the moment of extreme trial or tribulation. The underlying premise, from my perspective and the things that I’ve studied, is a deep sense of what it means to be embodied. Practices that enhance our interoceptive awareness help us integrate bodily sensations, cognitive processes, and emotional feelings. When we develop this capacity, we are better able to self-regulate. Ultimately, I think this is a key to not only better performance but well-being, in general

Neil:

Going back to an earlier point that you made about having a sense of gratitude and reframing an experience. I once heard an anecdote about how someone was thinking and feeling at the start of a 2k row. This could apply to on the water races or it could be on an indoor rowing machine at an indoor rowing competition.

Instead of having a feeling of anxiety, this person was discussing being on the start with six lanes of boats. Instead of having an anxious mind track going on, their thinking was very positive. They did their best to be in the moment and enjoy the experience. This person was thinking about the moment. He was having an appreciation for the other crews in the race and recognizing the brotherhood or sisterhood that exists in order to get to this place of competition. It was an interesting example of how compassion and appreciating the moment was not detrimental to being ready to race.

I’ve read a great deal of Wayne Dyer’s books. He, sadly, passed away a few years ago, but he’s still very much with us. He had a great perspective. In one of his books he discusses playing tennis against an opponent. Instead of having aggression and animosity towards the other player, his focus was an appreciation for their skills. Interestingly enough, he reports that his play got even better once he adopted this focus.

That’s different message than you get in other avenues where it’s very much an aggressive and angry posture. I think it’s possible to be in that ready zone without that animosity.

Kindness and Empathy

Kindness and empathy is a longer term fuel than short term fear and aggresion. You see that in leadership, too. You can get short term results by being autocratic and motivating through fear, but ultimately it breeds a lot of negativity. It’s interesting that when you look at that rowing machine, the attitude is, okay, this is a time for me to show what I can do.

When I am programming my mantra is – “It’s going to be great when I figure it out.” This is different from an attitude of frustration such as “I’ll never get this right. ” I am reminded of the character on Sesame Street who played the piano and always ended up screaming “I’ll never get it” and then slamming his head on the piano.

I can’t tell you that I remember my mantra all of the time. However, there’s a difference of thinking when you are trying to park your car between, there are no parking spaces in this lot to I’m going to find a parking space. You’re asking for what you want rather than what you don’t like. I think we’re getting into ideas of law of attraction, and make no mistake, work has to happen. It’s not just feeling good and it’s all gonna happen. If you’re approaching those challenges in a positive and flipping that switch to – it’s going to be okay and if it doesn’t go okay, that’s part of that experience.

Sometimes when you are halfway through your race, the anxiety comes from thoughts such as, “Am I going to be able to make it through?” However, in reality, It actually doesn’t get much more painful as you progress. You get into the pain cave pretty early on and it doesn’t get much worse. The anxiety occurs when your brain projects into the future, rather than saying, actually, “I’m in pain right now and that’s okay, It’s not going to get much worse.” It’s important to handle things stroke-by-stroke rather than worrying about the rest of the race. I think that’s when people cascade into negative thinking and below potential performance.

Jane:

If you look at the physiological responses to those different mindsets, I think what is likely to be shown is that when we are in a stance of – “Here’s my time to show how hard I’ve worked. Look at this amazing opportunity! Look at all these amazing athletes around me, what a gift.” we are in a more expansive state. Our internal systems, even at a cellular level, are just more open and available to the potential, to the possibility.

When we’re in that fight or flight mode, the script is literally, “Can I make it? Will I survive? Can I do this?” That’s built into our systems for very good reasons. But if it’s playing out all the time, we are in a contracted state. I mean if you just look at the physiological responses of what fight or flight puts us into for sheer survival, it shuts down certain systems and activates others. And the systems activated are simply designed to protect. This part of our nervous system does not open our field of vision to all the possibilities. It does not make us the most acute problem solvers.

If we can train ourselves to be fully present in those moments and not see them as confrontations but as doorways of possibility, I think it not only changes the mental framing, but there’s a physiological response that allows us to be more available and open to possibility. When we are operating from this place, we are typically more resilient and more flexible in our approach to problemsolving and our willingness to keep trying when we have come up a little short or flat out failed.

Self Awareness

It is important to reflect (with kindness and curiosity) when we’ve run into barriers. “What happened for me on this run? What made this attempt a PR, or what made this one of my worst performances yet? How am I sleeping? How’s my hydration? How’s my diet? Am I really taking care of myself? Where am I mentally? How does my body really feel? What can I learn from this? What will be different next time?”

Journaling can be helpful. Keeping track of those things and reviewing them and remembering what it felt like. Having a gratitude practice can be life-changing. I don’t think anybody has to have anything special to do this, but there is a book called, The Five Minute Journal. It provides a nice format for developing a gratitude practice.

When we increase our capacity for self-regulation, it changes everything. It’s not to discount the ways our bodies are programmed to be of service to us in the moments that are really challenging. There is just something about the pace of life that we’re living at, that keeps us a little bit rattled much of the time. We have to make a more deliberate effort and train ourselves to live in the challenging phases of our lives with wisdom and grace. If we can do this (and we can), it will have a positive impact on how we show up for life’s challenges on and off of the field or the water, and in general.

Neil:

I am grateful that you have taken the time to share your thoughts about human performance and how to approach the 2k row and training. I look forward to future conversations and appreciate your time.

You can continue the conversation with Jane on Twitter at @JaneKBBeckwith or via email at jkbbeckwith@yahoo.com.

Want To Read More?

Self Compassion: Dr. Kristen Neff
Interoception / Interoceptive Awareness: Bo Forbes
Instinctive Meditation: Lorin Roche and Camille Maurine

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