Sunday, November 25, 2007

Full Capacity: What's does it mean?

Something happened yesterday which reminded me that just when you think you at full capacity you can surprise yourself given the right influences.

We had our Head of the Yarra race which is 8.6km and goes from the city up the Yarra river to Hawthorn rowing club. It's a great event and has a wonderful turn out of crew testing themselves over the long course.

To back back a step a couple of weeks ago we were tested in the lab for VO2, lactate, heart rate etc. It was a step test of 4min on and one minute rest. It involved seven step that resulted in a maximal step at the end were there s no where to hide. Anyway the sense of punishment and exhustion was intense. An interesting indicator for me personally was that my heart rate reach 180 bpm. Now this has over my career gradually been reducing, but not with out time when I seem to be able get it back up into higher ranges. So over the last season 180 bpm seemed to be a fair gauge for my max and so the lab test appeared in line with all the other data.

Well yesterday during the final stage of the race which by the way was an adrenaline filled, lactate full and oxygen deprived experience of the highest order. This may have been the reason why I reach a new high. After our crew had done some great work and work that at time was just full of aggression, we came to the final bend and had to pull out some extra time to secure the victory. With some 800m to go after straightening up I could hear coaches yelling from the bank. We needed to go and go all the way. The rate was 36 spm and with a few big efforts we were on 38/39. I found myself thinking this is it I am at max here, but with that a familiar voice called out over the crowd. Chris O'Brien my coach was following along and was yelling to to wind it up. With each call I forced my self to dig deeper. The guys behind drive each stroke with every ounce of energy they had. We were all at full tilt and as we crossed the line in our club eight it was like being smacked full body by a bus.

What's full capacity mean? What's it mean when you learn that a certain indicator like heart rate max is shattered. To put it in perspective, yesterday my heart rate monitor indicated my max heart rate hit 192 bpm. It's was not a complete surprise but a very interesting one.

Many of the guys in the Mercantile crew shared similar experiences which got me thinking about our limited mind sets and what they are often based on. The question I considered then was how do we know when we are at full capacity? What hold us back and what can contribute to us going further, deeper and beyond those imposed limits.

The fact is based on yesterday's heart rate record I was pretty much on 180 bpm plus for some 23 minutes with from the recall on the watch much of last 15 minutes above 185 bpm. I share all this because I don't think it is well understood what is possible when we are on the water.

Competition obviously makes a difference. Some thrive and some withdraw in a competitive environment. It makes a difference when a crew is collectively motivated to dig deep. Having an outside view and communication from coaches when the weight of fatigue and intensity are building can lift everyones spirits.

This is all pretty clear and has been done, experienced and communicated before. My question is how far can we really go? Do we have any real idea of what is humanly possible with our capacity? Yesterday reminded me of this fundamental challenge for all of us. The fact that my experience was reflected in what others had realised also was a significant insight too. It was not just me, everyone in the crew found a depth, a surge and a realisation. How far could we all go?

Things that challenge in this way provide an opportunity to learn, calibrate and let go. The Head of the Yarra is a wonderful event that is physically and mentally as challenging as any in our season. Many of the athletes that compete in it see it as one of the great rowing experiences you can have. It is purely about what happens on the water and for all we find new things about ourselves out there.

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