Thursday, 6 December 2007

Altered Perceptions

This is erging

The building in which my rowing club is based is used by a number of clubs and groups. I have seen various yoga and pilates classes taking place on the upper floors, whilst us sweaty rowers inhabit the sheds outdoors, and the gym and changing facilities below ground. It adds to the feeling of entering the bowels of hell prior to a weights or erg session. It might as well be written over the doorway to the weights room "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

Tuesday's training session was not looking promising. Forty-five minutes of erging effort beckoned, I was dehydrated to begin with (silly me), and there was no music in the gym.

Music is vitally important to an erg. It has been suggested that there should be separate records for erging with and without music. In much the same way that track and field events have to be set under conditions with legal windspeeds for records to stand, it is felt that the presence of music assists physical performance on the ergs. This is largely because successful erging is all in the mind. With a bit of technique and fitness, mental strength and an ability to trust the voice in your head which assures you that, despite momentarily wishing you could die just to put an end to the effort, you will survive, you won't throw up, lose control of your bowels, or black out, not before you've got that personal best, or all this pain will have been for nowt, Zilch, so dig deep and make yourself proud. C'MON!

Ahem. I digress. The point I was going to make before that last sentence took over is that once you've got a bit of fitness and technique, controlling the internal cox/coach is probably the factor with the most impact on performance.

That's where music comes in useful. It provides a focus which isn't a physical sensation, reduces the need to concentrate on pain, and makes listening to the internal cox a little bit easier. But there was no music. Only the song of the erg, the swish of the flywheel, the glide of the seat up the slide, the drive, my breathing, and occasional expletive or exhortation to greater levels of efforts. I had to stop that last one when the beginners showed up - they get a bit nervous when they find sweat-drenched seniors talking to themselves. And quite right too - all that energy spent talking could more usefully be spent erging. But I digress. Again.

So, without the music, I had to find other methods of distraction. I watched the beginners for a while. Did mental arithmetic on my split times, times elapsed, time remaining, projected distance. I liked the look of the projected distance - 100m further than last week's erg. Good. Improvement. C'MON!

As time ticked away and I started to believe that I would make it through to the end of the piece, almost certainly wouldn't die, and would probably not throw up, I took a bit more interest in my surroundings. The weights/ergs room is a deeply blue/grey sort of place. It often looks rather fuzzy, both from the fine mist of condensed sweat hanging in the air, and from the impairment in ability to focus that a session in the gym brings on. However, one thing that wasn't fuzzy was the thumping in my head. No, wait. Not in my head. Over my head. That didn't sound like yoga. Nor pilates. In fact, it sounded like a herd of elephants doing high-impact aerobics. Then again, I might have begun imagining things. I often lose track of time. Perhaps hallucinations are just the next stage of erg mentality.

The elephants provided my backing track for the rest of piece.

Much later, I had done it. Finished. And kept control of my bowels. And improved. That felt Good. I stretched, (that felt good, particularly all those stretches which can be completed by lying in various sprawling positions on the ground), changed into dry kit, and headed out into the mild evening. As I emerged up the steps to ground level, I saw the herd of elephants. It was a sight for sore eyes, indeed. It wasn't quite what I expected to see on the banks of the Thames. Then again, it wasn't actually a herd of elephants (not that a herd of elephants would have been a more reasonable sight). It was in fact a collection of about twenty grown men, in gym kit, leaping around, waving sticks and occasionally beating the sticks together, accompanied by an accordion. Yes, it was a troop of Morris Dancers, enjoying the mildness of the night and taking the opportunity to practise al fresco. What sight of a Tuesday evening could be more reasonable than a bunch of grown men jumping in the air, dancing around each other to the strains of the accordion and wielding big sticks, illuminated by sodium street lamps? But of course...

Normally I'd be wondering why people partake in such pointless and futile activities as morris dancing, but having just finished an erg, I didn't feel in a position physically, mentally or morally to question the wisdom of morris dancing.


KindaBlue said...

I was a morris dancer once upon a time - only briefly, mind, and was done purely to avoid spending a fourth consecutive junior school may festival in the choir. It was a toss-up between dressing up like a prat jingling about for a bit, or submitting to the maypole.

Given that the ten-year-old version of me had all the grace and swift-footed reactions of a prawn cocktail, I concluded that the generally sedate pace of Bean Setting at least gave me fractionall more time to think about which direction I had to move in next.

And I got to wave sticks at others without getting into trouble, which was a minor benefit.

KindaBlue said...

Apologies for the complete absence of typing ability in the above, by the way. It's been a long week...

But Why? said...

You? Morris? Dance? !?

So, can you explain what the stick thing is all about?

Wayfarer Scientista said...

elephant dance erging....the images flashing through my mind. Can I just say, I'm still glad it's you on that erg and not me. (I have a phobia of ergs since my hip got so bad that a session with one ended up with me unable to walk for a week.)

But Why? said...

I also have a phobia of ergs. Well, I have a fear of ergs, but I think that's only rational. Does that make it something other than a phobia?? No matter, I'm looking forward to getting into an eight at the weekend. It makes the early morning worthwhile...

Pixie said...

erg phobia...uuumm!
treatment... cream cakes 3 x daily and no exercise will soon cure any such phobia, as lardness sneaks in.

KindaBlue said...

Do you know, I never did work out exactly what the sticks were in aid of. There are two main theories:

1) It was West Sussex County Council's low-cost way of testing the durability of school playground surfaces; or

2) It derives from an ancient form of self-defence - a martial art that worked chiefly by causing marauding vikings to fall about in fits of hysterical giggles, thus incapacitating themselves.

DJ Kirkby said...

*giggle* loved this post!

But Why? said...

Great treatment idea - you should go into solving other people's problems professionally. Oh, hang on...

I like theory number two. It has the greater ring of truth to it.

It's always a pleasure to make you giggle, however, I feel like I've had a watershed moment; To walk away from the gym, watch a troop of overgrown schoolboys prancing about hitting each other's sticks on the banks of the Thames by streetlight, judge both activities to be equally futile and ultimately pointless, and not feel diminished by equating my erging with their morris dancing, that seems to me to signify a healthy dose of contentment with life.

trousers said...

Erg is a term previously unknown to me, not that that was a problem in the context of yet another richly descriptive piece.

Interesting points about music. When I'm out walking or cycling I have what I would describe as an internal walkman. Sooner or later I start getting tunes going through my head - they might be songs I know well, bits of music that I'm making up, or most likely a messed-up mixture of both. Thankfully, once I've stopped the exercise, the music usually recedes as well.

But Why? said...

Thankyou. I have a made a small amendment for the purposes of illustrating how mind-numbingly boring erging actually is.

Rhythm is a funny beast. It's amazing how off-putting music with the wrong tempo is - keeping the stroke in time to music with a beat not in sync takes Herculean feats of concentration.

I think I'd like one of those internal walkmans - does Amazon do them??