Contributor: Elmore Holmes. Visit his blog at: http://mytrainingblogbyelmore.blogspot.com/
I closed my 2015 season with a brief immersion into a more surf-ski-centric world, and that gave me all kinds of things to think about. I've spent the past week trying to organize the jumble of ideas in my head.
In every sport I've ever tried, I've been fascinated with the things that separate the elite athletes from everybody else. There are surely more such things than I'll be getting into here, but I can think of one thing that's relevant in both slalom racing and surf ski racing. There's no question the elite athletes are strong and speedy: when I was racing slalom C1 in the 1990s, I expect nearly every last one of the top C1 guys could have beaten me easily in a 50-meter sprint in our C1s across flatwater, and I expect every elite-caliber surf ski athlete could beat me easily in the same sprint in our surf skis. But of course, slalom races take place on whitewater, and surf ski races take place in rough open-water conditions, and in both cases there's more to making a boat move than just speed and strength. The elite athletes in these disciplines have an incredible degree of balance and control. Where I would be throwing down a brace to avoid a flip, a top athlete would have the body control to plant just as good a forward stroke as he would on flatwater. I got schooled in this area many times in my slalom days, and I was schooled again at the North Shore Cup last Saturday.
Mind you, I haven't exactly ignored these issues in my own training. I believe the winner of any competition at any level is the person who does the little things better than anybody else, and several times this year I was that person. And each time, I felt as though I'd earned the right to be that person, having done all kinds of stroke drills and balance drills and strength work that my competitors either hadn't done or hadn't mastered quite as well as I had.
But that brings up another theme of this trip: I got a healthy reminder that being a "big fish" in one part of the country does not mean there aren't many people just as good or better in other parts. Going into the North Shore Cup I knew enough about guys like Austin Kieffer and Reid Hyle and Jesse Lischuk to know that I would not figure into the race up front. But then there were another dozen or so guys and gals I didn't know much about, and I honestly didn't know if I would be the fourth-best guy or the twentieth-best guy in the field. It turned out a fair number of racers were quite a bit better than I, at least on Saturday.
My guess is that these folks are in their boats a few days a week like I am, and work assiduously on their skills just like I do. That they are faster in their boats than I might be because they train more than I do. Maybe they have better training groups than I do, competing with one another and sharing ideas and collectively raising their performance to a higher level. Maybe some of them have coaches to keep an eye on what they're doing and help them improve faster than they would coaching themselves. Or maybe they're just better athletes than I am--stronger, speedier, more powerful, more agile.
And so, I come back around to the question that I ask myself all the time, and am occasionally asked by others: why do I do this? "To win" is ultimately not the answer, even though I do feel a lot of satisfaction when I win. Fascination with the process is what really keeps me going--the hours spent in my boat on the water in the outdoors, working on one skill one day, another skill another day, sometimes enjoying the company of a friend or two, sometimes relishing the solitude. Eventually, once I've taken a little break and recovered from the wear and tear of this past season, I'll start preparing for another, and I will incorporate whatever lessons I've gleaned on this most recent trip. I don't know that my future competitive results will be any better than they have been in the past; at age 48, I should probably be happy if I can just keep them close to what they've been in the past.
I'll conclude this post with one last encouraging thought. I have a friend who is a career musician and music teacher, and he told me recently that as a teenager and young adult he was obsessed with perfection, really beating himself up every time he made even the smallest mistake. Then, at some point in his life, he came around to accept the fact that he would never be perfect, and that he should relish the things he was doing well rather than dwell on the mistakes he was making. Once he adopted that attitude, he found that his performances became much more consistently good, and as a teacher he has consciously focused on the good work of his students rather than trying to hammer out their mistakes.
Our sport requires such a variety of skills and techniques that nobody can possibly master every single one of them. Even at the elite level, the winner is usually the person who has mastered the set of skills that most closely suits the conditions on the course that day. There's no question I am good at some things, so-so at some other things, and terrible at some other things; in the interest of my overall happiness I'll try my best to enjoy the things I do well while taking those other things one or two at a time.