Dave Reed sailing
I tossed and turned all night. Every time I moved, the muscles in my lower back shot out jabs of pain. I knew I was going to be sore after the whitecap day of Laser sailing, but not this sore.
The next morning, I hobbled down to the YMCA just round the corner from our editorial offices and headed straight to the upper bench of the sauna. Nice and hot. I stretched for 30 minutes straight, plying every muscle imaginable, trying to somehow reverse the damage I’d inflicted upon myself and flushing lactic acid that had set like concrete throughout my body. My biceps were tight from constantly playing the mainsheet, my knees sore from the strain of hiking, and my neck tweaked from craning my head to look upwind, ever alert for those big, black, wipe-out inducing puffs.
I was a physiological mess. From what . . . two and a half hours of racing? But it felt great to be in such pain. For from it, I had gained. I was anxious to heal and go through the same exercise again the following week.
Why? The answer is simple. I have to.
The long-term goal I’d set for myself nearly a year ago to date was to eliminate the excuses that have hindered my sailing; starting with my equipment (I’ve been much better about that, but admittedly not perfect), and then with myself. I used to so dread windy days, and would blame my shorter, lighter physique as the reason why, moments after the start on a gusty day, I’d be huffing and puffing, looking at transoms, and then desperately trying to claw back into the race. I wasn’t sailing. I was surviving. My head wasn’t in the game, and when my head’s not in it, how can I possibly be enjoying it to the fullest?
The problem, of course, wasn’t my physique. It was my straight-leg stamina. The only way forward was through the gym, and specifically through the squat rack and lunges, which I’ve always despised.
To paraphrase Scott Iklé in his excellent column in this issue, “Setting S-M-A-R-T Goals”, p. 70, the primary reason for goal setting is to motivate, to “remind you where you are going and how you plan to get there.” So, my specific (or “task”) goal was to be able to hike, off my toes, in 60-second bursts—and think nothing of it. In short-course racing, that’s pretty much what you need to preserve your lane off the start and set yourself up for the first tack. The path to this goal has been longer than I imagined. It’s an hour a day at the YMCA, sometimes more. It’s running, cycling, wall sits, and planks. It’s about commitment.
And while it seemed like progress was elusive, suddenly, it happened that windy day. Like a switch went on. Days later, I can still savor the sensation of sheeting in at the start, hitting the line with speed, toes hooked in under the hiking strap, my torso at full, straight extension . . . no immediate burning in my legs. The first puff hits, and the boat accelerates through the bumpy chop. I’m pacing the big guys, and it sure does feel fast. I’m not thinking about how long I can last like this. Instead, I’m looking up the course for the next puff, then at my stopwatch, mounted on the mast. It reads 1:11 (it counts up after the start). With every race thereafter, I feel stronger and push myself ever harder.
I paid for it later, and what Iklé says in his piece may be cliché, but it’s spot on: “Commit yourself to your goals. You may even find that you enjoy the journey more than the destination.” My destination ended up being that healing sauna session, but the journey there sure is worth it.