When You Suspect You’ve Bitten Off More Than You Can Chew

2k row goal time 2013 possible or not?

2k row goal time 2013 possible or not?We’re only 17 days into the New Year and already I’m questioning the wisdom of one of my goals for the year.

For two years straight, I’ve set a goal to row 2,000 meters in under 8:30. (That’s roughly comparable to running a mile at an 8:00-8:30 pace.) My PR for the 2k row, set before my last pregnancy, is 9:18, so I’m looking to improve my years-old personal best by nearly a minute. That’s a big gap.

I set the goal a few years ago while I was in great shape, assuming that it was well within reach if I trained for it.


Back to 2013: I knew that to meet my fitness goals for the year, I needed the full 12 months to train. So I took a baseline right after the New Year and started investigating training plans. It was at this point that I discovered the bad news about my goal time.

My sub-8:30 goal has been declared a “firebreather” score by Crossfitters. Crossfitters are intense, so that’s saying a lot. Right now, my time of 10:28 doesn’t even come close to the well-rounded beginner’s score, let alone the “advanced athlete” status an 8:30 2k row would get me.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have that in me.

And therein lies my conundrum:

People frequently fail at their goals because they bite off more than they can chew. But others set the bar too low–and never find out what they’re capable of.

I have two choices, as I see it: I can adapt my goal right now, while the year is still new.

Or I can just go for it, knowing the worst that happens is I get a lot faster, if not quite fast enough to hit my goal.

I’m going for it.

How do you handle the tension between aiming too low and overreaching? (Or, if you’d rather: Am I crazy?)

photo credit: Jon Fravel

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  1. For me, it depends on the sort of goal. If it’s something where I need to establish the habit, I do better to set the bar really low so that it’s easy to reach, so I can focus more on consistency.

    If it’s something where I’ve already got the habit, then I can be ambitious and set a higher goal and even if I fail to reach it, I’ve gotten a lot closer to it than I would have if I hadn’t tried to reach it at all.

  2. It matters very much to me whether the goal is a character issue (though I realize EVERYTHING is a character issue to some extent) or merely a challenge. I have been heard to say, “Except in serving the Lord, I’m the queen of ‘that’s good enough.'”

  3. I think you are making the right choice. You may or may not get there, but you will be closer to your original goal than if you lower the bar. I never thought I’d run a half marathon. I couldn’t even run a block when I started running. I kept up a 9 mile pace for my last half marathon. I am pretty proud of that. You just don’t know until you really try.
    I’m rooting for you!!!

  4. Tina B says:

    You go, Girl!! I’m so glad that you’re going for it. What’s the saying that when you shoot for the moon, even if you don’t make it, you still land among the stars! You’ll get faster and stronger and feel better in making the attempt.

    My goal is to run a 5K and while I don’t think I’m going to make the date that I had chosen, I’m going to keep trying and will do one the next month or the next. I know that I’m accomplishing a lot just by pursuing the goal.

    • Anne says:

      Tina, keeping the goal but adjusting the time frame sounds like a great balance of being realistic andaiming high. Good luck with that 5k!

  5. Lucinda says:

    Good for you! One of my goals is to do a pull-up unassisted and to swing the 100 pound kettlebell for 20 seconds. Back to goals — of course it depends on the goal. I think you keep the 8:30 goal out there but set a shorter time frame – say August – for a different time – maybe 8:50 or something. You can keep the 8:30 goal but may end up needing to change the time frame.

    • Anne says:

      Lucinda, an unassisted pull-up is my other big fitness goal of 2013! And a 100 pound kettlebell? I didn’t know they even got that heavy! Holy moly!

  6. Tim says:

    I agree with the others, Anne. Keep at it and you’ll end the year with an improved fitness level whether you make your goal or not. I’m not very hip to this rowing thing, although I’ve used the rowing machine at the gym on occasion. Are you talking about rowing on one of those or in open water or what?

    And on that running thing, when I decided to get back into running last Spring the first steps I took (literally) were to run to the gym and back instead of driving there. That was just a hair over a mile each way, but not 2.2 miles all at once so it worked well. Then I started finding a little longer route there and back and now I even have one day a week when instead of running to the gym I just go for a longer run for the full hour. On New Year’s day I tried an even longer route and did 8.1. Woo-hoo! Of course, it almost killed me.


    • Anne says:

      Tim, I’m timing it on the rowing machine. The open water would be awesome….but the erg is a little more accessible 🙂

      I’m totally impressed by the 8.1 miles. Keep up the good work!

      • Tim says:

        2k in 8:30 on a rowing machine: got it. Now you’ve got me inspired to get back on the rowing machine at my gym and see how dismally I perform!

        • Tim says:

          Time to report in – I got on the concept 2 machine at the gym a couple times this week and cannot do 2k in 8:30. No surprise there! But it looks like I’m not far off the pace, so maybe I’ll try to work on this over the course of the year too, Anne. We can keep each other going on the progress as the months pass.

          • Anne says:

            Let me know if you keep at it! As for me, I think I’ll hit the road in a few weeks and see how my time for a 1-mile run is doing.

  7. HopefulLeigh says:

    Did I ever tell you I was on the college crew team? I did it for 2 years and LOVED it. I can’t remember what my time ever was during training but man, whether on the rowing machine or on the water, I loved how powerful my body felt. I say go for it, Anne!

  8. Jenny says:

    i decided this year for the first time to make my resolutions about the PROCESS not the “goal”. The process is the goal for me. So far, they have been far more successful and my mindset has been better. I put a sign next to my sink that says 24 (classes) 7 (races) 365 (miles). If I take 24 classes at the gym (2 a month), complete 7 races (already done one and signed up for two more) and run/walk/crawl 365 miles than all SORTS of good things are bound to happen. Who knows what? I am looking forward to finding out what “goals” happen after a consistent process!

    • Anne says:

      Jenny, I love how you’ve set yourself up for success by making it easy to chip away at your goals bit by bit. You’re right, all sorts of good things are bound to happen!

  9. I guess for me it would depend on how you respond to those goals. Some people find out a goal is more than they can handle and that makes them feel immobilized, while others just keep pressing onward and may not quite get there but get farther than they otherwise would have. I sometimes reassess goals if my priorities or circumstances change, or if I realize in not making much progress that a secondary factor I’m not willing to change is getting in the way of my success. I think that sort of weighing and evaluating is healthy and not quitting, unless you do it habitually or don’t have many goals to start with.

    I rowed on the crew team in high school and can’t remember anything about times. Mostly I remember how much I loved being on the river and how much I hated feeling like my lungs were bleeding without the consolation of slicing through actual water when we had to row splits inside . 🙂 But good luck with the crossfit challenges!

    • Anne says:

      Catherine, that’s a great post about individualize responses to goals (and pressure, and failure).

      Love the river, hate the bleeding lungs–exactly!

    • Anne says:

      Katie, I’ve set incremental goals throughout the year to help me progress towards my goal. If I don’t make it, I might roll the 8:30 goal over to 2014. Or maybe decide I’m being unrealistic 🙂

  10. Auntie Em/Melinda Stanton says:

    Be full of grace to yourself! Push and challenge yourself as much as possible; make those goals as lofty as you can with the present knowledge you have, but when you get into it, you might find that it was unreasonable. You didn’t sign a contract or anything, Soyuz can adjust it anytime. But I always keep the mindset of “Even though i didn’t reach my goal, I did lots more than I would have if I had not set it.” Every little helps!

  11. KT says:

    As a former coxswain on a crew team and then crew coach, I know about 2K times. I am rather surprised that CrossFit declared 8:30 a “firebreather” score or considers someone who ergs an 8:30 to be an advanced athlete. I think of it as a good score for a novice rower, but nothing amazing for an in-shape high schooler or college student who rows. Obviously as one ages the definition of “in shape” changes. I’m not writing to be discouraging, but simply to say that for a certain type of person (in shape, familiar with proper technique, and built to row) an 8:30 is a perfectly reasonable goal, maybe even a low bar. A woman who might qualify for a crew college scholarship (what I would consider an advanced athlete) would be looking at a 2K score more like 7:30 than 8:30.

    Now I was a coxswain, which means I did not row. I think my fastest 2K score has been in the mid-9-minutes. I don’t know if I could ever get down to 8:30, although I never did a 2K when I was in good shape. I’m not built like a rower. I’m now older than the high schoolers and college kids I did crew with. I do know that older women I coached with could still pull below 8:30 on their 2Ks, though. So there are lots of variables to what your goal ought to be. One of my favorite crew coaches used to say that our team wanted you if you ran a 20 minute mile but your goal was to run it in 19 minutes next time – in other words the point is to keep pushing yourself, whatever that attainable goal might be!

    A thought that might help you reach your goal: do you know proper form for using an erg? I see so many people at the gym thinking an erg is all about their back and arms when it is truly about 80% legs! There is a very important order of motions in erging that makes a major difference in how fast you are. If you’ve never sat down with a rower or coxswain to learn form I highly recommend it. Even gym employees seem to have no idea what they are doing when faced with a Concept 2. If you have a good idea on form, good for you!

    • Anne says:

      KT, that’s very encouraging–thank you for the crew coach’s perspective! (Now, if you have any great training plans, send ’em my way!)

      I would love to track down someone to help with my form. The rowing team goes to my gym to work out, so I don’t think that will be too hard (crossing my fingers).

      I’m speculating that the reason Crossfitters consider 8:30 a “fire breather” score is that those athletes aren’t training to row, they’re training for general fitness. So if they can get on the rower once a month and pop off an 8:30 2k, that’s pretty dang good. Just a guess.

      But like you said, I’m focusing on rowing itself this year–so hopefully that makes my goal at least *possible* to achieve. Hopefully!

      • KT says:

        Definitely get some help with form. Also think about it this way. Sit at the front of the erg, knees bent perpendicular to the ground, leaning about 20 degrees forward, arms out. Push with your legs first (don’t move your back or arms), then swing your back until you are leaning back about 20 degrees, then pull your arms in to your chest with a snap. Let your arms back out quickly, lean forward fairly quickly, then bend your knees at a little more measured and controlled pace. Try all those pieces very slowly one by one, then gradually start connecting them into a smooth motion. Chant in your head “legs, back, arms, arms, back, legs” as you go to remember the proper order. Whatever you do don’t bend your arms first like 90% of gym-goers!

        As for workouts I do know plenty I can send, but it depends on how many days a week you’re able to go what you’d do. Usually you’d want some days of very short sprints, some days of more than one 2K, and some days of endurance-type erging.

        • Anne says:

          Thanks so much, KT! And it sounds like I’m on the right track…
          I’m rowing 7 days a week, because I do so much better at doing something *every* day than only sometimes. But for that 7th day I’ll do something super-easy like play the fish game–I just want to sit on the rower for a few minutes!

          “legs, back, arms, arms, back, legs.” I’ll work on it 🙂

  12. Amy says:

    Hi Anne! I appreciate what KT said earlier, but I also wanted to encourage you that there is a HUGE difference from 9:00 to 8:30. It seems like the amount of training increases exponentially every 10 seconds that you want to drop. As a college rower, I know how much “fun” 2ks are. 😉
    Technique and pacing are BY FAR the most important things. I watch a lot of “inexperienced” rowers on the erg, and they are impressed by how fast their 500m splits are. However, that pace won’t last for a 2k. The best racing pattern for a 2k is a 30 second sprint at 36spm (strokes per min), then drop to 30spm for 1 more minute, then drop to a consistent pace of 28 spm until the last 500m, during which you up the pace to 34spm.
    For training, we used to love/hate “The Mountain.” 100m at 30spm, 200m @ 28spm, 300m @ 26spm, 400m @ 24spm, 500m @ 22spm. I know you’re using the Tabata method right now, but pacing truly is key for the 2k. I would recommend trying “The Mountain,” but reduce the distances in half. (I forgot to mention that you go DOWN the mountain too, in reverse order but at the same pace!)
    And like KT said, focus on form first. You’ll lose strength at first in terms of your splits, but good form and solid pacing (i.e. being able to keep a 24spm pace for a 500m stretch, for example) will give you a good base for endurance over the entire 2k. Best wishes! 🙂

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