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Charette? Why Not!

I always believed that training full time will turn me inside out, I couldn’t wait to finish college and jump head first into being a full time athlete. Last week, I took part in a project called “Imagining Iveragh” organized by the Kerry County Council and the Institute without Boundaries (IwB) in Toronto, Canada in collaboration with IT Tralee. Oh God, didn’t I miss being involved in something besides rowing! I did indeed! Just to give you some background information about the project; I was based in Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry for a week. I took part in a Charette (a posh word for a workshop) which took place in a local library daily, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 9pm. We had two breaks of roughly 30minutes with the rest of the day being dedicated to brainstorming and working on solutions to problems that the Iveragh Peninsula is currently facing, which is depopulation, lack of jobs and lack of investment in the area. All participants, some from the Institute of Technology Tralee, some from other parts of Ireland e.g. Dublin, Carlow, just to name a few; a number of students from Toronto (IwB) in collaboration with local stakeholders and tutors worked on one of four project. The four projects included an Adventure from Sea to Summit, Open Air Museum, Research and Visitor Centre and lastly Rethinking the Farm. We had a week to create a publication and a short video communicating our project/ solution. We looked at potential costs, user profiles, potential partners, design, timeline etc. Consequently we have created “The Pearl Project” which will hopefully someday come into life. My group proposed to create a number of domes around the Peninsula which would become centers of wisdom as well as research facilities. Each ‘pearl’ would specialize in a different field and avail of assets in that particular location e.g. Aqua, Bio, Geo, Met pearl (just to give you an example, a Met (meteorological) pearl would include Research facilities, conference room, museum (showing old meteorological equipment), number of weather simulators, weather balloon, data center and would screen educational movies about weather). It was my first time taking part in a Charette. I also thought this project was very exciting. I was exposed to Design Thinking approach to problem solving, I met a lot of new and interesting people and I also learned a lot. Being involved in this charrette also took my mind off rowing and in a way also helped me to adjust my recovery periods between trainings and perhaps would enable me to recover from my on-going heart rate concern. Of course with Indoor Rowing Championships just around the corner, I had to train with sessions scheduled early in the morning and late at night. The second phase of this Charette will be held in Toronto in the University without Boundaries some time in February, 2016. Exciting!

Coláiste na Sceilge

On the last day of the Imagining Iveragh workshop, I was asked to speak to 6th year students in the local secondary school in Cahersiveen, Coláiste na Sceilge. Of course all of them were preparing very hard for their Christmas exams with intention of doing very well in their Leaving Certificate examination in the summer and securing a place in a University. I know well how stressful it is to sit Leaving Cert exams or to identify what one wants to do in the future. I changed my CAO choice several times before picking the Business Studies degree. I was looking at being a Garda, doing a nutritional course in UCD, going to England and studying in Oxford Brooks University, just to name a few. For the occasion I prepared a short speech to highlight that things aren’t as bad as they may seem in that moment. I spoke about my educational journey, from having no word of English to getting a Master of Business. I also referred to my sporting endeavors, some of my ups and downs and how I powered through, although at times it appeared to be a waste of time. I hope it was an enjoyable class for all of them and I appreciated all the questions that they asked me after it. Best of luck to all Coláiste na Sceilge 6th year students in your exams as well as in the future.

Provincial Indoor Rowing Championships

Indoor Rowing Championships in UL, Limerick were a stepping stone on my recovery and a beginning of a new rowing season. I was pleased with my result as it has been a fairy tough few months trying to adjust my training programme, be patient with myself and subsequently move on and improve. The score wasn’t in any way great, but besides going ahead with it and pushing on I also decided to cover my screen so the only thing that I was able to see at the time was stroke rate and meters. I believed that at that time, I could only do my best, go for a certain rate and see, what kind of a score I would get. Obviously, I didn’t have any competition there so I decided to relax and just do the test. This was the first step to getting back to normal me!!

Testing and more testing!

After the ergometer testing in UL, I did a number of physiological tests (thanks to the help of the Irish Institute of Sport) to see, if my body is responding to the decrease in training volume as well as different training plan. The good news is that, although my heart rate is permanently down, I’m now working within a correct heart rate zone and there is an improvement in my performance. I have a bit to go still, but the sky starts to look a lot brighter :-) Up and on from there!

December Trials and a big disappointment!

December trials were my way of getting back on the horse, getting some racing in as well as proving myself again. Unfortunately due to recent storms and bad weather, the trials were cancelled. It will be back to the drawing board after this again and some decent training in the gym. I really enjoyed the break and some fine food on the table during Christmas. I allowed myself to really indulge in it. Hopefully the skin folds won’t be measured straight after the Christmas break :-) Here, to all my sponsors, supporters and associates – Hope you had a Merry Christmas and I wish you a very prosperous New Year!

New Year New Me!

Yes, this slogan is way over used! On the other hand if it motivates people to make some changes in their lives, why should we abolish using it? Exactly! So for the first time ever, I decided to write a few things down and turn my New Year’s resolutions into measurable goals that I want to achieve in 2016. Some goals relate directly to rowing, while other represent things that I want to change in my personal life. Unfortunately the beginning of 2016 wasn’t smooth. I got quite severe tonsillitis and ended up spending New Years in bed with high fever, body aches and chills. It surely wasn’t a way in which I wanted to start the year but let’s hope it represents all the sickness leaving my body and I will be all good to go for a year. What’s next in store for me? First, it is getting back to training and recovering after sickness. Antibiotics leave you feeling weak and tired but thankfully training at such a high level enables me to get back into where I was reasonably quickly. Second, the National Indoor Rowing Championships in UL on the 23rd of January followed by trials in a Pair. Unfortunately due to recent bad weather we weren’t able to get a lot on mileage on the water. This will have to be addressed as soon as possible. Lastly, it is all about getting bigger, faster and stronger. My training regime will be back to normal level and I’m very excited about that!

The typical – Up’s and Down’s

Recently I read an article about a Polish cross country skier Justyna Kowalczyk and the difficulties she encountered throughout her career. As an athlete, you always panic when things don’t go according the plan. You worry that this will hinder your preparations, affect your performances and subsequently you won’t achieve your goals. Additionally high performance athletes are in the spot light and their training, progress and performances are closely followed. However, people often forget that things in sport are just like things in life. Kowalczyk said that there are things in life that you cannot plan for or things you cannot foresee which is applicable in sport also like for example my tonsillitis, which came completely out of nowhere. The most important thing however is to deal with it, stay calm and go again. Going through sickness or an injury is very tiring and emotionally draining for an athlete. Of course we would prefer to carry on with normal training and push ourselves to the limit all the time, but how many of you are in top form all the time? Exactly. Athletes are humans too. On that note, I’m leaving you to get my workout in. Back to living again!

What's Next?

There is nothing else left to do but to train. It is all about training smart, set realistic goals and push the limits further and further forward. It is about learning where I am now and what to do to get where I want to be. I am an individual that loves having a plan in place, therefore the next while will be all about assessing my options and being strategic in my actions. New season is often perceived as a new beginning but in fact it is a continuation of the previous season with an opportunity to make the required changes and put lessons learnt into practice. And hell yes, I have learned a lot. This was my first Olympic cycle under my belt. I believed I knew what the future holds for me but I have never expected it to change so rapidly and perhaps I was not able to strike the iron when hot.

Yet again, rowing in a crew is not as straight forward. There is a number of factors that impact the speed of a boat and they are even more significant when you are dependent on someone else to move it with you. Picking a good combination and making it fast is a skill. Skill that needs to be mastered by athletes but also the coaches. Without collaboration of the two, the battle is lost before it even starts. After the world rowing championships there is a huge number of athletes that are disheartened, demotivated and tired. Everyone has gone though it at some point. Some – never recover, others - regroup and attack again.

Rowing is often so ingrained in us that it has become inseparable from who we are. We are rowing. This means that no matter how hard we have got hit, how tough it was on us to face the world again, we will not surrender. The internal battle between our common sense and the burning desire for rowing continues. I have read a great article about rowing recently. It is titled “Winning is the easy part” by Meghan O’Leary from USA W2x. I highly recommend it.

Home Sweet Home

Yet another rowing season has come to an end. Every end however marks a new beginning, new adventure and different challenges. The past few months have sailed by, the world rowing championships in France marked the end of the international racing calendar and the start of winter training. First however I can enjoy my annual holiday, two weeks off. Basically, it is only a week off followed by a week of moderate training before we get back into full time training regime. Usually, we would get up to three weeks off however the Olympics are at the beginning of August 2016, which is earlier than any world rowing championships hence the training programme has to be adjusted accordingly. The next few weeks won’t be easy. Although the season has just ended, we are required to trial for the National team on the 10th and 11th of October followed by some ergometer testing the following week.

The racing will consist of a time trial followed by side by side racing. This is our first official exam to begin our campaign for the Final Qualification Regatta in Lucerne in May. Currently I’m home in Killorglin enjoying my time off with my friends and family. After a few days off I returned to training. Killorglin RC is a great training base whereas the river Laune provides a great resistant training when paddling against the tide. It is great to be back! I’m doing majority of my training on the water in my single scull although I’m trying to complement it with additional strength and cardio sessions.

Also, Killorglin RC started its slider rowing programme so I’m delighted to be overlooking some training sessions with the juniors. Boredom won’t get me. Big thanks to everyone who supported me this season, especially FEXCO. I truly did my best. I hope you have enjoyed the journey, there is one more season to go…and four after that! ;-) I’m in it for the long haul, are you?

The Real Deal

I have never experienced such strong emotions rushing through me like I did at the final day of the 2015 World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette in France. I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere andraces, which were separated by hundreds of seconds and Ireland qualifying two boats for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. It brought tears to my eyes. I was proud, happy, excited but also disappointed and sad. It was an emotional rollercoaster. I was truly delighted for the O’Donovan brothers from Skibbereen and two lightweight women who qualified the men’s and women’s lightweight double sculls respectively. I was disappointed that I couldn’t have done that myself this time around though. I have to wait for my turn which will hopefully come at the 2016 Final Qualification Regatta in Lucerne in May.

The World Championships this year were full of surprises with world and Olympic champions not making the cut off for Olympic qualifications, while final B’s were usually faster than Final A’s with people giving their absolute best to secure those few last qualification places on offer. Yet again it proves that in sport nothing can be taken for granted, no one should ever be underestimated as anything can happen during a race. It is a fight from start to finish and people can produce amazing performances under pressure. For me it was a learning curve once again. I have really enjoyed the atmosphere, the result however was very disappointing. Our Four was not competitive enough. It has provided us with a good technical platform and hopefully I have gained as much as I could from this transition.

Now however I have to review my situation, be strategic and ready when the opportunity comes. There is a number boats which have to be qualified at the final regatta that is the Women’s Single Scull, Women’s Double and the Women’s Pair. One thing that I have to focus on now is the national trial in October and finishing on top of the Women’s group. Now however I will enjoy a well-deserved break at home in Killorglin. In two weeks’ time it is back to normal – full time training. I will be ready for the fight when the time comes, watch this space.

Here We Go!

The 2015 World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette in France are well under way. The weather conditions are exceptional. Water is clear, warm and flat calm with temperatures ranging between 20 and 30 degrees throughout the day. The rowing venue is full of hustle and bustle with a record number of athletes competing this year. Also, with races being well underway, the venue is filled with a greater number of spectators. The atmosphere is electric. The Irish crews have already made their mark with the Women's Lightweight Double winning their heat on Sunday and becoming the second fastest crew in their boat category while our single sculler Puspure and the Men's Lightweight Double of O'Donovan's brothers finished 2nd securing their quarterfinal places.

Next off are the Men's Lightweight Pair and the Women's Double both racing on Monday and the Women's Four exhibition race on Wednesday. The purpose of our race is to secure the best possible lane for the Final which is scheduled for Friday, the 4th of September. Again, I will race against USA, China, Germany and Great Britain. The best lanes will go to the first two crews which will be positioned in the middle of the course in the Final. This means lane 3 and 4. The lanes drawn are also important if conditions for the final will be adverse. The fastest crews in the heat are then drawn on less affected lanes in result gaining an advantage, if the weather, wind in particular, is said to affect the racing. It is unlikely that the weather will deteriorate so much during the championships that this will need to be considered.

Currently, we are still training and tapering for our race. Training sessions are now planned around the racing schedule. Usually we are on the water at 7:30am or after the racing finishes, afternoons however are hot, hence we are trying to complete the majority of our work in the mornings. The racing concludes on Sunday, the 6th of September. The finals on Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be streamed live on www.worldrowing.com and possibly on EuroSport and BBC. There is also a live commentary available during the competition on www.worldrowing.com. For more updates check www.rowingireland.com and my Twitter feed on @MDukarska. Keep your fingers crossed!

2015 World Rowing Championships, Aiguebelette, France

We are only a step away from competing at the 2015 World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette in France. Not only that but also a stroke away from securing Olympic qualification places. It is important to point out that in rowing it is not the rower but the boat that qualifies. This means that people competing in Rio may be different from those who qualified the boats day one. This ensures that the boats are filled with the best athletes. As a result it creates a competitive and challenging environment which promotes growth and self-improvement.

After the entries for the championships closed, FISA, the World Rowing Federation announced that a record of 1,300 athletes from 77 countries will be lining up to race at this year's most prestigious rowing event. In total there will be 129 places available for Rio Olympic Games and 24 places for Paralympics Games. Competition goes from 30th of August to 6th of September with racing spread across 27 boat classes comprising of 14 Olympic, eight International and five Para-rowing boat classes. I’m racing in the international category in the Women’s Four event. We will compete against crews from USA, China, Germany and Great Britain. Currently, we are coached by Sean Casey, who competed and medaled in the Men’s Four event at several international competitions and raced at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The Killarney man is looking after us since the establishment of the crew and we made a great progress since. It is very beneficial especially for aspiring Olympians to have someone with his rowing experience coaching us. It is not only the technical aspect of sweep rowing that matters but sometimes the simplest advice can make a difference of getting through a Rep or a Semi-Final, especially if someone has experienced the challenges associated with racing themselves. I’m departing for France on Wednesday, the 26th of August from Dublin and I’m racing on Wednesday, the 2nd of September at 9am (Irish time) with the final being scheduled for Friday, the 4th at 10:50am (Irish time). Keep your fingers crossed!

3rd Cap for Ireland

It is official, I have secured another cap for Ireland. It will be my third consecutive time representing Ireland at the World Rowing Championships. This time I am departing to Aiguebelette, France on Wednesday, the 26th of August and I’m returning on the 6th of September. This season has been a real roller-coaster with several ups and downs. Every season has its endeavors but this season in particular has turned out like no other. From racing in a double scull until December, trailing in a single and racing in a women’s pair from March this season, I have ended up in the Women’s Four. Although it is a non-Olympic category (the focus is to form a strong Women’s Pair in the coming winter and compete in the Final Qualification Regatta in May 2016 in Lucerne with the aim of securing one of the top 4 Olympic places available) it is a world championship event and there is no doubt that it will be tough. A team of 14 athletes will represent Ireland at Worlds this year. We have four boats which aim for Olympic qualification.

These are the Women’s Double, Women’s Lightweight Double (up to 57kgs per athlete), Men’s Lightweight Double (up to 70kgs per athlete) and the Women’s Single Scull. The non-Olympic events entered include the Women’s Four, the Women’s Lightweight Single (up to 59kgs) and the Men’s Lightweight Pair (up to 70kgs per athlete). The number of athletes racing internationally for Ireland has quadrupled since 2013 with only 3 travelling to Chungju in South Korea. Now we are entering a phase of training called a ‘taper’. Metaphorically I call it ‘sharpening of the pencil’. This consists of short but very fast and dynamic pieces/ sessions which bust the anaerobic system and make us more ‘racy’. Training continues.

Trials for the World Rowing Championships 2015

It is this time of the year again with Killorglin making the headlines and it is not because of its sporting or business success but because of a goat. A goat that is crowned a King for an entire three days. Surprisingly, my home town Poznan is also known for goats. The goats are a great tourist attraction and their history dates back to 1551. The two mechanical white goats are located on the top of the clock mechanism at the Town Hall in the Poznan Old Town. Every day at noon the goats appear on the top of the tower and butt heads 12 times. The legend says that two white goats appeared on top of the Town Hall during a banquet which was organised to celebrate the restorations of the Town Hall which was damaged in a fire in 1536. The head chief however burned a roast deer and attempted to replace it by stealing two goats from a nearby meadow which consequently escaped and ended up on the top of the Town Hall. This attracted the attention of attending guests and provided a great entertainment which was immortalised in a form of two goats in a clock mechanism.

At first when I moved to Killorglin I did not make the connection between King Puck and the two white goats in Poznan in Poland, but perhaps there is some link there, destiny perhaps, as I cannot escape them. Unfortunately, my celebrations of Puck Fair are quite limited as I’m training in Cork and preparing for the World Rowing Championships in France. As much as life stops or picks up the pace for the residents of Killorglin, for me it remains the same. It all revolves around training. That’s the priority (until the day I retire, I reckon). Currently I’m training in a Women’s Four with Leonora Kennedy from Enniskillen, Barbara O’Brien from Limerick and Aifric Keogh from Galway. Bigger boat often equates to a bigger challenge as there is more people, distinctive rowing styles and more bodies that have to coordinate. Also, I have not raced in a four before hence I’m learning a lot about how to balance being single minded with being part of a bigger team, how to negotiate (as there is more opinions now) and how to change to adjust to another person’s rowing rhythm. I’m now in a two seat, meaning that I am in the middle of the boat responsible for delivering power per stroke and calls. Like I said previously, rowing is a journey. It is like a river actually, in some places straight, calm and wide and in parts rough, bendy and bouncy and there is nothing else left to do other than to keep going. Big thanks to my sponsor FEXCO but also Killorglin Rowing Club, Avalanche Designs and all readers of the Outlook for being on this journey with me.

Diversion

My journey to Rio took a small diversion. A diversion that was perhaps out of my control. The reason why I call it a detour/ diversion is because the goal remains the same – Olympic Qualification – but the way in which I will get there has altered. Last Thursday I raced two races over 1,500 meters to select a new combination for a pair but also to prove that the women’s pair boat is quick enough to be sent to the World Rowing Championships in France at the end of August. I won both races coming on top in the stroke seat position. Unfortunately, both combinations were few seconds too slow (based on prognostic gold medal times) to be in the mix to fight for an Olympic qualification in August hence the boat was scratched as a result. This decision came as a shock, as it is important to train and compete in the toughest of environment to ensure that we constantly progress and challenge ourselves. Now, we are onto Plan B. A plan that I am not fully satisfied with. A plan that forces me to compromise. I will be rowing in a women’s four for the forthcoming World Championships.

This means that all four of us will be training and competing for, hopefully, medals at the Championships with the aim of forming a quick enough Women’s Pair this September. Thankfully there is another window of opportunity to qualify in May 2016. This will be our route to qualification with 4 places remaining (11 boats qualifies at the championships this year). Rowing in a four will give us an opportunity to get used to one another and adopt a common rowing style which will filter through the boat. This will give us a stronger platform for creation of a smaller boat in September, that is the Women’s Pair. Also, if injury or sickness struck – there are spares, which was not the case this season. The Women’s Pair however is not my only option for Rio. Here again is why I think the word ‘diversion’ describes this situation perfectly. Come September we will know exactly which boats did qualify and which seats are up for grabs. Also, we cannot forget about injuries, sickness and unforeseen circumstances which are present in all kinds of sports. Therefore, I have to be ready for any boat that I will be put into, whether it would be in sculling (single, double) or in sweep (pair). Of course change like this is not welcomed and cherished, and also a lot of questions come to mind but I know one thing– I fought for so long to be in a position I am right now and I’m NOT going to give up! This is only a beginning of my rowing journey and I will one day become an Olympian – Just Watch Me!

Lessons Learned

I have been involved in rowing for close to 9 years now and it has thought me a lot of things. Things that otherwise I could not have learned so young or perhaps things that some people will never discover. I learned a lot about myself as an individual, my family and the network of people around me. I have got to know the sport inside out, I know how it feels to achieve – win a major competition, to lose a race being so close to the finish line, to improve and push yet another limit and to disappoint – disappoint myself. Being a part of a high performance team requires an individual to adapt, fit into a particular organization, its culture and adopt an attitude. An attitude that requires you to keep going no matter what. In this structure we are constantly challenged and driven to achieve. Not many people can relate to this journey of self-discovery unless they aimed to be the best at something and in this process they got knocked down to their knees more times than applauded. Each time however we dust ourselves off and we keep going because the dream, the goal that we are pursuing is much bigger than anything else existing at that point in time. Training these days is done independently in designated pairs with trials being held on Wednesday.

It is time to prove once again that I have the right to represent Ireland because I am fast enough. Similarly last year I had to trial for a place in the Women’s Double Scull to make the boat go quicker. Participating in trials has achieved just that. I am of an opinion that everything happens for a reason and this is the way it should be. Tests usually bring the best out in athletes hence a bit of “pressure” didn’t do anyone any harm (if used correctly). The trial will involve two 1,500 meters races. The aim of this trial is to race as fast as possible in two combinations and select the quickest one. There is a possibility of a 2,000m race to demonstrate the speed of the selected combination however it is not yet confirmed. For now the focus is on racing as fast as possible from point A to point B. Also the other day I rediscovered my old love – the single scull. I have done some miles in the single and I enjoyed it very much. It was only me, my boat and the water. Sometimes being a high performance athlete turns into a burden, responsibility and a hard work. This does not fuel results but bad performance. If that happens, it is important to take a step back and remind ourselves why we do it in the first place. Keep her lit!

Matrix Racing

Training continues with 7 weeks left to the World Rowing Championships in Auigbelette in France. After the World Cup III event we had a few days at home doing a light cross training sessions. Taking a break from our usual work environment, that is the National Rowing Centre, freshens the mind and the body, making us hungry for rowing even more. The next number of weeks will be spent on trying to make the Women’s Pair boat quicker. This will be done by trying different boat settings and different combinations, with the final selection being determined by a trial.

This is a normal procedure in determining whether the boat is quick enough. Unfortunately, the weather is playing games with us again. Strong winds and gusts make rowing difficult but we are out on the water anyhow while sessions are now separated by longer breaks to take an advantage of the weather. Sport is like a roller coaster, you have to be prepared for anything. In rowing in particular things are tougher as there is a fixed and a small number of seats available. Especially in Ireland, a small number of athletes to pick from and a 2,000m side by side race, which tests you physically, mentally and technically. It is a tough game to be in but that’s exactly what makes things so exciting, challenging and eventually rewarding.

Beautiful Lucerne

The World Cup III in Lucerne, Switzerland is now over. This venue is well known for its clear waters, beautiful weather, striking architecture, efficient transport network and very often heartbreaking rowing stories. This weekend saw the best of rowers to battle it out for medals with more than a few battling also injuries, badly executed racing strategies that has cost places in the finals and hot weather that has played its toll on recovery and racing. It was my first time in Lucerne and I loved it. The place was breathtaking. We have arrived quite late and had a day to acclimatise to what I have considered to be extremely hot weather. Although my race was the first race of the day and it was scheduled at 9:30am, it was already over 20 degrees. The rowing course was lovely, the water was warm, flat surrounded by fields, tram tracks and cows sounding the cowbells. It was nostalgic. The purpose of this weekend was to learn and we have done just that. The area that we have to particularly improve on is the midrace pace.

The transition between the start and the wind in at the finish is not good enough. It has to be steadier, relaxed and more efficient as well as more powerful on the legs. The difference between rowing a competitive race and being left at the final leg of the battle is getting this part right. This means we have to do a more lengthy race pieces at a higher rates and dig deep to sustain the length and power during the middle 1000meters of the race. We have come up with a race strategy prior to our race but did not deliver the desired result. We planned to have a check points during the race to assess the situation and make a move however the field was moving too quick for us to make a sufficient gain. The final ranking is 5th in Final C so not what I have excepted and what I have worked for so hard. The next 7 weeks before the World Rowing Championships calls for major changes. Also, big thanks for all of your votes in the Nissan Generation Next competition. Thanks to you I have secured a 152 Nissan Pulsar for a year. I love it and I greatly appreciate your help! A quote which will be my focus point for the next 7 weeks is one of Elbert Hubbard: “A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success”.

Preparations for World Cup III Regatta

Currently I’m in Cork packing for the World Cup III event which is held in Lucerne in Switzerland. I’m departing this Wednesday from Dublin Airport with a long commute ahead of me. We will arrive at our hotel late on Wednesday with two training sessions the following day. The World Cup series is held from May to July every year with a World Cup event once a month. This event is said to be the toughest as it is the last test for many countries before the World Rowing Championships which incorporates the Olympic Qualification Regatta this year. To make things even more interesting, there is 21 entries in the Women’s Pair event. Some of the country are doubling up, suggesting that they test their final crew combinations for team selection before the worlds. The nations racing in Lucerne include: Australia, Belgium, Canada boat 1 and 2 Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, France, Great Britain boat 1 and 2, Germany boat 1 and 2, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands boat 1 and 2, Poland and lastly the Republic of South Africa.

Some of the countries missing from the above list include China, USA, Argentina or Romania, hence the entry for the World Championships can be greater. At worlds however, each country can enter only one crew per event. The racing takes place on Friday, with heats in the morning and potentially repechages in the afternoon. On Saturday there are semi-finals and finals on Sunday. Training over the past few days has been very productive. We have hit some top end speeds in our race preparations suggesting an increase in our anaerobic capacity. We have also practiced starts and sprint finish so hopefully we will be able to deliver it on the day. Training conditions were mixed hence we are ready for any weather. Although we don’t have many days to acclimatise, as temperatures are above 30 degrees in Switzerland, I think the high humidity over the past few days has served us well. Again, big thanks to Fexco for undergoing this journey with me. This is my first time in Lucerne. Also, I’m excited to show off some of my new branded gear at the regatta. I’m officially a Fexco athlete, on and off the water. Next step, lets dominate the world. Chat after the event!

Technical Nightmare

Another week has gone by and I am a step closer to my next competition. The last few days I have spent working on my rhythm and positioning at the catch. The catch means a point in time at which the blade enters the water and the rowers changes the direction of movement from stern to the bow (back of the boat). If this is timed correctly, the rower can utilise the already moving boat in result making the stroke more powerful and injecting speed into the stroke. As a stroke person in the boat I’m responsible for timing and rate. I have to ‘listen’ to the boat and move at the right speed in order to take the full advantage of the already moving boat. It is not easy as I have to coordinate my lower body, that is legs and especially feet to arrive at a specific time, simultaneously preparing my upper body to place the oar into the water. This has to be done in a perfect synchronicity so that the flow of the boat is not disturbed. Hence I cannot be late nor too early at the catch position. It sounds complicated but it is even harder to do in practice.

Technical training sessions are used to practice parts of the stroke which will hopefully lead to a better understanding and feeling of the boat. Mechanical changes in the boat require a lot of focus which make me mentally fatigued. I have to concentrate very hard to move in a particular way. This way is verbalised by our coach and I have to make sense of it, transfer words into a movement and a feeling. Unfortunately it takes time, patience and practice, as practice makes it permanent. With all those technical pointers in mind, I’m tackling long mileage sessions and already seeing some improvements in speed which is encouraging and motivates me to work harder. Good weather also makes being on the water more pleasurable. The 20 kilometers outings are great for getting some farmers tan also :-) That rowing suit (the pale part of my body) will never come off, I genuinely think some parts of my body will never tan again. On that note, I better go back to thinking about that catch positioning.

The Outlook No24.

It was like going down memory lane watching the Killorglin Rowing Club junior crews competing at Cork Regatta last weekend. With international season well underway and my focus turned to World Cup 3 event it was a pleasure to watch the hustle and bustle at Cork regatta. Only three years ago it has been my ‘international’ stage where I competed for medals against more experienced competitors. I also didn’t train in a fancy facility like the National Rowing Centre but I was smashing it up and down the river Laune in Killorglin. It has made me the athlete I am today, you have to start somewhere and move forward, one step at a time. However the further you go the things get more serious. The following three weeks will consists of ‘flat out’, maximum power and rate pieces to prepare us for the World Cup3 regatta which will be used as a ‘final check’ before the World Rowing Championships in late August. With ups and down like during any preparations I hope things will go smoothly for Leonora and I as we will race the Women’s Pair event at, as its often said, the most competitive World Cup of all. Last weekend there was 15 entries in the World Cup 2 regatta in Varese, Italy with Great Britain yet again taking first in our event.

The weather conditions were quick enabling crews to produce times close to (only 3 second off) the World Best Time (WBT) of 6:50 in the Women Pair event. Also, at the weekend the Lightweight Women’s Single Sculler of New Zealand has set a new World Record of 7:24 over 2,000meters. Previous WBT was unchallenged for over 20 years. The speed at which you move the boat is dependent on many factors for example the wind speed/ direction, the temperature of water, water flow, one’s physiology and boat set up. Some of the factors however are out of our control hence some records remain unchallenged for decades as things do not fall into place on the day. The unfortunate nature of an outdoor sport. Nonetheless it is all about giving 100% on the day and preparing as well as one can as these are the things within one’s control. On that note, I better get to back to training. Please don’t forget that Nissan Generation Next competition continues for another 2 weeks! Please vote every 24hours here: https://www.nissangenerationnext.ie/candidates/view/19 You are the one racing this race for me! I have my fingers crossed! Thanks!

NISSAN GENERATION NEXT

The calls “tap down, outside hand, inside hand, hips through, rhythm, anticipate the pick-up, move with the boat” are ringing in my head. Over the past week Leonora and I received a lot of technical input and the changes which are now evident in paddling are slowly filtering through into our race pace. The boat feels much more balanced while rhythm is much more attacking. At the weekend we did some high rate pieces designed to recruit the deeper muscle fibers, the pieces ranged from some short powerful bursts and lengthened with time where rate and rhythm at pace were key. It meant that the longest race pieces were left to the end when we were both fatigued and we had to really challenge ourselves to deliver fast speeds. Overall we did 12 pieces incorporated within 18km of rowing. During outings like this one, you really learn about yourself, your partner and your limits. With regards to the latter, you often exceed them, you push harder, further and create new limits which in time become targets. It is all about the self-improvement. Sometimes it may take longer to improve on things like physiology but some changes are observed quite quickly which act as motivators to train harder. Leonora and I have a number of testing pieces over the coming days which will be closely monitored. I hope to see an improvement especially at the start and the end of the racing piece. The aim is to get off the blocks first and have enough left in the tank to wind at the finish, increase the rate and the boat speed. This weekend I also managed to get home for a day and enjoy some quality time with my family as well as to call to Killorglin Rowing Club, see some racing at Cahersiveen Regatta and have a sleep in until 7:30am which still feels like a treat. I treasure the time spent at home as it takes me away from my work environment which is the National Rowing Centre and Cork. Also, I was on a voting campaign as I entered the Nissan Generation Next competition and I have a chance of winning a Nissan car for a year. This time however I cannot line up on the start line and race for it, it is in your hands! You are competing on my behalf by voting with your e-mail every day (one vote every 24hours) until 6th of July. Voting can be done here: https://www.nissangenerationnext.ie/candidates/view/19 It has to be done daily where one email equals one vote. Please support me and win this race for me as a free car would help me on my row to Rio campaign. Thanks in advance!

World Cup 3 event in Lucerne in Switzerland

European Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland is a distant memory now and I have a new focus, that is the World Cup 3 event in Lucerne in Switzerland. The event takes places in 6 weeks’ time and our preparations are well underway. Having reviewed our races to date I’m optimistic and although things did not go according to plan during the Europeans it is encouraging to see that we are well in the mix in the Women’s Pair event. The field is separated by seconds and over the last two months, Leonora and I have shown that we can deliver those speeds. Sickness and a number of things which were inevitably out of control spoiled our racing but now, having analysed it and identified areas for improvement, we can move on and start on a fresh canvas. Returning to training after a competition is often accompanied by a feeling of urgency as well as increased focus. The urgency comes from the fact that our next event is just around the corner, while increased focus follows the need to make mechanical changes which are mentally draining to accomplish. Our bodies move in a particular way, which is either easy, natural or became a habit over time. In order to change it, we have to brake the movement down into small elements and address each element individually and once ‘fixed’, join it together again. It may sound complicated and it is, just imagine making a mechanical change while the boat is moving, you are accompanied by your partner who also makes changes (which are often of a different nature) and there might be strong head wind or a cross wind which hauls our rhythm or speed. Sounds like fun, right? And it is indeed, otherwise I would not be at it! There is nothing better than a good challenge! Also, this week I am delighted to announce that FEXCO, the foreign exchange specialist came on board as my main sponsor for this season. I’m honoured to have a such a strong company behind me. This gives me a great pride and encouragement that FEXCO recognised my hard work, commitment and dedication to rowing. Having a sponsor will ease the pressures associated with being a full time athlete. I am looking forward to working with FEXCO this season and achieving some remarkable things.

FEXCO BACKS MONIKA DUKARSKA ON THE ROAD TO RIO 2016

Foreign exchange specialist, FEXCO, has today announced its sponsorship of Ireland Women’s Pair rowing representative, Monika Dukarska, during her training for the Rio 2016 Olympics. The 24 year old Polish native started rowing at the Killorglin Rowing Club shortly after moving to Ireland aged 16 and progressed to represent the Irish national team. This is her third year rowing for Ireland and, having previously raced in the Double Scull event, she is now turning her hand to sweep rowing in the Women’s Pair event. Monika is currently training for the 2015 World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette, France this September, a qualifying event for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Monika and her teammate, Leonora Kennedy, can qualify for Rio 2016 with a top-11 finish at this event. If either of the Women’s Pair, Women’s Double or the Women’s Lightweight Double qualifies for the Olympics, it will be the first time in history that Ireland will be represented in these boat categories.

Shane Kavanagh, Group Marketing Director, FEXCO, comments: “We are delighted to be working with Monika during her training for the Olympics, and it would be great to see a Women’s Pair qualify and make Irish history. “Monika is an extremely talented athlete, with an incredible amount of drive and ambition. This is clear through her dedication to rowing throughout her school years, as well as receiving a first class bachelor and master degree, while competing at a professional level. We look forward to supporting Monika on the road to Rio.”

Monika Dukarska, Ireland Women’s Pair representative, comments: “It’s great to have FEXCO behind me during the Rio qualifying rounds. “Our success at the Memorial Paolo d'Aloja Regatta was a great start to the season. Despite being my first international regatta in the Women’s Pair event, my partner Leonora Kennedy and I managed to take home the gold in both races - competing against 25 other nationalities. We had a good result last week in Poznan finishing ninth in the European Championships. I’m glad to be home in Ireland now and training harder than ever for September’s qualifier.”

Contact Maria McGrath, Group PR Manager FEXCO +353 86 165 3055 or mmcgrath@fexco.com

FEXCO is Ireland’s most successful multinational financial services provider, with operations in 28 countries worldwide. Founded and headquartered in Ireland in 1981, FEXCO employs more than 2,000 people across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North America, Latin America and Australasia. FEXCO serves some of the world’s biggest brands across multiple industries through a wide range of innovative products and services, including Dynamic Currency Conversion, Commercial and Retail FX, Managed Business Solutions and Tax Free Retail Services. For thirty three years, FEXCO has been driven by an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. This ethos has brought the company to new regions and industries of growth, connecting customers with exciting new opportunities. Through its commitment to integrity and innovation, the company has built an international network of partners and customers.

9th in Europe, European Rowing Championships 2015, Poznan, Poland

It is easy to overthink things especially straight after a performance. Last weekend I raced at the European Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland. It feels like a distant memory now as we began our preparations for the World Cup 3 which is held in 6 weeks’ time in Lucerne in Switzerland. This is our next focus! Our next goal and we are hungry for racing! Unfortunately Europeans did not go according to plan and we placed 9th overall in the Women’s Pair event. My expectation was to finish 5th or 6th which was indicated by the times/ performances at home in the lead up to the event. Things however do not always work out as we wish on a race day. There are several reasons for it but what we need to do at the time is to deal with them on that day and make the most of it. Some of the reasons why things didn’t go as well would be our rhythm as a crew, myself and Leonora Kennedy found it hard to get back into our ‘usual’ pattern of movement after few days out of the boat and like I said previously – synchronicity as a crew is key. The weather conditions we challenging, sickness in the camp as well as a lane draw all played its part, although some of them were out of our control.

The racing began on Friday with our heat early that morning. We raced Netherlands, Spain and Poland, placing 3rd and gaining an automatic place in the Semifinal A/B the next day. The Spanish crew got us on the line as we didn’t execute our wind at the finish well enough. We were determined to fix it the following day however being drawn in lane 5 and facing quite demanding conditions cost us a final A placing. We managed to get to the finish line in 5th position ahead of Germany in lane 6 who also struggled with the waves. Our Final B on Sunday was much better from technical point of view. We attacked the race from the start and we lead the field with 1000m to go. Again towards the closing meters we got overtaken by Czech Republic and Spain as we got into a difficulty with the waves once more.

Europeans were disappointing but also encouraging. Although things have not worked out for us we are still in the mix and we are well capable of racing the speeds of our competitors meaning that once we get back on track, we will be well in there. The focus over the next few weeks will be on mechanical changes and getting every detail right. As we have seen last weekend – we are playing for seconds now and we have 6 weeks to get it right. It’s exciting to think that although we were formed as a crew in early March of this year, we can actually get out there and compete with much more experienced competitors. Europeans are over. Lessons learned. Next stop – Lucerne!

Preparations for the 2015 European Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland.

It’s now Sunday and I am writing my last blog before I depart to Poznan, Poland where I will race in the Women’s Pair (W2-) event for Ireland. I will compete against 13 other crews including a crew from Poland. The following countries entered the W2- category at the Championships: Germany, Great Britain, Spain, France, Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Russia, Ukraine and Romania. Top 3 boats from each heat will qualify directly into an A/B Semifinal with the remainder fighting for the last 3 places available in a repechage. Top 3 boats from each semifinal will then go into Final A on Sunday. It will be my first time meeting the majority of the crews. I raced against the Spanish pair in Piediluco in April but I didn’t meet the remainder of the competition.

The Great Britain pair are the Olympic and World Champions while the Netherlands won the World Cup I regatta last month, hence the racing will be of a high caliber. This championship is very important to us as a crew as it will give us an idea of our ranking in Europe and it will also be a great learning experience. It will help us identify areas that need further improvement and areas that we are particularly good at. So far, the preparations for the European Rowing Championships are going well and according to plan. To date we had a number of racing pieces which helped us to work on our racing start, transition and a wind to the finish. We also trained in all water conditions: flat calm, cross wind, head wind and a tail wind. Some conditions were tougher than others but we aim to master all conditions and be confident at racing no matter what the weather throws at us on the day. Over the last few days we also made some technical changes which improved our boat speed.

The focus was on the human kinetic chain and linking the lower and the upper body in a natural but powerful way, making the rowing stroke more efficient. It has worked! The last few days before departure will be all about rest, nutrition and…packing. The boats are leaving a few days before we will depart to Poland, hence we have to be very organised. I’m very excited for the event, firstly because it is my first major competition this season and I want to test myself in a new boat category and secondly because my family will come to watch me race. I will have a home advantage away from home ;-) I can’t promise a particular result but I promise one thing: I will leave everything I’ve got on the water! Let the racing begin!

Vicious Circle

Training and operating in a high performance environment is like a vicious circle. You get one thing wrong and then all the different elements of the jigsaw do not fit or are somewhat affected by your actions. Preparation, performance and evaluation were the key themes on our agenda this week. Most importantly however it is all about the relationship between the three terms. It may sound complicated but in reality it is very simple. The problem however lies in putting it into practice and turning it into a habit. In a high performance structure it is all about performance.

The aim is to produce solid performances on a regular basis and that’s where the preparation comes into play. In order to deliver something good day in day out you have to have a good preparation which works for you and unlocks your full potential each time. In order to recognise what is your optimal preparation you have to evaluate it, review each step and eventually, arrive at a master plan which brings the best out of you. It is all about practice and learning. Although it takes time and effort to incorporate it in your routine, it may significantly increase the chances of getting things right on “THE” day!

Preparation means the things you do pre performance, two days, a day and a few hours before the event (match/ race etc.). Things that you get pre-organised (like gear, food etc.), things that you do in the lead up that relax you and eventually get you ready for the performance. My prerace as well as a race preparation is near perfection, however I am still evaluating and adjusting it accordingly.

Races abroad shouldn’t be any different to my performances in Ireland therefore I try to keep things exactly the same. This week I also had my well-deserved day off. I really looked forward to travelling home and doing nothing rowing related for a day. I needed a mental break. Spending time with my family feels like a reward especially as rowing is getting very intense with our first major competition just around the corner. Just to mention, my preparation in the Pair is going very well. I’m very pleased with our speeds and our progress. Recent speed pieces showed good response to anaerobic training and even a greater potential which only awaits to be unlocked.

Training Challenges

International rowing season for senior athletes consists of five major events a year, that is the World Cup 1, World Cup 2, World Cup 3, European Rowing Championships and the World Rowing Championships, which incorporate the Olympic Qualification Regatta this year. Considering the amount of training we are doing, that is training two to three times a day for approximately 338days a year, it is not a lot. These regattas however attract the fastest and the strongest rowers in the world and it takes a lot of endurance, strength and anaerobic (speed) training over several years to prepare for these events and compete against the best. Some nations also prioritise some events over others depending on the cost, venue, timeframe of the event and their crews. This weekend I have followed the World Cup 1 regatta which was held in Bled in Slovenia. Due to the European Rowing Championships being only three weeks away, some nations did not compete, including Ireland. However, it was good to see some racing and assess the competition with The Netherlands taking gold in the Women’s Pair event. We are now entering the anaerobic phase of our training. This means only one thing – sprint work and side by side racing. The specific race preparation (reproducing the race, training at a race pace or above the race pace) aims to acclimitise us and get us comfortable (as much as that’s possible) with the feeling of a ‘burn’ which we experience in our legs and lungs during the race. By doing so, we are preparing ourselves for hitting the wall but instead of giving up, we will be able to keep going through it.

On a weekly basis we are doing around five speed sessions ranging from short flat out sprints to long side by side races at a race pace or above. A race pace means the average number of strokes per minute that a crew maintains during a race. It is around 34 to 36 strokes per minute for the Women’s Pair. Entries for the European Championships are not yet known but I would expect to see all of the top pairs in Europe including the 2014 World Champions – Great Britain. Having recovered from the previous weeks work, I’m ready to push the limits once again, fighting for every second and every stroke

Training Challenges

Training two to three times daily, every day for three to four weeks without a day off is demanding. It is demanding physically as well as mentally. Sometimes it is more of a mental battle to get through a training session while your body can actually do it. Also, not every training session is perfect. There is several things that a rower has to work on. The rowing stroke is complex but our goal is to make it as simple and easy as possible. We have to be able to repeat it over 240 times during a race especially when the fatigue kicks in. In a crew boat it is even more difficult. We have to find a common way of thinking, moving and coping. Two has to become one. Last week has been challenging, I felt tired. However, it wasn’t only a physical tiredness but more of a mental drain which accumulated over hundreds of kilometers that I covered on and off the water. Long paddles often turned into a battle, a battle with myself. My goal was to maintain straight lines while moving up and down the boat. I knew I was fatigued but I had to force myself to change, to improve and to sustain that change for several kilometers. It’s my responsibility to respond to what the coach is saying, to what the coach is trying make me to do. My changes impact my partner and vice versa, making the boat go faster or slower. I have to be on top of my game all the time especially as I’m in a stroke seat – dictating the pace of our rowing. Getting through a training session when you are not feeling 100 percent able for it often feels like an accomplishment.

The moment you get things right and the boat goes faster or you feel that you are moving effortlessly with the boat feel very rewarding. Those are the rewards that remind you why you do it in the first place. When my body and mind are aching I remind myself about the upcoming competition and that I may feel similar way on the race day. It is important to remember that days like these will always be there and are perhaps necessary. Without a tough day, I wouldn’t know how a great day feels like. It is a meandering road that leads to success. Prepare yourself for ups and down, while the way you deal with them will determine your success.

Week 16

It is hard to believe that it’s now week 16 of my rowing blog. I just remember going through the winter training and hoping for warmer weather as the cold was unbearable and my hands perished on the oar handle. Since then I was at two training camps, I won two international medals at the 2015 Piediluco Regatta and although the temperatures are close to freezing again, being away has broken up the training and made it much more interesting. Travel from Varese was long and tiring. I managed to get home at 5am the following morning, exhausted but happy to be home. Finally I had a well-deserved day off which I spent with friends and family. These days are rare hence I always try to make the most of them. My next day off is on the 18th of May (counting the days ;-)). Now, I am back training at the National Rowing Centre in Cork and I’m continuing my preparations for the 2015 European Rowing Championships. The event is held in my hometown Poznań in Poland.

Before I moved to Ireland I lived only 10 minutes’ drive from Malta lake. Lake Malta, known also as the Maltański Reservoir, is an artificial lake formed in 1952 and includes a buoyed 2km regatta course which is used for various rowing and kayaking competitions. There are also a number of recreational attractions along the edge of the lake including: ski slope, ice rink, zoological garden, bike rental, small railway as well as a large shopping center. When I was a child I always cycled or rollerbladed around the lake with my father or walked it with my grandparents. Although over the years I have seen many rowers on the lake I have never imagined that I will line up on a start line of the European Rowing Championships in a Women’s Pair event wearing an Irish rowing suit. Representing my adopted country and being cheered by my family in Poland. It will be emotional. It doesn’t happen often that you return to your home country nearly 9 years later, pursuing your dream to row and eventually qualify for Olympics representing another nation. A nation that got you to believe in that dream in the first place. A country that facilitated my growth as an athlete. The next few weeks will be filled with race preparation and the focus will lie on the little details. It is all about the inches.

Training Camp - Varese

The training camp in Varese, Italy is soon coming to an end. The training programme for the duration of the camp was intense and consisted mainly of 3 training sessions a day. Although the only thing I was doing was training – the days were filled from an early morning to a late evening. Any spare time was used as recovery, ensuring that I was ready for the next training session. In between trainings I had also a possibility to avail of physiotherapy services, which are vital especially after racing. Sunny weather, flat water and no wind definitely made it very worth our while to come here. After racing at the Piediluco regatta I was fatigued but after few days of long steady-state (low rates 20-22 s/m) paddling I felt I was bouncing back and recharging the batteries while still training hard. During the camp we were working with Dr. Valery Kleshnev who is an expert in biomechanics testing in rowing.

The purpose of this testing was to ensure that 1) the boat is set up correctly 2) to analyse the movement patterns and power application of each rower 3) to identify technical areas that need improvement (synchronicity as a crew) 4) to find a maximum speed at a maximum rate and a maximum efficiency of a crew. This is then compared and measured against the world standards. Each Irish boat that will compete internationally this season was tested during the camp. Testing consisted of a 2,000m race while the boat was wired up with a little on-board box that was collecting data while Leonora Kennedy and I raced as hard as we could for the duration of the test. The results are then presented as graphs which look at the legs, trunk and arms movement, velocity of the oar and angles at the catch/finish for each athlete individually and jointly as a crew. Results were interesting and very encouraging. I discovered that perhaps I am a natural sweep rower? Also, my leg drive is faster than the target which is a great advantage. My movement patterns are also very good and close to the target. Although we have to make some technical changes as a crew and mechanical adjustments to the boat – we are already moving faster! The improvement has been astonishing! The last few days of camp will consists of some side by side racing preparation. After returning home I will continue training at the National Rowing Centre in Cork in preparations for the European Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland – that is the real test for our crew!

Memorial Paolo d’Aloja Regatta

Never underestimate the Irish! Our first international regatta this season and two gold medals in the bag! The focus for the past week was on the 2015 Piediluco Regatta in Italy (Memorial Paolo d’Aloja Regatta). It is an invitational international regatta with 25 nations competing for medals this year. In the lead up to it we completed a solid block of an aerobic/endurance training which consisted of long distance rowing sessions. It gave us a great paddling platform which will feed into our racing speed later on in the season. There was no specific race preparation conducted for this regatta as this weekend was used as groundwork for the European Rowing Championships at the end of May. I arrived in Piediluco on Wednesday night after an entire day of travelling. This day would be considered to be a day off from training.

The following day we arrived at the rowing venue and we rigged our boats. We had two short training sessions on the course to loosen out after travelling and to learn more about the course and the conditions. We were based only a short drive away from the course, which was very beneficial as our races were usually early in the morning. There were seven entries in the Women’s Pair event on both days. Piediluco Regatta is run over three days and takes place from the 10th to the 12th of April. It’s a double regatta. This means that competitors race the heats on Friday to qualify for Saturday’s finals.

On Saturday afternoon there are heats again to gain qualification for Sunday’s finals. Due to Republic of South Africa pulling out due to medical reasons we ended up having a straight final on both days, the Saturday and the Sunday. It was my first international regatta in the Women’s Pair event. Leonora Kennedy and I raced in the Women’s Double Scull in 2013 but it was our first competitive race in the Women’s Pair. We began this project early in March 2015 and since then we raced only at the National trials. This event was a great learning curve for both of us as a crew as well as individually. I was very uncertain of what to expect as we are not in a position to race against other pairs at home in Ireland. The thought of racing other nations in the same boat category was exciting but scary at the same time. The first race was like testing the waters, we went off the starting blocks slightly behind the competitors but we fast discovered that we can go harder and started catching other crews and leading the race with 500m to go.

It was our first competitive race and a first win. This gave us a great confidence boost. After the race we analysed our race strategy and adjusted the race plan for Sunday. On Sunday we decided to lead from start to finish. We did just that! We went off the blocks much harder and kept the rate higher. We were confident as a crew. The focus of our rowing was on the process behind every stroke rather than the outcome. The outcome however was the same – first place for Ireland. Spain has put a huge push with 500m to go but we held them off, keeping our own rhythm and staying in our zone. The results were as follows: Ireland 1st, Spain 2nd and Italy 3rd on both days. Piediluco Regatta happened to be my best regatta to date. Two races - two gold medals - two trophies – two victories. I’m truly delighted and highly motivated to train harder and prepare well for the European Rowing Championships in Poznan in Poland. Next stop is Varese, Italy for a training camp until the 22nd of April.

Regatta 2015

We are a step closer to our first regatta of the 2015 season. A team of 8 will represent Ireland at the 2015 International Regatta in Piediluco in Italy. The entries have been published and I will face Spain, four crews from Italy and a crew from the Republic of South Africa in the Women’s Pair event. We are expected to race a heat on Friday, final on Saturday with another heat taking place that afternoon, followed by a final on Sunday. Piediluco is a double regatta, giving us plenty of opportunities to try things out and of course learn from it. The event will be followed by a 10day training camp in Varese, Italy where we begin our preparations for the European Rowing Championships which are held in my hometown Poznań in Poland. The past week of work consisted of a lot of long distance training sessions and some on the water lactate testing. This is unusual before a regatta as normally we would taper and decrease the amount of training however the event in Piediluco and the training camp are used as a training preparation for the Europeans, hence taper is limited ensuring that we peak at the right time. The lactate testing was performed by physiologists from the Irish Institute of Sport. We completed a 47minute rowing piece on the water at various rates. During the rest time the physiologists took a blood sample which was then inserted into a reader that gave us a lactate score. It is much harder to generate lactate on the water in comparison to a rowing machine, as it is highly dependent on the technique and connection at the catch while rowing. The lactate levels should increase once the rate increases. The following day we were tested once more during a 20km outing where the aim was to paddle at a UT2 level, meaning that the lactate should be between 0.8 and 2.0 level. The UT2 level ensures that you work on your aerobic threshold. The same was repeated during our ergometer training in the afternoon. Knowing the level at which you train is key as we aim to develop a huge aerobic capacity which will ensure that we can keep going for long periods of time, when other rowers fatigue during the race, we will be able to go on and attack. Imagine a triangle, we work on its base. The longer the base, the higher the triangle. The top of the triangle represents our ability to sprint and race.

Training Report

Tough is the word that best describes the week I had. After trials I had a day off which flew by very quickly. I travelled to Killorglin to see my family and although I’m only 90minutes away from home the volume of training makes it quite difficult to get home on a regular basis. Getting up at 5:30am to get to training in Cork for 7:30am does not support good recovery hence the trips home are limited. After the trials the focus shifts back to long mileage and technical work. Myself and Leonora have made some significant improvements in paddling. We are becoming more and more comfortable in the boat while our timing and positioning has become more synchronised. It has resulted in quicker paddling speeds which will hopefully translate into faster boat speed at a race pace. The second part of the week I had spent indoors. The weather took its toll and I had to cover the mileage on the rowing machine and the bike. I have over 60km on the ergometer under my belt. We also had a number of side by side racing pieces scheduled for Wednesday and Saturday. Unfortunately Saturday’s pieces had to be done on the rowing machines. We were in fact side by side but the nature of the racing was different. We had to do 3 by 2,000m pieces based on the PB (personal best) split for our 5,000m test. The aim was to get a lactate hit and improve on each 2,000m by at least 1second per 500m. Although it was a tough session, I have achieved all of the objectives, reaching 192 bpm heart rate. Having completed the entire training I feel a bit tired but I’m very satisfied with the work I have done. The combination of aerobic and anaerobic training will prepare us well for the Piediluco Regatta on the 10th to 12th of April. We are departing on the 8th of April and I will race in the Women’ Pair event. There is a possibility of 4 races over the weekend, two heats and two finals. I look forward to seeing the entry list. During the week we also spent some time on mental training, ensuring that our pre-race preparation enables us to perform to our full potential. Some tips: make sure to evaluate your performance whether it’s good or bad (learn from it), write things down (it’s hard to remember everything) and focus on things within your control. Delivering a good rowing performance starts way before you line up on a start line. Also big thanks to the Outlook Magazine for covering my training camp fee. The camp takes place after the Piediluco Regatta until the 22nd of April. The support has been unbelievable. I greatly appreciate it.

The National Trials

The National Trials have finally come to an end. Trialing for the team is stressful no matter how well you think you may be prepared. The goal is to perform to the best of ones’ ability, shine on the day and get selected for the team. Sometimes you achieve all of the above and sometimes you fall short. This weekend turned out to be successful for me and my new rowing partner Leonora Kennedy. Myself and Leonora raced together in 2013 at the World Rowing Championships in South Korea. We raced the Women’s Double Scull and we finished 10th overall. This year however we paired up in a sweep boat and raced in the Women’s Pair event. The difference between sculling and sweep is as follows. In sculling rowers have an oar in each hand, they move up and down the slide and there is no need to steer. In a sweep boat however rowers have one oar each (the oar is longer and bigger) and to place the oar in the water they rotate either to their left or right. In this combination I am in a stroke seat and I am responsible for rhythm, steering and rate (how many strokes a minute we are doing). The changes within the team were unexpected and quick. I felt challenged by the requirement of stepping into a sweep boat but I had to step up to the challenge and work hard at making the boat go fast! I did just that. After not even 3 weeks together we raced our first race this weekend! We shined! We produced good speeds and ranked very closely to the top performing boats last and this season. The prospect of the Women’s Double Scull was threatened this season as my last year’s partner got injured and is still recovering. This season therefore I will challenge the world in the Women’s Pair category. There are 11 qualification places at the 2015 World Championships and additional 4 places at the last qualification regatta in 2016. That’s 2 more places than in the Women’s Double category. Coming back to the race, as a crew we had an attacking rhythm, we kept a high rate which was sustainable and coped well with cross head wind conditions which are challenging especially if you have only one oar. Moving together and balance are vital to going fast. Having done our first proper race I am confident we can improve even more. Our paddling speeds are quick and we are only at the start of our anaerobic/ high speed part of racing preparation. The future looks bright!

Trial Preparation!

Preparation for trials which are held on the 21st and 22nd of March is well under way. Thankfully the weather for the past week was kind to us and it didn’t stop us from doing some side by side racing on the course. Now, we are like sprinters on a race track waiting for the gun to go off. The words "Attention-Go" are ringing in my ears. I have completed a small taper for the trial hence I feel more energized and fresh, ready for the big race to officially book my place on the Irish team. It has been a long trialing period which many did not manage to complete. Total of 6 assessments for the past 6 months. Preparation has been tough, with fast rate pieces back to back and having to tackle some demanding conditions at times. It is all a learning curve and we have to be ready for anything. During competitions, some lanes can be disadvantaged by the weather and we have to be able to cope. It is all about practice! My body has made a full recovery from any injuries and I’m ready to push on again.

For the coming trial I have been nominated to race in a crew boat rather than in a single scull. My race starts at 11:10am on Saturday and takes place any time between 9am and 11am on Sunday. The exact timetable for Sunday is not given due to weather. The aim of the trial is to produce the fastest time possible over 2,000 meters. Of course time is often dictated by the weather conditions such as wind and water flow but there is a lot in our control also. I am in the stroke seat hence I am responsible for rhythm, steering and rate. The rate is the amount of strokes that we take per minute. Our race pace should be somewhere around 35 strokes a minute. This means that during the race we will take around 245 strokes. I also have to set relaxed and sustainable rhythm for my rowing partner to follow.

These jobs must be incorporated into pushing hard and giving everything each stroke. The coming week will incorporate some last race preparations and I will have a lactate hangover for the St. Patrick’s Day. No parade for me I am afraid as the focus is on gaining inches now! Have a fun and safe St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

Back to Ireland!

The two weeks training camp in Italy is now a distant memory. Ireland greeted me with snow, rain, wind and waves. I surely feel I am home now. I have now returned to the National Rowing Centre after a slight delay, getting caught on the Kerry-Cork border due to snow. I managed to get a training session in at the Killorglin Rowing Club that morning though. It was been great to train in a place where my rowing journey began nearly 9 years ago now. Having made the leap across the county bounds to Cork later that day I began my preparations for the national trials.

I have completed most of my weekly training on a rowing machine and on the water in a crew boat. I finally feel like a rower again. Due to my previous injury I had to complete a lot of training on a watt bike. Over the last two days I have completed over 40km on a rowing machine and I covered a lot of mileage in a crew boat, which has been very rewarding. Having to abstain from the boat for so long however has cost me few new blisters on my hands. Gripping the oars proves to be challenging at times and using a spray plaster makes it even worse. The phrase "no pain – no gain" fits in perfectly here. Hopefully things will settle soon.

The focus over the past week has been on technique and moving together as a crew. Synchronicity is key. It is a pleasure to be out on the water when the weather is nice and the boat is moving effortlessly. My partner and I, amongst other senior high performance athletes were fortunate to receive a new racing boat for the season which shows a great confidence in our crew on behalf of Rowing Ireland and the coaching team. For the next two weeks we will work to get used to the boat, we will learn how it runs through the water and will work to gain more speed. We have already completed some high rate pieces and took part in side by side racing showing good speeds in very demanding cross tail conditions. The coming week will consist of a lot of speed work. We have three training sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with two training sessions a day for the remainder of the week. The racing on the 21st and 22nd of March will mark our last test before final crew selection and will prepare us for our first international regatta in Piediluco in Italy in early April. Keep your fingers crossed!

Training Camp 16th – 27th of February, Varese, Italy (Part2)

The training camp in Varese, Italy has come to an end. The journey back is always more tiring as the excitement of getting somewhere new is well gone and the training has taken its toll on us all. I have completed a solid block of training which will lead me into the final part of the National Trials which are held on the 21st and 22nd of March at the National Rowing Centre in Inniscarra. The decision whether I will race the single scull or a crew boat on the day has not yet been made, so I have to be ready for anything.

The training camp prepared me well for both possibilities hence I’m confident I can deliver the required performance in either boat. The focus now is to push on from where I am at and use the next three weeks as a stepping stone for international racing. The training programme for the next few weeks includes a lot of racing pieces combined with long mileage so I would expect that fatigue levels will rise and I will really have to focus on getting adequate recovery. Although, some crews are still being formed and some won’t be finalised until later on in the season, we are all on top of our game to ensure that when it comes to crew selection, our name is on the list.

Now that we're in the qualifying year for the Olympics the competition amongst the team members increases significantly and so do the stakes.The Olympics only come around every 4 years and everyone wants to race for the qualifying places. And so do I! This season will test us all physically as well as mentally. After the camp I have spent a relaxing weekend at home in Killorglin and since Monday I am back to Cork training with the team. My first international test will take place on the 10th to 12th of April at the Piediluco Regatta in Italy where I got a bronze medal in in 2014. After the Piediluco Regatta I will travel back to Varese for a 10day training camp.

Training Camp 16th – 27th of February, Varese, Italy (Part1)

Greetings from a training camp in Varese in Italy. It’s day 6 here and we have covered over 170km on the water already. This includes a steady-state paddling, sprinting, racing and technical sessions that we did for the past few days. We also did a number of Pilates classes with our team physiotherapist and we have completed two weightlifting sessions. The training programme consists of three 3 sessions days with the fourth day being a lighter day with only two sessions per day including racing preparation and weight lifting. The lake on which the team trains is located 2 minutes’ walk from the Hotel and is surrounded by beautiful Alps. There are two 2,000m buoyed racing courses on the lake so we have a lot of opportunities to practice some side by side racing and paddling. We are the only senior national rowing team here however there is also a German Junior national rowing team training on the lake and some local Italian rowers. Early training sessions and spreading of training during the day ensures that the lake is not as busy and we have plenty of space on the water. The weather was very nice for the first few days with sun shine however the last day or two were overcast with snow and rain not leaving us for a minute. Regardless of the weather on the day we had to go out rowing and cover the required distance. When the sun is out it is so much more enjoyable. I cannot wait to return here in April for another training camp. So far I have covered a lot of mileage in a variety of combinations and boats ranging from a single to a double to a pair. The Head Coach is experimenting with crew selection which may perhaps mean changes in the coming season. Although only time will tell. Changes like that however keep things fresh and make us adjust and feel the rhythm of one another. It gels the team and challenges us at the same time.

Nightout Ireland Support

Big thanks to Victoria and Lyn from NightoutIreland (http://www.nightoutireland.com/) for being so kind and sponsoring my training camp is Varese, Italy. The ladies covered my individual contribution towards the cost of the camp. This camp will give me an opportunity to cover a lot of mileage in the single scull and work on my technique. Again, thanks for your support ladies I greatly appreciate it! Don’t forget to follow them on Twitter @nightoutireland, visit their website on www.nightoutireland.com They provide a complete entertainment guide in Ireland!

IrishTV Interview

Here’s the link to my recent interview on the IrishTV Sky channel 191 program - Kerry County Matters! I really enjoyed it and thanks to Brian Hurley and the crew for doing such a good job! Tune in here: http://www.irishtv.ie/kerry-matters-28/ (@IrishTV, www.irishtv.ie)

Kerry Sports Awards 2015

I have been privileged to be nominated for the 2014 Renkotil Initial Kerry Sports Awards which were held in Malton Hotel in Killarney on the 30th of January 2015. I am honored to be the winner of the Kerry Sports Award in rowing and I am delighted to see the support network behind me. Without all the help and support over the years, I would not have achieved so much, so everyone can feel a part of my success. I truly believe it’s a joint effort.

A special thank you however goes to Michael G Fleming, the Killorglin Rowing Club Head Coach who believed in me and got me started on my journey to Rio. As much as I wish to say I’m naturally talented and gifted at rowing, it is not true. Without the hours of hard work and extreme patience that Mike has shown over the years, I would not be receiving this award today. It is a pleasure to row for Ireland and represent people of Kerry and Killorglin on a local, national and an international level! Once again thank you.

The HP Trials - Wattbike Testing

Last weekend I travelled to the UL arena in Limerick and competed at the Irish Indoor Rowing Championships. This event drew huge numbers this year, with over 1000 athletes competing. Due to my recent injury I had to complete a 30 minute test on the watt bike instead of the usual rowing machine test. As I was unfamiliar with this type of test it was especially stressful for me. I didn’t know what's in store for me as I know what to expect when it comes to the rowing machine; the usual pain, high levels of lactate acid and the comfort of knowing it will all be over and done with in under 7 minutes. In this case, I didn't know much about watt bike tests. My biggest worry, pacing of the race.

The thought of starting off too hard and exhausting myself half way through, or on the other hand going too slow, not reaching my potential and being dissatisfied with the result. I had to approach this race very strategically, and that’s exactly what I did! Arriving early at the venue I began my warm up with a gentle walk to fully wake myself up. Then I did some stretching and mobility exercises to ensure that I have full flexibility and won't pull any muscles. An hour before the race I completed a 30 minute warm up piece on the bike in order to open up the cardiovascular system. Then it was time for my test. Being third in line I was ready to go at 10.20. 10 minutes into the test I was impressed with how manageable it was. At that stage I aimed to be at 258 watts but ended up at 267. At the 15 minute mark I decided to keep pushing myself and raised my heart rate to 175 beats per minute while still remaining comfortable.

With 10 minutes to go I started raising the rev’s to 102 per minute and aimed to hold the highest wattage possible. I ended up with an average of 276 watts at the end of the test which was 16 watts over what I intended to hold when I set my goals. This showed that I underestimated myself and was capable of more than I realised. Now having my first ever bike test done and dusted I will be more confident next time and I'll truly push myself, knowing well what's it like. The week leading up to the test included a taper (less mileage and less intense weights sessions) and some short but high intensity pieces on the bike. The next week coming however will bring an increase in mileage and some on the water pieces to prepare me for the 2000m water assessment on the 14th and 15th of February.

It's going to be an exciting time because after the trials we depart for an 11 day training camp in Varese, Italy. For me, the camp will comprise mainly of 3 sessions a day which will be divided between the single and double scull. The racing season is fast approaching and although I have been dealing with an injury for quite a long time, my training did not suffer and I have made some significant improvements. I’m really excited for the next few weeks so I can see how far I can actually push myself and continue improving.

Summary 12th - 19th of January

This week’s training has been very productive. I have covered a lot of mileage clocking up 380km on the watt bike, over 40km on the rowperfect machine and I finally got a green light from our team physiotherapist to take to the water. This means that the days on the bike are slowly coming to an end. I have already done some technical work and short paddling in my single scull (rowing boat for one person) which will set me up for a greater mileage the following week. On the 24th our official assessment to the national team. It will take place at the UL Arena in Limerick. Testing usually takes form of an ergometer assessment however I am not in a position to complete it just yet hence I am being tested on the bike. Besides cardio I have also completed weightlifting sessions which are scheduled three times a week. Some key exercises for rowing include squats, lunges, bench press and one arm row.

These are complemented by some core workouts and Pilates class to increase our body awareness and control. I also focus a lot on my recovery between and after sessions as well as nutrition and hydration. Every night I aim to get at least 8 hours sleep and I plan my meals so that I get enough of protein, carbohydrates and nutrients in my diet. Body is like a car, it cannot move without the fuel. A breakfast suggestion to keep you fueled for the entire morning that I highly recommend is porridge with some fruit e.g. strawberries, banana or blueberries mixed with raisins, some honey or yogurt. It’s delicious! More information about training and nutrition can be found on my twitter page @MDukarska. If you have any questions, you can drop me a line on my website. Stayed tuned in for my bike test results next week! of January I have a 30 minutes bike test which is the third part of

National Trials

The national trials were full of 'surprises' or perhaps 'challenges' which had to be dealt with straight away. Unfortunitely my double partner was not able to participate in the on water assessment which meant I had to do the single scull instead of a double. I didn't single scull in over 3 weeks which made me a bit uncertain with regards to my speed. However, I didn't have a choice, I had to get on with it.

The race time was fast approaching and here I was...lining up on the start line in the single sculll. First was a time trial followed by a 2,000m side by side racing. I won both of them in the W1x category. Also, I finished in top 4 based on the speed order right after the Men's Lightweight double, single and the women's pair boats.

I was pleased with my performance topping up 90% of the predicted GMT (Gold Medal Time) time in both races and leading the women's heavyweight category. Conditions were thankfuly managable with gusts holding back till the evening. My next assessment will be on-land, that is the 2k ergometer test.

For now, I will enjoy the festive season and being at home.

National Trials 20th-21st of December 2015

Time is passing very quickly and here we are again, about to line up on the start line for the next part of the National Trials. I just remember racing in my single and it was nearly 2 months ago already! This only proves that the racing season is around the corner and we have to take advantage of every days training. We have to make the most of it! On Saturday I am racing the Women’s Double Scull with my current double partner Helen Hannigan! We have 1,900m time trial followed by a 2,000m side by side racing later in the day.

The weather doesn’t look promising on Sunday therefore racing is under a question mark. Hopefully the wind will calm down!

On the 22nd of December I am departing home. I look forward to seeing my family and friends for more than few hours a day and spending quality time at home in Killorglin, Co. Kerry. I am back training with the National team on the 3rd of January, the start of another chapter of this exciting story. I will keep you posted how I got on. Chat soon!

Merry Christmas everyone and loads of success in the New Year!

Just a quick note to explain my training routine for those interested. Rowing is an endurance based sport. It requires a stamina which enables you to row for a long period of time.

This is required to race a 2,000m race as fast and as efficiently as possible. I train daily with my first session starting at 7:30am. I do session in the single or in the double, anything from 16 to 22km.

I also train on a spinning bike, ergometer and I do weight training three times a week. This is necessary in order to develop aerobic as well as an anaerobic capacity.

Competition | 2014/2015 Schedule:

  • 21-22.12.14 | HP Trials, NRC, Cork.
  • 24.01.15 | Irish Indoor Ergometer Champs , Limerick .
  • 14/15.02.15 | HP Trials, NRC, Cork.
  • 21/22.03.15 | HP Trials, NRC, Cork.
  • 01.04.15 | Physiological Testing.
  • 10-12.04.15 | Piediluco Regatta, Italy.
  • 29-31.05.15 | European Championships, Poznan, Poland.
  • 10-12.06.15 | World Cup 3 Regatta, Lucerne, Switzerland.
  • 30.08.15-06.09.15 | World Senior Rowing Championships, Aiguebelette, France (Olympic Qualifier).