Altman's Training Log

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rowaltman.Blogspot version 2.0!

Welcome (or welcome back!) to I've let my blog sit dormant since Beijing, but I've decided to start it up again to post about my training for the NYC marathon on Nov 7, which I'm running in support of and to raise awareness for Right to Play, an international humanitarian organization dedicated to creating sports programs for kids in the developing world.

I'll keep you posted and you can follow the misadventures of an ex-athlete as he desperately tries to cling to his fitness and work it around a full-time job (and tries to avoid the fate of ex-major league pitcher Kenny Powers.) For those of you I haven't been in touch with in a while, I've temporarily relocated to Boston for work, as I recently took a job with a cleantech firm HQ'd here. In December I'm planning on moving back to San Francisco to work out of the satellite office, just in time to miss the arrival of the worst part of winter.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hey everyone

Sorry for not being current with posts, but life post-racing has been hectic to say the least. So much happened the week after the racing I'm not really sure where to start, so I'm not going to just yet... but I will say that being an athlete who is finished competing is like being a rock star in Vegas - cool, but exhausting and frenetic. I did arrive back in the states (after getting delayed another day in China) and now am getting rested up again and ready to transport back to the West Coast.... but I wanted to post up a story that my college roommate drafted up that didn't make the papers (too much Olympics coverage already) that I liked...

Golden Opportunities

When you first meet Mike Altman, you would not at first guess that he is an Olympic athlete. He is tall without being overbearing, slender to the point of skinny. But as you spend more time with him, you notice something in the way he carries himself, how he moves with the economy and grace that characterize an elite athlete. You later pick up that his jaw is unusually square, and his blue eyes have a certain hardness to them. When you notice all that, it isn't so hard to see him as an Olympian.

Mr. Altman is a lightweight rower. At Georgetown University, he rowed with the varsity heavyweight squad. After he graduated in 1997, he was invited to try out for the lightweight national team—provided he could shed almost forty pounds from a body with virtually no fat on it. He dropped the weight and made the team.

Mr. Altman went on to compete at various international events, winning medals at a number of world championships. But, like most amateur athletes, there was one thing that he truly wanted: to compete in the Olympics. He didn't make the cut for Sydney. More painfully, he was the last man eliminated from the boat that competed in Athens. After the 2004 Games, Mr. Altman faced a painful decision: Should he continue rowing, or not?

It's a particularly acute question for elite rowers. Crew remains a sport where athletes make a name for themselves at top-tier universities, usually in the Northeast. (The three notable exceptions to this rule are the Universities of Wisconsin, California, and, especially, Washington.) In 2008, the top three men's lightweight eights at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association were Cornell, Yale, and the Naval Academy; the top three boats at the Eastern Sprints were Cornell, Princeton, and Yale.

Elite athletes at elite schools often enjoy a world of opportunities awaiting them after graduation. Many superb rowers find it awfully hard to pass up a six-figure salary for the austere life of an amateur athlete.

Compounding the difficulty of Mr. Altman's decision after the Athens Games was the fact that rowing is a sport that can abide longevity. It's not unusual to see rowers compete into their 30s. Rowing isn't like women's gymnastics, where an athletic career is often over before the gymnast faces a single adult decision. (Sir Steve Redgrave, for instance, is a legendary heavyweight oarsman from Great Britain; he is the only athlete in history to have won gold medals in five consecutive Olympiads, starting in Los Angeles and culminating in Sydney.) Even after his near miss in Athens, Mr. Altman would have a legitimate shot at Beijing.

Mr. Altman thought it over for a long time. He arrived at his decision just as one would expect from a jock—albeit a jock with degrees from Georgetown's prestigious School of Foreign Service and UCLA's business school. He turned to the principle of comparative advantage.

Mr. Altman was aware that he had an absolute advantage in lightweight rowing. He was, quite simply, one of the nation's finest lightweight oarsmen. He had the times to prove it, and a display case full of medals from international competitions. The invitation from USRowing to try out for the national team was dispositive proof. He was one of the best.

But was it to his comparative advantage to continue rowing? Mr. Altman had studied David Ricardo, and he knew that to determine his comparative advantage, he would have to compare the competing opportunity costs. Only then could he seriously evaluate the tradeoff.

The opportunity cost of continuing rowing was significant. Mr. Altman had already sacrificed a great deal for his sport. The physical exertion alone was daunting. A six-minute, 2,000-meter race is said to exact as much energy as playing back-to-back basketball games. Exhaustion, pain, and injury wear down even the most dedicated rowers.

There was also his career to consider. Though he had worked in finance for a while, Mr. Altman had not had the time to fully devote himself to the job. He was furthermore eager to start coursework toward an MBA, and was reluctant to forfeit the advantages it might confer on his employment prospects. He resolved to leave the water, focus on his career, and head to business school.

But as the Games drew nearer, Mr. Altman began to re-evaluate the opportunity cost of leaving the sport. The potential upside of returning to rowing was highly uncertain; there were no guarantees he would make the Olympic team. The potential downside was likewise serious. He went to one of his college teammates for advice. "I know I sound like a heartless investment banker when I say this," his friend told Mr. Altman, "but if you really intend to get a decent return out of your investment in the MBA, then now is your best opportunity to make it happen. If things don't work out, you're stuck with the fixed costs associated with financing school, no summer internship to fall back on, and competition from the next batch of MBAs."

And yet Mr. Altman knew that if he chose not to pursue a seat on the national team, he knew he would wonder for the rest of his life if he missed his best chance to compete in the Olympic Games. That, he ultimately decided, was too high an opportunity cost. So Mr. Altman returned to training—and made the Olympic team. Along with Patrick Todd, Will Daly, and Tom Paradiso, Mr. Altman was selected for the Olympic men's lightweight four (without coxswain).

En route to Beijing, the four rowers were joined by four more American lightweights in Linz, Austria, where they won the World Championships in the men's lightweight eight. It was a particularly sweet victory for Mr. Altman, whose first international competition had been in the same event ten years earlier, where his eight had missed the gold by a tenth of a second.

The results in Beijing, however, were less cheerful. The four drew tough heats, and was eliminated from medal consideration in the semi-finals. The boat ultimately finished fifth in the B-final.

Was it worth it? "It's disappointing, but we just weren't having a great week for whatever reason," Mr. Altman recently wrote on his blog. "It's frustrating because we are a good crew, probably the best I've been a part of, so it's too bad this stretch had to come at the Olympics."

Mr. Altman may not have placed as high as he would have liked in Beijing. In twenty years, it's possible that his career may not be as advanced as it might otherwise have been. Yet this much is certain. If you were to ask his college teammates—among them many successful lawyers, consultants, and bankers—they would, to a one, acknowledge that Mr. Altman is the richer man for it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hard racing

We finished up today 5th in B final with some good racing. It's disappointing, but we just weren't having a great week for whatever reason. It's frustrating because we are a good crew, probably the best I've been a part of, so it's too bad this stretch had to come at the Olympics. We had some trouble getting the boat off the line in every race (that is, executing a starting sequence to the race), for whatever reason, and couldn't get any comfortable traction. The race itself is a bit of a blur and I don't really remember much... but I was pleased to see it was a bit closer than I initially thought.

Currently rather than being out celebrating, I am hanging out at the hotel recovering. Immediately after the race, I got hit with some kind of puking spell that lasted over an hour, followed by 2 hours of dizziness and lying down. Since there was little in my stomach but water at that point, is was sort of unpleasant. I felt fine with normal raceweek soreness going into the race today, but it's possible there may have been some bug in my system that got stressed by racing. The team doctor very patiently talked me through it and said it was a result of overexertion. Now I am back at the hotel doing a little better. I've never, ever after any workout or race in my life that I remember, been hit so hard. I tried hard to make sure I left it all out the water today, though, and I guess this was the result.

I wish it could have produced a better result for myself, my team and my coach, as we'd hoped we'd end the year (and my rowing career) getting medals rather than me being nursed through puking. It's frustrating having tried to do everything possible to prepare for this week, but I guess that's the way it goes sometimes... and I'm trying to remind myself that sometimes it goes the other way, too.

SUN AM UPDATE - So I woke up this morning feeling much better, so I am not sick... my system is back to normal and while I am still disappointed at not having performed better I know it was not for lack of effort.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Not the result we wanted

If you checked the results, you probably saw we didn't do as well as we would have liked. We are gearing up for a better race tomorrow in the second level final which should be really competitive. Think fast for one more day.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On hold....

So I went to the rowing course today for the semifinal, got warmed up, stretched, weighed in, and was prepping to launch to race for a spot in Sunday's Olympic medal final - and then thunder and lightning struck. My race got delayed, which put us in a holding pattern. Sat and waited in the United States 'waiting room' (we have cots to relax on), not sure whether we were going to go out and settle this today or not. The key during these kind of unexpected delays is to stay cool - pressure does strange things to people so lots of times regattas turn on who handles speed bumps like this the best. Finally, we got the word that the races were canceled, so we loaded up on the bus and went back to the hotel. It sounds like there were a lot of factors that went into the decision to delay, primarily what this would do to the TV coverage and crews that weren't planning on working tomorrow (Friday was supposed to be a 'buffer' day with no racing before medal finals start on Saturday). So we'll do this again tomorrow, and I'll repeat all my pre-race rituals again and get ready to go out and race hard...

One other development - strange stuff happens at the Olympics.... the German crew, which has been really fast this year, had to scratch due to illness. This is following up some shocking races yesterday, including the semifinals of the men's heavyweight four in which 1st, 2nd and 3rd place from last year's Wold Championships all failed to make it to the medal final of six. Having been thru this before, it doesn't surprise me all that much - I knew crazy things would start to happen, and it would be all about being ready for them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day before the big race

So our semifinal is tomorrow. That's the race we've been targeting all year. Because this is one of the lightweight events in the Olympic, the depth is this field is pretty incredible and there is only a few seconds between first and twelfth. In our first couple of races here, we haven't been able to race up to our potential - and we've gotten really bad breaks with trying to set our oars to the conditions (headwind vs. tailwind). So we are making a few more adjustments, and will be ready race hard in the semis. The level of racing will be pretty incredible, but this is what we've been waiting for. I know we are a good crew and we will try to put together a race that we are all proud of.

Think fast.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Freezing cold....

So I just stepped out of an icebath, which is the new trend this year to remove lactic acid from your legs. It seems to help, but it's pretty painful to step into freezing cold water and wait for your body to go numb. But I'll take any little edge I can get.

If you saw the results yesterday, you probably realized we didn't place quite as high as we hoped, but we are looking forward to racing tomorrow. In all seriousness, everytime I've been put in a situation of having extra races it has helped me out by the end of the regatta - you learn something about yourself as a crew every time you go down the course. So while we don't like having our backs against the wall, provided we get through tomorrow I think it will ultimately help us later on. We are making some minor strategic adjustments which we believe will make a difference, and we'll just be ready to race hard and improve each time we go down the course.

Go time.