You pierce the wall of howling and shouting like passing through a waterfall’s icy rush. Then a moment of cave-like calm is punctuated by the brutal slam of oarlocks. The upriver side of Eliot Bridge appears, a vague mix of flesh, brick and bright light. Again the cheering competes with the pounding of the blood in your ears as you push the thought of a last stroke back with each drive of your legs.
Less than 1000 meters to the finish line.
Less than 100 strokes to go.
By the time a rower on the Head of the Charles racecourse reaches Eliot Bridge their boat has made it through five other bridges and the course’s most difficult turns. They may have pushed past at least one rival crew in a burst of burning lungs and fleeting glory. If not, they will have fended off, or tried to thwart, what feels like a personal attack by another boat trying to pass.
A long rowing race has many difficulties and some of the toughest don’t even involve other boats. The hardest battle each rower faces on a course as storied as the Head of the Charles is an internal one: keeping your eyes in the boat. There is so much to see on that one day, so much training to draw upon and so much to distract yourself from the pain at hand that the self-denial and the control is a perfect metaphor for the focus it takes to do well in the sport.
Heaving chest, with a steadying hand on the gunwale and another curled in pain around the oar handle just a few boat lengths past the finish line, you realize that the discipline it takes to keep from looking out of the boat in a big race is also just like the struggle to focus when you sit down to write.Writing is a competition against the toughest opponent ever.
There are no spectators on hand during the pre-dawn hours at the keyboard. There are plenty of distractions, mostly internal. Breaking focus always costs time, and for a writer time is as important as creative will. Sometimes the need to look away from the work at hand is as powerful as the body’s urge to stop doing something inherently painful, such as rowing. Persevere. Focus. The pain is inseparable from success. It is a sign that you are applying all of the power that you can.
Focus on the race at hand, one page at a time. There will be plenty of time to look around after you cross the line.
Keep your eyes in the boat.