The Boys in the Boat — Rowing and Running

AJW applies the lessons from Daniel James Brown’s book “The Boys in the Boat” to running.

By on April 10, 2015 | 3 comments

AJWs TaproomOver the past week while enjoying a much needed Spring Break on the panhandle of Florida, I have been reading Daniel James Brown’s 2013 book The Boys in the Boat. In it Brown documents, thorough extensive research and hours of interviews, the incredible story of the University of Washington’s 8-man crew and their assault on Olympic gold in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Focusing on the incredible story of protagonist Joe Rantz, Brown paints a compelling story of eight hardscrabble boys from the wilds of the Pacific Northwest capturing the attention of the nation and, ultimately, the world in the intense crucible of Hitler’s Olympics.

While the story has several classic story lines — poor kid struggles against all odds, Eastern establishment versus Western upstarts, and good versus evil — perhaps the most compelling story is the way in which the Washington coaching staff, at the time one of the best in the country, conveyed three simple messages that inspired and motivated eight boys to Olympic glory.

The messages they offered at the time are not only relevant today as much as they were in 1936, but they are also relevant to any of life’s pursuits, including, not surprisingly, long-distance running. Indeed, the timelessness of this great success story is perhaps its most extraordinary legacy.

First and foremost, amidst the backdrop of the Great Depression and the rise of Nazi Germany, these boys were taught to accept what they could not control and perfect what they could control. In that context, such things as weather, travel problems, and poor food, never phased them. Instead, they did everything they could to perfect their stroke rate, rhythm, and strength to work together as one.

Second, the Obi Wan Kenobi character in the book, the master boat builder and rowing philosopher George Pocock, stressed the importance of resilience in the face of long odds, “To Pocock, unflagging resilience, the ability to bounce back, to keep coming, to persist in the face of resistance, was the unseen force that imparted life to the shell. And, as far as he was concerned, a shell that did not have life in it was a shell that was unworthy of the young men who gave their hearts to the effort of moving it through the water.”

Finally, and perhaps most poignantly, Joe Rantz was inculcated into the world of hard work. Not only was it necessary for survival, but it was his absolute key to success. And, it was hard work that invariably led to pain, intense, searing, stick a hole in your heart pain. Ultimately, pain was what gave life to his effort. “Perhaps the first and most fundamental thing that all novice oarsmen must learn about competitive rowing in the upper echelons of the sport: that pain is part and parcel of the deal. It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.”

And so, my friends, as you ramp up your training for the summer racing season take a lesson from the boys in the boat and do what you can to master what you can control, build up your resilience, and, most of all, prepare for the onslaught of pain that will inevitably accompany any well-earned effort. In the end, it will all be worth it.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Oyster City BrewingWhile in Florida on Spring Break I found my way to the Forgotten Coast’s only craft brewery, Oyster City Brewing Company on Appalachicola, Florida. They have a positively delicious summer ale which, given the fact that summer in Florida last’s about 7 months, is a true go to beer. Their First Light of Day Summer Ale is balanced, not fruity, and quite full bodied for a 4.7 ABV beer. And, best of all, it goes down as easy as a summer day on the Redneck Riviera!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Are you working or have you worked (1) to master what you can control, (2) build up your resilience, 0r (3) prepare for the onslaught of pain that will inevitably accompany any well-earned effort? If so, how?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.