No Count Wednesday

Well, no scoring is a better description. Wednesday I did count a little. I keep a running total of the number of arrows I’d shot and the number of times I didn’t hit the X on the 5-spot I was shooting. Some things can’t be helped and numbers are fun for me.

What was more important than the numbers was my right hand. My right hand isn’t always my friend. That’s the hand in charge of my release. Today, my right hand and I worked on getting the angle of my anchor right.

See a few degrees in the angle of my hand, with the dot in the exact same spot can raise or lower the impact point of the arrow. Today, was the day to work on that angle in an effort to find the best point for repeatability.

I imagine there are a whole lot of you that already know this and know where to angle your hand to bring a shot up or down a little. I learned it by trial and error – mostly error.

It went well. Next time, I’ll make some measures and record the variances of arrow impact and release angle. That should be cool.

While today’s practices didn’t yield data to play with, it did suggest some interesting data to collect in the future.

Running Partners’ Injuries

Coco trying to ask about River.

Coco, River’s good friend, has had a hurt rear leg.  So, I’ve kept River on a lease when we run past Coco’s house to keep both girls from going dog crazy playing.

Now, Coco is better and River has a hurt from leg.  As hard as it was for both of us, I had River stay home while I ran.

The girls when they’re feeling better.

Morning runs without the girls aren’t nearly as much fun.

Hurricane Jose, Adele and Shooting in the Rain

The eye of Hurricane Jose was a couple for hundred miles off the coast at our latitude in near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Even that far away we felt a bit of its fury. All day there was wind. There was also rain, a light rain, accompanying the wind.

Move on past

All in all, not a great day to be shooting outdoors. Driving into Elizabeth City to practice inside was an option. That course uses an hour of time driving. Really, I didn’t want to spend an hour driving. But, I wanted to practice.

The rain was light enough so that it wasn’t a serious pain. Yes, I practiced outdoors. Well, partly outdoor, I stood in my shed and shot into the rain. I only got wet when pulling arrows.

Wet paper doesn’t last long

The wind was more of an issue than the rain. We’d get occasional gusts that required some timing to shoot straight.

Throughout the practice, I played music. What I discovered from this is that I shoot best with Adele singing in the background – who wouldn’t?



Looking for that archery breakthrough

You know, I am looking for that breakthrough. That Zen, zone, flow, centered, in the moment feeling free timeless shooting where I hit X after X after X. That athletic change where everything comes together and I can’t miss the X even if I tried.

I’ve considered the Force and Yoda. Tried being the arrow, seeing myself leap from the bow string and land smack in the center of the target.

I’ve concentrated on not concentrating, focused on being unfocused allowing my subconscious to take control.  I’ve sought alpha brain waves and just the right segment of my heartbeat to fling an arrow.

It ain’t happening.

In my defense, I’m not shooting arrows all over the yard or sticking them into a tile ceiling or bouncing them off the floor of the local indoor range. If 9 were the top score I’d be golden. Oh, I can wear out the yellow section of the target that scores a 9. But that tiny 10 ring is small. I don’t miss by much, but my arrows seem to be allergic to 10.

I tired changing practice around, hoping that might remedy this slump. Rather than pound away shooting 70 to 80 arrows, 60 for scoring and 10 to 20 for warm-up and warm-down, in two session a day, I switched to four shorter practices. Same result.

I trained with background music playing and without musical accompaniment. I plugged the DVD of the 2008 Ford Ironman World Championship into my computer and had that running in the background looking for inspiration. Nothing.

At night, I’ve re-read, “With Winning in Mind” by Lanny Bassham. I’ve watched YouTube video of Reo Wilde, Roger Willet, Dan McCarty, and Levi Morgan. Guys, you haven’t helped.

I drove into Elizabeth City to shoot with others thinking I needed side by side live competition. Just an embarrassment. Only 30 arrows and couldn’t break 290. (287)

I switched from thumb to hinge to thumb to hinge, back and forth – no difference. I’ve taken careful consideration of my form. I’ve examined where I anchor and the angle of that hand.  I’ve moved and curled and relaxed and studied fingers.  I’ve considered stance, from my toes to my nose.

When I practice, I record each end. Ten, nine, nine. Ten, nine, nine. Nine, nine, ten. Nine, nine, nine. Ten, ten, nine. Then, I think it’s going to happen – Ten, ten, ten. Yes. Ten, ten, ten, again. I’m there. Nope. Next end, nine, nine, ten and the cycle starts anew.

If I were missing the ten by inches rather than millimeters, I think it would be less frustrating.

Archery, who was it that told me this was a relaxing sport? They lied.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll find archery nirvana.

What It Takes to Make an Olympic Team

A long time friend of mine asked me what it takes to make an Olympic Team. From experience, not in archery, I know what it takes to earn a spot on a World Championship Team. (USA Team World Championships, 2007, Long Course Duathlon.) The Olympics are another matter.

In the late 1970’s and up 1980 I dreamed of a spot on the Olympic.  I certainly gave it a try. I trained with a number of athletes that did make the Olympic Team.  On some days I was better than them, on most days I wasn’t. They weren’t physically superior to me, but they had something I didn’t. They were a different breed.

Participating in a Charity Event wearing my USA Team “Kit”. The hat is wrong, it is a South Carolina hat someone had given me.

My friend with the question is not an athlete. He’s a University Professor and Chair of the Department of Cardiopulmonary Science where he works. He’s a smart person. We’ve been friends for about 30 years. Together, we published many research papers (once I was smart, too.)

His question was a relay. He’d been asked by another smart guy, “What does it take to make an Olympic Team?”. The question eventually landed in my email. It is a tough question to answer by email. It’s a sorrowful question for me having blown so many great cycling opportunities. Being basically honest, I can say, if I had to do it all over again, I’d blow it all again. If I only had today’s brain in yesterday’s body, only then might things have changed.

I have, however, spent years studying athletes and athletics. So, at least from a sports science perspective I have some pearls of information to address my brainy friends.

Earning a spot on an Olympic team is not easy and neither is an explanation of how it is done. First, there’s the athlete. Those elites are simply not like the rest of us. Without writing a dissertation (one of those was enough for me) here’s an abridged description.

A short composite of the athlete is: years of practice, mental discipline and genetics. Genetics is easy to see: Tall people do well in rowing and basketball for example. Actually, rowing is one of the most genetic specific sports. Tall lightweight people with a huge VO2(max) do well in rowing. Gymnasts are at the other end of the spectrum. Small people have a greater capacity to rotate on an axis than larger people.

The process is expensive, which I didn’t mention up front (It just occurred to me). The price to train and compete excludes many people from the Olympic track. An athlete must compete at USOC Olympic trials and camps. The Olympic hopeful has to show up at National and World Championships. The travel alone is costly.  In many cases, earning a spot on an Olympic team is significantly self-funded exceptions being professionals.

Olympic level equipment is outlandishly pricey. At the elite level equipment does make a difference. The IOC has a rule at anyone is able to purchase that equipment used by athletes in the Olympics. So, if you’ve got the resources you too can have Olympic caliber gear.

Let’s say, for example, anyone can purchase a custom-made track (Velodrome) bicycle such as used by the British cycling team. The price is around $90,000. Most people are better off just training more often. The expensive bike, for an elite, will provide marginal gains. A marginal gain might mean a 0.5% increase in speed. Add enough of those small gains and it can mean the difference between a Gold and Silver medal.

There’s around $360,000 worth of bicycles in the picture

There is also a strategy to earning medals. Combat sports, like marital arts and boxing, have the greatest number of classes (light weight, to heavy weight) and the medals available are the greatest in number. So, countries often focus on finding fighters to train.

Finally, there is a political element to making a team. Chris McCormack, probably the greatest triathlete to have every competed, never made the Olympic Team for his country. He and the Olympic committee for his country, Australia, were frequently at odds. The members of the Olympic squads from Australia were never in his league.

Taiwan’s Tan Ya-ting celebrates after winning the bronze medal match at the women’s team archery competition at the Sambadrome venue during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

In archery making an Olympic Team means, for now, shooting a recurve bow. If your dream is Olympic Gold in archery then a compound bow is currently not the ticket. But, archery has a great variance over the phenotypes that can compete and do well in an Olympics. It also means a lot of practice. By a lot, consider shooting 250 to 300 or even 400 arrows a day six days a week.

Making an Olympic Team is a tremendous achievement. It is certainly not for everyone. But, for those that earn a spot on the team it is a monumental. If making an Olympic Team is your dream, pick a venue that most matches your body type and where there are the greatest odds of success.  If you’re six feet five inches tall, gymnastics isn’t a good match. Be able to focus entirely on your sport of choice. Realize, you can’t make the team without traveling. And, it won’t be inexpensive. Finally, good timing and a bit of luck won’t hurt.

The Haul Back

Gradually, the scores are improving. Since returning from a longer than planned break from archery, roughly two weeks instead of the planned one, my training scores hit a low point. Day after day a lower than usual X count on a 5-spot and 3-spot.

This morning, things began to improve. Rather than the previous disappointment of mostly nines, the tens are over 50% for the past two practices. Not record breaking but 34 then 35 tens out of sixty with the reminder of the shots yielding a nines. Sixty Xs is still a ways off. Right, now, it’s all about hauling back to where I was before the break.

Days of Going Backwards

For periods of time I have specific goals for archery. For example, a previous goal was to shoot 570 or better. Before that it was 560 or better, on a 3-spot. For a 5-spot it had been to score a 300, now it is 60 Xs.

A 3-spot has a smaller X-ring. The current goal of 580 means an average of 2 out of every three arrows is an X and the remainders are 9s. Of course, an 8 means more Xs to compensate for the point lost. But, I try to shoot at least 2 out of 3 Xs and the remainders are 9s.

Certainly, 60X on a 3-spot is a longer-term goal. It has been done. For me, I’ve never hit 60X on a 3-spot or a 5-spot. I’ve come close on a 5-spot, but it remains illusive.

Today, practice was not what I wanted it to be regarding my X count on a 3-spot. Having come back from a break that was longer than I’d intended my accuracy is a tad off the mark. Not horrible, but I’m not where I was before the break.

The break was extended by life. We had a relative expire and needed to head back to Georgia in a rush. To top it off Hurricane Irma reached Atlanta, where the service was held, on the day of the service. The relative was a sister-in-law whose family hails from Connecticut. They didn’t seem all that concerned with a hurricane. We live near the Outer Banks and both my wife and I are from Savannah, GA. We have a different respect for hurricanes.  At any rate, practicing archery has been on a back burner.

Yep, this is things rolled this morning.

Today, shooting didn’t improve. It didn’t get much worse other than shooting an 8 and not enough 10s. The X mark right now, as it has been since we returned, has been just out of reach.

All athletes have similar days. Whether it is track and field, triathlon, or archery, there are times that one seems to be going backwards. These past few days I’ve felt like I’ve gone backwards. Still, I aim to put each arrow into the X, do it over and over and realize this too will pass.

Target Panic

I’ve read from many archers that they get target panic. Panic is a dramatic word. When I was in clinical practice panic was never an option. I’ve never experienced panic. I literally grew up in a clinical environment beginning a long medical career at age 15. So, panic is blunted for me.

I think an archer’s target panic is similar to stage fright. Stage fright is another problem from which I don’t suffer. During my medical career I gave 121 invited lectures. Many of them based on my research. Believe me, you don’t just stand up and talk. At the end of a presentation the audience fires questions at you. The more confident you appear the more questions you get. Medical audiences are attuned to a nervous presenter and often let them off easy. I was so confident in my research I invited question to be shot at me at any point during a presentation. But, before I stood up in front of an audience, I’d had decades of preparation.

At one lecture I did in Augusta, Georgia, the night of the presentation a tropical storm hit. The weather was bad with pounding rain and wind. The venue for the lecture was in a hall above a restaurant and bar, B.F. Hippplewhite’s.

The sponsor of the lecture, the talk provided Continuing Educational Units, supplied refreshments that included light food, beer and wine. The lecture started at 7:00 PM. By 7:10 only five people had braved the storm. At 7:20 everyone assumed that was going to be the total audience, all of whom knew my talk and had come for the free beer. So, we all started doing our best to put a dent in beer supplied for 50 people.

At 7:50 PM there were 30 people and six of them, including the speaker, were half lit. Well, the show must go on, so I started the talk. I can’t say if it was one of my best, it was up there, but it was without compare the most fun. My now drunk friends were firing question, debating, and yelling counterpoints. During my talk I took a bio-break to deposit some of the beer I’d consumed and returned in time to calm two PhD’s from what appeared to be a Nerd fight stemming from the use of inverse ratio ventilation treatment for iatrogenic lung injury. It was splendid and totally panic-free. Still, I do not recommend the combination of alcoholic libation and archery.

I’d never heard of any kind of panic in sports until I began shooting a bow. The first time I heard the term target panic I was surprised, but I didn’t panic. I don’t believe I have ever experienced panic in any form, much less panicking while shooting an arrow.

Shooting an arrow is easy. Shooting it and hitting the X less easy. Either way, there’s no reason to panic.

Getting nervous is another matter. My first archery competition I was real nervous. Not over shooting the target as much as not being clear on tournament protocol. That was the Virginia State 18-Meter Indoor tournament in February of 2014. I’d only had a bow for a few months and had taken three lessons. But, the coach I had at that time felt I could be competitive and encouraged me to go. Like a fool, I listened.

I went and explained to the folks at the registration desk, the judges, and the archers around me that I was truly a novice. I was so unfamiliar with the sport I shot a bow set-up with a short stabilizer and pins. I couldn’t see the pins because the lighting was so bad. But, I never missed the target. I finished 4th and remained panic-free. There was no room for panic or even the thought of it – I was too busy watching everyone else trying to figure out what to do. It was also the first time I’d seen a long stabilizer.

While I don’t panic I do get lazy and sloppy. I’ll sometimes rush a shot rather than let down. Letting down is under-rated. I’ll sometimes hope to get lucky rather than letting down and starting over – the purest form of lazy. I seldom get lucky. Sadly, I sometimes do get lucky and hit an X when I should have let down, which makes this bad habit harder to kick.

I think the best way to avoid nervous energy before a competition is to recognize you are going to be nervous for the first few shots. Then remind yourself that you’ve practice this shot thousands of times. And, of course, you’ll hit the X because you’ve done so thousands of times before. In my case, I’ve hit the X 3579 times since 2014 excluding 3D.  I know this because I record my practice and competitive scores. For 3D I don’t keep an X count. It’s too much data to work through with 11 or 12 as an X, depending on ASA or IBO scoring, the variance in yardage and the occasional 14.

So, now when I go to a tournament, I know I‘ll hit the X. Maybe not as often as I want but as often as my current level of training supports.  It is not such a big deal.

No, I don’t hit the X 100% of the time. Right now, more like 40% of the time on a 3-spot and 83% of the time on a 5-spot (on average). As such, there is no reason to panic or even get nervous. Seriously, my greatest competitive anxiety comes from: how long is this tournament going to last and where’s the bath room. I mean to say, how can these folks, the judges, competitors that can’t add scores properly (myself included), or can’t pull arrows between ends, slow this event to a pace that makes my ears want to bleed and why is the bathroom a kilometer away. In any circumstance – there’s no need to panic.

“Just put the dot in the middle and shoot the dot,” as suggested by Reo Wilde.

That Happy Feeling

You know that feeling you get when you reach into a pocket and unexpectedly discover lost cash? Or after you pull the clothes out of the dryer and there’s a freshly washed and dried greenback? It’s free money. It’s your lucky day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-dollar bill or a twenty. The feeling is the same. Money you hadn’t counted on appearing out of nothing. It’s a good feeling.

You can get that same feeling in archery. Say, for example, you’re shooting a 5-spot. The X ring is big. You shoot five arrows. Sure they’re all in the white. They’ve been landing in the white all day. But, on that last end it looks like one of those arrows has missed the X. It’s still a five and you’re not on a sinking ship. No blueberry. But, that one arrow looks to have missed the X.

Then, as you approach the target to pull your arrows you are surprised. That wayward arrow, you’d been thinking four Xs and a five, is cutting the line. It’s your lucky day a free X. You just knew you’d missed the mark and there’s the arrow smack on the line. It’s a good feeling.

It might only be better if you’d pulled the arrow and when is slid out it was attached to folding currency.

Wishing for more than one bow.

I had to switch arrows the other day. With only one bow, switching arrows means re-sighting the bow for the different arrows. Which, in turn for me, means shooting a block from various yardages from 20 to 50 yards in order to select a yardage tape that most closely interacts with the sight calibrations and the pre-printed yardage tape. It is a royal pain in the ass.

The process eats away at practice time.  It is slow and tedious.  There are  athletes that love fidgeting with their gear.  I stand apart from that crowd.

Some archers select 3 known yardages to measure against a tape. I use 7: 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50. It can be done with three or so I’ve been told. Even better it can be done using a computer program to customize the yardage tape if you have access. I don’t have access to such technology.

The reason for the switch was an indoor 2D event in Elizabeth City, North Carolina at PGF Outdoors and Archery. Not knowing what they’d planned, whether they’d have all the paper animals pinned up at 20 yards or whether they’d have targets from 10 to 25 yards, I figured I might want to make some sight adjustment during the event. As it turned out, I missed the competition in order to attend a funeral.

Honestly, I could have probably done just as well having left the bow set up for indoor 18-meters and using slight elevation adjustments aiming the pin to compensate for any yardage variance.

When I raced bikes I had plenty of bikes. Two for mountain biking, two for track, three for triathlons, and seven road bikes. These bikes weren’t cheap. Heck, some of the wheels (or in the case of a single rear disk wheel) cost more than any compound bow on the market. My top end tri-bike, with its super components and racing wheels is a $10,000 rig. The thing is, I didn’t pay nearly that much for it. My most expensive bike, at today’s price of $12, 499.00, listed for $7000.00 in 2001 when I got it from Trek. I was on one of their racing teams so the price didn’t apply to me. Yet, I have only the one bow.

To be fair, there are two bows in my shed. One is the first real bow I bought. In my opinion it is un-shootable. It’s a Mathews Conquest Apex-7 now out of production. I understand a lot of archers were very successful with it. For some reason, that success never filtered over to me. I even sold that bow once and the new owner kept for a few months before returning it to me. His experience with the bow no better than mine. In fact, his time trying to shoot that bow led to enough frustration that he gave up the sport for a while. When he began shooting again he was using a traditional bow.

I’ve always maintained, from the day I bought that Mathews Conquest Apex 7, at full price, that it didn’t shoot right. To this day, I believe there is something not right with the bow. I frequently pull it down, shoot with it, and have some limited success.  It never lasts.  It was the only bow I had for competition for years. But, it never felt right. I took it to shop after shop seeking a remedy.  Most shops had little to offer.  Eventually I got a lukewarm confirmation from a Mathews dealer that the bow was somehow fouled, it was too late to return the bow to Mathews. The dealer was less interested in helping me with the Apex-7 than selling me a new Mathews bow in order to improve my game.

“Yes, this bow isn’t right”, shop’s technician.

“So, can you fix it,” me.

“No, Mathews has to do it and your bow is outside the warranty. You are better off buying this new Mathews bow.”

I did buy another bow, from a different shop.  My scores improved immediately.

After years of getting bikes for free or at cost it is hard to pay full price for any sports gear. I’ve still got cycling clothing in the original packaging that it was in when shipped to me. Teams gave me more than I’d ever use. But, it would be nice to have more than one bow.

Ideally, there would be one bow for field archery and 50-meters, one for indoor, and one for 3D and hunting. Ideally, they’d all stay sighted for the arrows used for each venue. All bows, of course, with the corresponding stabilizers and sights. That way, I could just grab one and shoot whatever venue I wanted or needed. You know, like hopping on the right bike for the occasion.

Perhaps, one day I’ll shoot a bow as well as I once peddled a bicycle. On that day, just maybe some bow manufacturer will take notice and who knows, I could end up with more than one bow. But, forking out money for more archery equipment simply rubs me the wrong way.

Personally, I think people who change their bow every six months are people wasting their money. That opinion is less likely to endear a bow manufacturer to my cause. Heck, I suffered with a somehow fouled bow for two years before I decided the poor scores couldn’t be entirely me. The new bow and immediate improvement was the validation to that 24-month debacle.

I’ve heard that the top professionals can shoot any bow. Sure I can shoot any bow. I suppose it has a lot to do with knowing your form and release. Either way, I’d still like more than one bow. But, remain tight fisted on my cash. As so, I’ll be frequently adjusting my sight to deal with a change in venue and arrow.