Trying To Find a Zone

img_5523I’ve read about being in a “Zone.” I’m not certain I’ve reached a skill level were I can fully appreciate an archery “Zone.” This morning I shot inside at 18 meters. It was an aggravating “Zoneless” practice. This afternoon I shot outside at 18 meters. The session started about the way the morning practice ended – “Zone-Free.”

One expert coach has written about staying positive, confident and thinking happy thoughts during sports training and competition. He advocates not carry any negative feelings. Another world champion pistol shooter rants and raves when he has a poor shot.

I’ve tried to the keep a song in my heart and think happy thoughts even when I am shooting arrows into the ceiling or bouncing them off the floor. Honestly, I have often failed, gotten angry and let the Dark Side take control.

It’s not that I get angry and stay foul. On occasion and as quietly as a church mouse a rare profanity might be slightly audible from under my breath. But, by the next shot I’ve totally forgotten the prior shot. Then, I am in my 60s and I forget a lot of stuff.

In frustration, today I moved my release deeper into my hand. Probably the wrong way to hold a release. But, immediately the drift reduced and I shot better. In fact, on the next 120 arrows where I scored the points I tied my highest score on the first 60 arrows then exceeded it by 6 points in the second 60 arrows. I finished with a total of 1142 and 62 Xs (out of 120 shots).

While I didn’t find a “Zone” I did shoot better with the slight change in way I held the release. I don’t know what goes through the minds of other expert archers while they shoot. For me it was a near “Zone” Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.

Overuse

Swimming in the lane next to me at the YMCA was a triathlete. This was evident because of his swim cap, it read Ironman Maryland.

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The green swim cap was laying on the deck at the pool.

Ironman Maryland was once named Chesapeake Man and is held in Cambridge, Maryland. Cambridge is one of the few cities (perhaps the only city) that hosts a 140.6 mile Ironman and a 70.3 mile Ironman race. When the Ironman group purchased the Chesapeake Man event they renamed it Ironman Maryland. The price for the “Chesapeake Man” also increased. Checking the prices to do another Ironman the entry fees ranged from $675.00 to $760.00. At those prices, well archery is a lot less expensive.

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The triathlete in the swim lane next to me was preparing for Ironman North Carolina. Should I decide to do another Ironman this would be a race to consider. It’s the old Beach to Battleship course and the swim portion of the event is nearly as good as the swim segment of the Ironman 70.3 in August where you swim with the current.

Augusta 70.3 Ironman in Augusta, Georgia. Swim scenic image from the 5th street bridge over the Savannah River
Augusta 70.3 Ironman in Augusta, Georgia.
Swim scenic image from the 5th street bridge over the Savannah River

Despite the price, the inconveniences, and early morning swim start time not a day passes where I don’t have the urge to enter another Ironman. Hardly day passes where I don’t run, ride, swim and many days a combination of the three. Granted, I don’t train with the intensity or duration I did preparing for an Ironman but I train hard enough to be successful at shorter distances triathlons, runs, or bike races. In addition, I train and practice primarily as an archer.

Training for archery and competing is essentially a full time endeavor. The triathlon-like exercise is part of my general fitiness plan. That plan includes weight liftng which is beneficial to protect muscle mass and help prevent injuries. Rarely, does a day end that I am not ready for a good night’s sleep even though I try to get a 20 – 30 minute nap after lunch everyday. What I am saying is I do a lot of exercise. However, I’ve never considered myself one of physically gifted people built for sports.

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Unlike me this guy at the Y was built for triathlon. He was tall, lean, and muscular. He looked like a triathlete. See, I’m not tall and somewhat stocky (not fat – only 9% of my weight is body fat).

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Do you know your Body Fat %

As is the case, it’s nearly impossible to cross paths with another triathlete and not exchange war stories. This phenomenon is true with archers as well as all other athletes. Naturally, the swimmer next to me and I momentarily exchanged a few past glories.

What I learned is that the youngster next to me was in the 40 – 44 year old age group. I recall that period most fondly – I recall it as a time when I was in the best shape of my life (at least for long distances.) I am not alone believing that the 40 – 44 years were good, it seems that is one of the toughest age group in which to race. I think after 60 it is more a matter of attrition.

He further explained he was tired and his body was worn out from overuse. That was surprising. That is also why properly planned, scheduled and followed recovery days are critical.

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To be able to compete in several sports for a lifetime requires time off from hard physical activity to allow the body to restore itself.  That doesn’t mean no physical activity, active recover is okay.  Still, there must be times when lounging and sleep are the best forms of training. Part of my strategy is to outlive my competition. One of the tactics is to train hard and another is to get plenty of rest.  Overuse is not good.

Not Again!

Finding the perfect anchor point after changing my release and stance has been a bear. It’s not that I am shooting badly; I’m not hitting as good as I should.

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Shooting a 5-spot in practice I was all over the place. Some shots smack on others felt forced. After 30 minutes of warming up and fidgeting around with my equipment I shot a scoring session. The score ended up 297. Certainly better than 36 mounts ago, but not what I am aiming for and not as good as I feel I can shoot.

Trail Running, Riding for Turtles, and One Crazy Squirrel

River and I ran through the woods this morning. I prefer trail running to running on the road and both forms of outside running beat a treadmill. There are many short circuits into and out of forested areas near my home here in North Carolina. River does not mind running loops and there seems to be more interesting areas to stop and sniff in the woods. I make this observation based on River’s actions; I don’t have the nose for a similar experience.

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This picture was taken less than a quarter mile from my front door. It’s one of the trails we run.

When it comes to exercise, running is often not enough and I add other workouts, cycling being my favorite. Because I ran trails I decided to ride the roads for a couple of more hours before shooting.

Turtles on the road interrupt nearly all rides. When I see them I help them across even when I’m racing against the clock. Today, I was riding easy and there was time for photographs taken of the two turtles I assisted.

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Turtle number one

Turtles have long lives when cars do not squash them. In their world no automobile warnings exist and they simply can’t comprehend the impact of a tire.

I wouldn’t call their moderate pace across a road crazy. Turtles don’t grasp that their mobile home provides no protection to the weight of a vehicle. Squirrels on the other hand seemingly have a limited understanding of cars and make an attempt to get out of the way – too often an unsuccessful back and forth rally made in hope of confusing the four-wheeled beast barreling down upon them.

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Turtle number two

Given the limited awareness of danger squirrels have I was mystified by one of the grey fellows today. While shooting a squirrel decided to forage a few feet to the side of my target. Clearly, this squirrel recognized that I am not a 15-year-old boy. Otherwise, its life would have been in peril.

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You can see the squirrel on the side of the pine tree. It’s about 6 feet from my target on the left and twenty yards away from me.

One of those days

Shooting a 5-spot seems too easy when compared to a 3-spot. The X is a whole lot bigger. So, I figured I’d take a break from shooting a 3-spot, give my ego a boost and hit a couple of easy 300 scores. That didn’t happen.images-1

I have not looked at a 5-spot since January of this year. My last score was, not to brag, a 300. Then, I stepped away from 5-spots in order to prepared for the USA Indoor Nationals. Today, when I tacked up the blue and white target I was feeling good and looking forward to a decent score for a change.

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You know, when I lined up for few warm-up shots those blue and white rings, well they looked funny. It was weird to see them after a nearly eight-month absence. The warm-up shots were okay and I felt ready to shoot like a pro.

Man, that did not happen. The first 60 arrows I dropped 3 ending up with a 297, the next 60 shoots ended up scoring 296. After each less that great arrow I stopped to think about where I’d screwed-up. Then, I reset and got on with business.

Mostly, my off shots were associated with my anchor placement. It really wasn’t a total disaster. The practice is helping me find just the right place for my right hand.

 

Running with the Pack

Before I started archery practice today I ran and then rode one of my bikes. That, in the triathlete’s lingo is known as a ‘Brick.’ The run was a special one today. River and I were joined by Coco, as usual. Today was different, we were greeted by Cornbread.

Cornbread is the Old Dog here on the river. He’s a reddish mix of Labrador and golden retriever. He’s exact age is unknown to me. But, I think I heard he’s around eleven.

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These are truly great friends

Running with a pack of dogs is a treat. Each morning when we gather River and Coco go through a ritual. In that their tails are high, ears are perked, and heads cocked. Then, it is an all out sprint where they jump ditches, sometimes over and sometimes into, as they leap at one another and bump shoulders. They occasionally pause as if to take a breather, check each other for inadvertent damage, and then start the melee again. At times they try to include me where I seem to become a sort of home base. They aim at me, running full speed, and if I am amiss with my dodge I will hit the ground. They don’t jump on me; they try to run me over.

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Pure delight

It was on the way home that our small pack was met by Cornbread. Cornbread is no longer a frisky young dog. He did, however, puff up and give the girls a gallant trot. River and Coco seemed to understand he is a grand old dog. The immediately slowed their run, hovered around Cornbread and it appeared they gave him a slight bow of their heads. There was a reverence to the greeting.

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The girls and Cornbread

The girls, their attention waning, sprinted away and caught me on the final leg home. Once home both jumped into the Little River for a short swim before they got their snack, a Milkbone each.

Coco stayed with us a bit longer than usual. Perhaps hoping for another biscuit or maybe another swim. It’s always sad to watch her walk home alone. Maybe Cornbread came out and said hello again as she made her way back to her house.

There are few pleasures more enjoyable than running with dogs. During my cycling I checked on Coco, she was taking a nap in the shade of a tree. Cornbread, I guessed had gone inside to sleep it off. River stayed home while I was cycling, asleep under my desk where she’s relaxed since she was a puppy.

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River, ready for a nap

A Little Bit of Running, Shooting and Kayaking

Over the weekend, as I prepared for a day of outside adventure, I was sitting on my dock at sunrise.  The plan for the day would be run, shoot, then go kayaking before my second archery practice.

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River, as usual ran with me and we were – as usual – joined by our friend Coco after about a mile of easing running.  Once the two girls get together easy is surpassed by hard play.

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Following the run I got in about an hour of 18-meter practice.  The sun is begining to migrate alone the horizon as the season starts to change. For a while I’ll need to take the shadow variance into consideration when shooting early.  Seems I need to shoot from right to left starting on the bottom of a 3-spot. Otherwise, I end up with a shadow from the top X that falls directly over the bottom right X.

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After the morning archery practice, Brenda and I loaded our Necky Looksha boats into the truck and searched for new creeks to paddle.

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Not far from our home we found a couple of nice places to kayak.  This isn’t white water but it is serene.

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The water is swampy and around any bind you can paddle up on all manner of wildlife.

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Brenda turning around after I was stopped by a downed tree.

In places it does get tight and we are careful to keep watch for snakes.

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Running, Paddleboarding and Shooting

River and I have a trail we use when running the roads becomes dull. I expect either run is fine with her. But, there does seem to be more to sniff when we’re off road. So, the day started with plenty to sniff.

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River pausing while I catch up

The “sniff and run” was followed by archery practice at 18 meters. I have changed my stance, as result of my new coach, Charlie Sneed, suggesting I give it a try. Basically, the stance is opened up a bit and my feet are more angled. It’s taking a bit of practice to get the new feel of my feet.

I’ve also been shooting strictly with a hinge release for the past couple of weeks. During 3D the footing is often so bad that I prefer a thumb release. With a thumb, if I slip a little I can control the release and not waste an arrow. I’ve shot using both hinge and thumb during 3D. Essentially, I don’t see a difference and my scores remain the same (that is not statically difference.) So, the extra security I think I get with a thumb probably isn’t real.

Before I shot this afternoon, Brenda and I took a nice paddleboard trip down Little River. As we headed out the wind was to our face so the return trip was a faster paddle. Afterwards, it was more 18-meter practice.

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First six shots of my second practices, three 9s followed by three 10s. It started better than it ended (572)

For this session I used three releases, two hinge and a thumb. Again, no difference.

Charlie Sneed Level 4 Archery Coach

He’s seen me shoot. We’ve shot side by side. But, he’s never been my coach. Today, he is my coach.

My last coach, Norman, was just fine. I took weekly lesson from him for months. I had no complaints. But, years of training have taught me; there is a time when another coach’s perspective might be helpful.

In cycling I had two truly great international coaches, a Belgian and a South African. Both left a lasting impression on me. The Belgian is still alive. Just last week I met an old teammate of mine, Tomas Rahal, in Charlottesville, Virginia. We talked about the years we trained together and our coach, Nestor Gernay. What he taught us we took into our everyday lives. Nestor coached many State and National Champions as well as Olympic Team members and USA Cycling Teams.

The other great coach I had in cycling Gabe Stanley from South Africa is no longer with us. Gabe found me, quite by accident. I was out of shape having played at sports but not competitively while I finished my education and built a career. Gabe pushed me harder than I could have imagined. After a few years of training with Gabe, I never again thought about limits of what I might do in sports. As Gabe said, “It’s all in your head.”

Much of what we do in sport is in our heads. What I felt I was (and am) missing is the ‘head game’ when it comes to competitive archery. Perhaps, a way to find how to improve would be to try a new coach, to find a new perspective.

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Charlie Sneed, USA Archery Level 4 Coach

Charlie Sneed is a Level 4 USA Archery coach. According to Charlie, there are 150 level 4 USA Archery coaches. There are only 10 level 5. We had our first meeting over lunch. As we talked Charlie decided during that meal we’d give it a shot as student and coach.