Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 43 - Madie Steer - RACE AGAINST PLASTIC - Part 1 of 3

So, when you introduced me you said University of Plymouth now I'm assuming everyone's gonna realize that that's in Devon in England, not in the US, for starters. So, gig rowing is, the full term is Cornish pilot gig rowing but it’s a bit wider geographically now than just Cornwall.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 43 - Madie Steer - RACE AGAINST PLASTIC - Part 1 of 3

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“So, when you introduced me you said University of Plymouth now I'm assuming everyone's gonna realize that that's in Devon in England, not in the US, for starters. So, gig rowing is, the full term is Cornish pilot gig rowing but it’s a bit wider geographically now than just Cornwall. So, it's six-seat rowing for starters, so we don't have a slide like your normal base that you see on TV.” This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, Skincare for Athletes. Whether you're in the gym, on the mats, on the road or in the pool, we protect your skin so you're more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go to JESSE: Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I'm your host Jesse Funk. My guest today, awesomely does things that I have no idea about. So, I'm excited to be really educated today on some new topics, which is really cool. She is a PhD student at the University of Plymouth in marine biology. She's a world champion gig rower, which when my assistant Joe sent that over, I said, “What the heck is that?” and I had to do some research. She has two very fluffy Border Collies, which I'm sure I’m gonna ask about here in a second. Welcome to the show, Madeline Steer. MADIE: Hi. Hello. Thanks for having me. JESSE: You know, one of the things I forgot before we got going I forgot to ask do you prefer Madie are Madeline? Because I know your handle’s Madie but then Joe sent it to me as Madeline. MADIE: Madie. Yeah. JESSE: Okay. Well, and that's what I would assume, that would be my tendency because that's my niece is Madie as well. So, I'm like, do I just want to call you Madie because that's what I'm used to or is that what you would actually prefer? MADIE: Yeah, Madeline's the serious side. JESSE: Well, I need like a very serious hat I can put on, ?? 02:03> asking a question. So, you're telling me I-- so I will start off with the Border Collies. You're telling me you don’t have any kids but you got two Border Collies that assumingly make you exercise because they need exercise. How do you end up with two? Because it seems like one high energy dog is enough for me. So, what was that decision? Did they both come at the same time? How'd that happen? MADIE: No. So, we wanted Border Collie for a long time and eventually managed to persuade my partner to get one a couple of years ago, but I normally would rescue animals but because it was our first dog, my partner persuaded me to get-- us to get a puppy. So, we got ?? 02:49>, like nearly three years ago, and he's been great and we love him. But Border Collies do tend to attach onto one ?? 02:58> more than the other. And it was my idea but ?? 03:01> has sort of decided that Russ is his main person in the house. So, I did ?? 03:08> and I like loving the bits, but he just absolutely dotes on Russ and it really irritates me. So, then a friend sent me a text saying, “Oh, you don't want a deaf Border Collie from a farm, do you? It needs rehoming.” This was last September. So, I was like, okay, send a video. Worst mistake ever. So, she sent the video and then I went to see ?? 03:36> the Border Collie that's deaf and came home with her. So, yeah. So, ?? 03:43> got a big wild little sister, he’s big brother to a deaf Border Collie, but she's great. She's fine. She's settled in really well. So, yeah. They’re a really nice distraction from work. JESSE: I always feel like-- So, I've not had a dog for the longest time. I had one growing up, but the policy at the time was dogs stay outside. So, I didn't really like interact with the dog I had. And then growing up, it was like, almost all my pets somehow I'll call them rescues, but they found me. The first pet that I ever had that was ‘rescued’ quote-unquote, was a bird, actually, that had escaped from a local pet store and basically flew to my house and we caught and kept. And it's just been a series from there; cats, our dog, Toby who's over here sleeping next to the radiator to stay warm. It seems like animals find us. But thinking about dogs, in particular, rescuing dogs, if you try to rescue cats, you get this like territorial thing to deal with like you're bringing a new cat into the house, the other cat’s like pissed immediately. Like what is that animal doing in my house? Dogs, I feel like it's easier to kind of get into a pack and be like, okay, cool another dog like, this is awesome. MADIE: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, ?? 05:09> was a little bit of an only child about it to start with. And he, the problem cuz he’s deaf, he try and play with her and then she couldn't, she was quite rough playing because she grew up on a farm with lots of dogs and she had to be quite boisterous. So, she'd go a bit too far with the playing, wouldn't hear ?? 05:29>, like squeal, and then it would just end up in a fight. And that happened for like a couple of months, but then they just don't play anymore, which is a bit of a shame. But it's a lot more harmonious just than staying-- They get so much exercise that they just sleep when they're at home, sleep and eat ?? 05:51>. So, yeah, no, they're fine now, which I'm really glad to see. Yeah, because they'll be around for a while ?? 05:58> really young so we'll have them for potentially 15 years together, hopefully. JESSE: Yeah, no, it's like nice when there's peace in the house and the animals aren't like, going crazy. We're fortunate with Toby that he's actually, it's kind of a long story. We found him and we met his original owner and then we ended up with him, but he's 11 now and he just sleeps most of the day. He has his little, he’s a Jack Russell Terrier mix. So, he's not real big but he has his little bouts of energy. And then he's tuckered out for the next 20 hours and he's good to go. MADIE: We've actually discovered that ?? 06:43> from the farm, we don't think she's pure Border Collie. Because I saw a picture on Instagram of an Australian blue heeler and it was a spitting image of - She doesn't really look like a Border Collie. We don't think she is. And then I read a brief description and she, all of her mannerisms and habits and her herding, she goes pelting in and that goes for hills in saps. She uses ?? 07:11> her herding thing. Poor dog. He's very tolerant. So, we think she's mostly blue heeler which is a really unusual breed in the UK, you don't get them. But the farmer doesn't think she's one of those. He's adamant she's pure Border Collie, so it doesn't really matter. She's nice. She's cool. She’s happy. JESSE: ?? 07:32> remember off the top of my head, I think that's a really pretty dog. I feel like I know somebody with one. MADIE: They’re really unusual, so they're the only domestic dog breed to be bred originally with a wild dog because they're part Dingo and she looks like a Dingo. Like all my friends call her Dingo dog. So, I was like, actually, I think she might be right. JESSE: You’re like wait a second, what did I bring in my house? MADIE: Yeah, she's nuts so, yeah, we don't know what she is really, but she's happy. So, that's the main thing. JESSE: Yeah, yeah. So, I have to ask about the rowing. And you’ll have to, you know, just apologize though the lack of knowledge. I come from land-based sports being in the Midwest, so I'm in the middle of the country. We have some lakes, but like watersports are just not huge here. So, I've got a lot of questions. First, I guess I can just start with what is gig rowing? MADIE: Yeah. So, when you introduced me you said University of Plymouth now I'm assuming everyone's gonna realize that that's in Devon in England, not in the US, for starters. So, gig rowing is, the full term is Cornish pilot gig rowing but it’s a bit wider geographically now than just Cornwall. So, it's six-seat rowing for starters, so we don't have a slide like your normal base that you see on TV. And it's a very traditional form of rowing in the southwest of England, and it's really old. So, the boats originally like we raced in our big championship, the World Championships that we hold over here. We raced against boats that are like 200 years old. So, they're 32 foot long, built solid wood, they're ?? 09:30> built, so they’re traditional built. There's only about six boat builders in the southwest. There's one in London as well now and they’re built from mainly elm, so originally Cornish elm. But we can't get home in Cornwall anymore, so we ship it in with a hard wood ?? 09:50> built specifically for speed. So, they’re pilot boats. So, the original boats were in the Scilly Isles which are the islands off of the foot of ?? 10:02> and also on the mainland just on the mainland in Cornwall. And they sit six rowers with a coxswain steering at the back. You've got one on each, and you also have a pilot seat in the very front. So, a pilot would sit in the front, and they'd see a - ship coming in to the Scilly Isles really, really rocky really, really dangerous navigation for ?? 10:32>. So, they have these teams of people that they were privately employed, so the boats were privately owned, and they'd employ a team of rowers. And the idea was the fastest gig ?? 10:46> ship and put their pilot on board would get the job, which got the money to bring it safely into port. Usually from the Scilly Isles they'd be going either maybe coming into Scilly, but usually going over towards Penzance way or Falmouth. So, that's where the pilot boat ?? 11:01> comes in. And because they were built for speed, they weren't always very well paid. So, the crews likes to race so they used to race each other for money and it was kind of a bit of a sport. This is like 200 years ago. So, it's really popular but only in a very specific place in Cornwall. So, sort of, then obviously, steam engines came in and the boats weren't used anymore, but a couple of boats did survive on Scillies. And then in the 80s, a couple of towns in Cornwall, Mevagissey and Newquay, especially Newquay Rowing Club, went over to the Scillies and rescued some boats that were rotting on the beaches, brought them back over to Newquay, which is the north coast of Cornwall, renovated them and started up a really small rowing circuit racing in Cornwall. And that was in the 80s and then it just got more and more popular. So, there were more towns in Cornwall joining in. So, new boats were built and they used a blueprint from a boat called the ?? 12:09>, which is still in Newquay. And all new gigs had to be designed to exactly the same specification so that there was-- there were rules. You couldn't, because they, you can build really fast handmade wooden boats like the ?? 12:24> they need to be fairly similar. So, yes, through the 90s and early 2000s, it just got more and more popular. So, I started rowing when I left University in 2005. I came down, so I saw these boats when I was holidaying in Cornwall and as a kid. But I grew up in a couple of counties East so there weren't any clubs there. But when I moved down to ?? 12:49> Plymouth, I saw these boats on the water. And I said ah, these are these boats I used to see in Cornwall when I was on holiday. So, I started rowing in the first World Championships that I went to in 2006. There was 89 boats on the start line, which is a lot. So, the Scilly Isles called them the World Championships. And initially, it was just sort of Cornwall and Devon, but actually now we do have clubs come across from America. There's a big, big gig rowing scene in Holland in the Netherlands. And we also get some French teams over, some Faroe Islands. But it's kind of mainly a UK thing generally apart from that one competition in Scillies. But now, last year on the start line for the women, there were 169 boats. But they're fantastic boats, they're handmade. They all have their own little like personalities as a boat, that they're all hand-painted as well on all different colors and then named. So, the club I row for we have white boats, and so not hugely bright, but the names, our names are Amazon. And there's a reason for all the names, you name them after like something local. So, we've got Essa, Miller's daughter and the ?? 14:17> is our best boat. So, sort of with-- you renew your fleet because they’re wooden they take a lot to maintain. So, we sell off the oldest boat after sort of 10 years or so and buy a new boat and then that becomes our best racing boat. But they're quick like the men can, I think the men can get up to sort of nearly 10 knots maybe nine knots. Yeah, it's you know, we can go pretty fast but it's all in the sea. So, we don't row on inland water we're out at sea. And ?? 14:48> really rough water. JESSE: So, I am not familiar with knots in terms of translating to land speed. What does that translate into kilometers an hour? Do you know? MADIE: I’d have to Google. This is ?? 15:06> you, we’re like somethings are metric, somethings are imperial. I literally have absolutely no idea. Hang on, let me Google it. JESSE: It’s one of the things that I was like, I was gonna Google it. I was like, well, I’ll just ask you first before I started like clacking away on my keyboard trying to figure it out. MADIE: We don't even use kilometers an hour here. JESSE: Well see, I was gonna ask for miles per hour because it’s what we use, but I was just like, I was thinking you'd be kilometers an hour. MADIE: No, miles an hour. So, it’s 18, 10 knots is 18 kilometers an hour. JESSE: So, it's probably-- knots are almost, yeah, like 11 miles an hour. MADIE: It's fairly similar to be honest, yeah. Yeah, I mean, we think we don't have a speedo in the boat. So, the only time we can really know how fast we're going is if we've got a boat running alongside us, and they've got a speedo on. But yes, it's around that. I think somewhere in the country, men's teams managed to get a water ski or a ?? 16:12> up behind them... So, yeah. But then the boats also if you have a following ?? 16:20> they can surf. So, like the Australian surf boats, but it's scary because they're not really meant to surf. So, like you'd be going along and the wave would like, pick up the back. And this is where the rudder is so it's good because you pick up speed and you can make quite a lot of you know, you can overtake people potentially and it has happened on finishing lines of major championships where somebody in second place has surfed the people that were winning the whole race, and ?? 16:50> but the problem is that the rudder comes out of the water and you don't have steerage, and you're going quite fast and increasing, increasing speed. So, it's okay as long as you don't catch crab, we call it so when the oar catches under the water, and like, you can't control it. So, sometimes you have to shift your blades if you're gonna surf. But it doesn't happen a lot, but when it happens, it's quite spectacular. JESSE: That seems like a strategic gamble where it's like, okay you can't steer but you're like, well, we're not gonna win we gotta try something, so might as well. MADIE: Yeah. ?? 17:27> so and you can only catch a certain wave because the boats are quite long, quite narrow. So, it's only a certain like frequency of wave that would actually pick the boat up. I've been in a boat where I've surfed quite very fast in quite a long period. Like we had to shift our oars and we were doing like the ?? 17:49> and things we're doing about 19 knots, which we were plaining so the boat lifted out of the water a bit and you know, it was spray coming off and it was pretty scary. We really wanted it to stop, to be honest. JESSE: Well, yeah. I mean, that's you-- so, you’re talking about going 9-10 knots. And then if you go 19 knots like, even if say you did that all the time, you would probably get a little more used to it, but ?? 18:12> times it’s like okay, I'm used to whatever speed. Like on my bike say I'm going 10 miles an hour and I go down a hill, I'm going 20 miles an hour. Well, like the perception of speed especially, in your case, the lack of control, because you've doubled your speed. Like, there's just a whole other perception to what's going on, where you're like, I'm not comfortable with this. I don't like it. MADIE: Well, the thing about rowing is that you're in control, like majorly in control. We plan our start, our first four minutes. So, most of our races are ?? 18:52>. So, we go out and you row maybe four minutes, six minutes, and then you turn around a buoy. So, you turn to the left around ?? 19:04> side, like straight side will pull us around the mark. And then there's three marks normally so you do a kite shape and then back into the start finish line. But the whole race we plan so that we know exactly what we're doing. But you can't plan. We kind of try and practice a bit for surfing because you have to catch the wave like if you're a surfer. So, you need to increase your stroke rate and shorten your stroke a little bit and get the boat up onto the wave. But it doesn't-- I mean surfing is not really something that happens that often. But trying to push into heavy seas and wind is more, like it's very common like we row in any condition. So, getting used to as a crew rowing against the wind and tide and into waves is quite important because the ?? 20:03> side of the boat isn't that high. So, on flat water, they're really nice to row. But technique over time has changed so I mean, I don't know that anybody, any of your viewers might Google it, Cornish pilot gig rowing. But some of the older pictures, you see people, you reach right forwards at an angle, and then you follow the arc of the oar and they finish not leaning back that far, but with their oar handles right over, like, so right in here, whereas, and that's just not very good. Like you're not strong at this point if you're ?? 20:40> your body. You want to be fairly straight and very like not in ?? 20:43>. So, now we roll a lot straighter. So, we pull our oar in a little bit and we reach out over our feet like we're doing ?? 20:50> left, and then we roll into our chest but we lean right far back and that's how you get the length of the stroke. So, because you're leaning back and you've got your hands here if a wave comes up and envelopes your oar at the end, you're stuck here really, you can't get it out very easily. So, that's what we practice a lot of, is rowing in heavy seas. And then Plymouth where we train is a natural harbor. So, we don't really get to row out into open sea here. So, we drill it into ourselves when it's rough in the river. We drill it in how we're going to keep in rougher water. But I mean, our crew, the crew that I’ve rowed with the last three years has got between us about 100 years of experience with a ?? 21:43> row for sort of a minimum of 10 years really. And then some of the girls started as juniors so ?? 21:52> kids. And then the dad coxswain us so there's a lot of experience in that boat. And that's where you can get some you know quite a lot of benefit really from the experience. Because the sport’s growing in popularity a lot in the UK there's a lot of new clubs and they do struggle on the rowing circuit because they haven't got the knowledge there of how to make the boats go fast. You can you know, it's not brute force and ignorance, it might be six seat, we might be rowing a pure wooden boat with wooden oars. But it's not brute force and ignorant. There is a lot of technique involved. A lot of technique and trying to get you rowing really tightly when you've got wind and tide and waves, it takes a long time. And you get like anything you just hit a sweet spot in a case where you've got a crew of six. It’s a ?? 22:55> sport so you know, we're all working and we've got ?? 23:00> down the river to train together. But if you just can get that six people together that can commit the same level and train to get the fitness there, and then they also click in the boat. So, we row very similar together, we complement each other, the boat sits nice and flat in the water, we’re all doing exactly the same strokes. So, it's not wobbling around because people are doing different things because every little thing will take speed off the boat. So, it took, the club I rode for, it's been around for sort of 30 years, and the men have been very successful in the 90s and early 2000s. But it wasn't until I think it was 2015-2016 the crew won for the first time at the World Championships. And then one of the girls fell pregnant so we needed a replacement. And so I went up into the ?? 23:59> from big crew which was nerve-wracking going back to the World Championships as the defending champions, but with me as the addition. I was like oh God, ?? 24:14> like it was quite a lot of pressure. But thankfully it was fine, we won. JESSE: So, I'm wondering like how long does the race actually last timewise? MADIE: So, they do vary because they're slightly different formats. So, during the summer, it's a summer sport really. So, we have a regatta every weekend during the summer. You know, wherever in Cornwall we decide to go so that every single club will have their own regatta. But we stick to sort of our area so that we don't have to travel that far. And I'll say, Cornwall is still kind of the hub of the sport and it's where our competition is. So, we want to race competitive races against our main competitors. So, say we race in Cornwall and those are the kite courses. So, they can range between like 12 and 18 minutes. It will vary depending on-- they'll shorten if the weather's really bad because we just don't go as fast. And then the very first race of the year is the World Championships in the Scillies, which is a bit weird, but it's just always been that weekend. So, that is actually straight courses. So, they’re kind of sprints you do a ?? 25:40> race is the very first race of the day on Saturday. So, you have, it's amazing actually, this is something that's probably worth googling, it's on YouTube. The very first race in the World Championship for the men and the women like two, they’re separate races but all of the gigs go on one start line. So, you’ve got 170 boats on one start line. It's like about one and a half to two miles long. And they have drones up to try and get it straight. So, this kind of ends up being a big banana. But we all race, we all got off at the same time. It sounds like a bit like you're in a war zone. And then that ?? 26:20> you then into categories. So, you have the top group, the first 12 boats are in the A group, second 12 are in the B group so on until the ?? 26:29> the scores get bigger and bigger every year as more boats join, more clubs join. And then you have sprint races from, so it’s all between the islands in the Scillies. There's lots of little islands. And so we row from Tresco back across to St. Mary's into the harbor, and that's about 1.3 nautical miles. So, takes us, we train very specifically for 12 minutes. So, our whole training program for the six months before the championship is aiming to get us as fit as we can be for 12 minutes. Ironically, for all the years I've been in the ?? 27:08>, we've had a following wind or waves and we've done it in like less than 10. So, you get to the end and obviously you're knackered, but you're like, oh, that was quick. JESSE: It wasn’t so bad. That's okay. MADIE: We've wasted those extra two minutes every training session for the last six months. JESSE: Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, it's like-- It's not quite, it's a little bit longer but it's like comparable 5K speed where it’s like I'm not this fast anymore, but like trying to run like in the 15s for your 5K. And it's like, if I somehow, if you ran like a downhill course then you finished in 13 you're not going to be like, well, I wasted all those months of training to miss two minutes. ?? 27:56> was like, okay, no, it compounded and then we just had things in our favor. It's just like, it's like a nice bonus. It's like a dessert on top, a little treat where it's like, hey, you could have gone the extra two minutes, but we just gave it to you today. MADIE: To be honest, we could. The last couple of years, so 2017 and 18, we won, the first year we won by a couple of boat lengths. But 2018, we had a good race with a Cornish crew from Falmouth. Those ladies used to be multiple world champions coupled it about six, seven years ago, and they came back together as a crew after their like children and operations and stuff. They, I think, wanted to see how they pitched up against the new kids on the Block, which was us. So, yeah, they came back two years ago. So, the very first championships we had together with them, we manage to beat them by about a boat length, I think by the end of the 11-minute race or 12-minute race. But last year, they're a much bigger crew because you're six seat, it's all about leverage. So, if you're tall, you're a bigger lever. So, it's an advantage and they are a big crew. We're all quite small. I'm the shortest at five foot five-ish. But so we had a big job on our hands, we knew we were going to struggle to beat them. And so we saved ourselves for the final, we didn't really race until the final and then we gave it our best shot. And they were beating us by a boat length the whole race. But then the last 200 meters we pass ?? 29:46> we got level with like nearly level with them. And then we went over the line and nobody knew who had won and had we took them ?? 29:54> on the boat. Like we stopped, we all stopped rowing but they're...the boat, our boat was going faster. But they, it was a photo finish and they got it. But I've never experienced a feeling like it when sort of 200 meters to go you're gaining on them and the coxswain, Steve our coach who raced ?? 30:17> us as well was absolutely screaming at us. Cuz we were doing it. We were gaining on them and he was like, come on you gotta do it. But he was like you need more, you need more and you're giving like, ?? 30:32> can't really remember the last minute you can’t drop it at the end like we've like fallen off our seats and yeah, but although we came second like that was...races go. You can't really ask for a sort of better experience if you want competition, and we wanted competition. We wanted like we didn't want to dominate the sport. Well, it's nice but you're there to compete. So, there's a challenge like them, you know, they were a big crew, we had to be super fit and super technically accurate to beat them. So, yeah, we ? 31:18> it but just not quite. JESSE: No, I absolutely understand. And there are like a lot of people like kind of surrounding family and some friends depending, don't really understand it’s like-- So, I do triathlon now I ran originally and then post-college began doing triathlon. And historically, I basically try to move up so that I don't win. Like I've only ever won one race in my, like 20 years of racing. And it's partly because there's something enjoyable like about getting your butt kicked and knowing you put everything out there that you could. There's still a challenge and like you were pushed to the limit, not just like you said, if you're just dominating everybody, that would be nice, in what aspect? But then it's like, am I really being challenged? You know, am I in the right class of people? Is it too easy because I'm so much better or am I racing people that just aren't as fit? So, there's something in there about knowing that you could have gotten beat or that you know, you were just barely, that makes it more exciting than if it was just like in your case, if you'd won by 10 boat lengths, you'd be like, okay, was it really a race? Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3

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