Kate, my coach, sits on a chair and gets ready to deliver more punishment. “Again. Three more.” I’ve seen Kate be wonderful with floundering beginners, but as you get a bit further up the food chain, she doesn’t waste her charm. This evening, in a joint lesson with resident club fletcher Emma, we are expected to listen and be good, and the instructions get more curt.
We are doing an exercise involving coming up to full draw and alternately pushing and pulling with the front arm and the back muscles. Suddenly the bow feels twice as heavy. “Five more on the front, then again on the front.” It’s torture. “Strength strength strength this week. The most important thing.” Apart from all the other important things. Kate never misses anything. There is no getting away from poor form, weak shots, that-thing-you’re-doing.
It’s pretty simple, but the thing that has been missing from my recurve life for many years is regular coaching, and I am lucky to be near enough to Archery Fit here in London to come and get it. It is the single most valuable thing in the sport. For all the free advice and information that the digital revolution has brought us, you can’t learn archery from YouTube, and you need structure to improve. If there is no coach, nothing will change very fast.
My arm extension is looking good now. “How many pushups are you doing every morning?” I tell her. OK, I lie. Kate recommends 100 pushups every morning. I would find that difficult to impossible. “One pushup equals one shot.” Still, I’ve been doing some, and reversals in front of the TV, and pulldowns and pullups at the gym. It’s made the difference.
After four days of several hundred arrows more than I’ve ever shot in my life, large chunks of my upper body are aching and my back is killing me. But the strength work has made a difference. I feel more in charge of the bow, and able to hold for much longer without collapse, more able to keep… on… pulling…. Vegas is only thirty arrows a day. Thirty good arrows. That’s more than doable now.
This Thursday saw a painful late change to hand position in order to fix an alignment problem that saw weaker shots start to smack into the bracer. It’s a fix that kind of covers over the fact I’m still not turning my elbow over enough. But it’s still better than having one in every six shots score a big fat miss to the right of the six zone. Kate is sanguine about my chances in Nevada. “Never mind about what is down the other end. The important thing is that you enjoy yourself. The rest of it doesn’t matter. The point of archery is to enjoy it.”
There’s been some technical changes as well. I’ve long known my arrows were a bit stiff, and I finally managed to put in some 120 grain points to replace the 100s. Bingo. Straighter flight. Bareshaft close to bang on. Shot sounds better. Group a tiny bit tighter. Like, duhhh.
At the recommendation of my ‘arrow doctor’ Yulia I’ve added offset AAE WAV vanes to my ACGs. They worked for her indoors. I hope they’ll work for me. She also shows me a vastly better method for fletching. This should be taught from the get go; part of beginners courses. I reject her kind offer to set me up with some spin wings as I don’t have enough time to get used to them before Vegas. Maybe next time. You may be reading this thinking “why is he only sorting this stuff now?”. You’d be asking a very reasonable question.
There’s been some other work down. After a ‘hangry’ day at the range resulted in bad moods and worse archery, I started paying a bit more attention to diet, trying to make sure I balanced carbs and protein better. I kind of know what I need, I just don’t always get it right – especially when busy. One less coffee per day too, but have brought a sack of jelly babies for instant sugar thump if necessary.
Finally, after several weeks hard-ish work, the shot is stable, the arrows are staying on the face, and the scores are starting to ratchet up. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s something. It’s the physical expression of an internal desire. I’m starting to sense the deep magic of achievement based on solid work. I’m annoyed, but not angry if I don’t see a dark flash downrange across the yellow of the target post-release.
I suppose I’d settled for being a very mediocre recurve archer too long ago, without wanting to put the effort in to not settling for making up the numbers. Now I feel a little bit more possibility in the wind. Finishing tonight with a crisp 29 left the last proper practice session on a real high. I hope I can deliver a performance out there that justifies the work and effort.
Damn, it feels good to be an archer.