The Cuyahoga Crash and Burn

The 2022 running of the Head of the Cuyahoga is done.

I said last year that I probably wouldn’t row it again in the 1x. To set the scene, if you’re not familiar with the waterway, it is extremely challenging. There are two sharp turns of 110 degrees or greater, requiring starboard pressure and then two sweeping port turns, plus several smaller dog legs requiring course corrections. In short, there are very few straightaways. The course itself is run through an industrial sector where there are bulkheads and concrete seawalls on both sides, which creates reverb if there is any wake. You pass under a number of bridges, some of which narrow the course. There are also boats parked along the side in several places. If you’re not a rower, imagine driving a semi truck at full speed through an obstacle course. Cuyahoga is probably one of the most challenging courses out there.

Course map doesn’t reflect the many intracacies

I talked myself into the 1x to test my strength, stamina, and speed after all these months off recovering, retraining, and rebuilding.

Everything until that point had been going well at practice. Clearly the hand wasn’t perfect, but I had no major pain issues as long as I rowed under a 28. At 28 and higher, it started getting tweaky. I’d been working on this, throwing 28+ short pieces to start. I figured I’d row at a 24 spm, slow for a single, but my current sweet spot for speed and distance.

I’ve also finally lost my Covid-5, dropping six pounds over the last few weeks! So things were looking up.

Originally a two-time Olympian was entered in my event. That took the pressure off trying to win again because there’s no way I catch match a former National Team rower. I could focus on myself and my performance.

Then she didn’t appear on the heat sheet schedule. Winning was back on the table, possibly.

So I felt prepared, even though we’d made a significant change to my technique two weeks prior. I figured I’d hold the style as long as possible, and probably end up with somewhat of a hybrid as I grew more tired. I watched course recordings multiple times, noting the landmarks and what line to take. I felt ready.

Women’s 1x

The rubber band that holds my phone in the stroke coach clip snaps right as I put it in place. I usually have an extra in my bag, but I always pack down to base essentials for the race. My coach takes the shoelace from my teammate’s shoe and they tie my phone into place. Awesome!

The row from launch dock to the start line went as it usually does. At least this time I didn’t run into any sidewalls or safety boats. I actually steered pretty decently. There was a lot of congestion on the course. The traveling lane is narrow and gives priority to the racing lane.

I can see the person who will be chasing me in the event as we row to the start. It’s evident she is a strong rower and will present competition.

As soon as we arrive, they spin us to go. I hate that; I always need a moment to get centered. I take it anyway–quick drink, turn on the stroke coach app. This time the course isn’t as waked, so it works perfectly.

The call for me to start is clear. The mirror is initially disorienting, as I haven’t had much practice with it yet. I almost cross a green chute buoy, but I get my head in the game. A quick ten at 28 off the horn and then right down to a 24. There’s a card taped in the boat with my cues, and the first is “breathe,” as in to fight the adrenaline rush and breathe it out.

My chaser is moving well and it’s clear I need to steer a clean course to get an advantage. I’m also slowly inching away and if I can keep that up with good steering, I think I can win. Still, I feel the pressure. It takes about five minutes for me to stop worrying about her and focus on what’s ahead.

The first turn, Collison Bend, comes rather quickly. I cut it perfectly and gain ground. I can see the bright neon green hat of the rower I’m chasing in the mirror.

I try an accelerate 10 under the bridge. A headwind comes up and pushes back.

I’m slowly inching in on my carrot. We’re heading for the sweeping turn to starboard, which needs hard on port. Some of the buoys aren’t aligned well, and I do some bad steering. It costs some time, but I cut the turn well.

I’ve gained distance on my chaser. If I can just maintain this consistent but steady push away, I should be in a good position by the finish.

My right hand starts to feel tired and cramped. My port oar is sticking at the release a bit. I’m not setting well. Each stroke is starting to struggle, but it nearing halfway. This part is always a struggle. The stroke rate starts to come down, but I’m fighting it. Still ahead.

Bad steering. Too wide on a turn. Blade still sticking under water. Can’t feather.

My right arm is starting to hurt. It’s okay, push through it, I say. Just count tens. 10 to roll up early, 10 to catch then drive, 10 to hang. Just like at home. Gosh, it hurts.

Now I’m at at a 19. Sweat has rolled into my eyes and I can’t see. The right forearm is cramping up so bad I can’t roll the blade. I can’t feel the catch. Chaser is closing in. Expletive out loud- crap, I can be disqualified-but no one’s around to hear.

This isn’t a hitting a wall; this is bashing into a wall full speed over and over and over. I had about 2K to go. I can go into the pain cave and persist, but this was unlike anything I’ve raced through. And it’s just a hand, just a stupid hand, but every single stroke increased in pain. The water isn’t sweat, now it’s tears in the eyes.

I couldn’t steer. Nearly missed two buoys. I couldn’t get good lines. I underestimated one turn and went too wide; she closed in more. Overestimated the next and nearly crossed the wrong side of the buoy line. The neon green hat disappears from view. I try to go back up in rate, thinking maybe speed with light pressure will make this better. Another loud expletive starting with “F.” A serious consideration of just pulling to the side and stopping. But I still have to row home, so I might as well keep going at this point.

This race is combusting. I remember telling a teammate on shore how my goal was survival–it is literally about survival now.

It’s the last 300 and where all the spectators are. I hear someone cheering but I’m so embarrassed. Barely hanging on at a miserable 19spm, having to make the final sweeping turn, rowing hard on port side, which is all pressure in the right hand. It’s like a knife is slicing in. I can’t feel what I’m doing with the blade, just that it hurts. Sometimes I look and can see it’s squared when it should be feathered, or it’s halfway squared.

Where is the damn finish line? I just want to be done. It’s so far away.

I don’t mind losing if I’ve given 100% but this wasn’t 100%. I’ve never been so upset and relieved to hear a horn. I paddle up two buoys, enough to be out of the way before finally stopping. It’s a complete and utter relief to end what has been around ten minutes of torture. My hand is shaking. I don’t even care if the safety launches are asking me to move on; I need to stop. I sit for I don’t know how long. I just need a moment to process, to rest it, to get composed.

My chaser has made up enough ground to be within two boat lengths, and is the clear winner. I congratulate her but I don’t think she hears me.

Two teammates are gracious enough to help me with oars and the boat. I think they can see I’m not in a good headspace.

The muscles in the right forearm are totally locked up. They’re asking me what I need–is it ice? First aid will have ice. I don’t need ice, I need it massaged out, and they do. Teammates are amazing.

I look at the stroke-by-stroke play on the app later. It shows the blow-by-blow, how I’m cruising at 2:14-2:16 spm at a 24, right on target for about 1500, some steering wobbles and a brief pick back up. Then there’s a struggle period, where it’s inconsistent-up, down, but creeping down in stroke rate and up in the spilt. And then the end, where the spilts are absolutely embarrassing awful.

I posted about it on social, and some people texted me congratulations. I appreciate everyone being encouraging about it, but honestly, second place stings. Going slower than the year before stings. I feel ashamed that something as small as a hand and forearm muscles locking up was the undoing of what would have been a really competitive race. Friends have raced through broken ribs and won, but cramping is my undoing? At the same time, it’s hard to capture what I was going through that last 2000-1500m. I’ve never had a row like this before, not ever. I’ve hit walls, I’ve struggled, my muscles have been on fire, and I’ve lost plenty, but not like this.

Now that I’ve raced, I have some serious thinking about the next few weeks.

Mixed 8+

The second concern immediately after we address the “am I okay?” is the Mixed 8+–can I race the 8+ in two-and-half hours? I say yes. We’ve massaged it out enough it’s not rock-hard and locked up, I can bend it again, even though it’s trembling as I eat a bagel, peanut butter, and fig jam. I’ve taken two ibuprofens and work on stretching it. Plus, rowing starboard, the right arm maintains a straight, locked position, no twisting involved.

This lineup has never rowed together before and it’s our first “test” of the composite Mixed 8+ that will race at the Head of the Charles in the Director’s Challenge. Many of us haven’t been in an 8+ or sweep boat in ages, and someone hasn’t raced in a decade. I’m seated seven.

On the way out, it’s a Murphy’s law. Four’s seat isn’t rolling. We’re about 800 meters from the launch dock. It’s not impossible to get a seat, but hard. I’m calling a teammate on land to see if the wrong seat landed in our boat and is in their four. Four/five/six are trying to figure out what to do. Six bends something, tries it in his rails, and gives four his seat. It’s working, but grinding so bad I can hear it.

Brief interlude on way to start

Meanwhile, the cox mic starts squealing like a pig getting knifed. It won’t stop and it’s doing it at random intervals. Particularly, under the many bridges we pass.

And then my oarlock starts squeaking. I couldn’t help but laugh. Squealing cox box, grinding seat, and squeaky rigger. At least I can fix the rigger with a quick splash of water.

Someone asked for my two cents about what we needed to do before we launched. I said pause drill on the way up to get in sync as a crew. Then, because we had a 50-second handicap to overcome from a traditionally strong club, I said we needed to pass early and get open water as soon as possible if we wanted to win.

Our cox’n made that call early, urging us to catch Three Rivers by Marathon Bend, the first serious turn and about 1300 meters in. She calls them starting at three boat lengths up as we start. Stroke seat is dousing me with water. I don’t say anything, but secretly hope it doesn’t continue the whole 5k. (It doesn’t, he stops by the first turn.)

We’re inching, the cox’n says. Inching isn’t good enough. We hit Marathon bend without catching them. It’s hard on starboard, and the course is spot-on.

There’s a silly amount of boat traffic. Doubles and coxed fours. How there could be two events heading up the course impeding our progress, I don’t know.

From Marathon Bend to the bridge and abutement that marks halfway is about 1700meters. The whole time I spend waiting to see Three Rivers’ trail; to hear their oars and their cox’n. It’s not until about halfway that I can see their trail. Our cox’n says they’re making a move to hold us off–how are we going to respond?

I don’t know YOU TELL ME HOW WE’RE GOING TO RESPOND. This is an 8+, I’m a piston, not a thinker!

But personally I do a power 10.

We don’t move through them as fast as I would like. They go wide on Collision Bend, so we get the optimal inside. Now there’s a youth 4+ between us. I know that the best line is to gradually move from the concrete seawall on port across the course to the buoy line to set up for the sweeping turn that’s hard on port for the finish. But we’re not moving over. We need more open water on the Three River 8+ and the 4+. Slowly, inch by inch, we’re getting it.

Now we’ve got the room, but we’re still staying over.

Competitive Casey takes over. “CUT THEM OFF!”

“Let’s keep our heads in the boat, please.”

Look, my head is in the boat, I can see the open water, and I know we need a damn good line. We need seconds, and we’re running out of distance.

We do gradually make the cut over, forcing Three Rivers wide. I yell again about we need to move NOW if we want to win. I’m not sure we have enough distance to make up that handicap, not with how long it took us to catch and pass them. We’re cutting under the bridges, making that final sweeping turn hard on port.

At the horn it’s about a boat length up on Three Rivers. We’ve passed I don’t know how many other boats; Three Rivers was the only boat I cared about, so I wasn’t tracking, but there was a lot in the way. At least one double and two fours.

The final results show a three-second win in favor of Greater Composite. Whew.

I don’t regret yelling.

The Day After

Races were yesterday and so how am I doing today? I’m still not happy about it. I can hear people already, ‘you came in second place, after hand surgery, what are you moaning about.’ I get it, but that doesn’t change how I really feel. For me it’s a loss because I didn’t meet my expectations. Second place would have been fine if I executed the race to my best ability. That didn’t happen. It will sting a few more days, but I’ll get over it.

I woke up in the middle of the night with my thumb hurting. It’s not happy with me. My forearm felt sore this morning, and it’s been tight all day. Thumb also feels tight and irritated, but not painful.

I’ve already been brainstorming on how to overcome this problem, but I am very concerned about how racing a sculling boat is going to go this head race season. I had considered entering the 1x at the Hooch, but now I don’t know. I’m on the fence about racing a sculling boat at all. My next race is the Hoover October 8 in a 4x, but entries for the Hooch are due before then. I don’t have time to wait and test again in a team sculling boat.

Sweep rowing starboard did not bother it one bit. After talking with a rowing friend and PT, I won’t be rowing port this season, because of my hand and SI joint.

Three weeks to figure it out.

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My Boat Got an Upgrade & Other Training Notes

Health update

May ended with a big question mark. The ultrasound showed zero gallstones, just a slightly enlarged liver. The doctor next ran a blood test to test my liver function. My bilirubin came back high. They referred me to the GI, but no appointments were open until July.

The good news is I haven’t had any problems since then.

Happy birthday (and the next year of holidays) to me!

The plan was to move and then buy a better boat, rather than taking the next step on the ladder to an elderly mid-tier racing shell. I’d been messing around on row2k when I found a Fluidesign in my ideal price point in Ohio. I forwarded it to Alan on a whim.

A few weeks and a bunch of back and forth later, I drove on my birthday to Ohio to pick up my new racing shell! A 2005 Fluidesign EL.

Now I can go racing in the Midwest! Woohoo! Now there are no regattas until later, but that gives me time to tweak the rigging. (P.S., I’m still available to fill a seat for the Head of Charles. The deadlines are coming…)

Rowing vacation

We had a family vacation on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina/Georgia in the week following my birthday. I fit in five rows, mostly longer pieces. It was a super way to spend a week. My parents were excited that I could go rowing, especially in my new boat.

Then we got there and Mom said, “I’m not sure how you’re going to do this.”

This put-in was the diciest put-in I’ve done, and I had to do it with my new boat. First off, the walk down was a steep eight stories (says Apple Watch.) The house had a lovely high-profile boat dock perfect unless you’re launching a rowing shell. The alternative was a steep put-in lined with chunky bluestone rock.

Alan and I carefully carried the boat down to the small flat shelf. We squeezed between an opening on the stairs and bridge. The slings were anchored with some bigger slabs of rock. We cleared a “path” in the stones; a route without loose rocks for me to walk the boat down.

First row the next morning, I (nervously) went down alone. I gently lifted the shell, so light compared to the Alden Star. I carried so that if I did fall I could try to “shove” the boat towards the water.

Light step, test footing, shift weight. Light step, test footing, shift weight. Step, test, shift. One step into the water. Almost there. Step–wobbly rock! Crap! Splash!

Luckily I was already a foot into the water. A slight push forward and it was down and safe from the rocks. Whew!

The steep bank steep meant I had to put the shore side blade on some rocks. I cringed to see my pristine Crokers scraping the granite stone. I step in, shove out. Push out against the stones with my oar.

I sit there, floating in the little bay between the dock and shore, realizing as hard as getting in was, getting out is going to be worse. There’s no safe way to pull alongside the shoreline with my oars. I resign to probably jumping out a few feet from shore and swimming in.

Luckily when I arrived back, Alan and my Mom were down at the dock. Even Alan asked how I planned to get in. He clambered down and pulled me in, so I didn’t have to flip test on my first row.

Every row after that he hiked down the stairs to help launch and retrieve. What a guy. A new boat and hands-on service.

I think I’ve got the footplate and tracks in a good place. My numbers were decent, but not great. Some post-vacation thinking had me wondering about oars, which are still set for the wider and heavier Alden Star.

Training Update

Faced with uncertainty with my gallbladder, June started without a defined training plan. The first week I tried fitting in workouts I missed in May. I referred to my erg workout book or Concept2’s Workout of the Day to fill in the gaps.

The reduction in workload was obvious when I took the Fluid rowing around Lake Hartwell. My farthest single row was 12k. I did that twice. Some of that was time spent messing around with the footplate and tracks.

The on-water rowing confirmed what I’d suspected; my strength needs improvement. I wrote a tough plan for the last two weeks of post-vacation June with a commitment to work on the weightlifting. Trying to fit endurance work, anaerobic work, and strength training into my available time has been a definite challenge. I stopped taking showers at the Y on Tuesday/Thursday to gain an extra 25 minutes of free childcare and workout time. It’s fine since it’s summer; I pick up Caelan and we go swimming.

We finished the month with potty training boot camp. Talk about exhausting. Early hour wake-ups, 5:30 am alarms, constant staring at a kid. Our first week of July will continue the potty training boot camp. Translation: training takes another hit. The goal is to do what I can to not slide backward.

5k test

I missed the 20-minute test last month because of my health, so I couldn’t skip a test this month. I debated between 20-minute and 5k, but then I figured 20 minutes is almost 5k anyway. Might as well go the extra 100-ish meters.

Thursday started potty training and I did the 5k test on Friday, at 1:30pm. I figured it’s a true simulation of race conditions as a parent: I’m exhausted from lack of sleep, have to manage what I eat all day, and have a crappy afternoon race time.

The last test sucked, in terms of how I felt, execution, and numbers. This time I walked into it with a strategy to test. I had a good idea of the numbers I wanted and set a small improvement goal of 20:35, which would be 0.5 off my average split.

I didn’t wear my lucky unicorn suit. Just normal race clothes. A 20-minute warm-up.

I broke the piece into 500 meters with a plan to match or exceeded the prior 500’s average wats. The early section would be a “base” near my previous time, or around 181-183 watts. Around 3000-4000m I would build it up to 185 watts. Then up more each following 500, with a big push to the finish.

The first 1000 proceeded as I planned. The focus was on watts and not stroke rate. Find a solid, sustainable rhythm and build a base.

Last test I hit a massive wall at 1500m and the piece went downhill from there. This time my legs started feeling the effort around 1500m, but it wasn’t a crash-and-burn. More of an “I’m changing fuel systems.” I pushed through the first fence pretty easily.

The middle transition, around that 2500-3000m, began the struggle to keep the watts on target and build a bit. I did a much better job on sustaining and fighting the downward spiral than last time. Mentally, I didn’t feel like quitting yet.

The 3000-4000m was a fight. I was trying to build the average watts up. By 4000m it was apparent my efforts to reach 185 watts weren’t enough to grow the base watts. I was risking tying my last piece and not exceeding watts. From 4000-4500m I aimed to 190 watts. The pain is kicking in, and so is the panic. I’m at risk of not reaching 20:35.

Those last 500 meters were absolute murder. Knives and terror in every stroke. I wanted to quit at 150 to go, but that little voice was, “IT’S JUST 150 METERS, DO NOT STOP.” Lactic acid overload.

I distinctly remember seeing 83 meters left and wanting to die. Longest. One. Minute. Ever.

Where most of the 500 meters were around 2:04, the last 500 was 1:57.

So, somehow, I pulled it off. 20:34.7, 2:03.4 average, 186 watts.

The time improvement isn’t awesome. What I did get out of it was a workable strategy. Other than the desperate attempt in the last 500 to show gains, I’m happy with how I executed the plan. Now I’m armed with a framework to help me get faster. I know where I need to tweak this plan for next time.

As tired as I was immediately after that 500 meters, I recovered much faster afterward. This is a sign I could’ve pushed harder earlier. And, because I didn’t want to crawl into a hole and die for 3500 meters, my endurance has improved. I do need more strength and power to help push those numbers down. Still more work ahead.

Strength test

After looking for a while on how to test strength, I decided to use Crossfit’s Total WOD as my weightlifting test. The movements incorporate the big lifts I use to supplement rowing training: back squat, shoulder press, deadlift. I also added pull-ups, as many reps as possible. I did this Saturday, our third day of potty training boot camp. Here’s the baseline:

Back squat: 175lb

Shoulder press: 65 lb (Yes, I suck at this. Shoulder always have been a major weakness of mine.)

Deadlift: 215 lb

Pull-ups: 12 (5/3/4)

July

Excited for the next month. After the first week of “survival” training, I should be back to a regular schedule with an eye on making gains.

I’m still looking for a boat to join for the Head of Charles.

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Head of the Hooch: Going Single is Mental

Once the Head of the Charles was done, nothing stood in the way of the reality that I’m about to race the Women’s Masters 1x at the Head of the Hooch.

Let me be plain: I’m not going to win. I’m not likely to medal.

That’s not me being a Debbie-Downer or disparaging about my ability. Allow me to explain:

HOTH Expectations

I arrived home from HOCR Monday afternoon and jumped right on the training horse Tuesday. Hello, dear erg friend.

Initially, I felt euphoric. All positive sunshine-rainbows-butterflies. After doing so well with race day nerves and framing the HOCR experience, I was buoyed about racing the HOTH. Energetic, even. The bow draw made me happier: I wanted to be dead last, but I’ll take second-to-last. Less pressure from people chasing me down. I started the ten-day gap in a good head space.

Until that evening when the rowing nerd woke up. When I should’ve been getting ready for bed, I started dwelling on the 1x. What could I do? Where would I place?

I wrote down the names of all the entries. I researched each of their race histories and successfully found a comparable 5k score for all but two women. Either a past HOTH result or a time from this season.

I know times are highly subjective, based on weather conditions of the day and currents. Maybe someone is better trained now than last year or vice versa. But still–it’s a ballpark. A statement about capabilities.

Next, I calculated approximate spilt times for different targets. 21:00, 21:30, 22:00, 22:30, et al. Wrote all these down.

I looked up my 5k race history. That was easy. I’ve raced the single over 5k exactly ONE time in my entire racing career. Yep. ONCE. I remember it vividly because:

  1. I did it as part of the first Stetson Rendezvous, which has a 5k on Saturday and a half-marathon the next day. Except they didn’t call it a half-marathon that year, but “17k.” Sure, 17k plus the 3k+ row to the start line.
  2. I rented a boat whose tracks left deep gouges in my calves. I still have the scars.

My time? 25:05. Yep. I was shocked, too. Abysmal. It sucks because I was in tip-top shape, having trained for the half-marathon directly after Masters Nationals 2013. I was pretty fit.

To cap that off, I know what I’ve been pulling in my boat, but I went through my rowing app’s history to verify the more recent workout results. For some reason, it didn’t save the last few sessions. Bummer. Nonetheless, I know the numbers I’ve been seeing. They’re not fantastic. However, I did ask the guys at Croker about my oar settings and they recommended a change. More on that in a bit.

Put it all together. The woman who’s won it the last several years also beat me at World Masters. Last year’s runner-up is a fantastic rower who I personally know and I KNOW she’s way better technically, more physically fit, and just plain faster. Another rower I know is someone who’s been at the top of the Florida 1x circuit for years, has more experience and is incredibly fit. I can see what most of the other competitors are capable of doing. I’m still figuring out my boat. I don’t get a ton of water training or have 5k racing experience. I have an idea of what I am capable of doing. The chances of me pulling a 3rd place out of that pack is like winning the lottery.

Framing the experience

I went to bed Tuesday night feeling pretty rotten. All that post-HOCR euphoric and 1x-racing positivity melted away. All these women are amazing. Am I about to embarrass myself? How bad am I about to suck? What if I pull another 25-minute 5k? What if I’m so bad people think I don’t know how to move a boat?

I won’t lie. It’s been a tough week, mentally. I’m feeling so much pressure about this 1x I haven’t the space to be nervous about my other two races.

But I started digging out of that hole, fistful by fistful, realizing:

  1. So I’m unlikely to place. That’s actually kind of freeing. Less pressure to perform to a certain standard. Let the big dogs duke it out.
  2. Since I’m so far down the draw, I only have one boat coming at me. And if they pass me, well, then I’ll be in my own world. I just row my race. If I pass someone, great. They’ll have to yield over for me.
  3. If someone’s going to judge me by the 5k time, they better have rowed a darn 5k in the 1x, too.
  4. The only person I’m really racing is me, and there’s NO WAY I’m going to row 25 minutes. I can definitely beat that standard.
  5. I’m doing it for the experience. To learn about myself as a sculler. Where do I struggle? Where do I find reserves? How do I handle pacing? What is maximum effort over distance?
  6. Rowing a 5k and running a 5k aren’t that different. One just has a boat and more resistance. Take the same approach. Find a good pace and just keep the boat moving.

Training this week

Coming from HOCR, which was my planned peak, and into HOTH, it’s a tough mental switch. You go from, “I’m racing all out once!” to, “I have three races! I need serious endurance!” I broke training into 4 days for the first week and 5 days for the second week. I also added back in some longer sessions, like some 60-minutes on Tuesday and Friday to keep that base alive.

The hardest part has been fitting in any strength training. My kid has been challenging the last few days. He’s two-and-a-half and definitely asserting some independence. He’s also been sick. He broke out in some crazy hives that had me running to the doctor and not the gym. One day all I could do was a 25-minute bike ride. Hopefully I stay healthy for the next few days.

The best part of post-HOCR training was my time on the river. Like I said, I asked Croker about my oar settings and my new boat. They recommended going shorter over the total length. The Kentucky River’s up again, with a slight current. It seemed a similar to the typical Tennessee River conditions, with no-wind to a strong head/cross. For my peace of mind, I ran a few test 1k’s at 5k race pace. The change in length definitely made a difference.

I feel more confident about what to expect from myself and have a direction for a race plan. I have a few days now, so I’ll be doing some taper sessions again and trying to avoid catching Caelan’s virus.

There’s a potential for sleet and snow in Kentucky Halloween night and Friday morning, when we depart for Tennessee. No wonder they call the Head of the Hooch, “the last of the great fall regattas!”

I’ll be bow 1767 in event 50.

If you’re interested in encouraging me across the finish line, just yell, “Go BABYFACE!” If you’ve ever met me in person, you’ll understand why.

 

 

 

 

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Thumbs…Up? Down? My Rowing Life in 2022

Yet another block of ghosting the training diary. Life got in the way of every ‘I should write an update’ until nine months later. Here’s the summary of how life as a Masters athlete has been going in 2022.

The big story: downhill skiing

Now that we live in the cold north, snow skiing exists. Alan pitched it as an activity that could get us outside in the winter, that we could do as a family and learn together. It sounded like a great idea.

Caelan, aka Mr. Fearless, excelled at skiing and came to love it.

In January, in my third time out at Mad River (maybe my eighth or ninth time ever on skis) we were night skiing. I was to meet a rowing buddy, but she was running behind. Alan encouraged me to start first and get a run in. I picked a green slope. Everything was going great and I felt in control as the grade leveled out. My eyes were on the ski lift about 100 feet away, until they weren’t. The ski caught something hard, my eyes were on the ground, so the hands flailed out, shoulder to the ground, skis flying off my feet.

Good hand
Bad hand, January 21

The pain in my hand was instant. I sat on my knees, holding it, breathing, wondering what the heck I hit. Nothing on the slope behind me but scattered skis and gouges in the snow. The snowboarders coming up behind me said, “Dude, that was epic.”

It took a moment of breathing, hunched over, holding my hand through the glove to get composed enough to pick up the skis and finish the hundred feet down the slope. By then my friend was waiting in line. I explained what had happened. I tried breathing it out, assessing if I could tough it out and jump back on the lift. I couldn’t do it. I had to bail. I tried packing snow on it to ice it. Once I got in the car and warmed it, the throbbing and swelling became intense.

Still Skiing, February 28

Hounded into an X-ray a few days later. It said no breaks, just a sprain. Rest, ice, ibuprofen.

A lack of use and improvement in swelling two weeks later signaled maybe not just a sprain. A ball formed at the joint. I couldn’t grasp anything or use zippers. It took six weeks in total to work the health care system before I was sitting across from a hand orthopedist office as he said, “you need surgery and you need it fast, given how much time has passed. Can you do Thursday?” It was Tuesday afternoon.

Between the fall and the verdict, in true bubble-wrap-girl fashion, I kept skiing. Even went on a weekend trip to New York. I just went slow and didn’t hold the poles, so when I fell I could just let go. 

All thumbs? Post-surgery

Obviously once I learned I needed surgery to reattach the ligament–hopefully he wouldn’t have to take a tendon from my wrist– my spring rowing season crashed like Mikaela Shirffin’s Beijing Olympics. It was six weeks of absolutely no sporting activity using the hand. The doc estimated I wouldn’t be able to row at all until about 12 weeks out. He said he’d worked on a lot of athletes, but he never had a rower before, so he didn’t have a true estimate long it would take me to get back to the level I want to be at.

Post-op March 4
Getting stitches out

But, I have a hard time sitting around idle. I figured doing something was better than absolutely nothing. Since my knee issues prevents running, and I couldn’t swim because of the incision, choices were limited. Shortly after surgery, someone in the neighborhood was selling a cheap spin bike. Now at least I could do something. Seven days post op, I started on the bike. I couldn’t even grip the handlebars.

Another goal was to come out of this with a nice two-pack of abs. Figured I could do sit-ups and bridges and some banded work.

My steampunk glove

The workout schedule was going ok. I’d strictly adhered to the hand therapy regime because that would get me back sooner. The start was slow, as the thumb struggled to regain elasticity. Such a small limb, but what a big impact. If you can’t grip or put weight on it, that’s no dumbbells, no pull-ups, no-pushups, etc. But once I finally got it moving, I am happy to report I exceeded OT expectations and eventually was cleared from therapy at 8 weeks.

Biking and core training were going well. I was keeping some base fitness until Alan got COVID in April. He quarantined in a bedroom, as we had a cruise in three weeks. If Caelan or I tested positive, we couldn’t go. It also meant I was solo parenting for ten days, while still taking care of Alan as best I could through a door. Every day, I woke up wondering if Caelan or I had COVID. Just surviving the day-to-day meant training fell apart.

Once Alan recovered and I stayed negative, the cruise was around the corner, so it wasn’t worth going hardcore. I did some workouts on the boat, but it was more to mitigate any further losses.

Getting clearance

Halfway into May, the doc gave clearance to start weight training again as long as I adapted my workouts and didn’t go hard. It was a very nice lecture. I also convinced him that sweep rowing would be okay, as long as I was on starboard side.

It was amazing as I went back to CrossFit the difference between the left and the right side, not just with the hand strength but strength through the forearms. For example, I had the core capacity to do more toes-to-bar, but my right arm would tire out and seize because the forearm muscles hadn’t been getting used as much.

I managed to get in a few sweep boats, but we’re not really a sweep rowing club. I didn’t get to row as much as I would’ve liked in the early days. At 10 weeks I got the go-ahead to try sculling. He gave the go-ahead to start sculling again, with another nice lecture on taking it slow and not to go out racing in three weeks.

June 4 was the 12 weeks out appointment with the doc. He wiggled the thumb around and had me do some basic exercises to check the strength. Satisfied, I got one last lecture on responsibility rebuilding and was declared mostly healed. It will take a few months more for the swelling to fully disappear and full use/strength to return.

First row in the 1x 5/29/22

Naturally, it rained for the next three days.

When I finally did on the water, I promise I listened to the doctor. Our reservoir essentially has three loops you can do. The short one is in the basin and pretty much is used by learn to row. The next one is called the “Wall,” and one loop from dock to the Wall and back is about 6500 m. That’s the one I aimed for first. My thumb got angry and swelled up.

It was clear this process was going to be a few weeks.

Summer

I wrote Sprint season off because I knew if I tried to train for it, I would probably go too hard too fast. Plus trying to get into sprint-fitness mode in three months would be a hard prospect. It was tempting when I heard Masters Nationals was in Sarasota, but since it’s returning for 2023, I don’t feel too guilty skipping.

Now it is August. I spent June and July months gradually adding distance in the single. I went from 6500m now to the 12,000 m loop regularly, with some up to 17ks in the last few weeks. I’ve started playing around with a stroke rate. My first foray in the 28-30spm range flared it up. It keeps getting better, although progress at rate is slow.

Off the water, my strength training blossomed. In July, I made PR‘s in the squat clean, deadlifts, and benchpress. It’s kind of amazing considering I have only been back at it about eight weeks, and I had to rebuild that strength in my right arm and hand. I’d avoided doing any cleans or overhead presses for about six weeks because I didn’t wanna stress the joint. Dumbbells started at 10 pounds because of the pressure on the hand.

Time to love those hips

My left hip has been an issue for a few years now. Once my hand bills were dealt with, I committed to finally getting checked out. Better to fix it now on an “off-year” so I can go hard next year. 

Trying to do my hip PT. Amora has other plans.

The orthopedic doctor looked at me like I was a overzealous google conspiracy theorist when I theorized my scoliosis, persistent knee/IT band problem, and hip problem were interconnected. She glossed over my knee issue almost dismissive in a way. Diagnosed SI dysfunction and sent me on my way with a print-out of stretches and a PT referral. Same as my initial IT band consult a decade ago.

The physical therapist experience was totally opposite. Yes, he agreed it was highly likely it was all connected. Scoliosis does tend to lend to SI dysfunction. My IT band injury and persistent problem likely caused a muscle imbalance that further aggravated everything. I felt vindicated. 

He did some assessments unlike the first PT I went to. It was amazing how little muscle activation I had in my left side. At one point, he pushed my leg straight down to the table like knifing hot butter, as if I wasn’t trying to resist at all.

About a month out now and the hip pain has already improved in my daily life. Rowing, it’s also been better, especially in the last few outings where I stopped using the Prow seat pad. I found it was adding too much pressure on my joint.

I’ve avoided running, but I did a few short, easy jogs. It starts to ache around 1000 m, but not the stabbing, gait-altering pain. I hope that’s a sign that if I continue down this path that I’ll get to a point where I can jog a mile nonstop pain-free.  At this point, I would be so happy just to reach that milestone.

Check out that max stroke rate.

Head of the Charles

Before all this skiing stuff happened, I considered trying to put a bid in for the Head of the Charles. When that happened, I figured I’d wait until I turn 40. Better to spend the next two years building strength and base. Maybe one year focus on sprint season and the next year head season.

Then I was asked to be in a composite mixed 8+. I weighed it for about a week. Composites are tough, and there’s always a risk it won’t be competitive or something will go awry.  It’s a lot of money to spend for a mystery row. But I figured another spin down the course two years out would probably be a good thing. And as Alan pointed out, I do like the regatta experience.

So back I go, in a Director’s Challenge boat as Allies with Oars. A fun regatta and a good awareness cause. 

It changes the intensity of the training, though. I always do what I can to be as above average as possible. 

Who wants some ribs?

And of course, in training week one of 12, and somehow I developed a rib strain. I don’t know what happened. We were in the car for two days coming back from Florida. Monday morning I started warming up for a distance test on the erg and wham-o, big ol’ achy pain in the right side. Not where I broke it, a rib or two up. I spent six minutes rowing a warm up before deciding to bail and spin. Tuesday, I went two minutes. A whole week went to a rowing rest, with lots of icing, ibuprofen, and spinning hoping to resolve it. 

The bright side is I’d rather deal with this now than in ten weeks. Thus far it’s been better, but it twinges every now and then. I haven’t swept, which is probably a good thing.

August 22, 2022. Back to head race training.

Port Side

The other positive of this slow rebuild would be the eight weeks spent retraining my port-side catch in sculling. I literally spent the entire rows counting 20 strokes for each little part of the stroke that was impacting my bad catch (roll up early, separate catch from drive, blade depth, accelerate through, squeeze lats at release, repeat). My first coached video of the season showed it has tremendously improved. Not perfect, but way better than September 2021.

Now racing is around the corner, so I’ll try to update my training more often. The objective for this year’s head race season is to be present, enjoy the process, and lay a foundation for a better 2023. And if I’m lucky, win a medal or two along the way.

My reminder every day.
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Holiday Challenge 2021

I don’t always do the Holiday Challenge, but I figured for my goals in 2022 it’s a good start.

Last year I remember going out hard and burning out week 3. I also remember getting sick somewhere in there.

I can’t control viruses, but I can control approach. I didn’t want to burn out and have to take time off. The plan:

  • Erg for at least 15k on rowing days.
  • Focus more on technique than power, especially early days
  • Do one 21k a week
  • One rest day a week

I figured mathematically, 15k a day would get me close to 400k. I’d not likely get to 400k because the last three days of the challenge we’d be gone traveling.

Holiday Row. One of two days on water in December.

The Holiday Challenge 2021 has been sufficiently challenging but I hit my target 90% of the rowing days to achieve at least 15k. The first week and a half I had some lesser days, but these were still over 10k. I did not 21k the first week.

The final week my lower back and hamstring definitely were feeling the build up and tiring out. I tried to add more stretching and yoga in the evenings. I’m glad to be done for now.

Instead of focusing so much on the meters, I focused on time. As in, “today I will row at least 90 minutes, 100 minutes, two hours, etc.” Whatever meters I got in that time, great.

Inside the four weeks I had a 6K test at a 24 rate cap. Time is decent, about top 15-20% of women, no 22 in my age group for 6ks in the Concept 2 Logbook. And that’s with a rate cap. I had the same issue I always do: go out too slow. Last strokes I was pulling sub-2:00.

The very last day CrossFit had a 4 x 500m x 3mr workout I decided to turn into a 500 meter test. I also had team erg in the morning, which was a hard steady state. I did go a little conservative on that. By the time I reached CrossFit I’d already done 17k. I used 2 and 4 as the test pieces, with 1 being a warm up and 3 still <2:00.

Actual drag was not 227. More like 118.

Still, nailed it. How fast could I have been fresher? Also faster than my 500 two years ago.

Total meters: 374,825.

Definitely would have hit the 400k if not for traveling.

Here’s staying fit and healthy rowing in 2022.

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2021 Head of the Cuyahoga

The last month has been an abrupt transition into head race training. Getting in all the meters has been a challenge, but I had one goal: be ready for Chattanooga in November.

But there was this other regatta I’d known about since Lexington when I was looking at potential races to go by myself. One that intrigued me was Head of the Cuyahoga in Cleveland, Ohio. When we moved to Columbus and people started talking about racing again, this is one that kept coming up. It sounded absolutely crazy, and I do like crazy. Here’s the course map.

Those are big turns to make in a shell, plus seven bridges to safely navigate under. That’s a huge challenge.

When racing kicked up again, I put Head of the Cuyahoga on my calendar, with the intent to race the single. I had a back-of-my-mind goal to win the women’s single here at some point. Sprint season and U.S. Masters Nationals sidelined any true preparation for head racing, as we started doing team practices and pieces to prepare for 1000 meters.

Welcome to the 25th running of the Head of the Cuyahoga!

Next thing you know, Nationals is done and it’s six weeks to the Head of the Cuyahoga, the first race of head season up here.

One teammate wrote a three-month training plan for head season. I jumped on that have been following it ever since. Most practices have been in the 1x or erging with some exceptions. Wednesdays are coached rows. I’ve been working on my catch and port side issues to try and gain some speed. Anaerobic training days have been full of suffering, but those always are the worst part of head race preparation.

Registration time for the Cuyahoga. I almost didn’t enter. The conditioning isn’t there; I was worried about going and finishing last. On the flip side, I’ve started working a bit on the mental side of the sport. Most of the messaging has been “it is okay to lose,” and “I have to lose to learn how to win.” That I need the courage to put myself out there. That the goal isn’t about the win, but something else definable, something else that marks improvement.

So I enter the Women’s Masters 1x, setting the goal that this will a reconnaissance row for a winning attempt in 2022. I don’t feel ready.

In the two weeks leading up to race day, I watch the race videos when I have time. Study the map. I write out the course. Try to plan what’s going to happen, to the degree you can plan for the unexpected.

The draw comes out and I’m the carrot. Everyone will be chasing after me. Not ideal. Immediately after me is a woman I know is fast; someone I expect to win. It’s her home course, too, and on a curvy course that’s an advantage.

I have a women’s 4x entry, too, but I’m not worried about it and actually don’t devote any mental energy into it. It’s all the 1x.

The Race Plan

Part of race planning

Head of the Cuyahoga is known for its crazy and hard port side turns. But it has plenty of back-and-forth maneuvering and few straightaways. The most straight is in the beginning, but even that wobbles a bit. The closer you get to the end, the more curvy the course. The finish line is on a turn. One large turn is named “Marathon” and the other “Collision Bend.”

My plan is to not win it. First goal: to row at a 24-26 spm and focus on steering. Second goal: Have a clean course. Third goal: Try to at least average a 2:16.1 spilt, if not beat it a little bit. That’s the average time for the entries in the Women’s 1x A-C for 2016-2019.

Race Day

We depart my house at 4:30am. It’s a two-hour drive from here to Cleveland. The sky’s still black when we arrive, but the downtown skyscrapers are lit up with colorful lights. The water reflects the lights up onto one of the many bridges.

I help rig my teammate’s double; they’re the third event of the day so we were always planning to roll in hot, rig fast, and get them launched. By now the sky’s brightening, and we can see the course.

There are boats everywhere. A whole bunch of clubs row out of these facilities, which is a warehouse-style structure and a second airplane hanger-style boathouse. There’s a facility called the Foundry near one of the river corners that has an indoor tank.

GCRA orange heading upriver today the start; last two bridges and turn in photo.

After the Women’s 2x launches, I get my boat offloaded and set up. Then I sit in one of the few open spots left on the river. The rest of the riverfront is occupied with chairs, team tents, and the deck of a restaurant. It’s a good view of the finish line; apparently the bridge is also a good place to watch but I don’t walk up there. Energy conservation. I watch a double go too wide and hit the cliff shoreline.

Our team 2x comes charging around the corner and finishes overall third. About 40 minutes later near 10am, my race is called. The first jolt of nervousness hits–I’m about to do this.

The Women’s 1x Race

After that, I don’t have time to the nervous. I have to row nonstop up to the start to be there on time. Immediately off the launch, a Junior Boys 2x is blocking the path. I have to steer around them, and almost hit the shoreline to do so. It’s not the first near-collision I have. The turns are insane. I wear my mirror on the left to watch for buoys, but you have to keep looking right to watch for the shore line and other obstacles. I almost collide with the bulkhead walls twice and the police patrol boat in Collision Bend.

Doing a good job of not freaking out about what I’m about to experience; first head race in my new 1x

The water is way bouncier then you’d expect for a river sheltered in a basin. The shoreline is mostly metal bulkheads or concrete, so all the wake is constantly reverberating without any natural shoreline or trees to muffle it. The wind is whipping down and around the buildings onto the course. The river is flowing *backwards* for some reason. I almost get swamped by the referee safety boat about 2500 meters up the course.

But I make it to the marshaling area, one of the second-to-last to do so. I’ve already realized on the way up that goals #2 and #3 are worthless. My only goal is to steer a clean course and not wreck my beautiful boat.

The marshal calls up 221, and that’s me. The buoys go green to indicate the starting chute. There’s no, “you may enter the chute, ” or, “you’re on,” or a start horn. Just “221, you may proceed.”

Lucky number?

The start is a blur. I remember seeing 222, the super fast girl I expect to pass me at some point and win, get going. It looks like she’s closing in on me. I remember trying to steer, keeping an eye on the shoreline. Expecting to go straight-ish.

The first one-two minutes I looked down a lot at my stroke coach. The app, RitmoTime, is usually reliable, but sometimes it gets buggy. This was one of the those times. The stroke rate was all over the place, and it wasn’t me. I would say, in order, “14, 40, 22,32,26,18, 42.” The spilt time wasn’t any better. I threw using that for anything out the window.

The water is bouncy and I’m all over the place. I can’t find a good rhythm. My technique is crap. I can’t settle in.

CRAP–the shoreline is right there! I row hard, HARD, HARDER on port, trying to turn away from the concrete-sloped shoreline, trying not to stop and lose time, but it’s too late. My oar whacks the concrete. The oar protector flies off. A quick assessment–the oar looks okay, not cracked. I keep going.

222 has moved much closer and is angled far more to starboard than me. I realize I’ve been an idiot–my whole intent was to follow the starboard buoys through the beginning but I totally forgot in my panic and constant looking at the shoreline.

I keep rowing crappily back over to the buoys. Now I’m sighting them in my mirror. I still expect 222 to pass, but it’s taking her longer than I expected.

Remind myself: who cares if she passes. Keep your eyes the course.

In a blink, it’s the first big turn–it catches me off guard. I didn’t expect it so soon. I recognize the brick building I’d sighted on the way up as a course maker. Hard on starboard. Now it’s using the shore again.

I gained ground on 222. I’m closing on a boat behind me. It’s in another event, and not a priority.

Another turn. I realize I’ve cut it too close–the metal bulkhead looms high overhead. I pause my stroke, watching in case I need to pull my port oar in, and I slide around with just inches of water.

Some dudes are fishing off the shoreline into the race course. Jerks.

I pass a boat, another women’s single in the event before mine. 222 and I are still about the same distance apart.

I’m tired. My legs are tired. My forearms are tired from ovvrgripping in this bouncy, unstable water. I’m still rowing like I’m desperate and I know my technique is crap. I some point I think, “I’m so glad my coach can’t see this right now.” I take a few strokes light and fast.

I start to notice that my close-cutting of corners is giving me an advantage. Every time I do I open up on 222. I double down on my steering and totally stop any glancing at the useless stroke coach app.

The two boats chasing me now are Western Reserve, one the single I passed and one 222. It’s well past halfway and I’ve held her off. I start to believe that maybe I can beat her if I can just keep this distance on her, maybe with my handicap, which is greater than hers. The other boats in our race I can’t see.

Another big corner. Crap–there’s a boat! It’s a huge yacht parked along the side. Another stroke pause to glide–missed again by inches.

We are in the curviest part of the course. Everything is tired, what little technique I had is breaking down. When I see the two Western Reserve boats move more to starboard, I take the same line. When they seem to angle more to port, so do I. I also keep using the starboard buoys and glancing to the shoreline. I cut a few buoys close, but keep the buoy on the correct side of the hull to avoid a penalty.

Another boat is in sight line. It’s the last 500 and the last big turn, the one through two bridges and around to the finish, is in sight. I yell, “I want the inside!” and I cut her off. It’s my right, as I’m the faster boat.

Bridge, bridge. I hear yelling. It’s all hard on port now. I can see the fat triangle buoy that marks the finish line in my mirror now. I guess it’s 30 strokes and start counting. The concentration goes on technique–must row clean!–but I have a horrible stroke with about 200 left right in front of the park with all the spectators. Major boat wobble.

More hard on port. 30 strokes is done. Trying not to hit the shoreline like a double did earlier today. Where is the damn finish?

Horn. Phew. A few easy strokes, but I’m pointed right at the shoreline. I let it drift and hold on starboard. I am relieved it is over.

I’m still unhappy with how I rowed. It was truly a technical mess. Rushed, bad port strokes, one collision and two-near collisions. All goals, not met. I complained about it all the way up.

Even though I rowed terribly, I still know I’m probably in a good position to get a medal since no one passed me and, outside 222, I couldn’t see the other boats in my race. I’m thinking second or third, depending on everyone else’s times. I’m not sure I beat 222; there were times she closed in and times I moved away. I think it will come down to handicap.

The results

When I see my name first, there’s a moment I don’t believe it. You read the results once, and then again. Reality sets in. I rowed like crap, and somehow I still won.

My teammate says, “What you need to realize is what is bad day for you would be someone else’s good day.”

What was supposed to be a “course recon” year turned into “I just won the Head of the Cuyahoga!” I got my medal and some sweet HOTC Champion sunglasses.

Look, ma, I won some sunglasses

Between the races

We have about four hours before our Women’s Open 4x. It’s a composite with Ann Arbor; given that all of us have medaled today, there’s a good shot we will do well even with all the junior boats entered.

So we eat, shop, lay around. I call and text people to tell them I won. Under the trailer is actually the coolest spot, and it has a nice breeze. We talk to people. A woman from Cincinnati, who knows one of our team members, says she loaned her boat for a 2x race and the duo ran into a bridge abutment on the way up. The shell took on water and had to be towed in. Whoops!

This is what it looks like when you have a big break and no team tent.

Women’s Open 4x

For this race, I’m sitting stroke. No steering worries! Just rhythm-setting.

At this point I know how horrible the course conditions are. Some sections have a head wind, the current still looks like it’s moving upriver (at least at the finish), and the water’s a trampoline.

It’s still horrible all the way up, except now the buoys are zig-zagged and no longer in a neat course line. I don’t envy bow seat.

We start 7 of 10 boats.

The plan is I will be responsive to the boat, the course, and what’s happening in setting the rhythm. I don’t set a target stroke rate because I think it will too hard to lock into a smooth 28, 30, or whatever. Sure enough, I can’t seem to get it up past 26. We play around with some 27, but with the headwind and jostling we don’t move.

This race had a lot of pain in it. The longer we go, the more everything hurts–my legs, my shoulders, my lats.

A headwind would kick up around a corner and I’d heard 3-seat behind me groan. I commiserated. It was strong enough I could feel it picking up the oar and pushing against it.

At one point a huge log skims by the hull. It was barely out of the water; how bow seat saw it enough to avoid a dead-on collision I don’t know, but I mentally gave her serious props.

We passed a struggling boat in the first 1500k, luckily before the first major turn at Collision Bend. It’s a good thing we did because they went so wide they went off the course. They could have t-boned us if we passed them there.

Bow called power 10’s. Some of these were around corners, or when we needed a course adjustment. That was hard. We sailed under one of the lower bridges, maybe ten foot clearance between water and the bottom. I hear two seat go “woo!”

The Ritmo App is working now, but it’s all over the place with our spilts. Some of it has to do with the river. You can feel when you accelerate and when the boat hits a reversing eddy. It’s too hard to be consistent; but you also know everyone is struggling with the same conditions. At least we are being mostly consistent at a 26 spm pace. I am doing my best to set up a consistent and long stroke, but again, I feel like I’m struggling.

We pass an 8+ that must be a novice 8+ or had boat damage, because the 8+ event was no where near our race. Some people aren’t rowing. Those who are rowing are going slow.

We come around Marathon Bend. From the bow, all I keep hearing is starboard. And more starboard. And keep on starboard. And HARDER starboard. My left shoulder is burning, my feet hamstring is killing, and still it’s “STARBOARD!” When is it ever going to END? Finally–“PORT!” It’s a relief.

A boat is gaining ground on us. They’ve been creeping up for a while, slowly but surely inching in. It’s Cincinnati, with the woman who stopped by to talk to us earlier. At the rate they are going, I figure they will probably be the winners.

Hard on port mostly all the way home. We do manage to come up to a 28 after the final two bridges for a nice push home. The water’s finally flatter and there’s no headwind. We hold off Cincinnati by about four boat lengths.

We pass no one else before the we finish. It is a true relief to be done, and I feel completely spent.

Two Mixed 4x’s actually finish close after us, meaning they also rowed through the field quite a bit.

Back on land, it takes a bit longer for the results to become official. We finish in third by 0.1 seconds. I’ll take it!

Bronze in the Women’s Open 4x

Head of the Cuyahoga done

So my first Head of the Cuyahoga is in the books, with two medals in two events, and a gold in the Women’s 1x. The course deserves its reputation as incredibly challenging. I place is right behind Turkey Lake in Orlando as one of the most difficult and craziest race courses.

These medals are cool!

One of the best parts of racing, especially head races, is the post-regatta food and beverages, which was absolutely well-deserved.

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2021 Hoover Fall Classic

The tour of Midwest regattas continues with the Hoover Fall Classic in Westerville. It’s on the Hoover Reservoir where I rowed during Covid, which means a 15-20 minute drive from home.

I also only had one race-womens masters 2x. A weird and unusual circumstance. Race time was 1:35pm.

You’d think I’d have a nice lie in, but I have a four year old. He woke up at 6:30am and turned on ALL the lights. Talk about a rude awakening. I was lying on his floor still in bedclothes reading books by 7am, yawning like crazy while trying to wake up.

It is weird to show up late for a regatta. All the good parking is gone. Tons of people walking around. The right lane of Sunbury Road was shutdown and packed with buses and cars. I used the shuttle parking to and landed at the venue around 10:30. The first person I ran into was searching for a missing rower. That’s always a fun situation.

Regatta time!

The upside was the launch dock was running behind, so everyone made it in time. Early fog had lifted, but not burned off, so all was still cool and comfortable. The announcer kept calling races to launch, even though there was significant pile-up of 8’s waiting to go. The launch dock guy was smart. He started launching in bow order, making sure everyone would make it to their event on time and in order despite the hold up. Part of the problem was the middle school 8’s waiting to go. They just don’t go fast.

So our two women’s 4x launched twenty minutes after their intended time, but because it was all in order it wasn’t a big deal. Everyone was in the same metaphorical boat.

The turnover between the quads and the doubles was tight. We only brought three pairs of slings and the way the timing worked required us to immediately derig the two quads coming off the water and put them on the trailer to have slings to rig the doubles and go.

I pre-staged the riggers in the rigging area by our slings.

The first quad comes off the water and I jump on right away. Luckily it’s a easy boat to derig with a quick release system. We had that boat done fast and the ladies walked it over to the trailer. The next boat is in slings. Run, over repeat the process.

Now both of our boats are down in the rigging area, trying to go as quick as we can. We have two entries in the Women’s Masters 2x so we are working fast.

These boats do not have a sliding rigger system and they have back stays It takes time no matter how quickly you move. You don’t want to go so fast that you drop the bolts into the grass and lose them. Our 2x finishes tightening right as the announcer calls the first and final call for our event. Unfortunately the other double was completely missing one set of bolts for its backstay. No idea what happened to that one. Luckily another rower had extra nuts and bolts with her and so she was able to take care of them.

We launch. It is pretty windy at this point in the day. Not so bad to call the regatta, but windy enough that you’re feeling the chop and are pushed about. Plus it’s a headwind, so you know that your race will be long and tough. You have to be mentally prepared for a slog.

We rowed through the one and only bridge and are moving northbound. Several different marshaling boats are kicking up wake from across the course. We had to stop at least two, maybe even three times, to let a wake roll by because it was too rolling to row.

On the way out, the boat slated to chase us in our race was following us. They were two older ladies who appeared in great shape with a minute and 16-second handicap on us, yet another race where we needed to row fast and hard. Watching them, they were moving very well. I was definitely concerned about our ability to out row the handicap. But a warm-up is warm-up; you have to see how they start moving when the starter says go.

It’s a long row up to the start. I’ve been on this lake before. I know the distance is deceptive, but it was still a haul up to the start. I kept thinking, “sheesh, we’re not at the start line yet? What is going on?”

We arrive and the marshall is too stressed out. He is at the max, increasing the stress love everyone around him and, honestly, being kind of rude . Our women’s boats were there on time. He wanted us to turn right away into the junior women’s double event. He’s yelling at us first to follow the boats down the course. Our boat and our competition are waiting to do that; we’ve partially turned but we have to let two boats row by before we can finish the turn. Then he yells at us to not stop paddling; Dayton keeps rowing but they’re about to clothesline a junior double, so I yell to watch out. They stop just in time.

He’s still yelling to not stop even though we’ve had this near-collision and there are boats in our way. We do get turned and everyone is packed together. There is no space to go anywhere. We are all in the correct order. Dayton heard the starter call 200s up to the start. Their bow turned to us and said, “I think we need to row up.” Bow-in-chief said, “No, they were just calling number 200 to the start, we’re fine.”

The marshaler gets on his megaphone yells, “Hey ladies, stop chatting over there.” What the heck? We’re not over here sharing our life stories, we’re figuring this out! Where do you want us to row? Do you want us to row into the junior women’s doubles because that’s what’s about to happen.

He was just way too much. On top of that, we get to the official Start Marshall and she’s, “Ladies, you’re early to your race. You have three minutes to chill out.” Surprise, surprise!

It’s the first regatta all year where the races are starting on time!

I completely cool down from a row up, always great to start a race not warmed up. I communicate a little bit with bow-in-chief about what I’m planning to do for this race. My personal objective is to get off the water with out my forearms cramping, but also just do row a solid piece maintaining consistency throughout. I also the conditions on the course are going to rough and that it is a full 5K distance this time.

This regatta was much better at the start. The start Marshall tells us, “208, you can proceed forward.” We go. There’s a clearly marked buoy that marks the chute entrance. The starter very loudly and clearly calls, “MARK” when we when our bow passes the start buoy. First head race where that has happened.

My plan for this race is to break it down into 50 strokes. I’m thinking with a headwind it’ll probably be around 11-12 sets of 50. Each 50 I’m going to call some kind of focus. The first 2K or so it’s more about relaxing because I want to avoid tensing up and burning out too soon.

I don’t call anything for the first 50, just call “One” after the “MARK” and go right into my head, “breathe, relax”. The first 50 comes and goes. Second 50, “breathe!” Third 50, “relax hands!”

Throughout most of this race I did not look up. I also wasn’t necessarily looking down. I purposefully raced without a stroke coach. After our last regatta, the quad went so much better than the double, I thought maybe the stroke coach added a level of stress. If I’m going to try to do row without one, this would be the time.

What I mostly remember is watching the water rooster tail off the tip of our stern and the water trail. Something about was mesmerizing and kept my focus. It kept my head up and level. Every 50 strokes whenever I would call the new focus I would glance up to see where the other boats were in our race. I could tell we were opening up on the others and half way through it was clear to we were going to out row the handicap.

The wind was definitely pushing around. Bow-in-chief was doing a lot of steering work trying to course correct. Two times she called to go hard on starboard and I knew that was because we’ve been pushed over into the buoys. We missed each right on the correct side of the boat at the right time.

The boat following us actually went way off course at the beginning; I did see that in the first 50 strokes.

We followed the junior women’s doubles. We passed one of them quick off of the start, I would say in the first 50-70 strokes or so. We passed another one probably around 1K into the race. There was a bit of a gap before we passed another one getting close to the bridge.

Oar hang

As the strokes slowly passed, one by one, I was happy with how was able to keep my hands relaxed. It’s so important to always stay loose, but even more important when you’re dealing with a lot of chop and headwind. One point I called a focus on releases to try and pop the blades down and away so it was clean and we could get as much run as possible. Around the halfway mark I called for perseverance, just staying strong, pushing through the rough, and knowing you can do it.

That’s not to say the race wasn’t tiring because it was definitely tiring. You know it’s going to be a slog. I’m happy that my forearms did not cramp up, that I maintained a loose grip despite the humidity and the conditions.

We row under the bridge. The bridge is when know you’re getting near the end, and you can do this. I actually have no idea what the distances are to the finish line. Bow-in-chief did call 2K in, and 1k to go. You start side-eyeballing for things, such as the recovery area. We pass that.

I know every stroke we’re getting closer. At this point I’ve counted through 11 50-stroke segments, I’m on the 12th. I thinking I’m probably going to count 13 and that’s okay. The headwind is just really pushing us down.

We were definitely starting to tire. I know that Alan and Caelan are there. I’m listening behind, trying to hear them because I figured they will probably be close to the finish line. I know if I can hear them calling for us that we’re close.

I hear lots of voices and people shouting, but nothing distinct when bow-in-chief yells, “Starboard! Buoy!” but she’s too late! We smack blades into the the big buoy; it knocked me off guard because I was so focused, and I let out a loud “UNH” sound.

But it wasn’t a hard stop kind of hit, thanks to a little bit of warning. One that knocked off our rhythm and focus. The 50 counts are out the window; I call 10 to get it back together, 10 for legs because at this point we’re not that far from the finish.

Nearing the finish. Note the yellow buoy; we hit it later.

It’s just a matter of getting a rhythm reestablished in windy and choppy conditions when you’re already tired but we did it.

That’s about when I hear Alan cheering for us and we were getting close. Bow-in-chief can see the dragons, because that was what the finish line buoys were—a set of tiger-striped floating dinosaurs or dragons.

At some point I said, “let’s go up!” and I try taking it up a little more, just pushing through with the legs. Now I’m counting tens, 10 more, 10 more. I’m looking a little to the side, more of a glance looking for the tent, and then I remind myself, “no, do not look for the timer, listen for the sound.” Bow- in-chief says three more strokes. I’m counting 1-2-3-4 and the finish line official yells loudly “MARK” and we know we’re done.

We sail past the dragon buoys and take it down to a paddle. Looking down the race course, we have so much open water on all of the boats we passed that I know there’s no way we didn’t win this race.

Spin the boat around and start paddling back northbound; I figure we have about 750-ish meters to the recovery dock. I hear, “Go, Mommy!” I look over my shoulder. Alan is holding Caelan standing on a little point out into the lake. That’s about the time bow-in-chief calls “hard on port!” but we still hit the buoy. Yea, big buoy hit in front of Caelan and Alan, and all the others standing on the shore. I saw a guy laughing.

On the way back up, going nice and slow, and all this sweat starts pouring down my face. Everything was fine the whole race, but on the paddle I can’t see. but then we see you know we’re really nice and slow and all this and all the sweat it’s just pouring down my face. I rowed most of the recovery with my eyes closed.

So we get back on shore, check the results, and yes, we won. Both of us agreed on a race rating of seven or eight out of 10. Given the conditions, I think it went about as well as it could. We persevered. I did not quite hit my target rating that I wanted. It kind of bounced around a bit, but I think some of that was dealing with some of the rough water and steering conditions.

So it was a little inconsistent in that regard, but we still have time to work on that get it better.

While derigging the double, a junior cox next to us was arguing with her crew. Line: “because it makes the boat aesthetically pleasing!”

Caelan ran up to me and said, “Mommy, you got GOLD!” And then, attention hog, he wanted to be in all the pictures.

Coxed 2x
Team photo plus one

Now we have three weeks to focus on preparing for the Head of the Hooch.

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Head of the Hooch 2021

This post is three weeks late because I had to be in the right head space to write it.

The week before planned departure for the Head of the Hooch, I received a call that my Grandma had taken a turn and she only had a few days left. I booked a one-way ticket to Florida, not sure what would happen next. 

Rowing isn’t like other sports. If I don’t show up, there’s no benchwarmers to rely on. My boats might scratch, impacting the races of 13 other people. I graciously found some potential subs for my boats, in case I couldn’t make the regatta. It just proves rowers are the best people because we’re always willing to step up when needed.

She hung on over the weekend. My family encouraged me to go the Hooch, so I made the decision on Monday I would go to the regatta. She passed late Tuesday night.

———

Travel Arrangements

ROCCS Boathouse sunrise

I reached out to the team in Inverness, ROCCS, about how they were getting to the Hooch. I’d been able to row twice at ROCCS since arriving in Florida. The other days I’d done some indoor bicycling and resistance band work, trying to stay fit in case I made the race. They graciously offered me a seat in their carpool, which was way more convenient and cost effective than the airplane ticket to Atlanta or Chattanooga I had been considering. 

We left early Thursday morning. I had my first Buc-ees experience (Cracker Barrel meets Walmart meets Speedway) and anchovy pizza. Arrived about 3:30 in Chattanooga to a mostly empty venue stacked with waiting boat trees, barges on the Tennessee, and little launches shuttling buoys. At dinner at Champy’s Fried Chicken with their team I found a photo of me racing for ROCCS in one of my first double races. I wore gloves, had my chin tucked into my chest, and a large gap between port and starboard hands. It’s proof we all row horribly at some point in our careers.

I booked a hotel for the night in downtown and hoped for a good night sleep after several days of crap. Nope, it wasn’t meant to be. All night, tossing and turning.

Friday at course

No one’s here…yet…

This is the earliest I’ve been at the Hooch. Friday was damp cold, with cloudy skies, a touch of wind. I skipped going to the course first because I had a mission to accomplish. I found the rent-a-bikes and shuttled around downtown Chattanooga until I successfully returned to the hotel to pack up my gear.

The venue was getting busy now, being 11 o’clock. Team trailers were pulling in, vendors were setting up. I stashed my suitcase under the ROCCS trailer and grabbed some delicious tacos for lunch. Waited for my teammates to arrive and/or ladies from the 8+ for our practice row. Anticipated row time was 4pm. Shopped at the vendors. Ran into some people from Sarasota who told me some interesting things about line-ups. Sat at the top of hill watching boats come and go. Went to the bridge. Froze. Generally, passing time.

Around 4 pm it was whirlwind. The GCRA trailer arrived, so I moved my suitcase. The ladies for the 8+ were arriving and we had to rig the boat at Vespoli. I made a snarky comment about them selling us a 4x that doesn’t go straight. Two of our rowers were delayed in Atlanta accident traffic, pushing back our row time. My teammates were arriving, but I couldn’t go yet. There was some back-and-forth in the ladies’ 8+ about who should row in each seat. We all had our opinions, which were clashing. I said I’ll sit any seat on starboard side.

We needed a last-minute sub to go out, as one of our rowers was now occupied with her junior team. It was nearing 5 pm and the docks close at 5:30. I called Bow-in-Chief, thinking she could at least get a bit out of the course. But she’d never been to the Hooch before and I knew she’d have no idea where we were. I stepped away to stand in the road to look for her sprinting down. The other ladies decided on the line-up while I was away. I landed in 5-seat.

No time for talk, it’s grab the boat and go. The cox’n in a local youth coxswain. Overall, she does a good job on the practice calls. There’s only time to run a circle around the island–just like last year. This time, our practice row is better than last year’s practice row. It’s a little wet and splashy on my port side.

Practice row in the 8+

Row over, it’s time to join my orange teammates on our digs. Yep, we rented a yacht! Looking upstream at the bridge we could see the boats launching, coming around the pylons and heading upriver. The sunset was gorgeous, if not cold.

Bow-in-chief and I shared a room. On the upside, we had a great view out the stern over the river. The furnace worked brilliantly; the room would make a Finnish sauna jealous. On the downside; saunas are only meant for 10-15 minutes at a time, not the whole night. I ended up turning it off. And then back on. And back off. In early hours of the morning, when the cold crept in, I gave up and googled the manufacturer’s name on the device.

I’m on a boat.

In short, another night of not-so-great sleep.

Saturday

Another advantage to our yacht on the Tennessee: first notice of a fog delay. Right out the window, pea soup. I texted the women’s 8+ to expect a fog delay, and sure enough, an hour later the notice went out on Twitter.

Up side to a Yacht: close location to the race course. Down side to the yacht: you have to flip ALL the switches, especially the vacuum pump in the toilet, or you risk swamping your bathroom with raw sewage. My bad.

As the Hooch went to “another announcement in 15 minutes” mode, we passed the time playing party games, like the “guess who’s on your head” sticky note game. It was way better than freezing down at the race course, and we saw when the fog was burning off and knew when the “another announcement” became, “launching imminent.”

Who am I? Fog delay fun.

By the time I arrived at the trailer for the 8+, the announcement, “the first boat has entered the chute,” (ironically, a composite with one of our team members) echoed through the venue followed by and the cheers.

Women’s Masters 8+

First hustle was on the oars. I headed down to help change the gearing. We made the mistake of measuring and changing inboards before measuring total length of the oars. That meant redoing all our work, and hustling through as the first call for the Women’s 8+ was made. We still had two to measure and tighten, with only one screwdriver between us.

Second hustle to the launch. I slid the last collars into place, and then ran to the restroom. Quick strip as the sun was out warming up the venue. Swapping of the gear. Hands on and away we go.

Mic drop in 5

The current’s still pretty fast and the water levels low. The path up to the start is rather slow going. There’s lots of splashing going on at the catch. I’m just warmed up when we reach the marshaling 8+ pack around the bend. The marshals are trying to play catch-up, and so all the boats are jostled together from buoy 3 on down. No gaping between races.

The going is slow now. I got cold. As always, I’ll be starting the Hooch not warmed up or ready for maximum effort.

We’re the first boat in the event, and rowing the under 50 division. We are called across first, given a minute to gap our races, and then it’s into the chute, extra long this year with the course change, and a distant, “MARK” to begin.

I remember the cox’n calling, “we’re one minute off the start,” and thinking NOOOOOOOOO do not call us minute by minute!

I’m getting soaked off the front end and back end of the port side.

Each stroke, my focus is on hanging on, but the ride is a little messy. Somewhere around the power lines I nearly crab, the oar caught feathered under the wave. But I pop it out without slowing the rhythm too much. Internally, berating myself, embarrassed.

As we made the lazy turn to port and the competition becomes clearer, it’s evident Atlanta, our chasing boat, is making a slow but steady move on us. Push away, becomes my new mantra. Every stroke, push away.

The cox’n called a power 10. Our most solid 10 in the boat. Her calls are rather muffled–my headband? The boat?

Atlanta hasn’t gained big ground, but they’ve inched into our space as the first bridge passes overhead. Every stroke, push away.

Our course zig-zags a bit. Stroke is commanding at the cox’n, someone yells about the buoy line, and it straightens back up.

The cox box has died.

There is about 600 meters to go.

Nothing to do but focus, push hard off that footplate, be as clean as possible. Use Atlanta, shove them away, every stroke.

It’s not a clean finish, but it is a solid finish. Some ladies disagreed that Atlanta walked on us, but I felt sure they had. Not significantly, but definitely moved on in. On shore, the results showed yes, they did inch in, but with our handicap the Women’s 8+ still prevailed.

Women’s 8+ under 50 winners

I’d see many of these women again in the 2x and 4x later on. Immediately after, I had to scoot away. I was drenched on port side, it just wasn’t evident thanks to wearing all black. Even though it was sunny and around noon, the temperature was still in the low 50’s. I had to change immediately before getting too cold, so back to the yacht.

Women’s Masters 2x

Women’s Masters 2x so clearly under 50. Also taken Sunday post racing because we forgot Saturday.

I had a decent gap between the Women’s Masters 8+ and the Women’s Masters 2x. Actually, this was my first time racing a Women’s 2x at the Hooch. A teammate offered to let us row his private boat, a generous offer and appreciated. I’d take a Fluidesign 2x over our club’s heavy Kanghua midnight any day.

The only downside was we had no practice row in it, so I had to guess the settings.

For this row, I thought it would be nice to commemorate the ones we’d lost. Bow-in-chief had lost her grandmother earlier in the season, and so had our coach. My Friday mission was to find an elephant for her and a monkey for me. The flower earrings, the closest thing to a peony I could find, I’d sourced Thursday at Buc-ee’s. We brought these into the boat with us, extra weight be damned.

There were so many boats, as per usual. Bow-in-chief had the added pressure of this being her very first row on the Head of the Hooch course. In the marshaling area, we tried bunching up with the other boats in our pack, but boats way down in the event kept bunching up with us. We were the eighth boat in our event and we had numbers 15-20 behind us.

At the top of the course, I knew a lot of the people, either from rowing in the Women’s 8+ or from rowing elsewhere. There was some friendly teasing about who exactly was going to pass who.

As we waited, the sun dropped below the tree line on our side of the river. Without sunshine, the temperature plummeted and we started getting cold fast. I began tucking my hands between my knees and under the arm pit when we weren’t tapping to stay in place.

Finally, movement, but from a dead cold. Another race of rowing into it. Across the river, around the red buoy, and into the chute. And we’re off.

My first personal goal was to push off the boat chasing us. I wanted to open some serious space on them, and we did. By around 1000 meters, we had a large margin on the field behind us, lots of open water. We also closed in and passed our first boat, a women’s 2x from the prior event.

Bow-in-chief did amazing. She kept us right on the fastest course, right up on the buoy line. There were two near-misses, but she caught them and moved us back into course right in time. No hits whatsoever.

The air was so dry I was breathing through a desert. I went to make a call and couldn’t form the words because there was no moisture in my mouth. I opted to stay internal, put all my energy into being an engine, and only speak if necessary. It was hard to breathe.

Bow calls for a tempo change. I opted not to row with my stroke coach, so I assume I’m too high. Lengthen out.

We passed another women’s 2x. We are cruising. Internally, I count 50’s, each “1” an extra push for five. As we make the tight curl to port, internal a reminders to stay strong. Push away the power lines. Island.

I hear bow-in-chief call we’re catching, and then nothing. The first bridge. Around 1000 to go, I see them now way off course on the port side, floundering. Bow starts to drift off the starboard buoys towards the port, just like you’re supposed to.

I see the monkey and think, give me strength.

Bridge. I finish the 50, close my mouth to moisten it, then call “UP.” About five strokes in I realize I’ve made a mistake–it’s just the second bridge, there’s still one left. “Too early–my bad!” I yelled. But it helped, added a pop as we come to the final bridge. The focus is all on the legs. Lots of noise from behind us, and we’re a bit wider off the port buoys. I see boat trail.

Photo: Row2k. See monkey.

Last bridge. This time up, for real, and all in the legs. Pushing every stroke. I hear my name, and I also a crew from our race on our port side. And then another boat. Two boats right at the finish line. Granted, in the over 50 division so they still had lots of handicap on us, but still fun to catch.

Overall, we had a good row, I think our best together yet. We were 6th overall in our division (no handicap) but 3rd in the raw time. I believe we qualified the boat for next year, which was the goal.

After that, it’s back to the yacht for a rinse, fresh clothes, chicken and noodles, and kicking back until tomorrow.

Saturday yacht life

Sunday

The heater finally worked properly in our room, but that didn’t help my sleep woes. Another rocky night of sleep. The time change also meant I was up way early. No fog delay today, just bright pink skies over the Tennessee.

Our Women’s 4x was near the end of the racing, so we spent the morning rigging the boat, watching the singles on the bridge, and discussing line-ups. I really felt hopeful we could medal in this event. Three of us medalled at Nationals, and we had a strong woman with us who I’d medalled with twice before in the 4x.

We had to hot seat (or priority launch) as they called it this year. Our 2-seat was coming off the water in the Mixed Open 2x right into our boat. We staged the 4x under the bridge, and luckily, there was a bathroom. I know I would’ve wanted one between races.

We stole some help from Lake Lure to position, but it worked out. We got right on out with the other Women’s 4x. Again, lots of people I knew in this race either from the 8+ or past teams.

At buoy one, we were warned for “moving up early” although we were just following another boat. Yesterday the marshals were constantly egging us to keep moving. This day it apparently was the opposite. And as soon as they warned us, the ref turned around the told the first ten boats in our race to come on up.

We get in order. We’re being chased by a Sarasota Crew/Dallas composite I knew was extremely fast and the most probable event winner. My whole goal: not let them pass.

Off we go. It’s good they are chasing us, because I am hammering on the legs doing my darnedest to hold off Anne that I see in bow seat. Slowly, they are creeping on us. I keep wondering if we are going to yield, but we never move over, so I keep hammering away. We are trading courses. We pass a boat, us first, then them.

As the course starts to move to port, the SC boat goes wider. And then I hear, “CRAP, STARBOARD!” I look over. There’s the giant red channel marker, and the course marker off our port. We’ve missed it. Okay, potential penalty–if they’ve seen us. Historically, the Hooch has not been good at catching buoy penalties. More starboard! We slide just past the next buoy on the correct side of the course. We correct to port. Back on line.

Women’s 4x

The error cost us some space on SC. Sarasota County’s boat after them has also moved on us.

All I can think is Don’t let them pass. Make them work for it. My eyes stay on them over stroke’s shoulder all the way along the island and under the first bridge. My energy is on the footplate.

We make it first to the finish line, successfully holding them off, although bow and stern nearly overlapped. If the course had been another 500, we probably would’ve gone across together.

I know bow-in-chief feels horrible about the course mess-up especially after steering so beautifully yesterday. But everyone has steered a bad course, even here. I’ve hit buoys in the quad and the single. Then I steered wide and lost serious time. The results come out, and we’re third with the buoy penalty. Without it, we would’ve been second, but that’s how racing goes.

Women’s Masters under 50 🥉

Post-Hooch Fun

Butter pecan moonshine

Now racing’s all over, and since we didn’t depart until Monday morning, we had some Sunday afternoon fun in Chattanooga and on our yacht. This includes traditional post-regatta cupcakes and some Hooch for the Hooch. I think the photos speak for themselves.

Cupcakes since 2012

In the two-three weeks since the Hooch, I’ve mostly been off. I went out twice rowing Inverness, both on some crazy foggy mornings. We had three days of driving, a funeral, and a wedding.

Lake Henderson Row, super fog

Family kept asking how many medals I’d won this year, and I didn’t actually know. So I broke them out when I got home. I’d say 2021, my first season back on a team, was a very good year.

Ar, matey, thar be bounty .

20 total races. 15 medals. 11 wins. Three places at Nationals, two at the Hooch. Raced the new 1x twice; won at Cuyahoga. Crushed it a bunch in the Women’s 2x. Had an awesome Mixed 8+ going.

Head of the Hooch 2021
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2021 Head of the Ohio

This regatta was an add-on. My 2x partner texted asking if I’d want to do a Mixed 4x and do a 2x at Head of the Ohio. I wasn’t sure at first. I liked the current head race schedule with lots of gaps between races, and less traveling. We also had some personal expenses coming up.

After a chat, and considering who knows when the opportunity to row this regatta will come up again, why not? Count me in!

Head of the Ohio is in Pittsburgh, about three hours away. Another new venue, new city, new adventure. That’s what this year has been all about anyway–touring the Midwest and checking it all out.

Just four of attended, rowing a women’s 2x, men’s 2x, and then a mixed 4x. We car-topped the 2x and rented a 4x. To simplify, we shared the 2x even though it’s a bigger boat for us ladies. Our driver had a truck big enough to car top and have all four of us carpool. He also scored us a deal on hotel rooms on one of the rivers.

So we’re leaving Friday. That day I work out from home, doing some light and easy erging and weightlifting. And what do I do as I’m wrapping up the lifting? I slip and drop a 10 lb weight directly on my thumb. Tears in eyes, and immediately I’m hoping I haven’t broken it. I need my thumbs to scull! Ice, ibuprofen, and it burns so bad. The whole thing is red.

It bends, so it seems it’s not broken. Phew. Hopefully just a bad bruise. Either I can row with it, I’ll row with it hurting, or I’ll row like lightweight Irish double, no thumbs at all. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I pack extra ibuprofen.

Four days after smashing it.

A running gag started at loading. I asked, just out of curiosity, why a hard case for transporting the oars versus the soft case? The answer: the hard case protects the shafts, not just the blades. Well, if your car flips over, your shafts aren’t going to be protected. And they’re not protected if you run into a buoy, a tree, another boat, etc… So “…but at least the shafts are protected…” was snuck into conversation all weekend.

Are your oar shafts protected?

Our quad left for HOTO the day before. Us ladies in the back had all the snacks, which was great because apparently child lock was engaged. If we were locked in, at least we had all the food!

As the only one who hadn’t visited Pittsburgh before, they told we the view from the tunnel was incredible. There’s nothing, and then you go through the tunnel and bam! City as far you can see. Our route did not take us through the tunnel, but I trust their word on it.

Pittsburgh at night, Mount Washington

After hotel check-in, we rode the Monogahela tram to the top of Mt Washington. Gorgeous views on the way up and at the top. We looked around a bit in our hunt for a dinner place and wound up a cool joint. This is what makes regattas fun–hanging out with your teammates, cracking jokes, and trying some authentic poutine.

Tram ride

Late night, and back to the super posh hotel until early wake-up. I mean, the place had glass doors in the shower. Not a Holiday Inn!

Head of the Ohio Race Day

Our early start began when the ticket machine for the parking lot couldn’t read our ticket. There was no attendant and no answer on the phone number. So we jumped the curb to get out of the parking lot.

I test my thumb. I’m hopeful it will handle it, as when I push on where my thumb callus sits there’s no pain.

The island the regatta launches from is quite large. Car-tops were in lot 5 next to Three River Rowing’s large boat house. We set up right next to the balcony. As we stood surveying the scene below, my 2x companion in crime said, “You have to watch out when taking the boat down because you can roll your ankle, it’s kind of zig-zaggy–” at about that time, she slipped into a two-foot deep hole she was standing next to. We all thought she was telling us this because of the giant hole, but she never saw it. Whoops!

Three Rivers Rowing

After slapping on the riggers, bow seat and I tackled the rigging. We’d practiced once and she was having the hardest time keeping us on a straight line, which is not our normal. We figured just like Bianca, something had to be off. And yep! Both riggers had different spans and bow seat was not square. The design of the boat required an allen wrench to move the oarlocks, which we did not have. A single rower next to us had one, but I had also tracked down the Wintech rep who happened to be at the regatta. He loaned a spread stick. Thirty minutes later, a few quadruple checks, and I had reset the span and moved bow closer to square.

“Honestly, I probably won’t even notice,” said bow seat of the men’s 2x. Sigh. Men.

Ta-da! Fog delay.

In the meantime, the venue held racing for a fog delay. We hit up the Three Rivers Rowing Bake Sale, and went for a walk down to the river. Along the way I spotted some vibrant blue berries on a vine along the cliff face. Big J asked if there were edible. We learned they are porcelain berries and while they are edible, the taste is both “slimy and bland.”

Enter running gag #2. Post-race berries anyone?

We walked all the way to marshaling idea. A cool point with an overlook. Nothing but fog, though. Read about the history of rowing in Pittsburgh. 21 clubs? That’s crazy!

I got 21 clubs…

With fog delay still on, back to the truck to wait. I started changing the gearing on my oars. Lightweight J teased me for fiddling with everything–the boat and now the oars.

Another teammate showed up. Turned out he entered the men’s 1x last-minute. So now we were five.

Eventually the fog did burn off and launching began. Bow-in-chief and I launched the men for their race in the open 2x, then headed to get the rental 4x from Steel City Rowing situated. We had to rig the boat. Rowers are awesome; we recruited from other teams to help get it out of the middle of the trailer and down to slings.

Steel City rented us a very nice boat. After rigging, I started on full double-checks. Is everything tight, does everything move the way it’s supposed to, are the heel ties attached? All those little but important things. I found a missing spacer and then an oarlock with too much lateral play in it. I thought it was an incorrect pitch insert installation, and popped off the backstay. Nope, just a pitch bushing too large for the pin. I felt bad, because I was probably being a pain. What would lightweight J have to say if he could see me pointing out incorrect bushings?

Represent.

Back at the truck, I checked the times to see if the men’s race was done. The times were super fast, with the men coming in at 14:18! Whoa!

The course at the Head of the Ohio is a bit different. Usually you launch and row 5-6k up the start, race the 5k, and have a shorter row back to the recovery dock. This regatta, the launch is more like 1-1.5k to the start, followed up an upriver 5k row back. We can see the start but not the finish, and we know how the men did long before they return. (Fourth in the men’s open, by the way, which is great for a master’s boat! They would have been 2nd in the master’s race.)

The men do return. We are switching the shoes; the boat has size 12 which are just too big for us to row. I have my extra set from the 1x, and lightweight J has a smaller pair of Bat Logic to slip in. While we’re making the swap, Big J warns us it’s actually a 4k. That explained the super fast times!

Then it’s first call for the Women’s Masters 2x, and off we go.

Women’s Masters 2x

Our boat arrived to the start so early, we did three warm up circles, but I still didn’t feel “warmed up.” My mouth felt dry; I wrote it off as adrenaline. Thumb seemed ok; it twinged a little bit when brushing too close to my body or if it slipped a bit from its usual position.

The event was organized from youngest to oldest. Guess whose boat was the youngest and going first? That’s right, with a handicap killer in the bow, we’re rowing like we don’t have a handicap. Two seconds really isn’t a handicap in a head race.

At the start

It’s an odd start in that they call us up by numbers–that’s normal– but then all the announcer says is “173, go!” So are you on the course, or is that building speed? You have no idea if you are “on” or not. There’s no horn or anything when your bow passes the yellow starting buoy.

The boat immediately chasing us hits the starting buoy. Reminder: the starting buoy is a big, puffy, yellow triangle, not a yellow one-foot circumference sphere. I’m not talking an oar graze, either, but a good oar-wrap around, have to stop rowing kind of hit.

We hear the men cheering, “GC–RA!”

Off the start, we’re going pretty fast. The stroke rate is good, the spilts are good. We’re opening up some distance, aided by the buoy collision. (Apparently the third boat also hit the starting buoy, but I did not notice.)

My personal strategy was to count strokes between buoys. Just focus on rowing from buoy to buoy to buoy.

It worked decently until the long stretch between bridges. You see, the course has two bridges near the start fairly close together. The other seven bridges are bunched together near the end. In the middle is a stretch of fairly straight open water.

Somewhere in here, the momentum started to slow down. I’m looking for a buoy, and counting…46…47…48…49… did I miss something?

Our stroke rate dropped to 26. I held it there a bit because initially our spilts were the same, but they started slowing. I tried to come back up to 28.

That’s when it started hurting. My mouth was parched, and I knew it wasn’t adrenaline, but dehydration. Forearms on both arms cramping; you know you need to relax your grip, but at this stage, when racing, once the cramping starts, relaxing is impossible.

First bridge after the straightaway.

I’m struggling mentally, and move back to counting buoys. This 4k feels like forever. I’m counting bridges–five I think. My legs hurt, my heart is racing, I’m fighting to keep the rate at 28 and get the spilt rate down.

Bow-in-chief says she sees the finish.

Thirsty, so thirsty. Arms are seized up. Five bridges–where’s the finish? Crap, sixth bridge. Did I misremember the count?

I’m getting desperate. Seventh bridge. I start looking for the finish, something I know I shouldn’t do–any sign, buoys, or a boat, or a tent.

A horn. Relief. Paddle down away from the finish. We’re very far up on the other two boats we can see. Looks like the yellow one passed the boat that hit the start, but I estimate at least a minute between our two crews. I reach back to fist bump bow; my forearm was cramping so bad my arm was shaking. She thought it was pain from my thumb.

Now it’s the long slog upriver, against current for the row back. After water and cooling off, we chat it over. I feel confident about medaling, but not sure about handicap. We had lots of space on the two immediate boats chasing us but if any of the boats near the end of our event had speed, their handicap could sneak in to win it.

I spy a fountain at the point. If we win bling, we should take a picture there.

The view on the way back.

The police are chilling at their waterside way station. They say hi, ask if we’re from Pittsburgh, then thanks for coming.

Now that the race pain is wearing off, I feel my thumb hurting.

Bow-in-chief asked me to rate our race. I said 3.5 of 5 mostly, because I personally was not happy with my conditioning or how I struggled at the 28, but I was confident we would medal and overall had strong performance. As a duo, I think we did well, we made calls, technique corrections, had a good course. I’m just always hyper-critical of myself.

I suggested we make a line-up change for the Mixed 4x because I didn’t feel confident I could hit the ideal rate.

As we reach the island, we get stuck behind a slow-moving 4+. We have to keep stopping. I use the time to check our results.

We won! Handicap and all!

Mixed 4x

Even with the long row against current back to start, we thought we had time to make the next race. We knew it would be tight.

As we get to dock, Big J is waiting. We’re past last call. He and lightweight J had staged it all, with the 4x down by the launch in slings and they moved the slings for the 2x so all we had to do was go up the stairs and put it down.

Crap! Now it’s a race to make sure we don’t miss our event. But I’m desperate for water, I’m dehydrated and I’m out. I can’t launch without water or I will be in a bad way.

We drop the boat and I sprint to the truck. There’s not time to pour anything; I yank the full 2L water bladder out of the back pack and grab my BCAA powder Tupperware. I actually unscrew the thing, take a sip of dry powder, and wash it down with gulps of water while running around boats back to the launch ramp.

As I sprint down the stairs, they’re carrying boat down to the launch.

There’s no time to discuss any line-up changes. I throw the water bladder, BCAA, and other gear down into the boat. Seat pad down, empty water bottle down, phone with stroke app down.

The men start rowing it out. I quickly manage to get some electrocyte drink mixed with a tiny bit of water left in the bottle and supplement with gulps from the bladder. It was actually a relief; exactly what I needed. I strap in, tighten down. No time to get the stroke coach set up. We’re all four rowing up the island.

We’ve been rowing bow-rigged boats for so long, it’s weird to have rigging in front. It forces me to watch handle height on the initial strokes.

As we clear the island, the start marshal accelerates towards us. I hear the starter calling our race; the start marshal tells us to turn now. We let him know another boat in our race is launching right behind us. They’re also late.

The starter calls our number, but there’s no way to make it time; we’re still a good 300-400 meters away even as we row with purpose towards the start.

“178, you are the last boat in your event.”

No! I’m thinking. Please let us go! Will we be assessed a late penalty? How much? Can we outrow it?

The starter seems to see us. Calls our boat. Tell us to “GO.”

We start second-to-last instead of third.

We pass a boat right away. I’m talking immediately out of the start. We just push right by off their port side.

I’m rowing blind with no stroke coach, no idea what my rate might be, where we are, or our spilts. I briefly think it might be for the best. Keeps my eyes up the horizon. Keeps me focused on rowing strong.

I start counting the strokes between buoys again. This time it’s working better.

We pass another boat. I hear them yelling, “pry!” and “don’t worry about being passed! Focus!”

Pass another boat, through the straightaway. I wait for the wall to hit, like in the 2x. But I’m handling this better than the 2x.

Row is slightly hectic, but trying to focus on bridges now. Seven, not five. Counting strokes through them.

Another boat as we come closer to the finish, way off port. They’re actually off the course on the other side of the navigation buoys near the painted seawall. Kind of funny because it’s the host team’s boat.

Bow calls final 100. I try to accelerate the rate and start counting…ten and we’re not done…another ten and we’re not done…30 strokes later, a horn.

My bow-in-chief (now sitting in 3) asks if I’m ok. I’m okay. For some reason, this race physically felt better than the 2x. Shared load? The quick rehydration with electrolytes between races? Lack of data to stress me out? Not sure.

Look around, trying to spot the fifth boat. No boat in sight. Big J asks about handicap; I know two boats in the event have a lot, but we were absolutely flying.

Now for the long paddle back and some calm, after the hectic launch and race start.

When the men are on break for water, someone looks up the results. We won, and by a lot!

Post-race glory

Mixed 4x selfie before medals

After dropping off the quad and grabbing medals, we all kind of all zoned out. Tired at last. Kind of funny how we all zombied around, slowly getting oars, changing clothes, derigging the 2x.

Dinner was at a nearby marina overlooking the race course. How Big J spotted a restaurant on the course while racing, I don’t know. I was busy, you know, rowing.

Learned the guys had also talked about changing the line-up while we were racing. Lightweight J was the only one with the stroke coach hooked up–he bowed our 4x–and his app showed I stayed pretty consistently at a 28, with a quick and brief bump up to a 32 near the end, probably where he said 100 meters to go.

We drove to the fountain to take pictures, but parking cost $10. Sorry, no photoshoot was worth $10 parking. So the we hit the highway home. The girls in the back, with all the snacks, but no slimy, bland berries. Singing “Take me home, West Virginia,” and all these weird songs about Ohio, and “This is How We Do It.”

This is how we do it.

Overall, the Head of the Ohio experience was a blast. No shafts were harmed.

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2021 Masters Nationals-Day 4

After a pretty good night’s sleep with at least two crazy rowing dreams, one in which I’m being asked to “stroke cox” an 8, I had an early wake-up to prepare for my morning rice. Day 4 is the final day of US Rowing Masters Nationals. Unlike the other days, I have three events and I’m planning on four finals, for a total of four trips down the course. After the disappointment yesterday, I have high hopes for today.

Morning Fog

My first race has a scheduled time of 8:08 am, meaning this is the earliest race I have and the first time that I have needed to be at the course in the morning. Oak Ridge is notorious for having thermal inversion fog which makes it impossible to row in the early morning hours. I woke up at 5:45 and kept looking for the text that said, “yes, there is fog on the course, our race is going to be delayed,” but it didn’t come. 

There’s a race course under there somewhere.

So I had to pack up all my stuff and be dressed and go to the course by 6:30. Naturally, I get there and there’s fog on the water. Clearly, we are not going to row at 8:08. The Regatta Organizing Committee/ Referees started off with a 30-minute delay, which became another 30 minutes delay, which became another 30-minute delay. By then I’m hungry because all I ate was oatmeal. We’ve been walking around, talking at our boat, standing on our feet, staring at the fog. After the third delay, I went back to the tent to eat and sit down. It was clear that the fourth 30-minute delay was probably going to be the last one because the fog was starting to thin and lift. In sum, two hours behind again.

Mixed C 8+

This boat was a true Coast-to-Coast composite boat made up of row hours from DC to Washington State. It was put together by the Steady State Network, which runs a podcast for Masters rowers. I saw a Facebook post that they needed a master’s woman in their thirties or forties to row port. I checked my schedule and volunteered myself. It looked like it was going to be a really good race and I had pretty high expectations that we would definitely be in the final.

We launched when they were still just wisps of fog on the water. It was actually really cool to be rowing through it because the fog was only about eye level off the water. It was neat to see it swirling around and floating in layers, although I’m sure our cox’n didn’t appreciate the differences in thickness. There were definitely some patches up in the warm-up area that were still rather thick and we had to yell at a double to watch out for us.

This was our first time being in the boat together. We were borrowing a boat from a boat vendor renting to any team. We had to turn around right away at the launch area because we realized four seat’s backstay was on backward. How you can get to day 4 of a regatta like this and not realize that a backstay was put on backward is a little confusing. It just seems to me that someone else would have rowed it before us and realized “something is wrong, my oar keeps getting stuck. Oh, look the backstay is on backward.” 

Luckily, we hadn’t left the lagoon yet so it was a very quick turnaround. We went to the recovery dock closest to the boat vendor. They saw us coming in, met us, and it was a pretty quick fix. Go back out again for our first row together. 

We spend some time trying to find our rhythm and the balance. For this boat, I was sitting in 2-seat, which I rarely do. It’s always an interesting change. From that vantage point you really get to see what everyone else is doing and you could definitely tell there were some style differences. It was everything from whether you turn the oar over to back the boat to how you hold the blade when you stop rowing as a crew. Some people were much lower to the water and some almost gunneled their oars. And then there are some in-stroke differences with how they carry the blade and how they work the finish. Sitting in two seat, I watch all those different styles trying to come together to make the boat as efficient as possible.

Whenever I do sit in bow pair, I see my primary mission to be technically clean as possible to give the boat a good set and send. I focused on making sure I had clean finish, solid core work, and really giving that boat the set it needs so that the power from the six people in front of me can really make the boat accelerate. Any power I add is icing.

We lock into the start and the referee gives us a late to the start warning. Confused–we were there and locked on, same as every other boat. 

The start will the roughest part. Men like to hammer down, and from our short practice up to the start, I could see these men really liked to pressure up right away. That’s risky in a composite boat you haven’t practiced before. All it takes is one person overpowering the other side and you’re off-course, stuck under the water, or caterpillar rowing.

Our start does get us off the line. I’m totally mentally focused on setting the boat. I can see we are ahead and moving up on the boat to our port side. I don’t look any further right than my peripheral vision.

I’m so zeroed in on the timing with our stroke, 3-seat in front of me, and squeezing the core at the release that I don’t see it happen, but I feel it. The jar in the rhythm, the lurch to the side. Water is spraying up from 7’s oar and it’s slicing around in the water. He’s caught a crab! Get it out, get it out, get it out! We can recover and not lose ground if he can pop it out quickly. 

But he can’t. The momentum has snagged the oar and swung it full parallel with the boat. He can’t recover it until we slow down. He finally frees it, swings it over his head, and we pick it right back up without missing a beat. 

The crab’s turned our boat, so we have to steer back straight first before we can all truly get back in sync. By now the field’s gone. The crab happened just outside the breakage zone, about 200 in. I don’t know how far down we are–it’s still possible to catch up but it will be tough. 

Now it’s about finding a rhythm. The cox’n is great. She never panics, never sounds frantic. Just encouraging us to find the pace and hammer down. The boat is accelerating. My listening is backward; I’ll be one of the first to know if we’ve caught up. Only the cox’n knows how far down we are, and I have to trust her calls and be as strong as possible. I still want to be in the final, and I have to believe we can find enough speed to catch and row through one boat.

But we don’t. As the red buoys come into view and we sprint, I can start to see and hear the puddles of the other boat. A deck comes into view, then the cox’n, but I know we haven’t made it.

It’s a disappointment because we really had the speed in place to make the final, but this is racing. These things happen. For some, this was their only event of the regatta, so I feel bad they missed a shot at the final.

Women’s Open A 8+

Now I have one less event and more time to watch some races. I get to see someone who’s been working very hard on rowing a single make the B 1x final. That was cool.

Our Women’s Open A is a composite with two women from New Haven and two from Ann Arbor. Again, we’ve never rowed together before this actual race. I’m in 7 for this boat. 

I expect to get a medal out of this one. I was hoping for a win, but as soon as all the boats corralled at the marshaling area that was clearly going to be a challenge. New Orleans A boat had some stacked women, and Lincoln Park’s crew wasn’t that far off, either. 

The warning-happy referee gave a warning to New Orleans for being late to the start. They were there, same as the rest of us, locking on at two-minute warning.

Lincoln Park shot off at the start. We had New Orleans’ A boat deck for a while, but they moved away seat by seat. Our start was a bit slow, and we held onto New Orleans’ B boat through the 250 before we finally started opening water.

Our cox’n for this race was more aggressive on the calls than the day before. The boat seemed to be moving well, but we just didn’t have the same inborn speed as the other two boats. Still, bronze is a bronze.

Women’s Open A 8+

Mixed B 4x

Final race of the regatta, and I had big expectations heaped on this one. I concocted a race plan and everything. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Some fast teams were entered in this race, and we had a second team boat entered. I hoped we’d go 1-2. That didn’t stop me from offering our inter-team competition margaritas or hamburgers an hour before the race. 

We only practiced this line-up one time. Three practices were scheduled, but we canned the other two for various reasons. Mostly because our first one went so well, it didn’t seem pressing to get in more.

While walking somewhere–I think on the way to the boat–my all-weekend rowing buddy pitched the idea we swap seats so that I would stroke. I stroked the quad that won on Thursday, she said it was the best start we’d had all regatta, maybe I should try again?

I hesitated about tinkering with the lineup, but then, why not? Any seat, any time, right?

On our way out of the lagoon, I could hear 2 and 3 talking about the stroke. I asked if I was getting 2-seat wet. Three said no, he was just commenting on how long the stroke was. As I found out later, the question I should have asked was, “is 3-seat getting wet?” because apparently all the way up to the start I was back splashing her like crazy. Whoops. I bet there was some regret about the switch in that moment. Apparently I didn’t do that in the race. 

At this point, everyone’s warmed up. The men have raced at least twice, and fairly close together. Three and I have raced in the women’s 8+. 

No current, but some tailwind. Will still be fast conditions. 

I’m feeling nervous now. Lots of pressure. Stroking, and my last shot. I’ve been boasting a bit the last three days about how I plan to win. Time to put up.  

I have three-seat’s stroke coach. It’s locked on ready to go. 

“…Greater Columbus….Atomic Rowing…Attention…”

Eyes on the red flag. She drops it before she speaks, so I’m moving on the “G—” of “Go.”

Counting and breathing. That’s the first five. Not a hammer, not power, count and breathe every stroke.

Then the high 10. Now it’s speed and acceleration. Quick glance. 38,39 SPM.

Shift, but it’s not a shift. It’s all about legs. I open up the swing. Count to 5.

“Power!” calls 3 right on time. A quick power 5 to gain speed. 

Atomic is right on us to our left. Lane 4 has dropped back a bit. I keep my eye on Atomic. I don’t plan to lose.

Counting to breathe. 33spm, 34spm, 33. Kind of high. I try to length the rate down but our split slows. I leave it alone. If 33 is where we want to be, we will stay. I glance occasionally just to make sure our spilt stays 1:38-1:40.

Looking for the 500. We’ve started inching away on Atomic.

Big yellow buoy. Legs! Counting 10, focus on the footplate connection. 

“Power!” Counting 10. Right in middle of the power is a wake. I hope it doesn’t screw us up, and I keep powering through it.

This is hurting now. I can see the field, from Atomic all the way over to our other team boat. They’re hanging in there, too! We’re ahead, but I know they have power and a kick. 

Power 10 is over. Every stroke has all the power. Breathe, breathe, hang on.

Yellow buoys. Red is coming. Just hang on, hang on, hang on.

“UP!” someone yells. Stroke rate up, 34, 35. Red buoy. Now is the time to find more.

Side eye to our yellow boat. They’re moving but I won’t let them catch us. Atomic is close, but I won’t let them catch us. 

It hurts. Every single stroke hurts. 

I look down at the stroke coach. I’d forgotten until this point it shows meters, because any time I’ve looked it’s been for rate and spilt. 100 meters to go. I can do anything for 100 meters. Come on, Casey, 10 more strokes.

I count each one, pushing as hard as possibly can, 10 to 1. 40 meters left, it’s ticking down fast, the screen’s gone black, eyes up on the horizon, listen for horn, push, push, BEEP. 

We’ve done it! A win to start, a win to finish! I look to our other team boat in time to see them finish second. They’ve done it, too, in a photo finish with Atomic. 

Our trophy

I’m so tired. My lats and upper back muscles feel the strain of hanging, the glutes are on fire, all the legs exhausted. No more racing.

I wrap up Master’s Nationals with 3 medals, two golds and a bronze, plus one 5th place in the final. 

The End

Storm moves in

Unfortunately, the end is frantic as thunderstorms move in. It’s like Grand Rapids all over again, except this time we got to finish racing. Everyone is finishing the derig and load frantically trying to beat the storm. A parade of big diesel trucks drives down the lane while people are shuttling oars and boats every which way. Luckily, we’d been good about derigging and loading as boats wrapped up, so we only had a few to load and most of those were already derigged.

But it means we didn’t get a good team picture or get to bask in the post-Nationals glory of eating all the bad things.  

A few of us did stop for some mediocre Italian food and to change out of our disgusting sweat-baked unisuits. I arrived home just before 1am. I did get up with Caelan this morning. His best lines:

Rowers who Mom. Two golds and a bronze.

“Mommy, I haven’t seen you in a long time! It’s been 80 days!”

“I’m putting on your medals. They’re so cute!”

It’s so cute!

[Showing him the bowl trophy from the Mixed 4x] “What do you eat out of it?”

Me: “I brought my bike because it was a big regatta; it made it easier to get around.”

Him: “How many people were there?”

Me: “Oh, lots of people! It was very busy.”

Him: “Like 50 people?”

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