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 this 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 edging 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 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. So 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 using the shoreline.

I keep rowing crappily back over towards 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.” A 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 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, technique 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 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

So when I see my name listed 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 one.

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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2021 Masters Nationals-Day 3

Another day with one race on the books, this time scheduled for 1:50pm. After another fog delay, race time was pushed to 3:10.

I had the expectation this boat would medal. It’s a finals only event and has a second GCRA boat, a composite. We had two new rowers joining us but I still anticipated speed. I also had a strong feeling Genesee would be very fast and possibility New Orleans.

We cycled over around 9:30 or so, with races resuming at 9:45. I anticipated being an oar Sherpa, but we didn’t have many boats launching. It turned into a very chill morning watching boats go by. Felt super tired around lunch, but again couldn’t really regatta nap.

Around regatta lunch break a grumble of thunder. Stroke did the Irish rain dance, and the pop up shower stayed away.

You don’t realize how much impact all the ref launches and rowing shells have on the water until it’s lunch break and all boats are off the water.

Lunch break glass

Mixed A 8+

Expect speed.

We borrowed a newer Vespoli from Atomic Rowing. A gorgeous white boat named “Fat Man.” They also have a “Little Boy.” Get it?

While waiting in the shade of the boat bay, a gentlemen from Atomic tells us about how the deer can be radioactive. Whenever you hit a deer, apparently someone comes to inspect the deer and the car. If you ran over it with your tires, they’ll confiscate them. If you drive off the road in certain places, apparently they also confiscate them. Not sure how true it is, but interesting.

Launching is a bit crazy. Just as we carry the boat out of the boathouse, our coxswain is pulled away for something. We self-cox down to the launch dock, but then we have to wait. Can’t launch without a coxswain. Turns out they gave her lightweight bands instead of the proper coxswain bands and the system as the coxes all mixed up between the two GCRA boats.

Another 8+ is holding up the launching and blocking the whole area. It’s a cluster. We move around them but have to stop for the referee to verify all our names on our bracelets. Instead of a 45-minute launch-to-start window, we’re down to 25 minutes.

Row up. Splash some cold water on my arms and neck to fight the heat. Turn right in time. We’re lane 6, the other boat is lane 2. 

Our plan is a starting 5, high 15, and then a shift. 

A polling of the crews. We are last. Square the blades.

The start isn’t efficient. Fast, but inefficient. Not moving us anywhere. I can see straight away we are down, even as we do the high 15. I can only see the stern deck of Lane 5, Nashville. Yellow and blue.

It’s not good.

We shift. It doesn’t feel settled. I still can only partially see and sense Nashville. We are last.

The coxswain says something about getting their deck. Forget their deck, we need a whole boat!

We are down in the 8+. Photo: US Rowing

I know we are in the weeds. I know this is my only race. I have 600 or 700 to go, but I am hauling on my oar with 110%. Screw a Power 10, this is about to be a Power 60. Everything I got. Totally zeroed in, trying to make this boat move forward through sheer force of will.

It doesn’t feel connected. 

500 meters. We’re gained a few seats on Nashville, but it’s not significant. No other boat in my line of sight. We are screwed, screwed, screwed, and I am still full power. 

Finally something clicks. Maybe it’s our coxswain calling about gaining seats and trying to catch a boat. Maybe it’s knowing the end is coming. Thee is subtle change in the boat and I don’t feel like I’m the only one in panic mode trying to make the medal platform. We are slowly sliding away on Nashville.

A red buoy passes. Now our coxswain says up 2, but that’s too late! Still, we go. Every single stroke, really hammering down on that footplate, feeling all the connection, hauling. I’m not losing without a shot.

You hear the timbre of the voice change—we’re making ground. I peek and see a yellow seat deck, but I already know we don’t have enough time or runaway. Doesn’t matter, miracles happen. Still 110, 120%.

But we do run out of time. The 1st and 2nd beeps come well ahead, with us still several red buoys down. Then beep, and beep. 1.1 seconds off away. A sprint too late, a start too slow.

I am not a happy camper about this one. I expected more. I know you can’t win them all, but I still am disappointed.

It’s the orange lipstick. I forgot to wear it again.

After the race

I spent some time stewing. I looked through the stroke coach to see the 100-meter splits. Grabbed some real food from a vendor, not the peanut butter and bananas and protein balls from all day. 

One of the vendors is a sport massage company. I walked over and grabbed a 30-minute sports massage. Best 30 minutes of my day. The woman was a genius. She knew from one touch of my left knee that I have a problem there, and that it’s connected with my hip. Super tight.

Deep tissue massage is so painful. Several times I had to bite my lip and bear it, because as much as it hurts it’s going to feel that much better after. It did, too. My hips and low back kept popping as I walked. My knee was so much looser; I had no idea it was that tight just in general. I want to bottle her up and take her home. I think she gave me a little extra time.

We were supposed to have a practice for my Mixed C 8+ this evening, but as we got sorted a thunderstorm rolled in. The venue shut down for practice.

Back at the hotel, I took my kid’s advice. Ice cream makes everything better.

At dinner, a friend sent pictures by US Rowing of the 8+. They’re actually very good!

Great photo from US Rowing

Tomorrow is another day, another opportunity to be faster than the day before. Three events tomorrow, four potential races.

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2021 Masters Nationals-Day 2

After getting to bed late, struggling to fall asleep still pumped on the post race high, I woke at 3:50 am for no reason. Back to sleep for a little and back awake at 6am. Thank you rowing.

Today’s only race was the Women’s Open A 2x. I actually felt nervous about this one. Not sure why. Each time we row it gets better, but I think knowing many of these women are super fast and that only two advance to final added some pressure.

Another fog delay. This one was extended “indefinitely” so we did not leave the hotel at 8 as planned. Instead, we watched the news, did a 20-minute yoga on Fitness+, ate a little extra.

We bicycled to the venue this morning. My poor 2x partners bike doesn’t shift gears so she’s cranking her legs and getting nowhere. 😋 Still, it’s a pretty ride, nice way to loosen up.

To the venue!

Our boat’s name is Bianca. The one that tracks to starboard no matter what. It’s a rigger problem we can’t fix. We get her down, throw her in slings. She sounds like a rainmaker every time we roll her.

We do the full check after rigging. Seats, heel toes, shoes, riggers, tracks. Stroke’s track is loose. I pop open the hatch and yes, she’s missing a wing nut. I feel around in the well, and next thing you know, I pull out four wing nuts. I explore around some more and find even more wing nuts. All other tracks are secure—so where did all these wing nuts come from? How is this possible!?

The hatch on bow seat is stuck, but it pops off easy with a screwdriver. My tracks are also slightly loose, but all wing nuts are accounted for.

Baby wing nuts

Back to the tent to wait. We watch the heat races. Watch some super fast ladies from SRQ and Seattle just cruise past way ahead of the field in their double. They are also in our A 2x, just not our flight. They will be in the final of both.

It’s time. To the trailer. I’m three minutes into erging when I reaize my water bladder is not in my race bag. I rush back to the tent. It’s not in the lunchbox. Then I remember: I put in the freezer last night to chill for the hot day and forgot to take it out.

Slight panic. I need water out there. It’s a feels like of 98F and with the adrenaline, my mouth always feels dry. I need sips of water during the warm up and after. I have a big water bottle, but it’s heavy and will knock around.

Our club president has a smaller bottle I can use as a loaner. Whew. Back to warm up.

Hands on. Away we go. Butterflies this time.

I’m bow seat. I’m a little worried we launched late, but we arrive at the staging area in time to swing around into our lane with three other E boats.

Our goal is to make the final. We agree it will be a fight. I am ready for it.

Lane 2. Not as much current today. Headwind.

I make a decision to add the port clam on the oar.

Locked on.

Two minutes. Lane 7 is not locked on.

Breathing. Relax. It’s important to stay loose at the start or you will dig, crab, or flip.

We have alignment.

“Greater Columbus.”

Eyes to the starter.

Attention. Go.

Five sequence. “High.” We are tracking to port. I row harder. Counting.

“Shift”

Our start seems slow. We are on the outside. I can only see lane 3. We are ahead of them.

Still tracking port. “Port!” Not enough. Crap! “Buoy!” I yell. Stroke smacks her oar right on one. It jars through the boat. Hard strokes to get us off the line. We’re clear.

I finally look left. We are in 3rd and bow is overlapping stern. “We have contact,” I call, knowing she can’t see, letting her know we are still in this.

Currently in 3rd on the right

Counting, breathing, looking right for the 500. We have to wait it out, and move. We are keeping contact with the boat in second.

Big yellow buoy. 500.

“Power 10 in 2!”

One!

Two!

We dig in. Bianca is wobbling to starboard. I’m course correcting. Not as bad as last two races. Power is on.

“That’s it, good move!” We’ve walked on lane 4. Not sure who they are, but their boat and unis are dark.

Fighting the boat on the left for second.

We keep it up. Now I’m looking for the red buoys. We are neck and neck, so timing the move is crucial. We are inching away.

Red buoy. “Up two!” I count 10. At some point, call for starboard pressure. Call to dig in! Don’t let up!

We are ahead. We just have to stay ahead of lane 4. I keep my eye on them and never stop the pressure, not till I hear the second horn.

Second in our heat, we move on to final.

Relief. We made the final. Goal achieved.

The time between

Now we wait until 5:55. We discuss our race, look at the results of the other flights, analyze our stroke coach. I propose a plan. Set the expectation we will be fighting for a bronze.

And then, we rest. Hydrate. Eat.

I tried to sleep on the picnic blanket, but I couldn’t. I felt tired enough to sleep but couldn’t zone out enough to have a decent regatta nap.

Time ticked by. Watched races. Saw some awesome sprints to the finish. Saw a Chinook boat way off course, almost hitting the “Caution-Shallow Cable” close to the finish line. The referees were yelling, “Stop rowing!”

Started the getting ready process at 4:40. Bow number G6, attached. A teammate had returned to the hotel and picked up my frozen water bottle, so I had that. Oars out from under the trailer, staged under the boat. Music on. Erged to start warming up, but thanks to heat index, pretty hot already. Last-minute bathroom runs and then we’re hands on and walking down.

The row up is standard. Lots of boats, navigating, trying to hit in some at-rate work and pieces. We row way up and into Julio, who-surprise!-is late for his race because he’s not paying attention. We are bow G6, he is F5. Hmm…

There’s a current now, where there wasn’t for the heats. The wind has whipped around to become more of a tailwind. It’s setting up for faster conditions. 

The Final

Lock on time. Like a boss. All the boats are to the right. All the boats look fierce and fast. There’s a little rumble in our boat; might have been bow seat.

Lane 6 means we’re last to be called in the polling of crews. The red flag is up. Attention.

Starting 5. The plan is to be quicker this time. Blink, we’re already on the 10. I can see from my periphery we’re behind.

Shift 5. 

Power 5.

Now I look right. We’re ahead of Lane 2 and have contact with three other boats. It’s not over yet.

Breathe, I say.

Every stroke is a push to the 500. That’s the goal. Get to the 500, and then call the move. I look. I see the fat 500 numbers on the shore.

“Power in 2!” I want the move to go early. We have to go early, the third-place field is inching away up on us.

“1-2”

Now it’s a power 10. I’m focused inside the boat, hoping this move helps us catch up.  

Ten is over, I look right. We didn’t move up at all. If anything, those other boats are now stern to bow. There’s around 400 left in the course.

I make a quick, snap decision.

“We’re rowing for time!” I shout.

We don’t slow down, we don’t change the plan. Each stroke is still hard. I look right one more time, the third-place fight now has open water on us. At the red buoys, I call the up 2. I call the “dig in.” We’re pushing hard, but all I can see is lane 2. I can hear the other boats, and see their wake, but I know they’re too far up on us to catch.

The beep of the horn. Still we go. More beeps. Counting, 1-2-3-4. And 5 is for us.

We finish 5th. It was a hard, fast race, with some very fast women in it. We beat our time from this morning and last week, though, and we did make the final. 

Of course, later, I start second-guessing. I’m hoping stroke isn’t mad about my call to go for time versus trying to up the power even more and catch the field. We were running at 33spm. I have to trust in my judgment in the moment, based on what I could see, and how we were running.

Alan and Caelan sent the cutest post-race video. It made my day. Because it doesn’t matter if you lose, a BJ’s pazookie will make it all better. Words from a four year old.

After, it was pizza at the Steady State Network, a bicycle home, jump in the pool and some delicious uber-sugary ice cream.

Ice cream treats!

New day, new race tomorrow. Hopeful for another good result.

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2021 Masters Nationals-Day 1

Welcome to Oak Ridge!

After a loooonnng drive with an hour admiring the ruts on I-75 in Cincinnati, we arrived in Oak Ridge at 11pm last night. Check in, to bed, early to rise thanks to a garbage truck right outside the window. Thank you truck.

The gentlemen at the front desk said he was going to give us a nice room with a “Mountain View.” Check out this view.

“Mountain View”

Must be Wendy’s and Krystal mountain. Not that we really care about the view. We’re here for this view.

Start line at Oak Ridge

My one and only race of the day is a finals only Women’s Club B 4x scheduled for 4:10. With Oak Ridge’s notorious fog delay, it was pushed back to 4:55.

I spent a quiet morning in the hotel finishing my work for the week, running to the grocery store, and the unpacking-repacking ritual. You have to unpack all your stuff and then repack it with what you need at the regatta.

Last night I stopped at CVS. I wasn’t going to paint my nails, but then I saw the name of this orange paint. How could I pass it up? And then the orange lipstick. Yes, team!

Long shot plus Wonder Woman

I didn’t arrive until just after 1pm. Rig the boat, buy all the goodies from the vendors. The vibe today is pretty chill and laidback. Everyone is spread out. Of course more people will be here on the weekend days, but it’s still a lighter Nationals than normal.

After that, it’s hanging around. Catching up. Saw a few pals from Sarasota. Watching races. Spending too much money in the vendor tents.

Four o’clock rolls around and I warm up with a bicycle ride up the venue.

Back at the quad, it’s a basic rehash of the plan. Start sequence, high 10, shift. At the end, up two and then “dig in.”

We’re about to launch when I remember I haven’t put my tag on.

Tagged

I’m stroking this boat, so I’m not making any calls. I do want the stroke coach so I see our rates and push it appropriately.

The late afternoon is sticky hot in the direct sunshine, like it’s been all day. Humid, with an occasional cool breeze. I’ve been sweating under my cool shirt, it’s too so humid and sticky.

I have been to Oak Ridge, but as a spectator not a rower. Being on the water is almost a relief. The reservoir is cold, and you can feel that coolness radiating upward. It actually makes the 90F heat and direct sun almost manageable.

We’ve launched with Texas Rowing Center’s quad and these ladies are loud. Everything is bigger in Texas, after all. They give away their entire race plan. 5, high 15, settle, then a power at 500. Thanks, ladies.

We do some practice starts and quick warm-up. The venue is loud compared to where we have been rowing. It’s not deafening, but there is a lot of sound around. Cicadas, the races, the people warming up. It’s bouncing around making it hard to hear the calls. I ask bow to speak up and crisper.

There’s a pair of earrings I’ve been eyeballing for two years. The vendor has them at the regatta. I decide if we win this race, I’m going to buy them.

Our quad is in lane 5. First we accidentally line up in lane 3, but it’s an easy fix. We’re right on time to queue up.

All these boats look fast. Their faces are serious. Tuned-in.

We expected a long hold between the polling of crews and the start. They start the poll. There is a current down river. I breathe. Square up on “Greater Columbus.” Eyes turn to the start platform and the red flag. The referee holds. It is not long; he drops and I push on go. Our boat holder gently lifts her hands as we pry forward.

Second or third stroke, can’t remember. Three-seat catches a mini-crab. Boat wobble. We recover and keep on.

High 10. Up I go, fast, no layback. Counting 10. It’s only 36 strokes, kind of slow. 1:42 on the spilt.

Shift 10, lengthen out. We come down. 31, 30. We are going.

In stroke seat, I do not have the best vantage point on the race when we are down. But that is how I know we are in a dog fight. The boats on either side of us are there, noisy, big puddles. But I don’t look at them. I only have my peripheral vision to guess where we are.

30 strokes in. This is the point when you know how the race is going to set up. I expect Texas Rowing Center to pull away, and I think they are ahead. Otherwise, it looks like we are in 4th but not by much. It is a dogfight. We are fighting. We haven’t lost medal potential yet. I count 20 for breathe.

At some point bow yells “LEGS!”

The 500 buoy. That came fast. We are still in a fight. No one has grossly pulled away. The sounds are loud, of water and catches, and voices. It looks like we are inching up on lane 6. I can’t see anymore than that. I start thinking if we want a shot at this, we’re going to need a power 10 now.

Bow yells something–the exact word I can’t remember now, but it was clear. Go HARD NOW, just like I was thinking. Maybe it was power 10.

I dig into it. Yes, I will power 10. We are in this fight for third place.

One.

We are definitely gaining on lane 6. I see their stroke seat now.

Four.

I see the red stern of Texas Rowing Center. These ladies are yelling, yelling move, yelling power.

Eight.

First red buoy. All these boats are still together. We are in it. I will not be the reason we miss the podium. Dig in harder. Finish the power 9, 10.

Bow: “Up 2 in 2”

But I’m already there, shifting up. We have to.

I see the flash of red boat’s stroke oar. I see flashes of the white boat on the other side of them. We are up more on lane 6.

“Dig in!”

I am, I am digging in, I am thinking, I will not be the reason we lose, leaning hard and heavy every stroke, thinking about inches.

I still think we’re in the fight for third, maybe second is on the line. I see Texas’ stroke seat on my side.

The surge to the line is incredible. This is kind of race we live for. Four boats, four fast boats, making calls, trying to get the oars in the water at the exact right time. This is going to come down to the timing–where are you in the stroke when you cross the line? How much surge of power is behind your blade?

Beep-beep-beep-beep! No joke.

And then breathing. Gliding. Rowers collapsing over, at the paddle. No is really sure who finished when or where. It’s too close to call across FOUR boats. We feel sure we got on the podium. Texas also feels sure, saying, we got them. I’m not so sure.

I knew I rowed hard because my teeth started to hurt.

I see a text of something come through on the stroke coach, but we’re rowing back to the dock. I can’t look at the moment.

We land.

Our teammate comes for oars and with the news. We won. I can’t believe it. Jubilation. Confirmed by Texas, who also docked beside us. First, second.

There’s a text message tornado from our teammates. Screenshots of the finish. Video snaps of the race. It’s incredible.

We go for medals first. And there’s a trophy! It comes with these sweet story about a Grandma who would watch her granddaughter race on the Schuykill and knit while waiting in the stands.

Women’s Club B 4x

I still haven’t seen the video, but I can’t wait to watch it. It’s going to be amazing.

And I got my earrings.

Tomorrow, as they say, is another day, another race. But a great way to start the regatta.

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Midwest Summer Sprints

For the second weekend in the row, I had a regatta. Normally with Masters Nationals looming, I’d skip a regatta, but this was an hour from my house in Nashport, Ohio at Dillon Lake State Park. I’ve never been there, and it was too convenient to miss.

The park reminds me of all the adventure rowing that I’ve done over the last five years. There are no houses along the shore, it’s nothing but tree-covered hills and pristine water. A gorgeous place to row.

View from the top

For this particular regatta, I had three races again: the women’s double, but this time we were racing in Masters 2x instead of the open. I also made the hard decision to enter the women’s open single. The masters 1x was too close to the master’s double that we committed to. I didn’t want to hotseat or have any issues with making the race. The final race we threw together, a mixed masters double , just for fun. All sculling at this particular regatta.

I was nervous all week because of racing the single. Like many other rowers, I find rowing the single to be mentally challenging. My track record is I usually get very worked up about it and I have a hard time calming down and staying focused.

Sure enough, I started having crazy dreams all week long plus random stabs about of anxiety about it. One of the dreams I had: the race started and I’m doing well. Then the person off my starboard stands up in the boat and takes off running across the water. I thought, “okay, I can’t catch that.”

So I had to deal with that kind of crazy mental game leading up to the race, to speak.

I also suspected that this regatta would be more challenging than the one in Michigan, both from way more entries but also rowing in totally different boat classes that have a competitive reputation.

Dillion Lake State Park

Our team set up the tent on the top of the hill that overlooked the entire venue. You were looking down on all of the boats and team tents stationed at the bottom, and you could see all the way down the lake from the start to the finish. A great view.

However, walking up and down that hill with your boats was definitely the downside. Head of the Hooch practice.

Caelan and Alan were supposed to come, but due to some challenges with being four years old, they didn’t make it. They would have loved it: playground, hiking trail, and a big beach. We actually recovered on the beach.

Race day

I woke up early for my alarm. Felt queasy over breakfast. Had to go back into the house three times because I either forgot something or had to deal with nerves. I figured there’s no reason to be in and around the house. I arrived early and offloaded my single. Races were already launching, with a 7:30 first race start time.

Started bringing the boats down and preparing for the day. First race, the women’s masters 2x, I’m actually excited about. We raced in the open last week and we’re going to race it at nationals in the Women’s Masters A. It’s our second time racing it together and we actually haven’t really practiced it very much. None since the prior week.

While we were offloading and rigging, the announcer called that we had to have our own bow numbers. Last week’s 3-lane regatta, we didn’t. The bow numbers did not make it in the trailer this time. Now we’re in a scramble to figure out how to make bow numbers. I suggested making a run to Dollar General for some paper, plastic wrap, and tape. Another rower has a permanent marker.

But then I spot a Cheez-it box in a pile of stuff. I’m still not sure whose box it was. First of all, Cheez-Its are gross, and second, I’m sorry we didn’t ask, but thank you for your sacrifice because we turned your box into bow numbers.

Cheez-it bow numbers

Women’s Masters 2x

My biggest concern is boat tracks to starboard. I brought a level this time and sure enough, the rigger is not truly perpendicular in the boat. One side is more forward than the other, and I think it’s just enough to make the boat track off. We know that is the challenge going forward.

The conditions were hot at 9:00am and the day was forecasted to be classic summer warm for Ohio. Upside, the water was flat with a minimal crosswind pushing to port down the race course.

We expected our time to be faster than the prior week. We set the goal simply to be faster–and better steering.

With the rigging time I only had about a 10-minute land warm up before first call. We dropped down next to a Men’s Masters 8+, and had the impeccable timing to be lowering the boat to water when they shoved off. The whole dock shifted under our feet–not the position to be in when bent over dropping a fragile 45-lb boat to the water.

I anticipated that there would not be a lot of water warm up space from the Coaches & Coxswains meeting and the course map. Sure enough, there was not a lot of space. It was pretty much pick drill and two starts before hitting the staging area.

I do want to say the start marshal was on-point. The regatta had a specific way it wanted you approach and load into start dock. This course did have an actual dock with fingers instead of stake boats.

You also could not pass the start dock. There was actually an officer patrolling and keeping speed boats away from our end of the lake. We all appreciated that, but it cut off any additional warm up space.

At this point, early in the regatta, they’re already behind about 15-20 minutes. We’re sitting there in staging awhile. It’s early, but full sunshine and hot. We’re roasting turkeys, sitting on the open water, while any short warm-up you did go is totally negated by just sitting.

Finally our turn to load into the dock, but something apparently was wrong. The dock marshal started physically shifting the dock. Part of me is wondering if they adjust it to account for different boat lengths, like you do at elite regattas. Nice feature. It’s clear that is not that case when a dock workers and a referee grabbed the buoy line ropes for lane seven and start shouting about a broken line under the dock.

So, they’re grabbing these lines and pulling them. The line is lifted out of the water. Meanwhile, the starting marshal is on her bullhorn and telling the women’s masters 2x to enter the course. We can’t because if we enter the course because we’re going to get clotheslined on this line they’ve lifted out of the water.

She’s getting visibly frustrated because we’re not moving. It took a couple of people yelling at her, “no, they can’t answer the course. It is blocked!” Finally the dots connect and she realized we can’t move, and tells us to hold tight.

Here they are, working on this course, pulling the line, and we’re all working on those tan lines some more… waiting… waiting… waiting…

The start marshal sees this is not going to be a fast process, so she tells us to row down on the course, turn, and come back up.

We only had to go down about two buoys before we were able to come into the course. I just rowed us pretty close before 180-turning so we didn’t have to back like crazy.

I’m expecting a quickstart because they regatta is running behind and now we’re more behind because of messing with the course lines. Nope, they do the polling of the crews.

I should mention at this point one thing I was not happy about with this regatta. The flight assignments. This race was of all “A” Masters, the next was “B-C,” and the last “D-F.” I appreciate the sorting my age brackets, but in every single race today, I was side-by-side with the other boats from my club. That is lazy lane assigning. We don’t come to a regatta to race side-by-side with our team. No one wants to race against someone from their team. They could have put a boat or two between us. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if this happened in just one race, but it was every race I was in and it wasn’t just our club.

We have our fellow teammates sharing our unbuoyed middle lane. Having a clean start is even more important so we give each other an advantage.

It’s a solid start. I’m watching the buoy line hard, as we only have the buoys down one side of our lane. That happened to be port side in this race. We get a clean start clean and we’re out in front early.

We just started pushing away. I called the “breathe” and “relax” and we just moved. Open water early, about 300-400 down the course. It’s a matter of staying consistent and keep hammering down, and we’re doing that. Of course, it’s hard because we’re not properly warmed up. We went from zero to 100.

I’m trying to breathe and get relaxed, but about halfway I note the boat in lane 5, Portage Lakes. The boat is actually moving very well and starting to make up ground. I’m eyeballing them for about 100 meters, measuring their move versus our current open water and remaining course. About that time, Nicole went ahead and called “up.”

Up we went, and shut the door on there. We regained the ground on them, but it was still good to have kind a challenge.

Near that point, the buoys go red and it was the sprint. I think every rower’s probably had a never-ending sprint, and this was one. It was just red buoy, red buoy, red buoy, and you’re still going hard, and now you’re wondering, “is this 250 meters ever going to end?”

I’m looking right, see the line of white buoys. I know the end is near. Keep going. No horn. I look left towards the shore and I can see caution tape around tents. Usually they do this to the finish line tent so idiots don’t stand in front of the timing equipment. But we pass it, so now I’m wondering, where is the crap is this finish line and the horn?

But it comes.

Longest sprint ever.

We finished first in our heat. I felt really good about the race. Nicole said we definitely were under four minutes, which definitely beat our prior week’s time. I thought was great. So, beach recovery, slug the Bianca up the massive hill, and derig because she’s not being used again.

We ended up with the fastest raw time but third overall with handicaps. I’ll take it!

Women’s Open 1x

Now I have nothing standing between me and focusing fully on the women’s open single. This is a point usually where I would be completely melting down. Nausea, the shakes, not holding it together.

I just kept trying to be positive with myself. Tell myself you’re not here to win. It is okay to lose. You are doing this as a time trial. You’re testing a race plan. You just need to stick to your goal.

I did have the waves of anxiety, but I was just much better. Those waves of anxiety clamped down through the rigging process and setting up, getting ready to go.

After rigging and packing my bag, I had about 35 minutes to sit and listen to music. I read through my race rate plan and all of the inspiration quotes a couple of times through, just reminding myself.

Race is called, it’s about time to head down. A really nice woman, I think from Wye Valley Rowing, offered to carry my oars with me. She saw I was going solo with boat and oars down the hill. I love rowers and how we help each other out.

I had a paper bow number five on my boat and the start commission guy offered to swap it out for a real laminated one.

I get situated in my boat because I know we don’t have a lot of warm-up space. A quick series of drills and then we’re the marshaling area.

Our 1x groups are already together. Once again, we are sitting around, just BBQ’ing in the sun. It’s just a ridiculous amount of time.

During the time, Nicole and I are talking, I’m complaining about, you know, “I hate this no warm-up, but I’m going to be cold. I’m getting old, I can’t do this zero to a hundred stuff, it’s not healthy.” Another woman in our race, shouts, “yeah, I’m over 40. I can’t do this!” It breaks the ice. Of course we all start talking with each other. There’s some junior women in our race. One woman has only been rowing a few months and her coach put her in this. She’s the only practiced a 1x at steady-state.

It’s really nice to talk to other rowers and I feel like in the singles, that is something that you get a lot more of. You actually talk to your fellow competitors, share stories and jokes and try and encourage each other.

It’s close to our turn to go, but hold on! There is a log on the course that has to be moved! Cursed yet again to sit around some more.

Finally we get the all-clear to proceed to our start dock. I’m really calm. I’m running my race plan in my head. I take the stroke coach and put down by foot because I really want the focus to be on how the boat feels and on executing my race plan.

I’m worried that if I’m looking at the numbers that I’m going to get too anxious. I do want the numbers. I want to analyze them later, but I don’t want to be looking at them in this particular race.

So my 2x partner is also in this race, and yes, she’s right next to me. I’m lane 5, she’s lane 6. Lane 4 is the girl who’s only been around a month. They call a polling start.

I sit up. I breathe. Eye on the red flag. Down.

Really good start. One of the best starts I’ve ever had in the single. It is just relaxed but strong. And I really feel the boat going. A high five, and then a shift, and I’m in front. Actually in front, which has never happened. I am usually behind at the start. But I’m off and moving well-

And then a huge wake rolls up under my boat from nowhere. Perpendicular to the course. Bouncing.

Next thing I know the girl in lane 4 next to me has flipped over. Since it happened within a hundred meters of the start, they siren for breakage. We have to turn around and go back.

Of course in my head, I’m going, “darn! that was such a good start!” It’s not going to happen again. You want it to, but it doesn’t usually work like that.

I try to be really positive to lane 4, telling her she did awesome popping back into the boat so fast.. The starters gave her 30 seconds to try and get some water out of her boat after we all locked on, which was nice of them.

And then we did it all again.

I move through the start, and my high-five, it’s not pristine clean like that first sequence. It is what it is. I move right to my shift ten. That girl that flipped in lane 4 is gone, rowing like the fear of wind is in her boat. I note it, and let it go. I’m not here to chase her down.

I actually do a good job. I’m partially keeping an eye my 2x partner in lane 6, but I’m also in my head and working through my race plan. I’m watching the ref and watching the buoy line. A little off course at one point and the ref calls me over, but I was already moving that way.

In the middle piece, I made a shift for power. The boat started running well and I started walking a little more away from lane 6.

It was just flowing nicely. I moved through my fourth set of 20, trying to be strong. That piece felt like it went pretty fast compared to the first four sets of 20. It’s very dialed in and moving well. I know I’m not going to catch the other girl leading the way, it’s not even a thought in my head to try and catch up. I don’t look for her.

I tried to be a little stronger, a little quicker on the pickup. Red buoys. Now it’s trying to push through the buoys, hang in there, be strong. First you hear for your competitor’s horn, and I know she definitely was up quite a on me. Just keep pushing, and then it’s my horn, and it’s a relief. Now I sit and wait. Nicole start slowing early, and I yell at her to keep going.

All the boats cross the line, white flag if up, and it’s done. Immense relief.

Overall, I felt good about the row and how I tackled the mental strain. I stuck to the race plan I came up with and stayed internal during the row.

When it came to my final time, I was disappointed. It’s not the time I was feeling in the boat, but data doesn’t lie. I expected better. I will have to look, but it may be my slowest time ever in the 1k.

I’ll be looking at the stroke coach later to figure out what happened and adjust accordingly. This will be my only single 1k if the year so I have months to improve.

They awarded one set of medals across all flights for the open. Fourth overall, second in my heat. I’m probably the second oldest woman out there in that event, so I’m pleased.

Mixed Masters 2x

Last race I raced in a boat I’ve never rowed with a new partner. No practice. We have rowed in boats together, but 8s and 4+s. I just figured it’s race for fun. I don’t like having two races at a sprint regatta and he was willing to do it.

We get boat down to rig and make adjustments and my shoes are broken. They were hanging on by just one side of the rubber. One solid stroke with poor technique on the back end and they’d rip off completely.

We borrowed new shoes from the 8+ that was done for the day, but they were massive! Men’s 12 at least.

Meanwhile, while making these repairs, what do we all hear but the rumble of thunder. First rumble, everyone seems to ignore. Wind picking up, smell of rain in the air. Florida, the regatta would be shut down faster than you could blink. Second grumble, this time much louder and closer, followed by the deluge—they can’t ignore that.

Rain delay

So we all smush under our tents, no social distancing, while the boats on the course race to shore. The LOC calls a race delay. Every time it cracks thunder, the delay clock is set back.

As quick as it comes, the rain abates. Sun comes out, and we’re talking about something when they resume racing and call our heat to launch.

On our way out to the start, my feet kept coming out of the shoes. I’m not someone who stops momentum with my shoes, but they’re so big my toes just pop out at the slightest pressure. I had some tape electric tape and I wrapped two ribbons around both of my feet. Not so tight where if we flipped over, I couldn’t safely slip out, but enough to keep the flaps of the shoes closed so they wouldn’t come out when rowing at speed and pressure.

Race plan pretty much like every other race today. Same start, high intensity, shift down and then hammer it out and be responsive to what’s happening around us.

We get locked on and guess what we do? We wait and wait and wait and wait, and wait, because the Middle School 500 race is before our event. We had to wait for them to race and clear the course.

Meanwhile, we’re locked on and there is a crosswind, slow but steady. I have to keep tapping away to keep our bow pointed down the lane. It must have been a good 10 or 15 minutes sitting there, me tapping on port, stroke chatting it up with the stake boat holder.

Finally our time to go. Quick start. We do our five. We do our 10 down. Slightly out in front already , shift it out. Go go, go, go, go, go.

Our boat did swerve a bit into the next lane, but at that point I’m wondering why the ref is calling us over. We’re two boats up on the other boat. We’re not interfering with their race. So we come back over and over time we did slowly veer back into the middle of the lane and held that down the rest of the way.

We just crushed it. I called it up at sprint, but I didn’t feel the need to call us up again because we were just so far out. We ended up winning even with handicap.

A good way to finish racing. Sometimes it’s not about winning every race. Winning is nice, but you have to accomplish losing before you set up for success. We put in a solid effort in all our races. I’m really happy with the first, third and fourth. I may be proudest if the fourth.

A few days off racing, and Nationals is here! So crazy.

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Michigan Club Invitational

After a terrible nights sleep in the hotel, race days arrived!

This is my first time in Ann Arbor racing at the MCI. The course is pretty. Caelan would’ve liked all the trains; there’s a track along the park and that goes over the reservoir just past the finish.

The regatta is different from others I’ve done. Only three boats at a time, and it medals are fastest times across all flights.

Looking up the course

The course is not shut down. I was told kayakers wander around, and it is true.

For the race, I adapted one of my hats to be team appropriate. Hats are back!!!

New team digs

Mixed 8+

This boat, I felt good about. Our last practice we had one of those magical “this is why we row” practices. Every stroke, off the water, perfectly balanced, gliding along.

Got my race face on, and out we went.

What I hate about sprint racing is the lack of warm up. It was true again. The course launches boats at 500 and there is a teeny tiny staging area. In an 8, that’s nothing. 20 strokes and you have to turn.

But as we did our first practice start, a BIG problem emerged. Bow seat’s rigger was loose.

And we didn’t have a wrench.

Our 6 seat knew the Cox in the Detroit 8+, and they had an adjustable wrench. Resolutes take 10mil and not the more standard 7/16.

So we spent our “warm up” and lock-on time tapping lightly into position while bow seat precariously tried tightening his rigger. Turns out the problem wasn’t the bolts (which bow seat himself was in charge of checking when we rigged it) but a crack in the actual rigger. He was still fiddling as the aligned was calling our bows forward and back.

Then it was race time. The jolt of adrenaline-crap I’m doing this. As soon as our Cox dropped his hand- “attention! Row!” No polling of crews, no time to breathe, just move the first stroke and go.

Start 5 is just about breathing and following and connecting the oar to the water. A high 15- strokes fast and furious. Already burning because I’ve gone cold between my land warm up and now. I know this is going to hurt.

The shift. We are ahead off the start. A quick peek at my puddle-yes, I’m connecting.

First red buoy marking 250. Whew, that was fast.

We are at a 35, the Cox says. I am going to die at that rate, I think.

350. Only 350? Damn it!

Buoys under my oar, buoys on the side of the boat. We are zig zagging a bit. Not good. We will lose time.

1:50 spilt. Way slower than practice. Come on guys.

500 red buoys. Okay. There is a subtle shift in the boat. It starts to feel a little less frantic. We have open water. The steering straightens out.

Stroke rate 30.

Breathe, says the Cox. A good call.

How am I going to do this in the 2x? The Cox is doing calls, helping me focus away from the leg burn and the metallic taste in my mouth.

750 red buoy. Keep pushing, we need the time.

Waiting for the up.

Cox calls it. Up we go. Digging in. Every stroke, connect. Not happy with my catches, I try to make them better every stroke.

10 to go. He’s counting down. At 9, the finish line horn.

Breathing. Everything is raw, raw, raw. There is no paddle down room. We spin and head the 500 back to the dock.

I’m hoping someone tells us how we did as we dock, but no one says anything. I’m the one who runs for my phone to check, and finds we won.

Mixed Masters 8+ wins.

A sweet starting victory.

Killing time

Three hours between the mixed 8+ and Womens open 2x. I half-slept. Ate a PBJ. Talked to people. Chilled.

Women’s Open 2x

Won’t lie, this one had me nervous. The open is rolling a dice. Will there be collegiates? AA? Juniors? If so, chances on winning go down. So we had a time goal and hoped for a clean race.

The boat we used shanks to starboard. We actually worked on it at practice and fixed some rigging issues, but it still enjoyed rowing too starboard. Today’s crosswind was pushing all the boats to starboard. I suggested making some oar changes to help compensate, and stroke was game.

We launched first, which gave us a little more warm up time. I prefer to have a longer warmup so launching first and having the slight race delay worked for me.

I was bowing, and it was a chance to practice steering a little more.The course at the top was a little wonky with the shoreline and water grasses. We fit in two little circles of drills and practice starts.

I had no expectations about what could happen. I did see one of our flight competitors was having trouble staying straight in the start area. I suspected we could probably do a little better than them.

We were in lane three, which was essentially up the middle of the reservoirs. We had to lock on last because of the way the staging area and the course were laid out. You had to proceed across in order to lock on. I steered a super close to the stake boat, and locked on easy because of it. That was a little confidence booster. Keeping the bow pointed straight down the course was a bit of a challenge thanks to the cross/head wind and the way the boat was drifting.

I was also concerned because of how our boat prefers to run. Being in lane three on that particular course, there’s one narrow point in the river where the launching boats and race boats have to share the space. A marshal was sitting below that point stopping the outgoing boats during the races to avoid collisions, but still, it’s narrow and we have to be in the lane.

Plus we if drifted too far to starboard, we’d risk being in lily pads or running into another outgoing boat.

Alignment again. No polling–just attention, ROW! And off we went. We did our start high, and actually came off a bit too far to port. I think I was too considered about the drift and overcompensated right on those first strokes.

Off the start, it seemed at first we were a little behind the other two boats in our flight, but the thing is you’re not turning and looking. It’s only peripheral impressions. A lot is happening–a lot of speed, water, rushing steering. We’re off to port, but rowing high, and I’m trying to correct our course using my mirror and watching the buoy line. While all this happening, we pulled back up neck and neck with the other two.

Like I said, we initially went to port, but then I overcompensated. We slowly moved off to starboard. Even though I was bringing the pressure, we made this slow arc to starboard. I could see the buoys marking the edge of the lane 3. The starboard side didn’t have buoys every ten meters like port side. There was a line at that narrow point I mentioned, but after that they were more random. A red buoy at every 250, an occasional yellow one. I was trying to use the port line more as a guide than the starboard. I wanted to be close to that line.

The first 350 meters is always hard for me mentally. I’m trying to push negative thoughts away and focus on the boat, not letting my partner down.

We were much farther to starboard than we needed to be, and all my starboard pressure wasn’t cutting it. I had to call for starboard pressure. Slowly, but surely, we started arcing back. We probably ended up growing an extra 30, 40 yards.

Meanwhile, while I’m doing my earnest to get us back on the port side buoy line and on a straight course, we were slowly but surely inching away from the other two boats.

Right about the 600 meter mark, we finally came back up to the buoy line, and I got us on a straight course. We were rowing well. I was making sure to call things like “strong,” “relax,” and “breathe.”

When you can you see that 750 red buoy, it’s always a good feeling. You it’s know the end of the race and you can really drive it and push. I feel like what we did together was really drive and push it up a little bit. We had open water on the other two boats in our flight.

I’m just trying to keep it straight. It’s the finish. They didn’t want to steer off because the lane finishes very close to shore. I remember calling two more buoys. I didn’t want to call a number of strokes or meters because when you’re racing hard in a double, looking backwards to steer it’s hard to tell how many strokes you’re taking and the run you’re getting.

We won our flight, and winning always feels good. On our way up, stroke shared we beat our spilt goal by 5-6 seconds, and that was good, too. I felt satisfied that no matter where we actually placed once the other two flights raced.

Womens 2x. I don’t do normal.

We just got back up to shore and I only had to go straight away. Just a 48-minute change over between the 2x and my next race. I expected the others to be gathering by the cox four, but I went over to it and couldn’t find them.

Back at our table, they’re just sitting around. Apparently they had not yet called our event yet and were running a bit behind again. A little more rest between races is always nice.

But then someone said we won the Open 2x. He had to show me the phone with the time results before I could believe it.

The open doubles are usually very competitive and full of collegiate fast women. Knowing we won, and I beat ladies two decades younger, was great!

Mixed Masters 4+

The last race was supposed to be mixed 4x, but the race organizers changed the schedule to make it coxed four.

Our original lineup decided to go ahead and do it when they need to change, but it presented a challenge. We had a guy who is over 6 foot and strong as an ox. In quad, it doesn’t matter, we all can pull over weight evenly. In the 4+, we all row a side. Our preferred sides would end up stacking the men on one side and the ladies on the other.

Last race of the day!

To maintain and better distribute power two of us, me and the tall guy, had to switch sides, because our other two rowers were locked into their respective side. So I had to stroke the boat while rowing on my non-dominant side.

I was thinking the last time I stroked a boat was at Tampa’s Halloween Regatta in 2011. I felt a little pressure, but my goal was just to do my best to set up a nice, even stroke and row as clean as possible.

To add to the challenge, our chosen shell was extremely finicky. We had three practices in total to figure it all out, and we knew it could work but that we had to be careful with the steering and three seat being extraordinarily powerful.

We didn’t do much on the way up this time in terms of warmup, we just practiced some starts. We were in lane three.

Again, we had a quick start. As soon as alignment was called, the referees called the start.

I would say the start of this race was just a lot more frantic across all the boats. Our race start was not as clean as the one in practice before. We shanked initially right into the other lane, lane 2. We were so close to linked you into that boat and we were right on the buoy line.

Our oars nearly clashed.

The referees were on us right away, calling “Greater Columbus, Greater Columbus,” and jabbing their flag to starboard. The coxswains are yelling. We’re yelling at our cox to move over. The oars are splashing and rushing through the water. We didn’t make contact. I yelled at James to lighten up because every time the boat would try to correct, it came right back over to right on buoy line. The bleach bottles were scraping right along the hull.

It took about 400 meters to finally settle into a much straighter course. Once we settled in and straightened up, we did start to pull away. It became about banging it out and we pulling away stroke after stroke.

We were really opening up water on the other two boats. Stroke rate was initially a little higher than I wanted, but I lengthened and everyone responded. I started mentally focusing in on good, solid catches, feeling the resistance in my left hand, really applying that pressure and pushing it all the way into my lap. The boat just really moved well.

We hit the last 250 and just like we talked about the cox called it up two beats. We went for good 10 strokes and then hammered it in sprinting. We knew we had to overcome handicaps in other flights. Even though we finished with good open water on the other two boats, we had to have a fast time.

Running in the first flight was great. We got to see our other team boat in the second flight. They also had open water on their flight, so that was fun.

We were the second to last event of the regatta. Everyone was starting to derig and load. When we put our boat down in slings, I grabbed my phone to see final results. We won, and by a very wide margin! Our other boat was 3rd.

Winners of the Mixed Masters 4+ Dentistry Cup

Wrapping up on Michigan Club Invitational

Overall, I had a great start to racing again. Three gold medals in all three events. Our team performed really well. I think everyone was having fun off the race course, just hanging out, eating pounds of peanut butter, and socializing.

We swept the Mixed 2xs, taking 1-4. It’s been so long to see that many boats on the water, just performing. I’m probably most proud of the Women’s Open 2x. Our time also would have won the Women’s Masters 2x, raw and with our tiny ahandicap.

Next regatta is a week away, and anything can happen.

The night before packing repacking party
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