Rowing Rain Delay

After weeks of beautiful morning rows, the hammer came down. It was inevitable. The last three days have been one super soaker after another. If this keeps going, I’ll be able to row down the street. Our back yard is completely flooded.

The rain delay happened right as I prepared to jump my training to 55k this week. I managed to sneak in 10k Sunday before Noah’s flood commenced. I awoke to a super sore back on Monday and took the day off. Yesterday I became reacquainted with the rower’s worst enemy: the erg machine.

The truth is I know I need to erg to work on my speed work, but in head season erging is painful. It’s an hour or more with nothing but cruel numbers ticking up and down on the screen. On the water, you know you have a good stroke when your oars click into the water and your shell gurgles out under you. There’s no dim lighting but streaks of fire to light the way. You could be surprised by dolphins or manatees, there are markers to play chicken with, and the mental game is about syncing with the boat. Not so with erging. All you have are numbers, recycled air, and fluorescent lights. The only animal is my poor dog who stares murderously at the whirring erg machine.

Despite the torture, I felt pleased with my form erging. One of my problems is keeping my chest up and my weight over the handles. At 8k into my piece I still felt like I was sitting up pretty tall and extended through the motion. Improvement has been made.

Sometimes what you perceive to be the problem isn’t actually the problem. I had this epiphany last week, both rowing the single and coxing.

On Wednesday, I rowed completely alone. Not a soul was at the boatyard. I threaded the Peinert out of its rack, headed South, and returned the Peinert all without help or company. Being alone, I really zeroed in on my style.  About halfway into the 11k row, my right elbow started painfully clicking. My forearm tightened up and my wrist burned.

The natural answer would be, “lighten your grip.” The problem? My grip was easy. I had only the top of my hands on the oar through the recovery and used my thumb and index finger to catch and release.

Instead of focusing on the grip, I decided to work on the connection at the top end of the stroke and pinching together my shoulder blades at the release. Within 10 strokes, the pain vanished. The sensation made me consider the rest of the row how fixing one problem causes a chain reaction that solves others. I finished the whole 11k absolutely pain-free after that–but I was sore later in my upper back and chest from all that connecting!

Friday I coxed a boat with rowers of various levels. I haven’t sat in a cox’n seat in a year, and I am not the world’s most experienced cox. I want to learn to race cox to be of more benefit to the team and to expand my understanding of rowing. Anyway, the boat had two novices and other experienced rowers with a coach giving direction in the launch. One of the rowers was providing a constant stream of information to one of the novices. Nearly every stroke was paired with advice on a different part of the stroke. But, if the novice had been allowed to focus on one thing, which she wasn’t told to do, it could have fixed most of her problem. The answer? Constant pressure through the oarlock applied with the inside hand. It would have fixed her over-feathering, her catch, and her swing.

Marlene Royle mentioned the same last summer during our technique camp. Sometimes the problem isn’t what you think it is. Instead of saying, “Stop rushing the slide,” say, “Feel the speed of the boat through the oarlock. Let your feet come up.”

Like when coaches tell me to put my shoulders or my chest up. The problem isn’t my shoulders. It’s that I continue reaching at the top end. I need to establish all my swing and lock in and quit reaching for a little more. I’m a short rower and I always want to be taller than I am, so I end up reaching for the length. If I lock in and stop reaching, the shoulder issue goes away.

I look forward to learning more about my stroke, but not the erging. Of which I foresee more coming, as long as it gushing outside.

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About camckenna

I teach; I write; I row.
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