Inevitability, when a regatta approaches, mother nature seems to conspire against me.
Saturday & Sunday I’ll be racing in Deland. Saturday will be my first head race in the 1x. Sunday will be the 15k. I’m renting a boat, a Fluidesign, a prospect that both excites me and makes me nervous as I’ve never rowed in a Fluidesign.
All this week should be on the water preparation. I should be experimenting with the water backpack a friend graciously is lending me for the 15k. I should be going for rows in the private Fluidesign a club member offered for me to practice with to prepare for the race.
But all week, it’s been too windy for safe rows in the 1x. I’ve been benched. Sidelined. The alarm screeches at the 5 a.m. hour, and the wind is dancing in the palm trees outside my open window. My erg has appreciated the use, but I haven’t. It’s a good workout but it doesn’t replace time on water. It can’t fight current and winds, it doesn’t tip and sway as you finish or roll up the slide, and the callouses don’t appear in the same place.
This always seems to happen. Last year before the Hooch we lost a month of training due to tropical storms and poor weather. All the summer as Nationals approached, we tried to avoid saying the h-word and knocked on our wooden oar handles when someone said the dreaded word and tempted karma. We were lucky there were no h-words, just one heck of a squall line that tossed boats and tents like sand in the wind. (H-word is hurricane, by the way.) A storm did form out in the Caribbean, but it wouldn’t have made it to Florida by Nationals and it headed in a different direction. Sheer luck.
Luck is not holding this time.
So I will be racing in two events I’ve never tried before, in a boat I haven’t rowed before (unless by some miracle I get out tomorrow), on a curvy course I haven’t seen before, with a tender left rib cage that I hope survives 20k of racing.
And I know my nerves will come into play very early. My heart will beat with anxiousness, my palms will coat the handles with a sheen of slippery sweat, and my tongue will stick to the parchment on the roof of my mouth. It has happened every time I go for a piece against somebody, even knowing it’s practice and not for keeps. On that race course, or any race course for that matter, the competition I have to beat is me. I am my worst enemy. Mentally I psych myself out, I become overworked, my nerves get the best of me. If I can calm down and find a solid beat to stay steady at, I will be fine.
It took two years, but I managed to master my nerves for rowing the sweep boats. In the 8+ and 4+ boats I stopped thinking about me and instead about the routine and steps. At x time I will warm-up, at x I check my seat in the boat, then I will use the bathroom for the last time. There is a routine to launch, to push away, to warm-up. I stop thinking about the race because all I had to do was shut-up, follow, and row like a beast. The cox’n had the course in her hands, the stroke had the job of setting our pace, so there was nothing for me to worry about but rowing harder. Sure, we’d pull into the stake boats and my heart rate would spike, but I had routine there, too. Take deep breaths, smack the legs, stare at a spot on the back of the person in front of me. Assume the starting position and stare at the referee’s flag until it burst into flames, or dropped, whichever came first.
But that is the problem. It’s a 1x. My racing fate falls on me and I feel the intense pressure of competition. I start thinking, “What if I can’t catch others, of what if I’m passed? What if I row to hard at the start, despite my intent, and die at the end? What if I don’t row hard enough? I’m 29 and have no handicap–can I out row a handicap?” And then–“oh, crap, this is a race!”
I haven’t discovered how to calm down yet and let be what will be. I don’t how to “be internal,” row my race, and not worry about others. This is the true curse of the regatta.