The rowing stars align
Our entry for the Head of the Hooch in Tennessee was touch-and-go. First wait-listed, then accepted with a “ghost” entry as we knocked our heads against our oars thinking of who could be our number four. Do we composite? Do we pull from inside the club? From Sarasota-at-large?
Then a whisper came on the wind…perhaps a friendly neighborhood ghost was interested in rowing again?
The ghost materialized in the boatyard one morning for a fateful O’dark-thirty row in a quad. The stars twinkled, the manatees stayed asleep, and on a flying start through the Casey Key Bridge my stroke coach blinked spilt numbers I hadn’t seen in ages.
But now the Hooch was five weeks away. The deadline to scratch our entry risk-free loomed. The ghost hadn’t been rowing in at least a year-and-a-half but our splits were like she’d never stopped. Could we call her out of retirement?
At first, she was concerned about being physically able to handle a 5k. I completely understand. Even I’m not in the same physical shape as two years ago, and here we are encouraging her to tackle the daunting business of racing a 5k in five weeks. We are adult women with lives! We don’t train obsessively all the time.
Next came getting to the race course. The Hooch eats dollar bills for breakfast! Flying or driving, it’s a serious expense even before hotel rooms are tacked onto the trip. And we’re all on tight budgets. If it wasn’t for coaching, I wouldn’t go at all. But thanks to some incredible generosity and schedule-manuerving, the stars aligned. There was dancing and elated shouts in the boatyard (in the dark) that scared our team mascot, a screech owl. We had a racing quad!
The Serious Business Begins (aka $h!+ gets real)
So now we went from uncertainty to having four fast women. This is happening. Race mode turned on. Priorities shifted: must amp up the training, must fix our boat. The parts came in for the broken Fluidesign 4x. The Night Crew fixed it up last week so I have an operating toe and our shoes move.
The game faces are on at the boat yard. Our ability to row together in our 4x is limited due to our schedules, but we’re doing our best to make it work. Shortly after confirming our 4x, we rowed a timed piece. The result slower than expected, but we tested against a raging current.
We row 1x/2x on other days, as far as we can go given the time, up and down our rates, trying to tweak our technique however we can to be even faster. On the water we strike out for the 5k, weather and conditions permitting, trying to hit higher rates over time on the way back.
I started nailing down on my diet and have dropped weight. I’m still a few pounds shy of my ideal race weight, but I feel confident I will be there November 2. We’re hitting the ergs, knocking out rounds of 8-10 minutes pieces at 24/26/28s and a continuous 10k. Monday I pushed out (and miserably failed) a 20 min test. Unfortunately, I haven’t hit the calisthenics as hard as I should be, sacrificing that to focus on cardio. I even have tried running again, successfully jogging a 2.5k three times with no pain!
And the days keep ticking down…four weeks to go…three weeks to go…must row harder, faster, longer…
Race Course Worries
The Head of the Hooch will be my first race of any sort in over six months! That’s a long time since I had a solidified rowing goal. What worries me the most is bowing the quad. I’ve never bowed a head race (besides a 1x), and especially in a fast little boat like the quad. And never at a regatta the size of the Hooch.
I know my boat mates have confidence in me (El Capitan: “I know you don’t want to be, or think you are, but you are a damn good bow.”) And it was never a question once we had our 4x that I would be the best of us four for bow seat. One of those suck-it-up and deal with it situations. Fake confidence until you make it.
But I’m still worried. Not about my steering abilities, but about the mind game. A head race is 50% mental and 50% physical. Maybe even more mental. And the truth is, I can get really whacked out in the head when it comes to racing. I am my greatest foe.
I can already picture it. Rowing up the course in the middle of dozens of other fast women quads, adrenaline pumping, getting more and more worked up. Psyching myself out. The whole key to staying calm is ignoring everything going on and zeroing in on the person swinging in front of me, but as bow seat I can’t do that. I have to look. I am obligated to see if we are falling behind or passing a boat. With each peek I must make decisions that determine the outcome of our race–while still racing and pushing myself to the limit. And I worry that I won’t be able to focus, to keep my head inside the boat, and to stay calm. The worst thing that could happen is I get worked up and lose it. The inner voice begins to ridicule and say it’s okay to ease off a little–when, no, it is not! My technique goes out the window, I start rushing, I feel apart into this rowing hot mess.
Somehow I must find the key to controlling my race day monster before Nov. 2. I would feel better if I had a practice round bowing a race, but that’s unlikely to happen.
Three weeks to go.