We’re walking and Alan says, “I’d like to go to REI sometime soon and try on some climbing shoes.”
“Well,” I say. “Cincinnati Indoor is this coming weekend. We could go and make a day of it.”
So, literally, six days before this event, I register for my first indoor rowing regatta ever. No specific training. Registration closes and I’m the only Masters Woman 30-39. Only one other Masters women period signed up.
The LOC sent the heat sheets. They’ve flighted me with the other Masters Woman, 50-59, and two Varsity Collegiate women. At least I’ll have people to row against.
I decide not to alter anything about my training schedule. I’ve already won, so I can use this as an early season test.
We had a hard time deciding if we should go the night before or not. In the end, I decided it would be better to sleep in my bed and get up early rather than dealing with our camper or paying $80 for a hotel room.
The only preparations the were the day before. Decide what outfit to wear, what to pack, light row, and sit in the hot tub.
5:15 rolls around early when you’re not used to it. Caelan heard us packing the car and woke up just before departure at 5:40. We hoped he’d sleep a little on the way. But he’s a toddler, so he never does what you want. My getting amped music was “Baby Shark” and “If you’re happy and you know it.”
The thing about racing is you have to prepared for anything. That takes on a whole new level as a parent.
The venue was a little hard to find. A “turn here!” sign would have been nice, but we just followed all the other lost cars roaming the residential street at 7am to figure it out.
I realized on the way we forgot to pack Caelan shoes. Alan dropped me off and ran to Walmart.
My wireless headphones refused to sync, so my awesome 2k warmup list was useless.
Check in, the volunteer asked what ROCCS stood for. He knew where Citrus County was because the cops gave him a speed ticketing there. Sounds about right, I laughed.
The bathrooms have lockers, so I stow a bunch of gear, strip down to rowing wear, and stash it all. I’m the first chick to jump on the ergs. It’s all older men, who race first.
Initially, the nerves hit hard. Doing pick drill actually works to recenter me. Still nervous, but controllably so. Mouth dry from adrenaline, so I keep sipping.
I stretch. Drink more water. Some women are now rowing. I get back on and start the 2k warm up.
Someone stars talking over a speaker, but it’s so garbled I can’t understand it.
As part of my race prep, I wrote out three index cards with three different plans: “7:45,” “PR,” “Reality.” I wasn’t sure which I’d go with. I wanted to be close to 7:45, a time I consider the next benchmark to beat. I’d settle for being close to my PR. But based on my recent workouts, I thought I’d end up between my PR and 8 minutes.
Based on the 2k warmup, I grabbed “PR.”
Around 17 minutes in, I hear “Ready.” I look over to see the first race start. It’s loud, and kind of cool in a shot-of-terror inducing way. I’m the only one erging. Everyone else is watching. I wonder if I’m being rude? Will I be penalized?
Screw it, I’m warming up.
I finish the warm up. Alan’s back with Caelan. He gives Mommy a kiss.
I see my name on the big screen. There are now six names in my flight. Someone else entered my age group.
The men finish. The women start to walk to their ergs. I join them.
I keep reminding myself to be calm. To breathe. They’ve sandwiched me between the two college girls. Great… they’re either going to smoke me or I’ll kick their butt.
Shoe feels loose. Tie it. Fiddle with the drag. Shove my index cards into the handle holder.
Don’t look at anybody.
“Stop rowing. Prepare.”
The official is very kind. Explains what will happen on our screens. Asks us to prepare. Breathe.
The 2k Race
Practically every rower hates 2ks. Masters really hate 2ks. We race 1k on water, why should be race 2 on the ergs?
And this is about to happen.
Grab handle. Feel the eyes on the back of your neck.
“Row.” A buzzer.
I’m in my head, counting my start, not looking at anything. Half. Half, three quarter, lengthen, lengthen, sit on it. Find it.
10 strokes in and it looks bad. I’m in 5th. Everyone around me is rushing up and down, and here I am, a turtle, plodding. First place is +48 seconds up. She’s either going to crush this or she’ll die. Don’t worry about her.
Stop looking. Breathe. Focus. Let them go. Do not panic.
All concentration is on the stroke rate and spilt. The first 400 I am actively trying to bring down the spilt to a stable number. 1:57. Okay. Stay steady.
Behind me, in the spectators, Alan: “Push! Casey, Push!”
“That is the wrong thing to say right now!” I think, but I’ve got to shove that thought away. He’s being supportive. I gave him key words to say but forgot to say when to say them.
The collegiate girls coach is bouncing between them. He’s saying the right things: Relax. breathe. Relax. I listen to him.
Next 400. Technique. I start counting. Shoulders. Breathe. Steady. Steady. Mental focus so tight on the spilt and stroke rate. Finding a rhythm.
Occasionally, glance at the placement. Gaining ground. Leader +30. Leader +27. 3rd place.
800 down. I’m hanging on that 1:57 like duct tape. It’s now I know I’m definitely going to PR.
Moving through the 1k. Steady, strong, breathe. Hang on that 1:57. No slip.
Gaining ground. 2nd place. Leader +18. +13. +10. Spider sense. People are watching. The coach has become more intense, lowered his voice. Alan’s commanding, Drive! Push! Go, Casey, go!
College girl on left is groaning.
1200k down. Persist. Stay strong. I let the stroke down down just a smidge to gain recovery time. The burn is setting in. I see 1:58 flash a few times; I dig in deeper, pushing it back.
Leader +8. +5.
Do not let her go. Chase.
It’s time. I bring the rate up two beats to 30. Focus is on the leader.
I’ve heard people talk about how their vision narrows as they near the end of a erg race. This definitely happened. I stopped seeing the girls beside me. It was all on my screen. I keep looking for total time, but it’s not there. Just spilt, spilt average, stroke, distance, leaderboard. I never look up at the spectator projector.
Leader +0. +0. +0.
And she vanishes.
Alan: Go! Drive!
250. Do not let her catch you. Go now.
But it hurts.
Who cares. Over soon. Go! Go!
McKenna-Monroe: +2 +3
Go! Trying to keep it down. 1:51. 1:55. 1:53.
Bamn! Over! Handle smacks down.
I’m the first done!
I need off this machine right NOW. Legs are shaking. I can’t take off the stupid straps. Struggle, struggle- will no one help me? Damn it! Finally I get them off and collapse over. Breathing. The girl next to me finishes.
I see the screen. 7:43.8! I broke 7:45! I look back at Alan and smile.
I hurt and I’m thirsty. Need water bad now. Suck some down. I can barely move.
People are clapping for the final racer. I try, but so weak. I have to crawl on my knees to pick everything up. All wobbly finally getting up. I have to row it out, I know this. I go.
Ever get the sick, kind of bloody feeling in your teeth after a hard workout? That’s what I’ve got. Raw and gross.
The college girl that had been on my left sits down on my right to also row it out. She PR’d and broke 8. I gave her my race plan card.
Alan and Caelan sit next to me. Alan’s talking through my race, and about the audience. Apparently I was getting the stink eye afterwards and he may have heard, “Damn, she’s fast.”
Not fast. Just consistent with a big kick.
I saw people were racing Saturday and pulling some amazing times. I know my time isn’t the realm of super fast women, but I’m still proud of this effort. It’s in the 80-90th percentile for my age/gender/USA rowers. Once everyone uploads their scores, I should rank in top 50 once erg season closes.
Considering my training the last few months, to drop 6 seconds off my PR is a real accomplishment. I wanted to do this to work on handling my nerves, and so breaking 7:45 is icing on the cake.
Notes for next time
- Bring a zip-off jacket and not a hoodie
- Roll out more after because my quads are so sore
- Slightly faster start? Not much, but maybe more formal?