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.

About camckenna

I write; I row.
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