2021 Masters Nationals-Day 4

After a pretty good night’s sleep with at least two crazy rowing dreams, one in which I’m being asked to “stroke cox” an 8, I had an early wake-up to prepare for my morning rice. Day 4 is the final day of US Rowing Masters Nationals. Unlike the other days, I have three events and I’m planning on four finals, for a total of four trips down the course. After the disappointment yesterday, I have high hopes for today.

Morning Fog

My first race has a scheduled time of 8:08 am, meaning this is the earliest race I have and the first time that I have needed to be at the course in the morning. Oak Ridge is notorious for having thermal inversion fog which makes it impossible to row in the early morning hours. I woke up at 5:45 and kept looking for the text that said, “yes, there is fog on the course, our race is going to be delayed,” but it didn’t come. 

There’s a race course under there somewhere.

So I had to pack up all my stuff and be dressed and go to the course by 6:30. Naturally, I get there and there’s fog on the water. Clearly, we are not going to row at 8:08. The Regatta Organizing Committee/ Referees started off with a 30-minute delay, which became another 30 minutes delay, which became another 30-minute delay. By then I’m hungry because all I ate was oatmeal. We’ve been walking around, talking at our boat, standing on our feet, staring at the fog. After the third delay, I went back to the tent to eat and sit down. It was clear that the fourth 30-minute delay was probably going to be the last one because the fog was starting to thin and lift. In sum, two hours behind again.

Mixed C 8+

This boat was a true Coast-to-Coast composite boat made up of row hours from DC to Washington State. It was put together by the Steady State Network, which runs a podcast for Masters rowers. I saw a Facebook post that they needed a master’s woman in their thirties or forties to row port. I checked my schedule and volunteered myself. It looked like it was going to be a really good race and I had pretty high expectations that we would definitely be in the final.

We launched when they were still just wisps of fog on the water. It was actually really cool to be rowing through it because the fog was only about eye level off the water. It was neat to see it swirling around and floating in layers, although I’m sure our cox’n didn’t appreciate the differences in thickness. There were definitely some patches up in the warm-up area that were still rather thick and we had to yell at a double to watch out for us.

This was our first time being in the boat together. We were borrowing a boat from a boat vendor renting to any team. We had to turn around right away at the launch area because we realized four seat’s backstay was on backward. How you can get to day 4 of a regatta like this and not realize that a backstay was put on backward is a little confusing. It just seems to me that someone else would have rowed it before us and realized “something is wrong, my oar keeps getting stuck. Oh, look the backstay is on backward.” 

Luckily, we hadn’t left the lagoon yet so it was a very quick turnaround. We went to the recovery dock closest to the boat vendor. They saw us coming in, met us, and it was a pretty quick fix. Go back out again for our first row together. 

We spend some time trying to find our rhythm and the balance. For this boat, I was sitting in 2-seat, which I rarely do. It’s always an interesting change. From that vantage point you really get to see what everyone else is doing and you could definitely tell there were some style differences. It was everything from whether you turn the oar over to back the boat to how you hold the blade when you stop rowing as a crew. Some people were much lower to the water and some almost gunneled their oars. And then there are some in-stroke differences with how they carry the blade and how they work the finish. Sitting in two seat, I watch all those different styles trying to come together to make the boat as efficient as possible.

Whenever I do sit in bow pair, I see my primary mission to be technically clean as possible to give the boat a good set and send. I focused on making sure I had clean finish, solid core work, and really giving that boat the set it needs so that the power from the six people in front of me can really make the boat accelerate. Any power I add is icing.

We lock into the start and the referee gives us a late to the start warning. Confused–we were there and locked on, same as every other boat. 

The start will the roughest part. Men like to hammer down, and from our short practice up to the start, I could see these men really liked to pressure up right away. That’s risky in a composite boat you haven’t practiced before. All it takes is one person overpowering the other side and you’re off-course, stuck under the water, or caterpillar rowing.

Our start does get us off the line. I’m totally mentally focused on setting the boat. I can see we are ahead and moving up on the boat to our port side. I don’t look any further right than my peripheral vision.

I’m so zeroed in on the timing with our stroke, 3-seat in front of me, and squeezing the core at the release that I don’t see it happen, but I feel it. The jar in the rhythm, the lurch to the side. Water is spraying up from 7’s oar and it’s slicing around in the water. He’s caught a crab! Get it out, get it out, get it out! We can recover and not lose ground if he can pop it out quickly. 

But he can’t. The momentum has snagged the oar and swung it full parallel with the boat. He can’t recover it until we slow down. He finally frees it, swings it over his head, and we pick it right back up without missing a beat. 

The crab’s turned our boat, so we have to steer back straight first before we can all truly get back in sync. By now the field’s gone. The crab happened just outside the breakage zone, about 200 in. I don’t know how far down we are–it’s still possible to catch up but it will be tough. 

Now it’s about finding a rhythm. The cox’n is great. She never panics, never sounds frantic. Just encouraging us to find the pace and hammer down. The boat is accelerating. My listening is backward; I’ll be one of the first to know if we’ve caught up. Only the cox’n knows how far down we are, and I have to trust her calls and be as strong as possible. I still want to be in the final, and I have to believe we can find enough speed to catch and row through one boat.

But we don’t. As the red buoys come into view and we sprint, I can start to see and hear the puddles of the other boat. A deck comes into view, then the cox’n, but I know we haven’t made it.

It’s a disappointment because we really had the speed in place to make the final, but this is racing. These things happen. For some, this was their only event of the regatta, so I feel bad they missed a shot at the final.

Women’s Open A 8+

Now I have one less event and more time to watch some races. I get to see someone who’s been working very hard on rowing a single make the B 1x final. That was cool.

Our Women’s Open A is a composite with two women from New Haven and two from Ann Arbor. Again, we’ve never rowed together before this actual race. I’m in 7 for this boat. 

I expect to get a medal out of this one. I was hoping for a win, but as soon as all the boats corralled at the marshaling area that was clearly going to be a challenge. New Orleans A boat had some stacked women, and Lincoln Park’s crew wasn’t that far off, either. 

The warning-happy referee gave a warning to New Orleans for being late to the start. They were there, same as the rest of us, locking on at two-minute warning.

Lincoln Park shot off at the start. We had New Orleans’ A boat deck for a while, but they moved away seat by seat. Our start was a bit slow, and we held onto New Orleans’ B boat through the 250 before we finally started opening water.

Our cox’n for this race was more aggressive on the calls than the day before. The boat seemed to be moving well, but we just didn’t have the same inborn speed as the other two boats. Still, bronze is a bronze.

Women’s Open A 8+

Mixed B 4x

Final race of the regatta, and I had big expectations heaped on this one. I concocted a race plan and everything. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Some fast teams were entered in this race, and we had a second team boat entered. I hoped we’d go 1-2. That didn’t stop me from offering our inter-team competition margaritas or hamburgers an hour before the race. 

We only practiced this line-up one time. Three practices were scheduled, but we canned the other two for various reasons. Mostly because our first one went so well, it didn’t seem pressing to get in more.

While walking somewhere–I think on the way to the boat–my all-weekend rowing buddy pitched the idea we swap seats so that I would stroke. I stroked the quad that won on Thursday, she said it was the best start we’d had all regatta, maybe I should try again?

I hesitated about tinkering with the lineup, but then, why not? Any seat, any time, right?

On our way out of the lagoon, I could hear 2 and 3 talking about the stroke. I asked if I was getting 2-seat wet. Three said no, he was just commenting on how long the stroke was. As I found out later, the question I should have asked was, “is 3-seat getting wet?” because apparently all the way up to the start I was back splashing her like crazy. Whoops. I bet there was some regret about the switch in that moment. Apparently I didn’t do that in the race. 

At this point, everyone’s warmed up. The men have raced at least twice, and fairly close together. Three and I have raced in the women’s 8+. 

No current, but some tailwind. Will still be fast conditions. 

I’m feeling nervous now. Lots of pressure. Stroking, and my last shot. I’ve been boasting a bit the last three days about how I plan to win. Time to put up.  

I have three-seat’s stroke coach. It’s locked on ready to go. 

“…Greater Columbus….Atomic Rowing…Attention…”

Eyes on the red flag. She drops it before she speaks, so I’m moving on the “G—” of “Go.”

Counting and breathing. That’s the first five. Not a hammer, not power, count and breathe every stroke.

Then the high 10. Now it’s speed and acceleration. Quick glance. 38,39 SPM.

Shift, but it’s not a shift. It’s all about legs. I open up the swing. Count to 5.

“Power!” calls 3 right on time. A quick power 5 to gain speed. 

Atomic is right on us to our left. Lane 4 has dropped back a bit. I keep my eye on Atomic. I don’t plan to lose.

Counting to breathe. 33spm, 34spm, 33. Kind of high. I try to length the rate down but our split slows. I leave it alone. If 33 is where we want to be, we will stay. I glance occasionally just to make sure our spilt stays 1:38-1:40.

Looking for the 500. We’ve started inching away on Atomic.

Big yellow buoy. Legs! Counting 10, focus on the footplate connection. 

“Power!” Counting 10. Right in middle of the power is a wake. I hope it doesn’t screw us up, and I keep powering through it.

This is hurting now. I can see the field, from Atomic all the way over to our other team boat. They’re hanging in there, too! We’re ahead, but I know they have power and a kick. 

Power 10 is over. Every stroke has all the power. Breathe, breathe, hang on.

Yellow buoys. Red is coming. Just hang on, hang on, hang on.

“UP!” someone yells. Stroke rate up, 34, 35. Red buoy. Now is the time to find more.

Side eye to our yellow boat. They’re moving but I won’t let them catch us. Atomic is close, but I won’t let them catch us. 

It hurts. Every single stroke hurts. 

I look down at the stroke coach. I’d forgotten until this point it shows meters, because any time I’ve looked it’s been for rate and spilt. 100 meters to go. I can do anything for 100 meters. Come on, Casey, 10 more strokes.

I count each one, pushing as hard as possibly can, 10 to 1. 40 meters left, it’s ticking down fast, the screen’s gone black, eyes up on the horizon, listen for horn, push, push, BEEP. 

We’ve done it! A win to start, a win to finish! I look to our other team boat in time to see them finish second. They’ve done it, too, in a photo finish with Atomic. 

Our trophy

I’m so tired. My lats and upper back muscles feel the strain of hanging, the glutes are on fire, all the legs exhausted. No more racing.

I wrap up Master’s Nationals with 3 medals, two golds and a bronze, plus one 5th place in the final. 

The End

Storm moves in

Unfortunately, the end is frantic as thunderstorms move in. It’s like Grand Rapids all over again, except this time we got to finish racing. Everyone is finishing the derig and load frantically trying to beat the storm. A parade of big diesel trucks drives down the lane while people are shuttling oars and boats every which way. Luckily, we’d been good about derigging and loading as boats wrapped up, so we only had a few to load and most of those were already derigged.

But it means we didn’t get a good team picture or get to bask in the post-Nationals glory of eating all the bad things.  

A few of us did stop for some mediocre Italian food and to change out of our disgusting sweat-baked unisuits. I arrived home just before 1am. I did get up with Caelan this morning. His best lines:

Rowers who Mom. Two golds and a bronze.

“Mommy, I haven’t seen you in a long time! It’s been 80 days!”

“I’m putting on your medals. They’re so cute!”

It’s so cute!

[Showing him the bowl trophy from the Mixed 4x] “What do you eat out of it?”

Me: “I brought my bike because it was a big regatta; it made it easier to get around.”

Him: “How many people were there?”

Me: “Oh, lots of people! It was very busy.”

Him: “Like 50 people?”

About camckenna

I write; I row.
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