Fall training for the HOTC

Ever since Cuyahoga, all the focus has been on the Head of the Charles. I will be racing in two events, the Senior Masters Women’s coxed four and a Director’s Challenge Mixed 8+.

In the grand scheme of things, training has been going pretty well. A few challenges, as always.


Some days the idea of waking up early to practice is overwhelming. That was me after Cuyahoga. Three days later, the race performance fail was still stinging. The last thing I wanted to do was load the 1x, wake up at 5am, and spend another 60-90 minutes torturing myself. Root canal. 

Alan pushed me to go in the single on Tuesday, even though I didn’t want to. But the forecast for Wednesday–my intended party’s over day–sucked, so I did it. 

The morning blossomed with pink hues and dancing fog across the water. Still not feeling the mojo, I skipped the planned workout, stroke coach, and people, and rowed lightly past bird island. Stopped when I wanted. Admired the scenery for as long as I wanted. Listened to the quiet. It turned into a healing row. Sometimes you need those.

Arm plans

To prevent another right arm seize up, I took a multi-step approach. One: arm compression sleeve. Two: wrist exercise rubber handles for stretching and strengthening. Done at least once each day. Three: deep tissue massage. 

The arm and elbow were tight as I twisted the rubber handles daily. It didn’t seem to improve, and the arm locked up during a strength training workout. (Dumbbell snatches) The professional massage two days after the second lock-up was incredibly painful but needed. Even the masseuse commented on how tight they were. 

I have not been sculling so much lately. Given how tight the arm has been, it’s probably a good thing. 

HOTC training

The big focus the last few weeks is the Head of the Charles. A rower invited me to join the Allies With Oars Directors Challenge Mixed 8+, a composite boat championing inclusiveness in rowing. This was mostly the Mixed 8+ boat we raced at Cuyahoga, minus two persons.

I’d been trying to get a women’s 8+ training for fall regattas but could not lock in eight individuals, causing that effort to fail. But in the process, two rowers mentioned they’d be interested in doing the Charles. I was already going, so why not try? The entry for a Senior Masters 4+ was accepted.

Since then, most training has been for the SM4+, benefiting the Mixed 8+.

My two cents is coxed fours are the most challenging boat to race. They’re heavy, thanks to the coxswain, and unforgiving to set. 

In the early days, the practices were trying to figure out what would be the best boat and the right lineup. We spent a lot of time down on the starboard, especially me. It was frustrating because dragging the blade across the water isn’t usually one of my issues, but I couldn’t seem to fix it. Handle high, down in starboard. Handle low, even more down on starboard. Pull high at the release, down on the starboard. Catch timing, down on the starboard. What the…?

The club lacks an official coach, so there isn’t a unified approach to the stroke among the members. It’s hard to be “any seat, any time” when there are different options and styles on the release timing, the blade preparation, and the catch philosophy. 

And as adult women with busy work schedules and trips planned months before the Charles was even a thought bubble, we’re constrained by practice schedule availability while trying to unify different rowing styles into a cohesive lineup.

But we have had some coaching, and the last few practices have finally turned the corner. The boat we will use has been solidified, as has the lineup. I’m now stroke seat. We’re bobbing instead of running down on starboard. I can feel everyone fighting for it.

The latest worry has been the stroke rate. Our first attempts didn’t go so well, and I wasn’t keeping the pace. Bad rhythm and inconsistent.

Last season I struggled to get to 28spm all head race season. It was a thing, ask McKennato.

Could we get to 28?

Hoover Fall Classic

The 4+ lineup entered the Hoover Fall Classic but as a 4x because of scheduling conflicts. My two worries were stroke rate and if my arm would seize up again, leading to a disaster for my crew. It’s one thing to happen in the 1x, but repeating in a crew boat would let three other teammates down. 

I was already doing what I could for my arm. The best thing I could do for the stroke rate was to practice it. In addition to the existing training plan and weight lifting, I sat on the erg every day for the week before Hoover and forced myself to maintain 28. I turned the drag factor down to save my back and didn’t worry about power. Just zero in on maintaining that spm with a good rhythm. Each day I added another minute to the total time. Thursday, pre-regatta hit 11 minutes at 28 spm.

Regatta morning dawned cold and frosty clear. We discovered the afternoon before that the organizers shifted the regatta start due to the cold weather, so our event time backed up an hour. One rower had a flight conflict, so we had to make a last-minute substitution. Nothing like a no-practice race. 

The Hoover Regatta is just 20 minutes from the house. It’s weird to have only one race and for it to be in the middle of the day. Not many races where you can still sleep in. It also makes packing somehow more challenging when you don’t need to bring all the food, chairs, and yoga mats. 

What do you wear when it’s cold but the race time is 12:15 and partly cloudy? Temperatures called for near 50°. That’s on the cusp of needing layers and not requiring layers. It depends on the wind and sunshine, two aspects you can’t read well until you’re on the lake. 

Launching was a mess because they only had one dock for launch and recovery. At this point in the season, this regatta is likely some of the youth rowers’ very first or maybe second regatta ever. They’re still learning what to do. Forget 90 seconds on the dock; you’re lucky if they shove off in three minutes. And then you have to factor in all these new coxswains and bow rowers trying to dock their doubles, fours, and eights. Mess. We were standing in the queue 20 minutes before our race time, still waiting for eights to launch. I’m talking about waiting behind bow number 134, and our quad is bow 158. I wasn’t panicked about it because clearly, we were not too late to race if two events before us were still waiting to get on the water. Obviously, we eventually launched (after cutting the line). 

The Hoover Fall Classic is a straight 5000 m course with one bridge about one mile to go. Easy.

We nailed a chute buoy right at the start on the port side. I’m talking a Titanic iceberg, run all the boat riggers, bam-bam-bam-bam kinda hit. Then the start horn, instantly. Despite being discombobulated, I followed the plan to start with a high 10 followed by a settle.

I accelerated right to a 31 and shifted right onto the 28. I honed on keeping the hands light, maintaining that number, and keeping an eye on the boat chasing us. For our boat to win, we must ensure they do not pass us. We have the better handicap, so they can close the ground, but they cannot row through us. I’m watching how they are moving and assessing if we are losing too much ground.

About 600 meters off the start, I’m startled by a northbound youth quad on our port side. The big fat orange balls are supposed to be on the starboard side, but somehow the orange marker was waaaayyyy on the port side. We are in the travel lane, a seriously dangerous situation, and a slowdown. We can recover from the major course correction, no big deal; still lots of room to go.

After getting back on course, we had this patch where the quad was just moving brilliantly. The rhythm was in sync, down to the release timing. Our splits were solid and steady, and you could feel the drive propelling us down the course. I didn’t want to mess with that magic, so I didn’t say a word. I was still tuned into that 28.

Until we missed another buoy, which jarred the rhythm. No power 10s or calls seemed to get it back. We went under the wrong span of the bridge. In the last 1000, a junior double was in the way, impacting our steering. It got heavy and a bit frantic. I was still at a 28, but we weren’t moving the boat well. The other quad started really accelerating, but we had enough distance and gas left that they only closed with 1.5 boat lengths.

Goal 1: The stroke-by-stroke replay showed I held a 27.5 and 28 the whole way down, minus the up-tempo at the start and finish.

Goal 2: As for the arm, if it cramped like it did in Cuyahoga, I planned to go on the square while the others kept the feather. I had my compression sleeve on and stretched it out in advance. I had a massage that week. I did everything I could to be ready for this.

Around six minutes and 10 minutes, it started to feel tight. I focused a little more on being light with my hands and backed off the pressure a little bit, prioritizing keeping a steady stroke to the end. At 18 minutes, that tightening feeling crept up again. Of course, that is near the race’s end, when you’ve got about 500 to 600m left to go. That part of the race was rough, with the steering challenges and finding our pace. I was also trying to bring the pressure up because of the chasing boat’s move. They had a serious kick. The rating shifted as we got closer to the finish line, going to 29 and 30. The hand started to seize more. It probably would have locked up if we had to row another 500 meters. But we didn’t, and the 4x crossed the unicorn finish line without a Cuyahoga repeat. 


Erg cough is a thing

The next day, one of the ladies in the 4x asked if I had the erg cough all day after the race. I’ve never heard that term, but if I row really hard, I usually develop a cough for the rest of the day, especially on those drier, cold days. Apparently, it’s a thing up here and they call it the erg cough.

Other random training notes

Additionally, with this uptick in training and intensity, I finally lost that pesky pandemic weight. Huzzah! On the day of the Hoover regatta, I was down seven pounds.

I possibly said the most millennial thing ever at training earlier this week–a rower wondered about a reddish star overhead. Ahem: “I don’t know, but I have an app for that.”

Fall rowing in Ohio also literally goes from shorts and sunglasses to multiple layers and pogies.

I swear, there’s no transition period. Where’s the 70/50 days? 

Lastly, the Head of the Charles is one week today, and of course, Caelan is now sick in the worst timing ever. Alan is gone and there’s no “social distancing” a five year old. He doesn’t get why I want him to wear a mask in the car. I’m masking around the house, but there’s not much I can do but wait and hope I dodge this bullet.


About camckenna

I write; I row.
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