Head Race Rowing Training

Morning training in the 1x with the sunrise coloring a thunderstorm.

Morning training in the 1x with the sunrise coloring a thunderstorm.

Two “Rowing Bucket List” items have been achieved since my last post. I rowed in a pair, successfully, without flipping, and in a relatively straight line, and I began coaching for the Sarasota Scullers Youth Rowing Program.

Now that the season has been in gear and I’ve started learning more about the amazing athletes in the program, as I coach and train for the Hooch, I find myself reflecting back on what I want the junior rowers to do. How do I communicate clearly and effectively to get them to do that perfect stroke every time? When I’m rowing, am I getting that catch I want, the right body preparation, the correct bend on the oar handle? Am I practicing what I preach?

The theme is the same in both departments: long, steady state rows, building endurance and distance. “Laying the base” as we say, for sprint season, starts now in the fall with Head season. We’re pushing down to the start of the Sarasota 5000 race course and running against the current all the way back, dodging rolling manatees and markers. At the clubhouse, the athletes are pounding through erg pieces and hours of power with the weightlifting coach.

It’s not just the youth training. Masters boats, especially quads from my club, SCRC, are out with coaches doing timed pieces and working together to find their race pace.

While I won’t be racing in the first regatta of the season, the Sarasota 5000, hosted by the Scullers, I want to throw my hat in for the Head of the Hooch this year. I used the information from the Level II Coaching Clinic to design a training plan, using all their terminology and example workouts. For the fall, it’s a mix of low rate steady state (18-20spm), medium steady state (20-24spm), and high rate short intervals, spread out over six days, mixed with general body weight conditioning. The plan alternates leg days upper days with core training each day. Each week brings an additional 100 squats, until I hit 1,000 squats. This week it’s at 600.

Alas, I still think it will be too late. I didn’t jump on the ball fast enough for this head race season, but I intend to endure and see how US Rowing’s suggested training methods impact my rowing performance. Rowing results are long-term, not short-term. Every day, every row is about getting faster, stronger, and more balanced. Every squat is about building back the power.

Head races are actually my favorite. I take a while to warm up. Fast and Furious is not my favorite movie series and neither is it my favorite rowing style (aka, a 1k.) But long, even pacing? Oh, yes. I hate that first 1k, but after that it’s all in the sweet spot. Once that perfect rhythm is found, I’m on it like frosting on a cake all the way home. And, as long as I’m not in a 1x, I get more powerful, too, as the strokes fly by and we all sync together. The 1x over distance is much more of a mind game, for me, and that dreaded inner voice. Once I’m in a boat with another suffering person, my brain shifts to doing everything I can to not let my boat mate down.

And that’s what a head race really is: suffering. In Florida, it’s sticky hot through the head race season. It’s impossible to come back dry. To train is to be caked in sweat, to exhaust yourself over miles, to tear yourself apart and build it all up again. All in the name of 1/100th of a second in March.

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Rowing: The Never-Ending Quest for Perfection

The real beauty of rowing lies in its nature. The stroke is a rhythmic, never-ending infinite cycle of catch, drive, release, recover. Catch, drive, release, recover. Catch, drive, release, hands out, pivot forward, slide and catch. On and on, stroke after stroke. But the thing is, the stroke is never perfect. That little carrot is always dangling, and presenting new challenges on the path to become a better rower.

Lately that’s been my mode: how can I make this even better? The stroke is never perfect. Each individual brings their own strengths and weakness to a particular boat on a particular day. In the 1x, I have been working on improving the balance using my core and my legs. I have been trying to eliminate the wobble in my knees as I move up the slide, to stay center regardless of what’s going, to carry that port hand a little higher into the catch.  I switched into a boat less stable than the boat I’d been using to force myself to emphasize balance. The last day I rowed 1x had a strong head wind–I worked on having a later roll-up and cleaning up my release. Then I bowed a 4x, where the focus changed to matching the stern’s stroke while steering the best course for the boat.

Yesterday I rowed a women’s 8+–probably for the first time in a year, and one of the handful of times I’ve swept in the last 365 days. I didn’t expect perfection, but regardless, in my head it was a constant ticker of what to improve stroke-by-stroke. Push down clean at the release outside arm only, balance with the inside hand, aggressive at the top end, match stroke’s movements, stay center in the boat, legs together. All seeking the best possible stroke on that particular day, new blisters and all.

Rowing challenge: Stand up in a 1x without flipping over.

Rowing challenge: Stand up in a 1x without flipping over.

And that’s just the stroke. Rowing holds more challenges, too. There’s upping the stroke rate–how fast can you go at all before losing boat speed? How fast over 1000m? How far can you go-5000m? Albee Bridge and back? Stickney Bridge and back? Around the island? There’s the myriad of boat configurations: 8+, 4+, 2-, 4x, 2x, 1x. Port and starboard, coxing versus coaching, cross winds, head winds, tail winds, incoming tide and outgoing tide, dolphins, manatees, markers, and bridges. Rental boats, jet skis, trawlers, and yachts. Getting waked, rained on, so humid everything sticks, blisters, and track bites. Each and every day, a new challenge in the quest for the perfect row.

And the challenge is never the same for two people. That’s what makes the sport so dynamic and interesting.

What’s the next challenge?

Rowing the 1x on the square 10 strokes no slapping water. (Current personal best: 4)

Rowing a pair.

Building a strong cardio base.

Coaching.

 

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Row-Around-the-Island Challenge: Done

The row-around-the-island challenge almost qualifies as a legend. It’s always someone who heard that so-and-so has done it, like, a Coach saying, “Oh, yeah, Harvard’s 8+ once came down and did it,” or, “I heard that John Doe’s ex-wife used to row out in the gulf.” 

It’s been on my bucket list for a long time. Two years ago I tried to get an 8+ to go do it, but it fell through. Our 4x has talked about it. But it’s always been about the planets aligning in a perfect row. You can plan for the around-the-island row, but there’s no guarantee all the chips will fall in order.

The Route

Here’s what the around-the-island row is:

Around the island path.

Around the island path.

Launch from the Blackburn Point boatyard and head south all the way to Venice. Go under the Albee Bridge, past Snake Island, and out the Venice jetty. Head back north following the Casey Key coastline all the way to Midnight Pass. Carry the boat over the dunes and row back.

Doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, except most small crews heading south turn back at marker 15 for a 10k row. Occasionally boats will go to Albee Bridge or even to Snake Island, which is about 8k. 8+’s training for head season will go to the Bridge or island and back north. There and back is 16k. 

Our inter coastal is tidal, and the further south you go, the more the tide matters. Hit the Albee Bridge at the wrong time in a 1x and you’ll move only inches per stroke at full power.

And the Venice Jetty! Just a few weeks ago some girls on paddle boards were swept into the tidal current and ended up bashed on the rocks lining both sides. They escaped with stitches, but the incident scared them and their parents. The current whips up huge rollers, even whitecaps, at times. It’d be impossible to row against a high tide, but a stagnant tide would be best.

Then there’s the ocean. For a row, it needs to be calm, not foamy hurricane-whipped breakers!

Hence aligning the planets: the right tide at the right time of day with a calm ocean and low winds.

When our 4x discussed doing an around-the-ocean row it was always in the calmer months, not now when the air is thick with humidity, the sun boiling at dawn, and winds unpredictable. It was always assumed we’d be prepared with multiple bottles of liquid and fruit. And it was never, ever, discussed as a single-boat row.

Saturday

Weekends are for sleeping in; for us, a late row is 7 a.m. After two days of a strong onshore wind, the flag dangles limp around the pole with a half-hearted effort to stand up. I’ve forgotten half my usual equipment, like my butt pad and my hat. I do have a towel, extra water in my car, and I smacked some sunscreen on my neck and shoulders before leaving the house. My dry bag has beach sand it from somewhere; the phone is left in the car. 

As a trio, the Night Crew jumps in singles and heads south on an easy incoming current. After picks, I start a 10-20-20 warm-up thinking I’ll do 100-stroke pieces on the way back. My goal is to make marker 15; I want to row a full 10k today. El Capitan is moving up on me in a sleek Fluidesign and I decide to make it a personal goal that she not catch me until marker 15.

By marker 15 we’re still feeling good and the tide is slack. El Capitan asks if I want to go up to Albee Bridge; I’m good for that. The Hot Pink Machine agrees and off we go. It’s only another kilometer or so down, so no big deal. We’ve got time.

Somewhere along the way between the mangroves, on the turquoise water, El Capitan suggests the conditions might be right for a ocean row. After all, the wind’s way down for the first time in ages and water’s pretty flat. What’s the harm in checking it out? The three of us pull into a small beach ahead of Albee Bridge decorated by boulders and fisherman. By now the current’s turned around; it’s pulling my boat towards the bridge slightly. Hot Pink Machine watched the boats while we checked out the gulf.

The ocean’s a calm blue speckled with tarpon boats. We watch their waterline, but there’s no discernible bob. The wind is low and slightly onshore. El Capitan and I decide it’s good to go. And why not? When would this opportunity happen again?

Jacked and ready for the adventure, we top off our water bottles and deliver the news: the around-the-island row is on!

Our stop to check the gulf; Albee Bridge in the background.

Our stop to check the gulf; note the dork in the background.

By now we’ve come nearly 7k. A fisherman nearly hooks me as we push off the shore and scoot under the bridge. The water changes from jewel-green to a murky brown I haven’t seen before. The last time I rowed around Snake Island, the water was clear as a Florida spring and full of manatees–not a nasty run-off stained color.

I’m out front and get the first view through the jetty. It appears relatively stable and definitely is outgoing. Once we cross through there’s no going back. The ocean sparkles beyond. With one last check, yes, we’re going, I row in between the markers.

At first it’s easy. The current has a pull to port, and the channel width is deceptive. It’s narrower at the sea end, so the boulder-hewn walls encroach on both sides.  As I get closer to the ocean, growing rolling swells lift and drop my little boat, larger and larger as the opening gets closer. I stay easy and loose, but it’s a little scary. Fishermen along the shore are watching our pass through, and chasing boats thankfully don’t hit the throttle and zoom past. They’re patient as we rock’n’roll by.

Then we’re through. I make the turn out and the water returns to a cloudy blue. We’re through and in the ocean!

The going is not as calm as it looked onshore. Waves roll in sideways in long, huge swells. Our blades smack on water, miss water, go a little too deep, all depending on whether I’m on the crest or dropped into a trough. There’s no white caps, but it’s rocky. The ocean pushes us around to its whims and not ours. We thread through a field of tarpon fisherman, all whom stare at us in wonder as our Night Crew slides by in our skinny shells.

After a while, the vertigo of rowing on an unstable surface ceases. I find it’s easier to stroke on the wide crest than in the bottom, but it’s not always easy to get the right timing. I stay loose and roll with waves. No crazy moves, just easy, long rowing. The further north we row up Casey Key, the less pronounced the swells become and the water gets easier to row.

Nothing but ocean. Weird after rowing on inter coastal waterways, rivers, and lakes.

Nothing but ocean. Weird after rowing on inter coastal waterways, rivers, and lakes.

The view is amazing. Off to the port side is nothing. Absolutely nothing. No points to navigate by, no boats, no markers, just a mirror of blue with an occasional fishing bird or dolphin fin. Ahead is the fading mirage of the Venice jetty. To the left is Casey Key, a mix of small beach homes and mega-mansions. One El Capitan and I refer to as a hotel because it was the size of one, with huge arches and windows, multiple wings and two stories. The Hot Pink Machine said it was built by an inventor with a plastic molding company. Other houses are stacked angles, or Art Deco, a splash of Mediterranean, wide porches, or all windows and tin roof. Pink-flagged turtle nests dot the sand in all directions.

The sun burns off the haze and the heat turns on as the breeze dies. Blisters start forming on my heels. The Hot Pink Machine gets a blister on her palm and opts to get out at Blackburn Point Road. While she used the phone on the beach, a tiny black dog, like a pomeranian, starting chasing after its owner up the beach dragging the purple beach chair it had been tied to! 

By now I could see the condos on Turtle Beach and figured we had 2.5k to go to Midnight Pass. The stop was long enough to make my back protest as we pushed offshore and continued north. I tried rowing feet out but with the rocking ocean, it wasn’t working. I counted 100 stokes, and another 100 strokes. We could see people swimming along an isolated stretch of shore. Another 50 strokes and there, a kayaker emerged over the dune towards the swimmers. We’d arrived.

IslandRow3To celebrate, I collapsed into the cool water. By now we’d come 21k. The ocean at Midnight Pass was clear all the way out over my head, and calm, unlike other visits. We threw the oars on the beach and one by one, carried the boats up and over, put the oars back in, and set out for the final push.

Boat traffic zoomed along the inter coastal waterway. One guy made comments about our rowing shells sliding by in the pass; he waked us when we reached the channel. We stopped a few times for short, choppy waves to pass underneath. All the morning haze was gone, and so was the energy. I started counting again, rowing feet out and socks off to prevent the burning blisters on my heels from growing. 

We pulled in at 10:50, 24.2 kilometers (15 miles) later, around-the-island row accomplished. In singles, no less!

IslandRow4

 

 

 

 

 

All photos: El Capitan.

 

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Summer Rowing

Summer rowin’, havin’ a blast/Summer rowin’, happened so fast.

Met a marker, over went me!/Hey manatee! Don’t hit me!

The Boykin at our launch point, ears flapping in the salty breeze.

The Boykin at our launch point, ears flapping in the salty breeze.

Since coming back from Australia, the oar handles have been slippery with humidity, clothes sticky walking from the car to the gate, and boat covers soaked from late afternoon rain.

Taking proper precautions is important. It’s that time of year where extra hydration matters! I switched to bringing a bottle instead of my flat bladder and have committed to emptying it by the drive home and drinking a second within the hour. Dehydration headaches are not fun.

Sunscreen is a must. And bug repellent at the boat yard. Sand flies love a breakfast of hot, sweaty women first thing in the morning.  But washing hands after applying is equally important. Sunscreen increases slippery handles and bug repellent makes the plastic handles I use extra tacky, but not in a good way.

Double rainbow from a rain cell during sculling camp.

Double rainbow from a rain cell during sculling camp.

All the Florida wildlife is out, too. Our 4x had an close encounter of the sea cow kind not too long ago. It lifted our bow clear out of the water. The tail thwacked our riggers and splashed us all as it took off, equally as scared as we were! Dolphins aren’t so scary, but fun to watch. And reportedly, a sea turtle was spotted in the inter coastal!

An early morning storm rolls inland.

An early morning storm rolls inland.

And it’s not just animals. The other wildlife, the crazy boaters, are also heading out for a warm day of fishing. Jet-skiers and boat rentals are the worst. Jet-skiers treat us like obstacles to row circles around and boat rentals just don’t know the rules. Apparently “no wake” means “ram on the throttle” and “swamp the single!”

Summer rowing means watching the weather. Microcells and thunderstorms form at the snap of a finger and vanish just as quickly. Lightning can ruin any rower’s day. It’s not uncommon to see a gaggle of rowers staring at the distant thunderheads judging distance and its potential direction.

On the flip side, all the thunderheads and storms make for some spectacular sunrise and sunset rows!

The sunset lights up a thunderstorm.

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Rowing After Vacation

The wind kicks from the west as three sculling boats skim the lee shore followed by a motor launch and an echoing megaphone.

To the silver boat: “That’s perfect! Whhooooosh! Whhoooosh!”

To the white boat: “Use those long arms for leverage. Really hang on it.”

To the green boat: “Somebody’s rowing like they’ve been on vacation.”

That would be me, second day back in the skinny Sweet P. Like all Florida summer rows, the morning is dawning a brilliant blue heat. Sticky at 8 a.m. with a salty breeze that’s chopping the water and blowing the rotting bird crap scent across the bay. I haven’t been drinking enough water, so already I’m spent and thirsty with two gulps left in the leaking bottle. My hands are slipping around on the oar and I’m reminding myself not to be frustrated. It’s been over three weeks since I sat in a boat.

Coming back after a long break isn’t easy in any sport. In rowing, there’s so much that hurts. After three kilometers, muscles that aren’t used in normal life are aching, reminding me, “we’re here!” Like my chest. Something uncomfortable popped in my hip. My lower back is tight. And the hands–oh, the tender hands! Scabs of skin peel off as the last of the old calluses go. Blisters reform and my fingers turn red and dry from the persistent rubbing.

After three water days in a row, my hands protested. Day off please. Let us rest and toughen up.

When coming back, it’s important to remember to take it slowly. I talk to myself. No, your endurance isn’t the same. It can be built back up, but going out and knocking out a 10k is a surefire way to get pushed back on your bum. Just get out there. Take it easy. Do technique. Use the time to fix your right hand grip. Get the feel for the boat, the oars in the water, the glide…let it all come back.

Drink tons of water. I didn’t feel thirsty before day one and ended up with a massive migraine. Water, water, water. And in the summer? More water. I felt behind everyday until yesterday, after sucking down four 32-oz bottles over the course of the day. 

When the early hours come, roll out of bed and just go. You’ll get used to it again eventually. No one likes it, but when it’s 90 degrees at 9 am, the early hour doesn’t feel so bad.

The rewards? Getting back in shape. Beautiful summer sunrises full of puffy clouds and occasional sun dogs. Flatter water with reduced summer boat traffic. Rowing.

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Video: Sarasota Sunrise Row

While I have been slack on posting rowing updates, I have been slicing blades into the water ways, simply appreciating my time rowing in a single early in the morning. Here’s a time lapse from one of my sunrise rows.

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Mud, Buoys, and Handicaps: The Sarasota Invitational Regatta

I have attended four of the five Sarasota Invitational Regattas (I missed the first one because we were hunting for a place to live, ironically, in Sarasota) and this year’s SIR was the first one with GREAT weather.  Sunshine, 70s, and low winds. Sure, the mornings created weather delays, but no one was a frozen popsicle, the lake wasn’t surf-worthy, and everyone was able to point their bows down the course. Success indeed.

My SIR experience began when my Celica won a free mud bath as it was directed towards a parking spot in the lot near Sports Authority. I gunned it through the sliding slush, leaving swerve marks across the formerly grassly lot. I exited my chocolate sports car to hear someone who shall remain nameless but works at SANCA yelling at the poor parking attendant kid about not waving people through the mud pit.

An early morning downpour had left the island a hot mess of puddles and mud pits, delaying the start of races over an hour as the team scrambled to get everything ready after being swamped out in the wee pre-dawn hours. After that, the regatta ran like a breeze. I watched from the finish line as race after race pushed towards the line, often in quick succession as the ROC tried to catch up the day. Occasionally I set off on an errand for someone, but most of the day was in the shade and closely located to bathrooms.

No, the most interesting part of my Saturday at SIR came at the end, when I managed to swerve and navigate my car 30 feet before it tragically sank into the La Sports Authority Tar pits. As I stood ankle-deep in mud, phone flashlight in hand assessing the depth of my tires, car door wide open, the thankful parking lot denizens used my road blockade to navigate safely around the mud pit. I was so happy to serve the public as a giant, muddy safety cone, “DO NOT DRIVE HERE.” And the fire ant pile that I happened to get stuck in was the metaphorical icing on the spa treatment. One SCRC member stopped to ask, “ARE YOU STUCK?” Yes, I was stuck. With a little help and push backwards, then forwards, I made it to solid turf. away from that parking lot, and to a water-only shower.

Sunday

10 for drop and push

The first event of my day: coxing a Mixed 4+. The boat’s goal was to go faster than the weekend before and my personal goal was not to crash into anything thereby cause damage to boat and ego.

The new traffic pattern on the lake did not allow for significant warm-up time or space, and, since I forgot my dry-bag, I had no way to tell time. I didn’t want us to be late to the start. I did my best to get the crew warmed up on our way down to the lake, trailing behind an OARS boat, until we turned towards the end of the fully extended wave attenuator to the marshal and were called into lane 6. We rowed up in line with the other 4+’s. Thus far we were in our lane and hadn’t hit anything–a good omen. The 6’1 stroke seat in the Miami boat next to us stood up and bent over to touch his toes, to which I got a little cheeky and said, “Show off!” The guy answered, “I’m stretching.” Clearly he didn’t appreciate my sense of humor, nor my request he stand on his head for his next trick.

The marshals called us up to the platforms and now I became nervous. High potential for boat damage, but the light winds had pushed us over perfectly to the starboard side. We rowed up lightly, but one rower responded late to my call and changed our approach angle. We cleared the start platform, but not the shade tent which port side effectively took out. The poor kid flattened out on the dock to avoid the head whack and I had to remind him to grab our oar before we drifted past.

Now we waited. All boats were in position early. I asked different combinations of rowers to tap our point here and there, as the crosswind was light but still pushing us to starboard. Lane 6 had a great reference point at 1000 meters out: it looked like we were perfectly aligned with the Cattleman Road Bridge.

The polling of boats began as we were still askew a bit to starboard. There wasn’t time to fix it. I commanded 3 to give 2 back her oar and wrenched the rudder to port to accommodate as the referee called “Sarasota County.”

“Sit ready,” I said, firmly wedged backwards in the cockpit.

“Tallahassee. Attention. Go.”

And off we shot. I barked the starting sequence followed by the ten, calling “Drop and push!” Counting “ten! Shift! Find our solid pace.” Now I took a glance at the boats. Lane 5 had shot off like a rocket. We were holding pretty firm onto lane 7 and I could see Jacksonville was ahead of us, but not significantly so.

“You’re holding onto Tallahassee, that’s a great start,” I said, before remembering that I was not supposed to reference other teams but to see how fast we could go. That was my one and only call about another boat for the rest of the race.

I remember seeing the first bobbing red buoy for the 250 and calling it. Off the start I kept us in our lane, but I swerved to starboard off the start. I expected to hear a ref boat call it, but none came–I guess because there was nobody for us to careen over. I overcorrected slightly to port, only to have us drift back to starboard. By the time I put us on a straight course, we were running the buoys on our starboard side under the blades and I decided just to stay there than to get us dead center. We were straight, not hitting them, the refs didn’t seem to care, and our crew wasn’t impeding anyone’s progress.

To keep the crew moving down the course, I pulled everything I could from memory that we worked on in practice. “10 for dropping and pushing,” “remember that release position,” “push that oar down and away at the release,” “light on those feet up the recovery,” “eyes up, chins up,” anything at all. I called a 10 as we approached the 500, crossing the red buoy right at the 10. I let them know the island was coming. The red buoys for 750 were coming. Up 2 in 2. Push it in. 20 more strokes. 10 more good ones. A tickle crawled into my throat out of no where; I fought the urge to cough into the microphone but had to, twice. The horn beeped and the race over.  Everyone was alive and the boat intact.

I let them know they’d held onto Tallahassee for quite a while, about 350 meters, before the boat pushed away, and the Jacksonville boat had been relatively close, too. We made it all the way back to the dock, landing safely, boat in slings, and my sprint race cox was checked off the bucket list. And the crew dropped their time by 34 seconds. Five more and they would have been 6th instead of 7th. Not too shabby, I think.

Old, the new first place

Midday I observed our crews having a fantastic day of racing on the course. I filmed and snapped pictures, uploaded videos to Facebook, cheered on the Night Crew out in Mixed 2x’s. The Novice 8+ won by huge boat lengths, and I figured as soon as I spied our women’s 8+ in third across a narrow field that they had probably won, too, with their ridiculous 60+ handicap. They did. Our boats had two gold medals. The Boat Captain came back in hoping for a win, but lost by a second for second place, the 28-second handicap from Miami Beach too much to overcome in 1000 meters. The other Night Crew women came in third and fourth, despite never having rowed with their partners before.

I attempted to get ready for the Mixed 4x, but due to my inability to run (and the mud pit,) it’s not easy. I spent half my warm-up time looking for my set of oars. Someone finally found set “C” buried under all the sweep oars in the trailer but by then it was over.

I composited into a crew with Potomac Boat Club. The guy in 2 had already rowed three races and was apparently sick. At least he was warmed up after hot seating from a men’s quad. We did nothing but steady state down to the start, worried that we would be late although Treasure Coast was also hot-seating and were still waiting next to their boat in slings when we pushed off the dock.

Latching on to the platform switches on a current of emotions. I was nervous coxing, but nothing like sitting backwards in a seat facing the start platform.

When I get nervous, I start talking. First I whined. “I’m not warmed up,” I said. “This is going to be bad.” Stroke nodded. “Why the hell am I doing this to myself again?” I looked right at the younger crews in lanes 2 and 3. “Do you think [Sarasota] Crew is going to show up? Someone’s coming. Oh, that’s Treasure Coast. I don’t see them. We’ll still win, no matter what. There’s Miami (the boat we knew to watch out for). God, this sucks.”

The referees announced Sarasota Crew had not launched and therefore they planned to start ahead of schedule as all other boats were locked on. I blew the air out, then sucked a lungful in and held it, well aware that I was a) not adequately warmed up to race, b) everything that was about to happen to me in the next four minutes would be painful, and c) I would try as hard as I could anyway.

Normally I stare at the flag, but this day I didn’t. My eyes were glued onto the back of stroke seat. We rammed off the start platform, but Treasure Coast got an early jump on us. In the start was all swirls of water, revving engines, yelling, wheels rolling and oars clacking. I never saw the red 250 buoy, but I knew we were in it. The TCRC boat immediately left of us slowly disappeared from my field of vision, but I could hear them the whole race so I knew we were staying close. The rest of the field opened up and with each stroke Miami Beach all the way to our left became more visible in the third position.

Meanwhile the pain accelerated from 0 to burning hot lava. My lungs seared as I gasped for air. I’d gone straight from the freezer to the the fryer and I was smoking. But I refused to slack off, zeroing in on the back of stroke, counting strokes in my head, reminding myself it’d be over before I knew it and to push, push, push. The buoys turned red and we drew a swiggle in our lane. The “Up 2” call came. SMACK! My port oar punched a buoy, jumping out of my hand in a ruckus of water and speed. I lunged and snatched it, driving the oar down out of the water and over the buoy. The incident was a second, but the moment it happened I just knew that one second, that the one hit of my oar on the buoy, had cost us.

We crossed the line second chasing Treasure Coast’s stern. The metallic taste of copper oozed into my mouth. My teeth ached, my heart struggled to pump oxygen, and I felt sick. Water rolled in my stomach. The “S” on my oar had a large circular chunk missing from the collision with the buoy. It took over an hour for my heart rate to finally level out and my teeth to feel solid in my jaw. By then the results had been posted, and sure enough, our Mixed 4x was officially second by a second to Miami Beach, with a 28-second handicap to our 14 seconds.

Oh, buoy

The next regatta is around the corner, and moving forward after SIR I ponder the future of our boatings. The boats that ruled the day were not always the young and fit, but the old and in shape. The women’s 1x overall winner beat the fastest overall raw time on the lake due to a 20-second handicap. Do not take that the wrong way–she had a good raw time, too and I am not suggesting she did not deserve the win. After seeing four, five boats with massive handicaps (including my club’s own) paired with individuals in decent shape for their age, it makes me wonder what my chances are being competitive on the water. A 20-second lead over a 1000m distance is tough to overcome.

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