Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Belly Button of the Charles

That's about where we finished.

I had been concerned on many fronts: The winning time in the last few years was nearly as fast as the winner in the club event: in the 15:20's, meaning approximately a 16:05 time would be required to make the automatic re-entry. That we had gone 16:56 while we were on a slightly longer course in the prior week was cause for concern, since it wasn't going to take 50 seconds to do the extra 200 meters.

I was also worried that we weren't rowing well.

As my friend Matt pointed out after the race, three things move a boat: Length, Power, and Stroke rate. Hold the same length and power, increase strokes per minute, boat goes fraster. Hold same length and stroke rate, increase power, boat goes faster. Hold same power and stroke rate, increase length… you get the idea. While one may look at a crew and think the question of where to stop the recovery and start the drive is a settled issue, it's not. And inches and centimeters matter in this case.

The next time you're in a hurry and walking fast, try this little experiment: Slow your pace but increase the length of your strides. You'll go faster. This is what length does. Runners and swimmers understand this: Stride and stroke length matter.

My crew, however, had a critical mass of folk who preferred to row short with a high stroke rate when they wanted to go fast. And there were others who still seem to think that if the rate's not high, we're not moving, despite having had the stroke coach (electronic speedometer for a shell) in the boat tell us we were faster at 28 strokes per minute than at 31. Which I believed. But the guys didn't have the guts to try to race it at that pace. "We were pulling really hard" they excused the fast 28. Yeah. And we were going fast. It's sustainable.

We started 22nd.

The warm-up had been so-so, with a strong headwind making the basin rough. Power strokes into the wind got a lot of water in the boat.

The starter was loud and creating a lot of anxiety.

Our cox called for us to firm pressure as we entered the chute. The guys wanted to go to race pace, and the rate came up. Cox called us down. Then the build. The rate came up, but we were a little short and frantic. Not long and efficient.

The crew behind us gave us a little more space than I'd have liked. It indicated an intent to pass.
We shot through the BU bridge, and our cox put us right on the inside of the magazine beach turn. Starboard blades over the buoy line. Risky, yet perfect course. Big turn.

I looked behind us. Bow 24 was moving on bow 23, and both seemed to have closed on us. Bad sign. But turns can be deceptive.

We came out of the turn to the straightaway, and our cox took the perfect line to the center arch of the next bridge. Time to go.

We took a ten, and it seemed to halt the approach of 23, but not 24. 24 had overtaken 23, and was still moving on us. We were definitely going to get passed. Fuck. The question was when.

Not to screw up someone else's piece, but one does want to hold off getting passed as long as possible, and there were bridges coming up. Which could be used to hold them off, or make their passing more difficult.

We approached Weeks bridge with 24 maybe 5 seats open water behind us. And we were catching 19 and 21. It was clear to me that 24's cox was going to try to get close at Weeks and take us before the next bridge.

I made sure our cox knew where they were.

He made the balsy call to take the rate up one and fight them off.

We did.

At the next bridge, we caught the crew in front of us, while 24 put its bow ball between our two stern points. It was the head race equivalent of having one's bumper inches off the tail of the NASCAR opponent in front of you while he's just inches from the car next to him, while going 200 MPH. Anyone mis-steers, and there will be an accident which ruins everyone's race.

On the other side of the bridge, the river opened. 24 pulled to the inside and went away. We overtook Bow 19, and went to work on 21. We needed to have them before the hairpin turn coming up. The inside mattered. We pulled even. We moved up. We slipped in front just as the turn began.

Once more, our cox put the blades over the buoys, this time the port blades, getting our hull as close to the legal boundary with out going over. Then he made the gutsy move to swing slightly wide to get a better angle of attack on the last part of the curve, enterring the lst bridge. 21 moved up a little on the inside of the turn, still holding the buoys. Then we got the inside again as our cox's gambit gave us the better line and we moved out, opening distance between us.

Before the race I had talked with our cox that when it came time to sprint, I wanted him to tell our guys we were sprinting for our teammate Tim, who last year was in our 50 year old 4+ entry, which took second. Tim has been battling a peculiar cancer in a nerve on his face that's forced him to endure so much: facial paralysis, horrific scarring, fear, uncertainty, radiation, exhaustion. Yet he's back with us now, rowing again. Not in my boat, but among us. The sprint was for Tim.

And on call, the guys went for it. My goal was to open distance on 21, who was now only 5 seats of open water behind us. But before we could do that, we'd need to row through 17, whom we'd just caught. Once more, our cox took the best line, the inside of the curve, putting starboard oars over buoys.

We had a quick oar clash with 17, which confused our rhythm, and one of our guys had a slight crab. Cox called for a ten to get the rhythm re-synched, and we mounted a second sprint. I was ready for the finish line, but knew it was probably 10 strokes beyond where I wanted it. Cox called last 15 and I had maybe only 10 more good ones before I was useless.

The margin on 21 was opening.

We crossed the line. In the paddle, I noticed bow 27 had materialized next to us. I had no idea where they came from.

I knew it wasn't great. Getting passed outright, and nearly passed by another crew 5 places behind you isn’t good.

Yes, it's really tough competition. Yes, I had said I'd have been happy just to be there. But it just wasn't good.

We took 17th of 32. Slower time than last week. Yes, there was a raging head wind, and the winning time this year was 40 seconds slower than the time last year. But I think we were slower than last week, and didn't row to our potential.

I'm disappointed. I have to admit that I never thought of my knee once during the race. I just raced. So that's a good thing.

But I want to win. Making the time standard for re-entry matters to me.

The whole thing renewed my commitment to training for next year. I'm going to get my lactate threshold tested, and I'm going to use that approach to my workouts. I don't think I'm doing enough aerobic work, and I'm working at too high an intensity. I also think we'll have a better crew next year. A few of our best guys couldn't make this trip, and it was far from our strongest possible line up.

I'm also disappointed because I saw the video of us that K took. It's right before the last bridge, and my technique looks like crap. I'm hunched and lunging a bit at the catch. The rest of the boat is sitting up straight. I'm collapsed. I was trying to get the length I know we needed.

This weekend will be a race in Sacramento, with a new line-up of mostly our younger, stronger guys. Which will be fun to row, but requires that we beat the crap out of the competition, since we'll have an overwhelming age handicap margin to make up. We'll likely have to make up more than a minute on most crews just to tie.

It'll be fun.