Monday, February 18, 2013

CRASH-Bs – A new experience

This winter, for a bit of cross training, I decided to sign up to take an indoor rowing course.  The classes meet for 8 weeks, 3 times per week – so I’m averaging about 3 hours on an erg each week.  Other than a few times in college, when I’d be thrown into a boat simply because I was an athletic female, I’ve never rowed…and I had no idea what I was missing. 

I’m sometimes fearful to try new things, because I know I don’t always pick up on new techniques fast and it’s hard when you’re really behind everyone else.  I knew that most folks signing up for this class would be folks who are active rowers in the summer months, looking to stay in shape…and I would instead be someone who wanted another form of training in the winter.  Luckily, my training partner, Laura, was teaching the course, and I convinced two other running buddies, Meghan and Steph, to join me for this process.  Initially, we all thought that rowing was an upper body sport, and were pleasantly surprised to learn how much leg strength it took – so we all learned pretty quickly.

Anyway, somewhere in the process of learning to erg, Laura convinced me that I should race at CRASH-Bs, which is the World Indoor Rowing Championships, held in Boston each year.  I don’t know much about it, but I guess it’s a way to give the elites and national team members from around the world a racing goal to focus on during the long cold stationary winter months.  It’s a 2k erg – meaning a really short as an outdoor-loving, endurance runner who really shines in 4-6 hour efforts and has no upper body strength, it would be completely out of my element to do a sub-8 minute indoor rowing competition.

So, fast-forward through 6 weeks of erging class, and I was headed to Boston with Meghan to compete in the World Indoor Rowing Championships.  Laura had prepared me well but I certainly knew I would be easily out-classed by rowers, and even athletic females with upper body strength.  I was grateful to have Meghan there with me to be nervous with and share in the confusion.  We almost didn’t make it to the race (first Meghan slept through her alarm, then we hit a snowstorm during our drive), so that cut down our time to cut weight if needed – and I found myself weighing in over the cut-off for the lightweight division just as we got there, with no time to sweat myself down…a major bummer.  But, I had to put it in perspective that I am doing this for fun, and shouldn’t stress out about this competition.

Since Laura is injured, she volunteered to be my coxswain – basically be my motivator through my race.  Having paced me for the last 23 miles of Vermont 100 last year as well as through numerous tough workouts, she knows how to get me going and how hard to push me.  It was also nice to have her calming force near me as I stepped out into the arena for my race.  I was in the first row of ergs – having submitted the 12th fastest qualifying time, and was terrified to see that I was surrounded by folks in rowing outfits and bulging bicep muscles.

Before I knew it, we were off…and I got so caught up in the moment that I pulled super hard for the first 250m and was in the lead!  I was so focused that I didn’t hear my name over the loud speaker – but I did hear ‘Holyoke Rows’ (the team I was signed up under) over the loud speaker, so I knew I was being announced. 

(Me, with Laura cheering me on in the background)
As soon as I heard that announcement, I started to settle in and my pace dropped off.  I slowly was caught by 2nd place, then 3rd place, as I settled into 4th place.  By the mid-point of the race I was just behind 3rd place, but fading fast as my splits kept going up.  I was paying for my quick opening clip – but being a new rower we didn’t know what to expect so Laura just let me go and hoped I could hold on.  Luckily, Laura’s motivation helped me pull away from 5th place, even if 3rd place wasn’t catch-able for me after the half-way point. 

Over the last 500m the crowd got loud and the cox next to me was yelling ‘pull, reach’ at a cadence that I fell into.  I know my pace suffered a bit as I matched the pace of the next boat, but I couldn’t fight the rhythm (and Laura couldn’t yell loud enough to drown that noise out).

(The look of astonishment right after I finished, notice how excited Laura is!)

I ended up finishing in 4th place (pre-race ranking for me was 12th place), and finishing in 7:48 (pre-qualifying time was 7:51) so I was pleased to have exceeded my expectations and finished better than my qualifier.  Unfortunately, not being a true lightweight I was taken out of those results and put into the heavyweight category – where I finished 13th.  I know I could get a better time if I started out a bit more conservative, but that would come with experience.  And, I know I’m on the bubble for lightweight, but if I return I’d have to remember to cut weight over the week or two before the competition.

 All in all, it was an awesome experience!  Meghan did well, and we both were exposed to a world that we didn’t really know.  It was fun to see folks so passionate about rowing, and amazing to hear as folks broke world records throughout the day.  I am proud of myself for not freaking out about my weight – and just accepting that I shouldn’t stress about this race no matter what happened.  It was also great to hear that folks were chatting with Laura after my race to see who I was and if I’d be rowing this summer – and to know that she got all the credit for coaching me, which she truly deserves. 

I’m hopeful that Laura will get me (along with Meghan and Steph) in a boat this summer, now that we know what we’re doing a bit!  Until then, the snow is melting away a bit, and it’s almost trail running season!

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