Thursday, February 20, 2014

Indoor Rowing World Championships

This year was my second year to attend the Indoor Rowing World Championships (called the Crash-Bs) in Boston.  This event has athletes race an erg for 2k.  It's ironic for me, an endurance enthusiast who enjoys hours and hours of 'comfortably hard' effort, to enter into a race that should ideally take me under 8 minutes to complete at maximal 'painful every second' effort.  But, it's a fun challenge to try something different, and step into a world that I'm not at all familiar with.

(The jumbo screen showing a 'virtual boat race' for the folks erging)
Last year I accidently weighed in above the cut-off for lightweight, so over the two weeks leading up to race day I was concentrating on keeping my weight down so I could row lightweight.  Luckily, come race morning I weighed in below the cut-off, so that was a small victory!

I warmed up in the bull pen, and was amazed at the international field in attendance.  On the three warm-up ergs to my left were athletes from Germany, all conversing in their native language.  I had a rower from Mexico take the erg to my other side to warmup.  It was intimidating to think that these are athletes that represent their country in international competitions - and I was a runner who uses the erg in the winter to cross train a bit.

(The set-up with 100+ ergs on the gym floor)
It's hard to describe the atmosphere at this competition - because an indoor rowing race doesn't sound like it would be such an awesome experience.  But, the event organizers took a basketball arena and turned it into an incredible venue - there are about 100 ergs lined up in two u-shaped rows facing out towards the audience (utilizing half of the arena floor).  That means that up to 100 rowers are racing simultaneously while the audience is facing them.  Also, every erg is connected to a computer that allows the timers to display a virtual race on the jumbo-tron screen - so the audience knows exactly who is leading the race, which athletes are surging and fading, and where their friends and family are in their races.  It also means that as we're racing, our monitors display how we're doing compared to other athletes.  Stepping through the curtain that divides the floor (between the warm-up area and the racing floor) is intimidating, but also gave me an adrenaline rush before my race.

I was fortunate to have Laura as my coxswain.  She was my cox last year at this race, is the instructor of my erging class, and even paced me for the last 23 miles of my best 100-mile race.  She knows exactly how to push me and when to motivate me.  (She's also an incredible rower herself, but she was racing in a later heat).

(My erg monitor just after I finished, showing me where I was during the race)

The race start came quickly, and I was off - rowing according to my plan.  In past 2k time trials I have made the mistake of going too hard at the beginning and paying the price later - so my goal was to keep even splits around my goal pace.  I felt good, battling with 3rd place and keeping a steady even pace with about controlled hard effort.  The rower to my left was from England, and I was surprised to be beating her.  I stayed steady through 500m, 1000m, and every time my pace slowed a bit I would just pick up the tempo and resettle on my goal pace.  But, as I hit the 1500m mark (3/4th done!) suddenly my quads started to burn...I was cooked.  Laura did her best to encourage me, but my splits kept going up as I slipped solidly to 4th place then to 5th place.  I tried to pick up my turnover to drop my pace but stroke after stroke the pace kept climbing.  I finished 7:51, which was only 3 seconds behind my 2013 time. I was certainly disappointed in my effort, but I also felt completely spent like I couldn't have given any more. 

(In the finish stretch - the pain on my face says it all)

I don't know quite what happened.  Perhaps I do better if I start out hard and die - knowing that a positive split is just a given?  Perhaps I was paying the price for cutting weight all week and compromised my strength and energy in the process?  Maybe I just had an off day?  Maybe all the biking I did to cross train last week (due to the snow and road conditions) fatigued my legs?  Either way, I was a bit disappointed in my race.  Laura reminded me that I was racing some of the top rowers from around the world, and that any time below 8:00 is competitive - which helps me put it in perspective.  After all, I finished 5th place at a World Championship shame in that!

(Post race - I am happy to be done, but disappointed in my time)

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