Would you like to stroke the boat?

For the last two weekends of rowing I have been the stroke man in the Senior 4 coxed 4. It was just sprung on me one week, so I didn’t have much chance to worry about it!

I actually quite like it, as I can set the rhythm of the boat. I can also dictate to a certain degree the power that gets laid down. I always found rowing at 2 or 3 to be a case of just hanging on sometimes as the stroke man was generally a more accomplished oarsman than myself, so he’d be able to rate higher. But now that I’m setting the pace/power, I personally find it easier.

The 4 sessions that I’ve stroked the boat have gone pretty well, and we are gradually improving. The boat is sitting better and we’re starting to move the boat quicker. This weekend just gone we were moving away from boats that we were previously staying level with, and at lower stroke rates.

I initially found it quite tricky to stick to a rate. For example, on Saturday we did the whole session at rate 20, and I find myself naturally bringing the rate up as the boat speed increases. We did 5 x 2½ minutes pieces (full pressure) with 90 seconds rest between. That was repeated 3 times. I did manage to hold the rate at 20 on a couple of those 2½ minutes pieces, but mostly it’d creep up to 21 or 22. So, I figured the best approach was to just close my eyes and count out my timing! Just ignoring what the other guys were doing and focusing on my timing and keeping it as consistent as I could, thus allowing them to get into a rhythm. And that did work, we held at rate 20 for the duration of those pieces.

On Sunday we did some higher rate work during a 4k piece downstream, starting off at rate 24 and gradually building up to 29/30. Apparently a couple of the guys tipped over the edge and lost the their technique towards the end. But that will all come with the harder training we’re all doing now.

I was only told after the session on Sunday that stroke and bow are the hardest places to row in. So, I must be doing something right if I’ve progressed from always being at 2 or 3 (usually 2) to being at stroke. It does seem harder to row at stroke as I feel the effects of any instability in the boat more than at 2. I can also get thrown forward up the slide and also get my blade buried if and when the boat lurches to stroke side. There generally seems to be less margin for error up at stroke.

So, I’m quite pleased with the way things are going, although I do wish that the other guys in the boat would put in a bit more time on the off-water training, especially the UT2 work that gives the base fitness level which enables you to keep things together when the fatigue sets in.

I still get the occasional “what the hell am I doing” moment, usually when I’m doing a warm-up run at 6.30am and not feeling my best or when a really hard gust of wind hits us out on the water on a cold day. But, as long as those moments continue to be cancelled out by good sessions then I will keep at it 🙂

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