Burton Regatta 2013

This weekend just gone (13th-14th July 2013) I competed at the Burton Regatta.

Team Trent all met at the club at 7am (well most of us did, some didn’t quite get there on time) for a pre-race paddle. As I wasn’t racing until late afternoon I didn’t actually get to go for a paddle with the rest of my crews. So, I helped paddle a quad up to the regatta field, one at bow/stroke and nobody in the middle!

The Burton regatta isn’t held near the club due to lack of space, so it’s 1.4km (approx) up river.

Things did not get off to the best start for me as I slipped on the grass bank at the club while getting the launch out. I was actually quite lucky to not break my leg as I slipped and went under the launch which then fell on my leg just above the knee. I escaped with a shallow cut a couple of inches long. It was a bit sore, but thankfully it didn’t impede my performances.

I had 2 events on the Saturday, both quads.

My first race was at 16:25 in the Masters C Coxless Quad Scull (MasC.4x-) against North Staffs. I wasn’t confident that we’d do well in this one, but I was proven wrong. It took us a while to get lined up at the start on account of the flow of the river pushing the crew on the Stapenhill side around a bit. The Saturday start is from stake boats, so it’s a bit fiddly! My memory of this has faded a little in the 2½ weeks since we raced. I do remember getting soaked through! I was at 3 (sitting behind stroke), both the guy at stroke and 2 are known “splashers” and I got the brunt of it. Still, it was nice and refreshing as the whole weekend was an absolute scorcher, weather wise. We won fairly easily by a length or two. So, my first win in a long time. But, no extra sculling point. The rules for masters are that you can only win a point if you don’t already have any.

My second (and last) race was at 17:15 in the Open Intermediate 2 Coxless Quad Sculls (IM2.4x-). We had a bye into the final, which turned out to be against Bradford. Again, I wasn’t sure how we’d perform. One of our crew had to pull out due to a back injury, so we roped someone else in from another club and we weren’t sure how we’d do as he’d only been in a quad a couple of times. But, about 30 minutes before race time the substitute was changed for a better sculler from Team Trent, things were looking up. The paddle up to the start was promising, we were moving well. Again, it was fiddly at the start getting both crews lined up. Pretty much as soon as we set off, things got aggressive on the steering front! There was a lot of “move over” shouts from both bow-men, we clashed blades about halfway down the course. They took a lead on us, we pulled it back and pulled away, they came back again. Like I said, *VERY* competitive. Coming in to the last 50 metres or so they were up by almost a length and I was shouting “GO” at the top of my lungs for 4 or 5 strokes and we had a massive surge and started to eat up the gap, then it got really interesting! We were clashing blades and riggers! But, I kept on rowing for all I was worth, my legs felt like lumps of lead I was gasping for air but I kept going. That is, until we got so tangled up neither crews could row any more! We crossed the line all tangled up and I was positive we’d won, as was the other crew and everyone else in my crew. We appealed immediately as they’d rowed into our water and (rightly so) we’d held our ground. The verdict came in just as we were landing, Bradford by 3 feet! No-one could quite believe it. With one person left in the boat we could still get a re-row. (The rule is if the whole crew is out we’ve accepted the verdict)

It seems the only people who thought we’d lost were the officials. So, we had a re-row on our hands. The first I’ve ever done, and not the thing I wanted to hear after my legs had just turned to jelly! We paddled straight back up to the start, turned around and we were off again. Unfortunately we didn’t have much left and lost by a couple of lengths.

So, because of slight changes in times of the races, I ended up rowing three 1100m sprints back-to-back. With the benefit of hindsight the IM2 was an awesome race to be a part of, so agonisingly close to a win. But, it felt good to be right up there in the mix rather than lagging behind by a number of lengths.

Sunday is a shorter sprint regatta over a distance of 700m. Again I had 2 events, both quads. I am becoming something of a quad specialist!

My first race was at 13:36 in the semi-final of the Open Intermediate 3 Coxless Quad Sculls (IM3.4x-) against Burton Leander (our neighbouring club). Apparently they were all about the start, going off hard and controlling the race from the front. Armed with that knowledge we practised a few starts beyond the start line (it’s not allowed on the course). We were moving well and agreed on a good stroke pattern for the start. As it’s a shorter distance it’s a free start, so the 2 crews have to get level and then we’re set off. We powered away from the start and I knew we’d won by the time I’d taken the 3rd stroke. We were a couple of lengths up within 50 metres from the start and we kept pulling away to win easily. If I were to guess I’d say we’d got somewhere around 5 lengths on them by the time we crossed the finish line. We were through to a Trent-Trent final!

The other event for Sunday was another Masters C quad, in the same crew as the day before. I remember this race, again for the thorough soaking I got all the way down the course. Which was actually very refreshing as it was even hotter than the previous day. I’d take a guess that it was hitting 30C. We were racing a crew from Ancholme rowing club, and they were having issues lining up at the start. We were eventually set off and I knew we had them from the 2nd stroke! I looked across and they were almost tipping in! Lots of shouting and very messy, they recovered and staged a comeback halfway down the course, but we were always in control. All this despite the boat being a bit wobbly and very very splashy. But we kept our heads, kept the boat upright and crossed the finish line several lengths ahead.

So, on to the final of the IM3.4x-, a Trent-Trent final no less. A fairly relaxed affair ….. on the surface! But I needed to win this one! We were pretty much the last race of the day, so the only people left cheering us on from the river bank were the local clubs! The paddle up the the start was good and we put some firm pressure on the way there to try things out. We were confident of a win.

We powered off the start, even quicker than previous races. We had them off the start again, up by a length within 15 strokes. We kept the pressure on and had a massive pickup with about 100 metres to go. It’s always easier to do that when you can see the other crew! The boat was really flying and we won easily.

So, my haul for the weekend was 3 medals. It should have been 4, but there you go. Perhaps if we’d moved over a touch in our IM2 race on Saturday instead of holding our ground we’d have won as we were destroying them in that final sprint. But, you live and learn.

Overall, an awesome weekend of racing made extra special by being cheered on by my little boy as I won a few races!

(photos to follow)

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Fortune favours the prepared

This weekend has been a very tiring one, what with it being a 4 day weekend because of the Easter break. Not only did I got rowing on the weekend mornings but I also spent a lot of time in the garden in preparation for our planned remodelling project.

So last weeks lesson came in to play, and thankfully I had learned that lesson well. I was quite tired on Sunday after having spent 4 hours rowing on the previous day as well as a similar amount of time working in the garden that same day. Our training on Sunday consisted of a lot of technical work followed by 4 x 1000m race pieces. During the last two of those 1000m my legs were badly fatigued, but oddly those piece were our best of the day. The only reason for that was applying my “less is more” lesson, and not still trying to “go for it” the boat stayed stable, the bladework (relatively) clean and therefore the boat remained fast.

I think the other reason the boat ran as well as it did on those last two pieces was down Rob’s explanation of a particular exercise, namely slap catches. I’d always tried to make a big slap when doing those. It had never really been explained to me what the exercise was supposed to achieve. Rob took the time to explain to me exactly how to do the exercise and what it was meant to do. Previously, the first time I’d been introducted to the slap catch exercise was being told as we were starting to do them in a coxed four.

Because I’d not had it explained to me before, I was dropping my hands slightly in order to make the slap louder. This had the effect of upsetting the balance of the boat at the catch. The correct way to do a slap catch is to keep the hands level and to let gravity drop the blade on to the water. It shouldn’t be a particularly loud noise, as the real aim of the exercise is to get used to “letting go” of the handle. By that I mean letting gravity drop the blade the the water level rather than forcing it. After I’d got my head around that the stability of the boat improved a lot.

The slap catch exercise actually teaches you a couple of things, one to allow gravity to drop the blade in to the water, and two to teach you to keep the hands at the right level.

My blade placement in the water also improved a lot after having done the slap catches, which combined with last weeks lesson of “less is more” combined with the improved boat stability from the slap catches helped us to move the boat quickly despite both of us being fatigued during the last couple of pieces.

Another effect of the slap catches is that it focuses the mind on the catch and holding the hands level ready for it. Which in turn allows me to concentrate on preparing for the catch that little bit earlier, which just makes everying run that little bit smoother. As I’ve said in the past, rowing is a very cyclic sport, in that there is no start or end to the stroke, it all just flows continously. So getting one thing right makes getting all the others right a bit easier. The other side of that is that there will always be room for improvement and fine tuning.

Less is more and “row *your* boat”

I emphasise the word “your” in the title of this post because of something I’ve learnt during the last few sessions on the water. And that is to listen to your own boat, and not worry about what the other crews are up to. When racing / training alongside other crews I have a tendancy to listen to what they’re doing.

 

Because we’re a faster crew we generally start pieces off a good distance behind the other crews, the idea being that we’re finishing the piece more or less level. There are two reasons for that, firstly that the launch can see us all in action, and secondly so we get a racing finish towards the end of the piece. Because we start some way behind the other crews, the early stages of the pieces are generally good, with us finding a good rhythm and working really well together. The problem comes when I feel the wash of the other boats and then start to hear them. I get carried away and start trying to race them by applying brute force. The only effect that has is to slow our boat down, because we lose our rhythm and the tidyness of our blade work dissappears. The result being we have to work much harder to even stay level with, never mind move through and pull away from the other boat. So, the lesson is this ….

 

Looking at the other boat won’t make your boat go faster, the only thing it will do is slow it down.

 

The other lesson I’ve learnt, and hopefully it’ll stick in my mind for the next training session, is that less is more. Last night a few student members of my rowing club returned home for the easter break, so Rob and I in our double were racing against a coxed four during the 2 fartleks we did. We were rating 36 during one of the pieces and only just beat the four, the ratio was wrong, I was rushing up the slide and consequently the blade work was messy. My rowing partner, Rob, and the coaches in the launch spotted this and told me to relax and sit at a stroke rate of 32 for the next one. Which we did and the result was that we easily passed the four and then proceeded to pull in front by about 30 metres. All with rating 4 pips lower and not pulling as hard.

 

Rowing is all about controlled power, with the emphasis on the control. The power should only be introduced once you have control, and should never take precedence over the control. Control is having a stable platform upon which to apply the power, that means sitting the boat, covering the blades for the whole of the drive, placing where you reach, fast catches, clean extractions, loading up the blades evenly and not digging. Basically all the technical stuff needs to be spot on, then you can concentrate on applying the power. BUT, only in the right places. Applying power in the wrong places or unevenly only serves to upset the balance of the boat, which means you lose control.

 

It’s a very wierd concept to get your head round, but less really is more.

 

After we’d finished our river training on Sunday, I was watching someone on an ergo and it occured to me that ergo scores are a very odd way of deciding who gets to row in a crew boat. In relation to other members of my club I have quite a good ergo score, but my balance and technique (until recently) weren’t very good. The erg is all about power with no need for control, whereas it’s the other way round in a boat. You obviously have to be fit to keep the control when fatigued, but that is a different kind of fitness from what the ergo gives you. Obviously, erg scores aren’t the be all and end all of seat racing, but perhaps they should take on a bit less importance when deciding who gets in to a crew.

Good Progress

Today’s training was a whole bunch of technical exercises, including hands of the rubbers, lots of square blading, slide progression and 3 x 2k pieces. Well, we actually we did 2 x 8 minute pieces and the last being a piece of just over 2k. The first piece went “okay”, but the second piece was pretty good, with some solid work being put in and we kept it together quite well too. Our stroke rate held at about 35 all the way through, topping out at around 40 during the start. The last piece was by far our best, now I’m not sure if it was our fastest as our legs were pretty much gone 3 minutes in, and we were just doing our best to hold it together. We managed to pull back a 15 second head start on another crew and fought it out with them for the middle of the 2k piece, pulling ahead with about 700 metres to go and increasing our lead to 7 or 8 second by the time we crossed the line. Admittedly we were racing a crew made up of a 16 and 14 year old, they are pretty good scullers though. So we had a really good push in the last 100 metres or so to hold off a late surge from them, we managed to bring the rate up to 36/37. I will say that just 4 weeks ago, Rob and I couldn’t even sit the boat properly. That was entirely down to me, so I’m really pleased with the progress I’ve been making recently, but I also know I’ve still got a very long way to go.

We’ve done about 45km of river training this weekend, and I am very optimistic that things will keep improving 🙂

Cold Heels

Well, today we (Rob & I in the double) went for a technical paddle of about 4km before our main session. Fartleks were the order of the day, 3 of them. The first one wasn’t too good, but we seemed to click towards the end of the second one. With the final one being pretty good. We then moved on to doing some practise starts, continuing for 20, 30 and 40 strokes and back down the pyramid. During one of those, I forget which, we held a steady rate of 42 strokes per minute. It was a little untidy in places, but pretty good considering the very windy and choppy conditions and the fact that we were rating so much higher than we’ve managed as a crew before. The reason for the title of this post is that we got soaked by a big wave crashing over the boat and filling it with ice cold water up to a level of about 2 inches, which meant that our heels were in freezing cold water for the rest of the session. You can’t beat that feeling of your feet being repeatedly stabbed when taking a hot shower when your feet at like blocks of ice!!

I’m still getting my head around the fact that reducing the “work” and increasing the speed of the hands at back stops actually makes the boat move faster. By reducing the work I mean not pulling as hard on each stroke. It seems a little odd that doing that will make the boat more quicker, but it does; And it’s because the extraction is cleaner which in turn sets the boat up better and allows it to run more smoothly. Apparently the next thing I need to work on if focusing my power on moving the boat in the direction we want it to go, ie – towards the finish line. Apparently, when we were doing the pieces and I started really going for it (once the boat was running obviously) I was making the boat go faster, but also moving the boat in all directions at once! If I can focus that power on moving the boat in a nice straight line down the river, then hopefully it’ll fly 🙂

I did strain my wrist slightly on one of the fartleks, but I wiggled and shook it about a bit to try and loosen it up. It held up for the rest of the session, until the last 20 stroke start, where I was struggling a little to feather the blade. Truth be told, it’s a little stiff as I write this a 9:14pm, hopefully it will be okay for the session tomorrow at 7am. I think it would have been a bit much to try and make 6am again, which is effectively 5am with the clocks going forward tonight. So, that would have meant getting up at 4am. Something I like to reserve only for when I have to get up to catch a flight for my annual holiday!

Learning to row all over again

This morning I went for a technical paddle with my double partner, and I can honestly say it was like learning to row all over again. I finally understand what people mean when they say that I should travel up the slide at the same speed as the water. I actually managed to do that a few times during today’s paddle, and it felt really really wierd. It’s difficult to describe, but I think it was almost as if the water wasn’t moving at all with the boat just gliding along the surface. Which, when I think about what I just said, is exactly what it should feel like and makes perfect sense. But, I’ve never had that sensation before in a boat. The good thing is that I now know what I’m aiming for. Which, on the flip side, means that when it’s just not clicking that it’ll feel that much worse!!

A few other things clicked today, one of which was feeling for the connection of the blades to the water, and only engaging in the drive once I get the feeling that the blades have “filled up”. What I did previously, and still do when my mind drifts, was to just do the ergo action, which is to drop the blade into the water and pile on the power. Well, on the ergo there is no need to wait for the water to fill the blades up, as it’s just a chain that I need to put as much effort into pulling away from the fly wheel as I can muster. Well, wihtin reason anyway, as the effort level depends on the piece I’m doing at the time.

The other thing that clicked today was the balancing of the boat. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I’ve been out in a single a number of times, but I’ve never really received any detailed technical coaching, it’s been a case of just trying not for flip over!! But, today I was given complete control of the boat in terms of setting the balance, so I learned fairly quickly how to sit it, and also just how small the changes need to be when the balance starts to go. Hopefully, given time I will learn to make the relevant adjustment sooner and thereby sit the boat that much better.

The other thing I learnt today is that the rocking motion Ive experienced in boats in the past, where the stern will dip when the crew is coming forward on the slide, is not what we should be aiming for. Rather, the boat should be sat level from bow to stern as well as side to side. That way the boat can just slide along the surface of the water as it did today.

As I say, it felt really really wierd. Well, wierd is probably the wrong way to describe it, I suppose it was just different to what I’ve experienced in the past. Whatever it was, it felt really good, like I was in sync with the water.

Anyway, I gotta get up early in the morning for another technical outing. I got up at 0500 today, and it’s a 0530 start tomorrow.

Back to sculling

Today I was back in a double rather than the coxed four. I was in the double with a very experience sculler who I have had quite a few outings with before. We hope to form a partner ship in the long term and race at some of the bigger regattas / heads.

Anyway, in the past this guy has had to sit the boat for me because my technique and balance was basically crap. The boat would wobble quite a bit whenever he’d join in. But, today the boat sat pretty nicely, so I must be progressing in terms of balance and technique to be able to do that now.

We did a coule of fartlek pyramids, these consist of a number of full pressure sprints with a short rest between each sprint. Today we did 0:30 on, 0:30 rest, 1:00 on, 1:00 rest, 1:30 on, 1:30 rest, 2:00 on, 1:30 rest, 1:30 on, 1:00 rest, 1:00 on, 0:30 rest and 0:30 on.

During the first piece in the last 1:00 at full pressure we were really making the boat move well, we were also pretty quick in the next 0:30 piece, but that 1:00 I was really pleased with, as the technique was clean, there was good power going in to each stroke, the drive to recovery ratio was good and the rate was pretty good for me. We held at around 34 spm for the duration of the piece.

However, I’m told that the last 1:00 piece during our 2nd fartlek pyramid was better. Uncharted territory according the the coaches, as I was rating 36 to 37 spm for most of the 1:00 piece. But, I’m sure I’ve rated that high before, but only in race situations and never keeping the technique as clean as I did today and being as tired as I was.

So, some good progress this weekend, and some promising signs for the coming season.

I just wish I didn’t have to get up so early, 5am on Saturday and 6am on Sunday!

Another 2 dry outings

With the nights starting to draw in pretty quickly, It’s getting quite dark by 7pm, I’ve been getting to the rowing club a little earlier during the week to squeeze in as much on-the-water time as possible.

Tuesday was good as I went out in a wintech single, I’ve got used to that one now as I’ve been out in it 5 or 6 times already. I got some good work in, and even managed to go past someone. We were only paddling, but still, progress is progress 🙂

Yesterday I had to use a different boat as the wintech was already in use. So, I ended up in a sims, which I was told was a much finer boat so would be more sensitive. If anything, it sat much nicer on the water and I found it more stable when coming forward towards the catch. I was in a bit of a rush to get out on the water because I only had about 90 minutes of light left. So, I quickly glanced at the feet which looked okay. I didn’t look at the slides, which were much to far forward. The end effect being that I couldn’t get my legs straight in the boat, so my calf muscles are a bit tight this morning.

But, I kept the boat upright again. I think that’s now nine outings without going in, so I’m pretty pleased. It would have been nice to be able to get my legs straightened out in the sims just to so how it compares to the wintech when I start putting some power into the drive.

A single sculler in the making

Today I went out in a single for the third time. It has been a few weeks since my last time in a single, so I was a little shaky to begin with, but within a few minutes I’d got my confidence back. Pretty soon I was moving up and down the slide quite comfortably. This time my feet were adjusted before I set off, so I had enough room at back stops, which meant I could steer much better. I consequently managed to get in a few good little spells of sculling, without having to constantly correct my course.

As there was a show going on further up river at the jet ski club I couldn’t do my usual distance up river, instead I had to turn around a few times more than usual. Which was probably a good thing, as it gave me chance to practise my boat manouvering. Also, as all the other rowing boats on the river were doing the same thing, there was a bit more “traffic” than usual. So, my steering improved a bit as a side affect of not getting in the way of the more experienced folk. At one point, after I’d just turned the boat around, I managed to push away from a few singles on their way back down. During my first outing I would rag it round in order to correct my course. Whereas, today I was learning to adjust my course gradually and not interrupt my flow too much.

I got in a few good stints where I was rowing at about 3/4 slide and putting in a reasonable amount of pressure, probably about 50-60% of max for 10 or 15 strokes. So, after a stressful week at work it was just what I needed. The weather was pretty good too, so that helped. All in all I was pretty pleased with my progress, and also with the fact that I stayed dry again 🙂

First time in a single

It’s been almost a year since I first got in a boat at Trent Rowing Club. It was a yellow “play boat”, at the time it seemed very unstable. But, back then, I was much more nervous about being in a boat in the first place. I have since been in a double, quad (coxed and coxless), a four (coxed and coxless) and an eight. But today was my first ever outing in a single. I was pretty nervous, but fortunately it was only “sprung” on me when I turned up for training this morning and everyone else wanted to go in singles. So, that was that, decision made and no time to worry about it!

I started off a bit nervy at arms only, taking very short strokes. Gradually I built up to introducing some body swing and the boat started to move a little quicker. The main problem I had wasn’t with my technique, but rather with the size of the boat I was in. Because I’ve had almost a year of boat experience I knew roughly how to steer and sit a boat, my stroke technique is reasonable. So, at least I didn’t have to worry about slide progression/timing, squaring, feathering and all of that malarkey. I weigh somewhere around the 90-95kg mark, and the boat I was in is built for 70kg folk. Conseqeuntly it was a bit short, so I couldn’t pull through to my reference point properly. I ended each stroke with my hand at different heights.

So I learnt how to steer a single fairly quickly, I found myself constantly having to correct my course. All useful stuff, possibly not the best start in a single. But, I achieved my main goal, which was to stay dry!

During the “session” I managed to put some power into the drive and get some (what I thought was) good boat speed. I think I even managed to get my blades squared and ready before taking the catch on a few strokes. Mostly I the blades were flat on the water keeping me upright, and more importantly DRY 🙂

In terms of the slide, I began introducing a little slide a few hundred metres from the boat house. Eventually managing to string a few strokes together at 3/4 slide. But when I stopped “rowing” and started  thinking about what I was doing it made me panic slightly, saying to myself “What the hell are you doing!”. Then I’d realise I was starting to get carried away and I’d settle back into ½ slide, after having got the boat sat again. As with anything like this, I gradually gained confidence to the point where I’d start off from stationary with slide, rather than arms/body only.

A few scares were had, but I managed to recover from them all. Including having to back down in order to get myself out of the bank on a few occasions.

I really enjoyed it, being in complete control (well, sort of!!) of my own destiny. I could do things at my own pace and could try to figure out what I was doing wrong. Plus, it was nice to just sit in the boat a few times when I found myself on my own private little stretch of the river. It was very peaceful 🙂

So, after recently having had fleeting thoughts of packing it in. I find my enthusiasm for rowing renewed, and I just want to go faster in a single now. In the latter parts of today’s session I managed to get a bit of a rhythm going and just found myself wanting to put some real work in and get the boat shifting. Hopefully with a boat that can accomodate my size and weight I wont have to stop every hundred metres and correct my course. Although I do pull much harder with my left arm, so that was contributing to my constant veering to the left, but I think not having enough length on the slide also contributed. What the proportion is remains to be seen.