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October Masters Feature
October 02, 2012
As we move deeper into fall, the head racing season begins in earnest. If you’ve never raced, but want to try, I always recommend starting with a head race, preferably one on your home course. In a head race, you won’t have to learn to do a racing start, won’t have the tension of boats lined up right next to you, and won’t have to worry about the possibility of the referees launch waking you if you’re too slow!
So let’s assume you’ve picked your race, done your training and established your race plan. What else can you do to make the race a success? Here are some small details that might make a big difference.
Head races tend to be a lot about steering, so once you’ve decided on your race, get a map of the course and memorize it. How many turns are there, which way do they go, about how much angle. If possible, it’s extremely beneficial to get a practice row in over the course. If you can’t, try to find someone who is familiar with the course and talk to him or her. See if there are any obvious markers that will let you know how far into the race you are – a halfway mark, a mile to go, etc. Sometimes there are mile marker buoys, but not always. Find out if there are any easy stern points to fix on, especially if there’s a long straight stretch on the course. Remember, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Make sure you know where the finish line is and how it’s marked. It’s no fun stopping before the line.
For some of the bigger races, there is all sorts of information you can find online about how to steer the best course. For smaller races, if you can’t find anything else, try Google Maps for a detailed map of the body of water, if not the exact course.
If you’re on your home course, don’t be lulled into thinking you know it well. Often the route you take on a normal practice day is not the best route to follow on race day. Where you might usually hug the shore, on race day you want to make sure you get the inside of the turn and that might take you out more into the middle of the course than you’d normally go.
If it’s a particularly long race (Wye Island) or complicated race (Head of the Charles) you might want to pin a copy of the map on the person in front of you (if in a double or quad) or down by your foot stretcher (if in a single).
Get to the course in plenty of time. You don’t want to be rushed. Find out what the warm up pattern is, if there’s a launching dock separate from the landing dock, how soon or how late you can launch before your race. I like getting to the starting line in time to hear the race before mine go off. Every starter is different and it’s nice to be familiar with the starting procedure by observing the race before you. You might also be able to observe some common mistake that’s being made (steering too close to the shore off the start, for example) and be sure not to make it yourself.
If you usually practice in the morning, but your race is a late day race, think about what you’re going to eat and when. Everybody is different in this regard, but you don’t want to be starving or too full when you get to the line.
Do you have a race uniform? Practice in it before you race. You want to know how it feels and if you need to make any adjustments. You don’t want to be focused on a binding unisuit instead of your race. Think about what you’ll wear if it’s unseasonably warm or unseasonably cool. Once that bow number is pinned on, that layer stays on.
Most importantly, relax and have fun! Good luck at the races!
Charlotte Hollings and her husband, John Dunn have spent more than 70 years immersed in the sport of rowing. Both have rowed on the U.S. National Team, winning several international medals. Charlotte’s coaching career has taken her west to Stanford University before heading back east to Boston University and then Cornell University. John remained close to home, coaching at his alma mater of Cornell University for 18 years, first as the frosh lightweight coach, then varsity lightweight and finally varsity women. In 2001, Hollings and Dunn started the sculling camp Calm Waters Rowing in Lancaster, Va. For more information, visit www.calmwatersrowing.com.