October 24, 2014

An actual, current race report...the lifeblood of running blogs...but for a rowing race not a running race.

As I've been sitting here trying to figure out how to explain what I just did, I realized something...no one really cares! And not only that, but this is probably the most unrelatable race report in the history of #mamalete blogs. Who in the fuck rows? Or rather, who in the fuck coxes? Whatever. You might find it interesting. Then again, maybe you won't.

I hadn't trained because there was no need to...unless you count driving for Ragnar Napa (!), and it's not like I had to worry about fueling and hydration. Well, I kind of did. Remember this post? I didn't go to www.tapewormsRus.com, but I did try to eat things that weren't very heavy...as determined by their actual physical weight. I showed up in Boston on Friday morning a wee bit lighter than I had been the day before. I was amped on chocolate and ready to rumble.

The most exciting thing for me about this regatta, aside from the racing of course, was the quantity of old friends and rivals who were going to be in attendance. It was like a massive reunion for me... people I hadn't seen in well over a decade, some in two decades. The hardest part of the regatta, aside from the racing of course, was being hit with the reality that I'm no longer a spring chicken. As I walked around the venue scanning the crowds for familiar faces and seeing none, it finally dawned on me that I was searching in the wrong age bracket... I needed to be looking for wrinkly faces, grey hair, and bald heads!

I met up with my teammates on Friday afternoon. We were what's called a "throw-together" boat, meaning we had never practiced together...as compared to a boat that rows as a team on a regular basis. This matters. I'm not going to explain why because to me it's intuitively obvious. But perhaps it isn't? We set about preparing our boat which was a rental from Resolute Racing, which is akin to renting a Ferrari. Fully rigged, the boat weighed 114 lbs and had a replacement cost of $26,000. A nice feature of renting from the boat manufacturer was that they were essentially our pit crew. Anything we needed, they did it. As someone who was always needing to scratch and claw to get any help when I was rowing, this was AMAZING.

Rather than help with getting the boat set up, I stared dumbfounded at the little space I was supposed to slide into under the bow deck. My apprehension-induced immobilization was of little consequence because of the pit crew thing. When I mentioned that I hadn't been in a boat in 15 years, the boat maker's rep kind of blanched.

Our Resolute.
I needed to fit under the bow deck,
which is the front-most part you see in the picture.
Yes, it is very narrow.
Why would he blanch? you ask.

The boat is about 40 feet long and only 12 inches deep by 21 inches wide (an 8+ is even longer). The oars stick out about 12 feet on either side. It gets going at a pretty good clip, covering 5K in near to 20 minutes for 40-year old women. I wasn't about to pilot this craft down a straight-shot, buoyed course. Nope. Head racing in rowing is like NASCAR. The courses twist and turn. There's a staggered start. You're cutting corners and hitting tangents. Lots of maneuvering in close quarters while athletes are hitting top speed and giving it their all.

The final turn.
This photo was taken during Friday afternoon's practice rows.
All of these crews are  swinging the turn way too wide.
You can see the buoys on the right of the boat in the foreground as small, black dots.
You want those babies scraping down the hull on your starboard (right) side.
Not only is the racing/practicing scene often treacherous, you need to launch and dock in what can be described as moderately controlled chaos. Boats coming and going. Athletes distracted by the... scenery...some of which was pretty appealing and some of which was not (guys, please don't go commando when wearing light pink lycra unisuits...chicks honestly don't dig it). And then there's also getting the boat from its rack to the launching dock and back by weaving your way through a crowd of thousands (not exaggerating). So yeah, the guy blanched at the thought of me with my lack of remotely recent experience handling an expensive and delicate piece of equipment. Ehhh...I was fine. Like riding a bike :)

A sliver of the scene at one of the many launching/landing sites.
This was taken during Sunday's racing.
Against the far shore are the men's championship 8's that finished 1-2.
If you can biggify the image, do. These guys were amazing.
Note: boat traffic congestion due to gawkers.
It may not seem like much, steering a boat and telling people what to do, but laying down and peeking over a little splash guard gives it a smidgen of "challenge."

View from the driver's seat.
Where was I? Oh, right...Friday afternoon. So we got the boat set and headed out for our first row together. Right away I took a wrong turn...and we weren't even on the water yet. Luckily, I'm pretty good at using humor to disperse awkwardness and embarrassment.

We made it to the dock, got into the boat, and shoved off. Immediately, an eight of middle-aged men who looked familiar pulled in front of us and blocked me. One of them was an old, good friend with whom I'd lost touch. The other seven were all British Olympians...5 or 6 gold medalists. But... the fuckers blocked me in. I just have never understood celebregawking, and we had shit to do.

"Ummm...hello? You're kind of in our way. You need to move," I hollered out.

They all gave me that "don't you fucking know who we ARE?" look...except my friend who put his head down with his hand on his forehead. Begrudgingly, they got out of my way.

We headed downriver...upcourse...whatever...I always get turned around on the Charles River. We did our race warm up and then rowed down the course so I could practice the turns and get a clue. One of the oarswomen put a handy GoPro on the bow so we could do a little self-coaching later on.

I managed to not crash into anything and then scared the shit out of stunned my crew with an awesome speed-landing...meaning I came into the dock post-practice a wee bit on the fast side yet glided to a perfect position.

We considered ourselves as "race ready" as we were going to be at this point.

Saturday was Race Day for us. The Head of the Charles Regatta is a two-day event. We got to race the first day...the day with the better weather :) It was threatening to rain but only sprinkled lightly as we were on the course.

God, this is getting boring.

Okay...

We milled around in the starting basin after warming up. We stalled at the line because it's a rolling, staggered start and we didn't want to crash into anyone going through the first bridge. I used an unorthodox yet totally legal course. We passed two boats before the 1-mile mark. We passed another right before the bridge pictured below...

Weeks Footbridge.
The first of two sharp turns close together...
in opposite directions.
This one is at the end of a long straightaway.
Frequently, boats pile up as every coxswain
jockeys for the inside of the turn.
We managed to get to bridge unimpeded and cut the turn perfectly, setting ourselves up for another perfect turn at the next bridge.At this point we were chasing down two crews who were about a length apart, one from the other, and several lengths ahead of us. The name of the game was Narrow the Gap from here on out. 

The center arch is the legal racing arch on Anderson Bridge.
Most people swing too wide on this one (see boat in center).
After cutting the turn at Anderson perfectly, we were headed into the Big Turn and at the two-mile mark...and closing in on the crews in front of us, inch by inch. They were just enough ahead of us to allow me to take the inside on the Big Turn AND cut out to the right at the end of the turn to gain the inside of the final turn.

Here's where my part really started.

At this point we were bowball to stern point with the boat ahead of us...and they were NOT moving out of my way. The rules of head racing are you always yield to overtaking crews. I held my line, all the while shouting politely to the coxswain of the other boat to move left. Move left. Please move left. Then finally...

"Coxy...you need to move left NOW...I'm coming down on you really hard!" 

They moved over. 

In twenty strokes, I was even with their stroke (meaning our boat was roughly 25 feet behind). I asked my rowers for more. Another twenty strokes gave us another 5 feet. Our final twenty put us up another 5 or more feet...how do I convey that this was a really, really, crazy exciting finish? Even though we had already smoked that boat by virtue of the fact that they started about a minute ahead of us, catching them and surging through them AT THE LINE was way exciting!

And then it was over. 

The results had us finishing third (we noted that we were the first "throw together" boat to finish), only 1.22 seconds out of second but a healthy 20 seconds out of first. We felt pretty amazingly about how we had raced and had no misgivings about that 1.22 seconds. We each assumed responsibility for 0.25 for next year's race ;-) Our third place finish earned us a medal and a guaranteed entry into the regatta for 2015. Beyond the previous year's top finishers, the entry system is a lottery that seems to be difficult to win.

It's really heavy...even for a third place medal.
Team 4 Pows and a Bam will be back next year. In our special socks. And we're gunning for the win.

I'm the classy one in the flipflops :)


If you have any questions, feel free to pose them in the comments.
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