The 2k yesterday went… ok.  I wrote yesterday after it was over that I felt like I had Silver-medal Syndrome:  simultaneously happy but also disappointed in my result.  It was the first test in a while that I haven’t PR’ed on, and that was a letdown.  The fact that I was just .2 off of my PR is just irritating. And that many of my teammates came out with significant PRs of a couple seconds or more had me pouting for most of the afternoon.  Why do I do this to myself?  Why can’t a success just be a success and left at that?  I realize what I will have to do is to tell myself that the next test will be better; that I can use this result to prepare me for a better test next time. I have to.

On a happier note, the palpable sense of joy and [temporary] relief that floods the boathouse following an erg test is a wonderful thing to experience with your teammates.  Almost immediately afterwards, we commence with the recounting of our individual tests, where we struggled, where we kicked ass, and figuring out who-got-who and by how much.  It’s very good natured, despite the cutthroat competition that drives us to perform these tests.

One of the things we talked a lot about yesterday were the different mental strategies we employ during erg testing in order to make it from one point to the next.  It varies between athletes, and even from test to test (2k vs. 6k).  But what I found is that many athletes create a dialogue for themselves that –often but not always– consists of a series of lies that they tell themselves while racing.  One athlete I know tells herself that if she just holds a faster split for x more meters, she’ll let herself go easier for the rest of the test (but then doesn’t).  Another tells herself that she just needs to hold the same split for the rest of the test and not push any harder (but then goes for it anyway).

My personal strategy is more a number game than a game of internal deception (I learned a long time ago I can’t lie to myself).  It goes a lot like this:

2000m:  Take your 15 high strokes and then you can lengthen to your base pace.  Nice and relaxed.  Breathe here.
1500m: Stay on base pace.  Count to 30 twice, and then you’ll be halfway done.
1250m:  30 more strokes and you’re at the 1000.  Count the strokes, stay steady, and the 1000m will come.
1000m:  Focus.  Get excited. Count to 30, and then you’re at your favorite part of the race:  750 to go.
750m: It might be more than 30 strokes now that the rate has come up, but whatever, it’s probably only 1 or 2 extra strokes.  Count to 30 and you’ll only have 500m left.  You can do anything when you only have 500m.
600m: Ok forget this 30, sprint now.  Go now for 10 and get to the 500m.
500m: **** yes, this is almost over.  Count 10.  Then 10.  Then 10.  That’s 30.  Less than a minute of work to go.
250m: Go. More. Go. More.  Only 30 strokes to go.
100m: ?

I count compulsively to focus, keep my position and my pace both on the water and the erg.  It’s my mechanism that I have developed to help me stay focused and consistent when I perform.

What’s yours?  Leave a comment!  I want to know what other people to do help them make it through tests and races, or if I’m the only one with such an elaborate inner monologue. No mantra too short or too long.  Let’s hear it!

Long Live the Dream,


27 thoughts on “The Lies We Tell Ourselves

  1. When I do a timed piece, I look at the projected finish, and count down from thirty for each stroke at or below my target. If I get 30, I drop a second from that number and start to recount. Then the sprint is a free for all.

  2. Hi Megan,
    My daughter, 14 yrs old, will have 2k erg test at the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships on this Sunday. She started to row four months ago. Could you give us any advice about what to do in the last 250 m and in the last 100 m? Many thanks Megan !

  3. When I’m doing my 2K, for some reason it works better for me when I don’t look at the screen. I tilt it back and ask my coach or friend to talk to me throughout. It keeps me going.

  4. I like to tell myself that I only have 100 meters left after each 100 is done. I find some beat and play it over in my head. Closing your eyes for a few strokes also works. Once I get to 500 meters left it’s a sprint to the finish. More beats and mantras to help me out. I also like to visualize what the 500 would look like on the water. I Imagine the other boats next to me and I see our boat pulling ahead of them and racing towards the finish line. It’s exhilarating!

  5. Believe it or not, old fat guys like me, a recreational rower, love to erg also. Although my times are embarrassingly slow in comparison, I also have a strategy. I like to put some good tunes on my ipod and start out fast for the first 500 then settle in and sprint the last 300 meters or so…
    Love your blog by the way.
    I learned to row at PNRA or as it was known then PIRA.

  6. During my piece when things get tough, I tell myself, “If I can go super fast then I’ll impress Megan Kalmoe and she’ll fall for me.” That keeps me going.

  7. For me, I try to avoid thinking about the 2k at all beforehand. No friendly erg room chat, nothing. I pick a maximum split I’ll allow myself to hit, an then…
    First 500: This part doesn’t hurt, so just get in the rhythm. Get oxygen. Blast off the footstretchers. Focus.
    Second 500: Holy crap I still have so much left… OH WAIT don’t think like that. I only have 50 strokes and I’m at the 1k and that’s less than 4 minutes and I’m always psyched to see when there’s only 4 minutes left of school because that’s a short period of time. So just make it here and everything will be ok. Maybe you can even get off the erg. Would pretending to pass out work? How mad would coach be if I just got off? Screw it, it’s totally worth whatever anger he can throw my way. I’ll get off the erg at 1k.
    1k: Wow I’m halfway done and at my goal split… Maybe I’ll finish this thing up after all. I mean, 3:30 is nothing. And half of it will be sprinting and that’s the easiest part of the piece because then you don’t have to think! Just go. Just make it there and everything will be ok. Your sprint won’t hurt and then youll be done and go home and eat dinner.
    500: IM ALMOST DONE. Bump up the rate, show everyone that I can beat them. Nothing else matters in the entire world except this last minute and a bit. No one has ever been in more pain. I can do this.
    250: ALLLLLL OUUUUUT anyone can do anything for less than a minute.
    100: Count put last 14 strokes, but never actually think anything.

    I have been rowing for 4 years in a high school program and I think I tell myself that I’m going to get off the erg on every single test. The idea gets me through that torturous 2nd 500 when you’re not even halfway done yet and it seems like you have forever to go.

  8. Thanks, that’s what I meant. I just didn’t have a sense for an international caliber time for heavyweight women.

    Wow, those are great times too. I am an older master rower, and still happy to break 7, but had no idea that the women were that fast on the ergs. And I am 200lbs.

    So a sub 6:30 is like a heavyweight male doing a world class-plus 5:40/45 ish?
    Or is breaking 6 for a hvwt male like breaking 6:45 for a hvwt female?

    1. As for the direct correlation between elite men’s and women’s 2k scores, I think there is some debate. What I have discussed with some of the USA men occasionally is about a 50-second correlation. So something like:

      [m / w]
      6:10 / 7:00
      6:00 / 6:50
      5:50 / 6:40

      But my guess is that there has to be some sort of curve in the equation so it’s not exactly linear. But that would put 5:40 / 6:30 in a similar range, yes. World record for the ladies is 6:25 if that offers any perspective at all. And… this is just an approximation, I haven’t done any conclusive study on this and am not an expert by any means.. if anyone else has thoughts on this, please share!

  9. So who pulled some good erg scores? And what sort of numbers would that be for heavyweight women?

    thanks and glad it went well.

    1. Sorry Richard, I’m not allowed to give you specifics on erg scores from our Team. We did have a lot of very fast women on Wednesday though which is GREAT news for the USA.

      In general, open women at the elite level are going to be looking for scores in the 6:30-6:45 range. When you get below 6:30…. that’s big guns.

  10. Not a whole lot more to add to this, but on my team we have a few choice phrases that come out when we 2k.

    1) “Find the Line!” 500. With five hundred to go, a coach or cox will demand that you go ” Find the line”.

    2) “Refuse to lose” sprint. 250 to go is business time. Let it all rip. You’ve got to dig down and make that choice to go get that score. When I was helping out this winter, this was a favorite of mine to yell as my rowers emptied their tanks.

  11. In short: 1st 500 set rhythm and breathe, middle thousand stay positive, last 600 commit to a sprint (or don’t) then let her fly.

    Prerace establish goal split, and corresponding “no higher than” and “no lower than” splits.

    Start – breathe! Settle and rhythm. Hang your hat on that rhythm. Good posture and swing, monitor “no lower than” split, breathe!
    700 down prep mentally to fight I know it’s coming. 750 down me vs the world gotta stay alive. 1000 down split is up a tad but we’re ok, we’re ok…1200 down hitting “no higher than” split – not an option!! squeeze the finish get it back get it back there we go we’re doing ok – staying alive.
    650 to go – gotta make the go / no go decision and fully commit…going, hope I can make it.
    Fix my vision and focus, posture and breathe, and legs! Focus on spinning the fan. Spin the fan! 500 to go can hear the crowd now the world is for me. Legs and quicker and smooth and building rate. Crowd is getting louder, feel that love and find the joy here we go they want us home. Build every stroke to the finish line, sping the fand with legs and finish and breathe and fixed vision and focus and find the joy…the joy of speed.

  12. When I sit down to do a 2k I make sure that before I begin, I am focused. Then I think about some other 2k’s that I have done well in before, it’s more of a motivation strategy. I think about the mistakes that I have made in the past, or the burst that have gotten me to the split I wanted. So, when I begin my 2k, I tell myself that I’m going to PR, and do great. I am focused and I tell myself to stay on pace. After I feel like that moment of victory is gone at about 1500 meters, I start the lying. When I feel like I’m fading, I tell myself that this is the most important 2k, I need to get this split down, and I need to be steady or I won’t win. I let the next 750 meters go, and I tell myself that this is almost over. I’m doing great, I can hold it off. At about 500 meters, I usually let it rip, throughout that last stretch I look at my split, and I tell myself it needs to be lower, just a bit, and I start taking off tenths like shedding layers. One by one. I tell myself that this is what I need to do; this is what is will build up to my dream of the Olympics. I want it. And I go for it.

  13. I don’t like numbers, so I just do the alphabet in my head over and over, every stroke as a letter. It distracts me from the pain but keeps me focused on taking consistent strokes.

  14. First 500 I try to keep myself in control, get that rate no higher than a 36 and the split right where I want it..maybe up to .5 lower than goal split, I’m running on so much adrenaline it’s tough to go easy.

    750 down 1250 to go is when I start counting, I think in terms of 250’s and 25 strokes per 250, I know it’s more than 25 but that’s how I count them down adding a few at the end.

    1000 down is when I start questioning if I can do the piece usually, what excuse could get me out of this? why do I row? I don’t need to do this.

    Usually after I rattle that around in my head for a while I’m at 750m left and this is where I make a push for 1 split, slight rate change 37/38. I count 25+ until I hit 500

    500m left I try to drop the split one more and have a very specific way of counting, count from 1 until I hit 400, count from 1 until I hit 300, count from 1 until I hit 250. Then I stop counting and think about ripping it as hard and fast as I can. A lot of back and arms.

    It gets me through them

  15. Last 500: 5 personal strokes, 10 technical and support (repeat until 180)… Last 20, up 2.

  16. Put the paceboat on, for a split to get the score I want. Try to stay in front of the paceboat.
    And counting. lots of counting.
    Last two 2ks have been completely on my own, noone else in the boathouse. And I got PBs. Then I hurt my back, so no erging for a while. Will do an end of season one, after my big races

  17. I convert the meters I have left into minutes. The conversions get harder the more tired I get. I do the opposite with timed pieces. During 30min tests I convert how many minutes I have to how many meters I have. I find this soothing and it distracts me. Its more a strategy during 6ks. During 2ks I’m much more intense. I just tell myself to hold my target split. In my head I just repeat “every stroke like the last”. Then at the end I just sprint it out. I love the sprint. On the water or the erg. Hands down, favorite part. I don’t think, I just go.

  18. I always plop one erg away from the girl with a similar time with me. The erg in between us distracts me from constantly checking her screen and I can lie to myself saying that she’s pulling harder a few splits faster than me and I have to keep catching up.

  19. I just remind myself over and over again that races are won or lost in the middle. Anyone can hold their 2k split for the first 500m, but the middle is where I have to dig in and make it hurt like crazy. And I always start my finish too late! It’s so depressing to see me drop my split by 5 – 10s for the last 100m – I could have used that energy earlier! Guess I am afraid of flying and dying…

  20. I tell myself how disappointing it would be to have the girl two inches taller than myself beat me. That makes me angry because I KNOW that I can beat her. I don’t let myself stop trying and I count by the 500’s. I get angry and that anger motovates me to pull during that 3rd and hardest 500 until I get to the last part. And then I kick ***.

  21. Haven’t done an erg test in a long time, but I’m a counter too. Sometimes I just count for something to think about and realize that I am not even counting in order or all of a sudden I am at 63. It just keeps tempo and is something to think about (or not think).

  22. When I do 2k erg tests I try and see how consistent I can be in the middle thousand. I pick one split and stick with it for the middle thousand. And then the first and last 500 are really exciting and, especially the last 500, is all out!!!

  23. In the middle of a piece I think,”Gee, maybe I should have tapered or had a banana or not had the coffee……”. Yeah, I’m new at this.

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