CRASH-Bs are this weekend, and for a lot of athletes out there this is the highlight of winter training season. Let’s face it: basically everything between the Head of the Charles and the Boat Race pretty much sucks because it’s almost always cold, dark and indoors, and usually the music playing a little-too-loudly in the erg room isn’t your first choice. Erg blisters of course have to be different than rowing blisters, and it’s like Russian Roulette every day on which of your favorite training gear is inexplicably going to chafe you in inexplicable ways despite never having chafed you before. These are the days of cough drops, ice scrapers, Vaseline, and praying for new remixes to drop, (of anything. just…please…anything to avoid more Skrillex and Avicii). And, these are the days that we spend constantly driving to find just a few more seconds here and there for our spring 2ks. Whether you’re racing at CRASH-Bs or working toward another 2k at home, the clock is winding down on training days before it’s time to drop the hammer. And hopefully, whether you’re getting ready to pull your first or last 2k of the season, you have a goal in mind to help you have your best performance.
For a lot of collegiate women, breaking 7:00 is a milestone in their rowing career. Things are definitely different now than when I was a novice rower at the University of Washington, but at that time the 7:00 mark was a huge physical and mental barrier to break through and not very many athletes on my Team ever did it. It took me three years of rowing to figure it out, and I broke 7:00 for the first time as a college junior in 2005. It was one of my most memorable erg tests I’ve ever taken.
Because I was a Classics student and all of my upper-level Latin classes were only taught in the afternoons, my schedule didn’t allow for me to practice with the rest of the Team during Winter Quarter. So I got to take many of my erg tests that year in the mornings…alone. Also, 2005 was the middle of the Conibear Shellhouse renovation, so all of our erging workouts took place in a small side gym in the basketball arena. So early on the morning of March 2, 2005, I wheeled my single erg across the varnished wood floor to the middle of the empty gym under the spotlight of one of the fluorescent lamps, put on Guns’N’Roses Appetite for Destruction, and began my warmup.
Going in to the test, all of my 2k prep workouts had indicated that it was time for me to be on pace for a sub-7:00 performance. My last 2k had been a 7:07 — so an 8 second improvement was going to be a good-sized jump, but one that I was prepared to aim for. Not long before the test, my coach had first suggested to me that I consider applying for the 2005 U23 camp. But in order to be considered, I would have to break 7:00 on my 2k. I had no big goals of even making the U23 Team at that point but I did want to get invited to camp, so I made sub-7:00 my goal.
My warmup went well. And then it was time to test. My coach walked in a few minutes before the start time, and when I was ready, she turned off the music and without a word, promptly sat on the floor behind me and locked herself on to the rear rail of the erg to prevent me from sliding across the gym floor. I tightened the foot straps one last time, set the monitor, and took a breath.
Like all 2ks, the test went by so much faster than I thought it would. Before I realized what was happening, I had flown through the first 500–a little faster than I had planned–and then settled in to 1:45s for the middle 1000. Adrenaline was pumping through my body as I rated higher than I ever had on a 2k, 32 strokes per minute through the middle, and I wondered if I was going too high too soon. My split started going the wrong direction in the 3rd 500–a weakness of mine–and as I came in to the last 500 my average was right at 1:45.1. I was so close to my goal–immediately I decided I was going to make it happen, no matter what I had to do. I had less than 2 minutes to work the average under 1:45 so I just cleared my head and cranked it. With every stroke the rate was building, and the split started to stabilize and then come down again, and all I could think about was getting under 7:00. I let my body take over and I watched the decimals drop to 1:45.0…and with 30 strokes to go I knew I was going to do it, so sprinted joyfully to the line, feeling a huge surge of pride and relief as the average dropped to 1:44.9 in the last few strokes.
My coach hadn’t said anything during the test except maybe a little something in the last 500. But afterwards, she stood up and patted me on the back and congratulated me. “You made me a little nervous in the 3rd 500” she said, and laughed. And all I could do was nod. It was an epic feeling, and a great way to start off the 2k day for the Team, as by the afternoon test time, my teammates had all heard I’d had a good test, and fed off the positive vibes. Mostly I think they were happy to not have to take their 2ks alone with the coach literally looking over their shoulder every stroke.
I knew my first sub-7 erg wasn’t going to be my last 2k ever, and that someday (soon, even) I was going to have to do it all over again with a new goal driving me past what I thought my limits were before. But the thing was, I was excited to see how much faster I could get with the next opportunities I had. Because once you break 7:00, or any other barrier for that matter, you can break it over and over. But the question will be: by how much? After that test, I didn’t know I was going to pursue rowing at the elite level, so the idea of much faster than the 6:50s was completely off my radar. It took me some time at the elite level, even, to accept the reasonable possibility that I could continue to get faster and push my 2k speed in to the 6:40s and 6:30s (when my coach first told me that with the right training I could break 6:40, I laughed out loud. He did not appreciate it). But one of my favorite things about our sport is that if you put in the work, the results come. It’s just science. If you train your cardio-pulmonary systems and strengthen your muscles, you will get faster. It’s a beautiful thing.
To all of you out there who are going to the line this weekend or some weekend soon–good luck. Figure out a plan. Get yourself a goal. And then hang on to it, by your fingernails if you have to. Use your training and race smart, and embrace the opportunity to be as fast as you can be and make yourself a better competitor than you were when you sat down. And for those of you who might be trying to break 7:00 this weekend: go for it.
Long Live the Dream,