competition · racing · Rowing

My first ergatta!

This weekend I took part in my first ever ergatta, like a rowing regatta but indoors, using rowing machines. It was a very nice, locally organized event for high schoolers, the London High School Invitational Ergatta, to which we’d added a Masters’ class event. It was just our local group racing + one person from away which also made it less nerve wracking.

I enjoyed the mood and the atmosphere: the young racers, keen coaches, and excited parents.  It was fun to watch their technique and see some of the blazing fast times of the seniors just finishing high school, on their way to university rowing teams.

Our masters group arrived early and we had ample time to warm up with the ergs set aside in the space we usually use as a kitchen and meeting room.

We received some terrific advice from our coach in the days leading up to the race. He told us to pick a 500 m split time for which we’d aim in advance. Don’t try to wing it. “Pick something that you think will be challenging, but — importantly — something you’re confident you can hit.” His advice was to settle into that split time as soon as possible–ignore the adrenaline rush from the start (very hard for me–I’m a go out fast and collapse kind of gal!) and save the energy for the final sprint.  2 km is longer than you think, he wrote. And yes, indeed it is. You can’t all out sprint for 8 min but 8 min isn’t quite an endurance event either. It’s a tough distance. (You can read more about 2 km tests here.) He advised us to wait til the last 250 m and take up the pace then, going all out with everything we have left for the final 50 to 100m.

Terrific news. It worked!

My 500 m split times have been going down in the monthly 2 km tests we’ve been doing, from 2:11 for the very first one to 2:07 most recently. I picked 2:07 as the pace I’d maintain and while I couldn’t quite resist the urge to sprint a bit off the start I did remember the advice and held it steady at 2:07 for a long stretch. I had lots left in the tank to sprint at the end, finishing with a 2:04 split time. A new personal best.

I also won the women’s masters category. I finished first after the guys. I have a new hat. See photo below. But really the new PB matters more since there were women who would’ve beat me if they’d raced. Winning in a time trial like that is partly a matter of luck about who shows up.

Also, for some people it was their first time racing. It was my first rowing race but not my first race. I’ve done lots of running, triathlon, and bike races. And knowing how to handle getting ready for a race and how to deal with pre-race jitters helped, I think.

This time I finished in 8:16. My goal is for a sub 8 min time which seems doable. I wasn’t as wiped out this time as I have been in other 2 km tests. I think I could have picked something lower than 2:07 to hold but I didn’t know if I could do that so I didn’t try. Next time…


Row, row, row your boat! (Trying something new)

One of my goals in the “fittest at fifty” campaign is to try a brand new sport or physical activity. I’ve often admired rowers–it looks so beautiful and like cyclists, they get to play outside in the sunrise. I love watching people at rowing practice as I ride along river and lakeside bike paths. But it’s nothing I’ve ever done before.

An aside: I’ve been tempted in the past to try rowing but been put off by weight categories. Light weight rowers are tiny. I think the cut off might be 130 lbs for women. But the heavyweights tend to Amazon proportions. Often they’re 6 ft tall or more. When I was younger I would’ve been strongly encouraged to “make weight” to row as a light weight, I think. I’m only 5’7 and in theory that’s doable. Not without ditching some muscle these days. As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m currently 122 lbs of lean muscle and bone.

But I think that matters less as a Masters level rower and competing for fun. At the encouragement of a friend, I attended two sessions this week at the London Rowing Club and I’ve joined their Off-Water Masters Program as a beginner. Our first coached day covered basic erg technique (like this, 7 Steps To Seriously Effective Erg Technique). Since it’s Canada in the autumn/winter we’re inside for quite a few months though they also have a tank to practice in-water technique. Rowing turns out to be very technical. (You experienced rowers can insert knowing chuckle here.) Lots and lots to learn (I like that) and I think I’ll never be able to look at people using the rowing machines at the gym the same way again.

The second day was our first 2 km erg test. Here I discovered that rowers and cyclists have something in common, a love of suffering! So that’s one transferable skill from cycling.

Since I have no shame and part of the joy of a new sport is I have no idea how bad this is, I’m happy to share my results here. I’m a beginner again, I love that. In fact, I think it’s one of the best things about being in reasonably good shape is that you can try new sports and activities and focus on technique rather than the fitness barrier. We’re going to repeat these monthly and results are posted on the bulletin board at the club so we can track progress. I’m just a little bit competitive (even if just with myself) so I like that. 🙂

Here’s my November 2 km erg time and splits

110 drag factor
2 km time 8:45.4
avg split 2:11.4

400 m 2:00

800 m 212.6
1200 m 217.2
1600 213.8
2000 212.8

What I really like: There’s a keen coach. I need that. Like cyclists, rowers like to suffer and that matches my sports profile. A time trial is a time trial.  There’s also lots of women my age.

What I’m not so sure about: It’s more indoor exercising which isn’t really my thing. I worry the technique might be too tricky to acquire at my age. I’ll report back.

In the meantime, I’m watching videos like the one below on proper erg technique.