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…

cycling · racing · Rowing · running · triathalon

Six reasons not to race and why they might be mistaken

I love racing, even though I’m a midlife, middle of the pack athlete. I know this puzzles some people (okay, some of my friends) and I often find myself in the situation of responding to the objections to racing that they raise.

Some of my friends are not at all interested in competition but I worry that their reasons are based on some misconceptions about why those of us who do race enjoy it.

I often think the anti-racing crowd might like it too.

So here’s my attempt to respond to the race-shy or the race-skeptical.

1. Some friends say, ‘I’ll never win so why race?’

Note first that this is true for lots of athletes. Think of how many riders there are in the Tour de France and how few are serious contenders for even winning one of the stages, let alone the overall race. Think about the numbers of people in the Hawaii Ironman. They aren’t all contenders for the podium, even in the age group categories. I’ve only won two races in my lifetime but I love the ‘winning moments’–passing someone even if I can’t hold them off, for example. In bike racing I love being part of the team effort, participating in strategies that get one of my team’s riders into the front pack.

2. Some friends say “I’m only interested in fitness.”

I get that but to be fit you have to push yourself and trust me, you’ll never ever push yourself as hard in training as you do when racing. I wear a heart rate monitor when training on the bike and I’ve done VO2 max testing so I’ve got some idea of what the various sports training zones mean for me. I’ve also worn the heart rate monitor when criterium racing. The first time I did this and then looked at the data after I laughed out loud at how much time I’d spent in the red zone, E4. That’s something I just can’t make myself do for very long outside race situations. I won’t bore you with all the geeky gory details but here’s the my HR data from a crit last year: Avg HR 171, max HR 178 (32% in E4) Avg speed 33.2, max speed 42. No way I could do that outside a race.

3.  Some friends say, “I just want to train, not race.”

Okay, but it helps to have a focus for your training, something to train for. Races give structure to your training as you build endurance, then speed, then both together, taper off coming up to the race, race, recover, and rebuild.

4.  Some friends say, “I’m too old.”

These friends admit they might have enjoyed racing in their youth but now they are too old, they think. They’ve grown up and put all the fun away. To which I say, don’t be ridiculous. It’s like saying that sex is for the young.  We’ve only got one kick at the can, one try at this life, and if something would have been fun when you were young, it’s probably still fun now. (Like sex.) The Vets Racing Club in Canberra requires a doctor’s notes in order to keep racing after age 75 and there are people in that category.

5.  Some friends say, “I might get hurt.”

Yes, that’s true you might. You also might get hurt sitting on your sofa for too long, or shoveling snow. Life is risky, no way around it. But in the category of recreational racing most people recognize that we aren’t professional athletes and there’s no sense risking injury unnecessarily. Some of the rules in masters and recreational racing reflect this. On the one dodgy corner on the crit racing course in Canberra–“collarbone corner” as it’s known–race organizers decided not to allow passing through that bend. For that one short turn the race is “neutralized” and riders are asked to hold their place. I also love the reminder that the race organizer gives riders before the start, “Remember we’re not racing for sheep stations out there.” In other words, we’re out there for fun not fortunes. (See image above.)

6. Some friends say, “I’m just doing this for fun.”

Racing is a lot of fun. Whether you most enjoy the training, being out there competing, or the music, snacks and prizes after, at the level of recreational athletics it’s all about the fun.

Hope to see you out there!!!