Westdale Rowing Community

Information for the Westdale Rowing Community

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This is mostly for the novices.  The more 2K races/tests you do, the more you can incorporate strategy into your race plan. For your first one, I suggested keeping it simple.  i.e., try to hold the best possible split consistently for the whole time.  One of two things will usually happen:  you will either be way too ambitious with the target split and wind up paying for it with oxygen debt at the end, or the target will not be aggressive enough and you will find it fairly easy.  This is why there are usually marked improvements on the second and third tests.  The average MINIMUM improvement I’ve seen between the first and second test is about 20 seconds.  In some cases, it’s way more.  Some of you may be thinking that “there’s no way I can go 20 seconds faster than last time”.  Well, yes you can because of three things:  Improved technique alone will give you a BIG boost in your score.  Also, we’ve had a much better run-up prep-wise to this event and that should really help you.  And thirdly, you now have some experience with this and have a better idea what it’s about.

EVERYBODY is different when it comes to pre-race strategy.  Some like to hang out with their friends.  Others like to withdraw into their own world with music.  Some like to go to a quiet corner, close their eyes and think about the race.  Each method is to be respected.  One thing that is common during this period, is nerves.  For me, I was the “go find a quiet corner and think about my race” guy.  I would evaluate my strategy, and focus on what I thought would be the hardest part of the race.  Like most, I found the 900-1300 gone section the toughest.  It’s in that range where you haven’t quite gone far enough to see the end yet and you feel like you’re hanging on.  I tried to put my mind and body in that spot so I could deal better with it.  Knowing that my training was good and that I was equipped physically to deal with this helped a lot.  I also tried to focus on my nervous heart rate and somehow control it with my breathing.  I found this helped tremendously in terms of dealing with the nerves.

Nerves are nerves.  Everybody gets them.  I’ve always thought that we had to “earn our nerves”.  If you’ve worked hard and improved, then your nerves are telling you that you have now earned this “test” and the right to see verified improvement.  “Verified improvement” doesn’t just happen…..it happens because you’ve made it happen by putting in the miles on the erg, in the weight room and on land.  My first rowing coach a LONG time ago, used to equate races to school, and that your classroom/homework practice always determined how you did.  In rowing and sport in general, if you practice hard to improve, then this will show when it comes time to race.  Trust your training!  He would look at me when I was nervous, and say “HEY, BESH!  REMEMBER, IF YOU STUDY HARD, YOU PASS THE EXAM!  THIS IS THE EXAM AND YOU ALL HAVE STUDIED HARD!”  Trust your training!

There are numerous strategies, each tailored to individuals.  I know rowers who like to have a plan for each 100 metre segment of the race.  They’ll write it down and tape it to their erg.  I know  rowers who like to write down two or three motivational quotes that they will look down and read at key moments of their race when doubt has crept in.  I know rowers who will wear earbuds and blast music to themselves the entire time.  And I know rowers who will use very little strategy except a 7 stroke burst at the start, then settle into their target rate and target split the rest of the way, motivated only by the number on the screen.

A common strategy at the start is to do 7 strokes as hard and as fast as you can.  This is your “start”.  That gets the wheel going and gets your race started with some energy and engages the anaerobic system right away.  7 strokes is the minimum—some rowers do as many as 10-12.  The key to a good start is, immediately after the 7 strokes are done, find your target rate and target split on the 8th stroke.  Doing this is a signal to the body to breathe and transition to the aerobic system, the one that’s carried you through all those interminable 30’/45’/1 hr ergs!.  If you are like some people who take about 35 seconds to “settle” (I hate that word)  into their race, you will have spent way too much time in anaerobic land and you will pay for it at the end.  I call the 8th stroke the “stride”.  If done properly, you will feel like you’ve slowed down, but again, you will engage proper breathing technique, which you need.  Establish your breathing rythm at this point.  This is also where you want to make sure your rate is where it should be (29-30 is a good range for a 2K test).  Experienced rowers know their target split.  For novices, I would target a split that would give you a 20 second improvement on your previous 2K score.  I will tell you those splits, but feel free to ask me.  You are always free, depending on how you feel, to adjust your target midway through the race based on how you feel.  But for the first thousand, stick to the target.  Also, CONSISTENCY IS KEY!!!  If your target split is, say, 2:10, then stay on 2:10, varying only to either 2:09 or 2:11.  If you stand behind our experienced rowers, you will see that their split doesn’t vary much at all.  You will struggle WAY more if your split goes from 2:10 to 2:16 to 2:04, etc.  It’s like trying to go out for a run by sprinting, walking, jogging, running at the target rate and repeating for the full time.  MUCH easier to be consistent.

At the 500 metre mark, many people will throw in a 7 stroke burst that focuses on a technical part of the stroke that you are weak at.  Let’s pick one.  You’re clicking along at 29 strokes a minute and are right on your target split.  Your monitor clicks over from 1500 metres to 1499 to go.  You’ve decided  that your technical focus for the first 500 is ‘keeping your upper back and shoulders still at the finish and letting the hands and forearms do all the work on the “tapdown”.  You give seven really hard, powerful strokes first where your split will get better and your rate higher.  After the seven, again “stride” to find your target split and rate.  For the remainder of this 500 metres, work on that technical focus mentioned above.

At the 1000 metre mark, you are halfway through the race.  You can again do a 7 stroke burst, and following this, work on another technical focus that could be something as easy as breathing.  Make sure you are in a breathing rhythm, with a big exhale at the finish.  Get lots of air into the lungs.  You are also in the “Zone of Doubt”, where your mind is fighting over your body to keep going, when all your body wants to do is crawl up in a corner and die!  At this stage of the race, I always reminded myself of two things, and they would ALWAYS come into my mind without prompting.  The first is my favourite saying that “What the Mind Believes, The Body Will Deliver”.  Believe that you CAN do this!  You’ve done it before and CAN do it!  The second thing that happens is, I visualize being in an eight and racing bow ball to bow ball with another crew.  Not putting my best into ANY stroke will cause my boat to slow down and therefore I will NOT let my crew down by slowing down.  This is a GREAT motivational mindset to be in, where eight others are relying on you and you are relying on eight others to give it everything you have.  You won’t let them down and they won’t let you down.  (I was always a big “team” and “crew” guy, so this one was meaningful to me!).

At the 1500 metre mark, another 7 stroke burst and a technical focus, usually for overall posture and style.  For novices especially, the more tired you get, the more technique suffers, the more your split gets worse.  We know we aren’t going to be as strong at the finish as we are at the start.  But if your technique can hold together in these latter stages, it will REALLY help your score!

There are varying opinions on when to start your finish “sprint to the line”.  It depends on how your race is going.  If you are behind your target split, then you may need to ‘go early.’   If you are on or ahead of if, then simply try to hold onto it and keep eating those metres up!  The accepted range is usually 200-250 metres to go.  For guys, that’s about 20-25 strokes, for women it’s about 22-27 strokes.  For some, what works is to just shut the eyes and count.  Even if you can’t keep them shut for any more than 5 strokes, that’s still another 40-50 metres less than the last time you saw the screen.  But the finish is like that last sprint at the end of a 40 minute run.  You can see the finish line, so just load it up and go for it!


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It’s late notice, but we just got word early this morning that the Leander docks will be going in THIS SUNDAY March 5th.  We need as many of you as possible at the club between 10am-2pm to get this done and get the on-water season underway!!!  For many novices, it will be your first introduction to the club and lifting boats, carrying oars and learning the proper way of doing things!  Experienced rowers, please bring your 7/16ths wrenches as I expect at least some boats will be rigged on Sunday.

I still need to confirm when we will be able to row—we are HOPING for next week for the experienced rowers who were club members last season.  At this point, it doesn’t look like we will be able to get the novices on the water before April 1 due to club insurance, so there will likely be split training between the club and the school until April 1.  We will communicate if anything changes. Experienced rowers, be prepared for anything.  You may be allowed on the water, but may not be able to row in 1x/2x….just 4x/4+/8+.  Again, we will let you know.

The date for the swim test has not been announced yet, but we will let you know when it is scheduled.  All novices MUST take this test before being allowed on the water.  You are exempt from the test ONLY if you can provide proof of a bronze cross certificate or equivalent swimming capability.  The test is simple:  you jump into the water clothed in what you would normally wear for April training outside and you tread water for a set amount of time.  You are then thrown a life jacket and must put it on in the water.  May we NEVER have to put this skill to the test in Hamilton Bay—at least not in April!

If the experienced rowers are able to row next week, their testing week will be adjusted.  Most of you won’t be pulling 2K or 6K tests anyway, given that you are doing Ontario’s.  Flex tests will take place Monday morning, with strength tests TBA.  We will do the run test on a morning at the school when we’re off the water due to weather.

Monday, March 6th is reserved for viewing the safety video, followed by flex tests.  ALL rowers must watch this before being allowed on the water, and we will be conducting a written test after watching it.  If you aren’t there on Monday and we are allowed to hit the water on Tuesday, you will not be included in Tuesday’s boating lineup until you’ve watched it (no matter how many times you’ve seen it!!).

One other thing.  It is vital that you read these blog updates, especially over the next few weeks as we transition to the on-water season.  There are MANY items of business to take care of, so please stay informed!


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We will have a HUGE Westdalian presence at the Ontario Indoor Rowing Championships on Saturday March 4th with 26 racing!!!!  The following is a TENTATIVE schedule.  It will be finalized later this week, so please do not treat this as the final version–I’m posting it so you can get a rough idea of when you will race.  You will need to be there at least an hour before your race to check in, meet with your coach, and warm up.  Those racing in weight categories need to weigh in as well.

8:15:  JR HS WOMEN:  Ciara, Kate B.  Fiora, Maura

8:50:  JR HS 150 MEN (Weigh in required):  Ethan

10:00:  JR. HS 165 MEN (Weigh in required) Alex

10:30:  JR. HS 135 WOMEN (Weigh in required):  Sequoia, Kate M, Becca, Julia, Charlotte, Zaiga, Gillian

11:45:  JR HS 145 WOMEN:  (Weigh in required):  Maddy

1:10:  SR HS 165 MEN:  Ben

1:45:  SR HS 135 WOMEN:  (Weigh in required):  Dania, Erin, Sadie

2:15:  SR HS 145 WOMEN:  (Weigh in required):  Susan, Meegan

2:45:  SR HS WOMEN:  Kat, Victoria, Lauren

3:30:  SR HS MEN:  Lucas, Harrison, Kieran

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Lots below, so please read!

For Ontario’s next Saturday March 4th, there is a waiver to be signed.  If you are 18, you can sign it.  If you are under 18, a parent/guardian has to sign it.  PLEASE BRING IT TO THE REGATTA NEXT SATURDAY!!

Here is the waiver form:  ontario-ergometer-championships-waiver

Race times will be published as soon as I get them .  Directions to the event: QEW to St. Catharines.  From the QEW, exit at 406 South.  Go 4 km to Fourth Avenue exit and turn Right at top of ramp.  At 2nd Traffic Light, turn Left onto Louth Street.  Go 1 km and turn Left on Ridley Road (before crossing train tracks).  Take 1st Left into Ridley parking lots.  The event is in the Ridley College Field House.

There are 20 Westdale entries, but we want to see more!  The deadline is tomorrow.  Please take care of your entry tonight!!

For next week, we will do speedwork on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.  Wednesday will be yoga as normal.  Friday is a PA Day, but all competitors will be off.  Please take some time during that day to mentally prepare for the race.  Think about strategies, think about how you want to attack it!  We will be talking about race strategies with the novices during the week—this is a regatta where we can employ a plan!  If you have any questions, please ask us!

Following Ontario’s, we will do our final test week.  I will confirm the test schedule next week.  Again, I will confirm.

Following test week, it’s MARCH BREAK!!!  At the moment, nothing has been finalized, however it is looking like experienced rowers may be able to row during March break if you are in town and not doing the Brock rowing camp (which is recommended for our seniors!).  Due to insurance and Rowing Canada Registration, novices may be held back during March Break.  We’re trying to work something out where we can get you on the water as soon as possible, so stay tuned!

There will be a swim test organized by the club for novices at some point.  No date has been set yet.  If you have any swim certification (bronze cross/lifesaving, etc), PLEASE TEXT OR E-MAIL ME A PICTURE OF THE CERTIFICATE!!!  This will excuse you from having to do the test.

There will be an upcoming parents meeting–date to be determined.  We will go over the on-water season, regatta protocols, Regatta Parent Fun, and costs.  Note that we are trying to keep costs as low as possible.  I can some detail on this.  Leander has set their fee at $259.  This covers our affiliation to the club, to Rowing Canada, to RowOntario, insurance, boat usage and gas for the coach boats. The club makes no money on high school registrations—the $259 is the direct cost to the club.  This will be paid through RegattaCentral–I will forward instructions when I receive them.  On top of the $259, there will be an as-yet-to-be-determined amount that will be payable to Westdale Rowing that will cover our costs for the season, which are:  Regatta entry fees, CSSRA tent rental, CSSRA site rental, bus to CSSRA Thursday practice.  Those are the big ones.  Last year, the per rower cost over and above the club membership was $75.  There will be an increase to this for 2017, but we haven’t arrived at that figure yet.  Many have paid the deposit, which will be deducted from the amount owing to Westdale.

We have two fundraisers this spring.  The first one will be at Fortino’s at Main & Dundurn on the Saturday of Easter Weekend (April 15th) from 10am-6pm.  We will try to book you in 2 hour shifts, so you don’t have to be there for the whole day.  You can sign up for more than one two hour block if you wish.  The busiest time will be between noon and 3PM, so that’s where we want to really be visible!  We will need to have plastic buckets available in Westdale colours that say “Westdale Rowing” on them.  You guys will all be in your Westdale rowing gear and we will HOPEFULLY have an erg going to encourage donations.  You guys will be bagging groceries for folks–that is how we generate funds.  I need volunteers to help with this.

On Wednesday, April 26th, the highly popular Chili Cookoff will take place at Leander.  Brock has been working hard at this.  Each rower will be given a block of tickets to sell to family, friends, etc.  This is a MAJOR fundraiser for us–our costs wouldn’t be nearly as low without it.  If any parents would like to help, please let me know–as we get closer, there will be numerous tasks that need to be filled.

The outdoor season is soon upon us!!!




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Beyonce may be known as “Queen B”, but we were honoured to have “Queen PB” visit our practice this morning!!  7 big PBs this morning.  SEVEN!!!  HUGE work, ladies!!  Keep it up!

We have sessions this afternoon and Wednesday at Leander for anyone who wants to join us.  I will be there today and Pete will be there Wednesday.  Again, for those doing Wednesday afternoon, please still do yoga tomorrow morning and take Thursday morning off.

We will be doing speedwork in prep for Ontario’s starting on Thursday morning and running through most of next week.  That means shorter, sharper and higher rate work.  The goal is to have each and every one of you set a Personal Best on Saturday, March 4th at the Ridley gym.  Here is a synopsis of the next week and a half for the women. Note the 7am starts when we are doing speedwork. This is because we don’t require as much time to do speedwork. Arrive at 7, warmup for ten minutes, then we will start.



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Please take care of your entries for this event as soon as you can–the deadline is fast approaching and we want as many of you competing as possible!  There are only 8 Westdalians entered so far, so let’s boost that number.  Check out the blog post on January 10th with instructions on how to enter.

Novices, if you are unsure which category to enter, PLEASE ASK ME BEFORE YOU ENTER.  It is a large pain for the organizers to change your category once entered, so text or e-mail me first.

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Rowers, if your parents don’t get blog notifications, PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH THEM!!!  One issue that has come up a LOT in my coaching career, especially with young women, is the effect of low iron levels.  The nature of our sport and the volume of training, plus the early starts can have a profound effect on the athletes and one of the major concerns is iron levels.  It’s a tough reality to see a crew’s performance adversely affected by something so easily remedied…and I have seen it happen!  When I was in NZ, we tested for this twice annually and invariably, at least a half dozen or more rowers would have test levels come back low, and in some cases, very low.

Low iron levels are VERY easy to fix, but the issue is that it does take time to do it….2-3 months on average, although it can take longer for more severe deficiency.  The jury is still out on how long it can take, but suffice to say, if there’s a problem, it’s not fixable by tomorrow!  It can be remedied over time through an increase in iron rich foods, and in more acute cases, doctors can prescribe iron pills.

I will also add the disclaimer that this is not mandatory, but a good suggestion and in the end , the sphere of influence of the coaches obviously does not extend to medical and health issues.  It’s the choice of parents and athletes to take the step to consult the family doc.     But in my experience, sometimes the February Blahs are more than just the February Blahs….and taking care of it early is a great start on a successful season!