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!