Thoughts on the plane:
Going to the world indoor rowing championships, always held in Boston USA, is really the only opportunity in this sport to be properly immersed in the competition experience. I have only been to the Crash B’s (the name given to the world champs, standing for Charles River All Star Has Been’s) once before in 2004, but even now, on the flight to Boston, I remember how different this experience is from any other. The British Indoor Rowing Championships is a bigger competition in terms of competitor numbers, but the competition in Boston is the World Championships. There is more organisation around the event with dedicated team hotels, special training rooms set up in these hotels, and even an international competitors reception on Saturday.
For all the races within the UK you generally work a normal week, drive to the event in the morning of the Saturday or Sunday race, hang around for a couple of hours before warming up and racing, then drive home again. Flying seven and a half hours to another continent 3 days before the race is just a different experience. The next three days will be spent in and around a group of people all there for the same reason. Some will be your own competition, but most will be in different categories on race day, and every single one will have a mixture of nerves and adrenalin coursing through their veins. Some people will want to discuss training and tactics, some will want to take their minds off their race, some people will even be stupid enough to listen to someone else’s advice and change something vital in their race plan or preparation a couple of days before the race, which is never a good idea. I’ve been in the warm up room at competitions before and someone I vaguely know on the erg next to me asks me to tell them if I see anything they’re doing technically wrong that they could change. If you ever get asked this question before a race, don’t answer it, no good can come from the answer to that question. If you have the time, and of course only if you have the knowledge, tell them to come and ask you after they have raced, never before.
So I am currently on a British Airways 777 over the mid Atlantic, around 3 hours from Boston. I’m travelling with “Rocket” Roy Brook, the 55-59 lwt World Record Holder. Now Roy, being a seasoned competitor, former Hammer winner (the trophy given to winners at the Crash B’s), and I think now on his 5th (and final, so he says) time racing in Boston in very careful. Someone sneezes near him on the plane, he moves seats away from them. That’s why I now have an empty seat next to me and the space to use my laptop! As a lightweight Roy also has to be very careful about his calorie intake, so while I ate a nice chicken noodle dish at Wagamama while we waited for our flight, Roy had a fruit compote, possibly the lowest calorie item on the menu. I digress…
With 3 days in Boston now before the race my plan will go around in my head hundreds of times. I’ll go from high confidence, to wondering why I’m doing this. When I visualise parts of the race my heart rate will shoot instantly from 60 to 120. This cycle will go around and around until the minute the announcer called “pick up your handles”, then it’s the easy part, the bit I’ve training for, the part I’m ready for.
Over the weekend we had a fair bit of time for socialising with old friends, people we’d met briefly before, people who we knew from the training forums, and some we didn’t know at all. This was the highlight of the trip, and made it well worth the time and effort.
Race day started early with a 7.30am taxi to the arena with Roy ready for the weigh in at 8am. We met Mike vB and Tor Arne “the Viking” waiting for the weigh in, and kept an eye out for the man in the hat, who of course never arrived. The three of them all made weight comfortably, with Roy timing it perfectly to be 164.8lbs on the scales.
Shirley “rowmyboat” Godkin was on in the first race at 9am. As I’ve been coaching Shirley for some time it was great to be able to cox during her race. Shirley had never been to a race of this size before, or go up against someone faster than her (Shirley holds the New Zealand 2k record). So to sit next to last years winner, who won last time in 7:37 (compared to Shirley’s 7:54 pb) was great. The pacing didn’t quite go to plan with a bit too fast a start, and so a bit of struggle holding on the pace through the middle, but the goal of 2nd place and a world championship silver was achieved with a 7:59.
Roy was up next at 10am, and my second coxing job. I had talked to Roy about his race plan on the way over, and I knew the capabilities of the other competitors fairly well. It was always going to take a row of around Roy’s own 6:38 World Record to beat him, so I think Mike did absolutely the right thing to go out aiming for that record. As it turned out, that pace was a little too ambitious, and I’m sure cost Mike a few seconds on his final time, but you have to try these things some times. Roy rowed a great race, and I may have stretched the truth a little during the final few hundred metres telling him they were closing on him, but wanted to make sure he finished in a good time if it was really to be his last race (Roy is turning to time trialling on his bike ready for the world TT championships later this year).
Tore Arne (Norway), Roy (UK) and Mike (USA)
I watched Nav Haz’s race next before heading back to the hotel for some rest. I was feeling confident for my race, with a plan to go out at 1:33/1:34 for the first 1600m or so pulling it down in the final stages with a flat out sprint in the final 200m for the pb. I got a taxi back around 2pm, ready for warming up at 3pm for my 3.30 race.
The warm up felt ok. Nothing special, but fine. I did around 4k in total including some bursts to race pace, and then it was time to head to the race machine. The race started and I did a few hard strokes hitting 1:20 before backing off to the planned 1:33/1:34. Straight away the 1:34’s felt tough, and I just didn’t have the power in my legs I’ve had during the last few weeks training. 1:34’s dropped to 1:35’s, 1:35’s dropped to 1:36’s, and even the occasional 1:37 popped up on the monitor. It was one of those days. They happen once in a while – not that often, and you hope not on race day, but unfortunately that’s what happened on this occasion. I managed to pull the pace back a little in the later stages to finish a bit better, though never hit faster than a 1:33 even in those closing stages. Could I have found a sprint finish from somewhere and perhaps gone under 6:20? Probably. But it felt hard, much harder than that pace should have done. The finish time was 6:21.9, around 10 (and a bit) seconds slower than I planned to go, and than my training dictated I could go.
Perhaps a photo compilation of the race might illustrate how it felt:
towards the end
The reason for this is most likely a combination of factors, but I suspect I have a slight illness. I had a headache for the first day or so in Boston, and have suffered with really dry lips the whole time I was away. Jet lag is not an issue for me going West. I have travelled to the US (and often with an 8 hour time difference, not just this 5 hour difference) on average 2 or 3 times a year for the past 5 years, and I never suffer at all going that way. This is my third time racing in the US having done both Boston and Ergomania in Seattle before, so I know how I react to the time difference. Coming back East is a different matter, but luckily I don’t have to do that to race. The late race time could have been a slight factor, but I rested in the middle of the day at the hotel, and felt good up to the start of the race.
I did taper the week before the race which I don’t normally do. I race on confidence, and hard sessions leading up to the race give me that confidence of what I can do. I don’t think this was effective for me, but it’s hard to know whether it was really a factor at all. So I’m not happy with the time, but we all have bad days, and there will be other race days. I know my training has been going well, and I’m in shape to break my pb. What next? Watch this space to find out.