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CIRC Race Report

February 26, 2012

Photo: all the Rowfit athletes at CIRC yesterday.

Yesterday was the Chicago Indoor Rowing Championships. The annual pain-fest. 7 minutes of hell on an erg (or a 2k to be more precise). But what an inspiring day it was. This was my third time doing CIRC, but the first time with Rowfit (my crossfit gym).

First thing to do when I got there was weigh in. Light weight is 165 for men, but they give us three pounds leeway at this competition. I was 163.5 on my scale in the morning, so I figured I could safely eat my light breakfast and have water. If it was a stricter rowing competition, I would have been carefully rationing every sip of water and bite of food until post weigh-in! I took my shoes off, but stepped on the scale fully dressed. 168. That was higher than I expected, but they said it was fine. I later found out one of the scales was a couple pounds heavy! On the other scale, still fully dressed, I was 165.5. Okay, so I was legit lightweight. And got my yellow wristband for it. Lightweight is a big deal in high school and college rowing. There are tons of lightweight rowers. But post-collegiate, most people do not stay lightweight (surprise anyone?). Out of maybe 40 men in the 20-29 age bracket, four of us were lightweight. So we row with the open weights, we’re just labeled as a separate race on the results cards.

During my warmup (photo at right), I could definitely feel the fatigue of recent workouts (more on that below). The tradeoffs of races where you don’t fully taper. You’re still tired and can’t necessarily put up your best results. But I also didn’t feel that bad. I knew that my times had been slow my last two weeks of training, and I knew I wasn’t fully rested. So I had to decide whether to stick with my original race plan. If I went out at my original target speed, and couldn’t hold it, I would really pay later in the race, and my overall speed for the whole race would be slower. If I adjusted and went out just a little slower, my overall speed might be better because I wouldn’t “fly and die.” I could hold that slightly slower speed for the whole race. But if I could have hit my original target, I would not be able to make up the difference if I started slower. At my gym, I’m known for being very consistent on the erg. I’m known for hitting my target and sticking it, consistently. But I think it means I’m sometimes not quite as aggressive as I can be. I decided I was going to stick to my original race plan for as long as I could. If I paid for it, I paid for it. This race didn’t really “count” for anything. Risking a fly and die wasn’t hurting my chances at anything. No matter what, I was going to row as hard as I could that day.

When they called my race, I got on my erg, did my last couple minutes of warmup, and then left a few minutes to sit and rest before the race started. During that few minutes, I reviewed my race plan with Chauncey, who was going to be coxing me during the race. My plan was basically to settle to my race pace almost immediately after the start, and then for the most part try to hold that pace as best I could. I also planned to be aggressive on the stroke rate, aiming for 30-31 for most of the race. “Attention all, ready, row!” And we were off!

I was pretty much right on my race plan for the first 500 meters of the race. I was somewhere between a 1:46 and 1:47 pace for that 500, exactly where I wanted to be, and holding 30 spm. My plan was to hit 1:46 and hold 1:46 exactly, but I wasn’t that far off. But then the pain starts. The second 500 I struggled a bit. By 750 meters into the race, I was having a hard time breathing. Partially that’s to be expected in a 2k, under any conditions. But the venue they use also does not have the best ventilation. The air is often warm and dry, and everyone complains about that. I think my speed slipped to around 1:48. I stayed mostly at 30 spm, but slipped to 29 a few times. As I approached 800 meters in, I was really struggling to hold my target pace. Chauncey yelled at me to get to full compression, something I struggle with when I get tired. Every time she said something, I fixed it, for at least a few strokes. As I approached the halfway point, she told me to sit up tall and take ten for length as I went through halfway (that was part of my race plan, exactly what I wanted). By that point I was a couple seconds slower than target. I tried to get back to target with that 10. I think I got closer, but not quite to my target.

Photo: Late in the race, BJ in the foreground and me in the background.

By the third 500 meters, I was dying. (And really, that was fully expected.) I could vaguely hear the crowd around me, I could vaguely hear Chauncey yelling at me, but I wasn’t aware of the other rowers around me. I really lost my target in the third 500. I was 7 or 8 seconds slower than my target, and a couple times my stroke rating dropped to a 28. Fortunately Chauncey prodded me to get it back up to a 30 when I was really off. All I could think about was one stroke at a time: just keep trying to get all the way up to the catch and then explode with the legs. I remember Chauncey yelling something at me at 600 meters to go. I don’t know what she said. But it was enough to remind me that I had 600 meters to go, and I knew my race plan said “sit up tall, get ready for the last 500 meters.” I didn’t have gas left to pick up the speed at that point. But I could at least try to clean up my technique, row more efficient even if not faster just yet. At 300 meters to go, it was time to sprint. My stroke rating had slipped to 29 for the beginning of the last 500. Chauncey yelled at me “bring it up to 30 in 2.” And I did. For my sprint, I got my rating up to 30-31. Not quite the target of 32, but close. I was a little faster in my sprint, but not much. I can judge how hard I pushed by how much I have left for the sprint. If I can go much faster in the sprint, it means I didn’t push hard enough for most of the race. Yesterday, I didn’t have much left for the sprint. I was a little faster, but not much. Which tells me I pushed hard for the whole race.

After the race I just sat there on the erg for several minutes before I could move. I was done. I didn’t hit my target, but I pushed as hard as I could. If I had adjusted my race plan and gone out around a 1:48, maybe I could have held that speed. Maybe my overall time would have been faster. This was my worst fly and die in recent memory. But I’m not upset with that. I took a chance on the race plan. And sometimes that’s the tradeoff.

After my 2k, I had a few hours of rest. Time to eat, drink water, and try to recover a little. And then I was part of a relay team. 5 rowers, rowing 2500 meters, switching off every 500 meters. Which meant pure sprint for 500 meters. Bring on the pain! During the relay, we all rowed somewhere between 37 and 42 spm. Insanely high. I rowed that 500 meters probably 15 seconds faster than my average speed per 500 in my 2k. And then you need to try to jump off the erg as fast as possible, even though all you want to do is collapse. The next athlete needs to get on the erg! The transitions are critical. The clock doesn’t stop. Fortunately, we’re allowed to have two people help with the foot stretchers. It’s still not easy. The first 10 strokes of the sprint were fine. By 20 strokes in, the legs were on fire. By 30 strokes in, everything hurt. And there were another 25-30 strokes to go.

Other Rowfit athletes at CIRC put up inspiring results. Whether it was new athletes, pushing to find new limits; crossfit veterans, suffering through their first rowing competition (Carlos admitted that the 2k is as hard as most crossfit WODs); or world-class rowers, setting new competition records, all around incredible. And one of our women’s relay teams set a new CIRC record! I think they finished the 2500 meters in around 8:11. The previous record was around 8:29!! Wow! And they won a brand new erg for our gym in the process.

But for all of the inspiring and amazing athletic feats my team performed, one moment stands out as capturing the spirit of crossfit. After winning her race by a considerable margin, Nell, owner of Rowfit and world class rower, turned to the two athletes next to her — who were not with Rowfit, and had both clearly struggled a lot with their races — and gave both of them high five.

After the races, I had another decision. Was I going to redo this week’s Crossfit Games workout? The workout this week was 7 minutes, max reps burpees (see here for photo and video describing the workout). Normally at our gym, we’ll be doing the Games workouts on Thursdays. But this week, Rowfit had a special class on Sunday, just so that athletes competing at CIRC could rest before CIRC and do the games workout later. After a lot of back and forth, I had decided to do the burpee workout on Thursday. I think that was the right decision. I had lost a little of the mental game the last couple weeks. But once I decided to go do the burpee workout on Thursday, I began to get back into it mentally. I felt pumped again on my way to the gym on Thursday. I got 78 burpees. Not as good as I hoped, but solid. And after the burpee workout, I knew I had given it everything I had and then some. I had pushed to my core. And I knew that going into CIRC, I would be physically a little sore from the burpees, but mentally I had gotten some of my edge back.

But then I began wondering whether I could have done more burpees. For the Games standards, we had to jump and touch a ring 6 inches above our maximum reach for each burpee to count. Not part of the normal burpee routine. It took a little getting used to. And my pacing could have been better. At CIRC, a couple athletes who had also done the burpee workout on Thursday were talking about redoing it on Sunday. I began considering it. When I got home from CIRC, I even took an ice bath to help my legs recover faster so that I would have a chance. (I might begin incorporating ice baths into my recovery routine, they do seem to help!) The ice bath helped, but my legs, back, and even shoulders were still sore. Even if I could have done more burpees, I’m not sure I could do more the day after a 2k. And was it really worth redoing the burpee workout to get another 3 or 4 burpees? If I was going to be competitive to go to regionals, yes, it would have been worth it. But I know I’m not going to be competitive to go to regionals. So it was only for myself. In the end, my partner made the choice easy. He wanted me to go to a film from a film festival with him. I had already missed the film he wanted on Saturday, since I was at CIRC all day. So today I let him win. No redo of the burpee workout, let the legs recover. The body will thank me.

266 days till Ironman Arizona.

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From → erg, races

One Comment
  1. Great recap. I’ve never seen a recap of a rowing competition before. Heck, I never even knew they HAD rowing competitions. It was fascinating to read about the details and see how so much of the strategies and physical and mental aspects are similar to running. At the same time though, you have the details unique to rowing, such as how you needed to get to full compression. Thanks for sharing and good luck in your training.

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