Head of the Charles !!!!!

Holy Shit!  Nothing compares to this regatta!  The organization is amazing.  The competition incredible.  The course challenging.  The scenery beautiful.  The people friendly.  It absolutely should be on every rowers bucket list!

The weather was challenging.  It was sunny and 47F, but windy as hell.  The wind was from the West blowing 15mph gusting to 25.  The course curves all over, but that is generally a head wind.

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Before the race, the water in the basin was terrible.  Lots of waves, and great gust of wind.  It made warming up basically impossible.  We all just huddled in a clump as close to the Cambridge shore as they would let us until the called us to the start chute.

Over a period of about 10 minutes I listened to them start all the Grand Master (50+) singles, and they eventually called me up.  “Mr. Smith, on the paddle please”. “Firm it up Mr. Smith”.  Mr. Smith, ROW!” and I was on the course.  And greeted with huge gusts of wind right away.  The wind funneled through the BU bridge and tried to toss my oars around.  I felt like I was not making much progress, but I noticed that my gap to the guys behind me was actually getting a bit bigger.  That calmed me down a bit and I emerged from the bridge and began battling around the Magazine Beach turn.

With the waves and the wind, I didn’t feel to comfortable hugging the buoy line, so I hung off of it, probably a bit too far, maybe 60 feet or so.

I passed boat number 34 about 5 minutes into the race, in front of Riverside Boat Club. Then I was into the Powerhouse stretch.  By the sixth minute I had passed another boat, and I was chasing down a third.  He was to my starboard and it looked like he was going to the Cambridge side arch of the bridge.  I was lined up to the cambridge side of the center arch.  Then the guy turned pretty sharply to use the center arch and cut across my bow, maybe about 2 boat lengths ahead of me and settled in along the boston side buoy line.

This turn of events motivated a higher level of effort.  I think he was bow number 33, but I can’t quite make out the number  in the video.  Coming out the cambridge side arch was another sculler, but I was much more focused on #33.  We were barely oars length apart as we cruised up the straight bit between the two bridges, and I crawled up on him.  I drifted away from him, and then realized that I couldn’t do that and make the center arch, so I turned back to my line.  Hell, I was the overtaking boat.  I deserve the line I want.  So I went straight for the arch.  We were side by side going under the bridge and we clashed oars twice.  Not badly, just a couple of clicks and then I put a bit more distance on him and pulled away.

Then we approached the “Weeks turn” (dramatic music plays in background).  The Weeks turn is a 90 degree turn under a foot bridge.  The tricky part is keeping a straight line for about 2/3 of the distance from the Western Street Bridge to Weeks, and then turn for the center arch.  I thought I did it just right, but looking at the GpS data, I drifted a bit toward the cambridge side during my 40 strokes, and so my turn was sharper than it needed to be, and I did it about 5 strokes too soon.  So, I hit the arch in the right place, but my line was not pointed right at the Anderson bridge, and I needed to do a bit more steering through the Weeks to Anderson stretch, and I swung way wider through this bit than I should have.  It probably cost 5 seconds or so compared to a course along the red buoy line.

As I approached the Anderson Bridge, there was a sculler crawling up on me.  It was obvious that he was faster than I was, and so I did my best to figure out what line he wanted and let him have it.  This bit of the course is quite broad and you want to take a straight line from Anderson to the apex of the big curve around to the CBC boathouse and the Eliot Street bridge.  Looking at the map, I think I steered this part right and managed to stay clear of the fast guy as he passed me.  (He ended up finishing 7th!)

Around the big turn, I stayed a bit too far away from the buoy line because of the wind and my lack of confidence steering a tight line.  This probably cost me another 5 or 10 seconds.  But I ended up on the right place for the Eliot street bridge and managed the cross over to the other side of the river for the final turn with no real drama.  I might point out that my heart rate was going a mile a minute, and I was feeling pretty awful, but I knew that the end was just a kilometer away and nothing was stopping me now.

Even better, when I came out from under the bridge, I spotted a sculler a few boat lengths ahead of me, and as we went around the turn, I heard an announce call out his name and number.  It was Heri from Quinsigamond, who I’ve rowed with a few times before.  I decided to see if I could catch him at the finish.  I nudged the rate up a little and concentrated on trying to keep my rowing clean and I could see that I was pulling up to him.  Strange to say, but I was wishing that the finish line was further away.  Over the last 50m or so we were stroke for stroke, side by side.  I think I ran out of race course before I caught him, but it was an awesome way to finish the race.

Here is the line that I steered.

First part of the race, through the first mile and a bit.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 10.36.38 AM

Ideally, a little closer to the cambridge shore through te big turn, and a bit straighter from RBC to the bridge.

Second part, last 2 miles

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 10.35.30 AM

Steering error through the Weeks bridge.  Drifted to far to cambridge side and started turn too soon.  Should have kept turning under the bridge, but drifted again toward cambridge side and rowed a big arc to the anderson bridge, vs straight line.  These two errors probably cost about 5 to 10 seconds.  Out of Anderson a good line, but too wide through the big turn, costs another 10 seconds or so.  Then a good line through Eliot and around the final turn.

Split data:  Keep in mind that there was a 15 mph head wind with gusts to 25.  So the splits were slow.  The winner of my event both last year and this year was Greg Benning.  Last year his time was 18:15.  This year 19:25.  Same guy came in second both years and his times were similarly slower.  As I figure it, the head wind was about a 7 to 8 second tax on pace on average over the whole course, and a lot of the time it was a cross wind.  During gusts when I was pointing to the west, I was way slower than 2:30.

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 6.48.33 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 6.48.20 PM


So, the pace was slow.  I was happy with my stroke rate for the amount of wind.  I managed to hold a 27 in rougher conditions.  I still need to work on efficiency so I can get that up closer to 30.  The HR is crazy high!  The closest thing that I’ve seen to this was a 5km piece on Quinsigamond when it was really hot.  I’ve never had my HR this high for that long in a race.  Part of it might have been race nerves, but I think I just pushed it really hard.  Right to the edge of what I could do, and I’m happy with that.  I feel like I gave it my best possible effort for where my fitness is now.  I also think the taper worked well.

Results:  I finished 24th of 59.  14.59% off the winners time.  I would have finished 26th, but two guys with raw times faster than mine were penalized, dropping the behind me, so good for me rowing clean!  My official splits are right in line with my overall results.  My first split was 28th fastest, second was 27th, third was 27th, and fourth was 24th.  So, a reasonably strong finish.  My broad objective was to finish in the middle third, and I was around the 40th percentile.  Throw in the fact that I rowed with no penalties, and I didn’t run into anything, I think I have to consider it a brilliant outing.

So, I’m still mulling over the conclusions to draw from this.  First, I can’t wait to do it again, and I’m a bit bummed that I will have to wait through the lottery for multiple years to get another crack at it. Second, I am sure that I can do better.  The improvement comes in three areas.

  1.  Fitness:  Based on the lactate testing that I have been doing over the past few weeks, my aerobic base is no where as good as it was in the winter of 2013-2014.  If I can design a training plan that includes more base work and be very diligent about getting my work in at 2.0mmol/l, I am certain that I can get 2 or 3 seconds per 500 faster.  That will be the goal for next summer.
  2. Steering:  The key to this is learning the art of steering with one of those ridiculous mirrors.  I will start with it next spring and make it a project.  The other part is to continue to practice the course.  I think I will continue to make weekly trips to the Charles next summer, even if I don’t make the draw.  If I can master the Weeks bridge, I’ll get another 5 to 10 seconds.  If I can run the buoy line on Magazine beach and the big turn, another 10.
  3. Technique:  Always needs attention.  Improving my finishes and trying to miss less water at the catch.  I think I should seek out some coaching in the spring to work on the mechanics of my stroke.  Not sure how much this will yield.

Put this together, I think it could be 30 seconds off my time, which would get me in the top 20.  I don’t see a practical way to get fast enough to earn a guaranteed entry.  I’d need to get more than a minute off my time to do that.  I guess I am consigned to the lottery.

I’ll post some videos after they finish rendering and uploading.

14 thoughts on “Head of the Charles !!!!!

  1. sanderroosendaal says:

    Congratulations. Reading your blog makes me want to row this race, although I will probably settle for the Dutch Skifhead. I looked up your result yesterday evening, so I knew you had been doing great.
    Learn to row with mirrors. On my recent head race it certainly has given me 15 seconds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gregsmith01748 says:

      If you live down near DC, you should really wander over to the big boat house on the Potomac. You would be a fantastic addition to any club’s master program. I think you would love rowing on the water.


  2. bendredman says:

    Sounds like a fantastic race, well executed! Well done!

    Yes to the mirrors. Do it! On head races, it is like cheating! Not only do you get the best line, you see where the people you’re overtaking are. You don’t lose speed looking round either.

    I believe the conditions weren’t exactly nice last year, so add more some seconds to that adjusted speed.

    Am I right in thinking you get slightly preferential treatment for coming in the top 50%?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dcyyz says:

    I finally got time to watch the video. It looked like a bit of a slog with the wind and the changeable water conditions but you made good work of it. Certainly some time to be gained with a more aggressive line but in that wind I can understand your more conservative approach.

    The new 25% rule doesn’t help you next year with 14 or 15 guys in your race now having guaranteed entry instead of only 4 within the old 5% rule. Benning really skews the numbers.

    Blunt and Macauley used to row together in college. I’ve been getting closer to Macauley over the years but still haven’t beaten him in a head race. About 10 seconds is the gap now. Blunt apparently is just coming back after 10 years away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gregsmith01748 says:

      Argghhh! You made me look at the results again and I’ve dropped from 24 the to 25th overnight! A guy with a 1 minute penalty must have gotten it reversed and popped from around 30th to 15th!

      That place meant a lot to me!


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