2015/2016 Season Retrospective

I have no idea why Concept2 runs the season from May 1st to April 30th, but that’s what they do.  And with the end of another season, its the time for a look back.

I have some mixed feelings about the season.  I couldn’t be happier about my OTW results from last summer and fall.  However, after a very promising start to the indoor season, the wheels really came off in February, and I never really got back to where I wanted to be.  So, I am going into this OTW season with a lower state of fitness than last year.

For the full year, my total meters are almost identical to last year.  But with a higher amount of erg meters and less OTW meters.  You can blame the unplanned rapid rearrangement of my boat by a tree for that.Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 11.21.41 AM

But under the hood, there is an important difference in the way that these two seasons ended.

Last year I finished strong with big meters in March and April.  This year, not so much.  So, I am leaving this season in a lower state of fitness than last.

A closer look at this season on a weekly level shows how spotty things have been since January.

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Why?  In a word, life happened.  A couple of bouts of manflu, a promotion, some vacation, and a ton of business travel have disrupted my training plans.  I don’t see this as a failure, because I wouldn’t change any of the choices I made, but I do need to think through realistic competitive goals and a reasonable, flexible training plan to get me to achieve them.

I am just about 1% lower total meters and 1% lower total training time for 2015/2016.  My average distance for days rowed is up slightly, which is driven by more erg sessions and fewer OTW sessions (erg sessions tend to be about 20% more meters)

Bt I don’t want that to diminish the good stuff from this season.  I was really happy with how the OTW season went.

Festival Sprints:  1K and 2K sprints. Tough racing in lousy conditions.  Improved on last years results, but not as much as I wanted to.

Cromwell cup:  1k sprint in amazing conditions on a fun course.  Finished second by a fraction of a second in my age bracket in a great race.  Thrilled with the outcome.  The guy that beat me ended up finishing 6th in the nationals.

Masters National Head Race Championships: A 6K head race.  In Lowell on the Merrimac in lousy conditions with a small field.  Finished third, about where I should have, but I was hoping to do better.

Quinsigamond Snake Race: a 4K head race.  Picture perfect conditions.  It was a small field so all the singles were raced in a single flight.  I placed second.  More importantly, I had a duel on my hands for nearly the whole race.  The guy that started one or two places ahead of me was just a hair slower than I was and over the first 1K of the race I slowly closed the gap and we raced side by side for the next 2000 meters.  I’d push, then he’d push, it was back and forth.  In the last 1000 meters, I finally managed to achieve some separation, but it was the most exciting head race experience I have ever had. (tiring too)

Head of the Charles:  A 5K head race.  The big one!  I started 36th in a field of 59 boats in my age class.  It was generally head wind conditions and pretty nasty through the first 1000m.  There were parts of the race where I gave away time by not steering the best line, but looking at the heart rate, I certainly put everything I had into the race.  I’ll remember the last 1000m for the rest of my life.  I was chasing down the guy in front of me and hearing the announcing calling out my name and bow number as I was surging.  We hit the finish line at nearly the same instant (I think he had me by a bow ball), but the feeling of achievement was so intense.

Merrimack Chase:  This was a 4K head race at the beginning of November.  It was windy, but not nearly as cold as past years.  The conditions were choppy through the first 1000m but got a lot better.  I had bow #1 of my class so I had no one to chase.  I managed to put in a good race and won my age bracket.  A great way to finish off the season.

I finished the OTW season is really good shape for middle distance rowing, and started to use a new training plan based on block periodization.  I started with working on endurance and through November and December, I was hitting targets and even setting some new personal bests.

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I set PBs for the 5000m, 60′ and Half Marathon.  In some cases improving PBs that were 3 or more years old.

So, I might have to set more modest goals for the coming season.  Maybe reduce the number of races I enter, and try to improve technique and diet to compensate for lower training volumes.  I also need to do more research for the optimal approach when time is limited.  There is a lot of contradictory advice out there to be sorted through.

Anyway, it was an exciting and rewarding year.  And there are some new challenges to keep me interested in this coming season.




Aerobic and Anaerobic thresholds

There is a nifty table in chapter 6 of Rowing Faster which provides targets for aerobic threshold (AeT) and Anaerobic Threshold (AnT) for different classes of rowers.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.01.40 PM

Since I have these wattages from my recents tests, I thought I’d look at how I stacked up.

I weight about 195lbs (88KG).  So, in watts per Kg, my results were:

  • AeT : 2.16 W/kg
  • AnT : 3.20 W/kg

So, this lines up with my other tests, that my AnT is “better” than my AeT, and I should work to develop my aerobic base.


Autumn Test Results

So, with the 6K test I did yesterday, I completed my first thorough fitness assessment.  The tests that I did were:

  • 2 speed lactate test
  • 1 minute peak power test
  • 2K test
  • 6K test


11-10 2-speed

The 2-speed test doesn’t tell anything now.  It is something that can be repeated easily to measure progress over time.

For the other tests:

test results

The first take away from these tests is that I have a bigger gap between aerobic threshold and VO2Max.  Basically, this means that my 2K is faster than “should” be based on my aerobic threshold power.  I’m guessing that this means that my lactate tolerance is higher than some and allows me to overachieve on the 2K.  The diagnosis is that I should build a better aerobic base.

The second take away is that the ratio between my V02Max (2K power) and my anaerobic threshold (6K power), is very small.  In terms of pace, my 2K pace was 1:42.6.  My 6K pace was 1:47.5.  That’s a difference of 4.9 seconds.  In general, for heavyweights, the rule of thumb is 5 seconds slower pace when you double the distance (Paul’s law).  If you plug in my 6K pace, the predicted 2K pace is 1:39.5, about 3 splits faster!  So, the take away from this for me is that my 2K is pretty damn slow.

Now consider the VO2Max to 30 sec avg power.  My ratio is much higher than the “Ideal”, essentially meaning that my peak power is low relative to my VO2Max.  So, even though my 2K is slow, if I was to use peak power as a predictor it should be slower still!  This again points to me leaning more heavily on lactate tolerance than anaerobic power to get through the 2K distance

In essence, none of this should be surprising.  I designed a training plan to focus on head racing.  I wanted to optimize my performance at the 5K to 6K distance, and it looks like that is what happened.  In retrospect, I would have done better if I had been able to maintain and build my aerobic base, but the deficits in peak power are entirely expected and entirely fine with me.

So, how do these results impact my training plan?  Honestly, not much.  I already suspected that my aerobic base was weak from the lame ass 2.0mmol steady powers that I could hold, and I baked a higher amount of endurance into the plan for that reason.  I also had baked in a training block with a lot of peak power work in the last month before 2K competition since I know that those gains are temporary and tough to maintain without killing my aerobic base.

The interesting part of this (at least to me) is to see what happens when I do the test block after the Crash-Bs to see if what I’m planning to do actually works.  The other thing that the testing gives me is a clue about what to do next summer to get ready for head racing season.  My thought now is to replace one high intensity session per week with more endurance training.  I’ll have to think some more in terms of a block periodization strategy.



Side Video of Rowing Drills

Square Blade rowing

Flaws to fix:

  • Touching water
  • Slightly feathered from square

Square at pause:  Feather at the finish normally, then pause at half slide, then square the blades, then continue to catch.

Flaws to fix:

  • Pausing too early.  I am pausing at 1/4 slide, right when my hands go over my knees.
  • Touching water.  This is mainly caused by a sloppy finish leaving me slightly off balance

Alternating Strokes:  This video starts with a few strokes of slow roll ups, then goes into a 3 stroke alternating sequence.  First is a stroke on the square, then a stroke with a slow roll up, then a normal stroke.  The idea is to extract the blades the same way for each, and then change what is done on the recovery.  I find that the norma strokes feel so good when I do this drill

Side View Video – R24, r26, r28

Yesterday, I did a hard 5k on Lake Quinsigamond.  I mounted a gpro camera on a backstay attached the end of to my starboard rigger, just forward of the oarlock.

In the 5K piece, I did the first 2K at r24, the second 2k at r26, and the final 1200 meters at r28.

r24 on fresh legs.

Looking at the video, I am having trouble finding a lot to criticize.  The things that I notice are:

  • More blade clearance off the water
  • Extract blades a bit more square before feathering
  • Try to bury the blades a bit sooner.  Some strokes, I am missing a little water at the catch.
  • Sit up a bit taller

The other thing I am wondering is if it would be a good idea to lower my shoes a little bit, I might be able to get a little more reach.

Last thing that I noticed was how absolutely beautiful it was yesterday morning.  Isn’t it a pretty lake!

And here is the boat acceleration from RIM.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 9.49.29 AM

Comparing this to “world class” curves, the obvious difference is in the height of the positive acceleration peak.  There is also a bit of trash at the finish.  The catch seems to have a little double hump thing going on, which I have to assume is me bouncing a bit at the forestop.

Just to follow up on the discussion from Sander’s blog post.  I decided to look at the same set of strokes, but over a single stroke, 4 strokes, and 8 strokes to see how the curves and numbers change.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 9.52.23 AM

There is a remarkable change in the curve from 4 strokes to 8 strokes, and the numbers change too.  I think that if you are using RIM to provide feedback, that you might do best to either stick to single strokes, or at least make sure that you are always looking at the same number of strokes averaged.

r26 – This was after 2K of hard rowing, so I am feeling a bit more fatigued.

On this one, the primary flaw that I see is that my blades are getting shallower as the drive moves from catch to finish.  By the time I extract the blades, about the top 1/3 of the blade is above the surface of the water.  I need to work on keeping my hands level through the drive and finish a bit higher on my torso.   The other thing that could be causing this is allowing myself to lay back too much at the end of the stroke.  I would probably be faster if I finish a bit earlier with less layback.

Here are the RIM curves for r26Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 10.09.29 AM

The negative acceleration at the catch is larger, which probably means that I am now rushing the slide a bit.  You can see a little positive acceleration on the last third of the recovery.  Some strokes show a pronounced double hump, some do not.  There is still a bit of noise at the finish.


This video is the last 4 minutes of r26 and then about 5 minutes at r28.  From 1:30 to about 2:00 into the video, I am going underneath the brand new bridge across our lake.  Isn’t it beautiful?  Now we have two broad arches, on for up lake traffic and one for down lake traffic.

The r28 stuff starts at about 4:30 into the video.

The stroke mechanics, unsurpisingly look a lot like r26 mechanics.  Same basic strengths and weaknesses.

Here is one r28 stroke and one r30 stroke.  Basically the same shape.  A bit less of the double hump on the r30 stroke.  One change this year is that I have a smaller positive acceleration during the recovery, which I think is basically a good thing since it means that my speed on the slide is more constant and I am not rushing into the catch.  But I am not expert enough to be sure.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 10.22.37 AM

Later today, I will post some video of the drills that I did yesterday.  Someone may find them useful, or if nothing else, you can smirk about how bad they look.

I am very fortunate to have had Sander give me some feedback by marking up my video.  He was illustrating two flaws in my rowing.  The first is not having relaxed and straight arms at the catch.


The other flaw was not maintaining constant handle height through the drive.


Thanks Sander!

HOCR Steering Notes

I’ve read and watched a bunch of different descriptions of the best line to take through the course.  I decided to try to put it all on a map so I can try to memorize it.  The key thing for me was to try to understand roughly how many stroke it is between different points in the race and where I need to take steering actions.  Apparently the turn for the Weeks bridge is a big one that you can mess up by going too soon or too late.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.14.54 PM

Catch Angle Analysis from video

Yesterday, I got a buddy of mine to take video of me as I rowed under a convenient bridge so I could get a better idea of what my catch angle it.  Here are the videos

From the second video, I grabbed a frame and drew some angles:

catch angle meas

This makes it look like my catch angle is about 45 degrees.  I’m not an expert, but references that I have seen say that I should be trying to get to a catch angle closer to 65 degrees.  This measurement is not all that accurate, but I think that I should probably do some experimentation with decreasing my span.  The only problem is that I have already cranked my oars down as short as they can go and I will need to decrease inboard when I reduce span.  (Maybe it’s time to buy some shorter oars?)

Acceleration Curves at 24 to 40 spm

I had RIM running in the boat today (as usual) and since I haven’t rowed at these high rates before, I decided to take a look at the stroke accelerations and see what flaws I could see.  Turns out they are readily apparent.

First, for comparison, here are some nice steady state strokes at 23 and 24 spm.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 1.02.29 PM

See that nice smooth drive at 23 SPM (purple).  Then as the rate goes up to 24, you can start to see the appearance of the double hump in the drive.  That’s is me opening my back early.

Next, here are 3 sets of strokes when I was trying to hit targets of 26, 28 and 30.  They actual rates were a bit higher.  I guess I was over eager.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 12.54.19 PM

The double hump continues to be more pronounced and you can begin to see two other flaws.  First is a disturbance at the finish (around 0.8sec).  That is me starting to get sloppy as I try to get back up the slide more quickly.  The other is a gradual rise in acceleration during the recovery (starts at 1.2sec at r30).  But still, not horrible.

Now we look at r34 and r36.  These are a bit harder on the eyes.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 12.56.34 PM

The double hump is now significantly more offensive, there is a pronounced blip at the finish and I am clearly accelerating as I move up the slide versus maintaining a steady speed from the handles all the way through the legs on recovery.  The miracle here is that I actually rowed at these rates at all.

Lastly the ugliest of the bunch.  Here are three blocks of strokes at 38 to 40 spm.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 12.55.28 PM

Same flaws as before, only more pronounced.  It appears that going from 38 to 40spm does not enable me to make the boat go any faster.  In fact, now the double dip is so pronounced that acceleration goes almost all the way down to zero in the middle of the drive.

So, what to work on.  I need to work on not opening my back.  I think the prescription is a set of 20 stroke intervals between 30 and 36 spm with enough paddle time so that I am working on technique instead of fitness.  This will get into the program next week after the race.

Video Analysis

Top quarter drill.  Getting a bit more comfortable with it and also trying to keep my back straighter at the catch.

Pick Drill.  I’m including this because I never had any coaching on it and I would welcome advice to get more out of it.

The next two videos are from the first minute and the last minute of a 2500m piece done at full pressure and 24 SPM.  The wind was generally a tail wind, especially in the last minute.  Call me crazy, but when I look at these videos, I think I see a lot of improvement.  I think my depth at the catch is better.  I think my drive is more level (less over the barrel).  And most important, I think my finishes are cleaner.  Compare to the videos here

The next video is at r26.  At this rate I can start to see that my old bad habit of accelerating on the slide during recovery is happening as the rate increases.  Still, the finishes look better than before.  I still have a lot of work to do on posture.

This one is at r28.  I actually think the recovery looks better here than at r26, but I can see that I am going deeper at the catch with the higher rate.

Finally, here is a bit of video showing some slow roll up rowing.  It is at r18 and not at full pressure, but I think this drill helps to force me to row better,

As always, I eager welcome your advice and abuse.

Saturday: Video and stroke analysis

I decide to make this a separate post so I can find it a bit easier later.

I did a sequence of 8 – 1 minute pieces with a minute or longer rests between.  I was rowing at full pressure in each of them.

Video was recorded by gopro camera mounted on a rigger bow stay that was bolted to the tube at the port end of my rigger.  It was about 6 feet from the side of the boat.

The HR, rate, time, pace and distance data, along with the little indicator map are driven by TCX data exported from the RIM website.  It is merged into the video using software called Dashware (which is now free and the most amazing way to waste huge amounts of time).  As far as I can tell the rate data is accurate to what I see on my speedcoach.  The pace looks like it is a bit faster than it was on the speedcoach.  I only wish I was that fast.

If you look at the video, just look at that water!  It was the most beautiful rowing conditions!

18 spm

Well, I aimed for 18 spm, but I got 19.  I was really pretty happy with how this looked.  Nice flat plateau during the boat run and recovery.  Need to get rid of the hook in thee drive.


20 SPM


22 SPM

Now I’m starting to see a bit of a hump at the end of the recovery.  That means that I am rushing into the catch a bit now.  The bump in the drive is less, but that is more due to stroke to stroke variation averaging out than an improvement.


24 Spm

You can’t tell from the graphs, but this was the rate that felt the most natural and fluid.  The bump late in recovery is getting a bit bigger, though.

The water is so glassy smooth you can see the shoreline perfectly reflected.


26 spm

This is right after my turn and doing the top quarter drill.  I’m rested and full of beans!

Notice now that the acceleration down the slide is actually causing the boat speed to increase during the recovery.  I have to work on not doing that.


28 SPM

Now the rate is getting high enough that my form, such as it is, is starting to fall apart.


30 SPM

I’m embarrassed to even post this one and the next one.  So much rushing to the catch.  Such awful drive mechanics.  So much work to do.


32 spm

The best thing I can say about this piece is that it started under a bridge, which is fun to look at.  It is clear that I need to do a lot of work on the basic mechanics of my stroke, because anything good that was happening at the lower rates has largely disappeared.


And just because I like abuse.  Here is my rendition of king of the mountain, and the top quarter drill.  It ain’t pretty, but I stayed dry!

So, what do I get from all of this?  I compared this to some of the rows that I captured in RIM last season and there are some reasons to be happy.  Last season, I was showing that ugly hump in the acceleration curve going into the catch, even at low rates.  The metrics also showed a long catch duration and lower peak accleration.  Comparing video, I think I look a bit better, but that is more than likely just self delusion.

What’s the prescription to get better.  I welcome all ideas, here are mine:

  • Keep doing the top quarter drill.  I feel much more confident at the catch this season and that’s part of the reason why
  • Keep doing SBR and feet out to work on getting my finishes better
  • I thought I was not laying back very much, but in fact I am and I don’t think it is helping things.  I need to finish with a more erect posture
  • I need a lot more practice at high rates.  I think I will put a few 1′ reps or maybe even 30 second reps at the end of steady state sessions to try to get to the point where I can hold 36 spm reasonably cleanly.