HOCR 2017

The weather was perfect, my row was not.  There are very few things as tiresome as moping about a race performance, so I won’t do that.  However, there is a lot to learn from today’s race about fitness, training and other preparation and that starts with an honest review of how things went.

I’ve said it before and it’s still true.  Even if you don’t have a good race at the HOCR, you have a good time.  It is amazing to be part of something that big and to row on the same course, in the same event, with some of the finest athletes in the sport.  And it is a real privilege to participate in such a professionally run and efficiently managed event.

So, let’s start with the results.  I finished 42nd of 51 boats.  I would have finished 39th on raw time, but I got well deserved penalty time for drifting off the course and missing three buoys.  More about that later.

Let’s rewind to Friday.  I brought my boat down to the launch area around 2:00PM on Friday afternoon, and by 2:30, I was on the course for a practice run.

It was windy as heck, and there was a ton of traffic, but it was a blast!  It was warm and sunny, and despite a promise to myself to row nice and easy, I just couldn’t contain my excitement.

I was launching from the Singles and Doubles Launch area (SADL).

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 1.08.19 PM.png

This is about 1000m from the start.  On practice day, you join the traffic flow going up river.  The whole river is buoyed to separate the upstream and downstream traffic lanes.  Since the upstream lane is where the racing takes places, it is much wider and usually enables you to either use 2 of the 3 arches in most bridges.  The return lane, on the Boston side of the river is generally single file and the traffic flow requires you to generally move at a light paddle pace.

On practice day, if you are in an eight or a quad, it’s not a great idea to go blasting up the river at full race pressure, but in small boats, you are generally pushing a little hard to just stay out of the big guys way as you go along.  At least I felt that way.

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In the summary plot, you can see the row up river from SADL to the finish line.  Then the long, slow trip back down to the basin, then the quick dash through the start chute back up to dock.


Workout Summary - media/20171021-200303-Greg Smith 20171020 0240pmo.csv
Workout Details
01|03684|19:16.2|02:36.9|169.4|20.8|165.3|173.0|09.2 - practice
02|07174|44:46.8|03:07.3|116.9|19.8|143.7|168.0|08.1 - return
03|00786|04:19.8|02:45.3|174.7|22.9|155.9|170.0|07.9 - start to SADL

After I recovered my boat, I got it all covered and tied down for the night and went and got my registration packet.  In the packet are four coveted items.

  • Your bow number – which you get to keep
  • Bib number – which goes on your back
  • Sticky bow number label – which goes on your stern deck
  • 2017 Head of the Charles Competitor sticker for your car window.

I am irrationally proud of the 3 competitor stickers on my car’s back window.

Then I headed home to try to relax.

Saturday – Race Day!

I slept pretty well for the night before a race, but I was up before my alarm at about 5:15am.  I packed up my gear and headed in to the city.  My event wasn’t until 9:06, but I like to get there really early to make sure I don’t have  trouble getting a parking space, and that I have plenty of time to pace around nervously, visit the porta-potty twenty times, and chat with the other nervous rowers.

As dawn broke, the weather just perfect.  It was warming up quickly, the sun was shining, and there was barely a hint of wind.  It stayed that way for the whole weekend.  Just amazingly good luck for late October in Boston.

I got more and more nervous as time crawled by, and by the time the first event had gone by, I decided to launch so I could take a nice long warmup to calm down and get my head clear.  It was a very long warmup.  Nearly an hour.

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Most of it I paddled, but I did a few sets of SBR/sbr-feather/race pace bursts as I went along.  My nerves stayed pretty jangly.  I felt like I needed to take a leak, even though I had gone right before I launched, and my feet were feeling like I might get a cramp.  Even my shirt tag was annoying the back of my neck.  So, I have to find a way to better manage pre-race nerves.

When we were about 15 minutes before our race, they called us up to the area behind the chute, and there we stayed.  We were packed in bow to stern in two lines, one even and the other odd.  You basically had to hold water and take the odd stroke to keep from drifting into each other, but it really raised the stress level.

Finally, they started the event.  I was bow number 22, so, I was listening to the first 10 or so racers called onto the course while still packed in.  Then the pack loosened in front of us and we started paddling down the chute.  At the point in time where they started the guy two people in front of me, I noticed, to my horror, that my speedcoach had turned itself off.  I later researched why and found that when I loaded the new firmware, the default for “auto off” is enabled and i didn’t take enough strokes in the chute to keep the thing alive.  So, I’m starting in about 10 seconds and my speedcoach is off.

I had two competing thoughts.  First was to just concentrate on rowing the race and forget about the speedcoach.  This had a certain romantic attraction, but a couple of important downsides.  First, I wanted to row to a target power to avoid torching myself too early in the race.  Second, I like having my HR visible so I can tell the difference between really being on the edge, and just being a wimp about pushing myself.  So, after a 2 stroke debate, I leaned way forward and tried to turn on the speedcoach.  Of course, my first attempt failed.  My second attempt worked.  A couple more strokes while it turned on, then lean way forward to start it recording.  This also took two attempts.

By this point, I was literally two strokes away from the starting line.  I focused on putting on pressure and rowing cleanly and didn’t notice that in all that screwing around I had totally lost my point and my angle was way off going through the start line.  I noticed that I was close to the boston end of the start line, but I didn’t realize that my point was so off until the first course marker surged by on the WRONG SIDE OF MY BOAT.  That woke me up and I immediately corrected my steering, but not quickly enough.  Before I had fixed it, I missed two more buoys.  I had piled up 25 seconds of penalties in the first 10 seconds of the race.

Well, nothing to be done about that.  Time to focus on the race.

I noticed that the guy in front of me was not pulling away, and might even be getting a bit closer.  That’s a good thing.  Then I noticed that the two guys behind me were definitely gaining and that was not a good thing.

A quick glance at the speedcoach showed that I was pushing pretty damn hard.  My pace was a lot closer to 2:10 than 2:15 and my power was up around 240.  I needed to settle down and stick to my 210-220W game plan.

My steering was abominable.  By putting myself on the Boston side of the course, I was on the outside of the curve around Magazine beach.  I managed to close the distance on bow 21, even though he had the better inside line.  By the time we reached the SADL docks at about 5 minutes in, I was nearly overlapped with him and had pushed a lot closer to the right line.

Then he decided to yield the inside line to boat 23 that was coming up fast.  So he cut across my bow and I was rowing side by side with #23 for a few strokes.  We had a quick clash of oars, and he pushed ahead.  I decided to stick to the cambridge arch of the river street bridge.  I saw that #24 was coming up and I didn’t really want to be yielding the line under the bridge.

I annotated the path I took with the best straight line segments, you can see the extra length from being on the outside at first and the weaving around.

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 12.24.26 AM

Between the River Street Bridge and the Western Ave bridge, boat 24 passed me.  We both passed through the center arch of the Western Ave bridge.  By this time, I was getting pretty fatigued.  My heart rate was up to 176 by this point, and it’s clear from the metrics that this fatigue was impacting the quality of my rowing.  My effective length had decreased, and I looked pretty labored.

My line to the weeks bridge was actually pretty good.  Coming out of it. I should have cut harder for Anderson, and then I turned a bit too far, but it wasn’t so bad.  I had turned down the power a bit and my HR, which had peaked at 180 came back down into the high 170s.  My pace also dropped.

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 12.24.45 AM

Coming out of Anderson is a tough spot on the course.  Up to that point, you have the distraction of all the bridges to keep your mind occupied.  Now you have a long straight section to get to the apex of the big Eliot curve.  And then after that, a lot of starboard pressure to keep you on track around the curve.  By this point, I tried to pull down the stroke rate a little bit to focus on rowing more efficiently, but it doesn’t show up in the data.  I also meandered a bit around the proper course on the way to the apex, costing me more time.

As I was approaching Eliot, there was a rower overtaking me on the inside of the curve.  I allowed him to push me toward the Cambridge shore as we approached the bridge and I actually lightly scraped my starboard blade on the bridge arch because I misjudged how close I was to it by about 6 inches.  Coming out of the bridge, I was in the perfect place, right up next to the nobles docks for the last big turn.

But I didn’t hug the turn tightly enough.  I drifted a bit out and rowed more distance again.  Even on the final push to finish, it looks like I got sucked into following the cambridge shoreline.

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Workout Summary - media/df_20171024-161339.csv
Workout Details

To look at the Flex Charts click here

Let’s start with the good stuff.

  • I managed to recover from a back injury and get about 3 weeks of serious prep work done before the race.
  • I knew that I was going to underperform and I went and raced anyway.  My pride almost stopped me and that would have been a huge shame.  I would have regretted not being out there.  Despite my negative comments, it was a blast.
  • I passed somebody.
  • My line from River Street to Anderson was better than last time.
  • I put everything into the row.
  • I used power and heart rate feedback to manage my pacing

Now onto the criticisms, and lessons learned.

  • Even before I was injured my training was not consistent.  I tried to train for a long open water row that I ended up having to scratch from because of business travel and my motivation suffered from that.  I think my power on the erg is probably 20 to 40 watts lower this season than in 2015.
    Lesson learned:  With my work schedule, I think I need to restrict my competing to just head races, and plan my schedule around that.  I need to maintain a strong aerobic base as the highest priority.  I need to keep my training plans simple.
  • I had equipment problems right before the start.  This was caused by a firmware update having an unexpected issue before the start.
    Lesson learned:  Change nothing in the week before the race.
  • I went off course and got 25 seconds of penalty time.  This was caused by losing situational awareness due to the equipment problem.  Another cause was not having enough time on the course to be able to “feel” where I was.  Yet another cause was rowing without a mirror.  I had planned to learn to use a mirror this season, but didn’t follow through.
    Lessons learned:  Take the time to double my course at the start.  Learn to use a mirror.  More practice runs on the course.
  • I did not follow an ideal line on magazine beach, approaching River Street, in the stretch from Anderson to the Eliot turn and right at the end.  This probably added about 100m to my row.
    Lessons learned: More practice on the course.  Use a mirror
  • My rowing technique was sloppy.  I immediately fell back into the habit of letting my knees fall open at the catch.  My finishes were slow and inconsistent.
    Lessons learned:  I did not spend enough time in my boat this season.  I did do any side video to look at my stroke.  I weigh 20 pounds too much.  I have an imbalance between left and right side that you can see as inconsistent knee heights.

As Paul Simon says in one of his songs…”So watcha gonna do about it, that’s what I wanna know”

Here’s the plan.

  1. Fix my imbalance:  I have had one appointment with a Physical Therapist and I will need to follow through on that and have him help me define a core training routine to maintain balance.
  2. Fix my weight:  This is just purely discipline.  I haven’t figured out the plan yet, but it starts with portion control, and reducing carbohydrate consumption.  The main thing is I have to start weighing myself daily and tracking it.
  3. Get a coach:  I’ve contacted Marlene Royle to start getting remote coaching.  I think this will work out best since my schedule is so irregular.  I may want to supplement it with some live coaching from someone to help make sure that my boat rigged right for me.
  4. Do multiple head races next season:  I think 3 is a good number.  It is a bit of a challenge to race because it takes a big bite out of the weekend, and limits the amount of time that my wife and I can spend down on Cape Cod.  So, more than 3 will definitely be too many.  3 is probably OK.
  5. Get back to what works in training.  That means going back to lactate testing and using it to set training intensity.  It means a simple polarized plan with guidance from Marlene.  It means regular testing to keep myself honest, motivated and to correct things as I go along.  It means 80 minute endurance sessions.
  6. I need to increase the effectiveness of the time I spend in my boat.  There were three things keeping me out of my boat.  Business travel, time on the cape, and equipment issues.  I can’t control business travel.  When I am on the cape, I can usually do open water rowing and I think that actually helps with balance.  And hopefully I won’t randomly break a rigger 28 days before a major race.  And hopefully, it won’t take until 11 days before the race to get everything fixed.  But since all of that stuff is not in my control, I think that I need to make sure that there is a specific technique section in each OTW session.  I can do it as part of warmup and cooldown, but I think I need to do more of that and also include more video feedback.

It is likely that I won’t get a HOCR bid in a single next year, but I will enter the draw for both singles and doubles.  If I don’t get in either, then I will do other races and get ready for the following year.

In some ways, this race has helped me really clarify my thinking.  I’m ready to make changes and pursue this in a much more process oriented way.  I’m looking forward to the structure and the work required.

Ugly videos coming soon.

HOCR 2016

The weather reports were ominous.  Rain and wind starting around 11am.  What time was our race…11:07am.  Before that, the water was flat, the winds were calm and the skies were cloudy but not dark.  As the morning wore on, the weather reports seemed to be improving and even when we launched around 10:20, it was still quite nice.

We headed down to the warmup area in the basin and started going around the “box”.  This is a big area marked by 6 huge yellow and black checkered buoys.  We did a couple laps and still had some time so we embarked on a third trip around.  By now it was about 10:50.  We turned the corner and started to row up to area where we were being lined up.  Even numbers on the cambridge side, odd numbers on the Boston side.  We looked up river and what did we see?  A wall of rain charging toward us.  I am serious.  You could actually see the line between where it was raining and not raining coming across the water as it approached.  And then we were in it.  The rain was not all that hard, but the wind picked up from the NW and it was pretty significant.  It was blowing steadily between 10 and 15 mph with gusts up to about 20mph.


We sat in the rain and wind, trying to hold our position between bow # 43 and #47.  Precisely at 11:07, they started the first boat and the odd and even line began to slowly paddle up.  Before I knew what was happening, I saw the red and green flags in the chute that are a couple of strokes away from the start and then I heard the announcer struggling to pronounce Lake Quinsigamond Community Rowing and say we were on the course.

Here are links for the stern video of the race:

HOCR – Part 1

HOCR – Part 2

The video tells the story.  We hacked our way through the head wind to the BU bridge.  Steering through this bridge is a challenge under ideal conditions.  With a nasty head wind blowing rain in your eyes and with multiple boats ahead of you, it is even tougher.  Joe picked a great line and we zipped right through.

Then we were into the Magazine Beach turn.  Here we were exposed to the head wind across a wider part of the river.  The goal is to get tight to the green buoys along the cambridge shore and try to get into a good rhythm through the turn.  This was complicated for us by a slower boat in front of us and a faster boats right behind us.  Joe did his best to avoid the boat that was passing us to the inside, while not running into the boat ahead of us.  On the video, it looks like they kind of zigged and zagged a bit across us as they tried to figure out how to get out of our way.

The boat that passed us looked like it was going a thousand miles an hour and that kind of got under my skin.  I started to have irrational fears of ending up in last place.  This was certainly spurred me to dig deep, both figuratively and literally.  Figuratively, I pushed up the stroke pressure and rate to an unsustainable level.  Literally, I started to row pretty badly, burying my blades too deeply and not being careful with my finishes.  This did not do our boat speed any favors.

We got into the power house stretch and the water was smooth and the wind was blocked.  It felt like the boat was moving better here.  I hardly noticed, but we passed another boat at the beginning of the stretch.  I think it was because I was too focused on a couple of boats that were gaining on us fast and passing us after we emerged from the Western Avenue bridge.

We took twenty strokes and then turned for the Weeks Foot Bridge.  My wife, sone and some friends were there cheering us on.  Honestly, because of the boats that passed us, I was pretty despondent at that point.  I had pushed way too hard, and I wasn’t even sure if I’d make it to the end.  Strangely enough, once we had passed them, I started to feel a little bit better.  I eased up a bit on the rate and we made the turn to the Anderson Bridge.  Coming out of Anderson, another boat passed us, but I my attitude had improved.  I had decided to just do what I could and just not give up.  The long turn toward the Eliot bridge was uneventful, mainly because Joe steered it really well, including the really sharp end to the turn and the passage past the docks just upstream of the bridge.  Here’s a comparison of my course last year, and Joe’s this year.  (2015 is red, 2016 is yellow)

2015 vs 2016.png

Here’s the first third. You can see the steering around overtaking and slower boats on the yellow line.  I like the line that I took last year closer to Cambridge as we approached the first bridge, but I doubt it makes much difference.

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Here’s the powerhouse stretch, into the weeks turn.  Joe did a better job of this than I did last year.  He was a lot smoother through the weeks turn and got us in just right place for the turn under the Anderson bridge.


Here’s the last third.  It looks like I did better job at the beginning of the curve, and Joe did better second half and he hugged Boston side into the bridge.  I hugged to cambridge shore last year, Joe swung a little wider, but again I don’t think it added much distance.


In terms of effort, this was a tough race.

I was into the threshold HR zone within a minute of the start, and I just kept pushing.  I kind of plateaued around 175/176 or most of the race, and then with about 5 minutes left, around the Anderson bridge, I started to up the rate and pushed my HR up above 95% of my HRR.  I usually count out strokes at the end of a race to give me something to focus on.  I had planned to start counting at the Anderson Bridge.  This is about 1k from the end so, about 120 strokes.  But I forgot about it with the steering that was going on.  I remembered as we went into the long turn, and I figured that we must have gone at least 60 strokes by then.  So I started counting and I figured I’d need to count up to about 60.  I was wrong.  I got to 50 and there was no sign of the finish line.  I counted another 10, still no finish line.  I wasn’t sure if I had another ten strokes in me, but I did and that set brought us just across the line.  Luckily there was a big gap between us and the next boat to finish because I needed a few seconds to put myself back together.

With the headwind, and extra river flow, it was a slow race.  The winner was a full minute off the course record for this age group event.  And the winner was the crew that set the record!  We were a good four minutes slower than the winner.  We finished in 43rd out of 52 boats.  So, my fears were not realized.

When you talk to some of the folks that we compete with, you realize that there is some genuine athletic talent in the event.  Guys that were former national team members and varsity level college rowers are common.  This seems different from running and biking where there are a lot of more casual competitors.  We were talking to one guy in our race who set the world age group record for the marathon on the erg 20 years ago.  He held a 1:47 split for whole thing!

In any case, unless you are talented and dedicated enough to win a big event like this, all you can do is try to improve.  Now I have an initial marker that I can try to make better over time.  Looking at the results, there are improvements in many areas that could help.

  • Weight:  I should lose 20 pounds
  • Strength:  I’ve been reading more about strength training for 50+ year olds.  I think I need to add this in over the winter and see if it helps
  • Fitness:  I think this is pretty good, and the best way to get better is a lot more duration at
  • Technique:  Lot’s to do here once it is next spring.  I need to improve my stroke in a couple of essential ways.  I need to fix my tendency to row “over a barrel”.  I also need to clean up my finishes and get my hands away faster.
  • Steering:  The key to this is to get enough time on the course, so next year I think doing weekly sessions on the Charles is going to be a big priority.

Friday: Practice run for the HOCR

Around 2:30pm, I met Joe down at the Singles and Doubles Launch Area (SADL) by Riverside Boat Club.

He had already unloaded the boat and gotten rigged, so we were ready to launch and go for our practice run.  Practice day for the HOCR is almost as fun as the race.  There are hundreds of boats on the course, all trying to rehearse hat they will do and trying to get landmarks to look at for steering.  The weather was great.  Wind from the ESE about 5-10 mph, and really warm, nearly 70 degrees.

ESE is a nice tail wind.  The SADL dock is about 1000m from the start.  So on practice day, you launch and join the parade of boats going upstream on the cambridge side of the river.  You do the 3700m from there to the finish, and then turn around for the long slow paddle back down river.  The paddle back is quite relaxing, or maddening if you are on a tight schedule.  The downstream course is very narrow around the turns and they closely control the traffic into them.  You are marshalled by officials on the banks to tell you when to stop and go.  You continue past the SADL dock all the way to the start area in the Charles River Basin, and then you can do a practice run from the holding area through the start chute and the first 1000m of the course which is a long turn to starboard.

Today, my phone ran out of batteries as we were paddling back down stream, so the map just shows the trip upstream and a little bit of the paddle back.

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The intent of this row is just to get accustomed to the course.  Last year, I got too excited and rowed it way to hard.  This year, I was determined to do a better job of keeping it light and easy.  Of course, I failed.  I went just as hard as I did last year.

Oh well.  It was a very enjoyable row and I felt a lot more energized than tired after we finished.

How it is supposed to look…Mahe Drysdale at the Head of the Charles

I came across this over on Reddit.  I guess Mahe had a GoPro mounted on his boat during the head of the Charles.  Basically the same perspective as mine, but mounted a lot further away from the stern so you can’t see the finishes, which I am sure would have been even more impressive.

His row was at the end of the day on Saturday, when the winds had died down a bit from earlier in the day, but was still a factor.  The video shows him passing Andrew Campbell between the Western Avenue Bridge and the Weeks Footbridge.  Campbell is a lightweight and was effected by the headwind a lot more than the gigantic Drysdale.

Part 1:  Including a bit of his warm up, the start and the race through the Anderson Bridge

Part 2: Through the big turn, under the Eliot Street Bridge and to the finish.

Oh, what I’d give to be able to row like that.  It is interesting to have a video of the same race, under similar conditions, from the same perspective but with one of the finest scullers in the world doing the rowing.  It was particularly humanizing to see him take a lousy stroke now and then.

Head of the Charles Videos

Complete with telemetry.  Data collected by RIM.  Exported as TCX.  Imported into Dashware and merged with the GoPro video.

First part from before the start, through the BU bridge, around the magazine beach turn and into the powerhouse stretch

Second part through the powerhouse stretch around the weeks turn, through the anderson bridge and into the big turn.

Third part, through the rest of the big turn, through the Eliot Bridge and around the turn to the finish.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 7.03.34 PM

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Friday: Rowing the HOCR course

Weather:  Sunny, nice temp, around 60.  Quite windy, about 15 mph gusting to 20 from the West.

Plan:  Row the course a stately pace, count strokes to critical turns and follow the planned line through the most challenging parts of the course (Weeks, Anderson  and Eliot).  Return down river in the travel lane.

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Well, it didn’t work out that way.  It was like merging on to a super highway.  There were so many boats!  I was almost always two abreast with another boat, and close on the tail of a boat, with yet another boat crawling up my stern.  And since most of these boats were eights, fours and quads, I felt the need to push the pace a bit more than I originally intended.  It was also generally into the teeth of the head wind.

I must admit though, that nerves and adrenaline played a part.  Finally, in the critical bits, like counting the strokes from the Western Ave bridge to my turn toward the weeks footbridge, I wanted to do that stuff with close to race pressure so that I would have a better feel for trying to get my points and find my line.  At any rate, I probably pushed a touch harder than I should have, but it was a lovely row.


03480_|_17:00_|_2:26.6_|_365___|_21.5_|_09.5_|_165___|_Main set
07180_|_39:07_|_2:43.4_|_737___|_18.8_|_09.7_|_142___|_cool down

The rules for practice day are to launch from your launching site and proceed up river along the course to the end, then go all the way back to the start, and then follow the rest of the course back to your launching dock.  So I did the last 3.5km of the course, and the paddled to the start and then did the first 1km of the course.  This was the fiestiest traffic of the bunch.  I was sandwiched between 2 eights, and there were a other boats along side as we squeezed through the BU bridge.  I was glad to peel off to the dock.  I’d had enough of rush hour traffic.

After my row, I drove over the the finish area and picked up my registration packet.  I guess I am now official.

Forecast for tomorrow morning is 47F, wind building from W 10 mph at 9am to 12mph at 10am.

I’m bow number 36 in event #4 (Grand Master Men’s 1x).  Live stream is at this link:


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.

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