When most people think of California, they think of sun & surf and warm temperatures. After all, we don’t have winter, right?
Well… sort of.
Where other places have snow & cold, we have wind & rain — from the middle of January until about the end of March, there’s about a 75% chance that things will look like Winnie the Pooh’s Blustery day fell off the wagon & went on a drunken rampage until April comes along to smack the atmosphere out of its drippy bender.
For rowing, this is both good and bad.
Good, because you have the possibility of being able to train on the water — I’m sure East Coast rowers reading this are like, “Yeah, I’ve been off the water since November, so I feel really bad for you right now.” And then they play a quick riff on the Tiniest Violin in the World before going back to their winter erg dungeons while they wait for the ice to get thin enough for a coach’s launch to break a pathway for them to row.
Bad, because we have hope. A shining, beautiful aspiration to great winter training conditions which the weather then proceeds to smash to smithereens with things like 20 mph winds.
Exhibit A: The Pairs Matrix.
Z has a very straightforward method for determining the varsity 8+ – he takes a week & systematically seat-races the girls in pairs. The Dreaded Pairs Matrix.
I have been around for, oh, maybe five or six years of them, & I think only … two(?) have been finished first try during the week he tries to do it.
Completely normal for them to get cancelled due to wind. In fact this year I took a small snippet of video on that Wed to demonstrate the 15kt winds tossing around the sailboats at Bear!Boathouse that week.
… his reply was silence, which in Z’s world is what he says when he knows he shouldn’t say what he wants to say.
It’s actually gotten to the point where I said to him last week, “Look, I say from now on, you pick the date of when you want it, then go, ‘okay, that’s not going to work’ and push it forward two weeks.”
“Actually,” he admitted ruefully, “this year it got delayed a whole month.”
And then maybe we chuckled.
All I can say is that it seemed okay at the time.
A few weeks beforehand, I’d said, “Sure, I’ll do Spring Regatta — I’ve never done a 2k in a single before, I’ll just go bang around & see what happens.”
Note to Everyone I Will Ever Know Ever: Please do whatever you can to stop me from saying the words, “I’ll just see what happens” — because it turns out that’s a really bad idea.
We looked at the weather & went, “We can row that.”
The weekend of March 17th however, we all were in a bit of dread. There were two regattas at Beach!Boathouse that weekend – juniors on Saturday, masters on Sunday.
They’d predicted rain, which rowers can ignore.
And wind, which we cannot.
Saturday was overcast & yicky and windy. I went down to Beach!Boathouse for two reasons:
- I needed to move the new shoes I’d put in last weekend down one notch on my footplates & better to do that the day before the race than realize you’d forgotten to do that once you’d lauched for your warm-up 40′ before the race.
If you’re asking whether that would actually happen, you’re a new reader of this blog, so to you I say, Hello! Welcome.
- the mens’ team at Bear!University was racing UCSB, so Bear!Boathouse was going to be a madhouse. It was actually safer to drive 45′ to Beach!Boathouse & avoid that crazy-headed-ness.
Recently Beach!Boathouse actually acquired some spin bikes, so I decided to risk the odds and bring my clips down with me to see if my knee had fully recovered from this winter’s mishegas.
Flyweight & a couple others were there, also improv-ing an indoor workout for the day, so I was able to get on a bike & for the first time in at least six months, there was no pain when I cycle. At first I was dubious, but 45 minutes later I was willing to stamp victory on the exercise. Sweet!
By this time, they’d gone from trying to figure out if they could run the junior races in the wind to throwing a couple boats out on the course as an experiment. After all, it’s just teenagers — they’re mostly made of rubber, right?
I made my way over to the other side of the stadium to see what there was to see, but mostly because I had come to the rather late-in-the-game realization that I only had navy short spandex for the following day, and if I went with those, I was gonna freeze.
So while I did plan on stopping in to say hey to Z‘s Rolling Road Show Extravaganza & Callaghan‘s… actually, Callaghan hasn’t really made a showy name for his team, so I shall simply call it… his team. Yes, that works.
Anyway, I was going to go visit, but more than that, I was really hoping that the JL tent would be there so I could get myself some navy capri spandex and not freeze my arse off attempting to be in uniform the next day.
At least, that was my intention.
In the time it took me to park & walk the 500m from my car to where the JL tent would normally be, the skies opened, and I was soaked to the bone.
…and if you noticed my use of the term “where the JL tent would normally be”, you can guess that JL had the good sense to stay home, putting them one up on the rest of us.
At that moment, a couple of Salter’s novices walked by going, “Hey! It’s you!” — because this was actually the first time they’d seen me a) outside of Bear!Boathouse b) wearing something other than spandex.
They told me all about how their race had involved the fact that they’d never rowed that lineup before and that, for some reason, the rudder wouldn’t go left so they’d only sort of been in their lane, until I finally went, “Okay guys, this is great, but the JL tent isn’t here and I’m already drenched, so I’m going to ditch you all & go home where it is dry.”
Being rowers, they understood that philosophy & we all said words in the hope that the weather will be better for my race the next day.
…and then the gods laughed.
I woke up on Sunday morning ridiculously early – not only because I’d made myself go to bed at like, 8 the night before, but also because in a couple hours the LA Marathon was going to be going right past my door, so if I didn’t get outta Dodge at 4:30am, it wasn’t gonna happen.
…which is how I ended up pulling up to Beach!Boathouse at 5:15am on a Sunday morning — turns out when there’s no one on the road, it’s WAY faster to get places. Who knew.
At that point, it was already windy, and there was light rain. My race was (theoretically) at 7:05am, and at 6 I looked at the boathouse president & went, “…is this a good idea?”
And Boathouse!President, who of course wasn’t rowing that day, went, “Oh, sure! It’s fine!”
Lemme tell ya – it was not fine.
Around 6:20, Flyweight & I were on the dock. Due to having registered as a Masters’ rower for the first time, I was in the event directly after the Open rowers. Add in that they’d combined some races to save time, I was rowing at the same time as 17-year-old Flyweight (the only open lightweight) and a 58-year-old woman from LGBC who was, as far as I could see, rowing a MAAS.
Flyweight & I were launching, and the wind, it was a-whippin’ back & forth enough to shame Willow Smith.
Here’s the trick – the day before, when the juniors had raced, it was a tailwind — it went towards the finish line, which has the amusing side effect of making a couple of those novice boats get the idea they were suddenly helluh fast. As Z said later, “yeah, they’ll be disappointed for the future. I mean, we’re good, but we’re not that good.”
But for our races, it was a head wind — which goes away from the finish line.
To give an idea of the wind at that point: when we were launching, I didn’t push off — I just let go, and the wind took my single cleanly away from the dock so efficiently that I had to hold on starboard so that I didn’t crash into the motorboats in the slips 500ft across the channel.
Upshot: in order to finish the course, you would literally be pushing against physically palpable forces of the earth itself.
Earlier in the week, I’d asked Z for a warm-up plan under the idea that hey, even if this was just a bang-down-the-course practice run, I should still get into the habit of what a pre-race routine would be, etc. He gave me a nice little routine, with pick drill, and varying steady state, and a couple power tens, running through starts — all the usuals.
Frack if I got any of that done.
This was not racing — this was survival rowing. In the chop, going with the wind, it took me about six minutes to go 1000 meters. Because yeah. It was like that.
for non-rowers: yes. that’s bad.
The majority of my warm up time was spent negotiating the length of the stadium against the wind & then rowing the 2000m back up to the start line, at which point I found most of the others had taken up the same philosophy as me — stay near the start line & row to get to the finish.
and away we go! …well, sort of.
First out the (metaphorical) gate was the Open 1x event. Normally, this is the one that I’d have registered for, since at the ripe old age of 32 I qualify for an age handicap, but I’m not old enough yet for it to be of any, you know… help. Plus, there’s a part of me that prefers to win or lose based on what I actually did rather than some jiggery-piggery math done afterwards.
In this case however, I went for the Masters’ category for two reasons:
- I was just rowing to get the experience of rowing, so I didn’t care what the ranking outcome was — the goal had been to just row straight and complete.
- Everybody in the Open Category was at Beach!Boathouse for their winter training before they tried out for the National team. In an Olympic year.
When Coach Ian had remarked on my choice, I cited those two reasons & added, “If there’s anything you all should have learned about me by now, it’s that while I may sometimes appear crazy, underneath it all I sure as sh*t ain’t stupid.”
In all honesty, I also figured that since they’re a bunch of rowers Training for An Actual Thing, I felt like I should have the respect for them to… well to basically not get in their way. So I registered Masters & wished them well.
Now, the course at Beach!Boathouse is a full 2000m course. It was actually the course used for the 1984 Olympics, but it’s no longer eligible for international use due to the bridge that now spans it.
That’s right — we’re doing a 2k in wind and chop through bridge openings.
Yay! :thumbs up:
Also? Due to the wind, there were no buoys or lane markers. Why? Because it’s more fun that way, that’s why.
The Open event lined up & (sort of) got whatever point could be attained in those conditions, & off they went. Due to conditions, both safety boats went with that group, delaying the start to our race.
As Flyweight & I sat there, paddling a light steady state to keep our boats in place, I was watching the trough of the wave go deep enough so the crest cleared my hull about midway up the length of the stern, and looked over at Flyweight, whose complexion was giving my Flilippi white a run for its money.
Here’s the thing – the morning, I weighed 165.4 lbs. (non-rowers: of course I weighed in – it’s a race day.) My erg scores are built on having the spent my pre-crew years doing squats as a kickboxer, and due to having learned to row behind a 6’4 guy, lower rates are kinda my jam. As such, while I knew the row would suck, I knew I had the skill and, to be indelicately unfeminine, the sheer body weight to get it done.
The 17 year old, 114lb kid in the lightweight Stämpfli next to me? Not so much.
At that point, I pulled a card that I very rarely use. I became The Adult in this Situation.
“Are you okay to row?”
Flyweight looked at me, startled — this is not a question normally asked in rowing. In rowing, you tough it out. You suck it up, you do what the coach tells you & you don’t question.
“I, I think so,” she told me. However, since her round-as-saucers eyes were in conflict with the words coming out of her mouth, I tried again.
“Hey,” I said sharper than I normally talk to the kids, “If you are not okay, we will go in, and if anyone has a problem with that they can take it up with me & I will tell them I made that decision for you. So I’m gonna ask you again – are you seriously okay to row?”
“Yes,” Flyweight nodded. “I, I wanna try.”
Okay then. So while we were waiting for the safety boat to come back, I sat there & talked her though what she was supposed to be doing technique-wise – cut the layback so you don’t get stuck, pay super attention to bladework since the littlest bit of under or over rotation would catch a crab, and only go as high a rate as could be safely managed. We agreed that we’d row the piece together at least through the bridge & see what happened from the 1000m pole through the finish.
Finally, finally they lined us up.
If, that is, you define “lined up” as that the Club president who said it’d be “fine” stood on a dock & kinda sorta called the bow balls & then Attention-ROW!‘d really quick.
May the odds be ever in your favor… you poor bastards.
We took off.
Okay… we tried to take off, and eventually started going in a direction away from the start line.
This was the complete opposite of the 1k I did this summer — that was just frenzied and crazy and what-the-hell-just-happened.
You know how they’ll take video of people doing a 2k and s-l-o-w it doooooooown so that you can see the technique?
This was like that. Except in real time.
According to weather.com, the wind at the 7am hour was “7-8 mph, with 12 mile gusts”.
To which I say, Yes. That. Except what they don’t say is that if the main wind was going along the route of the course, the gusts were going across it, which meant that every so often, through no effort on your part, you would just find yourself swept about 20m to starboard. Just… fwwoooop! probably the closest I’ve come to my very own Transporter, except the whole thing is way less funny without Simon Pegg to ask if anyone has a towel.
Thankfully, I made it through the center opening in the bridge at the 750m, only to have another one of those gusts sweep me over into the next “lane” around 900m. The safety boat, which was behind Flyweight & the lady from LGBC, actually shouted at me, “Claris, port! Port please!”
At this point, I was a good 250m ahead of the LGBC rower — we’d gotten through the bridge & since I could see that the other safety boat had Flyweight in their sights, I’d started to pull ahead in the spirit of just getting this over as quickly as possible. When I was about 400m ahead of everyone & the safety boat once again started going, “Claris, go port…” I finally made use of my lungs & yelled back, “I’m trying!” which seemed to startle them enough to leave me alone for the rest of the course.
Now, for the non-rowers reading this, a 2k is normally done at a 28-32 stroke rating, & since this was supposed to be just me screwing around down the course, I’d been looking to go somewhere in the 2:04-2:06 area for my splits. Nothing crazy, just a nice, crisp pace down the course.
2:45, 2:32, 3:01 — those were the kind of splits I saw going down the course at my whopping 24, 25 stroke rate. I mentioned to @Steeesh that going past the 1000m pole I’m pretty sure I saw a 3:05, and she was like, “At that point, I’d have stopped looking altogether.”
Pretty much, yah.
It was actually worse in the last 1000m.
Normally, that stretch of water looks like this:
But on that day, with no buildings close enough to block the wind, it was just a straight out meteorological free for all — once I’d seen that Flyweight was covered, I’d started actually putting my muscle behind the stroke, and all that got me was that in throwing myself into it for the last half of the race, I went at almost exactly the same pace as I had when I was sandbagging to keep level with a flyweight rower for the first 750m. Awesome.
Technical advice: survive.
I actually had a couple of new-ish / unused to such conditions rowers ask me later how they cold prepare for their turn down the wind tunnel.
The thing is, in that situation, there’s really not much you can do to make yourself go any faster down the course other than to stay upright & pull like Clydesdale.
Personally, my strategy was a nice, sharp almost-flip-catch, give a blink extra time at the front to make sure my blades where in nice & stable, and then treat every stroke like the first of a sprint start — instead of hitting it hard, prrrrrrrrryyyyy off the front for the first 1/8-1/4 to ensure that you have the best blade placement possible, & then really engage legs & add force on through the rest of the drive, because in those sort of conditions, you can’t afford to miss your blade placement if you want to stay out of the drink.
oh for the love of god – are we there yet?
The last 350m, my rower instincts clicked on, & I reflexively thought, “Okay, even if this is the crappiest race ever, I’m gonna kick it up for the last 250m — I can at least do a 28 rating, dangit!”
…and the wind laughed & said, “No, no you really can’t.”
As such, I managed to clear the finish line at an impressive 24 stroke rating. Looking up, I could see Flyweight a good 850 away from the finish, pulling with all she was worth, and the older lady from LGBC had somehow gone from being on my starboard side (left) at the start line to drifting aaaaaaaaallll the way over to the beach side which was a good 250, 300m across from me on port (right).
Normally, I would just say “Bless her for comin’ out” and move on, but I honestly just have no idea how she managed that one considering that the wind was pushing us all in the opposite direction — if nothing else, I’m kind of in awe of the left side of her body for pulling that hard, so hats off to her, man.
Any landing you walk away from.
I waited for Flyweight to finish her piece (I’m not even going to dignify this experience by calling it a “race”) and as we were rowing back towards the dock, I chose to decline her previous invitation to row a quad later that afternoon when the predicted winds were around 21mph. Having just finished a twelve minute 2k, she totally understood where that was coming from.
A bit later, once the semantics of racking my boat had been taken care of, I sent the following text to Z to let him know how things went:
Awesome right? I know.
Official score: what the frack.
The small comfort I have is that for the Open event, whose Nat’l team-hopeful participants would consider a 7:30 time a slow day, the results ranged from a 9:39 to a 10:16. Because it really was like that.
Personally, I think that the best (and most laughable) part is that, after all that, I really did lose the race. Remember that age handicap thing?
|Womens Masters 1x, Womens’ Ltwt Open 1x
Why did this happen? Because we’re rowers & we’re crazy.
Other than cancelling the 1ks in singles later in the day, they really did keep going & run all the races. Not with me in any of them, but yes, they happened.
As for me, I still have no idea what my time is running a 2k on the water — at some point maybe I’ll catch a timing in the creek if Z has a single going to Nationals this year. We’ll see. I’m not all that worried. As JvB said, “The good news is that after this, anything you race is a PR.”
Who knows — maybe next time I’ll get up to a 25 and a half stroke rate. What? It could happen!