Worlds Racing Update
There are so many things to write about my week in Slovenia, but we’ll see how long I can stay awake to report them. Needless to say, I have learned that rowing really takes it out of you. This week has been full of long days, time spent in the hot sun, frustrations getting my boat set up and training.
But now that training time is over, the 90-95 degree days are beyond us, the boat is dialed in and the training is in the bank, the second part of our journey has begun. Racing started yesterday and I have a very specific task in front of me. My job is to come in, in the top 8 in my classification in order to qualify the United States a spot for next year’s Paralympic Games. Should I do that, it will be one goal down. But that doesn’t assure me that spot for London next year. Just the United States. But if I don’t earn that spot, well, it’s just a disadvantage going into next year. There is still a chance to earn one in 2012 before the Games, but that would require the athlete attempting to earn it (probably me, but could be anyone) to peak three times by August. Not ideal for anyone. So, to do it here, is best case scenario.
I’m not going to pretend that I am a superstar rower .I am all accounts, a rookie. Probably been rowing less than all the other girls in my division, but I do have an athletic background, the desire and the understanding of what it takes to race at the top of your game. What I am still working on, is transferring all I know about training and competing to the sport of rowing. That will take time. I guess you could say, I am thankful to be here, but would have loved to have a little more time under my belt.
Because there are twelve women in my division, we started with two heats yesterday (Monday). I raced against: Russia, France, Brazil, Korea and Belarus. We had a little bit of information about most of the racers and from that we could surmise that I could probably comfortably beat Russia, but that the others were likely out of my reach. This was not my coach and I being pessimists, but rather realists. I did need to race my hardest though to see where I shook out with the rest and see where I would fall in the overall field. As it turns out, in my heat, I was 5th out of 6 (beating Russia) and 8th overall. That was great news for me, because in the end I need to be top 8. The bad news is that the gal who came in 9th (Portugal) was only a second behind. After that first race, the winners were moved automatically to the “A” final. The rest of us would race again.
Today’s results would send the top two from each heat directly to the “A” final and all the rest of us would go to the “B” final, which will be on Thursday. Therefore, no matter what I did, as long as I crossed the finish line, I would go to the “B” final (because clearly I was not going to be top two…again just being realistic…). With that in mind, Muff and I decided that my strategy would be to keep an eye on Portugal (my main competition for 8th place) and see how she raced and figure out how I am going to beat her on Thursday (should things play out the way we’ve figured based on the first day of racing times). I went hard the first 500 meters and pulled up a little the second 500 meters so as not to beat up my body. All went to plan and I ended the day with the 7th fastest time.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) is a rest day and then Thursday is the moment of truth. Can I end up in 8th place? I sure hope so, but it WILL be a race. And I know that on race day, anything can happen. The best can fall and those at the back of the pack can surprise you. Nothing is a given. That is why we race. That is what makes it exciting. THAT is what might make me lose a little sleep tonight.
What I Have Learned About Rowing
As I sat in my boat at the launch yesterday and looked down into the turquoise water, I could see all the way down to the bottom of the lake. “I’m not in Oklahoma anymore, I thought.” Long gone is the brown Oklahoma river and replaced with this pristine body of water. In every direction you turn, all you notice is the natural beauty of Lake Bled. Surrounded by trees and mountains, there could not be a more amazing setting for this race. But, as Muff pushed me off the dock, my surroundings were little consolation for the anxiety that was building inside of me. But, strangely enough, those feelings didn’t have much to do with the actual competition, but more about would I do everything correctly and following procedure? There are traffic lane rules out on the course for warming up, pulling up to the start docks and getting there on time, getting into the best starting position and stroking off in a straight line. These are all things the newbie has to contend with and I was no different. But soon, each country and lane was announced, then the word “attention” and the red stoplight in front my eyes turned to green and we were off.
In my mind, I break my race into four 250m sections, so I don’t get overwhelmed thinking about the full 1000m. The first is for getting off the line and building power. The second is where I get into my rhythm, the third is a big test of how well I can sustain my chosen rhythm/pace and the fourth, if possible, I want to pick it up for the finish. During my first race, it went pretty well, except a few missed strokes and no pick-up in the end (because I was dead), but every race is experience and I felt good about my first effort. When I finished that race and was cooling down and heading back to the launch, I was assessing how racing in rowing was like or different than the sports I have competed in, in the past. For me, it’s nothing like triathlon, other than breaking the race down in parts and not thinking of the end while you’re some place in the middle. As in, don’t think about the run when you’re on the swim or don’t think about the 4th 250 when you’re on the second. Things like that. But in terms of how I feel when I am racing and when I am done, it reminds me of track cycling—specifically, the pursuit event. What I remember about doing pursuit races both on my single bike and as a tandem pilot, there was such a specific and intense mixture of pain and euphoria at the end of the race, that I have not felt since and definitely don’t feel doing triathlons. Part of it is that there is no coasting in rowing. No, let-me-take-a break-for-a-second-and-recover. It’s go, go, go once you start. I guess it’s the sprint kind of pain where your lungs burn and you’re muscles feel this gripping soreness, like you’ve pushed all of the power out of them and they just want to wilt. It’s hard to explain in words, but I loved having that feeling because it reminded me of being back on the track bike when all I wanted to do after the race was stop pedaling but you couldn’t ( because for one, you’d get thrown over the handle bars) because your legs would just seize up if you didn’t keep them moving. It’s a satisfying, if painful feeling and it makes you realize you put it all out there. And, not only was it satisfying, but I think that was truly the first moment in my rowing journey that I realized I could actually fall in love with this sport.