Well, I’ve had some time to digest (Both figuratively and literally. Immediately after the race I had a 5 cheese penne pasta, blackened grouper, 3 beers and ice cream. Today, I don’t have to be lightweight!) my race experience. I learned a lot and, thankfully, met all my goals and expectations of myself.
The morning started off quite pleasant. I saw Tara off the dock for her race, weighed in, checked my shell over and stayed out of the sun as much as I could. It wasn’t until 40 minutes before I was to launch that I started to get really nervous. After launching, I realized that the races were behind schedule and I ended up in the marshaling area a while longer than I intended. I still managed my nerves pretty well as I was distracted chatting with one of my competitors and a lively ladies’ 8+ from Texas. I acclimated to the heat and humidity pretty well as I kept covered up in my hat, was well hydrated, skies were slightly overcast and I was probably too nervous to notice otherwise.
Observing the other racers in my group, I knew I would have to be very aggressive in my high 20 right off the racing start. Their practice starts were clearly superior to mine (Racing starts are the weakest part of my race plan.) and could get their boats to jump. Still, I remained calm knowing that the boat I had borrowed was stiff, light and well under my control. I was low in the water, well balanced and the gunwales were directly beneath my hips. Our Wintechs feel like bathtubs compared to this lightweight shell. The five of us competitors, me being in lane five, were called onto the racecourse and we locked on efficiently, subtly maintaining our points in the crosswind. After a fairly rapid roll call, we were called to attention, which was fine by me. There’s nothing more I hate than sitting at the catch, blades squared.
Attention, ROW! I immediately went into a tunnel vision, focused on the stern of my boat as I moved away from the pontoon. 1/2, 3/4, 3/4, FULL, FULL. Jumped into my high 20 and peeked over at my stroke coach, a 46. What!? A 46! Adrenaline’s a helluva drug!!!! After my high 20, I struggled to force myself into a hard settle. Almost 300m in and I’m still at a 44. I begin to yell at myself aloud, “Settle, Gilbert! Settle! DAMMIT!” Apparently, lane 4 had been encroaching on me as the officials were warning him off, I heard him apologize. I guess he mistook my muttering as yelling at him.
Somewhere around 350m, my starboard blade took a digger. A mini-crab which, within 2 strokes, pulled me down to a manageable 34. I was actually thankful for that. However, at the 34 I was still unable to make an emphatic & decisive move on the shell to my right. I made a conscious decision, 7 more strokes at this 34 and if nothing happened, I’d force myself to a 30. Dropped to a 30-32 and almost immediately I felt the boat lift. I became efficient, creating some space between the adjacent Empacher. This is where I live! Found me some swing. I decided I was going to slug it out, all power at a lower rate, hammering out the remainder. Gone was my notion of higher rate and anything graceful! Plus, at this stroke rate, I’d have room to sprint at the end. I hit the 750m red buoys, and am instantly pulled out of my tunnel vision, keenly aware of the spectator stands and the chatter! Oh, Shit! People are watching! Sit up a little taller. Up two for 10! Up two more for 10! Okay, BLOW IT OUT! In reality, blow it out was more like a plea. PLEASE HOLD ON!?!?
I cross the bubble curtain finish line (The course is built to FISA standards. My first bubble curtain finish. I felt so chic. LOL). My head is throbbing. I’m dizzy and slightly disoriented. I turn my boat and start paddling for the dock. In a small Shawshank moment, the skies finally released rain where I promptly stopped, removed my hat and raised my face to the sky, enjoying the brief moment and relief.
From the experience I can definitely say I met my personal goals and expectations. At the onset of this I set out to:
1) Execute a training plan 100%. For 6 weeks, although I may have modified a few things, I stayed true to the plan and never missed a workout. Thank you Axel & Adrienne.
2) Make the final. After reviewing the previous years’ heats, my goal was to post a time fast enough for the finals. This was an easy one, as the race itself was a final. CHECK!
3) Run a clean race [and not finish last :-)]. From my perspective, as described above, that was accomplished.
4) Row a sub 4:00 1K. I posted a 3:56.589. DONE. My only other 1x race was at Gold Rush in 2011 and it was . . . an experience. Although water conditions, wind, course setup make every race situation different, I rowed a 4:28 there. 32 sec is a great improvement.
What did I learn?
1) Self Mental Discipline. In 2x’s, 2-‘s on up through the 8+’s, I’m highly responsive to the accountability and reliance my teammates have in me to hit the landmarks and hold the stroke rates when necessary. I need to be able to do that for myself in race situations and not fly out of those crazy starts and settle hard. If I’m able to find that efficiency earlier, how much more competitive can I be?
2) Set New Personal Elevated Expectations. What do I need to do maintain this learning curve? Although, this has been a great experience, I am still 10-15 seconds away from reaching the podium. How are my peers managing to be my height and weight yet still carry so much dense mass while I’m thin and lanky? The Argentine (the Romanesque guy to my left rowing the Cucchietti ) was crazy fit and the guy from Columbus that won was muscle packed and still a pound under me. All they have are more racing experiences under their belt, that’s all. I’ve proven I am in this peer group and know I can catch and surpass.
3) I am not as afraid of my racing peers, of the 1x and the big venues. A little apprehension keeps me on my toes, but I won’t be overwhelmed.
I really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot. Going out on a limb, feeling crunchy out of your comfort zone forces those evolutionary leaps in personal development. I’m left still feeling hungry. I can’t wait to do it again, soon. Maybe not tomorrow or next week, but soon.