Sometimes you just have to appreciate that something that could have been horrible turned out not to be.
Yesterday I participated in the Wye Island Regatta, a 13.1 mile (half-marathon length) row around Wye Island where the Wye River empties into the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. I have participated in this about 5 times, and once ended up in first place. My lineup yesterday had me in a mixed 8. This means there were no more than 4 men allowed to row with at least 4 women. While we had probably each rowed with each other at least a few times, we had not ALL rowed together in that same lineup, ever. Just by itself, that has the potential to be horrible.
A boat with 8 rowers and a coxswain has to get used to each other. You know those ubiquitous motivational “Teamwork” posters showing rowers in the mist? They are ubiquitous for a reason – the crew and coxswain of a rowing shell make up the ultimate team. The coxswain has to learn what makes the rowers fall apart and what makes them pull together (literally). Short people have to adjust to tall people’s stroke lengths and vice versa. Men have to adjust to women and vice versa. Powerful people have to adjust to weak people’s strength and vice versa. Technically proficient rowers have to adjust to relative novices’ lack of experience. Fast people have to adjust to slow people. People used to being in the lead have to learn to follow. Type A personalities have to adjust to… Never mind. Just about everyone who rows is a type A.
So to have about 5 minutes to make all those adjustments, and then be on a 13.1 mile race course with navigational challenges as well as ocean-like conditions in the middle, has the potential to be, yes, horrible. Just ask our men’s 8 that took a wrong turn and ended up lost on the Chesapeake Bay for three hours a few years ago (it has become the Wye Island Regatta legend, and it’s why we now carry at least two cell phones in each boat).
It wasn’t horrible. We managed to establish a rhythm, if not a ratio. Rhythm has to do with moving together, and if you can do that then you can keep the boat set (balanced) while moving it along. So while it doesn’t feel fast, it at least feels comfortable (as comfortable as you can feel when your hands are blistering, your neck is burning, your arms are cramping, and your butt is going numb). We were unable to set a good ratio, though. This is when you drive the oar hard through the water and then let the boat run during “the recovery” while you slowly wheel your seat back up to “the catch” for the next stroke. A slow recovery is very hard to master without also slowing down the drive. A good ratio gives you about twice as much recovery time as you spend on that intense drive through the water. It gives you “length” – the boat keeps moving and the rowers’ forward momentum does not slow it down. It feels almost easy. It is what is most effective, even though it actually feels like less work (which is why rowers who have not experienced its benefits tend not to trust that it is, indeed, effective, since it doesn’t feel like “more work”). In a long race, ratio matters more than anything else. 2500 effective strokes will get you there way faster than 3000 ineffective ones.
We had some good moments, even. At one point, when we were being passed by another team, and we were nearing the bay where the conditions were ocean-like, the coxswain announced she had to adjust the heading to accommodate a swimming horse. At the same time a butterfly fluttered past. It’s the first time I was ever passed by another team, and a butterfly, all while passing a horse, in a race. So there’s that. The last (yes LAST) quarter mile even had potential. We got some length when we knew we were nearing the finish line. In the end, we had the satisfaction of completing a challenge, doing something very few people accomplish, at OUR AGE (none of us being a spring chicken), and we got it together enough that nobody got injured. And then we had a crab-fest picnic at the coxswain’s parents’ house.
Photo taken by team mate Alissa’s Mom:
So, it wasn’t horrible. And that’s a good thing. Now I’m going to take a nap.