Last weekend, I was part of the Canadian Women’s 8+ that was invited to race a sprint at the Golden Blades Regatta in St. Petersburg, Russia. In an effort to bring more visibility to our sport, FISA invited some top international crews (singles and eights) to be showcased on a 250m stretch of the Fontaka river, in the heart of St. Petersburg.
Needless to say, it was a unique experience! Never have I raced in such an urban setting before. We rigged our boats between shops and offices and did our erg warm-up on the streets by parked cars. Once on the canal, we had pedestrians cheering us on while crossing the bridges and we could hear tires squealing and the occasional car honk.
So what goes on in a 250m dash you ask? Not a whole lot—it goes by in a flash, 40 seconds to be exact. However, your focus and attention should be even greater than in a 2000m race. Mindlessly rowing as hard as you can will not get you to the finish line any faster! Sitting in stroke seat for this event, I was acutely aware of the length and rhythm I was setting on every one of the thirty-odd strokes.
So here were my thoughts during that frenzied sprint:
First, the starting light system. It went from red to green so quickly, that you really had to be ready to pounce on it. Over such a short distance, you definitely don’t want to start with a half stroke delay on your opponents. In essence, there is only one winning strategy in a dash: get ahead on stroke 1.
Also, on the first few strokes, I had to remember to be patient and press out the legs. Just because it’s a shorter race, you are tempted to think that you can get up to speed faster, but really you can’t. At least not in an 8+! It’s roughly 800 kg that you have to get moving from a standstill and in unison. You can only press down your legs as fast as the hull is moving.
Then on stroke 6, when we are nearing peak hull speed, is when I added extra body swing and focused on keeping the release quick and clean. Again, on such a short distance, splash and disturbed water will slow you down dramatically. Clean strokes generate raw speed!
With a stroke rating of 44 through the 100m mark, my main thought was “in and through.” By focusing on a quick and direct catch, I would sustain the rate for the last 100m or so and speed up the connection timing. From here on in, it’s just hang on and don’t let the speed of the boat fade!
As an athlete that typically races over 2000m, it was surreal how quickly 250m went by. I felt like a 100m track athlete running a 10 second sprint. Just when I would usually be striding to find my race rhythm, the 250m race was over. Winning or losing on such a short distance made me think that there is some magic involved. Interestingly, in the men’s single event, it was not the international scullers that dominated the event but rather some incredible herculean rowers. The power they could generate over 250m got them across the line first. I wonder what would have happened if you string 8+ of those 250m together? I’d bet there is a gradual fade and that the international (aka endurance) athlete would win over the 2000m stretch.
All in all, the Golden Blades Regatta was an incredible experience despite losing to the Dutch in the final. It may be nice to have the race over in 40 seconds, but I think my strength lies with wearing out my opponents over a 2000m course.