My top 15 racing tips

Back in early October, one of the first posts I wrote was in response to a question I got asking for race tips. I recently got a similar question asking me what my top tips are for spring regattas and since everything I said the first time still applies, I’ve posted those below in addition to a few more tips that’ll hopefully help you have a great season.

Get some sleep.

It is CRUCIAL that you get an adequate amount of sleep the night before your race. You can’t expect to be prepared to row your hardest if you only get 3-4 hours of sleep. Aim for at least eight.

Eat a good breakfast.

If your race is in the morning, this can be tricky because you want to give your body enough fuel but you also don’t want to eat too much too soon before your race. If you eat a big meal too close to race time, all the blood that should be going to your muscles will instead be going to your stomach to help digest all that food. 2-3 hours before race time eat a small meal, such as a bowl of oatmeal, a slice of toast, a handful of strawberries, and some OJ. If you can’t eat that far ahead, try to eat something like a bagel and cream cheese an hour or two beforehand. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water too.

Check your seat.

Are your shoes tied in? Are the nuts and bolts on your rigger tightened? What about the seat tracks? Are they clean? (If not, the seat won’t slide smoothly and you can jump the tracks). Your coach or coxswain will go through and do a once over before the boat launches, but if you’ve already looked at your seat and know something needs adjusted, it will get done that much faster.

Relax.

Save your energy. Don’t be walking around a lot before your race. An hour or so before you’re supposed to meet at your boat, find a quiet spot near your trailer/tent and just chill. Throw in some headphones and relax.

Know the race plan.

Yes, it is more important that your coxswain know the race plan so that they can execute it properly but it’s also important that rowers be clued in as well so that they know what to expect and where to expect it. Having an idea of the plan allows you to pace yourself. Don’t fly and die.

Be a good sport.

Good sportsmanship is a huge part of rowing so take the opportunity to tell the other crews “good race” after you’re done.

Breathe.

Don’t get so caught up in pulling hard that you forget to breathe. Relax and stay composed.

Remember your technique.

The more tired you get, the better your technique needs to be. The more tired you get, the more focused you need to become. That’s when injuries happen, when rowers start rowing with poor technique. When you feel like slouching, sit up a little taller. When you feel like hunching over, push your shoulders back. One of my favorite things to tell my 8+ is to not let your brain defeat your body. Your body is capable of SO much more than we think it is and you are hardly ever as tired as you think you are.

Let your coxswain do his/her thing.

Head races are for coxswains. It’s basically like Mario Kart come to life. It’s going to be hectic, crowded, frantic, confusing, and at times a total clusterfuck. If she knows the cardinal rule of coxing (don’t let ‘em see you sweat), you won’t know when she’s freaking because the eight in front of her isn’t yielding or because she’s totally confused by the warm-up area and the horde of boats clogging the traffic lane. Don’t try and tell her what to do or how to do her job. When you’re done racing, make sure you tell her she did a good job too and you appreciate her getting you from point A to point B.

Wear sunscreen.

It doesn’t matter if it’s warm, cool, sunny, or cloudy, you should always have sunscreen on any exposed parts of your body. Coxswains, make sure everyone, including yourself, puts some on at least 30ish minutes before you launch.

Pack accordingly and then TRIPLE check that you have everything you need before you leave.

My team in high school traveled no less than 300-400 miles every weekend to race in the spring (not kidding) so that always meant at least two nights in a hotel. Regardless of whether you’re traveling 20 miles to race or 200, do not wait until the last minute to pack your stuff. Inevitably that leads to you forgetting something that you later in the day wish you had or realize you need.

Find ways to occupy yourself.

Ideally you’ll spent the majority of the time that you’re not racing on the water’s edge supporting your teammates who are out there but during your down time (which at some regattas you may have a significant amount of) you have four options: 1) sleep, 2) hang out at your team’s tent and eat, 3) wander around the merchandise area(s) and buy overly-priced heinous looking spandex, or 4) go to other team’s tents and trade gear. Shirt betting is a thing obviously, but it’s still a ton of fun to go meet other rowers and swap team shirts with them, even if they weren’t in any of your races. One of my favorite shirts I traded for I got from an all-guys school in Michigan called Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. It’s a great way to meet new people and it’s always a ton of fun at the same regattas the following year when you see each other again.

Bring your parents.

Hear me out! Having your parents there doesn’t totally suck because even though they’re your parents and they’re all “that’s my baby!” to every other parent watching from shore, it’s nice knowing that there are one or two people there specifically rooting for you. Even if your team is like mine and you have to travel a few hundred miles to get to the regatta, tell them to make the trip at least once, just so they can get an idea of all the hard work you’ve been putting it.

That was another thing I loved about my team was that despite the distance, so many parents came to each regatta. Invite them to come and then, as patiently as possible, give them a tour of the race site (especially if it’s a nice one you’ve already been to), explain the ins-and-outs of crew (if they don’t already know), tell them the race(s) you’re in, etc.

Be proud of yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you came in first place of DFL, be proud of your accomplishments. Does coming in last suck? Of course it does. I’m not going to lie and say you should try and get some deeper meaning out of coming in last because personally I think that’s a bullshit thing people tell other people when they don’t know what else to say. But think about all the people who never even started, the people who quit in the middle of winter training because it was too hard…those people never got to experience what you just did. You raced. You killed your body for seven minutes and even if the result isn’t what you wanted, you’re a stronger person for it, mentally, emotionally, and physically. You still accomplished something, even if you lack the hardware to prove it.

If you won, be proud of the time and effort you put in but don’t forget about the contributions of everyone else in your boat. You didn’t do this all on your own. Be proud of yourself but be proud of your teammates as well – and tell them you’re proud of them. Like I’ve said before, you don’t have to like the people in your boat but you must respect them.

Have fun.

Don’t get so caught up in racing that you forget to actually enjoy the experience.

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