Race Skills: Race warmups

First, if you don’t already have a watch – get one. Go to Walmart or Target and get one of those super basic sport watches that cost like $10. I had one in high school that I stored on my cox box (after practice I’d take it off and attach it to the wrist strap) and the only time I wore it was on race day. Your phone is not an acceptable substitute. It’s just not. (And if you really need me to explain why, come to the Sparks camp this summer and see how long it takes before Marcus jumps on your ass for not having your hands completely free. That should clear it up pretty quick.)

Time management is an essential skill for coxswains and there is no day where that is more apparent than on race day. Prior to that, you should know the following:

How long it takes to do your land warmup

(Roughly) how long it takes to walk from where your trailer is to where the docks are

How long it takes to execute your warmup on the water

How long it takes to the get from the launch site to the starting line.

How many minutes prior to the start of the race you need to be locked on

When I’m coxing, the pre-race warmup unofficially starts about 20 minutes before we meet to do our land warmup. Few things piss me off more on race day than having to run around the site trying to round up rowers like a bunch of blind, deaf sheep so 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, and 2 minutes before our planned start time I’ll say “X minutes til’ we start the warmup”, “last call, we’re starting in 2 minutes”, etc. This prevents a situation where I’m trying to get started and people aren’t ready because they’re changing, running to the bathroom, groggy from their nap, etc. I have enough to worry about so even though it’s still my responsibility to make sure everyone is in the same place at the same pre-discussed time, giving those countdown reminders takes a lot of pressure off of me because if someone is late, I know there’s at least 6-7 other people who will have my back and say “…she said we were meeting several times, you shouldn’t have waited til the last minute to [do whatever].”.

If you’re at a big regatta (IRAs, Youth Nats, Stotesbury, Sprints, etc.) where there’s a lot of crews waiting to launch from only a couple docks, you’ve gotta account for that wait time so you don’t end up having to rush to get up to the starting line. If you’re one of the early races or are one of the first few after the lunch break you won’t have to worry about this but if you’re racing in the mid-late morning or anytime in the afternoon, this is something to keep in mind.

Usually about an hour before our meet-up time I’d go scope out the launch site and ask the officials if things were running on time, if we should consider getting in line a little sooner, etc. If things had been going smooth so far then we’d maintain the same schedule but if it looked like there was already a line forming or there were novice/freshman events before ours (they are notoriously slow AF) then they’d recommend coming down 10ish minutes sooner than we’d originally planned, that way if we had to wait it wouldn’t impact our warmup plans.

Practicing your race-warmup during the week will help you determine roughly how much time it’ll take for you to get through everything you have planned. Ours, for example, tend to take between 30 and 35 minutes with the important stuff being the practice starts – we usually try to get in at least three at half pressure + half speed, 3/4 pressure + 3/4 speed, and 90% 5 + 5 + 5.

Flexibility and adaptability are two other key parts of being a good race-day coxswain because there will definitely be times when you either aren’t able to complete your entire warmup or you finish early, get stuck on the water, etc. and have to add something in order to keep the crew warm (in the “warm up” sense and also in the sense that if it’s cold out you don’t want to just be sitting there not moving). Adding stuff is always easy because you can just do light steady state at 18-20spm until it’s time to go … it’s cutting the warmup down that is hard.

If Plan A is your ideal warmup (say 35 minutes) then you need to also have a Plan B (if time constraints limit you to 20-25 minutes) and a Plan C (45 minutes) as your contingency plans. These are things that you should go over with your coach well in advance of race day too, that way you can establish what the crew can do without so you’re not just arbitrarily doing some things and not others.

A few other tips/reminders:

If possible, do the bulk of your warmup in the opposite direction of the course and the starts, power bursts, etc. alongside the course.

This isn’t possible everywhere but when you do have the chance to do it it can give you a good feel for how the conditions will effect the boat when you’re moving at race pace. (Pay attention when the officials are going over the traffic pattern during the coaches and coxswains meeting so you’ll know if you can do this or not.)

Time permitting I always try to get in at least one start in our lane before locking on, that way I can get an idea for what it’ll feel like and if I need to make an adjustment to my calls to account for that (i.e. if it’s choppy then I’ll try to incorporate in more “clean”, “down and away”, etc. type calls).

Related: What happens at a coaches and coxswains meeting?

99% of the time the officials want you locked on two minutes prior to the start of your race, which means you should be in the staging area at least 10-12 minutes beforehand.

I’ve been to a handful of races where we had to be locked on three minutes or five minutes prior but two minutes is standard. Just being in your lane doesn’t count as being locked on either, even if you’re backing it down and are six inches away from the stake boat when they call “two minutes to the start”. If the conditions are poor and you know it’s going to take some time to get into the stake boats, pointed, etc. then you must account for that during your warmup. You can’t afford to waste time on a good day, let alone on a day when it’s windy.

Also, if you’re finishing up your warmup by doing starts in your lane, don’t try to do “just one more” or do a full start, 20, and settle so that you end up 250m away from the stake boats. A crew did this when I raced at Oak Ridge one year and we started the race without them … like, five of us were locked on ready to go and she was still trying to back it down (from 200m away) after deciding to do a start with three minutes to go. They protested, they lost, and that coxswain (whose team was in the tent next to ours) got reamed by her coach after the race.

Related: How to enter stake boats (also here) and how NOT to enter stake boats

Do a race walk-through a day or two before you race.

Fridays are our race walk-through days, which is exactly what it sounds like … the coxswains run the crew through the race warmup on their own before meeting up with the coaches and hitting the high points of the race along the course. This usually takes about 35 minutes to complete.

Having a chance to run through the warmup uninterrupted is an important part of your race prep so if it’s not something you’ve discussed or practiced during the week (i.e. it’s not a regular part of your schedule like ours is), speak up before the start of practice, ask what it is if you’re unsure (like at the beginning of the season, you’re new in the boat, etc.), and then go through it as part of that day’s warmup. It can be easy for coaches to forget to talk with the coxswains about that stuff so take the initiative and say something if they haven’t.

Once you get into the season and your training becomes more race-focused (like, right now…) you should be running through your race warmup at least once a week (either on your own or at the coach’s instruction). Just like anything else you practice, the more familiar you are with it and the more consistently you run through it the calmer and more focused you (and the crew) will be on race day.

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