Top 5 Most Important Things to Know on Race Day

Got a great question from a novice coxswain the other day that asked what the most important things were to know/remember on race day (excluding your race plan and lineup). Pretty simple question overall but what I liked about it was the PS at the end: “I asked my coach and he said (completely seriously) the only important thing I need to remember is to finish ahead of [a rival team]. I didn’t want to be annoying and ask again but he didn’t really answer my question so … help?”.

C’mon coaches. Do better.

Related: Race skills: Race warmups

Excluding your race plan and lineup, which you should know well in advance, here are the most important things you need to know or find out on race day.

Traffic pattern

The worst time to find out that there’s a left hand traffic pattern instead of a right hand pattern is when you’re on the water warming up. (Saw that happen in Philly a couple years ago … it almost didn’t end well.) Make sure you’re familiar with the traffic pattern and any nuances, like shallow spots, pinch points, bridge arches you can’t go through, etc. before you launch so you’re not spending your warmup time hyperfocused on trying to figure out where to go.

If you get out on the water though and don’t know where you need to be or get confused by something, ask. There are officials, coaches, etc. in launches on the water who will answer whatever questions you have but they can’t help you if they don’t know there’s a problem. They’re not going to be annoyed or think you’re stupid for saying something but I can promise you that they will be super pissed if you don’t ask and then they have to chase you down to tell you to get off the course, you’re on the wrong side, etc. because at that point, not only are you potentially interfering with a race in progress, you’re putting yourself, your crew, and the other crews in danger.

When in doubt, speak up and ask for clarification.

Warm up pattern

This is in a similar vein to the traffic pattern. I’ve been on courses where you launch at the finish line and warm up parallel to the course as you row to the starting line and I’ve been on courses where you launch above the starting line, row down parallel to the course, do a short loop below the finish line, and then row back up the same side you came down to get back to the start. Knowing the traffic pattern doesn’t necessarily equate to knowing the warmup pattern so this is another thing to make sure you are 100% clear on before you launch.

If you’re able to practice the day before your race, use that time to familiarize yourself with the water, landmarks, etc. so that when you’re going out for your race, again, you’re not wasting your warmup time by trying to figure out where to go.

Official race (and weigh-in) time

99.9% of the time these days, race time = cell phone time (because unlike watches, your cell phone’s not going to slow down time as the battery dies). At the earliest you can probably ask your coach what time your race is on Thursday of that week. At the latest, particularly if there’s concerns about weather, you should find out by Friday afternoon. It’s on you though to go directly to your coach and ask for this information – don’t wait for them to give it to you. Even if they say “I’ll find out and let you know”, you’ve still gotta be the one to follow up. There’s a lot to do on race day and it’s easy for something like this to slip their mind.

This also applies to weigh-ins, particularly and especially if racing has been delayed and as a result, so have weigh-ins. I think USRowing altered the rule as a result of that fiasco at Youth Nats a few years ago but regardless, if you’re getting weighed in or you’re coxing lightweights who need to weigh in, you need to know when the weigh-ins are happening, where they’re at, how many chances they’ll get to weigh in (sometimes there’s a limit of two times before you’re ineligible to race), and what the time frame is (i.e. no later than 2hrs before race time).

Lane and Bow Number

One time when I was doing stake boats a crew rowed up to the start without a bow number but pretty confidently spun into my lane so I just assumed they were in the right place. A minute or so later another crew rowed up and said “you’re in our lane”. The coxswain was like “oh sorry, I wasn’t sure what lane we were in so I just decided to go here” (as if that’s a practical solution) before turning around to ask me what lane she was in. I had no idea and it took a few minutes for the officials to figure out too, which ended up delaying the start of the race.

When you get your race time from your coach, make sure you also get the lane number and grab your bow number, if you’re using them (most big regattas do, sometimes smaller races or duels don’t). Most duel races (especially in college) will do the lane draw at the coaches and coxswains meeting so there’s no excuse for not knowing where to go.

The kicker with that coxswain, and the reason it took awhile for the officials to figure out where they were supposed to be, was that their race was the one before the one they were trying to line up for. Know your race time, know your lane number.

Launch time

There’s a fine balance in knowing when to launch. Too soon and you’ll end up sitting on the water for awhile (which at best, means your muscles cool down and at worst, you’ll be stuck in the elements, which means excess time in the blistering sun or freezing ass cold) or too late and you’ll have to rush up to the start and sacrifice getting a proper warm up in. I talked about determining when to launch in the “race warmups” post linked at the top so check it out for more info on that.

My personal preference is to be shoving off the dock about 40 minutes before race time – I think that tends to give me enough time to run through our warmup, get a quick drink, and then get locked on to the stake boats with 2-3 minutes to spare so the crew can have some quiet time before the race starts.

All of these things are discussed in the coaches and coxswains meeting but if you miss it or there isn’t one, find an official and ask them the specifics for each of these. They’re there to answer your questions so don’t be shy about talking to them. If you don’t have USRowing officials (who wear blue shirts, navy jackets, and khaki pants at every race), look for “regatta headquarters” and ask someone in there. If they don’t know, they’ll be the best people to point you towards someone who does.

Related: What happens at a coaches and coxswains meeting?

Also, for the novices in particular, if you haven’t yet, check out the two posts linked above and at the start of the post. There’s a ton of information in there that, if you haven’t figured most of it out by this point in the season, will definitely help you out as we enter the last few weeks of racing.