Tips for coxing a time trial

Between mid-May and this week I’ve gotten several questions from coxswains about time trials – it seems like there were more than a few regattas this year that did them in lieu of heats. Below are a couple excerpts from some email replies I sent that include tips I’ve picked up from fellow coxswains and coaches over the years. If you have any strategies that have worked for you, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Pacing into and off the line

The simple approach to a time trial is to just go off the line with your normal start (no need to do the 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, full stuff, just do 5 to build as you approach the line and go straight into your high strokes as you cross – much like a head race) before lengthening out to your base pace. If you’re confident that you’ll make the top 12 or however many it is to advance, you can sometimes pace a little lower than normal (i.e. 33-34 instead of 35-36) but that’s something to discuss with your coach (and crew) well in advance of your race. I wouldn’t plan on racing at anything lower than your normal rate though but if your coach is confident and thinks it’s OK to conserve a bit of energy for the final, feel free to talk about it with them.

use the puddles to gauge if you’re on pace

Another point to remember (and this is important for all head races, not just time trials) is to not go out too hard. It’s easy to think you’re moving really well when there aren’t any other boats around to gauge your speed off of but you run the risk of burning out around 750m in and then it’s just a slow, painful crawl to the finish.

Practicing your start + the first 500 head-race style during practice is a good way to see how the crew feels, how the boat’s moving, etc. and gives you a chance to practice racing the splits vs. racing another crew (or five). If you’ve got a speed coach then obviously that makes it super easy but if you don’t have any splits to go off of, watch the puddles. Based on what I saw leading up to IRAs, when our varsity 8+ was running at top speed our stroke’s blade was entering the water just behind our bow seat’s puddle from the previous stroke. If the margins started to get smaller – i.e. stroke’s blade going in before the puddle reaches him) then I knew we were shortening up a bit and starting to fall off pace. You’ll have to watch your crews to know what the puddle margin usually is but that’s a good way to gauge your pace if you haven’t got a speed coach on board.

Don’t forget to start your clock

Last thing is to make sure you start your clock when you cross the start line. This is another thing you should be doing during practice so that it becomes second nature and not something you have to remember to do on race day. My coaches were alwaysΒ very intent on making sure we were cognizant of these easily overlooked details and after getting my ass verbally kicked by them for about two months, I came to really appreciate their constant reminders to not let stuff like this slip through the cracks. To them, the more little things like this you do, the more free speed you’re racking up and as cliche as “free speed” is, it’s also so, so true.

If you know your average 2k time (or 1500m, depending on what you race), this will help you gauge your speed and where you’re at on the course if it’s not clearly marked or there aren’t any landmarks to go off of. For example, if your boat’s average 2k time this season has been 6:00, you should be crossing 1500m around 4:30 in. If you’re coming through 1500m at 4:32 you know you’re a little off pace and should probably take a 10 to dig in at the start of the last 500m and really hit it with the legs before you build into the sprint.

This works as a great motivator too because if you’re on or ahead of your usual pace, that’s just gonna motivate the crew to keep pushing. Even if you’re off pace a little, hearing the time worked into a call can be the thing that helps them refocus and get back on track – i.e. “through 1000m we’re 3:03 in, that’s a 1.5 seconds off our time from last week; let’s commit to holding the finishes on this 10 and try to hit 1500m by 4:31 … ready … now.”

internal motivation is key (and not as hard as you think)

You do have to rely a lot on internal motivation to keep the crew going during time trials but you’ve likely got a lot more material to pull from than you think you do. Make sure you’ve got a good understanding of your crew’s technical strengths and weaknesses so you can make calls for that as necessary, and don’t underestimate the power of calling a move just for yourselves. I’ve done that before where I’ve called a ten for usΒ … for the seniors, for the juniors … for [whatever team I’m coxing] … etc. and sometimes those are the most powerful tens in the whole piece. I usually save those for the 3rd 500 when I know they’re hurting and really wishing we had some crews around us for that visual confirmation of where we’re at on the field. 98% of the rest of my calls are almost exactly what I’d say during a normal race though.

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