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The STORY...

CRASH-B: where it all happened...


Despite the odds against me, I drove up to Boston yesterday.... at 5 in the morning.
Snow already on the ground threatened to force me to forfeit my race, and flurries attacked my windshield, compelling me to think about turning around and to go home. I stayed on the road, and made it to the Reggie Lewis Athletic Complex in plenty of time to weigh in.

I walked into the arena, not knowing what to expect, half thinking it would be a bunch or ergos lined up with people rowing on them. Instead, I was greeted by a sight that made me stop and realise I was participating in a huge event. I was thinking I'd be rowing a 2000m piece, no pressure, then I'd go to Quincy Market or something before I went home.

(from the Concept2 site )

In the middle of the field house, an indoor track embraced the "bull pen", about 60 ergos split up into two groups. There was a screen of some sort that obscured my view of the portion of the arena that people seemed to be watching most intently. I got the full effect of the scene when I walked to the front of the 'stage'. There were four sets of eight to ten ergos lined up with computer screens between every two, with lane markers identifying each ergo. The lane markers corresponded to those shown on a bigscreen television, facing the spectators, so they could see what the competitors were seeing on their screens, and their progress through the 2000 metres. Split times (time it take to row 500 metres), distance remaining, and names were displayed on a blue screen with what looked like lemon slices (supposed to be boats) going across the course. Each group of ergos was colour-coded blue, red, green, and black, so that as different races were going on, the announcers wouldn't have to say things like "right... see those guys that are sweating less than all the others? They just started their race."

Impressed with the whole ordeal, I went to weigh-in. The woman before me was talking to the person in charge of weighing everyone in, and began to strip down to her birthday suit. I left immediately, as I did not want to witness this woman's desperate quest to make weight. As I waited out in the hallway, a group of girls, one with a video camera, approached the doorway. I decided to warn them of the situation inside, and they waited out in the hallway with me. Once the woman was dressed, I led the gaggle of curious girls into the room. The woman asked me what weight class I was in, and then set the scale to 120 pounds (coxswain weight). Seeing that I was not exactly tipping the scale, I received an arm-stamp and was sent on my way to registration.

At registration, I was instructed to sign a waiver that said more or less "if you die, it's your fault for wanting to participate in the first place", then given a lapel pin, a Clif Bar, a programme, and a hand-stamp. I looked around the room- a small gym where twenty or so ergos were set up for warming up. I had about two hours before my race time and decided to walk around a bit before I started to think about even sitting on an ergo.
Vendors lined the back wall of the arena, behind the outside lip of the track. I wandered around, aimlessly, trying not to be sucked into the vaccuum of intimidation I was approaching.

Finally, it was time to begin warming up. I sat down on an ergo and tried not to be completely grossed out by the squishy feeling of the already-sweaty handle. I began with a pick drill, nothing too exciting, then moved on to taking longer strokes. I glanced at the monitor only to see I was pulling as hard as I usually do during a harder piece in my workouts. Thinking I'd waste the good stuff on the warmup, I got off the ergo, washed my hands, and then went to get a good stretch in before I played a game of dodge-everyone-walking-around-the-track-while-attempting-to-warm-up.

My race was called: "Coxswain women's race over here on the black group!" the announcer shrieked. I stood up from my all-too-comfortable position on the floor where I'd been imitating a prostrate fish and went to find my ergo. I sat down, adjusted the damper setting to what I have been using, and started to take a few strokes. I stopped thinking about the other racers, and figured it was just like erging with the rowing club in the mornings, but with bleachers full of spectators. No sweat.

We were started by the counter on the monitor. 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... ROW
Just like that.

I started off with a 'draw-stamp-stamp-stamp' and did ten strokes high before settling at what I thought would be a 2:13 split, at 28 strokes per minute. I was purposely ignoring the monitor, just in case it was slower than where I wanted to be.
I could hear someone getting really excited about something that was going on in our race. I looked at the dancing lemon wedges long enough to see that whoever it was in lanes 3 and 4 were kicking some butt. Lane 4 had a 5 metre lead with 2:07 splits. Then I realised I was in lane 4. I also realised I'd never rowed anything longer than a 1000 metre piece at 2:07. It was going to get ugly, so I decided to try and take the pace down before it took me down. I could feel the back of my throat tighten up, and whatever efforts I'd made to hydrate were lost, as I had a severe case of cotton-mouth.
A voice behind me was saying to me, "walk it down... come on, let's see 2:10." My brain was saying the opposite, "WHOT?! Are you kidding me? are you trying to kill us all here?!"
I could feel every muscle in my legs screaming at me. At the beginning of the drive, my arches and the fronts of my shins would contract, while my hamstrings, and calf muscles readied themselves for the first part of the push. I could feel my quads kick in for the main part of the kick, and then my arms would pull the handle in. On the recovery, all of them would be going, "ow...ow...ow... not again! ... aaaugh!!!!!" At this point, I had long stopped racing with lane 3 and was on a personal quest to not test out how well I was insured.
The last 500 metres was approaching and I buckled down for what I hoped would be only 135 seconds worth of painful effort. Less than 70 strokes. I could feel my shoulders tensing up and tried to think relaxed, happy thoughts. At that point, I would have rather been drowning in a vat of Khalua (at least I wouldn't be feeling a whole lot of pain) than experiencing death by the ergo in front of a hundred or so spectators.
Last 200 metres. The voice behind me was getting louder, more insistant that I take down the splits. I grunted and dug in. I really just wanted to make the voice stop talking to me at that point, and figured if I got my splits down it would shut it up.





All of a sudden, I had 120 metres left to pull. With that, I took a shallow breath (breathing hurt, but I had no desire to pass out from a lack of oxygen) and stamped on the footplate. I was rowing faster than I'd ever gone before at 36 strokes per minute, and I stormed through the last ten strokes. Squeezing out the last stroke was painful, but done with gusto, as I knew I'd finished the race with a personal best- my goal for the race.

Second place with a final time of 8:53.0 in the heat. The times from the two heats would later be compiled into the final results list.

I turned around to thank the voices that had been badgering me to go-go-go only to see Som, another rower from New Haven. He'd been in the area to visit his sister and went to spectate at the sprints.

I staggered over to the side where I collapsed, too tired to stand, but knowing I should get up and walk around and stretch at least. I wheezed as I tried to breathe, and could taste blood on my breath. My throat was so dry I'd broken a few blood vessels, and I tried not to swallow too hard as I took some water into my mouth.

My body hates me at the moment and I still have no idea why I went through with the whole thing, or even bothered to go to Boston. I wasn't expecting or even wanting to win. I went to the CRASH-B's, primarily because I said I would, although I could have shanked and decided to just watch. Being an enthusiastic competitor, I can't just watch, and I knew very well that I'd be rowing no matter whether I wanted to or not. I had wanted to see how I'd compare with the rest of the bunch, and surprised myself. It was more for the personal experience of competition with others in my weight class, something I seldom do, because we're usually not rowing. We're usually encouraging others to row their best, with top form- to not give up- with the naive optimism we are known for.
The five women ahead of me looked tiny to me, then I remembered that they weren't your typical rowers either, and they still outweighed me by more than ten pounds. The final results show times ranging from 7:55 to something in the 10 minutes range. More mass equals more force. Very important to remember in times like these. I was happy with my 6th place finish- it was completely unexpected. But what I was really happy about was my second place finish in the heats, as I'd expected to be in the back of the pack, struggling, not to be one of the two rowers fighting it out for the win.

Now that's neat.

The Happy Little World of Chip