Quite a few crews at the recent World Rowing Champs in Sarasota were racing as if their pants were on fire.
Perhaps Robbie Manson’s new world best time in the men’s single scull earlier this year ignited something. While others were rating 31 to 34, Robbie Manson rated 38 until the last few hundred metres and then took it up to 40. He left the field in his wake (though, sadly, he wasn’t in good form in Sarasota).
In Sarasota, the Irish lightweight pair rated 44 all the way, with a sprint finish at 46, to take gold. Even the wise and wonderful World Rowing commentators laughed in disbelief, Martin Cross saying he’d never seen anything like it in his 40+ years in rowing.
And the Italians in the final of the men’s heavyweight pair. With 750 metres to go, in third place, they took it up to 43, hitting 46 in the last few strokes as they just pipped the favoured Croatians for gold. As much as I love the Sinkovic brothers, I can only smile watching the Italians row through them, throwing their bodies forward, with Martin Cross exclaiming “Oh my god, oh my god!”.
Jeepers. How do you train to be able to remain smooth and sharp at that pace?
In a recent Rowperfect article about racing starts, masters coach Marlene Royle describes a little training exercise to sharpen your bladework and fine motor handling reactions. She suggests that, during long steady state pieces, every 5 minutes or so try rowing 20 strokes at quarter slide or at half slide, rating as high as you can.
You should be able to hit >50 SPM at half slide and >60 SPM at quarter slide, she says (!). What fun. I couldn’t wait to give it a go in the single.
My first effort was sobering—36 at quarter slide—but now after about 5 attempts over the past few weeks I can reach 45.
What I found was that to get anywhere near those numbers you need boat speed. Racing up the slide is not enough—you need to be connected at the front end and really push the boat or you are just spinning your wheels and going nowhere.
As GB coach Robin Williams puts it:
“… you earn rate. In other words, if you make hull speed, rate won’t be a problem”.*
Even at a high rate, with one eye on my SpeedCoach, I found that I had time to evaluate what I was doing and make a change, for example:
- was I was actually rowing half instead of quarter slide?
- where in the stroke, other than on the slide, could I be faster e.g. could I get my arms away and body over quicker, or could I have an earlier entry?
- was I drawing my elbows in too far at the finish?
It’s a fun exercise and is rewarding when you eke out even one more pip. Give it a try and see how you go. I’ll keep chipping away at it too.