Two weeks ago I had the joy and thrill of racing down the course for the 2016 Head of the Charles Regatta, not once but twice. Below are my race experiences and what I learned from charging the Charles twice in one weekend.

I raced on Saturday in a reunion crew comprised of the exact line-up of my 1992 Jr. World Champion crew. We hadn’t rowed since that day we earned the gold medal which you would think would be a rough row. However, it wasn’t! It was as if magic dust was sprinkled down upon all eight of us as we took our first few strokes together – the first ones in over 24 years. We weren’t as fast as we once were, but we definitely weren’t slow. It was awesome and our 6th place finish was definitely something of which to be proud.Adaptive Double Scull 2016

Thinking it couldn’t get better, on Sunday I raced in the Adaptive Double Scull with my main man Matthew. This event pairs one person with an intellectual or physical disability with another person without. He sat in the stern setting the rhythm and I steered and coached from the bow. We both pulled our buns off! The conditions were rough, cold and windy as heck. The wind funneling through the bridges’ arches would almost stop us from even taking a stroke. We relentlessly pushed to the line with everything we had. Good thing we did as we won by just .3 seconds over 23 mins. of racing against 20 crews!

In both races we were faced to with craziness on the course – passing other crews (one oarsman was tossed into the river after a collision), tough steering, waves, wind and of course the pain endured during an all-out 3 mile race. It was clear that in order to go our fastest that day, to leave it all on the course, we had to follow our race plan, stay focused and keep it simple. Let me explain a little more in depth below so you can apply these lessons to your next race or challenge!

  1. Data Mining. Pull some data before making your plan. Take the distance, the conditions, the competition, your pre-race training and your goal for race day into account to determine your plan of attack. Do you need to push hard off the start to get out ahead of the pack? Or should you catch the draft of the lead group? Do you need to go out a little more conservatively, settle in and then push the 2nd half? Have you been dealing with an injury? Is this a training race or your day to hop onto the podium? Simply put, you compile the data and then enter the event with a plan. Once you are on the course, stick to that plan until something out of the ordinary comes up. If it does, adapt and then resume your plan as soon as you can.
  1. Eyes in the Boat. In order to make every stroke, pedal, or step count, your focus needs to be on you – your body, your form, your steering/course direction. It is easy to get distracted (especially for our crew when we were ramming into another boat!) but losing focus will keep you from making your “boat” go as fast as possible in that moment, and therefore, that day. Yes, we all will lose focus at some point. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get your eyes and mind “back in the boat!”
  1. Simple and Steady. When dealing with the wind trying to take our oar blades to the skies, Matt and I came up with a simple mantra “Lift, Lock and Load”.  Lift the oars handles to the sky to put the oars in the water. Lock the oars in the water before pushing. Load the oars with as much leg power as we could. This simple coaching allowed us to bring our attention to what needed to be done each stroke, rather than getting rattled by factors preventing us from preforming. I use this method in my other activities too. When running, I like to think, “Quick, Light, Out.” Quick leg turnover, light on my feet and let the pain out of the body – a simple and effective cue to optimize a tough training run or race.