In the fall of 1965, my father and grandfather took a gamble in signing up together for a small, unknown regatta named the Head of the Charles. It was the first year this race was being held. They and the other 60 or so competitors lined up to see how fast they could cover the 3-mile time-trial course.  The small risk they took paid off with a huge reward, as this event eventually would become the largest regatta in the world. They had the privilege of experiencing it as father and son that day and for decades to come.

In recent years, the event’s worldwide popularity and status require you to have an extreme skill or simple luck to earn an individual entry or a seat in a boat. Entries are limited and 11,000 people row down the course over the two-day rowing extravaganza.  The years that I’ve been shut-out from the race, I jealously watched from the shoreline as others got to ‘rip up’ the Charles with their teammates.

The below indoor rowing workout deemed “H.O.C.R. Race Day” will give you a flavor of what racing the Charles is all about. Use your imagination and brawn to feel like you’re on the course ‘emptying the tanks’ with your crew!

Head of the Charles Indoor Rowing Workout

After your warm-up, go down the course dividing it up into focused, manageable chunks. Remember to watch out for the unexpected and use your imagination to put your “arch rival” right in front of you. Hunt him or her down!

Warm-Up: 10 minutes (mins.)

  • 5 mins. easy rowing with focus on technique (engage the legs, control the recovery, stay tall) at 22-24 Stroke Per Minute (spm).
  • Then do 5 mins. as:
    • 2 mins. medium (challenging but doable), 26 spm
    • 1 min. easy, 24 spm
    • 1 min. hard (challenging and uncomfortable), 28 spm
    • 30 seconds easy, 24 spm
    • 30 seconds hard, 28spm

The Course: 5,000m – yes, it’s a ‘5k’ but with a little different approach.

  • First 500m hard (not all out), 28-30 spm = Get that ‘boat’ moving and try to catch the boat right ahead of you.
  • 1000 m medium, 26 spm = Settle into a strong base pace and find a steady breathing pattern. Take a ‘Technique 10’, ten strokes every 250m for staying tall and long
  • 1000 m medium, 26 spm= Take your focus now to maintaining consistent power output and consistent splits. You have a boat moving on you from your stern. Push that crew back! Take a ‘Power 10’, ten hard strokes every 250m and focus on leg connection.
  • 100m paddle, 22 spm = Oh no, there has been a crash between two crews ahead of you. Coxswain tells you to take it to Paddle to avoid a pile-up. Good news though, you get a little rest. Get some air into the lungs.
  • 500m hard, 28 spm = Make up for the time you lost but don’t go breathless. You still have a lot of race left.
  • 1000m medium, 26 spm. =Settle back into base pace. Strong and steady rowing here. Every 250m take a Technique 10. You are hurting, but you are strong!
  • Last 500m hard, 28-30 spm. = Bring up the power and the rate a little here. Your rival is right ahead of you. You need to move NOW.
  • Last 200m = Empty the Tanks!

Did you catch them? I bet you did!