It’s the Head of the Charles 2019 – my bucket list rowing event. Months and months of training, and poof! Over in a flash.
Three days back and there’s still much to process. I didn’t update during the regatta because I wanted to absorb the experience–and I needed to sleep at night.
I did make this short video, the 7 Days Countdown to HOCR. I wanted to capture everything that leads up to a race, plus the results.
The first half of the trip went off with zero problems: Louisville to Laguardia Airport. Now that airport is a disaster. Poor signage, terrible food choices behind security, and one bathroom for 15+ gates?
My flight from Laguardia to Boston was cancelled. Not delayed. Cancelled, due to poor weather. The plane never left Boston. Luckily I saw “CANCELLED” flash on the screen before the gate attendant announced it. I rebooked on the app, getting the next flight out before it filled up, then scrambled to make sure my gate-checked luggage would be re-routed. Then I started wondering if the next flight would also be cancelled. How would I get to Boston before 9am? I started researching train and bus, just in case.
What a hot mess! Mom brain is real and I swear I’m losing it. In between this chaos, I temporarily lost my wallet. It happened when charging my phone. I guess my backpack wasn’t zipped all the way. When I put it on the counter, it flipped out over the sill. I didn’t see it, but neither did anyone else. 15 minutes of sheer panic once I realized it was gone. I could get to Boston–but how would I get home? How would I get money to eat? But I found it, the next plane did arrive (even if late) and I made it to Boston and my cousin Maggie’s about 9 p.m. Rode the bus with a youth team from Great Britain.
After a poor night’s sleep, I was excited to get to the racecourse. This time I rode a bus with Newport Aquatic Center youth. Their cox talked about heading to Vespoli, also my destination, so I followed them from the stop to the river. At that point, it was easy to figure out. Just follow all the other rower-type peoples heading for the water.
And holy bananas. Six docks? Streams of boats? Official merchandise? Yes! And I soon as I saw my friends from Florida, I teared up a little. For real, but out of joy. I’m here and this is happening!
Our practice row happened thanks to a sub from CRI, a lovely woman who was so encouraging and helpful. Thank you Sarah for stepping in so we could row!
Two doubles collided under Elliot and a men’s single flipped in front of Cambridge. And that was all in the first two minutes of our practice!
Conditions were windy and chilly, but not terrible. Hands tore up on the grips even with light hands. They happened to be my least favorite Concept2 grip, so I expected it. Overall, it felt like a solid row and it was nice to get the jitters out.
My Mom came to watch the races. We met up after practice, sipped some hot cider and walked around the venue scoping out the scene. It was nice to have her there to cheer us on and I got to wear my rowing nerd hat while explaining everything. “That’s HOCR headquarters, this is the last bridge, etc.”
Saturday: the Race
A beautiful, clear blue sky day. We never had the chance to row our 4+ line-up until race day.
We were hopeful for a top 11 finish. It seemed reasonable to me that we could be close to 11.
I am super proud of how well I did mentally. There were some moments of jitters. In the morning, at my cousin’s place, getting ready. Laying out the uniform. Seeing a fellow rower on the transit. Standing by the river watching the other boats coming down. Hands on. Some dry mouth while rowing up. Hearing the announcer calling boats onto the course.
But overall, I didn’t lose it like I have in the past. I felt focused. Excited. I let go of the unknown and welcomed the experience. I was happy to be there, in that boat, with four other ladies who I knew had my back. It will be what it will be.
My hands were a big concern. I had the worst hot spots on the right hand bandaged, but worried about their staying power. Sure enough, one slipped off on the way up. But it turned out the bigger problem was the outside palm of my left hand. I The rotation had rubbed a section raw it was doing me no favors. n the rush to leave, I’d left my tape behind. Luckily 2-seat, Caitlin, had some surgical tape. It stayed on the whole race and saved my hand, I swear.
The race happened so fast, what I have left are fleeting moments. I was so dialed in during the race I didn’t see the crowds on the sidelines, the banners on Elliot bridge, the enclosures, my family by Weeks. Here’s the rundown of what I remember:
- Laughing at Hunting SZN. Because it actually is.
- My fellow starboard telling me I was responsible for powering us around those starboard turns. Me telling her if she left me hanging I’d feed her gluten. You’re welcome, Gallie!
- It can be tense before a race starts so I came equipped with Halloween-themed jokes to tell right before our event started.
Where do zombies like to row?
The Dead Sea!
- The announcer for the Men’s Naval Academy entry, event before ours: “U.S. Naval Academy: you are on the course. Have a good race and thank you for your service.” So nice!
- Seeing boat 21. Radcliffe Alumni. Um, yeah, those women are for REAL.
- Start was so organized and the marshals were the nicest I’ve had for a head race.
- Getting chilled. Goosebumps on my legs from the wind, but not nerves. Proud of how calm I felt.
- I heard her say Sarasota Crew, but I can’t say if she said good luck or have a nice race. Just water rushing under the bow, breathing.
- Radcliffe, 21, charging right on us under the first bridge. I expected it. Not demoralized. Us yelling at Sarah, our cox, to yield over. Their cox yelling for us to yield. A moment of chaos and finally we give way.
- Focused on 22. Holding them off. Sometimes it seemed they were moving, then holding. Slowly creeping.
- Cox yelling at 14 to yield. Excited to pass.
- 22 finds a second gear. They work their way by us. Using their momentum to push harder.
- Getting internally mad at cox for asking for spilts from bow. Bow is busy. Bow is rowing. And it doesn’t matter!
- A boat is creeping up on us. Cox yelling at boat ahead of us. But this boat is trying to cut to our port. I’m listening for Bow to tell our cox about it. I hear nothing, but it’s loud. Noise from people, noise from the boat, noise from our cox. She is still yelling at someone else, and at us for power and steering. So much happening. Bridge is imminent. We’re turning, but we’re turning into the boat! Crap! Will they slow? No, they’re not!
Panic! We’re going to hit! We’re under a bridge! Cox’n is yelling, and I’m screaming too, “POWER! POWER NOW!” and jamming it with everything I got, eyes glued not on stroke but the white bow surging forward and the sunglasses of their cox. I think stroke is yelling too, and we are standing on it—
Swoosh! Inches, they change course cutting to starboard and we cut to port. (Apparently, says our cox, the same thing was happening in her bow, which is why she was also yelling.)
I was looking forward to row2k’s pictures to see how close this almost-collision was, but they posted nothing. Only one picture of our boat at all.
- Chaos is through. Cox is yelling about a boat 17. I tell Holly, “Come on, you and me, let’s go get ‘me.”
- Steel drums from headquarters.
- We don’t seem to be closing on 17, based on what I hear from cox. She’s demanding they yield, but it’s been a while.
- Telling Holly-You and me. Let’s get 17.
- Elliot Bridge. Let’s go, Holly, let’s get 17 before the line. Speed coming up.
- Rounding the bend. Hearing oars off the starboard. Cox yelling yield, yield, yield, at 17.
- Two strokes.
- And over. Turning to look. I was at 17’s stern. 16 was right behind them. Two passed us, we passed two, closing on two more. Relief.
About fifty meters past the finish, we’re on the paddle when our cox’n says, “Hey, Texas, do you know Felicia?” Holly and I whipped our heads around, thinking about the same thing–”Oh my god, our cox’n did not just ‘Hey Felicia’ that boat”– but she quickly followed up with how she used to cox with some girl there and to say hi. Relief. Holly and I chuckled at that.
My right hand: as soon as we went on paddle and the race adrenaline wore off, I felt the damage. Light pressure on the right hand all the way back home. Strangers asked if I was in an alumni about because clearly I don’t row enough. I also turned down the offer of alcohol from the first aid station. Not a glutton for punishment.
Someone looked up the results. I don’t think it was me, but maybe. We were all disappointed to find ourselves at 17. A general, “really?” The row felt decent for a composite 4+, maybe a little messy near the end, but it came back together. If boat 17 had yielded, we probably would’ve been 16, as it was a 0.2 second difference.
I hoped for a better end, but the goal was experience. That we nailed 100%. It was an awesome race. I enjoyed every second. I felt strong, I know I made a solid effort by how my muscles felt at the end, and I conquered those pesky inner demons. Triple win.
- Wow! Talk about people! Never have I seen so many people at a rowing event: not World Championships 2017 or World Masters 2018. It was incredibly cool to have that many people packing the venue, the bridges, the riverbanks.
- Steel drums at a rowing festival? Mixed feelings about that.
- Those bridges–loved the challenge of rowing through them! It broke up the course nicely.
- The only good collision I saw was a Princeton 4+ hitting a bridge, but I was pretty far away when it happened. We sat on Weeks for a long while and everyone expertly navigated through it.
- I know we lucked out on weather. What an amazing weekend to be outside, on and by the water!
- The warm-up erg section was seriously lacking in ergs. It may need a different system or maybe two stations by different dock areas. It seemed to be taken up by all youth when we were waiting to warm-up–but aren’t most youth events Sunday? We waited half-an-hour before giving up to run for warm-up.
- The food choices were slightly better at Weld than the Athletes’ Village. They need more diverse, less greasy options.
- I am disgruntled about a row2k article which referred to the morning races as, “When the under-card races were finished…” as in the Master’s and Alumni races. But that’s a topic for a different blog.
No rest for the weary. The Head of the Hooch is less than 10 days away and I’ve got three races including the single. I landed home Monday and
picked training back up on Tuesday.
It’ll be my second race ever in the 1x, the first being over six years ago. With the HOCR out of the way, there’s nothing to stop the mental wheels burning about the Women’s Master 1x, but I’ll save that for another time.