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The Thrill of Six Boats Across

BY BILL MANNING
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

Major regattas increasingly begin with time trials. World Rowing has done so at World Cups, USRowing uses them at Youth Nationals, and the IRA, the men’s collegiate national championship, did this last year. A time trial eliminates the need to seed heats—always subjective—and conduct repechages. Unless conditions change during the running of the time trial, it is extremely fair.

Time trials typically seed semifinals and determine lane allocation, which can be consequential if there is adverse weather. If some or all subsequent racing is canceled, a time trial may advance boats directly to the final or determine final placing.

Because of the stakes, it is almost always best to race a time trial at maximum speed. Otherwise, it’s gambling, with too much risk for too little reward. If racing multiple events—and conserving energy is a higher priority—row full pressure, but do so at lower rates. Above all else, be certain that everyone in the boat agrees 100 percent on the approach. Nothing is worse than some racing full throttle while others hold back.

Time trials share similarities with head racing but lack the complexity of turns and, one hopes, passing. In both, fractions of a second often determine outcomes, just as when racing side by side. All three formats reward racing intensity equally.

Give the boat plenty of room before the line to achieve maximum speed and room behind the boat starting ahead to avoid getting stuck in a wake. A couple of extra strokes before the line are far better than beginning the race at less than full speed. Rehearse doing this ahead of time; it’s a skill just like a standing start and deserves attention. 

Develop a race plan that isn’t based upon having other boats alongside. Mature crews should prepare, discuss, practice, and execute a race plan using a SpeedCoach.  Know the desired pace for the conditions and how to achieve this—not just the average split but where the boat plans to go faster and where slower-than-average may be necessary.

All coxed crews can chase the boat starting immediately ahead. Set out to close the gap and get as close as possible. Similarly, all rowers can push off the boat behind, attempting to increase the distance. Row away if possible. Stubbornly hold it off as long as possible if it’s faster. Either way, if moving on another boat, the coxswain should always share this with the rowers. There is no more powerful call than “We’re moving!”

Know where the finish line is. Predetermine where to lift and sprint for the line.  Race through the finish line. If in doubt, keep going.

The time trial is the beginning of the regatta, not the end. Immediately after crossing the finish line, begin preparations for the upcoming side-by-side racing. Project confidence, hydrate, cool down to flush the lactate, eat, and get excited for the thrill of six boats across.

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