Head races are a completely different beast from the 2K races of the spring and summer. They require a different skill set, different clothes, and a different mind set. To pull of a successful head race a lot of things have to go right and not all of them are under your control. Here we are going to give a few tips for how to have the best head race season you can.
Weather is always a factor in a head race and because the race is much longer weather plays an even bigger factor. The first thing to take into account is whether you are racing up stream or down stream. Most rivers this time of year are flowing pretty slowly so you don’t have to worry much about the current. If it has rained within the past two or three days near the river you are racing on this could dramatically change the course you take. If you are racing the Charles the current will determine if you should take the center arches or the outside arches in the power house stretch. In general if the current is strong you want to try and stay in it as much a possible while racing down stream and out of it as much as possible while racing up stream. While this may seem obvious many people don’t plan for the changing current conditions.
The other big factor weather plays is that it can get cold during head race season, I remember racing the Charles when it snowed and boy was I under prepared. It may look tough racing in a snow storm in just a uni, but it doesn’t normally lead to the best result. Its always better to be to over dressed when heading out than under, you can always take it off. The second aspect of this is that head races don’t always have ideal warm up areas. In some cases you only have room to row to the start. In bigger races such as the Charles you may have a large warm up area, but will have to wait to start as you are called into the chute. This is the second reason to have warm clothes, making sure you don’t get cold after warming up and before the start. If its cold and you happen to be sculling I highly recommend poggies until you start the race, even if your hands get hot. Keeping your hands warm right up until the start of the race will help you keep control of your oars during the race.
Warming up for a head race can be tough. Warming up on land as much as possible may be your best bet if you don’t know what to expect. I recommend trying to do some several minute pieces at sub race pace to really get a sweat going. If you are comfortable with it, try and only do enough at race pace to make sure you are able to get into a good rhythm. Being able to get into a good rhythm is important for several reasons. I find turns and bridges tend to through off my rhythm when I am racing and being able to get that back is hugely important to having a good race. The other thing that can throw off your rhythm is a collision. These happen, whether you’re a novice or a national team member and being able to recover from them and getting back into your groove is crucial.
When making your race plan there are a few good things to keep in mind. First off making sure you have enough room between you and the starting line to make sure you are up to speed when you hit the line. At the same time you want to make sure there is enough room between you and the boat ahead of you to make sure that you can pass them (hopefully) at a spot in the course that works for you. Secondly know when you are going to make your pushes. Coming out of bridges and turns are a great place to make a push and will also help you get back into your rhythm. Secondly, somewhere in the second half of the race you need to know where you are going to shift gears. Find a bridge or a turn that you can come out of and turn on the jets for the second half of the race.
Since the Charles is coming up this week we will try to provide what I believe to be some helpful tips for this particular race. Like I said before, try to spend as little time sitting in the chute as you can, this is hard but making sure you are not early is as important as not being late. Try staying high on the rate through the BU Bridge and then trying to settle into a rhythm around magazine beach. As you line up for the power house stretch know which arches you are going to go through ahead of time. When you hit the River Street Bridge make a push until you reach the Western Ave Bridge. Once you come out of Western Ave start setting your self up for Weeks. Once you have completed the turn at Weeks make another push as you line your self up for Anderson. The turn at Anderson is bigger than most people realize. You are really going to be pointed at the Cambridge shore on the fare side of the turn. Push again and start committing yourself to the second half of the race. As you come around the turn and line up for the Elliot Bridge do everything can to go through the center arch. This will set you up for the best line on the last turn. If you are forced to go through the shore side arch you will have to over correct back towards the Boston shore to avoid the docks sticking out at Windsor. As you finish the turn you have about 400m to push to the finish line.
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