Monday, March 19, 2012

70x50 and "Carry"

Rinconada pool in Palo Alto during the Masters swim meet on St. Patrick's Day

Yesterday morning, I swam with a group of local masters swimmers.  The workout was 70x50yds broken down by 7x(10x50yds) on the 50s interval.  Apparently, someone was turning 70!  In the past, Marcia has done a similar workout where on her birthday, her age is the number of pieces we do or the number of seconds we have to do vertical kick or etc.  50yds is not much—think rowing 200m or 250m.  70x50yds, however, is a lot—think rowing 70x200m! 

Seventy is a big number and even broken down to 7x10 sets, seven seemed like a far off, impossible number of sets.  Usually (in my limited swimming experience), sets are repeated two or three times, at max four times.

Of course, in swimming, it is not just about the yardage or number of sets, but the intervals and amount of recovery for the set.  For some, a 50s interval for 50yds was a steady state pace, but for me, it required about an 85% effort, especially to make all 70 pieces. 

When we finished the first set of 10x50yds, I was feeling okay.  When we finished the second set, I was still okay, but started to wonder how we would ever get to 70x50yds.  When we finished the third set, I was coming up with elaborate ways in my head to modify the workout and reasons why I could not do 70x50yds. 

I looked for “carry.”  Maybe you have your own name for this mental tactic.  “Carry” is what is going to help carry you through the workout. 

On the erg, sometimes “carry” is closing my eyes and pretending I am rowing on the water with other people, not thinking about the workout, but simply following and executing.  Sometimes “carry” is counting the strokes, spelling out words, or repeating a phrase in my head.  Sometimes, “carry” is the music that I am listening to. 

On the water, sometimes there is a coxswain or a bowman who can “carry” you through the workout.  Or sometimes having a coach there who is watching you is enough to “carry” you and make you finish the workout.

For this particular swim workout, I thought about my friend from Cal Triathlon, Daniela, and pictured swimming next to her (which would never actually happen in real life because I would just be chasing her feet the whole time).  

I also happened to be sharing a lane with an older woman who tough and could probably kick my butt if she tried.  We alternated leading the sets.  When I lead, I thought about not letting her down.  When she lead, I pretended to be in an open-water race and trying to stay with the person ahead in order to draft. 

At some point, I made it easy for myself—I stopped counting, I stopped thinking.  I simply hoped the swimmers in the other lanes would “carry” me.  When the clock hit the interval and they shot off the wall, I went too—like clockwork. 

Somehow, we made it to 70x50yds.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

And Life Goes On

If you have been counting, which there is no reason you would be, it has been 216 days since we moved away from Oakland and since I started a new job, 83 days since my last post, 27 days since my last row on the water, and 7 days since the Princess turned two years old.  

The Princess sits next to me as I type and we both eat grapes;
please note the door behind her and the stickers--lovely
The longer I spend away from the water, the more I worry that I am losing the feel for the water, the smoothness up the recovery, the softness at the catch, the consistency through the drive among other things, such as fitness and strength.  I worry that for every three steps forward in rowing that I had made, I am now taking two steps back.

Instead of worrying if I am training correctly or what is my race plan for the next 2k, I now worry that I am not going to have enough     (time / energy / motivation)      to workout.  Somewhere, rowing has become a struggle in a mix between the new job (i.e. new skills, more hours, travel, different work style, and unpredictability), a less convenient location to the boathouse, an older and more independent-but-really-more-dependent-in-some-ways Princess, and a husband who gets to be single parent when I travel.

The erg at home has proved to be helpful for a short workout or two.  Not so long ago, i.e. 216 days ago, I begrudged doing short interval workouts, such as 6x500m or 4x1000m, because first, I hate intervals and if you did these intervals right, it is a world of pain.  And second, I felt like I did not get the best mileage for the amount of time spent.  I generally preferred 45 or 60 minute steady state pieces.  Now, I am simply grateful if I have the time, energy, and motivation to erg for a simple 20 minutes--usually still steady state.  Erg splits are becoming less and less relevant beyond reminding me of how far I have "fallen."

Here is what my recent ergs look like.  It is 6:30 in the evening and I am just getting home from work.  Sometimes, the Princess and the husband will already be home and sometimes, it is just the Princess and me.  If the husband and the Princess are home, we try to eat dinner together like a normal family except for the food-throwing by the Princess.  Sometime after dinner, I might erg.  While I erg, the husband tries to entertain the Princess and knows to stay far away from "Mama" while she ergs.

If it is just the Princess and me, well, things might not go as smoothly.  I might turn on the TV to occupy the Princess with Elmo or Caillou (thank god for streaming Netflix even if the selection otherwise is not spectacular).  Unfortunately, with the erg and the TV in the same room, you cannot really hear the TV over someone erging.  The Princess usually loses interest fairly quickly.  She did once take the TV remote and turn up the volume until she could hear her show.  I had to stop and turn the volume back down before our neighbors could complain.  And I had thought she only knew how to use the remote to turn on and off the TV.

The erg in the corner of the family / living room;
barely enough room to clear the elbows at the finish

Usually though, the Princess might do puzzles or wander around, looking bored and waiting for me to stop erging. She generally knows not to bother "Mama" while she ergs, although there have been a number of times when the Princess will come up to the erg speaking in some gibberish (not English or Chinese).

In the book Assault on Lake Casitas, Brad Lewis describes some of his mental preparation for the 1984 Olympics.  He and his doubles partner, Paul Enquist, did "shadow rowing" on an erg, practicing their mental focus by executing different scenarios--pretending that they were leading or that they were behind the pack, but making sure they stayed focused.  They even had other people try to distract them in different ways, from shouting obscenities, reading provocative passages to pouring water on them.  No matter the distraction, they stayed focused and it paid off.

Well, my erging at home has been anything but what Lewis and Enquist practiced.  I was really surprised at how distracting the Princess can be just by running around, eating, whining, or making a mess.  Sometimes, it is really hard to just hold a stroke rate or a split, plus or minus two seconds (which is not really consistent or "holding a split"), never mind technique.

One time, I had my eyes closed for a few strokes when the Princess came up and tapped my leg to ask help with her Mr. Potatohead.  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  I managed to not send the handle flying and then, told her to wait until I was done.  She eventually lost interest and found something better to do.

This is probably not an example of good parenting nor is it an example of good erging .  For now though, it will have to do.

I have not yet found steady footing in this new situation and I know that very soon, I am going to have to face the facts and determine what are my goals for right now and what can wait.  I am afraid those 27 days off the water might become 270 days.  In the meanwhile, life goes on...

Monday, December 12, 2011

BIAC Corkscrew 2011

The Head of the Lagoon may have been the last head race of the season, but it technically was not the last race of the year.  This year, the honors went to the BIAC Corkscrew regatta.  Like the BIAC Fall regatta, this one also has wickedly windy course, hence the name "corkscrew."

The race is actually held in Port of Redwood city waters and is nine miles long (compared the to the typical head race of 3.1 miles or 5k).  With no formal pre-registration, the regatta is very casual with entries recorded and tracked on paper and pen (and results written on a white board!).  About half of the rowers were from BIAC, but a number of brave souls traveled from Lake Merritt, Marin, Los Gatos, Stockton, Berkeley Paddling and Rowing, and North Bay (Petaluma).  Costumes were encouraged, but luckily not required!
Crab and chef-themed crew from BIAC
Mx2x partner with Dan Borg, an accomplished rower and a Berkeley High alumnus,
in his awesome yellowjacket costume; yellowjacket is the Berkeley High mascot

Registration opened at 7am, but crews did not really start moseying until about 8.  Many teams borrowed BIAC boats, and there was almost a shortage of slings with teams checking out their boats and making adjustments.

Pre-race inspection of two K4s; hard to tell in photo,
but the K4 is about as long as a rowing 4x shell
It was quite a surprise too when two really fit men (who looked like national team material) started climb a ladder to the BIAC roof to pull out a four-person kayak, apparently called a K4.  This particular K4 had not been rowed in a while, and they spent a good thirty minutes patching it up.  I profess to know nothing about kayaking with the exception that it takes a lot of upper body strength and and it is supposed to be slower than rowing.  I am also not particularly fond of kayaking.  My only experience in a kayak was on an outing with the husband, and I was so cross the whole time because I felt like I was going nowhere.
A relatively crowded BIAC boatyard; photo courtesy of Joe M.

For the Corkscrew, I was rowing the mixed double.  My Mx2x partner and I were borrowing a BIAC boat.  In a quick excursion, we took the boat out to check the rigging--a lesson that I learned the hard way--before boats began launching.  Eights and quads launched first at around 9:20am, supposedly followed by fours, doubles, and then singles, but the order became blurred as boats launched whenever they were ready.  The Stanford and the Port of Redwood City docks were also available to crews.

BIAC docks--BIAC 1x and 4x (crab and chef-themed) launching;
photo courtesy of Joe M.

We waited around until all the big boats had left, including the K4s.  We launched, and it was about a short five to ten minute row to the start line, across from the Stanford boathouse, marked by a red buoy and a launch.
Pre-race photo; waiting around to launch 
At the start line, I had expected to see a crowd of boats, jockeying for space.  Instead, crews started whenever they were ready, and the start launch simply wrote down your bow number and start time as you went by.  On the warm-up, we had already seen many eights and quads, as well as a men's single, go down the course.

Before the race, my Mx2x partner was quite excited our competition, a men's double from LMRC's San Francisco Bay Blades (SFBB) and rowers whom we knew.  It is always more fun when you know the competition personally, but in general, I tend not to think about the competition.  It builds additional stress, and I believe that your best races come from within, not without.  If anything, your biggest enemy is yourself.  Yes, it is exciting to have competition right next to you, breathing down your neck, but whether you cross the line first is more about how well can you hold onto your technique, efficiency, and power and less about whether your competition will falter.  Maybe it is a naive perspective, after all, I have had only a handful of close races.

We saw the SFBB 2x at the start line, but by the time we turned and lined up, they had already left.  With the stroke coach reset and the extra clothing layers removed, we started.  We took a few strokes to build and settled into a rhythm, still feeling our bodies warming up.

The first section before the first major turn in Smith Slough felt alright.  Either from the normal excitement at the start of a race or from not rowing together since October, the boat felt solid, but did not have any extra run or smoothness.  As we approached the turn, a slower women's 2x that had started before us, was also turning.  We lost a bit of time, rowing half pressure behind the 2x since passing is strongly discouraged in that turn.  A pier juts out on starboard side and a row of parked boats lines port side.

Once we were clear, we quickly passed and I could see several different boats up ahead.  This section was relatively wide with a gentle curve.  The water was calm, but not quite glass-like flat.  As we came around the next major turn at the end of the slough, we took the inside of the turn, trying to pass a BIAC men's 4+, which was in turn trying to pass a BIAC men's 4x.  The 4+ coxswain, sandwiched between us and the 4x, had to steer tightly.

We passed by smoothly and watched the two boats battle down the straightaway.  On this section, we passed a BIAC women's intermediate 4+ dressed as pirates and a women's 4x dressed in white costumes of some sort.  I was beginning to feel the dull tiredness in my legs, and I wondered if we were going to hold our rate for the rest of the race.  The boat needed to feel more together, and the run needed to come more easily.  Nine miles is a long way to go.

As we approached the major turn into the actual corkscrew slough, my Mx2x partner asked where the SFBB boat was.  Up to that point, I was not focused on the looking for the other boats and I had not seen the SFBB double at all.  When I looked, I spotted a double that had already turned and appeared to have stopped rowing.  The next time I looked, they were rowing again.  They had cut the corner on an island that sits at the mouth of Corkscrew Slough.  In high tide, there is water between the island and the starboard side shore and appears as if there is enough room to pass.  Unfortunately, the water is shallow, and the double had been temporarily stopped in mud.

We rounded the turn on the outside of the island.  I could see the other double more clearly now, and it was the SFBB.  My Mx2x partner looked around a few times, and I felt a little annoyed.  It is hard not to look out of the boat when the competition is close by or when the course is new to you.  Although the boat felt solid, there were a number of off-strokes where we lost the set at the catch or our timing was off.  For the most part, many off-strokes came from my steering and trying to look behind.  We already had one head rocking the set, no need to add a second.

After the first corkscrew turn, which was a mild turn to starboard, we were following the SFBB 2x with about three lengths of open water.  Ahead on our port side was a BIAC women's bowloaded 4+ that was on point to converge with us.  Coxswains in bowloaded boats cannot see behind them and must rely on their crews to relay when a boat is approaching.  The 4+'s coxswain quickly adjusted, and we managed to squeeze by.

The second corkscrew turn is a sharp hairpin turn to port.  I tried to stay near the starboard shore to guarantee that we would not swing to wide out of the turn.  The third and fourth turns were less sudden, and we followed the SFBB 2x, slightly gaining on them.

In the straightaway between the fourth and fifth turn, we passed the SFBB 2x on the starboard side, also the inside of the next turn.  Although we had gained on them earlier, it took almost the entire straightaway to pull even with them.  When we did pull even, we were overstroking them, but only gaining a little bit of ground each stroke.

Any ground we did gain, we promptly lost going around the fifth and sixth turns.  Taking the inside on the fifth turn put us too wide for the sixth turn.  The SFBB 2x took the inside on the sixth turn and we were relegated to the outside.  Although we were still even with them on the turn, we had to row extra to keep up.

On the seventh turn, we lost more ground to the SFBB due to my steering us too wide again.  There was a near collision of boats between the SFBB 2x and a women's 4x at the turn.  The SFBB escaped safely while the 4x over corrected and had another near collision with an 8+ rowing on the far side.  We took this turn too close again and ended up too wide.  After seeing how far off we were, my Mx2x partner called for a stake turn, holding on starboard and rowing arms and back with port.

At this point, I was frustrated for gaining ground and then losing it back because of steering.  Nobody likes to pass only to be passed by the same boat.  I had been unsure earlier if we should try to pass the SFBB 2x.  I knew that the SFBB bowman is much more experienced steering and with the corkscrew course. I thought it might have been advantageous to trail behind them, watching and copying their course, but the Corkscrew Slough is a long way to sit behind someone.

In addition, although the water was calm, the water felt heavy as if there was a headwind.  It was only after the race did I learn about the incoming currents that fill up Corkscrew Slough.  There is an incoming current from the end of the corkscrew to about turn 4 or 5 that pushes against you.  We needed to row cleaner, to squeeze a little bit more run from our catches, and I needed to pay more attention and follow my partner more closely.

We rounded the eighth corkscrew turn about two or three boat lengths behind the SFBB, but I keenly watched and followed their course.  The last turn was out of the corkscrew and into the bay finally.  We had gained on them slightly, but then lost a bit on the turn when I called the turn a little late.  We stayed about two boat lengths of open water along the straightaway, avoiding various channel markers.

The very last turn of the race was to starboard and with about 250 meters from the turn, I called a "250," but my Mx2x partner was confused about what the call meant--250 to the finish line or 250 to the other boat.  Fortunately, he did not start sprinting because we actually had about another 300 meters to finish after the turn.  Mentally, I could feel exactly how much we had left, but I could not properly translate it into meters.  As soon as I had called "250," I realized that I was wrong.  250 meters is approximately 30 strokes, and there were definitely more than 30 strokes left.

When I finally did call the right distance, we sprinted.  As we passed the start/finish line launch, in tune with the casualness of the regatta, there was no horn, no official sign that the race was over.  It was a hard row, chasing the SFBB and while we sprinted at the end, so did they.
Results posted on the white board; our boat was called the Chataranga

The race was longer than I had imagined in my head.  Despite the poor steering, it was fun to have survived the wild turns of the corkscrew.
So glad the race was done

Friday, December 9, 2011

Head of the Lagoon 2011

Last head race of the season—Head of the Lagoon! 

BIAC trailer at HOTL

Only one highway exit away from where the BIAC Fall regatta took place the weekend before, the Head of the Lagoon (HOTL) is also known for its curvy course with the added fun of bridges.  I had never been to the HOTL before, but had heard good things, especially when LMRC captured the Women’s Masters 4+ trophy last year.  The HOTL trophies, mostly for master events, make the regatta unique and exciting.  It almost feels like a smaller, more relaxed, head race version of San Diego Crew Classic!

My first experience at HOTL was complicated by the fact that I had a 3pm flight out of SFO the same day.  I would be traveling to the east coast to meet with our client for the first time for my new job.  I had originally wanted to race a pair on this windy, twisty course.  But by fate (and probably also fortune), the pair’s race would be cutting it really close for my flight.  I was already racing in a BIAC team boat in one of the earlier races.  My LMRC pair partner and I decided to turn the pair into a double so we could both squeeze in two races and be done by 12pm!

HOTL started a few days before the actual race date (Sunday, November 13th) with a string of emails from the race director about where to park, why not to publicly urinate, where to rig the boats, reminder to bring back previously won trophies, and other more normal things about traffic pattern and launching.  The HOTL has been growing larger and larger each year.  Apparently, it was so successful last year that there were not enough toilets for everyone, especially before 9am when the recreational center opened.  If your boat is launching and there’s a line for the port-a-potties, I guess you’ve got to find yourself a bush.

The morning began with plenty of parking in the designated parking garage.  The park area though was crowded with boats, rowers, and spectators.  Boats had to be unloaded and walked from the parking lot to the grassy areas to be rigged.

The weather was sunny, but a bit cold and windy.  The launching and docking area consisted of four small plastic, gray docks that each had a dock-master urging crews to launch or dock faster.  In order to move boats along quickly, rowers had to bring their oars with them to the dock and had to tie in on the water.

My first race was the Women’s Masters 4+ with BIAC.  I was nervous for this race for several reasons.  First, I was stroking and although I stroked at BIAC in the 4x, there is something different about sweeping (one oar) versus sculling (two oars).  Second, last year’s LMRC 4+ rowers was back to defend their title with only one line-up change.  Even our former team captain who moved away to Boston flew back especially for this race!  Third, my LMRC pair/doubles partner was in that LMRC 4+ and stroking it too!  And fourth, I had not rowed sweep in a while, and we had not practiced in our line-up.

The rec center did not open until 9am, and the 4+ race was at 9:40.  Between 8 and 9, there was a massive line for the port-a-potties that snaked around the parking lot.  I wish I had taken a picture because it was really ridiculous.  Instead of standing in that line, our coxswain had the brilliant idea that we should wait in front of the rec center and be the first ones in to use the real bathrooms when it opened.  The only problem was that 9:00, 9:05,…9:10 passed and the glass doors remained sealed.

Luckily, by now, the port-a-potty line had died (since everyone who had to go, also had to launch) and we did a quick pit stop and got hands-on the boat.  The launching area for HOTL is about 3,500 meters from the start line, making it a short warm-up.  There is also very little space at the start to do any warm-up strokes.

We rowed to the start and had to wait as all the 4+’s got in start order.   LMRC, as reigning champions, started first.  Typically for head races, boats are seeded by speed, fastest first.

We started 5th in our race.  The start was strong, and I could hear the breathing of the woman behind me (in three seat).  The first section of the race has two bridges and some mild turns.  We passed one of the 4+’s fairly easily.  The first big turn is about a third into the race—a sharp 90 degree turn to starboard.  Our coxswain who is quite experienced pulled it off rather nicely. 

Between that first big turn and the next one, we passed the launching area.  Our coxswain made several calls, letting us know that we were gaining on the boat ahead of us.  She called up the rate and power, trying to pass the 4+ before the next bridge.  If you want to see the real action, check out the video here.

We successfully passed the 4+ and went under the bridge.  The next and last section of the course is a wide, long turn to port.  The boat stayed strong, but still struggled with some set and cleanness issues.  Because the finish line was not well-marked, our coxswain had a difficult time seeing exactly how much farther.  I had mentally underestimated how long this section was and kept wondering how much farther until the finish.  I was very relieved to finally cross the line.  It was a hard row and very stressful to stroke.

The race was harder than I had expected, and now, I was worried about jumping into the double for the next race.  I reminded myself that the double was supposed to be just for fun, but 5,000 meters is still a lot to row for just “fun”!

The LMRC 4+ managed to hold off the River City boat and crossed the line first.  And we later found out, as with the usual time delay for results at head races, they did win and retained the title and the trophy!

My 2x partner and I were very luckily to have teammates who helped us rig and de-rig boats so that we could go from the 4+ to the 2x with only a short break. 

The Princess riding her two-legged horse at HOTL
While we were preparing for the 2x, I was surprised to see a familiar-looking guy with dark curly hair, carrying a squirmy toddler.  That was my husband and the Princess!  This is the guy who does not believe in rowing and the guy who will probably never be reading this blog.  Wow, I was the luckiest rower at the regatta! 

Rowing is not a spectator sport.  Any non-rowing loved ones will learn quickly enough to avoid regattas at all costs.  Regattas for spectators are a dull experience of waiting around, not knowing what is going on, and only brief moments with the actual rower before he or she has to get hands-on the boat and launch.  The only die-hard loved ones who might come to watch are usually parents.
The Princess eating grapes at HOTL...
anything to keep her from crying...
We launched the 2x and rowed up to the start.  We were starting last in our race of five boats.  At the starting area, about 100 meters from the actual start line, I recognized the coach in the launch as the one who helped a very frazzled me adjust the Van Dusen rigger on the water at Head of the American!  More importantly, he recognized me!  How embarrassing!

We eased into our race, trying to stay relaxed and not worrying too much about rate.  In the first stretch, we quickly passed two boats, one of whom appeared to be a relatively novice crew from BIAC.  I could see the two other boats ahead of us.  We had initially gained on them, but then, had lost a bit of run or smoothness in the boat.  We managed to pass both of them before the first big turn, and I was hugging the inside of the turn.

Unfortunately for us, I was not thinking straight.  On such a sharp turn as this, about 90 degrees, hugging the turn usually puts you out too wide after the turn because your boat cannot turn so sharply.  I did not realize this until it was too late.  I thought, “Shit.”  Right as we were coming around, the water got choppier and there was a massive gust of wind.  We had a few off strokes where the boat wobbled and our blades missed water.  For some reason, my partner said, “Sorry.”  She had nothing to be sorry for.  I was the one steering us too wide!

We lost a fair amount on that steering mistake to the two boats that we had just passed.  I knew we needed a lot of time and distance between us and them to make up for the age handicap.  The Ashland Rowing Club boat had 114.9 seconds on us, and they had beaten me before in the 2x due to that handicap.

We regained our ground and soon pushed farther ahead.  The rough water became flat as we passed the third bridge and the swing and run were back in the boat.  We saw a fast junior crew from Stanford Rowing Center that had moved up quickly, but we stayed ahead of them.  The row to the finish felt strong. 
Photo with 2x partner
With the time lost on the turn, we had no idea if we had beaten the age handicaps.  Regardless, the race was hard and fun.  Now, we needed to row back to the dock to hot seat the boat for a LMRC Men’s Masters 2x and for me, to get to the airport. 
Photo with LMRC teammates, some of the winners from the 4+!
Womens Masters 4+  (average age, elapsed time, adjusted time)
  1. Lake Merritt Rowing Club (41, 21:49, 21:28)
  2. River City Rowing Club (35, 21:42, 21:35)
  3. Bair Island Aquatic Center (34, 22:01, 21:56)
  4. Marin Rowing Association (61, 24:07, 22:02)
  5. Marin Rowing Association (57, 24:04, 22:27)
  6. Humboldt Bay Rowing Association (52, 23:35, 22:28)
  7. Lake Merritt Rowing Club (27, 22:54, 22:54)
  8. Los Gatos Rowing Club (44, 23:29, 22:58)
  9. Bair Island Aquatic Center (41, 23:36, 23:15)
  10. Los Gatos Rowing Club (61, 25:33, 23:28)
  11. Los Gatos Rowing Club (54, 25:54, 24:36)
  12. Bair Island Aquatic Center (50, 28:31, 27:34)

Womens Masters 2x (average age, elapsed time, adjusted time)
  1. Bair Island Aquatic Center (32, 23:05, 23:02)
  2. Ashland Rowing Club (60, 25:06, 23:09)
  3. Los Gatos Rowing Club (64, 26:37, 24:10)
  4. Bair Island Aquatic Center (53, 30:18, 29:05)
  5. Humboldt Bay Rowing Association (40, 32:08, 31:50)

BIAC Fall Regatta 2011

It’s hard to believe that head racing season came and went in a flurry already.  Every year, right in the middle of the season, I tell myself NOT to sign up for so many damn races.  Racing can easily devour most of your weekend and leave an unhappy husband and child waiting for you at the end.
Boats at San Mateo Marina Park for the BIAC Fall regatta;
copyright John Young
 This year’s BIAC Fall regatta was on the sixth of November, a Sunday.  I had never done this regatta before, but it and the Head of the Lagoon (the following weekend) are notorious for the twisty, winding, man-made courses tucked away in the quiet neighborhoods of San Mateo and Foster City, respectively. 

The weekend started off with cold and rainy weather on Saturday.  All the BIAC volunteers, myself included, met that day to review our roles and prepare for the next day. 

Sunday began cold, but dry, and the skies eventually cleared for a wonderful, crisp fall day.  I had volunteered for the early morning, 5am trailer parking shift.  I arrived to a dark, deserted San Mateo Marina Park where a number of trailers had already arrived the day before.  Someone had generously left a folding chair, and I sat on the chair, under a street lamp. 
Men's Masters single from BIAC; look at that flat water!
According to other BIAC rowers, the BIAC regatta is typically a relatively good-sized regatta.  The parking lot is usually packed with trailers with no room to rig, and boats are crowded onto the shore.  This year, due to the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival (NARF) happening on the same weekend, participation was unusually low—less than 100 entries.  NARF is the Southern California version of Head of the American.  Many junior and college crews will travel to NARF.

By 8am, all the trailers were parked and luxuriously spaced in the parking lot.  All except for one—the Marin trailer.  Several Marin scullers were anxiously waiting and actually missed their race.  On the way to the regatta, the Marin trailer had gotten a flat.  A little after 9, their trailer finally pulled in.  The scullers who missed their race were still able to race the course and have their times counted.

Marin sculler - David
Marin sculler - Bill
 I had one race—the Women’s Open 4x.  There were no other boats entered in our event so it was really just going to be a pseudo-race.  It was also my first race in a BIAC team boat.

Boat photo

Warming up
Our row went well.  We started out at about a 28spm and remained there for most of the race.  The water was relatively calm, but a headwind pushed against us and got stronger towards the end.  As we passed the launching area with about 1,000 meters left to go, I started wondering where the line was.  We passed the line, just ahead of two singles from the new Oakland youth rowing program.
During the race
During the race
I was lucky not be in bow and not have to steer the crazy course!  The buoys were small and at some points, it was hard to discern where the actual course was. 
San Francisco Bay Blades 4x at BIAC Fall Regatta;
copyright Nancy Brown
 Despite being a smaller than usual, the regatta went smoothly.  After my race, I was anxious to be at home after three consecutive weekends of racing.
LMRC Men's Masters 2x; copyright Nancy Brown

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Head of the American 2011 - Part 2

If you can remember back to over a month ago, there was such an event called Head of the American.  Between then and now, much, in the form of work travel, Thanskgiving, family, friends, Indian weddings, etc., have taken place.  Need a refresher?  Read the Head of the American race report Part 1.
Cal Lightweight Men Varsity 4+, carrying the Flying Bear at HOA

Valuable lessons are often learned the hard way.


#4.  Always check your rigging....preferably before you launch.
The time between the 2x race and my 1x race was packed with derigging the 2x, loading the trailer, finding more water (see Lesson #1), watching the 2011 US National Team 2x of Julie Nichols and Kristin Hedstrom come down the course, catching up with a few friends, and walking over to the Sac State boathouse to prepare for my 1x race.

I had been pretty scatter-brained the whole day and in preparing for the single was no different.  I was borrowing Dede’s beautiful Van Dusen single for my race.  Note that this was not my first time rowing this boat.  If you have ever met Dede, you will attest that she’s about coxswain size.  If you have ever met me, you can attest that I am most definitely not coxswain size and barely even lightweight size.  In the past when I had borrowed Dede’s boat, I always had help making the rigging changes.

This time, I was still very lucky to have help from my Mx2x partner, but in my anxiety to change the boat’s single winged rigger, I completely forgot to change out Dede’s tiny sized-shoe footboards to larger sized ones.  In my indecision on whether to launch with the possibility of having too much or too light warm-up time, I launched a little later than expected. 

The shoes fit very snuggly, but that did not raise any alarms in my head.  I started rowing and my blades dug deep, throwing off the boat’s set.  No alarms went off in my head.  It is normal to feel less comfortable in a new boat, especially one that is narrower and may require more technical skill. 

I continued wobbly rowing for about 30 strokes before massive panic alarms went off.  Dede’s footboards placed my legs much higher up that my knees almost came up to my chin.  More importantly, somehow the angle was off or the rigger was misplaced that I had absolutely no clearance at the finish unless I had a massive lay-back.   If I sat at the finish, my hands ran right into my rib cage.

I needed to move the rigger back towards bow to just have some clearance.  The problem was that for Van Dusen’s, the winged rigger, which attaches the footboards with a quick pin release system, must be entirely unscrewed and lifted from the main hull in order to be moved.  If you do the math right, a Van Dusen without the rigger is the same as a slim, tipsy floating shell that will capsize.  That is, you cannot change a Van Dusen’s rigging on the water, by yourself.  (Maybe in a Van Dusen double and only if your partner has an uncanny ability to set the boat.)

I desperately rowed to the start line while trying various modifications to my stroke to be able to row.  5,000 meters is a long way to row without being able to clear the finish.  It becomes less about racing and more about being able to row decently and without injury. 

About 500 meters from the start, the NAC (Newport Aquatic Center) single in my race rowed up to me, and since we knew each other from five or six years ago, I explained to her my predicament, frantically pointing to the rigger and explaining how great and how horrible the Van Dusen design is.  I could feel hot tears welling up in my eyes.  She was very sympathetic and suggested beach docking on the shore or trying to row at a higher rate with a short stroke. 

At the start line, the other single in my race, from LBRA (Long Beach Rowing Association), pulled up.  Seeing that I was trying to flag a coach down, she asked me what was wrong.  Asking what is wrong is sometimes the wrong question as I could feel the tears now rolling down.  After understanding the situation, she reminded me that it’s okay, sometimes things go wrong, and you just try to roll with the punches. 

About five minutes before our race, a coach came by, and I was rather very awkwardly, clumsily change the rigging so that I could at least clear the finish.  Taking the rigger off was the easy part.  Without being able to flip the rigger over, as easily done on land, to see exactly where to move the footboards, I was desperately, blindly trying to align the footboards, rigger, and pins.  There was a moment when I was afraid I would not be able to put the rigger back on and we would have to drag the skinny hull and rigger 5,000 meters down to the finish.  I was finally successful, although it definitely took more than just five minutes.  The regatta had been run on-time with no hitches, except for now the delayed start of the Women’s Open 1x and all the races afterwards.

#5.  Have fun.
Minus the rigging glitch (see Lesson #4), the single race went well.  I started out strong and hit a much higher rate than I had expected and actually managed to keep it there. 

Throughout the race, I thought about the wonders of being able to race against the NAC and LBRA singles, women I had known of for almost all of rowing career.  I thought about how many more years of rowing and racing against each other we might have and I felt lucky.  I felt like this was “fun.”

It was fun to be on the water, to be at such a madhouse regatta, to see so many rowers, to see so much competition, and to see, cheer, race friends.  At the end of the day, I still have one or two (actually, many more) lessons to learn about rowing and racing, but I guess that’s just part of the process.

Womens Masters 2x Final
  1. NAC - 21:13.19
  2. BIAC - 21:31.96
  3. LBRA - 22:20.15

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Family Affair

Our Thanksgiving week was spent in a chaotic whirlwind of events, largely dominated by my close friend’s wedding. 

I was really looking forward to this momentous, joyous occasion.  My friend and I lived in the same dorm freshman year, joined the same sorority, and throughout the years, have grown closer and closer.  She has seen me in my best and worst moments, including those tough times with rowing.
Group of friends, including the new bride; old photo from college
My friend is Indian, and she most certainly had a traditional, week-long Indian wedding.  A wedding is supposed to be an once-in-a-lifetime event.  So, what is one week of ceremony, celebration compared to the rest of your life together?

I have been to an Indian wedding before and had some idea of all the events and ceremonies, but every wedding is different, depending on the couple, family, customs, and religion.  Ready for a peek into this Indian wedding?

Day 1.  Hindu ceremony on bride’s side to mark the beginning of the wedding (no idea what the ceremony is called).  Women only. 

The ceremony was held at the bride’s house.  The bride sat in the front of the room, facing a wall lined with religious items and offerings.  A Hindu priest led the ceremony.  He chanted various prayers and spoke to the bride in a mixture of Hindi and Gujati.  My friend is from a northwestern province of India called Gujat. 

Halfway through the ceremony, the priest offered the bride a few important words on marriage.  Important enough that he repeated them in English.  Marriage requires two things—sacrifice and understanding.  Sacrifice to put the other person ahead of yourself.  Understanding that your marriage and the other person are more important than you being right all the time. 

Although the rest of the lecture on marriage was in Gujati, before I knew it, all the other women especially the mother, aunties, grandmothers were all reaching for the Kleenex box.  I could feel my eyes watering because I have been married for only the smallest amount of time and I already know that I lack a little in the sacrifice and understanding department.

The ceremony concluded with each of the women taking two sticks, one dipped in a yellow paste and one dipped in oil, and touching the bride’s feet, knees, shoulders, and head four times. 

Day 2.  Mehendi ceremony on bride’s side. 

Mehendi is a fun, more casual event where the bride and other women have their heena done.  In this case, the bride’s heena on her hands and feet took almost six hours because of the complex patterns and delicate lines. 
An example of heena
When applied, heena appears like a black puff paint that has to dry and will eventually flake off, revealing a dark brown pattern or “tattoo.”  The “tattoo” is not permanent, but takes about 1-2 weeks to wash off.  The longer the black puff paint stays on, the darker and supposedly more beautiful the heena will be. 

The bride had to walk around carefully and had little use of her hands in fear of ruining the heena for a number of hours.  Yes, this means that she was got the ultimate princess treatment—sister, cousins at her beck and call.  Luckily, she did not drink very much water beforehand.

Indian weddings are true family affairs.  Not only do extended family near and far spend the whole week consumed with the wedding, but they are all involved somehow.  Here at Mehendi, many of the older women sat around a HUGE bucket of carnations, singing while snapping off the flowers and threading them to make a wreath to be worn at the final wedding ceremony.

Day 3.  “Rest.”

This day was Thanksgiving and thankfully, we got this day off.  The groom’s side, however, did have their Mehendi on this day.

Day 4.  Ceremony and Garba and Raas Dandiya.

The bride had a small, family ceremony on this day followed by larger, celebratory event with music, food, drinks, and dancing.  Garba and Raas Dandiya are specific forms of Indian dancing.  Garba involves hand movements and specific step sequences.  Raas, which I believe is from Gujat, involves dancing with two sticks and in a large even-numbered group.
Even the Princess made an appearance at Raas Garba
My short fling in college with Indian dancing was a mixture of the two forms, often called Raas Garba.  Luckily, all that learning then was not completely wasted.

Even the dancing is a family affair.  Everyone partakes—men, women, siblings, parents, cousins, aunties, uncles, long lost relatives, grandparents, children.

Day 5.  Pre-wedding and wedding ceremony.

For the bride, this day started at 3AM with hair and make-up.  Imagine that.  There was hair and make-up done every day and all the women looked beautiful in their colorful, sparkling outfits. 

The first ceremony on this day began in the morning with the bride’s side women giving the bride various gifts.  The Hindu priest led the ceremony again, and there was some form of a sing-off between the women.

After lunch, the next ceremony was at the groom’s temple since the groom was Sikh, a separate religion from Hinduism and originating in the Punjab region. 

The last, final, and largest ceremony was the official Hindu wedding.  The groom arrived atop a horse, heavily decorated with jewels and colorful fabric.  The groom’s family and friends led the horse around in the parking lot while dancing and celebrating.  Eventually, the music and dancing faded and the groom dismounted and entered the building.  Before he could approach the ceremony stage, the bride’s side women provided him a variety of religious or traditional offerings.  This ended with a fun tradition of the bride’s mother trying to pinch the groom’s nose. 

The actual ceremony began with the groom and his family sitting on one side and the bride’s family sitting on the other.  The bride was escorted up the aisle by two of her uncles.  She was seated across from the groom with a cloth separating them and a red thread connecting them.  The Hindu priest conducted several prayers or traditions before the cloth was dropped and the couple could see each other.  Then, the couple placed the carnation flower wreaths, which were made at the Mehendi, on each other. 

The ceremony continued with the several customs involving the groom’s and the bride’s fathers, symbolizing the joining of the two families. 
The bride leading the groom around the fire

The last part of the ceremony involved the bride and groom walking around a fire multiple times, each circle had a specific meaning.  The priest reemphasized sacrifice and understanding here.

The ceremony ended and gave way to dinner (although I doubt if the newly wedded couple even managed to get a bite to eat) and gift-giving.

The very long day concluded with the bride bidding good-bye to her family and leaving with the groom, marking her new life with his family.  The couple drove off slowly with several of the bride’s male relatives pushing the car, symbolizing the bride’s departure from her family.

Day 6.  Reception.

Despite Day 6 falling on a Sunday, the reception (of 400 people) began in the evening and went well through the night.  Filled with short speeches, a special dance performance, lots of picture-taking, delicious, rich Indian food, and a whole night of dancing, the reception was a joyous celebration end to a long week. 
With the beautiful bride
 The wedding was quite a marathon of events, but it was a good time to reflect and to learn a few things too.
  1. Family is important.
  2. Marriage requires sacrifice and understanding.
  3. Weddings are as much about joining two people as about joining two families.
  4. Customs and traditions are often symbolic of greater things.
  5. I think I have eaten enough Indian food to last me a whole year.
  6. There is no age limit to dancing.
  7. Celebrate the things in life that matter.