Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Last Race

Sunday was our last race for the 2008 season. We rowed on our home water of the Occoquan in the Head of the Occoquan. Based on my past performances, I limited myself to just one head race. I rowed 2 seat in the 50+ boat (i.e., the average age of the boat was 50 years old). The day was slightly overcast and in the mid 50s and slightly windy. Not a bad day for being on the water. The row up to the start was uneventful. I took the time to admire the view. The leaves hear in northern Virginia are at their peak and it was gorgeous. Thank god Fairfax County has kept their side of the Occoquan as parkland. We arrived at the starting area and sat and waited for our number to be called. The Occoquan Boat Club, which hosts the Head of the Occoquan (HOTO), changed the course this year. Rather than start at Fountainhead Park and finishing at Sandy Run, they moved the start slightly downstream and pushed the finish line from Sandy Run to the grandstand on the 2,000 meter race course. I can't say I was a fan of the change since it makes it very much like the course run for the Occoquan Chase, but I understand there were some safety issues that resulted in the change. As we sat waiting to start we were among 57 Men's 8+s including Club 8+s, Youth 8+s and Masters 8+. It was quite an impressive sight seeing all those boats in the marshalling area. My boat was the next to last 8+ to go - boat 56. There were seven entries in our category (Masters 8+ 50+). As we waited, we were in the shade for the most part and frankly we were all start getting a bit chilled. Finally we moved up as the other boats in front of us paddled up to the start and then took off. We had a really good start given that this was a throw together group. It wasn't like this boat had practiced much together. Going into the first turn at Jacob's Rock we got passed by a boat from the Potomac Boat Club. No real surprise there. They should have started earlier than us and I'm not sure why the HOTO people put them last. After we got through the turn at Jacob's Rock and headed down a long straightaway, our stroke tried to lengthen out our stroke and get us to the rate we had previously agreed to row at - 28 strokes/minute. Unfortunately as often happens during races, everyone is so pumped up, its hard to settle at the rate you want. This was aggravated by our 6 seat who consistently rushed his slide and his blade was going in the water a good half beat before our stroke seat. This action threw off the catch tining for the other port rowers (2 and 4 seats). Having been a stroke myself, I know how frustrating it can be to be rushed by the other rowers in the boat. We rowed at a 30 strokes/minute rate most of the race and frankly it felt a bit ragged. To my surprise about two thirds of the way through the race we actually caught up to and passed a boat (the start is single file, with one boat starting about every 10 to 15 seconds) from Three Rivers Rowing from Pittsburgh. This almost never happens to us, but it certainly came at a good time and provided us with a boost to the finish. Overall I thought it wasn't a great race and was quite surprised to find out we came in 4th out of 7. The time wasn't great (19:42), but maybe it was ok when the average age is over 50. We missed third by 5 seconds, Ouch. The winner in our category finished in 18:02 so we have plenty of room for improvement. I have mixed feelings about the season now being over. While I feel a bit burned out, I know in a week or two, I'll miss not being out on the water. I can still take out a single for a few more weeks before Sandy Run closes for the season. If we have a mild fall, I'll try and do that. Another season of rowing come and gone. Certainly Boston was a highlight given that I was trying something new on a challenging course. While on the Women's side, they haven't been as competitive as past years (although they did finish first in Sunday's HOTO), the men's side, which hasn't been competitive at all in past years, has made significant progress and has finished in the medals several times this year. Hopefully, everyone will come back next year and we can build on this year.

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