Your First Race! Part 2: Get Me to the Dock On Time

Know this, dear Novice Rower. It takes longer to get your racing shell to the dock than you think.

Regattas are wicked distracting. All of your rowing buddies and fans are around, you are watching races, you are cheering, chatting…and unless you are a zombie you are pretty darned excited. Then suddenly, it’s time to take your boat to the dock. You’ve found that you forgot to use the portajohn, your water bottle is in the car, and you can’t find your sunglasses. Gah.

So be ready. Here’s how:*

The week of your race...

In the days before your race, try to live a bit smarter. Head for bed a lot earlier, eat smart, hydrate like mad. (I aim for 1/2 my weight in a 200lb person would drink 100oz water/day.) If you are rowing lightweight, be especially smart about food intake.  

What to know the night before you race...

·      What are you wearing? (Check the weather and lay it out…all of it.)

·      What are your event numbers? (I write them on the back of my hand with a Sharpee, or on a piece of paper. But usually on my hand.)

·      Do your races have heats? This will be posted online by now. Know what you have ahead of you.

·      What is your bow (race) number for each of these events? Note them on paper or your hand.

·      What are you taking to the course? (Pack it up now. See our packing list.)

·      What are you eating at the course? (Pack it up the night before if it doesn’t need refrigeration. Plan food and snacks for as long as the regatta lasts.)

·      What boat are you rowing in each event? What oars are you using?

·      Is this boat/these oars out racing before you race it? Will you have to meet it at the dock (“hotseat” it), or will you find it near the trailer?

·      Where is this regatta located, anyway? And where can you park?

·      What time are you to arrive at the race course? (Your coach should tell you this. If not, err on the side of horribly early.)

What to do when you arrive at the course...

·      Where’s your team hanging out? Find ‘em. Be ready to rig boats. Have your wrenches ready.

·      If you are rowing lightweight or coxing, you'll likely have to weigh in. Know where to do this, if you need your entire crew to weigh in at the same time, and how soon before your race you have to step on that scale.

·      Check in with your coach. (Make eye contact, tell him/her you are there. Don’t be flaky and make people search for you.)

·      Ask your coach how long you should allow to row to the start of the race. Plan accordingly (see below).

·      Will officials announce your race (e.g., "first call" when you should get ready to go to the dock) or will we need to set up the timing ourselves? (This will be covered in the rules of the regatta, or at the coaches and coxswains meeting the morning of the regatta.) It will determine if you will get any warning before you are due at the dock.

·      Where are the portajohns, and how long is the line look? ‘Nuff said.

·      Find a spot for yourself that's out of the sun, and stay off your feet.

What to do 90 minutes to 2 hours before you race (maybe more...adjust accordingly):

·      Have the stuff you are taking into the boat handy and ready.  When I race, I take something to tie back my hair, sunglasses, hat, water bottle, and sometimes a stroke coach. It’s a lot of stuff. Know where it is, and have it ready to roll.

·      Get into uniform. If the regatta rules require you to wear a race number (usually coxswain or bow), find some pins, find a friend that won't stick you, and attach it.

·      If you are a lightweight or coxing, it's likely time to weigh in.

·      Grab a small snack if you think you can stomach it. Something tried and true and light. Rowing with an empty stomach is never a good idea.

·      Take a last, long drink of water. (Then plan a trip to the portajohn 45 minutes later, before you race.)

·      Fill your water bottle.

·      Put your oars near the dock, if possible.

·      Find your boat. Adjust your shoes, fix your oar locks, make sure your seat is on the rollers and the nuts and bolts near your seat are tight. Your boat has likely been taken apart, travelled a distance, and been re-rigged. A lot can go wrong. Look for trouble before you race...not on the way to the start.

·      Find your boat’s bow number and get it on the boat.

·      Draft some helpers. Have a teammate who’s not racing grab your shoes, take your oars down, and help you off the dock. (And plan to do this for others.)

·      Warm up. Ask your coach for pointers. Air squats, jogging, stretching out, or a spin on a rowing machine all work well. Break a sweat and be breathing hard before you launch.

·      Apply sunscreen. I always forget this, and I'm always sorry later.   

·      Chillax. Find a way to stay calm, chill, and relax. Escape with your headphones, go off by yourself to warm up, meditate, pray, or chat with teammates and your fans. Learn what works for you, and make it a ritual.

You are ready! Next post, we’ll shove you off the dock and get you to the start.


*We are considering only sprint races here (1000m-2000m). Head races (2.5-3miles) require even more time to prepare. Adjust accordingly.