Head Racing: Your Top 5 Suspicions, Confirmed

If you started rowing this summer, head racing might be your first foray into competitive rowing. Congratulations! These races offer a TON of learning opportunities.

Likely you have questions. We are here to help.

Here are a few things you are may be thinking about head races, but you might not be saying out loud. So we’ll say them for you:

1)   “GAH! Head races are LONG! (And kinda hard….)”  Even experienced rowers admit that these races seem to go on. For…ev…er. And no wonder: you're rowing for 16 to 25+ minutes, covering around 3 miles. Plus, you are racing for time, so you have to row AHAP (As Hard As Possible) from start to finish. Head races aren’t for the faint of heart. (But here you are, racing them anyway! Good for you!)

2)   “I ended my race with way too much energy left over.” or, “I ran out of steam way before the finish.”  Ah, Grasshopper! You have learned "The Paradox of Head Racing":

Row conservatively, but have nothing in the tank at the finish.

Row aggressively, but have something in the tank for the finish.

Sound tricky? It is! So experiment—especially during longer pieces at practice. Row as hard as your coach asks, every time. (If you aren’t sure how hard to pull, pull HARD, every stroke.) Then see how you feel. It’s the best way to get stronger, to move a boat, and to find the edge of your physical and mental boundaries. When you learn where that edge is--where you can race strong, but still be able to finish with just enough left--your head racing will be more successful.

At times as a novice I’d hit the wall two miles in, which physically hurt like mad. But it mentally hurts like mad to finish a race and think, “I could have done more.” For me, the physical pain was much easier to take.

3)   "Coxswains are pretty valuable." Yes. Yes they are.

During a 3-mile-ish race, choosing a too-wide turn, taking a doomed-to-fail, follow-the-shoreline strategy, or crashing into another boat—means you’ll be rowing a lot farther and for a lot longer with a snail-like finish time.  

For particularly challenging courses—like Cleveland’s Head of the Cuyahoga or Boston’s Head of the Charles—a coxswain who knows the course and how to steer linearly and efficiently is priceless. And if they can encourage you and motivate you to row your hardest and best for 20+ minutes? Even better.

4)   "There are fans!" Don’t ask me why, but head races tend to have more fans on the shoreline than sprint races. The Head of the Charles, for example, brings thousands of Bostonians to the river. I was recently at the Head of the Rock outside of Chicago--fans everywhere. The number of folks who come to watch me race increases exponentially (as in, from “zero” to “some”) during head race season. It’s so odd, given that said fans likely don’t know if you are winning or not. Which brings me to…

5)   "I can’t tell if I’m winning." You aren’t alone. You’ll start your race in intervals…usually 10 seconds between boats. Maybe you’ll pass a boat—which means you’ve beaten that boat by those 10 seconds. (Hurrah!) Or maybe you’ll be passed (Gah!). Either way, during the race you likely won’t have an inkling as to where you are in the standings until every boat in your race crosses the finish line and the times are posted. Patience is a virtue, so I’m told, but waiting for my results at head races? Sends any patience I’ve ever had right out the window.

What are you learning at your head races this season? Tell us in the comments below.

photo credit: rivigan 20160917-DSC_1247.jpg via photopin (license)