How CrossFit Helped Me Win at Alumni Sprints

If you follow my Twitter feed you’ve probably been seeing a lot of tweets about the Alumni Sprints.  This was a first-of-its-kind rowing regatta organized by a Dartmouth classmate of mine, Syd Williams, with the help of a bunch of other alums who row for Ever Green Boat Club, the Dartmouth Alumni rowing organization.  The race was held on the lagoon in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, which used to be used as a racecourse by Columbia “back in the day” but had fallen into disuse and was recently cleaned up after Hurricane Sandy.

The water was great, the weather was perfect, and a lot of former rival groups came together to share equipment and engage in some intense racing.  There were a lot of former national team uniforms around from the US and abroad, and a lot of “big names” from the past 30 years of American rowing who still live, work, coach, or row in the northeast US.  We even had overseas representation from Oxford, Cambridge and Otago (NZ).

I was unsure if I’d be ready, given that I focused on CrossFit more than rowing this winter and that I have only been in my new boat for a few weeks.  This is a very early-season race for masters rowers, occurring in the heart of the collegiate season instead of during the summer.  I was unsure if I had trained the on-water rowing skill sufficiently, and I was unsure about my fitness to do multiple races back to back.  I knew I was strong, but was not sure I was fit.

It turns out that I was fit enough, and had an unexpected benefit:  resilience.  I raced 3 races back to back and came in 2nd in the Masters Four, 1st in the Masters Eight, and 3rd in the Masters Single, with less than 30 minutes between races.  I left it all on the water in the eights race, and felt good about being able to apply a lot of watts to the oar (which fried my legs for the single!).  The last time I raced in a sweep boat (1 oar vs. two) I ended up very sore due to the unbalanced loading that I’m not used to.  This time, I experienced almost no soreness.  I was ready to go the next day.  I was tired in my muscles, but my connective tissue and joints were solid.  I attribute this to 2 things:

1.  My squat (front and back) has improved a lot in the past year, and I’ve concentrated on working it multiple times per week.  This also means my core is much stronger.  My back did not feel “tweaked” as it sometimes does after sweep rowing, despite the one-sided imbalance of the stroke.

2.  My shoulder and overhead stability has improved a lot.  I usually experience a lot of deltoid and rib cage fatigue after rowing on starboard, which is my weaker side.  Not this time – it was “no problem” in the races and I experienced no sense of having overstressed my shoulder or ribs after the races.  In looking at photos and video, I am actually engaging the shoulder too much vs. hanging from the lat, but even with that fault the small muscles of the shoulder were not a limiting factor in the race, and I was able to stay fully connected through the stroke and take advantage of my improved max watts capabilities all the way across the finish line.

In retrospect it was a great event and it looks like it will have “legs” to continue as and early-season test of speed.  I fell great that so many people participated, and I feel confident that a winter of CrossFit 3-5x per week has significantly injury-proofed my body compared to April in past years of training.

Dartmouth Mens Masters 8

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