Rowing 5K or Head Race Preparation – 600 Power Strokes

It’s a blustery fall day with one week to go before the Head of the Charles!  I’d like to offer a perspective on some workouts that help prepare rowers for a typical fall “head race,” which is usually 5K on-water.  This also applies to CrossFitters who are prepping for 5K or 6K time trials on the C2.

The distance.  On-water head races are done with a running clock and crews pursuing each other down the course, usually starting about 10 seconds apart.  The standard distance is 5K (with variations from about 3.5K up to marathon distance on flat water).  In small boats a 5K would range from about 18:30 to 25:00 depending on the course and conditions.  In large boats the times would range from about 15:30 – 18:00.  If you are training on a C2 and attempting to simulate on-water race distances, this would translate into about 6K on the C2 if you are planning to race in a small boat (single, double, pair), or about 5K on the C2 for larger boats.  If you are a CrossFitter following the CrossFit Endurance protocol, this would be either a 6K TT or 5K TT, done at full pressure with a stroke rating probably in the 26-30 range.

The preparation:  Whether you are doing 5K on the water or 6K on the erg, you will need to rehearse for approximately 600 power strokes at race pace.  There are two parts to this:  1) being able to handle the total volume of power strokes, which is high, and 2)  being able to string them together with excellent technique for 17-20 minutes without stopping.  You can use a progression of workouts to build up to the task.  Here are some examples:

30 x (20 strokes on, 10 strokes off):  This will start feeling easy, but you will end it feeling exhausted.  Aim for race pace on every stroke, and consistent splits.  This is the workout where you can experiment with technique at race pace to get the best splits you can out of the intervals and then groove it in.

10 x (500m on, 1:30 off) on the erg or (500m on, 2:00 off) on the water, especially in a single scull.  The goal here is to be close to “equal rest time,” hence the variation as water times for small boats are slower than erg times.  Again the goal is consistency.  Your work interval pace will be closer to 2K race pace vs. 5-6K pace, and there is not much rest.  If you can keep consistent splits on this one you can have confidence that you can string it all together.

5-6 x 1000m with 3-4 minutes rest (again shooting for equal rest time):  This is a very challenging workout that will help you groove consistent race pace with good technique when tired.  If you can complete this with relatively consistent splits, you are ready to do the race or time trial unbroken.

5K or 6K time trial:  Self-explanatory.  Set a goal time, calculate what average split will get you there (C2 Pace Calculator is useful), and try to keep consistent speed at that split.  Remember that unlike in shorter pieces, if you go out too hard or plan to make up time with a big sprint, you will pay a heavy price.  Also remember that the Concept2 performance monitor rounds your split down on the screen, so you need to plan to average slightly below your target split to actually get the result you want.  For example, if the display shows a split of 1:45, you may actually be rowing at a 1:45.4 or 1:45.8, which will make a difference over a long piece).  Your best strategy is to hit a consistent pace and get the maximum efficiency out of each stroke.

I hope this helps you in your fall race preparation!


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