016 | Head Racing: Prep to Chute
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast for coxswains. I'm Sally, I’m Anne, I’m Breana and we're three coxswains with over 50 years of experience in the seat. While there are many rowing resources out there, we decided to create a venue that is solely dedicated to coxing topics. We learn from our shared experiences and want to foster a community that encourages innovation and discussion.
ANNE: And yes - today we are going to be discussing something that generated a lot of discussion and conversation amongst the three of us - and it is head racing. We’re covering prep to chute. And in this episode, we're going to start at the point where the crew has identified it's going to a head race … and we're going to carry this episode all the way up to the point where we're going through the chute. And next time, we will be picking up at the starting line and then covering the actual race. So (again) today we're going to be going prep to chute for head racing.
SALLY: Like many things, this did inspire an incredible amount of discussion between the three of us and truly it is a callback to Episode 003 where we identified our personality types because how the three of us get ready for a race is completely and fundamentally different … I guess is the best way we can put it. Right, guys? Different! We have discovered there are so many different ways that we prepare ourselves and we prepare our crews and we just have so many ways to make it to the same end. So it's been tough to winnow this one down and if there is a process or a logistic that we don't cover, we'd love to hear from you. There's so much more than what we're covering.
ANNE: I totally hear you, Sally. And yes - I think we're going to hear the ways that we are different and approach things differently but again - to the same end goal. So let's get going. At this point, we're starting with … we've identified that we're going to a head race. Now what? What do you consider, Breana?
BREANA: Yeah, we thought we would start out here with briefly addressing a number of logistical considerations. Sometimes these can become the coxswain's responsibility, I find this to be especially true now that I’m on the masters coxing scene. If you're racing at the juniors level or collegiate level, more often your coaches or someone who's designated for this role on your team is handling these things but it doesn't hurt for us to address them early on to just acknowledge that you might want to be aware of these things and thinking about them - especially if you find yourself coxing masters. So before we even think about anything related to coxing at an event - once we have chosen that we're going to a regatta as a team - we want to think about the registration process. So someone actually does need to register your boats. You may also have a formal process with your club where you reserve equipment, so that's important to make sure that you do that. And then you also want to think about potential roles that you might need to be assigning to team members - make sure that a responsible person has brought really important tools that you'll need first thing for rigging, for example. How about you guys - what other things do you think about?
SALLY: With anything - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure - and while these things may seem obvious and mundane … regatta day, these little details can cause headaches and heartaches and problems. This is a huge factor that goes into plotting and planning race logistics and it does seem kind of like, ‘Oh just figure that out’. It's not a black and white Boolean proposition.
ANNE: Not at all. In fact, a specific example I can give is that (again) I deal with master's crews … there have been a few times when this conversation ahead of time has not taken place and get to the regatta and people look at one another with complete amazement when they find out that: ‘What! The seats are still back at the boathouse’ because nobody packed up the seats. They thought they were going to go in the trailer. Or – “Oops, who forgot to bring the slings’? Now you're scrambling to do that, so making sure that you have all the tools that you need … you've decided who's going to bring what and where … where are we going to meet when we get to the venue … (a lot of them are very large and if you don't know where you're going to meet there's a lot of wasted time and energy) and you need to conserve both of those - particularly on race day, right?
ANNE: One of the things that I take on is to make sure that there are some tiny details that I have conveyed to my crews. For example, if they need to have money for parking at a place that only accepts cash that I say ahead of time, “If you want to park, you must bring cash”. And it's those little things that help people feel comfortable and less frazzled on the day of. Any other key things that you think in terms of pre-day activities that you take responsibility for?
SALLY: I mean most certainly - the equipment. My cox box. My tools. The cox box for anyone else. Those I'd like to (you know) make sure are charged. If it's going to be a multi-day regatta, have many batteries with me and a couple of different charging options with me. I definitely want to make sure I have my rigging tools because rigging tools get used and disappear … and I start off the season with like ten 7/16 wrenches and finish with (like) one. The equipment for me is really important. I’m also a big one for cox box NK wiring. If you are traveling to a venue that doesn't have a lot of support … to make sure you have what you need to fix something so you can compete. Anne, is there anything in the equipment that you bring?
ANNE: If you want to consider clothing equipment, then I would say clothing and footwear. We just had an episode about wet launching and landing and it's really important to establish what it is that's appropriate before and after. Take care of yourself but also any hints that you have for a particular venue for your crew that might pertain. There are a couple of places that I go to routinely … that if the crew does not care about their feet being in deep mud, okay. But I like to warn them - it's likely to have six inches of mud. So use …knowing that … select what you want to bring to wear. And then we can move on to - what do we do in terms of the studying aspect of this.
BREANA: One thing that is always a coxswain's responsibility with head racing is studying the course and this is critical to do before you get to the venue. It's not something where you can just wing a four or five thousand meter race that has turns, bridges, buoys … all kinds of things. It's not going to be a straight 2000 meter course like you might see in a sprint race season, so it's really, really critical and completely your responsibility as the coxswain who will be steering down that course to be studying it.
ANNE: Absolutely, Breana. And even if you have been to that venue before, please make an effort to re-read it because there is possibly something - even tiny - that may have shifted that you need to be aware of that can be on the water … something crucial. Reread every rule - even the obscure ones - for that same reason. Just know it. Bring it with you. Do whatever you have to do to internalize it because it is critical. It's not anything that you can take for granted.
SALLY: I agree with both of you. Knowing the nuances … reading the rules no matter how mundane … no matter how many times you've been to the course is really, really important. Just because you took that arch last year doesn't mean that that arch is safe to take this year and you all can't see this - Anne and Breana are just slowly nodding their heads in agreement. This one is really important because you can't bank on the fact that I did it before. Things change. Just for an example, at Head of the Charles one year they were doing construction under the bridge abutments which changed the traffic pattern and that was huge. If any one of us had rested on our laurels and did what we thought we did for 15 years prior to that, we could have easily disqualified our crew or damaged the equipment. Just knowing these things and paying attention ahead of time - it takes some effort but I’m all about being cautious and prepared.
BREANA: You know - even when it's your home course and you feel like you've known it for years … home course … familiar course … whatever it is, definitely take your time to study. The race packet is one place that you can get a lot of information. Nowadays that's sometimes like just a website provided by the regatta with different pages. Sometimes it's still a pdf you can find online. Another way that I like to study is by finding videos - almost every regatta I've ever needed to look up has at least one YouTube video. If it's something like Head of the Charles, there's hundreds and you can find these from the coxswain's point of view in fours and eights. You know, someone just attached a GoPro to the front of their single if that's what it comes down to. And I like to watch these as a way of preparing for a racecourse … that I can see what everything is going to look like. That's something that I always recommend in addition to, of course, looking at the static maps that are on a race packet. You can also do a little searching on YouTube and find videos of coxswains going down that course.
ANNE: I definitely also use that technique and I’m sure that a lot of our listeners do, too. So use that - we have that available. One of the other things that I think that a lot of us do and should do is take a look at not just the race packet but whatever the events are that you are in and make complete note of them. You should be putting down your event number … your race number… check right up until even that day when you get there. (But we'll talk about that a little later.) But even the day before that morning, if you have a chance, go back on the website where the event is being listed and see if perhaps they've had some cancellations - some changes. It's a very fluid situation and if you're looking at it a day or two in advance and you don't take that last minute check, you could be missing something that might shift you and your team's situation fundamentally. I mean - they can just switch you from racing at 8 a.m. to afternoon and you are going to need to take action on that. So just a piece of advice from people that have seen these changes - if you're not used to that and you're new for having this as part of your responsibility. And even if not, maybe you'll just be that savior on the team that happens to notice it … you can bring that information forward to your coach or your crew and they'll be very appreciative. So that's another suggestion. What else can you gather from the event information ahead of time?
BREANA: I personally - as I’m heading into any race - head or sprint - prepare an index card for myself … just a standard 3x5 where I write down key information that I’ll want on race day so I don't have to memorize it. And that includes our event number and the race number. I also write down the boats in front of me and behind me that day. That's really helpful information to know - in part so that you're lining up correctly as you get to the start. You might know, ‘Oh, that's a team with a really salient color of blades. There they are. They're two in front of me. If I go over to them and I leave one space for a boat, then I’m in line.’ Similarly, it's really helpful to know (for example) if I’m starting an event, I want to know what event is in front of me because if that event is going to be much slower or much faster than me, that could affect what expectations I have. If you are in the championship eights and for some reason this regatta put the novice singles in front of you, you can anticipate a particular type of race as you barrel down through all of these poor singles. So that's helpful information to know - even though you aren't competing against those people who are in completely different events in front of and behind you, you will be on the course of them or at least marshalling with them. So I find that to be a helpful thing to write down.
SALLY: One of the things that I really look at is - I know my lineup and I try to understand who they are. And in the event of an unlikely water landing or an emergency or something, what do I need to tell the EMT so that they are safe. I have been in situations - I know Breana and Anne have been in situations - where rowers in our boat have been pulled out for medical reasons. And it is terrifying and it gives me chills just now to talk about it … when you pull up to wherever and knowing where to pull up to, right, and to say, “Hi. Three seat is experiencing shortness of breath or three seat’s allergic to bee stings … here's their EpiPen”. Just being able to give the medical professional that sound bite of information, we're trying to make sure that they get the best and the fastest medical attention possible. And sometimes if you have a diabetic … if you have an asthmatic … knowing where their inhaler is … when they took their inhaler … is all critical to how they're going to get care. I have watched rowers pass out in front of me and have had to seek help and I can't stress this enough - know your rowers well enough to at least know what their medical needs are and how to get them help if you need it.
ANNE: I think that that's a really important point, Sally. Thanks for bringing that up. And in particular in a head race, let's remember now that it's not a compressed area like a sprint race - we have got a lot more distance for the support to cover and there might be a more prolonged period of time that you are dealing with whatever comes up. So absolutely to your point - have that in mind. Hopefully you'll never have to deploy it, but if you do, now you've been given that suggestion. Well - what are we going to pack that day other than so much information?
SALLY: Whatever I pack, the first thing that goes in is a clean and dry set of appropriate clothing. And I don't mean appropriate like is it black tie or is it a cocktail dress situation. I mean - is it 41 degrees and freezing - I’m not gonna pack my tevas and shorts. I make sure that I have at least a spare set of complete dry clothing because nothing wicks away heat and good mood faster than wet shoelaces and soggy clothes.
ANNE: One of my special things is I bring binoculars because most of the time there's no visualization of most of the race, so I like to get in and see as much as I possibly can and in my case I bring binoculars. Do you guys bring anything else?
SALLY: I usually make sure I wear a watch because I try not to bring my cell phone in the boat when I’m racing. And I never have to worry about what's regatta time because I just look down at my wrist … and it follows me … and if it falls in the water, I haven't lost a year's worth of pictures and contacts. It's more disposable and takes a bigger beating than my iPhone. It also … some of them float … not all of them but they float better than my phone does. Breana?
BREANA: Yes, I’m sure there are many of us out there who have paid the price a few times. Another consideration you might want to think about if it's going to be your phone or something else … if you're intending to record your race, you might have a little small recorder… you might have a GoPro. And then the most critical thing of course - we can't stress it enough and you can't either for yourself before race day - is your cox box and its charger. And make sure that it is charged. I personally set copious reminders on my phone - I have alarms that go off the whole morning. Sometimes I’ll (like) put my backpack in front of the door with it still open so that I cannot possibly walk out without noticing that something needs to be added to this situation before I’m ready to go, because there's just nothing worse than showing up without your cox box if that's your responsibility on race day. So make sure that you have it charged. Remember that they take a long time to charge - it's not something where you can wait until the morning of … popping in for half an hour and it's lightning charged. It's a whole overnight thing, so that is far and above probably the most important thing that you can remember.
SALLY: All right - so this is what we're bringing to the regatta. What are we bringing once we are in the boat?
ANNE: I pare it down as much as I can but I am not obsessive about the weight that I bring in a boat. I feel like especially over four or five thousand meters that that's not a key factor. But that's just my opinion. I know there are a lot of people that are very fastidious on this account.
SALLY: Yeah. I definitely bring in wrenches but I typically bring in one or two. I don't bring the eight others that I had or … why do I have an eight millimeter in a standard boat? I try to pare down significantly what we have and make sure that what I have can get to the top nuts … to the bolts. So I try to be as minimal - but again, I’m not going to be as critical about weight because there are many other mistakes I can do that will cost the team far more than that weight.
BREANA: I similarly am not super fastidious. I think that was a good word you used there Anne, about this … especially if I’m in a circumstance where I know I don't have a lot of on land support, for example. So oftentimes in a head race, it could be very cold and to keep myself warm, I’m wearing clunky boots and if I am not sure that someone is going to be there to hand those back to me as I land then I’m just going to keep them in the boat, And I don't personally stress about that kind of thing - especially in a head race situation. As we've shared on previous episodes, nothing will impair your ability to cox quite like hypothermia. That's my personal take. And something I think will resonate with all of us ... I heard a quote recently that really spoke to me as we were preparing for this episode - which we unfortunately could not find the original attribution for so it's probably been around in the world for a while - but the quote is ‘Knowledge weighs nothing. Carry all you can’. So that speaks to exactly what you guys are saying - you know if you're going to be that team that's dumping out water bottles at the start, that's only going to add so much competitiveness on top of your studying, for example. Knowing those legal arches, knowing the fastest way around the turns is more critical, so make sure that you've done all that preparation first and then if you feel - for you personally - it's important to continue to pare down what you're bringing with you, then absolutely add that level on.
ANNE: Right. And I think this is a great place to say that the quote that you just shared with us, Breana, (which I really love and hope to repeat again in the future), kind of summarizes what we've talked about so far. Really it's all about gathering knowledge and sharing that knowledge - the appropriate bits with your teammates and your coach and whoever the appropriate recipients are, right? So we've prepared and we finally arrived at the morning of the race. Of course, one of the things that looms there is the coaches and coxswains meeting.
SALLY: There is never enough caffeine at the coaches and coxswains meeting. Make sure you have a steady supply on your own because all the vendors are going to wait until 8 o'clock to start and you have to be there freezing your butt off at 6:30. Make sure you have enough caffeine because you're going to be standing there. When you leave the hotel … when you leave your house … make sure you budget enough time to stop at the nearest available Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, whatever. And have enough caffeine to make it through the coaches/coxswains’ meeting. That's maybe a pet peeve of mine. Sorry, ladies.
BREANA: I'd add caffeine and appropriate clothing, too. Maybe you race at 3 p.m. and you're looking at the weather (as we recommend you do as part of your preparation) and you're like, ‘Oh, it's gonna be 70. I can totally handle that in my uni and flip-flops’. And at 6:30 a.m. for the coaches and coxswains meeting, it could be 42 degrees. So you need to come prepared for the fact that you're going to be standing around for quite a while, so definitely bring adequate attire to that meeting in addition to anything you might need to help yourself wake up.
SALLY: I’m just going to say that standing there in your uni and flip-flops becomes slightly more bearable when you are sipping coffee. It is made worse by the fact there is no coffee.
ANNE: Let's see - Sally is all about the caffeine and being warm. And I have a different take about what I really want to make sure happens the morning of, and that is something that may not be (again) in your responsibility but hopefully it will be in your awareness … is picking up the race packet and the bow numbers. Since I’m getting there early already for the coaches and coxswains meeting and I am a control nut, I actually volunteer to be the person that picks that up so that I know I have it in hand. Different crews handle it differently - I totally get that - but what I find very disconcerting is if someone else suddenly has picked that up before and I’m going there and I’m like … I have no idea where it is. That's just my thing. Just establish who's going to pick it up but when in doubt, select yourself as that person. So we're there. We made the coaches and coxswains meeting. What about the trailer?
SALLY: So you were there. You were there early. The trailer has all this work that needs to be done. There's a lot you can do by yourself to make use of this time while you're waiting for your rowers to straggle out. After the coach/coxswains meeting … after I picked up the packet … I usually head right over to the trailer and start pulling out the slings, marking our space, marking the team tent. I can't get the tent out by myself but I can mark where it should go. Anne … Breana - what do you guys do when you have the packet in hand?
ANNE: Me, I personally - first thing I do is I scout out the course. That's when my binoculars come out. If I have an opportunity, I walk as much as of course as I possibly can and if I have any particular questions for one of the locals, that's when I’ll do that because this is before the flurry of racing begins and I find that people are in a better mood. Those people who are appropriately caffeinated are in a good mood … as good of a mood as they're going to be as the race day progresses. Particularly the people that are running the regatta - you know, it's normal they fatigue as the day goes on. So I like to do all of my reconnaissance work right after the coaches and coxswains meeting. And that includes checking with the regatta officials or anything they've posted about last minute/ last minute/ triple last minute changes that have been made (and again happens all the time). And then I go to the trailer and pick up on the items that you were talking about, Sally. What about you, Breana?
BREANA: Yeah, I think everything you guys have said is excellent. I’m similarly thinking - me and maybe a couple other team coxswains, if applicable - what can a couple of us who probably can't carry an eight by ourselves - what can we do? We can start unstrapping boats. We can start taking oars off of the trailer. It's as you guys said - kind of a nice … almost down … moment where we're still on in terms of doing our coxswain duties, but we're not on in terms of wrangling the entire team. But then the entire team will show up - the rowers. And once they arrive, we want to keep them at the trailer site if you didn't rig the day before, let's say … so (you know) you need to do your rigging that day. Make sure before they run off to shop, before they run off to meet friends from other teams, whatever they're going to do - make sure that you convey to them that every person stays here until our boat is successfully rigged. That's important so you don't have people off doing other things. And at that point, you may also want to convey to them the time of something we'll discuss shortly, which is: when you guys are meeting as a boat … when is your lineup going to meet before the race. I have a checklist of things that I’m now going to go through and check the boat once it has been rigged at a base level. And again - maybe you are on a team where you're lucky enough that a professional boat person works with you and they're doing this for you and that's amazing. More often in my life, I've been the one who is responsible for these final check. So we have a list of things that we have developed here that has gotten longer and longer over the years. And we'll run through some of those things now and as always, we welcome audience editions of other horror stories you've had that have added something to your list. I’ll open with the very first thing that I check now…
SALLY: I’m sorry, Breana. I’m so sorry … I am so, so sorry. Please continue.
BREANA: Thanks to one of those stories of - courtesy of Sally - something that's now on my list is: is the steering mechanism actually connected to the rudder? So when you think that you are steering … is the rudder actually moving? Because I have had the pleasure of - before this was on my list - launching for a sprint race in this case, but it'd be even worse in a head race - and I’m going up to the start and things are a little wonky. The boat is pulling really hard to one side and I was (like) … I don't know these rowers in this circumstance (the five of us met right before we launched) so I have no idea who these individuals are and maybe one side is just stronger or weaker. So it's a little … it's a little off … but you know, there's nothing you can do - you're out there now. And then we get in the lane and we go off the stake boat and we're starting and we're just immediately careening out of the lane. And I (like) spent the entire race just trying to stay in my lane and not get disqualified. And we get back to the dock and we're kind of waiting in line for the dock and I was just apologizing to the rowers. I was like, “I think I’m better than this as a coxswain and I’m really sorry. What you just saw was not reflective of me as a person. I think something might be wrong with the equipment.” And so we get back. We put the boat guts down in slings. And after we just commiserate for a moment, we go ahead and I turn the steering to just see what the heck was going on and the rudder doesn't do anything. There's no corresponding movement. So there I was - steering my heart out this whole race thinking that I was just the worst coxswain ever and I shouldn't be here at Masters Nationals (which is where this happened). And instead, it was the equipment. So it turns out there is a very tiny element that I now know is called a cotter pin that connects the rudder to the steering so that when you move the steering, the rudder moves in accordance with that. So that is now on my list of elements to check. And I guess for context, it was Sally who put me in that situation as the coach in that environment. But I learned and now I have another item that I’m always checking so that doesn't happen to me a second time. And now you can, too and hopefully fewer coxswains have this story.
SALLY: Yes. Let Breana's tragic tale be a cautionary one to everyone listening. Also, Breana is an amazing human being and I am so grateful for our friendship because y'all, this is only the tip of the iceberg of the horrible, horrible things I have done to her.
BREANA: We call this the straight coxed four - that's how I like to think of that race, so I was just ornamental. But I didn't get disqualified. That was my top goal. I stayed in the lane so it also goes to say if something ever doesn't feel right, it's probably not right. So hopefully you can add this to your list of pre-race checks. How about you guys? What else is on your list besides that one?
ANNE: I always check heel ties to make sure they meet regulation, they haven't slipped, whatever, come apart. Having been burned, it teaches you. Right, Breana? I've been burned by not having the seat with the magnet over the appropriate seat - of the stroke seat or bow seat - depending upon where the other part of that magnet is. So I always test and re-test and I test it with the cox box in place to make sure it's actually picking up a rating. And of course, as every coxswain does, you check to make sure that the voice is coming through the cox box … that it is functioning appropriately. If it's not, then you hopefully have some time to address that. What about you, Sally?
SALLY: Cox box wiring gets abused a lot and sometimes one of the speakers goes out. And when it does, you can follow the wiring and if you can see a crack - if you can see the copper wires poking through - that might be an indication of why the wires are out. So I go through and make sure all the speakers work and if the speakers don't work, I look at the wires. You can - and I would get your boatman or your coach's permission to do this - is cut the wires, strip them down, splice them together and use electrical tape. And that will give you enough amp for a race or two. I would not recommend taking your pocketknife to the boat without the knowledge of your coach because that goes very badly. And if you think I apologize to Breana, you should hear some other conversations. But the wiring gets old and it's often very neglected and people will run over it with their seat or they'll slam their shoes on it so if those speakers aren't working, just run your hands through and look for that crack. I've used that hack a lot. I go through every bolt and I tighten it. I make sure the top knots are tight. I make sure the bow ball is affixed. I make sure the bow number card is attached and not going to go anywhere. Those are my things. I also pay attention to rigging a lot and again - do not do this without your coaches permission - but what you want to do is look at the pitch. When people are putting their riggers on the boat, did they really struggle? Did they have to force it on? What you want to do is, you want to line the oarlocks so that they are perpendicular to the hull. So take a look at it and are the oarlocks roughly even? Is one leaning more towards the boat or away from the boat? Is it leaning more fore? Is it leaning more aft? Odds are that one is wrong. Did three seat catch a whole bunch of crabs and their backstay no longer looks like a backstay but a ‘U’? That means there's something off with the pitch. And if you don't know enough to change it yourself, point it out and advocate to someone who does, because that pitch can make a world of difference. All right. So ladies, when I am futzing with the boat, I’m in my happy place but apparently rowers like to talk beforehand and it's become this standard practice to have a boat meeting. One of the things I like to do is - I like to study the rowers and evaluate them. What is their energy like the day of? Are they at peak racing performance? Are they tired? Did four seat’s son steal a car and has been in prison negotiating for his release for the past 16 hours? (That has actually happened, y'all.) Where is everybody's minds? Are we able to actualize the plan we thought we were going to? So I’m using the time to listen to the rowers and hear them and I feel that you get more from not saying, ‘This is my race plan. This is what we're going to be doing’. I’m not a little Napoleon in that sense. I am hearing what they need … hearing how they respond to things. And you can tell when people are nervous and what they're nervous about by what they're saying and how they're acting. So I use that information to guide me and to guide the vocabulary I’m going to use for the race. Ladies, how do you handle this all-important pre-launch conversation?
BREANA: Conversation is exactly the right word. I try to think of it as the rowers and I coming to agreement about what we're about to enter into and what that's going to look like. And that really varies according to each boat and each subset of rowers. So I typically have a somewhat detailed plan prepared for myself. So for instance on my index card that I’ve prepared, I’ll come to the boat meeting with that and with the pen to update it.
SALLY: And yes - she does. The rowers really appreciate it when she does.
BREANA: And I’ll have a list of technical calls for instance, that I think our boat could benefit from during the race. And then I’ll ask the rowers open-ended, “What technical calls would you like to hear? What reminders would you like to receive?” And their response to that kind of tells me how much more information they're seeking. Sometimes they say, ‘We trust you - you got it. Let's just go out there and do our best. We'll just respond to whatever you say.’ And other times, I get a pretty elaborate response of, ‘Oh, I'd like to be reminded to do this and that. And at this part, our boat always falls apart and so could you remind us at this point of the race to lengthen?’ And so it really is changing according to the feedback I’m getting back from the rowers. So I pretty much always have something and then if they want to contribute to that, they let me know in this meeting. So I open up the space to hear their contributions and I incorporate those if they provide any. And you'll know as you have this conversation what your team wants or doesn't want and you can react appropriately. You don't need to stand there and read the whole plan off of your card or out of your mind if that's not what they're seeking. But some of them will want to hear them … they'll want to know that you have that locked down as a way of having confidence in you. So it really depends, but that's traditionally what I’m trying to do is add to the pre-ordained thing that I have come up with on my own. How about you, Anne?
ANNE: What I would like to say at this juncture is that there're going to be many of our listeners who either have a coach that is directing this meeting or they have been advised and instructed by their coach to have a specific race plan and how to conduct this meeting. The whole objective here is to have a time when you are unifying before you're on the water. You can make eye contact. You can focus and start to eliminate all the other distractions that happen at an event. I think the key point here is that when you're rigging the boat - or even before race day - you have established the time that you're going to meet. Establish it. Give yourself plenty of time for last-minute shifts such as the traditional, ‘I need to go to the bathroom’. You've got to schedule in time for your rowers to go to the bathroom just before you walk that boat down to wherever it needs to go. And one of the things that I do at the end of my meeting is - that's when I actually have the rowers take the oars down because a lot of times, I’ve found that if we get them down earlier, they get moved. Then we don't know where they are or there's not enough space. And anyway, that's when I do it but Breana and Sally tend to do it at a different time. When do you ask the oars to be taken down?
SALLY: I usually have the oars go down as we are unloading the trailer.
SALLY: If it's safe - I mean, there are regattas where it's not safe to do that. But I like to get them out and out of the way as quickly as possible.
ANNE: So, the team meeting has taken place. There may - or may not - be a detailed race plan that is shared with your rowers. We'd love to hear any of our listeners who would like to comment on your strategy or what you traditionally do and what you find helpful to address these steps up to now. So, look forward to that … I really do … so please let us know. Slack is generally the best way to get this conversation continuing, but whatever way works for you, let us know and share that information with us. I might just want to take one of your tips and apply it in the future - and I will thank you from the bottom of my heart. You may not know that, but I promise I will. So … getting ready to launch. They're back from the bathroom. We're ready to go. What do we do?
SALLY: I’m still waiting for my rowers to come back. You guys - keep going. There's a line.
BREANA: One thing you could start assessing at this point is what kind of wait are you looking at for the dock, potentially. And if there is a line or if you are close enough to see who is funneling into that dock already, are those boats close to the people who would be in your event? So ideally if you're all kind of launching around the same time, you'll make it to the start line at the same time. And this is one of the most stressful considerations, I think, if you don't have a coach who has dictated this for you. Especially if it's a regatta you're not familiar with. When do I launch and what elements go into that consideration? So part of that for all of us (I know) is traffic. In a head race circumstance, you will have bow numbers that traditionally are numbered according to the order that you guys are going out in, so if you're sitting there with 475 pinned to your back and you see 84 going out, it's too early. But if you see 2,300 going out, you've missed your race. You want to be in the general vicinity of others who are going out. And then you also want to consider how close the dock is to the starting line. There are venues where the dock is practically at the starting line and you know you're not getting much of a warm-up. And there are times when the dock is at the finish line and you know you're going to have to warm up 5000 meters of the entire race course and you need to factor that into your calculations. There's absolutely no way - if the race is going to take you let's just say 20 minutes - there's no way that you're going to traverse that warm-up lane in 20 minutes unless you're at full race pace. So you really have to factor that in. I personally usually start at a baseline of like about 40 minutes of getting hands-on, walking to the dock, and then actually launching. And then I feel confident that when six of the eight people in the boat ask me to go to the bathroom, I can say ‘Yes’ because I’ve built in extra time. So I know we could maybe swing it if we launch 25 minutes in advance … 30 minutes in advance … but I’m often - just as a baseline - starting with an estimate of about 40 in case you're seeking something. But as I just outlined, there are some factors that might modify that number for you. How about you guys? What are you considering at the point of launching?
ANNE: As part of my reconnaissance work - which I know I explained … I do this much earlier - I make sure that I understand details such as whether or not when we're launching … does it have to be bow first or stern first? And it can vary from year to year, so that's again something that I observe and/or I ask the dock master in advance. But I - unless I’m the first race out - you're able to discern that or it's written somewhere. And then (also) I’ve been at plenty of regattas where the area that we launch from is quite a distance different from where we land. So one regatta that I go to, we have a dock launch and we have a wet landing. And again, they're quite a distance from each other so that that's going to factor into my planning. I also kind of think that 40 minute number is a great place for most coxswains to at least start. What about you, Sally?
SALLY: I’m still waiting for my rowers to come back from the bathroom.
ANNE: Oh, Sally.
SALLY: I think you're both incredibly astute to point out it is very helpful to stay within your flight - especially once you get out on the water because the referees are going to be calling for you and their megaphones only go so far. And they don't know all the blades and they don't know all the teams. So if you are in the vicinity of your competition, that's generally a good place to be.
ANNE: Sally - let's pretend in this head race - that you are launching from the finish line area. What - in terms of head racing prep and strategy - what happens in that long … you're going the length of the distance of the course plus whatever warm-up area and queuing area they have you in. Tell us a little bit about what you do during that time.
SALLY: So what I do is - in addition to making sure my rowers get the warmup they need so that their muscles can be warm and engaged for that race - I’m trying to pull the boat together. So I’m feeling the subtle nuances and trying to discern the calls and the drills and the things that I feel will have the greatest impact. I’m also watching other coxswains. I’m watching how they handle the boat … how well they steer … can they steer … do they oversteer. I’m watching my competition - how well do they row? Are they fast? Can they control their releases because understanding that changes how I’m going to use the race. Is this a novice coxswain? Do I want to give her a wide berth? Is this a coxswain who knows what they're doing? Do I want to pull in tight with them? Is this opposing crew going to be a threat - are they stronger than I am? And then I pay attention to - like when passing them by - who's looking at me and it's not just because I’m cute. I’m looking at whose head is out of the boat … who is yelling unhelpful things to their coxswain. It's all data that I channel and use during my race. And then while I’m doing this, I’m formulating how do I make my rowers faster. How do I make them more competitive and I’m adapting the race plan based on what I see my rowers doing … their emotional and physical capabilities. How do I get them to be greater than the sum of their parts? And then I look at the competition and go, ‘Okay, the boat next to us is going to be slower than we are. How can I use that information to make my crew better. Okay, the boat 2 behind us looks fast. How am I gonna use that to keep my crew pushing so they don't catch us?’ I’m playing those games. That's where I go. Anne. Breana, how about you guys?
ANNE: I'd like to start by saying, Sally, that is way above and beyond what I am capable of at this point. I’m just gonna throw it out there. I think it's brilliant and it's a skill level to which I aspire. And I think it's a wonderful thing that you are sharing some of your higher level skills with us and how you implement the higher powers of observation. I have to say - myself generally - I am much more my-boat focused and don't have the bandwidth to make the assessments of other crews that you do. I (of course) do the usual things like I practice a couple of turns. I also might point out to the rowers - as we're going through - like where the halfway mark looks like or what I’m going to be looking at. But not too much. I think that it's a long row up to the starting area and keeping the rowers focused in the boat … finding out what their rhythm is that day … is important to me. One advisory that I have is that, as we get close to the start line of the race, I have often observed lots of boats (sort of) stopping right at the start line to watch and ogle and assess what's going on at the start and how it's being operated, but that is a very bad place to be sitting. So make sure that - as a next level coxswain - you prepare to get your crew through that area of the start so that you're not disruptive to those crews that are finishing up their chute and just crossing the start line because that can be very chaotic. And it's hard for the timers (also) if they've got distractions from boats that are going up to the warm-up area. What about you, Breana?
BREANA: Yeah. I similarly approach it as you do, Anne. I tend to be more internally focused. And exactly as you said, I hope we can hold up Sally's example of where a coxswain can go once they feel like they've mastered that internal focus. There are so many levels you can add on as you start to build skills. But for folks who are starting out, just successfully getting to the start and getting in line is an amazing achievement as well. Head races are tough. There's a lot to manage. We hope that (again) we're presenting the whole spectrum here and you see where you could be starting out and you aren't too overwhelmed by endpoints that you could reach. But for people who are seeking to take things to the next level, we hope we're offering a whole spectrum of possibilities here. So I’ll pick up at the start line. Super critical point you just made, Anne, to not block that start line. And you know nothing can make your crew lose confidence and you like getting yelled at by an official for sitting right there. That's sometimes even a codified rule in the rules of racing - which you consulted in the race packet as part of the prep that we set up at the beginning of this episode. But I am kind of taking a peek at what's going on at the start line - especially of a head race - because these things differ according to the venue. So one thing I want to see is how is that start line buoyed. Sometimes it's a gigantic, notable buoy of some kind. Sometimes it's a teeny, tiny, little stick on the opposite shore that is actually the starting sight line that people will be using to time.
SALLY: It's a tiny, tiny stick that they didn't mow the grass on. And it's the same color as the kudzu on the bank so …
BREANA: Yeah … it’s a brown and green stick and it's very small and only locals know where it is and so, yeah …
SALLY: We've never been there. We have never been there.
BREANA: If you're lucky you'll get a buoy but if you see a buoy, is the buoy actually at the start line or is it something that was just kind of plopped there to generally indicate where you should be starting? Sometimes that buoy is (like) dozens of meters in front of - or behind - the actual tower and sight line where the official people appear to be located. Sometimes those people are just sitting in a plastic chair on the side of the banks of the body of water, so you gotta find where those people are so that as you approach, you're not looking for the first time and saying, “When should I be at full race pace as I come through the chute?” You should ideally be trying to suss a little bit of that out as you pass the start line. Those are important considerations. I also try to listen - if I can - for how officials are calling the start up there. Sometimes there's silence and you are on your own to guess when you're officially on the course. Sometimes it's a person with a megaphone saying, ‘You're on - team name’. And other times, it's a beep. So whatever that is, that can be helpful to know so that you are prepared for whatever it possibly is as you try to time your start. And then after we pass that point, we enter into (oftentimes) a marshalling area. That could be a warm-up pattern or it could just be a big conglomerate of boats all stopped-up up there who are trying to get in order. So as we said before this, make sure you're using that warm up as you traverse the course because you could very well just be sitting in that area. So if you haven't taken a single high stroke before you get there, you could be in trouble and your rowers might not be as warm as they could be. So what you're now doing is … you are seeking to line up with others who are in your event. And again, the key with head races is that those numbers are going to tell you where to be in line. In my case, I have those numbers written on my index card so I know what my number says - which I can't see because it's on my back and my bow now. And then I know who I’m looking for before and after me … and the race and the starting order. And officials will be very grateful that you have taken on part of this responsibility. Nothing would make them happier than everyone just showing up properly ordered. So you can contribute to that process as a coxswain by finding those who should be around you in the event and lining up as appropriate with them in terms of numbers.
ANNE: In particular, Breana, I have a strategy where during our boat meeting, I find out who's got the best distance vision and I assign the task of looking at bow numbers to that one individual so that we don't have eight different voices calling out, ‘475. No, I see 472's over there. Oh no. Wait. It's behind us.’ I have an assigned person who can identify the boat that's going before us and the one that's coming after us and then that's how I pull myself in the sequence. And I absolutely concur - it's better for your team - it's better for the officials – (just) it works so much more smoothly if you do this in advance and that you are lined up as closely as possible to the correct sequence. And remembering that in some races - like at Head of the Charles - you're going to have odd numbers at a distance from the even numbers. So there are different strategies for getting ready for the chute, but you do that within that marshalling area and take that on. You can do that. All right - so we are in the marshalling area. We are now beautifully lined up in sequence (as we should be) and …
SALLY: …and it's time to end this podcast.
ANNE: That's right. So let's talk then because even just … you say the word chute and start line and I get flutters in my gut. I feel nervous. How do we handle the nerves? Let's bring it to a close with a couple of things and the first being talking about feelings of anxiety or nervousness.
BREANA: I guess I can start by saying that for me, the nervousness associated with head racing typically hits in the days beforehand and I assuage it in myself by preparing. I've always kind of had the mantra that ‘preparation is confidence’ and if I have packed every size of wrench I could possibly need, then how could anything go wrong that I wouldn't be able to handle (for one tiny example)? My takeaway is also that I don't mind feeling nerves sometimes because to me, that's an indication that I’m invested in this. I’m not just a body floating down the course … hopefully not hitting any buoys. I’m just like the rowers are - completely engaged in this upcoming race - and my job is to take every other mental worry away from them and handle that as best as I can and they'll do the hard physical work. They might be getting nervous about that - that isn't my job. My job is the mental work. So I kind of try to calm my nerves. I accept them - let's say - as a sign that I care about this race. And then I assuage them as best I can by preparing in the days beforehand.
SALLY: I love the fact that Breana goes, “What can go wrong?” and then I find ways to make the day go very, very wrong … ways you didn't even know were possible, my friend.
BREANA: It's true. It just makes the prep list longer, you know.
SALLY: Like we talked about - for me, my mind expands. And I’m attention deficit … I’m a little hyperactive … so my mind goes out and I try to channel into useful ways when I keep myself busy and occupied. But when I -in those quiet moments - let the nerves get the better of me, I start doubting myself and doubting my calls and that can go pretty dark pretty quick. So it's the stillness - that's when it gets me - when I physically can't do anything more. I have a tough time with being still.
ANNE: I'll share a little bit about my perspective which is - first of all to say that when the decision is made for our crew to go to a head race and I am honored to be the coxswain that's going to be coxing them down this head race, I start to get nervous right away. It's mixed with excitement but it's nerves. Similar to Breana and probably Sally (even though she might not admit it), the preparation does help tamp down my anxiety. I have to say though that it generally comes back full force the night before. We will potentially at another time, share some of what happens to us with our coxing nightmares. But I often start with coxing nightmares a couple of nights before - some of them are hilarious when you're not in the middle of the nightmare, but I actually do have nightmares and that is how I know that I am anxious. But again, I agree with what you said - I really like the way you verbalized it, Breana. It does also indicate that we're invested in the process and we care and we're going to bring the best that we can to help our crews do the best that they can.
SALLY: We’re gonna pick this up with another episode about what happens going through the chute and how to race. And Anne and Breana and I spent many, many, many hours discussing this. And we have very different ideas of how to race and I’m really looking forward to discussing it with the both of you.
ANNE: And we're going to learn more from our listeners, too, as they share. I just know that.
BREANA: Agreed. And I will highlight one more thing quickly for us here before we conclude with our Quick Pick and Shout Out - which is just a little preview of a resource that we are developing for one of the preeminent head races in the United States … as many listeners will know as Head of the Charles. So we are working on a guide to help coxswains prepare for Head of the Charles. You can keep an eye on our social media and our Slack channel. We'll make sure to announce that there and in future episodes as well. It'll be a way to use the 30 days in advance of Head of the Charles this year - where coxed boats are happening - to prepare yourself for that. Keep an eye out for: 30 days to the Head of the Charles coming from CoxPod. And we'll conclude with our Quick Pick which takes us back to the coaches and coxswains meetings before regattas. And we thought we'd acknowledge some of the kind of amusing phenomena that happen - or used to happen at these events. For me, one of the things that always cracks me up … it's something that has faded out … but when I first started coxing, this was the phenomena - of ‘regatta time’. So inevitably at some point during the meeting, some person would raise their hand and ask the presenting ref, ‘What's regatta time?’ and then everyone in synchrony would bust out their watches and synchronize their watches to the refs stated time … which cannot have been more than a minute or two different from (you know) actual atomic time. I always wondered (like) what would someone who was watching from the outside think of everybody just pulling out their watches as a response to this sentence? So that has always cracked me up. Sadly it doesn't happen anymore because regatta time is just whatever is showing on people's cell phones but that cracked me up while it was happening. So maybe that jarred a memory for some other folks listening as well.
ANNE: I also find that very amusing, Breana. For me, my Quick Pick of amusing or interesting things that happens at the coach and coxswains meeting is when it's a U.S. Rowing event. Usually the U.S. Rowing official gives all the rules and regulations … the safety items and so forth. And then - very kindly - whoever is the local host of that regatta gets up and also shares (like) local information that’s so important that you should really pay attention because it might - or might not - be what you can see in a race packet. And often that goes something like, ‘You really got to watch out for that big rock that's sitting over by the horses that are in the pen’ or ‘There's a piling out there and next to that there's a fishing buoy and you gotta watch out for that’. And you have no clue. It's so important that they're compelled to share it with you but it is in local slang that you cannot translate into anything actionable.
SALLY: Yep. ‘Oh, it gets super shallow near the grove of ash trees’. Like, what does an ash tree look like and how am I supposed to know from the poplars? Y'all, I’m a history major not a botanist. I don't … this is why more caffeine at the meetings would be better. Just saying, y'all, just saying. I guess that would be mine - my Quick Pick - where's the coffee?
BREANA: Share with us, listeners, your favorite coaches and coxswain meeting artifact that you enjoy every time. This episode, our Shout Out is to my partner Will - who is a rower and not a coxswain - but has given just tons of invaluable advice over the year now that we have been working on CoxPod. I’ll come to him with all kinds of random things … what color should I use on this image …. what should we title this episode? And he's always been a great consultant for us when we need an extra opinion on something. So we felt he deserved a Shout Out here. Thank you!
ANNE: He absolutely does, Breana. He's a tremendous resource and he has been very generous with his time and talent so I absolutely believe that that is well earned. And we hope that he will continue supporting us in many ways that he does. Thank you, Will.
SALLY: Yes - thank you so much, Will - you're the best … truly appreciate it.
ANNE: Excellent. All right - so in the meantime as we get ready for our next episode - which will be from the chute to the finish line - we invite you to engage with us on social media and on Slack where your question might get featured on a future episode. We'd also love for you to consider supporting us on Patreon if that's of interest to you. We're so excited to bring you more content soon. And until next time, I’m Anne. I’m Sally. And I’m Breana - signing off for now.