025 | Sprint Racing: Start to Finish Line
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast dedicated solely to coxing topics. I’m Sally. I’m Anne. I’m Breana and we're three coxswains with over 50 years of experience in the seat. We learn a great deal by sharing with each other and want to foster a community that encourages skills development and discussion. We're happy you're joining us.
BREANA: Guess where we are - the start line of a sprint race. This is the third of three episodes related to sprint racing. In Episode 24, we covered preparation up to the marshalling area and in Episode 22, we talked about how to get into a stake boat. Finally now we're going to go from that starting command that you just heard through the finish line.
ANNE: I don't know about you ladies but I am very excited to be doing this as we talk about sprint racing some more. In a sprint race, we all know the boats start from the same position and at the same time and race side by side to the finish line. Let's keep in mind also that it can be either a fixed or a floating start. So in my mind today, I’m going from a floating start. I don't know about you ladies.
SALLY: I’m just starting. Just … I’ve had enough of waiting. I’ve had enough of queuing. Let's just race please. Let's race.
SALLY: Can we race now?
ANNE: We can race now. The distances for sprint races can vary anywhere from 500 to 2000 meters.
SALLY: But you all know you can easily, easily cram 2500 meters into a 2k race if you're trying hard enough.
BREANA: You sure can.
ANNE: Oh gosh. Sadly, yes.
SALLY: So as much as I truly want to get started and want to get finally to the point of racing, you are going to be approaching the stake boats and locking on and we've covered that in previous episodes. Generally when all - or nearly all - of the competitors are present, you will hear the official say, “Two minute warning”. And this just means that everybody's there … everybody's ready to play. You have time to make a few subtle adjustments … that you have time to breathe … but it just means at this point, be ready to go because they can begin polling the crews and start the race at any point during this two-minute window.
ANNE: Yeah, I think I’ve been faked out in my early career hearing the two-minute warning because I - at first - thought it was for real gonna be two minutes And I think that maybe once in my whole racing career has it been a full two minutes. So Sally, it is well taken.
SALLY: If science fiction has not taught you anything by now Anne, time is relative and it is never more relative than during a race. And this two-minute window – again, they can start the race anywhere within these two minutes. That's the important thing. If they see everybody's ready and the regatta is trying to make up time, they will do it.
BREANA: One thing that you may be perceiving during that time is the process of aligning going on. And that's often done by someone standing over on the shore on the side of the body of water. They might be in a launch if the shore is far away and they will be watching to ensure that all of the bows of the boats - whether floating starts or stake boats are involved here - all the bows are in line. And when they see that alignment, they may say something verbally that you're able to perceive. They may also raise a white flag to indicate that alignment is complete. So you might hear that happening behind (you know) with the stake boat holders if you're in a stake boat situation. You might hear it happening because the person might be using a megaphone. You might not hear anything because maybe they're doing it surreptitiously through walkie-talkies and earpieces. But it's possible that you'll be able to perceive that and that's also a good signal to you as far as when the regatta is close to proceeding with your event.
SALLY: So can we go yet? We're lined up. What's happening now? Can we go yet? I want to go.
ANNE: Well, if the starter decides to poll the crews, no, you can't go yet Sally. Sorry.
BREANA: In a polling start, the starter will methodically call out each competitor in lane order from the lowest number to the highest number. It'll sound like, ‘Lane 1 team name, Lane 2 team name’, etc. Then the starter will proceed with the ‘Attention. Go.’ command that indicates that your race has officially begun.
ANNE: But then more times than not they might say, ‘This is a quick start’. Tell us, Sally, what happens then.
SALLY: When they do a quick start, it's generally because the wind or the current or something has happened and you're struggling to hold your point. So they don't want you to be battling against a quartering cross for 25 seconds while they're doing this. They will announce it, ‘We're going to a quick start. Attention. Go.’
ANNE: So with that, there is a visual signal generally of some sort, right?
BREANA: Yes. Regardless of whether they opt for a polling start or a quick start, the signal is going to be either a red flag held by the starter or possibly a traffic light type of system attached to your stake boat or pontoon which will display a red light. The starter will say ‘Attention’ and after a pause they'll say ‘Go’ as they simultaneously either move the flag from perpendicular to the water - so over their head to parallel to the water so kind of sticking out to their side - or where that light system is being used, the light will turn from red to green.
SALLY: This is where we have to do this horrible, terrible, dreadful thing called trust. I struggle with it ladies. I struggle. But there is a visual cue when they say ‘Attention’ and all of this is happening behind our head and outside of our visual realm and if we are looking at it, we are not keeping our point. So it's one of those things where you have to convey the information to your stroke. The stroke needs to be watching the flag. Everybody else is watching the twitch of the stroke’s shoulders.
ANNE: While Sally's nervous about relinquishing control, I think the one part that we can all agree on is the importance of us taking the responsibility to remind the rowers to bury their blades before the ‘Attention’ … or at least at the latest point when they say ‘Attention’. Those blades need to be squared and buried. It's very easy to have a shallow blade. So please – everybody - you will be happier and you'll be more successful if you take that time to instruct them to bury the blades and that they know what that means.
SALLY: So once the start is called, your job as coxswain - in addition to steering (and we're going to touch upon steering during a race later) - will be to guide your rowers through the starting sequence. Now the whole purpose of starting sequence is to help your boat get up to speed. So you're overcoming inertia. But there is no magic one-size-fits-all starting sequence. It's going to vary by boat size, by boat weight, by the conditions, by coaches’ preferences. I’ve had crews that will use what is kind of a standard: three-quarter slide, half slide, three-quarter, lengthen, full. Or I’ve had crews that use five three-quarter slide strokes. I had one crew that had 23 different strokes - we were fully at the 250 line before I finished calling the start. So it varies a lot. I don't know about y'all, but I have never found a crew that truly understands or appreciates the subtleties of half slide.
ANNE: True that. Starting sequences are really tough. They need to be together as much as they possibly can. I personally have eliminated the word lengthen or a lengthen stroke in their sequence because - just like Sally said, nobody knows really what half slide is - but nobody really knows what a lengthen is either. So there are lots of different ways of considering what the instructions are for those starts.
SALLY: Lengthen is one of those things that you have to define and talk about beforehand. Like half slide is something you need to discuss and practice beforehand. It's this beautiful, elegant balancing act and it's not the time to slip in some strange unknown, undiscussed things.
ANNE: That's right. One of the things that has helped some of my crews is eliminating altogether the calling of the length of the slide and just shifting to words that explain what the goal of the stroke is. You can do something like a pry, pry, build. Breana, have you used that at all?
BREANA: I have. Yep. I had a year where our sequence was - I mean pry is the common first one you'll hear and the nice thing about that is that you can draw it out as that first stroke will feel - so we started with pry and then the second word to convey that sort of half slide … picking up the boat … was chip. That's what we ended up deciding to use. So it was pry, chip, build, lengthen (we did have the lengthen in there), and full. And that was something that we spent time working on and workshopping together as a boat … what are the words that are going to make the most sense. So if you have the luxury of doing that with your crew, then you'll feel very comfortable with what's going to happen on race day. It's also possible that you met the crew that morning. This lineup has never practiced together even if you know the rowers. And in those circumstances, you do your best. You agree upon something so that at least everyone understands the general idea of what they're supposed to be doing. And at the end of the day, it's only five strokes or however many you decide to make it and so as long as you're on the same page, I would say if the crew is very new to you or new to working together figuring out exactly what sequence of words is not going to affect your race as much as other things that you guys could come together cohesively about.
ANNE: I’m so excited. Really I am because it feels like we actually are into the race now. We're in our starting sequence. Yay. Finally, Sally - we got there. We got there.
SALLY: Come on - I’m waving to you y'all from the 500 meter mark.
ANNE: Oh that's … that's nice talk. Really. Talk is cheap. So my experience - in the vast majority of the races - is that with those first five strokes my mind says we should be dead center in the lane and building and going straight in that lane as possible. My reality is that this is often when I have to do some serious steering. And so I wanted to say … normalize for the rest of the coxswains out there … it often is the case that you will go off in those first five strokes and you might not be in the ideal location.
SALLY: This is why it's so critical to practice the starts with the lineup because you will know quickly what side out pulls the other and you have choices. You can either have one side back off or you can just be hard on the rudder. There will be coaches who say never touch the rudder during the start sequence. Never and always are things you should absolutely avoid. I mean … I’ll avoid absolutes at all costs. Right y'all? But you need sometimes to steer and adjust a little bit to stay on that course. You (again) you don't want to be known as the coxswain who puts 2500 meters in a 2k course.
BREANA: Related to steering, another point that we wanted to make is that the job of the officials in a sprint race is to ensure a safe and fair race and make sure that everyone is able to safely go down in their lane without being interfered with. And so one thing that may be happening that you should just be aware of is that in a launch, a race official will be following you and following your whole race and they may be signaling to you and trying to communicate with you if it looks like you are veering out of your lane. That can look like them calling the name of your crew and then raising a flag there in the launch and moving it to either side to indicate the direction they want you to move. Oftentimes, you are aware of these things but in the heat of the race with everyone shouting and things like that, it's helpful to note that if you can and maybe your stroke seat can help you out if you're in a stern loaded boat - or your bow seat and a bow loader - and let you know that the official is trying to communicate with you. And the respectful thing to do is just to raise your hand to indicate that you are aware and you are making the change … which you probably already are. But it's good to just (kind of) be aware that that's something that can happen and know that you can help that situation by communicating with the official if you can manage it as you restore your point and make sure you don't interfere with other boats.
ANNE: So many of our races - our sprint races - do not have buoyed lanes and this is where you'll often see some direction from that official following behind. But I’ve seen it also with buoyed courses.
SALLY: It is not uncommon that if you are watching closely the boats next to you, you will steer into them. So what you want to do is - even though there is a lot of chaos and a lot of noise - you want to glance at the boats to your sides. You want to take it all in but keep an eye on your points. Keep touching base with that as a grounding point. Are you still going straight? That will help you immeasurably when all the chaos - and it is chaos, it is exciting and adrenaline-filled and amazing - but while all this is going on, you have to ground yourself in something. You have to tether yourself to something and make sure you stay in contact with your point.
BREANA: Coming up after you complete your start sequence … we're in it now … we're in the early part of the race and at this point, your coach may have provided you with a complete race plan that you could absolutely rely on. And that's a perfectly acceptable way to conduct your race. What differentiates an experienced coxswain from a coxswain who's earlier in their career is that that experienced coxswain will be able to take that race plan and make adjustments on the fly in response to what is unfolding around them. So we'll describe here what happens in this very first part of the race up into the point where we lengthen out. The way that this often works for me is that after our start sequence, we've entered into a number - perhaps prescribed in advance, perhaps changing on the fly - of high strokes (is often the term that's used) So we're at a little bit of a higher rate than we are expecting to spend the entire race at. Other countries in their rowing vernacular have different words for this. I’ve heard British crews called it a blitz. So you might have a different term for that and we'd love to hear from you what it is. So you're at some higher number of strokes … maybe it's as few as five … maybe it's as many as 30 or something in between. 10 and 20 are standards. And then after that point, I’ll ask my crew to lengthen out. And I usually describe that as: we don't want there to be a drop in power - it's just a drop in rate so we're feeling a little bit more calm. So that that stroke that is the lengthen - where we're maybe coming down four beats of rate in terms of strokes per minute - is super calm. I’ll use my voice to indicate that – relax. And then we hit that next drive really hard. And then we might be in some lengthen number of strokes … some kind of move that is a lengthen 10, for example. Sometimes people use the word ‘settle’ to describe that we're kind of coming down to our race pace - that's what we expect to be holding for most of the race. And what I’ll often do in there … related to what we were talking about just now with kind of keeping an eye on your point and the competition … is I might just throw a note to the athletes about whether we're in the pack or maybe even ahead of the pack. If we're down, I don't usually mention it at that point. But you know, it's helpful to instead of just counting to 20 a couple of times, give them some guidance on where we are in the group to keep them motivated and give them an early sense of how things are going. That's how I often handle that. How about you guys?
ANNE: During this time, I am thinking about any adjustments that I might need to make to our race plan at that point. And part of that depends on – yes … how the competition is doing - but more than that, I like to just really get a sense of how are the athletes feeling and responding and pushing that boat forward. And then adjust my calls based on that. What about you, Sally?
SALLY: It's very similar. You know you're recalling what the race plan was … what you said you were going to do … :and then modifying it because I’m asking myself did we meet the objective? Is this where we think we should be and if we're not, what's holding us back? If we are, what could I say that could tease those extra three inches out of the drive? What do I need to make a difference between one seat or half a length? I think one of the most important things - especially in this early race - is you need to recognize that your rowers need you and they need your vocabulary. There are words and things you can say during this race that will help them. Conversely, there are words and things you can say that will demotivate them. So get to know your rowers and pay attention to what they need … what fears them … what fuels them … what inspires them and what demotivates them. And those words - used judiciously now - can make all the difference because in theory - in theory - they are trusting you. They're rowing blindly after pursuit of a goal and it's your words … it's your guidance … it's your leadership … it's your command that's going to help take four or eight different people and turn them into a team. And if you aren't a team off the dock - if you aren't a team and you had a miserable warm-up - do what you can to unify them during this piece so they make every 500 meters better than the 500 meters before that. To me, that's the mark of a good coxswain. And I cox a good race if the last 500 was infinitely better than the first 500.
ANNE: That’s a great point, Sally. And I want to add that during this segment of the race in particular, it is very noisy. You can usually hear some of the other coxswains and crews because you're generally side by side (at this point in the race at least). There will be the sound of the oars. There's a lot of water sound. There's going to be the launch coming up behind. So unlike a head race, I find this part of the race to be very, very active …I don't know. What word would you use to describe the ambiance of this first part of the race?
SALLY: There's a lot of stimuli both external and internal.
ANNE: That's it. That's the right word. And this is where - to Sally's point … circling back to that - how we use our voices during this time is crucial. So keep that in mind. Make sure that what you're saying and doing is helping your rowers focus on you and your boat and not all the chaos that's around you. So how about if we talk more about how we handle the rest of the race since we've got through the starting sequence and we have settled into our race pace?
BREANA: Throughout the race, there are a couple pieces of information that I might periodically provide to the rowers. I know certainly - especially as you're starting out or especially if you're behind already at this point in the race, you might be facing the dilemma of: how do I fill this time? You know, it's gonna feel like it goes very quickly but when you're in it you sometimes feel stymied - like what could I possibly say that isn't gonna sound repetitive? And so a few stock things that you might be able to rotate through as appropriate … one thing the rowers are absolutely yearning for is distance - especially the closer you get to the end of the race. So often I’m providing rowers with distance in terms of how much we've gotten done early on in the race. And then as the race progresses, I know many of us default to calls about how much of the race is left so that there's kind of a point at which that switches to being more motivating to hear we only have 500 meters left rather than (you know) we have 1500 meters left. That can be … that can be rough.
SALLY: I think you're very smart to point out that there should be a difference between how much they have done and how much they have to do because for the majority of rowers - when you say something like we are 25% done and they have 75% to go, this race now becomes this painful Sisyphean task of: I can't sustain this pain … I can't sustain this agony for 75% of the time. Whereas if you play with - it's the same information you're giving them but you're presenting in a different way that becomes more manageable. Again, you have to remember where the rowers are mentally in this race and where they are physically. And now is not the time for long Shakespearean soliloquies. And this is me telling you this is not the time for long Shakespearean soliloquies and that is my general default, y'all. But they can't hear it. They can't process it. And you have to be so judicious and careful about your words. You have to break it down and you have to present it to them in ways that are both true and positive … or true and rewarding. Typically I do not call distance until I am at least halfway through and that's a head race or sprint race. I focus on other things through the first half and the second half is where I will call distance and call numbers.
BREANA: And that's a conversation you can have with your boat during your pre-race boat meeting that we've talked about in previous episodes about preparation for the race. Because I’ve definitely had rowers disclose that as well, “I do not want to hear a single thing about distance until we're halfway”. And if you have that conversation with them, then they can share that information. They know themselves and they can guide how you're going to run that first versus second half of the race.
ANNE: What do you ladies do in terms of calling rate?
SALLY: It truly depends on the mindset and the personality of your rowers. If you have someone who is by their nature data driven, calling splits and calling stroke rate to them is very comforting and it helps them understand and perceive what is happening. And then there are people who you call a stroke rate and they're like, “Oh my God, this is a 36. I can't hold the 36. I will never do a 36.”. And they will get wrapped around their own axle trying to hold a 36 and they will hold the 36 all on the recovery and you can watch rowers just implode. So I talk to my rowers and figure out what they need. Calling splits? Unless they are familiar with that body of water, so many things impact split I tend not to do it. It tends to be too much information. I will do it if my rowers press me but I tend to use those things very judiciously.
ANNE: I’m in complete agreement with you, Sally. It would be the real exception to the rule that I would either mention rate or splits. There is enough other information that you can feed back to them about how things are going and changes that they might need to make to be faster. That's my take too, Sally. How about you, Breana?
BREANA: I’ve been in very similar situations where a crew maybe needs that information. Oftentimes, stroke seat is particularly desiring rate information about whether they are correctly executing the race plan and if you are in a boat (which I’ve been in) where stroke seat wants that but other people in the boat might be freaked out by that, you can always plug your mic – fully, fully cover it with the pad of your thumb is how I do that - and then report to the stroke seat the information that they're seeking. When I know that the crew might be freaked out by us being at a higher rate, I’m not a coxswain who really lies so I won't usually deceive purposely by saying a different number. But I’ll say something like, “We're right where we need to be on rate” and something like that just implies I’m satisfied with where we are. I’m not worried about it. That is often how I’ve handled that.
SALLY: I think you touched upon a really interesting topic, Breana. And there are coxswains who will overestimate or say things to make rowers feel better and exaggerate truths. And I come from a long line of Irish storytellers and there is a time and a place for colorful exaggeration but in a boat - when it comes to your rowers - you never ever lie. You may omit information … you may choose what information you say … but you never want to be caught in a lie because you never want your rowers - in the heat of the moment - to doubt what you are telling them. You want them to have your complete and utter trust and that is dramatically undermined when you say things like, “Oh, we're at a 36” and we're really out of 32. Or “You're doing great” and we are five boat lengths behind everybody else. “We're gonna catch up.” No, we’re not. You never want to be caught in a lie. Always try to find something to say that is truthful and motivating and sometimes it gets hard but you never want to be caught in a lie.
ANNE: I know we agree with you on that, Sally. And Breana, those were helpful suggestions that you made - I think - about dealing with this part of the race. I personally am curious to learn from our listeners. Do they call rates and splits and how do they handle informing the rowers about distance? So please let us know on Slack.
SALLY: So ladies, we are mid-race. We are approaching halfway. What do you do? What's happening? What are you thinking?
ANNE: Sometimes I can feel at this point that the boat tends to get a little more excited again. So they sometimes shorten their strokes or they just never really settled down the way that I had hoped that they would for power. This is a point where I remind the rowers to breathe … particularly so that they can really get as much oxygen available as they approach the 500 meter mark, for instance. And also here - if there's going to be a big gap between where boats are … how much distance they've crossed … this is where I start to really notice that and use that information to inform the next 250 meters or so.
SALLY: What about you, Breana?
BREANA: Yeah. Very similarly, I’m taking a moment here to kind of evaluate where the race stands. You still have time to make an impact on that at this point in the race … part way through. So I might be deciding that maybe a race plan related change is needed. Maybe it's a change in stroke rate whether I’m explicitly communicating that or not. Maybe I can tell everyone is out much faster than us and the only way we have any hope is if we come up a couple beats higher than we anticipated or than we're currently at. Or I might be looking for whether a technical shift is needed. Maybe we're just spinning our wheels - we're churning. The way we're keeping that rate - as you said earlier, Sally, is it's all on the recovery - exactly what we wouldn't want. And so I might make a call like a ratio shift or lengthening out. If (you know) it's like Anne said, we're getting short, applying power differently … cleaning up timing. I often phrase that as focus tens to the rowers or even a focus five if it's a very short race. And just say, “Okay .We're gonna spend our next five to ten strokes together focusing on this particular thing”. And in that, I’m trying to just clean up the rowing a little bit knowing that in any way that we possibly clean it up, that's giving us a potential advantage to make a shift at this point in the race.
SALLY: This is why it's fun racing against you guys because there are no wasted strokes and there are no wasted calls with y'all.
ANNE: And Sally, what's going through your head … I mean other than 10 million thoughts?
SALLY: Essentially, I have to remember that my power is purely suggestive. I may want to win more than anything but it's not about me. It's about ‘we’ so I have to deliberately choose my words in such a way where I am useful. I am at the service of the crew. And like you said, Breana, making a call to help correct and squeeze out those three inches or like you said, Anne, reminding them to sit up and breathe … giving them that little extra energy to help them fight through. I have to constantly think about what we can do that will both maximize our potential and keep us where we want to be.
ANNE: So as we talk about assessing at this point of the race – well, we're assessing the entire race, of course - but particularly around that midpoint of the race. At this point (as I had mentioned), it's often becoming evident … is it a close pack? Is it all spread out? So let's talk about the three general scenarios and then what we might do when we're faced with that. So the three scenarios I’m imagining is: 1) we're ahead – yahoo, 2) we're kind of in the pack and then the third is that by this time already, we are behind. So how about if we talk through those scenarios?
SALLY: If - in happy times - you are ahead, I just want you to know and pay attention to how much race course you have left. Can you hold this pace? Because remember - you are one crab … you are one weak stroke … you are one jumped seat out of first place. How much time do you have? How far are you ahead? Are they nipping at you? Are you bow ball to bow ball? What do you need to stay ahead? And the worst - and this is a tactic I use sometimes is - I will let another crew sit ahead and I will be behind you and I will burn you out because nothing is more fun than burning through someone in the last 150 meters. So you always want to watch the crews behind you. Do they have a sprint? Can they make up this distance in the amount of race course I have left? And you want to be watching the crews behind you like a hawk if you can do it. Or have bow seat - if you're in a bow loader - because people have amazing sprints and people like me will use this tactic and sit behind you and let you get confident and I will burn through you … catching you flat-footed. So you always want to watch how much time you have left.
BREANA: In these situations of being ahead, I am usually managing two things. 1) taking a moment to actually celebrate with the rowers and kind of calls surrounding, “Yes, you are doing this” … like let's not forget how awesome this is … like “You are achieving this”. I love feeling like that, too, you know. I’m sure we can all celebrate in that together. But as you were saying Sally, also keeping them calm because if we get so excited and so frantic and - like you said - something pops off in the boat … a seat … an oarlock … someone gets that half crab … that could throw the whole thing off … and the more excited and the faster we feel we're getting often times the sloppier we're getting. So I also try to celebrate where we're at - make sure that that keeps them hyped up and excited - but also keeping us technically clean so that we can ideally just coast through to the finish and win. Anne?
ANNE: I generally try to identify one or two key things that I think the rowers are doing so well that has us in that position and reinforce (you know) something along the lines of, “Because you are really prying the boat … because you are really using your legs … let's keep that going. Let's have another 10 for legs and for what you are doing so well”. And then gearing up for moving further down the course, just really magnifying the strength that they have and hopefully keeping it going across the finish line. So this is the beautiful scenario - let's just bask in that for a moment … where we are ahead and - in theory - going to stay ahead. How about when we are with the pack and the chaos that happened at the start has persisted? And we're moving … we're moving through this entire race with others right alongside us. This has got Sally's blood boiling right here.
SALLY: I know, Anne, you say this is chaos. I’m like - I would so much rather be here. I would so much rather be a part of this than you know like six lanes ahead. I think this is … this is where we get to be coxswains. This is where we get to actualize the most change and I think you were spot on when you were saying compliment your rowers for the things they are doing well. Give them something to be proud of because we're in the thick of it and that they should be proud of that. And finding the things, finding the corrections that steals those three inches of run back or steals that extra power in their legs and gives them the confidence and the boost to walk through people … or if not walk through them, hang on. I think that says a lot especially if this is a situation where you did not anticipate being in the pack. And one of the things is if you're in the pack and you did not expect to be in the pack, that is mind-blowing to people. I call it like the bronze medal-itis - it’s when all of a sudden you could get a medal … you could get third and the rowers kind of hang there because all of a sudden they're gonna get a medal. They're in the pack. They didn't expect to be in the pack and you as the coxswain know that there's more to them than this but they kind of shut down because, ‘Oh my God. We’re in third. Did you think we're going to be third? I didn't think we were going to be third … we're in third. And there's nothing more frustrating when a crew sits in third place when you know they've got it to go extra. But this is where I love to be. Breana?
BREANA: Indeed. Personally I find myself in this situation pivoting many of my calls to being related to where we are in the pack. We're still looking for things to clean up technically but I try to take advantage of this fodder for calls basically. And the rower's every thought is. ‘Did we get it? Are we up on them? Are we moving into third? Are we moving into second? Are we leaving someone else behind?’ And I view my responsibility as providing them that information so that they have a mental picture of everything that's going on and they don't feel the need to look out of the boat. Anytime I see a picture at a sprint race of someone in my boat looking out, I kind of view that as a personal failure. Of course as you've said, Sally, our power is purely suggestive but my goal is to give them such a comprehensive picture of what they need to know in terms of how effective moves are being and things that they have complete trust in what I’m handling just like I have complete trust in their physical abilities. So that's a place where I feel the differentiation in roles in rowing. That is what calls me to the coxswain seat in this sport really plays out so I try to provide really clear information without - it's tough … it's tough to not you know especially if it's six boats across … nine … ten boats across - it can be very difficult to give information that is clear and not overwhelming to the rowers so they truly have a sense of where they stand. So that's what I’m really seeking to do during a situation - a neck and neck - you know, we're in the pack situation - like this: is provide clear information for the rowers and motivating information about where we're moving (you know) up or down in that pack.
ANNE: And Sally, I have a question for you about being in the pack. So if you are in the pack and now you're at 200 to go, how do you approach that?
SALLY: I move. I sprint anywhere where I need to to get a medal and to get the most out of my crew. If that's at the 500 meter mark … if that's at the 450 down … I am making moves. I am pushing. I am prying. And really with 250 to go, I am building power. I am building legs - reminding them that the harder they go, the less we have to do this. To dig in deep. I am counting down seats. I am counting down distance. I am trying to make them be proud and claim ownership of this seat … this stroke. I need them to choose to fight the demon in their head. “On this one. Give me the power on this one.” And with 250 to go is where I start using my magic phrases. I start using the things that draw on the team … that draw on the history. One time I was very privileged to cox a reunion men's boat and it was like 1950 graduating class of a high school and in the last 250, I made them do strokes for their old coach and they sat up and they rowed with all the effort and all the energy they could because this man meant so much to them. It was unquantifiable how hard they wanted to please even his memory and his legacy. So when we're down to this line, I really try to draw upon the psychological aspect and what will pull the best out of you.
ANNE: Thanks for that, Sally. Very helpful.
SALLY: So ladies, what do you say when we are behind … when we are DFL, COE (which for the unindoctrinated means dead freakin’ last and we have lost sight of the competition by the curvature of the earth)? It is an inglorious position to be in but we are going to be in there at some point in our careers. What do you say/ What do you do?
ANNE: It's painful sometimes, Sally. I’m not going to say it's not - especially if it's by a lot … if it's COE. This is when I really make efforts to celebrate what they're doing well - squeeze out any additional strength that they have and keep the race their race instead of … as Breana pointed out earlier … mentioning how far everybody else is from us. They can hear it. They can hear it's quiet back there. It gets really painfully quiet and so (you know) just really celebrating. And again, helping them to have the best strokes they possibly can in the best race they can is my objective at that point. And in particular, if I happen to know that they have a personal objective - even just being in that race … it might be their first race ever - so just that is something that they can celebrate.
SALLY: I think that's incredibly astute, Anne. This might not be where they thought they should be or this might be exactly where they thought they were going to be but allowing them to finish with dignity and turning this race into something they're proud of and building on it so that … you know what … the results and the time don't necessarily reflect the effort. I’m a big believer in that not all victories get medals and there are ways of turning a DFL race into something to be proud of even if it's just a building block. But I think there's dignity to it. And you're right - it's not easy and I hate being in that position but there are times when it's not about me and it's not about where I think I should be in the race. It's about helping the rowers be proud of what they're doing and if they're not doing well, finding something to give them pride so that they come back and try again.
BREANA: You both have put this excellently in terms of what to do when you're behind. Some things that spoke to me was the idea of how quiet it is at that point and that's where I often bring up my own voice and energy to match the din of what would have been there were the other boat's there. Because if you're quiet, all the rovers hear is just silence … blades moving and their own internal thoughts about their pain. So I find I really have to be pretty much constantly talking at that point. And dignity you mentioned, Sally, which is the exact word that was floating through my head of how I hope to cross that finish line in a situation where I’m in last. I figure if it's just that we were outmatched in terms of strength, I can't change that today. But what I can change is how cleanly we're rowing within our current capacities. And so I think there's a very big difference between limping across the finish line with everything a mess versus maybe we weren't the strongest today, but we crossed rowing decently well and we put our whole hearts into it. So those are a couple of things that just kind of spoke to me as you guys talked about that. And regarding the finish line - wherever in the order you are passing it, we want to just by way of concluding our walkthrough of the race here point out a couple things. Our advice to all coxswains out there is to be sure – definitively - that your boat has crossed the finish line. The timer for your race is going to stop as soon as your bow ball crosses the marker of that finish line and sometimes that's denoted in some way by buoys or something like that. So one way that you can be sure that your bow ball has been marked at its maximum speed is to bring yourself as the coxswain across that finish line before you give the rowers permission to bring their power down. That's a metric that I use for myself to be confident that definitely my bow ball has well crossed that line is if I don't call the end of the race until I - in the coxswain seat … wherever that is … stern or bow … have crossed through that buoyed finish line. The worst thing is that you think that the race has ended and it actually hasn't and the rowers took a stroke or more at paddle pressure. That's a way that you can really do a disservice to them. So we always advocate: be definitively through that whether that sight line is slightly in front of the buoy … is slightly behind … you can never be sure. Sometimes there's an auditory marker of a beep or something like that but sometimes not, so if you're right in the pack, too, you can't be sure which beep is for you. So just get your body fully through that line and then you can give the rowers permission to paddle.
ANNE: Great suggestion, Breana.
SALLY: I would like to point out that sometimes - because of the angle of courses - there's an optical illusion that you might think you are bow ball to bow ball with the crew next to you, but in fact you're at an angle and they're one seat up according to the finish line. So understand where the finish line lays according to the race course because it is not always perpendicular. We do not always live in these straight, boxed worlds that Breana so advocates. So what happens after you cross the finish line?
ANNE: I think that talking about what happens now is really important because there is a lot that happens after you cross the finish line and understanding what you're going to be required to do or factors that may come into play is pivotal. One of the things that gets my blood pressure up is being on a race course where there is an abrupt end to the course very shortly after the finish line. And I know each one of us has experienced that. Which of you wants to describe that situation?
SALLY: So there are times the rowable body of water just ends. We know - like Saint Catherine’s in Canada, Bled in Slovenia - the race course ends within two or three boat lengths of the finish line. So you've got this incredible push and this incredible sprint and then it's literally you have to get the emergency brakes up and come to a dead stop. It's intimidating and while you're stopping and you're braking hard, you have to make sure that you're not getting hit by the boat behind you or the boat to the side of you. But you really have to be … in situations like that, you have to be on your game.
ANNE: It's for real. It's for real. And (again) in your discussion before you head off to your race, you need to inform your rowers that this is what's going to happen … this is a limitation. And then you need to execute that. So there's no cheering right after going through one of these finish lines. It is all focused in on getting that boat stopped. And then the next thing that I do is I make sure that the rowers are all okay. There are often times when there might be a rower who is in distress and you need to also deal with that. So again, there are lots of things that need to take place right after finishing that race. What else happens in this time frame?
SALLY: So oftentimes in the finish line area if you have to carry weights, you can have to hold up your weight to prove that you still have it and that you haven't dropped it in. If something has gone horribly awry - like you saw somebody else drop their weights or somebody cut you off, this is the opportunity you have to protest the race. You cannot protest the race once they're on land and you get back and you talk with your coach. If something was unfair you can start the protest here in the finish area.
ANNE: In my experience this is often the only time that you can do the protest … at least you have to initiate that protest process while you're in the finish area and usually while the next race is barreling down on you, too. So being actively aware of what you need to do in this space – again, can't emphasize that enough. Another thing that sometimes happens in this time frame and in this physical area is if you are hot seating and you have a card or some visual cue to indicate that you are hot seating and need to get back quickly … you or your rower or the boat … this is also where you might show it and then you would potentially get preferential treatment in terms of exiting the area and getting the equipment or the personnel on to your next race.
BREANA: Yeah, you generally want to wait to be dismissed by the referees who have probably followed you down the course or might be there at the finish line so that they can make sure that the race was conducted fairly, there are no protests to be had, everybody's display their weight etc. etc. And then they will often dismiss you as a flight - as everyone who has just raced. One contingency that might happen there … you may just head back to the return dock or if this was a final and you have won or you've placed - you need to know which circumstances merit this following action - but you might head to an awards dock. Instead, actually, you might row directly. That might be in some different location near the finish line and then you'll receive your rewards. You might get out of the boat … take pictures … etc. … get back in and then row back to the return docks. So - something to be aware of that might be something invoked depending on your finishing position and depending on what type of race it is. And then you get back to the dock and you get to celebrate making it through this race after you safely get your equipment back. We know as coxswains, we have to be on the whole time until that boat is back on the rack … on the trailer … wherever it's supposed to go. And then don't forget to take some time to celebrate whatever your crew achieved - commiserate lessons learned for next time - whatever is appropriate at the end of your race. You've done it.
SALLY: Breana, would you mind coxing my boat back up to the dock? I picked up another race and we're hot seating off.
BREANA: Again, Sally?
SALLY: I gotta go. So many races. So little time.
BREANA: So while Sally goes out for another race, I will …
SALLY: I see the finish line.
BREANA: I will take over recapping today's episode for us. So we finally, finally got out there for the exciting part of a sprint race after a couple of prior episodes talking about preparation, getting yourself to the marshalling area, getting yourself into that all-important stake boat (if your race has those). And then we got to finally go out for the race. So we talked about a few considerations for those moments right before the start for us to be prepared for as coxswains. We talked about some different starting sequences and considerations you might be making there. We talked about some early race strategy for how to note how your race plan is playing out and possibly make adjustments there. And then we covered those mid-race scenarios you might find yourself in - of being way ahead of the pack … congratulations - being in the middle of the pack or being towards the back of the pack and having to manage that. And then after talking a little bit about sprinting it out to the finish, we covered some situations that it's good to be aware of so that you're prepared as a coxswain.
ANNE: And that includes what you do after you cross the finish line. Don't forget that important part, too. And how about if we move now to our Quick Pick?
BREANA: For our Quick Pick, we are highlighting fully buoyed lanes.
ANNE: Yay, yay, yay.
BREANA: We love these as coxswains.
SALLY: And not just buoyed on one side. Not just buoyed on one side.
BREANA: Yes, fully buoyed.
SALLY: I don't want to share a lane with anybody.
BREANA: That's actually a very difficult situation.
ANNE: Oh gosh, that is.
BREANA: So we love a fully buoyed lane and bonus points if there's any sort of distance marker along your course … any kind of color change of the buoys … something to support us in having a great race.
ANNE: Yay for those. Yay. Yay.
SALLY: We're going to take advantage of the fact that you're still on the water and use you as our Shoutout, Sally.
ANNE: I agree 100%. Let's shout out to Sally this time, Breana. It's just incredible working with Sally. I know that from my perspective, she brings excellence and experience combined. The stories that some of you get to hear … as well as the ones that only Breana and I get to hear … are remarkable and born out of years and years of experience. I’ve learned so much from you and I know that I will learn more in the future.
BREANA: Absolutely. CoxPod would not be the same without Sally. It would not be what it is. She really brings something that I’m sure - as listeners - you're able to appreciate that is so unique and just a different perspective on things. A genuine enthusiasm for every aspect of this sport honed over years and years of practice and experience, as you said, Anne. And we are so grateful for Sally's contributions to what we have going on here that is shared with everyone (as Anne said) and then also (again) our personal conversations. I am a much stronger coxswain for the conversations I’ve had with you, Sally, and the guidance that I’ve gotten from you. So thank you for everything that you bring to all of these arenas.
ANNE: Yes - I love how she's squirming, too. This is kind of making me feel a little happy inside. So yes. What we said just begins to describe our admiration for Sally but we'll leave it there for now. And as we finish up this episode …
SALLY: Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I get to ….
BREANA: There’s no rebuttal.
SALLY: Thank you. And Charles Darwin said that the measure of a person is their friends. So I want to thank both of you and just know that I wouldn't be the person I am or the cox and I am without both of you. So now you can continue I just have to get my ? worth as I’m running to another race I just picked up.
ANNE: There she goes. So as we finish up this episode, we do want to thank you for listening. We invite you to engage with us on social media and join the discussion on Slack. If you like what we're doing, please consider financially supporting us on Patreon. We're 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.