I’m a huge believer in having a training plan. When we are left to our own devices, we will naturally gravitate towards the sessions that we enjoy most, rather than the areas we need to work on. I have a coach called Eddie Fletcher who has been preparing me for races for a decade now and he sets me a programme that makes sense to me and that I believe in (which is crucial!). I do my best to follow it, but he (and it) allows me enough flexibility to ‘tweak’ it. Sometimes these tweaks are planned due to work or social commitments and I will move sessions around, but sometimes I have to tweak a session on the fly. Last night was a good example.
The session was supposed to be 3 x 1000m, and ideally I was looking for under 1:29.1 average. I’ve been at a work conference for a couple of days so have been on my feet non-stop and my legs felt tired and I didn’t fancy it. But because we’re so close to BRIC there is less room for flexibility than at other times so I had to give it a go.
The first one felt surprisingly fine and I thought maybe I was on for a good session. It was nicely under target and felt racey. I had felt tired but I hadn’t actually rowed the previous day so maybe I had more in the tanks than I thought. On the second interval I stopped after 400m for no apparent reason when I was ticking over ok. This is the difficult moment when things don’t go to plan – how do I salvage today’s training? Having stopped, then recovering to finish the session as planned is pretty unlikely. But the plan asked for 3 long intervals so ideally I need to complete something close to that! I worked out a strategy to get me through another km by setting little sub-targets, and off I went. It worked a treat, and it was quicker than the first.
Now comes another difficult decision – how ambitious should I be from here? Maybe I can actually complete the session under my target? Or maybe I should be conservative on the last one and I can still just hit my target? Indecision never works well for me … another random handle down after just 250m this time. I was caught between 2 targets and hit neither.
To be honest, I was happy with the 2 decent intervals at this stage but physically I was feeling ok so I thought that a nice little 750m would finish the session almost as intended. Again, I set myself little sub-targets and this interval was never in doubt. Faster than both k’s. The session ended up as:
1000m @ 1:28.6
About 400m @ 1:27 ish
1000m @ 1:28.2
About 250m @ 1:28 ish
750m @ 1:27.7
Then you have the slight disappointment that you know you could have finished the session exactly as per the programme (and it could have been very fast) with a little bit more application. But this is where you need to be compassionate with yourself. I made the session harder than it needed to be, I did almost the right amount of interval work at comfortably under target average, and I showed a bit of resolve and fight to make sure I produced a session that had meaning and I could take something from. You learn a lot from nights like that and personally I didn’t view it as a failure, and actually took confidence from it.
Probably one of the questions I get asked most is the broad topic of how someone can get their best 2k score. Now the hard work really needs to have been done in the previous months, but there are certainly ways to get the best out of yourself on that specific day, given your fitness levels at the time.
When race day is upon you, it’s a nerve-racking time whether it’s your first 2k, or your 50th. I’ve been racing at British Indoors for something like 14 years now and I’m still a bag of nerves before the race. But I’ve developed an approach over the years that works for me to give me the best opportunity to perform on the day.
Firstly, make sure you allow yourself plenty of rest in the days before. By race day, you are where you are physically, and you’re not going to improve your score with any last minute tough training. If anything, it is more likely you could make it worse if you’re fatigued for the race. A 2k isn’t an exam, and you can’t do any last minute ‘cramming’. Your last sessions should be short and sharp, with the focus on quality stroking at the required rate and split.
Ergo tests are stressful enough as it is, so do your best to get everything else about the day ‘right’ so it doesn’t add to the stress. Plan your journey to the venue, and sort out your kit, food and drink the night before. Don’t forget the little things that we all come to rely on like headphones, playlists, heart rate monitor (if you wear one for racing), etc. Think about what you need for the immediate run up to the race – any particular drinks you like, a specific final meal or snack, etc. But ultimately try and stay relaxed as best you can – it’s the same machine that you use all the time in your boat club, garage, gym, etc. Don’t let the change of surroundings phase you – it’s just you and the machine. Master that thought and the universe is yours!
To get the best erg score on any given day, have a clear simple race plan in your mind and barring disaster, stick to it. You’re not going to pull a miracle score out of nowhere, so look at your training, speak to your coach, and agree your target and keep it at the front of your mind.
My tips for race plan would be keep it simple. I go off hard for about 7 strokes and then I am looking to find my target split and sit on it until at least 1250m gone. Then depending upon how I am feeling, the race situation, etc., I will build for home 750m out or leave it to 500m out. I’ve done lots of 750m intervals so mentally just put myself in one of those sessions and find the metres really fly by. I’m not a big fan of pushes, or complicated pace or rate changes, pick a split and try to hit it stroke after stroke. Focus on the next stroke and that is all. It’s always useful to have a few mental tactics ready for when the difficult mental questions appear through the middle section. Remember key training sessions you have done, count the seconds down (I count the seconds from 1000m gone … 9 seconds per 50m is 1:30 pace), or if it gets really tough, count strokes. When you feel like stopping, ask yourself, ‘Can I do 10 more strokes?’ … the answer is almost definitely yes. Do it again if you need to. In my experience, there are only a crucial few really tough moments in a 2k and getting through a particularly challenging section can be key. What feels like an impossible task, 50m later can feel like you’re romping home. Trusting in your training is key. The more aggressive your race plan, the more you need to believe in the preparation you’ve put in. If you’re not sure what shape you are then be conservative for the first k then assess it, but your best score will come from committing from stroke 1 to stroke 200-odd, and you need to know what you are really capable of if you’re to deliver on that plan.