The World Rowing Coastal Championships. Greater Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. October 11-14, 2018
Seventeen athletes on the start list for Heat One. Only the first five across the line will qualify for the A Final. I’ve worked hard this year. I’m determined to make the cut. I feel good, ready.
It’s a dead flat calm. Horizon mountains etch glaciated distances in the peak sun afternoon sky. There’s a touch of chill in the otherwise benign weather that emerged from this morning’s race delaying fog.
Race officials call us to the beach, where we momentarily leave our boats. I receive Slot No. 10 in the start lineup that is spread along the beach. That’s a favorable start position, as it’s close to the middle of the field, giving me a decent line to the first turn while putting me in the center of action.
I’ve been at this British Columbian race site, training, for six weeks. I’m intimately familiar with this beach, its black stones and bleached driftwood. Familiarity feels good—it is brings a little stability to edgy nerves.
“Go to your boats.” Feet into cold water, oar handles placed just right. Both feet on the bottom, as directed, but one foot definitely on tiptoes, light, ready to launch into the boat.
“Go!” goes the horn. I’m confident of my beach start. In practice, I always launch from the beach. Next to me, in slot no.9, is Peter Berg from Sweden, former World Champion. He’s apparently way more confident than me as he’s off the line in a blink…as are others. I’m surprised to find I’m towards the slow end of getting going. No matter—Go!
My stroke rate redlines. My splits drop way below 4K pace. I’ve made up time lost in the start (although I don’t feel like it was my time lost, just time others had gained!). Check my speed. Check my GPS and course. Check my placement in the race. I see boats behind me. More power into the oars. I have a simple strategy centered around an unrepentant gamble to start fast and hang on. Rip it.
750 meters in, I’m still flying. I steal a look around, I’m up at the top. Off my starboard side I see defending World Champion Simone Martini from Italy, and that’s a good sight - confidence boosting. The field is starting to settle their pace, easing down from the frenzied beginning. I have an elated moment where I know I don’t need to settle my speed yet and I creep my bow into third, maybe second place.
1000 meters, Simone is breaking away, probably gunning for the turn and control of this heat. Great Britain is flying, along with another Italian boat. Sweden (Berg) is right behind me, with yet a third Italian alongside him.
Sweden surges. I surge with him. For better or worse, I want to maintain the space between us. This surge breaks both Sweden and me away from our closest competitor. I surge a second time, just for the heck of it. I want to race boldly this year, squeeze every sliver out of each moment.
Approaching the turn at 1400 meters. I’ve struggled on turns in previous years, so spent endless hours visualizing flawlessly executed turn after turn. Great Britain has the inside line and hooks around the turn. I cruise around the buoy, maintaining speed. Great Britain establishes himself in third, but I stay ahead of Sweden. Gun it down this next, shorter stretch. Too high a stroke rate. Never mind, the boat is moving fast. The leading Italians are opening more water on us, but I’m in a solid 4th. Qualifying position.
At the second turn I have to slow for a moment as I don’t want to tangle up with Great Britain, who’s in a bit too tight and stalled up. He gets around, and now it's my turn.
Positions maintain unchanged down the next long straightaway. No one slows, no one makes a move, at least as far as I can see. The boats behind me are a little off course, drifting too far inside the line. That will give me some more time come turn three, a welcomed edge. Up ahead, Simone is approaching light-speed, pulling us all into a blazing fast 4K.
The last part of the course weaves through more turns. Something settles in around 3200 meters—pain. I ignore it. Keep applying power. Pain. Round the next buoy. Pain. Final 500 meters. I have a fading grip on the oars. I feel my core collapsing, lunging into the catch. My shoulders round, strained. Enthusiastic effort from earlier in the race is bursting out now in shards of fire. I think I’m spent, and slow up some. Sweden notices, and passes me. I’m happy to be tired - it has put me in the right place. The finish line is near enough. No one else can catch me, water is still running under my hull, and the race is about done. The finish horn sounds for Sweden, then a few seconds later, for me. Made it. Top five. Qualified.
I’m not sure which feeling is stronger: joy or relief.