On Sunday, I will finish my last class with Capital Rowing Club’s Learn to Row program. Can you believe it? I can’t – honestly, where did the time go. When I look back over the other posts I’ve shared about my experience, it seems unreal how far we’ve come in just a few weekends. We started off floundering in big, bulky barges and now we’re learning to feather our oars and row as an eight person team. It has been a total blast and I am sad our weekends together are coming to a close.
How cool is this photo one of the coaches took with the panorama feature? It looks like a time lapse of us lifting the boat overhead to walk it down to the dock.
Most of us are feeling more comfortable with getting the boats on the water and ready to row. This includes opening and closing the oar locks, putting the oars in (the right way!), and adjusting the foot stretchers. We’re not fast by any means, but we’re definitely more efficient than we were when we started.
Although, I have to admit, getting into the boat is still not my strong suit. Check out exhibit A in the lower right hand corner. I’m obviously poised for something, but I’m not sure it’s a graceful landing.
Once in, we gave the boat a shove and we were off for our penultimate practice. The man in blue serving as our coxswain was a more experienced rower on the CRC team, and it was great to have his knowledge on board. He was really able to help us focus on keeping our form and composure throughout the practice – reminders we desperately needed as the boat started to pitch and bob when we tried rowing together, eight at a time.
This practice was one of the hardest yet, for two main reasons. One: we began rowing “by eights,” meaning everyone in the boat rows together at the same time. The more rowers rowing at once, the more unstable the boat can become. There were a few white knuckle moments. You get the picture. Two: we also added in “feathering,” which is a word to describe a flicking motion with the oars to help them travel more smoothly through the stroke. Doesn’t sound like much, but it has to be done exactly in sync with the rest of the boat and it has to be done just so…or else your oar gets stuck under water. No beuno.
While it was a rocky practice trying to tie everything together, I still can’t complain about being out on the water in the sunshine. Seriously. We rowed past the Navy Yard, the baseball stadium, and waved at the cyclists at Hains Point. It was a beautiful day and enormously fun. I’m looking forward to celebrating our little group’s “graduation” on Sunday and hear more about ways to stay connected with CRC as part of a regular program.
Here’s a short video of our boats working on feathering and rowing by eights. What do you think?
In the eight months I’ve been fit crashing, very rarely have I done any workout twice. With so many gyms and classes to crash, I didn’t feel like I had the time or luxury to sign up for a whole boot camp session or buy a 10-class pack at a spin studio. I thought it would make the content on the blog less diverse and perhaps less interesting. Boring even. This discussion is something I’d like to explore in more depth at another time, but the point I’d like to make today is that I decided to take my chances when I signed up for the six-week Learn to Row program at Capital Rowing Club.
And I’m so glad I did.
While crashing a crossfit class here and a jazzercise class there is fun, I wasn’t sustaining any level of fitness. I was “crashing” – jumping in and holding on by the skin of my teeth, trying to keep up and enjoy the ride. And I have!
But a part of me missed the routine, the feeling of making improvements, of watching new muscles form and new skills develop. Feeling part of a team and the camraderie of sore muscles, hard practices, and sweat. While only a few weeks long with a few more to go, I have truly enjoyed hitting “reset” with CRC and reconnecting with many of the things I love so much about sport.
That said – here’s my second update from class (including a VIDEO!). To read the first recap, click here.
Learn to Row class is like a lego set. You learn something one day, and the very next you build on it. And then you keep building and building until you see your Millennium Falcon (or the fictional lego creation of your choice) begin to take shape. And then you start to get really excited and want to build the entire fleet. That’s the best way I can describe my experience so far. In weekends two and three, we did more erging, but began to do precision drills and sets based on stroke rate. In other words, it began to feel like the real deal.
Building on the what we learned about the boats the first weekend, we then started to break big parts down into pieces and get familiar with every little nut and bolt. Literally. We practiced popping rigger spacers in and out, taking riggers on and off the boat, adjusting the foot stretchers, and ever so gently putting the boats back into the boathouse. I still feel like I need to write notes on my arm to remember all of the terms (port? starboard? stern? bow? weigh enough?)…hopefully there won’t be a quiz at the end of class.
And the best part of making it past the first weekend? Rowing in a real boat! Here we are gliding ever so gracefully past the Navy Yard (oh…to have a sarcasm font. This sport is a lot harder than it looks, people!).
Things were a bit shaky as we got used to sitting in that tiny whisp of a thing. We desperately tried to learn how to “set the boat,” which in laymans terms means trying to get the boat to stop rocking for one darn second. If we’re lopsided, it’s really hard to get good strokes in and it’s also really hard not to get nervous about tipping into the Anacostia. I love water, but from what I’ve seen of this river, it wouldn’t be my first choice for taking a dip.
I went into the class thinking that once we got into the boats, practices would consist of a lot of rowing. Fast rowing, slow rowing, in-between rowing…but just plain row row row your boating all up and down the Anacostia. I am pleasntly surprised to say that I was horribly wrong. Practices on the water consist of lots of drills and instruction. This is great because it gives us a chance to translate what we learned on the erg into the boat, and we often have immediate feedback from a coxswain or coach to help us get it right.
Another thing that came as a surprise was that, while there are eight people in a boat, we don’t all row at once. At least not yet - we need a lot more practice before we do that. Sometimes only two people row, sometimes four. We tried six once but…well we weren’t quite there yet. But rowing by two or four means there are periods during practice when you get to take a breather and enjoy the scenery (win!). Here we are floating by the Nationals stadium.
Our Learn to Row class has really lucked out with the weather so far. Boats go on the water rain or shine, but each and every weekend we’ve had clear skies, brilliant sunshine, and warm(ish) temperatures. It certainly has made the hours fly by and, because the boathouse is on the very edge of the District, the class feels like a little mini vacation from the usual DC sweat scene.
I know a picture says a thousand words, but with any sport, video really tells the whole story. Here are a few snippets from one of our practices to give you a better idea of what goes on out on the river. Thanks to Coach Bob and Rachel for snapping the photos/video for me – I couldn’t do the post (in more ways than one) without their help!
I’ll have a few more posts about the Learn to Row program for you in the coming weeks. If you have any questions, leave a commment and I’ll do my best to answer!
It’s been three weeks since I last blogged about a crash and I am so excited to share what I’ve been up to. Every Saturday and Sunday in April and part of May, I am crashing the Learn to Row program with the Capital Rowing Club. I always regretted not joining the hordes of freshman who tried out for the Georgetown team in college. Mostly because I love being on the water, but also because I’m a sucker for early morning practices, endurance sports, and awkward tan lines.
Since then, every time I run, bike, or drive by the Potomac and see boats on the water, I think, “huh, that looks fun. Too bad I missed my shot.”
Well my friends…turns out I didn’t miss my shot after all.
See the chick in the white hat? The one who looks like she’s trying not to freak out about the boat tipping over into the Anacostia river? That’s me! But before I share the excitement about rowing with real oars in a real boat on a real river, let’s start at the beginning of the class.
The first weekend of class focused on two things: (1) familiarization with the boathouse and equipment and (2) learning proper rowing technique. That translates roughly into (1) learning how to not break all of the expensive things hanging in the boathouse and (2) learning to love the erg.
The first day of class, we learned all the basic ins and outs of the rowing stroke. The powerful catch, strong finish, and slow recovery. There was a lot of lingo and technique thrown at us at once, but as with anything, the best way to learn is to just do. And do we did.
We were lucky to have a volunteer coach set up his machine in front of ours so we could follow along and mimic his movements. Some of the students had never been on an erg before and were getting used to the awkward pulling/sliding/whirling of the machine. Others had some familiarity, but were learning to incorporate all of the new details. It definitely took a lot of concentration to break the stroke down and then fit the pieces back together. Let’s just say I’m three weeks into the class and still struggling to smooth things out.
For the second half of class, we each grabbed an oar and headed down to the dock. The oars are made of carbon fiber and extremely light. This is great when you have to carry a few at a time.
This is not great when holding them upright like in this picture and then a big gust of wind comes. Hilarity and panic ensued. Lesson learned!
These big, funny looking boats are called barges – the training wheel equivalent for rowers. They’re enormously stable and allow newbies like us to get a feel for being in a boat and using oars without the risk of tipping. I have to admit, I couldn’t have cared less if these weren’t real rowing boats. To actually be on the water on the first day of class was a huge win in my book. Sure we were tethered to the dock, but we were floating!
We spent the second day building off of what we learned on the first. My Learn to Row class has about 30 people in it, so we often have to break into groups and rotate stations. I started off on the erg doing some drills and practicing my technique. It was an absolutely beautiful, sunny day and I felt so lucky to be out in the fresh air and on the water.
Next, I moved down to the dock to learn now to successfully navigate a rowing shell. This included practicing how to place the oars in the oar locks (without falling into the water), figuring out where you can and cannot stand on the boat, and bending like a pretzel to delicately plop down into the seat.
The boat is much narrower than I had anticipated and lacks the stability of the barge. In other words, it rocks in the water and felt like it would tip over at any minute. So leaning across the boat to hook up the oars for the first time was something I did while holding my breath. *omgpleasedon’tflipover* And getting in that tiny boat? Well, that took mustering some nerve, closing my eyes, and praying that all the hundreds of squats I’ve done in my lifetime would somehow help me land gently into my tiny seat.
Not pictured: practicing how to get the boat out of the water and back into the boathouse. If I thought getting in and out of the boat itself was nerve wracking, this was sedation-worthy. Here we were, day two, a pack of total novices…being trusted with carrying thousands of dollars worth of equipment over our heads. Mercy me.
Day two ended with a session in the barge. This time we actually pushed off from the dock and took some real strokes. It was organized chaos as everyone tried to translate what we learned on the erg. And then we had to figure out how to do that in sync with everyone else in the boat.
Did we go very far? No, in fact, we went in circles. Did we look like complete novices and something out of a bad summer camp movie? Absolutely. But it was enormously fun and we were having a great time.
And that was our first week! It was a firehose of information, but we had a lot of time to practice and really were making strides by day two. An enormous thank you and Fit Crasher shout out to the volunteers and coaches who come out each weekend to help with the beginner rowing program. They have the patience of a saint and really take the time to teach us everything we need to know.