Build up to race pace

rowing eights, masters rowing new zealand,

Looking for the right training recipe to boost your results this year? Race pace workouts are a key ingredient for boat speed. Your conditioning is going to improve through the season. In the early weeks develop a solid base of fitness and technique where you stick to lower intensity workouts until you feel your technique will tolerate nudging up the rates. For practical purposes, let’s define race effort as the best pace you can row while maintaining your technique, efficiency, and boat feel. 

The key to rowing race simulation workouts is to focus on the race effort versus the pace (rate). Trying to push the rate too high too quickly at the beginning of the season can cause overtraining, fatigue, and be deadly to your technique efficiency. Plus, early in the season, it may be difficult to know exactly what your race pace will be for your peak regatta. So row according to how your body and boat feels. Keep it “comfortably hard” with good rhythm, bladework, and run. If your slide catches on fire and your stroke gets ragged you need to gather your technique back together and pay attention to moving the boat well before trying those higher rates again a few days later.

How to learn race rate

Begin by adding “speed play” sessions into your weekly programme. Speed play includes short bursts of 10 to 20 strokes at race intensity interspersed within a lower stroke rate row. 

For example, row three 20-minute pieces at a base stroke rate of 18; every four to five minutes include an acceleration of 10 to 20 strokes at the best pace you can row while maintaining good technique. 

Next, you can include a session with more structured high-rate strokes such as three 20-minute pieces with the first 10 minutes rowed at a base stroke rate of 20-22 and the second 10 minutes rowed alternating 10 strokes at race effort then 10 strokes at your base rate. Pay attention to keeping a sharp rhythm and bladework when you make the rate transitions. 

The next stage is to include longer segments so build up to three 20-minute pieces that alternate four minutes at a base stroke rate 18 to 22 with one minute at your best rating. When you feel you are ready for longer intervals start to progress the length and rates of your race pace sessions. Your body will naturally adapt over time as will your rating and boat speed.

Tell us what ratings work best for your crew and share on our Facebook page


Marlene Royle

Ageless Improvement

perfect bladework, quad oars, rowing oar splash symmetry

As the age-groups roll by, your ability to simply rack up more miles on the river is not an option. Workout time is at a premium. Post-exercise recovery is a force to be reckoned with. So to keep getting faster with your schedule and available energy what’s an aging rower to do? 

The best strategy is to continue to get coaching and perfect your stroke

perfect bladework, quad oars, rowing oar splash symmetry

If your physical training stays on par, you will likely gain more boat speed by investing an hour in your technique versus two more hours at the gym. After all, technique improvement has no age limit. If you can pick up another meter per second by not missing water that is going to be evident when chasing down your mates next season. Incorporate technique work into your training on the water every practice so there is no need to increase your training volume – simply put more attention to your form.

In the boat focus on the following points

Protection of your joint and spine is the best resilience against injury. This means power through posture, a neutral spine favours leverage. Hinge at the hip to set body angle versus flexing through your back. Use your core. Activated glutes give you suspension during the drive and prevent collapse in the lumbar spine. Engaged lats stabilize your mid-back and shoulder blades to help sustain your swing and protect your ribs. 

Your goal is to stick to the correct sequencing of the stroke without compensation regardless of your range of motion. Maximize your stroke length through a stable body position and your rigging. Avoid extreme body positions. Perfect your bladework: entry, release, feather, square and be conscious of preserving momentum and speed and run on the recovery. Strive to keep your motions as smooth as possible and always row to your potential. 

Advice to the new sculler

woman 1x, masters rowing regatta,

Missing buoys, steering off course, falling out of your boat, being late to the start, rushing the slide, or stopping too soon before the finish line are only a few of those rookie mistakes common to the new competitive sculler. 

The skills of racing a single scull take time to develop because it is a delicate combination of fitness, technique, mental preparation, tactics, and navigation. If you are new to competitive sculling it is reasonable to expect that it will take three seasons to start having consistent performances. Patience is a requirement. The peaks and valleys of your learning curve are normal. Although you may want to win right away, an internal focus on self-improvement will translate into greater external results in both the short and medium term. 

3 Recommendations for you to try

Here are some suggestions to help you stay on track as you pursue your career in the single scull. woman 1x, masters rowing regatta,

Fitness forms the base of the pyramid to build your technique and mental skills. 

  1. If your sculling technique is not at a level that you can apply power effectively you should use land exercise to get and stay fit while you are in the early learning stages. Progress towards more time in the boat but continue to supplement your sculling with cross-training until you can get a good solid workout in the single.
  2. Technique will develop in stages and the experience of one season in the boat contributes to the next. First, establish your stability, then bladework, followed by power application, and racing skills at varied stroke rates. Consider full pressure as the best pressure you can row while maintaining good technique. Make drills a regular part of your warm-up and get as much coaching as you can during the early stages of your career by taking lessons, getting videoed or going to a camp.
  3. Competition is where you have to synthesise the skills you have accumulated to date. A prerequisite for a good race is steering. Learn to steer. Concentrate on one stroke at a time and aim for efficiency each stroke rather than watching your split. After your event, spend some time evaluating it. Write down 10 points you need to work on and 10 points that you did better than last time.

Progress may not feel linear – but remember as you learn new things you will be constantly pushing yourself to new achievements. It’s like walking up stairs, if you find you have gone a step too far and cannot sustain your pace or your technique falters, go back down one step, re-establish your technique and then try again.

Rowing friends in other places

You might have noticed in last month’s newsletter a photograph of me with my new friends from Piermont Rowing Club on the Hudson River in New York. Rebecca has prevailed on me to write a bit more about my experience.

We have family – including a grand daughter – who have lived in New York City for some years, so we have become regular visitors. Over the years made some rowing friends associated with the Traditional Small Craft Association in Connecticut. One summer with my friend Bill from there I rowed the Blackburn Challenge, a 26 mile ocean race around Cape Ann in Massachusetts, in a fixed seat double. Another summer he and I built a fixed seat single, then (with another boat) did a rowing camping cruise in the Adirondack Mountains, Saint Lawrence River, and Lake Champlain. Good times.

Now I’m a Masters rower. On previous trips I have contacted clubs directly to ask if they host guest rowers, with little success. This time I posted on Masters Rowing International Facebook group where I got half a dozen replies and discovered, curiously, that very little rowing occurs in New York City. It was people from clubs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York who responded. 

Converting a response into an outing proved to be something of a challenge. Partly because my plans depended on friends and family’s plans; partly because rowing clubs are often hard to get to. They can be out of the way and not close to public transport, and rowing tends to happen early in the day, or late. Lacking local knowledge and a car it was hard to work out how to get there. 

Two people came to the rescue. The first was Bill who now lives in Delaware. He drove me 30 minutes to the Wilmington Rowing Center, just across the border in Pennsylvania. He generously (and patiently) waited through the two-hour process of going for a row in one of three eights. The second was my new friend Vince from the Piermont Rowing Club who told me the easy way to travel by train, then he drove across the Hudson to Tarrytown to meet me, and dropped me back at the end.

The row, Wilmington RC

I learned this about being a host: somebody at the host club needs to be persistent, responsive, and helpful. At Wilmington it was Karen Walsh who responded enthusiastically, offered opportunities and made it happen; Vince performed same role at Piermont, in addition to the taxi service.  It made me think about how we can better host visiting rowers who come to Petone Rowing Club.

Being around different rowing clubs is always interesting, more so when they are in a different country. Both the clubs I visited were Masters clubs, and at Wilmington they ran two school programs as revenue earners. People with whom I rowed were at various places around the middle of the continuum between dedicated racer and enthusiastic explorer.  At both clubs the people were lovely, enthusiastic and welcoming. Also curious about rowing in New Zealand and surprised that we row all year.  Both clubs use the terms ‘port’ and ’starboard’, which is a long-term boatie, makes more sense than the terms we commonly use.  At Piermont were delighted to note that, in common with Petone PC, their initials are PRC and colour is fluoro yellow.  A difference is that they eliminate the issues of looking after an elderly boathouse by not having one!

It was also great to row on different (and famous) water. The Christiania River at Wilmington wound for 10 km through the city and beyond, starting amongst derelict factories and railway bridges, ending in some marvellous marsh country with birdlife on one side, Interstate on the other.  The Hudson River is 3 miles across with the Mario Cuomo bridge dominating the scene, it is tidal, and as someone pointed out, has been used for navigation for maybe 10,000 years.

I’m wondering how many other New Zealand Masters rowers have had experiences of rowing informally and other countries. It would be great to hear some more stories in this newsletter.

Nga mihi

John Hitchcock, Petone Rowing Club

How to manage your training as a masters rower with kids

There are five core considerations when you want to row or work out but have family commitments.  These are:

  1. Times of day to train
  2. Partner support
  3. Finding a crew who understands
  4. Ergometer (rowing machine) training versus water training
  5. Racing and regattas

Times of day is an essential consideration – children are active at different times at different ages.  While they are young, an afternoon nap may give you time to train and when they are older, they won’t be getting out of bed early and so your training time can be shifted.  Look at your schedule and the children’s “normal” waking and sleeping patterns to see if there are some gaps for you to exploit.

A supportive partner is the BEST.  Without them it is truly hard to row while you are raising a family.  I am not going to discuss details here but having something each of you can do for yourself separate from the family is your goal.  Talk it through.  Our club had a rowing couple who took turns to row first while the other looked after their toddler upstairs in the rowing club – then they switched places. 

Your regular rowing crew mates are also a fabulous resource.  You may have a group of five or six people who train together and maybe you decide to take turns doing child minding for the whole group (upstairs in the rowing club or a nearby park) while the others go rowing.  There are also the possibilities of sharing grandparent, nannys, nursery care as a crew.

Erg is often second best compared to water training.  But remember some training is usually better than no training.  Can you sneak 40 minutes on the erg?  A comparable session would be 90 minutes  on the water because you have to drive to the river and wash / dry your boat and drive home afterwards.  Short intensity sessions can be easily done on ergs, bikes or by running.  One Mum told us she took the erg in the car to her children’s swimming practice and assembled it for use in the car park while they were training!  That’s dedication.

Racing and regattas are special.  And to be honest, if you are competing it is very hard to also mind children.  Try to bring a partner or friend / relative with you to the regatta so you can easily switch from Dad to Athlete mode without having to run round finding someone to child mind from your team because your race got delayed.

Read our list of other top tips for you to try on the Faster Masters website 

Additional resources

These top tips were supplied by members of the Masters Rowing International Facebook group Thanks to them all. 

  • Alessandra Novak – be gentle with yourself
  • Margot Mayor – Rowing is a mistress that never has enough
  • Guillermo de las Casas – training erg at home, Waterrowers make less noise
  • Cristin Flynn – forgive each other in the crew when we miss sessions
  • Natalie Dustman – ask the coach about flexible outings and check out online coaching
  • Taya di Angelo – at regattas use the power of the rowing village while you’re on the water to mind the children
  • Catharine Saarvela – Irvine is a coach and she connects juniors to masters as babysitters and co-ordinates outing times to facilitate
  • Karen Stryker – bring your child to the club as a cox
  • Anne Buckingham – be willing to race with anyone
  • Cynthia de Joux – take the kids to regattas on the promise of fun things to do on the way home like water parks and ice cream
  • Mike Victorsen – I multi-task having an erg in the spare room, I watch rowing videos instead of TV and put the wine back in the fridge more often.
  • Shelagh Tubby – my erg lived in the car boot and I trained in swimming pool car parks while my kids were training in the poo

Article supplied by Faster Masters Rowing.

John Parnell’s rowing man-cave

The big green thing is an old winch that I restored from a rusty old heap of steel found in a corner of the shed.

The other photo includes the “John Barton” Stampfli doubles, given to me by West End. Frank and Alf Hansen of Norway won gold in it at the 1978 World Champs. Then sold to West End and used by Tony Hurt and John White who won about 5 Redcoat titles in the boat, coached by my Dad (Wally Parnell). Boat was named after my father’s rowing mate in the 30s and 40s, Johnnie Barton. I was named after John.

The other boat is my Swift coastal singles which I’m trying to make use of in between replacing piles underneath the boatshed.

The boats on the racks are at various stages of repair for the Otago Rowing Club

Insider there’s plenty of room
Eva Hofmans helping paint my flagpole.
The winch
Close up of the flag and stampfli double
The boathouse from the water