Corvallis to Portland Row (CPR): Part 3

In the previous CPR post, I alluded to some of the "investment" that some of us have made in this 115-mile rowing event. I'm speaking of the training, of course, but also the time and energy ascertaining better ways to:
  • prepare oneself physiologically (train long distance all the time?)
  • rig a boat for a long-distance row
  • replenish nutrients and liquids
  • deal with banal aspects like relieving oneself. 

There is the investment in time of mapping the course, setting up the GPS points, attaching hardware to your boat like bottle cages and the GPS mount. There are many little things like scrounging up a spare skeg, duct tape, first-aid kits, spare gloves, sunscreen and various types of food (it's easy to suffer from food fatigue in a long event). There is the small matter of committing to memory many of the hazards mentioned in the previous post. So, for all this effort what does one get out of CPR?

With all due respect to Bill Byrd and Tiff Wood, the medals (see below) are not the reason why people train for and row Corvallis to Portland, despite what the CPR web site says. Below is my take on why I do it and how I train for it, not necessarily in that order.

Robert, Corinne and myself sporting our CPR doorstops medals.

Feel the Earth Move
Both my wife and I have been training for the 2011 CPR for some time. I've been training for this event pretty much since October 2009 and she's been training for at least the last 6 months. Of course, many years of rowing (and other sports) and competitions have preceded these particular efforts, so it's really a training continuum. If you think of a training log as a seismograph, then our CPR training would register as a sustained Richter rumble, but only barely distinguishable from the surrounding training noise.

Past Results Don't Guarantee Future Returns
Beth has completed CPR twice, once in a double (2007) and another time in a quad (2008). I rowed in the 2007 CPR, but lasted only 85 miles as wrist pain and swelling prevented me from being able to feather my oars effectively. I'm better prepared this time around and my body seems to endure the stresses better.

How Do You Train For a 115 Mile Row?
The answer to that is not clear.  Many of my training queues come from my ultra-running friends:
  • Frequent: 4-6 times a week, but also lots of rest days
  • Continuous: there is no off-season
  • Long distance: up to 45km at a time, with frequent 25-35km efforts and seldom less than 20km.
I briefly did some shorter, harder efforts (4 x 1200 meter intervals) prior to the Covered Bridge Regatta. I also briefly did some 2 x 20 minute intervals prior to the Open Ocean Regatta. There is some research to suggest that these more intense efforts might boost mitochondrial- and capillary density, both of which might help in a long-distance row. Still, 95+% of my training has been of the slow, steady variety. I average about 2:30/500m and just plug along. Lately, I have been rowing a little faster pace and that might be fitness or it might be smoother water. Sometimes I speed up to chase down a friend, just so I can have someone to talk to.

I have made sure to experience two consecutive days of longish training bouts so I can see what I will feel like on the second day. So, I might row for 4 hours one-day and 2 the next. I have had no problems with these efforts. No back pain, no wrist swelling, no knee discomfort and only a mildly sore posterior. Often I get off the water, feeling like I could keep on rowing. That's a good thing, since those rows are a small fraction of what I would have to row in the first day of CPR.

I consider eating, drinking and resting as part of the whole training scheme. I try to make sure that I eat a fair amount during my longer workouts, if for no other reason than to get used to it when I row in CPR. I also try to consume lots of carbs immediately after my longer workouts, per information I learned in writing this post. Still, I have been losing weight and I didn't have a lot of weight to lose. Yes, I'm eating a lot of protein too, but I may not be getting enough fat(?).

How Do You Rig For a 115-Mile Row?
I've spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating this and futzing with my foot stretcher height and angle, my catch angle, inboard and outboard oar length, my stroke rate, my upper-body position etc.

I consulted various folks and the following, among others, responded: Rob Slocum, Valery Kleshnev, Stephen Seiler, William Atkinson, and Carl Douglas. I was surprised by many of their answers:

Person Rigging Advice Stroke rate advice Quotes
Rob Slocum Would probably go lighter than when he previously rowed CPR 20-23 "I put vaseline on my hands and then put the batting gloves over them. No blisters. Redo the vaseline at each stop. I did a mileage binge for forty days or so leading up to CPR. Like 1000k on erg/water, something like that. Wow. It boggles my mind to think of it."
 Valerie Kleshev "longer catch angles" "I’ve never measured or studied marathon rowing. If someone would be able to give complete advice in this case, many coaches would lose their jobs." (!)
William Atkinson higher gearing
"maximize catch bow angle"
"Increase the outboard.
By all means use a big blade."
low stroke rates "strong pull/low rating vs. lighter pull/higher rating" (!!)
Stephen Seiler "I really dont think the gearing (oar outboard length) will make that much difference. Your own stroke rate choices are more important by far. So, I probably didn't tell you anything revolutionary, but my vote is for a relatively low rate." "My philosphy is that when rowing with the wind or with the current, you use lower stroke rates and let the extra run of the boat work for you. I also think that rowing at a lower rate will actually protect your back because it will add up to hundreds of saved strokes over the course of the many hours of rowing in front of you." "In long races like this, you have to use the wind and stream to your advantage and search for the best conditions on the river all along the way. Also, dont be fooled into rowing too hard in the first hour or two. Whatever gains you might make then will be lost many times over between hours 3 and 10."
Carl Douglas "A slight shortening of the stroke can be as, or more effective than, changing oar gearing, since what you clip off the ends of the stroke will be just those parts which are most severely geared. You don't need more than a smidgen of shortening to significantly ease your effective gearing." "I agree completely ... about easy gearing & maintaining the rate - just spin it along." "Sustainable steady-state force application falls exponentially with planned distance. Power output also reduces, but you can maximise the work you usefully do if you re-shape your technique & loadings to increase pulling time (= time in the water). This will come if you keep the load light but waste no time between strokes - do not treat the recovery as personal recovery time.
Final thought - be comfortable. Check you are comfortable with your equipment over longish training distances & make all changes necessary to achieve comfort since bits of you will have all sorts of problems if how you sit or what you do causes them local pain that's not directly related to boat moving."

After experimentation, I found myself agreeing with Carl Douglas on virtually every account.

For sprint racing, e.g., the Covered Bridge Regatta, I set myself up further into stern relative to the pins, so that my catch angle was fairly steep. I set the shoes relatively high and the shoe angle relatively steep. I found this arrangement unsustainable for longer rows (20+ km), day after day. My ribs, shoulders and lats didn't agree with this set-up. Even my abs complained.

For distance rowing, I "relaxed" the settings on everything: I lowered shoes, lowered the foot stretcher angle, reduced the catch angle by moving the foot stretchers toward the bow a few notches. My oar length--285 cm--actually increased 1 cm from 284. I've been rowing relatively upright, with almost no forward lean (from the hips) at the catch and almost no layback at the finish. The why of all this is a potentially long discussion, but it all seems to result in reduced perceived load and I can sustain a stroke rate between 22 and 25 with little threat of feeling over-geared. I'm sure I am sacrificing some stroke length, catch angle, and optimal power application for sustained comfort, but that seems like a prudent goal for an event that might take 12-13 hours.

I briefly had some wrist discomfort, but that seemed to go away after rowing less rough water and frequent icing and vitamin I (-buprofen).

The only thing that has bothered me much at all through this training is a recent coccyx (tailbone) discomfort. This may be related to my weight loss. I seem to have an increasingly bony ass. I'm now experimenting with a seat pad.

I think it was Napoleon Bonaparte who said "It is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous." That may apply here. What I find, though, is that the more I prepare, the closer I stay to the sublime. To not prepare, on the other hand, would lead to the ridiculous.

Are we freaking done yet?

The longer the training, the more I seem to enjoy it. Often, it takes 5 or 10 k just to get comfortable, but then I get into a nice groove. The rhythm of long rows leads to an almost mindless state, a type of mental floss if you will, cleaning out the cerebral plaque of everyday living. Stroke after stroke, meter after meter, kilometer after kilometer. When I start rowing, I usually contemplate the day's non-rowing goals--things I want to get done--but after a few "klicks" I stop thinking too much and I get into a pleasant state of conscious semi-trance: I'm alert, but not trying to volitionally process anything. It's as if the meta-awareness part of me is turned off and only the animal part of me is left. My mind becomes like my heart and lungs, functioning autonomically. I'm aware of where I am and what I am doing and not a whole lot else. This is when the miles fly by and nothing much happens: sometimes, the mundane is the sublime.

Not that my rowing surroundings are boring, mind you. On a typical training day I see bald eagles, great blue herons, osprey, geese and their goslings, and fish jumping out of the water. I see coyotes, foxes, llamas, horses and cows on the lake shore. I have seen deer swimming across the lake, not that deer are rare around here, but seeing them paddling is a bit unusual.

Occasionally I'll see a tandem duo of bald eagles dive-bombing ducks. This is wildly entertaining if slightly gruesome.

Every once in awhile fighter jets from a nearby airbase will come screaming seemingly just above the water in some kind of Top-Gun chase scene. That puts the adrenaline in overdrive.

Local firefighter helicopters train for future fires by sucking water out of Emigrant Lake and then dumping it again. Imagine a huge insect with a gigantic proboscis dipping into the water and then letting it loose a few minutes later.

I've seen seaplanes land and take-off and jetboats send up 30-foot high plumes of water.

Occasionally I will see other rowers narrowly missing each other, but I'm more worried about the fishermen trolling with their eyes on the screens of their Bass-o-matic fish finders. Colliding with a fishing boat can harsh your mellow.

What does my local rowing experience have to do with CPR? Well, I had better enjoy the local rowing because I'm going to do a lot of it. The time I spend rowing each week might be the same amount of time I spend rowing at CPR. Add up all the training weeks and hours and you realize that the actual event time is a small fraction of the training time.

I train because I enjoy it. I'm not doing it for the fitness and only secondarily for the racing. The race is certainly a big part of this endeavor and more than just icing on the cake. I have to remind myself that the race is not the whole goal, though when the race seems likely to be nixed, this is hard to stomach. Still there is intrinsic value to the training itself. The race may be the big goal but it helps sustain the training which is the other goal.

I will be depressed if this year's CPR regatta is canceled. It would be like training for the Western States 100-miler the year California fires prevented it from happening. Except in my case it will be like missing two consecutive Western States: last year's CPR was scratched and this one appears likely to be. And, while there is only one Western States, there are plenty of other ultra-marathons. There is no other fresh water distance race like CPR anywhere in this country and maybe not anywhere.

No comments: