Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Long Row: 2007 (Epilog for the Sculler)

If you look at rowing schedules, the long rows – Head races and marathons – are scheduled late in the fall, October or November. There’s a good reason for this. The weather is cooler and safer for a long row.

This trip - 11 miles - is longer than the average Head race; most Head races are about 3 miles long. But it’s far shorter than marathon rows that are 26.2 miles long. All of these require endurance, and endurance only comes from practice and determination. There are some distinct challenges to consider when undertaking a long trip.

Sculling is a continuous, repetitive, motion mile after mile after mile. Technically it’s catch, drive, finish, recovery, catch, drive, finish, and recovery… The only rest comes during the recovery and this doesn’t last very long. So heat buildup and fatigue can be a problem.

Weather is always a concern for this trip. I sculled this route first in 2005 on Veteran’s Day in a light drizzle. It was a little cool – I found out afterwards that it was 46F - but almost perfect for sculling a long distance. Not much chance of overheating. But it was important to dress for it. I wore long tights, which kept my leg muscles from cooling down too much. I wore layers on top: a T-shirt, a long-sleeved synthetic top and a sleeveless fleece vest. Since this was my first trip on this route and it was my first venture through the sunken forest, I wore a personal floatation device as well. The weather didn’t clear up during the trip and became windy through the last section so temperature didn’t become an issue. I didn’t notice the cold or the drizzle because I was insulated from it. The most unpleasant part of the trip, temperature-wise, was the trip back to the boat ramp on the pontoon boat.

In 2006, I moved the trip forward to late October. This was cool, also fine for sculling but still too cold on the pontoon boat on the trip back up the lake.

So this year, I decided to make the trip earlier in early October mainly so that the trip back to the boat ramp would be somewhat more pleasant. The weather prediction was for scattered showers; high temperatures in the low 80sF, and an ENE wind of 10 mph. Temperatures in the low 80sF are not a problem particularly if it is cloudy. Since I row the east shore of the lake, I knew I would not have to contend with windy conditions. So it seemed that the conditions would be good. I would be able to make the trip in shorts and a T-shirt.

As we arrived at the lake, however, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Sun is a distinct problem for me for long-distance rowing; I absorb a lot of heat from the sun and tend to overheat. To add insult to injury, the atmosphere was also quite humid, much more so than I had expected. I could have wished for a breeze from the west. The only relief from the heat and humidity came when I passed across the mouth of an inlet. I would get a couple of minutes of breeze that would cool me a little – then back into the humidity. As I crossed the lake to the GA-44 bridge, it had clouded up and there was quite a breeze from the inlet to the east. But once under the bridge it was humid again.

I guess it’s a little like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Either too hot or too cold – not very often, just right!

I don’t row for speed but for distance; it’s different if you’re racing. One of the secrets to successfully complete a long row is to pace oneself. Too much energy expended at the outset results in not enough energy at the end. Good technique is important, minimizing unnecessary energy output. I always adopt a slow stroke rate and make sure that my legs are doing the work, avoiding unnecessary strain on the lower back and using my arms too much. This helps to maximize the distance I can row and minimize injury.

The one challenge that is difficult to overcome is the fact that the sculler is a prisoner of the scull. You can’t get off and stretch, take a break. Well if can if you want to or there’s a place to do. But once I row under the railway bridge at the beginning of the row, there are only a couple of easy places to land and before I reach the end of the route. And I’m not ready for a break when I pass them. It’s not easy to shift on the seat so my rear end become quite uncomfortable after about 10 miles. I’ve tried some padding but it becomes almost as hard from compression after a while. Really need to try something that has some give. A slightly inflatable seat pad that has some gives over a long period of time. Is there such a thing?

My hands are the other victims of this row. And no, I don’t grip the oar handles; I hook my fingers loosely over the handles as we are taught. I do have calluses, however, from sculling week after week and have a tendency to develop blisters by compressing softer skin against them with the prolonged sculling. I have tried using gloves but don’t like the lack of feel with them. Maybe some tape next time. Any other ideas?

Other supplies that is essential for the trip. These include a wide-billed cap or hat; sunglasses, sunscreen (SPF-15 or greater and applied liberally, particularly on the nose and ears), plenty of water (obviously more than one bottle unless you have a convenient escort boat), snacks.

As I was preparing for the trip this year, I often thought of Roz Savages recent adventures attempting to row the Pacific Ocean. I’m an avid follower of her efforts. Knowing the challenge of just rowing 11 miles in one trip, I am in awe of her goal to row from California to Australia even if she does plan to take a break in Hawaii. While I would love to take a really long sculling trip, I can’t quite imagine rowing 12 hours a day, day after day.

I do know that there is one area in which I can beat Roz hands down though. On her recent attempt to row the Pacific Ocean, it was Day 8 before she talked about “wondering what she was doing out there.” Well Roz, I can top that. I was wondering what I was doing out there within 30 minutes of leaving the boat ramp. :-)

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