Crossfit Blog

My C.R.A.S.H.-B. Experience

in by Coach Poach

This past Sunday, staple of the 6:30am class, Katie D, competed up in Boston at CRASH B rowing compeition. She did a write up of her experience and wanted to share with all of you. Hope you enjoy, and congratulations, Katie!


The C.R.A.S.H.-B. ("Charles River All Star Has-Beens") Sprints World Indoor Rowing Championship is held in Boston every February and is currently staged at BU's Agganis Arena. Unfortunately, this year they picked a rough day for commuting in from southern CT and back. With the constant sleet/snow and the usual maniacal drivers on the road, it took us 3.5 hrs to get to the arena Sunday morning and a whopping 5 hrs to get home afterward -- all told, a 13-hr day for less than 8 min of actual racing.

I've been working toward the C.R.A.S.H.-B.'s for several months. Throughout the month of December I put in more than 7 hours of supplemental rowing at CFNH to complete the 100,000m Holiday Challenge. Then, starting in January, I stayed after the WOD for 20 min every day to row the Concept2 Short Workout of the Day, no matter how gassed I felt after the previous hour of Poach's (or Poz's, or whoever else happened to be to blame) cruel programming. Training has taken a lot of time and effort, but it's also been incredibly rewarding to track my improvements over that time: I record every workout in my ratty red pen and paper notebook in addition to maintaining electronic data on my Concept2 Logcard.

The event itself was massive. About 2100 rowers total were registered for the day; my division, Master's Heavyweight Women, had 51 registered competitors. It was fun walking around the upper floor of the arena before my event and getting a glimpse into the world of crew racing. Vendors were selling international rowing suits; t-shirts with crew jargon; specialized handle grips for Concept2 rowing machines; even custom footplate clips designed to work like bike shoes. Among my fellow athletes, the younger crowd skewed heavily toward active crew team members: the juniors division consisted almost exclusively of tall teenagers clad in unitard-style rowing uniforms in school colors. The masters division (age 30-39) and up had more newcomers to rowing, with maybe half the field wearing rowing skins and the other half in tank tops and shorts, often bearing CrossFit logos. I didn't stay to watch the open division at the end of the day, but from what I could tell that group was somewhere in between, with a majority of current/former crew racers but still some representation from the CrossFit set.

The event organizers had thoughtfully placed large and small trash cans around the perimeter of the floor. I assume this comes from years of experience hosting the event, because my god I was NOT prepared for the amount of vomiting that happened. I didn't witness any women vomiting, but after every single men's heat I watched there was at least one athlete -- and in one case four at once -- bent over the nearest trash can emptying his stomach.

Naturally there was plenty of sweat and spit flying through the air from both rowers and enthusiastic coxswains. But to make matters worse, when I got to my assigned erg before my heat began, the rail was spattered with blood(!) from the previous competitor. No idea what went wrong during his race for that to happen, but thankfully the volunteer in my section wiped everything down with disinfectant before I took a seat.

I saw a few competitors strap in to their rowers barefoot. I understand the need for comfort and consistency between training and competition, but going shoe-free was an awfully bold move at this race considering the abundance of tracked-in dirt, snow, and bodily fluids decorating the competition floor. I was quite happy to be wearing my regular crosstrainers (Inov-8 Bare-XF 210s for the footwear nerds out there).

At check-in you're given your athlete card, required for entrance to the competition floor, and a guest ticket for your coxswain. Unfortunately Carla O'Brien -- who was a huge source of coaching, support and encouragement all winter -- wasn't able to come cox for me, so I brought my partner Joey in to cheer me on. He's not a rower or a crossfitter, but as a vocal fitness nerd and no stranger to athletic competitions he did an amazing job getting in my head to keep me as calm, optimistic and focused as possible throughout the race.

The venue itself suffered somewhat from a lack of signage. The arena is large, so if you make a wrong turn on the upper floor it can take an extra 5 minutes to get where you're trying to go. The event volunteers did a nice job of directing us when needed, but a few large, well-placed signs throughout the facility would have been much more helpful. Half an hour before my assigned heat, I made my way to the erstwhile locker rooms to stash my coat, then walked onto the warm-up erg half of the competition floor. I got in a few minutes of stretching and steady rowing to warm up, get the feel of the ergs and try to remind my muscles what they were supposed to be doing. All the machines on the floor were new Concept2 PM4s, exactly like the ones we use at CFNH. The only noticeable difference to me was the handlebars -- where our CFNH ergs have smooth, worn-down plastic on the handles, the new C.R.A.S.H.-B. grips had a nice rubberized texture that made it MUCH easier to keep a good grip through the sweat and excitement of a race.


At 2:50 they let us into the race half of the floor and I found erg 19. I locked in the foot straps and set the damper, then got in a couple dozen strokes of warm-up rowing.
Two minutes before the heat start time, everyone has to set down their handles and let the flywheels all come to a rest. (Side note: all of the 100+ race ergs in the arena are connected via simple yet very well-designed software for live two-way data flow. I hope the C.R.A.S.H.-B. software engineers get the credit they deserve for the work they've done to keep everything running smoothly all day!) Immediately before the start, everyone's screens show "SIT READY" and you're allowed to pick up your handles. There's another buffer of 5-10 seconds here to let any accidental flywheel spinning stop; everyone sits poised and motionless.

Next the screens change to "ATTENTION", and at a randomized time 1-3 seconds after that the screens show "ROW"! There's no audible signal, and with the randomized delay it's impossible to time yourself for the initial pull. I wasn't prepared for the reaction-time challenge this would pose and lost a fraction of a second at the start.

My goal for the day was 1:55/500m and a top ten finish. I led off with 8 max effort pulls to really crank the flywheel, then attempted to settle in to a steady race pace. But even with a specific target in mind, the excitement, nervousness and adrenaline made it almost impossible to stick to a single pace. I fluctuated pretty wildly between 1:51 and 1:58, trying to compensate and over-compensate in both directions. As I rowed, the top half of my monitor showed my pace, strokes/min, and remaining distance; the bottom half showed the name of the real-time first-place rower and the number of meters I trailed her by, plus the rankings, names, and meter differences of the rowers immediately before and after me.

My lungs started burning early, at the 1000m mark. I knew there was a race announcer narrating on the loudspeaker, live "boat" tracking on the jumbotron, and cheering from the stands, but it was all a meaningless blur of noise behind Joey's ongoing encouragement over my shoulder and the constant focus on breathing and trying to hit my target pace. Meters 200-100 at the end were brutal. I wasn't able to pull out the stops until the final 100m -- and that last push drained everything. As soon as I hit zero my chest was heaving, my quads were burning, and I suddenly understood why dudes had been puking willy-nilly all morning. (Fortunately I had planned ahead and only ate a little before noon, but any more food and I might have been in the vomit danger zone myself.) It was a good 45 minutes before my body finally calmed down and stopped shaking from all the exertion.

Amazingly, I met and exceeded my goals for the race -- 8th place in my division, with a finishing time of 7:34.9 and an average pace of 1:53.7!

My success would have been impossible without all the encouragement and support I received from all the CFNH coaches, especially rowing guru Carla; my enthusiastic coxswain and inclement-weather chauffeur Joey; and my steadfast cheering squad Stephanie and Lindsay in the stands. Thanks also to my fellow CrossFit athletes (woo 6:30AM crew) for constantly inspiring me to work harder, get stronger, and challenge myself both inside and outside the gym. Hope to see more of you at the 2018 C.R.A.S.H.-B.'s!

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