Reprinted with thanks to a friend of altrowing.com –
There is one be all, and end all, of a 2000m ergo race – pain. Despite all its complications and talk of efficiency, free speed, and technique, the rowing stroke is very simple. The legs engage, the back levers past the hips, the hands whip round, and the chain spins the fan. The harder you do this, the faster the fan spins; the harder you do this the more it hurts. That hurt is what stops you from killing yourself, but it is also what stops you from winning.
The Start – The pain isn’t instant; indeed the initial acceleration from standing start is a time of fun as you may see the split drop down to international standard pace. This is unsustainable and however reluctantly a rhythm must be found and the transition made out of the start and into race mode. Then after that, it is time to assess where you are, and start to deal with the pain.
It starts as nothing more than the same cold ache in you thighs, akin to the sensation of climbing the stairs quickly. But in this race you are not going to reach the top of the stairs soon, and so the pain builds, seeping outwards from the center of your thighs to the skin, still dull and diffuse, but promising the fire to come. And at this point you have probably have only reached the second half of the first quarter of the race.
250m-500m – There is a better than 50% chance that at this point you are not in the lead, so you think about pushing up. About chasing. You must not! Find your pace and hold it. The pain becomes that of acute overwork now, muscles straining and stretching as you try to do more. Beneath that, the fire of acid and anoxia await, the next 45 seconds to 500m passes in a flash.
500m-1000m – Racing into the second quarter, rational thought leaves the room and diffuses into the dull roar of the ergs around you and everything becomes about the next stroke, and maintaining the split. Pain now blossoms, fast and hard in other parts of your body. And now it is the internal scald of hydrogen ions poisoning your metabolism. Your shoulders will have switched on to the hurt, cramping your stroke, tying up your movement. Arms too, blossom into bright fire, and in the triceps, one of the few muscle group not extensively exercised by rowing, a strange, warning, numbness develops. But, within this hell, you will find stability, an anger promising to get you through. Hatred of the opposition, your coach, the universe and everything in it, but mostly a hatred of losing, fights back within you. The pain, insufferable, consuming and growing as it is, is just another enemy to defeat. And then the 1000m mark hits you with the gentle sting of despair.
1000m-1500m – …and the devil leaves Hell just to sit on your shoulder, gibbering and raging “you have to do all of that again you have to do it all again you have to do it all again, stop now stop now stop now!”
If you are going to fail it will be here. You don’t, but the loss of all hope of control, despair of ever going faster, and the fear of failure; all combine and ignite in your tinder dry throat, the flames leaping into your chest and scorching it raw. The skin on the back of your forearms and shins goose pimples up, some bizarre atavistic reaction to the acid poisoning your blood. You are being drowned by your own exertions, burned alive from within by the by products of your own choice not to give in, and you must not, will not, ever let it stop.
This is the wilderness, the third 500m, a blasted wasteland. It is a black place, where hope is abandoned, logic is absent, and pain is eternal. And, it is the entrance to the hole that the last 500m.
1500m-2000m – the numbers scroll down from 501m to 499m and you are faced with an impossibility, you will now have to drive for home, this is the only place that willpower will take you beyond what you think you are capable of, this is where you chase the guy in front. But to sprint you will have to expend more effort, which means you must accelerate the malevolent alchemy within your blood that is steadily destroying you. Pain is already your world, and your body is an inefficient lizard like thing, co-ordination failing and desperation clogging every motion. This is the hole, the space you dig in your own heart and mind, and fill it with acid, pain, heat and suffocation. Take a breath, dive down, and see if you can stay there longer than the man on the machine next to you. You muscles hurt to the point of failure, you chest burns as if your are being smothered, your joints feel swollen to the edge of breaking, and within this all, there is one point of light, one beacon of salvation. It is almost over. The numbers scroll towards 300m.
“Last 30 strokes, Up Two!” Maybe that was your own internal voice, or possibly the devil herself. Would there be a difference anymore?
There is hope now, there is an end to the suffering, it is quantifiable, even though pain is your world, and your world has been mapped. And you can see the horizon.
“Last 20, Up Two Again!” Fog falls, hope is lost, you cannot work harder, 20 stokes could be 200, you cannot survive the increase, you cannot stop, the light at the end of the tunnel is a psychopath with a blowtorch, you accept your own death.
“Last 10! GO!” Within death, within the failure of your own body, spastically levering the last fifteen seconds of consciousness away, with every muscle, every organ, every structure in flames, from bones to skin, the number slips from 100 to 0.
You can scream now, as you are born again from the ashes of your self-created fire. Your muscles relax, your blood pressure drops, and physical incompetence washes over you like a wave, as, slowly the pain starts to fade. It is a long way to the surface, you feel like you are drowning and struggle with you heel restraints like you would struggle for the surface, everything hurts but it is not getting worse, collapsed as you are now, alongside the aluminium and steel execution device called an Erg, it only get’s better from here on in.