These words, spoken in a calm voice by my coxswain, Rob Perrot, were necessary. The erg had a backlit PM5, but the ergs were facing the large windows looking out over the Marine Stadium, which were very bright and my eyes can no long handle a large contrast. To me the PM was a featureless grey rectangle. I lost a bit on the start, since it was on the screen only and Rob had to tell me to start. He continued to keep me up to date, calling off the paces, rates, and significant distances – 1500, 1000, 500, 300, 200, and 100 to go. It not only helped – it was essential. I wouldn’t have had the foggiest idea of what was going on without Rob working with me. There were a few other clues. There were over 300 participants, mostly juniors and there were 15 machines, so usually the ergs were all occupied and the decibel level was way, way up. There were only 4 old duffers in my “race”. I was assigned erg #1, there was a guy in his mid-80s on #2, and a couple of fellows in the low 70s on #s 3&4. So there were three medals, but only one of them was for anything that could be called a race.
Shortly after Rob called out 300m, I spotted that one of the 70 yo guys stopped and figured that it must be getting close to the end, no more than a couple of minutes or so left. It was too early for me to sprint at that point. At 200m I still held off, but started a stroke count, figuring 30 strokes to go. After the 10th stroke or so and with Rob’s encouragement, I took the rate up from the 29-31 which I had been holding. By that time the noise level went up. It was a small crowd for that race, only a 2-3 dozen, but most of them knew that I was planning on setting a new record. The sound of cheering dropped a bit and I was fairly sure that I was done, but I didn’t dare stop rowing until Rob assured me that I could. I didn’t fully stop even then, but went into a very brief cool-down, dropping both rate and intensity. I heard someone say 8:44.9, but I didn’t believe it could be me, since it could have been for the octogenarian on #2, who had already stopped. Then Rob pointed to the monitor and told me that it was indeed 8:44.9. I was stunned. I did know that I had been holding under 2:15, which would net me a sub 9 minute, but I was astounded that it was 15 seconds under.
I had mentioned in an earlier post that my goal was 9:20.0 (2:20.0). Obviously that was overly conservative, but it was a sort of fallback number. The record was 9:25.8 (2:21.5) and I had done a 5k at 23:23.9 (2:20.3). So I knew that I could do 2 ½ consecutive 2ks at a faster pace than the record. I wanted to get at least a few seconds under the record for good measure, so I picked 9:20 as top line goal. The other time trials that I had done here in the Valley, predicted that 9:15 (2:18.8) was feasible, so that was my primary goal, with 9:20 as a fall back if I found that I was over my head.
I got off to a bad start. I was quite a few strokes into the piece before I heard Rob’s warning that I was in the 2:0x region. I tried to hold the same rate, but eased off a bit on the intensity. The numbers coming in crept up a little to where they belonged, until I heard a 2:16 and starting putting out a bit more effort. Back into the 2:10 to 2:15 range, I felt reasonably comfortable and eventually got into a zone. By 750 to go, I felt secure that no matter how badly I might start to crash, I could still hang on long enough to make the 9:20. So, what the hell, I’m cruising OK under the 2:15 needed for a 9 minute 2k, so I may as stay in this range as long as I can.
Going sub 9 was an old goal, i.e. I was the first octogenarian to crack 8’, so I wanted to be the first nonagenarian to crack 9. At one time, I thought that I had it in the bag. I had gradually gone from 7:54.9 at age 81 to 8:16.7 at age 86, about 4.5s lost per year. With only 4 more years to go, I would be at around 8:35 if I stayed on the same slope. Didn’t happen that way. I tried a 2k about a year ago, just shooting for 9:00 and knew that I had lost it by the time I reached 1200m. I have done nothing since then that made it seem any different and when I brought this up to my cardiologist, he casually said that it was probably due to the fact that one of my bypasses had failed – that was the first time that he ever mentioned it. Well that sort of took the heart out of my plans (no pun intended). I accepted that fact that sub-9 was not to be.
In retrospect, I think I can see what really happened. All of my erging since 2011 had been here in the Valley, with all but my time trials of this last month done on the dynamic. I was basing my predictions on my results here and forgetting just how magical it is to go to sea level. The 9:15 goal is likely to be right on for doing the 2k at 4000’ elev. In that case, I could credit the altitude change plus the venue and the coxing for lowering it by 30 seconds. There is precedence for this. I always improve a lot at sea level, and this was not the first time that it was by 30 seconds.
I suppose that I should post the URL of that video. Now that I have figured out why I had no forward lean, I don’t feel quite so bad about it. There is still no excuse whatever for the rollercoaster hands and I already was aware of the mantis wrist problem. Anyway, here it is. Newbies beware, the site below can be hazardous to your technique.