row2k Features
Before Sunrise
February 15, 2006
Alessandra Phillips

So this morning; the alarm went off at 4.35; I blearily grabbed the uni and longsleeve and tights I'd put on the chair the night before, threw on a sweatshirt, and headed to the boathouse. It was pitch black; the water was calm and still, except for goddam Prendie who decided to start practicing at 5:10 as well. (My god, and I thought 6am was e a r l y when I was rowing in high school!) Hop in the 8, settle down in six seat, thank god I am rowing port this morning as it's chilly and my back is a wee bit stiff. We shove off.

New coxswain; I like his voice. He seems like he has a sense of what he's supposed to be doing up there. Standing shove off the dock, as my butt hits the seat I hear over the coxbox that today's workout is warmup to the top of the river, and a three mile headrace all the way down, rating 30.

Ooof. I toy with the idea of backing off during the piece, as I haven't done anything at rating in ages, and of course as always I dismiss it. I guess it makes me feel better to think I have a choice about it, but I don't, really. Once the eight is getting into the warmup, I start getting excited; the water is fantastic, apart from a few hiccups we are actually getting a bit of swing, and I'm going right with Megan's shoulders right in front of me.

As we pass Columbia bridge, the halfway point, we start doing tens and twenties, slowly building the rating. I have butterflies in my stomach. I want to go, and as the rating inches up with each ten, I test out my back a little bit more. There we go; it's stretched out nicely now, and my hamstrings are moving too.

There are a few boats out on the river this morning; I hope that we get to chase a few down before it's time to head back to the dock. We pass by Strawberry Mansion, and for a moment the crew is afire in the neon light that hugs the bottom of the bridge. I can see the cox's glasses as he leans out to check his point.

Then we're at the top; we spin, and get ready to go down the chute. Brian, the cox, informs us that he's going to mimic the Charles course as we go down. I pull off my longsleeve and tights, wipe my hands on my shirt, and make sure everything is tightened down.

We start off easily enough, getting swing and run early. Then Brian calls it up, and you can feel the boat jump underneath the soles of your feet. In five strokes, we are at full pressure. In ten, the rate climbs; in fifteen, we are across the line and on the clock. "Ladies, at the Charles you are bow number 27; that's at least twenty spots lower than you want to be; let's go". Various other calls ensue; sit up; legs, hand heights, breathe. We are a bit low, at 27.5; and Brian calls it up again; the crew feels a bit fractious, like a horse straight out of the stable in the morning, stretching and unsure of its best gait.

We pass under Strawberry Mansion bridge, the starboard oars passing within a couple of feet of the bridge abutment. Nice. This guy is practicing the Anderson bridge turn, I think to myself. Then I notice out of the corner of my eye that the black water seems to have residual ovals in it. Wake. Which means there's another boat ahead of us. And Brian calls it, telling us that a men's four is ahead of us; we get closer until just past the St. Joe's boathouse, we can hear their oars and their cox'n and then Brian says unleash, and we go.

We start walking. The fractious gait is gone; instead a smooth rhythm and we take one seat, then two. The men realize what's going on, and push back; as we head down the course towards Columbia there is a real race on; Brian is keeping us at a 30 easily now, and we're gaining, first a deck, then one seat, then two, then we hit Columbia, the men's' four weighs enough, and we keep going, round the big turn. Brian goes silent, as he will around the big turn just before Cambrige BC in Boston, and you can feel the rudder go on under your seat as the boat starts turning with starboards' help. As we round the turn, we see two high school eights clumped in the lanes, so we go wide to get around them. My legs are burning now, as is the back of my throat. I make promises to myself during races; just get to Columbia, just get to the angels, just get to the Viking, and then you can rest. Right now, I'm trying to keep my bladework as clean as I can until I see the angels statues on the riverbank; Brian then starts calling up the rating in preparation for our final push from Girard home. the boat feels light; the swaying from earlier has disappeared, and instead we're hunting down the next blinking red light on the horizon, hoping to catch them before the bridge; we make the bridge turn again close to the abutments, and come out into the blaze of lights along Kelly drive; it kind of blinds you after rowing in the darkness, so I focus on the spot between Megan's shoulder blades, and try to push a little harder with my legs each time. I know we have a little over 500 to go, and by this time my vision is kinda fuzzy around the edges, but I know it's 50 strokes left tops, so I keep going and try to match the boat's speed. We are clear of anyone now; the rate picks up once, then again, then a third time and we sprint to the Viking and are done, exhausted.

I hunch over my oar in the dark, gulping down air, feeling sweat stinging my eyes and dripping off my arms and legs.

Not a bad way to wake up. Not a bad way at all.

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