There is probably no race on the domestic elite circuit that has as few serious implications as do the fall speed orders. Selection is months away, trials even further, Worlds itself almost into next fall, and a lot can happen between now and the next time most of the participants spend any serious quality time on the water.
But that isn't to say it doesn't matter to the folks who come to race – or to say that it isn't a pretty intense weekend. There is nothing else on the calendar quite like a 6k erg on Saturday to determine starting positions for a three-mile headrace on Sunday, usually in some fairly challenging, pre-winter conditions. So it may not have serious implications, but it is a pretty serious go for everyone who shows up to the voluntary event.
And a fair number of folks did show up, with nearly all of the east coast's best rowers attending, including the bulk of the US men's camp. The Saturday 6k saw some pretty decent goes at the machine, including five heavy men under 19 minutes topped by an 18:41 by Henrik Rummel of the Princeton Training Center, two light men under 20 minutes topped by a 19:42 by lightweight Josh Konieczny from Craftsbury, and two women in the 21:teens topped by Grace Latz at 21:11.
By Sunday race time, a strong headwind had descended onto the Carnegie, especially for the women's races, which were held at 10:30am. It was a bit of a pernicious wind, angling across the L-shaped racecourse such to create a perpetual quartering headwind of no small intensity. By the time the women raced, the wind was pushing up whitecaps in places, no small feat on the Carnegie, where even the strongest winds don't always touch down on the water very heavily.
Somehow almost everyone we talked to said the racing was "fun;" that is November rowing for you.
John Graves may have shed the hippy mullet he sported during the 2013 elite season, but it didn't seem to hurt his speed in the single; Samson myths don't seem to apply in rowing. We talked to John about his race, doing a head piece the day after a 6k, and getting on the skis in a few weeks.
Ed Hewitt: So your single has been going well for a while now; wow much stock do you put in a speed order like this?
John Graves: It doesn’t really mean anything generally, but I think it’s always good to come out and kind of just be tested against the guys who are trying to do the same thing as you. And even within our own team; we’ve got a really competitive team and it’s always good to simulate the racing; I just don’t think you can race enough. Especially coming down to Princeton, I like doing the whole routine of being down here and having to perform, even if it doesn’t mean anything.
EH: Rigging your boat even…
John Graves: Yeah. Like going to Wegman's, you know, it’s all important. It’s just kind of like a dry run for when we come down, it actually means something.
EH: You did a 6k yesterday; were you feeling that today?
John Graves: I think we all talk about how it’s a fine line between whether you really use your stinger on the 6k or you kind of wait for today, but I actually had a good piece on there yesterday. It was a big PR for me. I didn’t want to put too much stock in that, but I think it’s a good objective indicator of how I’m progressing from year-to-year. Last year, doing the same things, I’m a lot faster than I was last year and that’s nice to see. So yeah, it definitely would’ve been fresher if we hadn’t, done that, but everyone did it, and it didn’t seem anyone bagged it, so…
EH: Did you train at Craftsbury last winter? Sometimes people in the single, they just want to sit in it all year. Does that worry you at all? Do you?
John Graves: I don’t like doing that. I think we strike a good balance between the cross-training and the rowing. And also, even if I was going for the single, I like rowing in other boats and mixing it up with all these guys and just keeping it fresh. But I think that we were fortunate to be able to jump in a quad, jump in a double and just keep getting better. I definitely get stale just by rowing by myself all the time. But the skiing is huge. To get fitter without wearing ourselves down I mean is huge.
EH: The guys say that you’re the quickest in the skiing now as well.
John Graves: I don’t know. We’ll see. These lightweights are going to be fast. Skiing is definitely just straight power-to-weight. But the goal is to try to beat the elite skiers that we have up at Craftsbury.
EH: How close can you guys get?
John Graves: At the end of last season, I was knocking on the door.
EH: What’s knocking on the door?
John Graves: I was even for half the race, probably lost by 20 seconds on a 5k.
EH: So that’s like a 20 minute race? Something like that?
John Graves: Yeah. More like 17 or 18 [minutes].
EH: 20 seconds, that's pretty good!
John Graves: Yeah! I mean it’s really fun to just try to catch those guys.
EH: What’s longevity in cross-country skiing? Could you row until you’re 35 and then be a 42 year old cross-country skier?
John Graves: Yeah, maybe. I think it’s kind of similar to rowing. It’s so aerobic that those guys just keep getting fitter and fitter. Watching those guys ski around at Craftsbury is just awesome.
EH: Do you think anyone could ever get away with doing a two sport like rowing and cross-country skiing at a Winter Olympics?
John Graves: I loved playing two sports in college; I played soccer and rowed at Trinity, and I always got stale doing one sport, so I think being up at Craftsbury and doing something completely different is something that I’m used to doing. I like it a lot.
EH: Yeah. When it gets to deep winter, it doesn’t bother you.
John Graves: No. I think it’s interesting. The energy at Craftsbury is always highest in the winter. I think there are more people who come and ski than there are that come and row in the summer. So I think we benefit from feeding off of that energy. And the skier’s racing season is in the winter. It’s their summer. So it’s fun to kind of feed off of that.
Ellen Tomek won the women's single in some truly brutal conditions, as shortly before the 10:30 women's race came around, headwinds came up abruptly to turn even the Carnegie into a white-capping experience. We talked to Ellen about her race, her recovery tactics, her plans for the next year, and the importance of having a fall-ending event to work toward.
Ed Hewitt: How did you deal with the conditions out there? By the time you got into the last mile, it was pretty much white capping.
Ellen Tomek: During the warm-up, it didn't seem that bad. I had checked ahead of time and saw it could be windy, but during the warm-up it just didn't seem like 20-25 mph. Then about three minut4es to go before the start, all of a sudden it started gusting and didn't stop. At that point I just laughed and thought, "Alright, here we go!" Then it was more survival than the kind of race you would have in flat conditions. I knew it was going to be mostly a fight against the wind.
EH: Do you have any tactics for dealing with conditions like that?
Ellen Tomek: Well, I don't want to give away any secrets, but given my body type I can sort of tuck into a ball and go, trying to minimize wind resistance (laughs). It was as close to whitecaps as it gets without really turning into waves.
EH: How did you deal with the one day turnaround from the 6k?
Ellen Tomek: It went pretty well; the really long pieces are not always my strong suit, so I have to make sure I recover by resting, drinking a lot of water, and lately wearing recovery gear, which as compared to ice baths is a little more pleasant! When it goes well, it all takes away any achiness.
EH: What stock do you put in the fall speed orders?
Ellen Tomek: I like it; it is something to look forward to when you are training. At the Charles, I had a really fun row in an alumni boat, but that was in a team boat, so the speed order was a good way to see where you are, both on the erg and on the water, to see if things are working, not working, and what you need to do. It is such a long way until spring, and it is fun to end the fall with a hard race. That it is not a selection event doesn't really take the pressure off to want to do your best, but it is a fun checkpoint.
EH: What is up next?
Ellen Tomek: Meghan O'Leary and I had done a sort of mini-tour at CRC and OKC, and raced at the Head of the Oklahoma, and next are going to OKC to train. So we should be able to row on the water all winter, and possibly go to San Diego for a bit. We will be rowing the singles a lot, and getting in the double as well, and the goal is ultimately to try to be the double.
EH: So was it important to win the single?
Ellen Tomek: I was pretty happy winning, because we have been traveling a lot training in different places, and it can be a challenge to stay focused, to make sure the traveling and changes don't take too much away from solid training, and making sure to be strong, fit and healthy. Then to come away with a win in this wind, I am pretty excited. There are some quick new faces that are pretty good in the single, so it was not an easy victory.
Light Women's Single
Devery Karz of Potomac Boat Club won the war against lightweight-hating headwind conditions with a convincing 16 second win in the light women's single; we talked to Karz about how the warm-up gave little indication as to what was ahead on the course, about her tactics for the head race, and about how fellow competitors help each other out at a fall speed order.
Ed Hewitt: Tell me about the conditions out there? Because that's obviously what was happening in this race somewhat.
Devery Karz: Actually, I thought that it wasn't going to be that bad because in the warm up, going up it was a headwind, but it was consistent so it wasn't so bad. And then it was actually harder to go in the tailwind because it's more unstable. So I was thought 'Oh good!' You know, in the headwind, you'll be set up at least. And then when I got about 500 meters into the race, it was just 'cross!' So hard. So I put my bow slightly into the crosswind rather than being swung into the buoy line the entire time. I figured it was better.
EH: So you were fishtailing?
Devery Karz: Yeah. A little bit towards the buoy line, so I threw my bow more into the crosswind, because I knew I'd keep getting pushed over. But if I was working into it, it would be better. But at the 1000 meter mark, we had a gust come through at 20 mph, and I was just up the catch thinking, 'Blades should be in… blades should be in… IN!' and then finally I got it. All the way down the 2k course, it was such a wind, and then we got a little bit of a break coming around towards Harrison, kind of sheltered in there, so I tried to use that as an advantage to sit up and get the blades in, because you know once you get through Harrison, you're going to be in trouble again.
I tried to use that opportunity to move, and then when we came through Harrison, I kind of messed that one up, because yesterday when we were doing the practice, they had you turning after that last big buoy instead of going the full turn to the finish line. So for that reason in my mind I was thinking 'Okay. The finish line is only 100 more meters after that big buoy.'
EH: And it's more like 350?
Devery Karz: It's like 350, yeah. So that turn was a little hard for me to manage.
EH: Did you adjust your rowing at all for the conditions? Just the way you approached it, rating, technique?
Devery Karz: I try to keep the rating up and actually, when I was rowing back and I was kind of analyzing how I did, because on your row back in, you don't know how you did compared to other people while you're out there. So I was analyzing how I think I did before I knew the results. I was putting together the three things that I thought that were positive, the three things I thought were negative, or to improve upon.
EH: That's a good exercise.
Devery Karz: So the three things that I decided I had done well was when the wind did come and it hit me and kind of stopped the boat or messed up your rhythm, I think I did a really good job of just like bouncing straight back into it. 'Okay. One gust through. Back into the rowing.' Keeping that high rate and then just like, accepting it. Not being like, 'Oh this sucks! Every stroke… This is so hard.' Just being, 'This is it. Get it done'. And then something to improve upon, for myself I was thinking… Even though I was thinking 'Get it in the legs," I didn't necessarily do that. So I'm a little sore in the shoulders right now and hopefully in the future I can push it down into the legs.
EH: How about coming off the 6k to row a three-miler?
Devery Karz: I had a really hard time last year. I cut about 10 lbs. within the same day of doing the 6k, and I blew up in the 6k. It was terrible. It was not because I didn't want to do well. I wanted to do well. I just wasn't prepared. But I came back and I did well in the water after recovering. This year, kind of knowing how it went last year, I was able to, you know, just pace my 6k a lot better. Just know what was going to happen, be in control of my weight. Like I was, I weighed in right on the dot, so that's where you want to be. Then I was just calm, very in my own head and so… And just everything external, I didn't care about.
And when I found that two people beat me on the 6k, I thought 'well, whatever.' You don't know where they are in their training, and you have to do your own thing. And I actually had a PR, since rowing at Potomac it's the fastest I've done on a 6k. So that was exciting, but I felt fine today. And who knows if I would've felt as fine if the water was flat. If the water is flat, sometimes you can get more into it. But with that headwind, you're like, 'Oh, this is so hard!' You don't really think that maybe there's something to do with the 6k you did yesterday. You just think, 'Oh, this wind is making it so hard!'
Coming back, the cool-down was really nice, I was getting tons of speed and like tons of glide, my puddle spacing was huge.
EH: Did you, so you thought you could win the single?
Devery Karz: Actually, I didn't know. I've never rowed against a few of the girls. I've never really done a really competitive race with them, and they're really fast people. So I just went out with an attitude that I have people in front of me to catch. 'There are people in front of me and those are my targets'. Especially when you have people coming from behind and it's really hard to measure that depth. So for me, I always focus on what's going on in front of me.
EH: And head racing, it can look like you pulled away, then a few strokes later you think, ah, maybe not.
Devery Karz: Exactly. So I thought I might be leading, but then when I got to the 150 mark, I was like 'Ugh', it looks like she's coming back into me." And so instead of focusing on what's going on back there because you can see it, you want to be facing down what's in front of you, because technically they're faster than you. And so I didn't think I was going to win, but I didn't rule it out.
EH: Do you have a plan for what you'd like to do with this winter and next spring/summer? Row the single? Row teams boats? Find a partner?
Devery Karz: I'd like to get in the double more often. We do a lot of team boats stuff, not necessarily all the light-weight women, but with the openweights as well, but for the winter we get to row almost all year round. So I'll be down in Potomac, just kind of being in a single team boat until February and then obviously going to NSR1 for the single. And then after that evaluate and try to hook up with someone for the rest of the year for the double.
EH: Do you put much weight on what happens here at the speed order?
Devery Karz: I think it's great; it's so unofficial, and everybody is really friendly, really helpful. I helped a girl not run into a buoy in the last 500, so everyone is just considerate, but it's a good place to see other people, see where they're at, see their speed, see potential partners, especially for sculling. It's such an unorganized world as compared to the Sweep team. You go to camp, you get in a boat. So with sculling, it's a good place to go and see who is out there and get some competitive strokes in with them to see where you are and then you know, 'All right. Winter season I have to do this, this and this. Improve my erg, maybe get out of my shoulders.' And then maybe in the future find a partner too. There were some really fast light-weights out there. That wind is hard for a light-weight.
Since job obligations have required that both train somewhat on their own this fall, David Banks teamed up with Charlie Cole to win the men's pair. We talked to David about their tactics for the race given limited time in the boat together, how he managed a PR on the erg while working fulltime, and how he plans to keep in touch with training going forward.
Ed Hewitt: How did your pair come together?
David Banks: a lot of the group is gone training in Colorado, and me Charlie Cole had taken some time off working, and he is just coming back into things. So he wanted to do the race, and I was around; it seemed like a good idea to get a race in, so I said why not, and tried to have some fun with it.
EH: I know you are working fulltime now, but your erg was a PR, is that right?
David Banks: It was. With my job, the hours are such that I can't train with the group, so while I was trying to figure that out a bit, there were also a few problems with my single, so I have had to train on the erg a bit. It was good to see that I am on track.
EH: And how was the turnaround getting into the boat the next day?
David Banks: I knew it was going to be a bit challenging, as that was a pretty good headwind. We hadn't had that many rows, but the last few were pretty good, so I knew it was going to be a good little challenge but that we could do a good job. Knowing it was going to be a long race, we mainly tried to get a good rhythm going, to try to keep it simple - to work on the rhythm at the start to try to set up well for the whole piece, and to try to be efficient early in the race, don't worry too much about the rate and just go with the legs, let the big muscles set you up. We didn't want to go too crazy too early, so we just tried to keep moving and stay focused, not make a lot of calls to go too hard too early. We knew it was going to be tough, but it's the same for everybody.
EH: With the work hours you are putting in, how do you manage to keep your competitiveness up?
David Banks: I have seen myself slowly getting fitter, getting back to where I was. I am a little more experienced now, so I train a bit better than I would have years ago. And maybe it is some Old Man Strength kicking in! But I am erging a lot; definitely not the same volume that I would like, but I do get in there every day.
EH: What are your plans from here?
David Banks: I will probably take things a bit slow, as I am pretty busy with my job, and will continue mostly to train on my own. It is good to have had a good race, and my job isn't too far away from the group, so I can stay in touch with things and communicate with the coaches.
EH: How important are these speed orders? David Banks: It was good to win the race, and we wanted to do well, and for me it helps me set goals for my training, something to build from through the winter. It was another chance to see where you are at compared to everyone else, and compared to where you want to be yourself. It's good to have little tasks along the way to keep you honest and motivated.
Light Men's Single
Craftsbury again took the top two spots with Josh Konieczny taking first place and Hugh McAdam second.
Ed Hewitt:So you guys went 1, 2 in the head race, two-tenths apart and from the same club. Do you train together side-by-side in the single?
Josh Konieczny: Quite a bit, yeah.
EH: Yeah. So is this the normal order of finish?
Josh Konieczny: Hugh generally takes me on the longer pieces.
Hugh McAdam: And then he usually gets me on the shorter, more high-intensity stuff.
EH: (to Josh) So what do you think about being able to reverse that today?
Josh Konieczny: Feeling pretty good. I couldn't see Hugh. I was just pushing off Austin.
Hugh McAdam: They started us about what, two minutes apart, two and a half minutes apart? So there was a big group between those two guys and me, and I was just trying to catch the second group.
EH: How bad were conditions? Was it difficult?
Josh Konieczny: Not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Definitely a headwind, especially once you got into the last 1800 meters of the piece. But, you know, no worse than Head of the Charles was. It wasn't bad and we've definitely trained in worse.
EH: So it turns out that your times would come 2nd and 3rd in the heavyweight race.
Hugh McAdam: Oh! Sweet!
EH: How much stock do you put in the speed or at this time of year?
Josh Konieczny:: It's just a good marker, in terms of how we get our fall endurance and if the work has been paying off.
Hugh McAdam: For us, at least I think we're both thinking the light double, so it's fun to see where we stack up against the other guys, but in the long run, it's just for fun.
EH: Do you guys row the double much?
Josh Konieczny: A couple times.
EH: Does it go okay?
Josh Konieczny: Yeah! It's pretty quick. I think we row pretty similar strokes and we've matched up well every time we've gone out so…
EH: So out of the top 10 people here, maybe 7 are from Craftsbury? Is it something in the water up there?
Hugh McAdam: It's just a great group of guys to train with; there are a lot of really fast dudes. You've got this guy (indicating Josh) who is going, what 19:42 on a 6k. We've got the open weight double from World Championships, we've got the open single from World Championships to train against, so I mean, it's just pretty competitive all the time. We're always pushing off each other.
EH: How nasty does it get when you guys are doing pieces?
Josh Konieczny: Nasty? We keep it… (laughs)… it's intense.
Hugh McAdam: It does get very intense. Like I mean, you got a bunch of really fast dudes that all want to win all the time, so you're going to get really fast pieces and a lot of high-intensity rowing.
EH: You guys are lightweights. Rating caps - do they mean anything to you?
Hugh McAdam: They suck!
Josh Konieczny:: Advantage to the heavyweights.
Hugh McAdam: Yeah, definitely, especially into the headwinds like we've been doing. But if it's a rating cap, we all got to rate the same thing so you just push as hard as you can and when it comes to Race Day, rating caps; there's no rating cap. You can go as hard as you want.
EH: Josh, you went 19:42 yesterday; how were your legs today? Were you feeling it?
Josh Konieczny: I was feeling fine, because we were pretty well rested for this week so the erg test really wasn't a big deal.
EH: Yeah. So how much season do you have left up there?
Hugh McAdam: We'll probably be on the water for what, another week, two weeks at most before it gets too cold and then we'll transition to erging and cross-country skiing.
EH: Are you going to travel this winter?
Josh Konieczny: We're going to do a spring trip, in the March and April timeframe. We're not 100% sure of where we're going. We did Clemson last year, and that was fairly successful so we're thinking maybe there, but there are also other options that are open.
EH: As a double, how about body weights? Is it easy for you guys?
Hugh McAdam: I pieced at average yesterday. And I was working my way up to that, so whatever!
EH: Let's talk a bit about cross-country skiing and training. What kind of racing do you do?
Hugh McAdam: A sprint race for cross-country skiing is going to be 1000 and 1600 meters, give or take; that's a short one.
EH: How long does that take?
Hugh McAdam: For the fast people? Quick. Maybe 3 minutes, 4 minutes?
EH: So it's similar to a rowing boat. You do 1000 meters, 3 minutes; right?
Hugh McAdam: Yeah, I mean for the guys that are good at it - and by no means am I good at it - we have a Home Race series that's 5ks, the Tuesday night race series. We have a couple of bigger races that will come through Craftsbury this winter, and hopefully we'll get to play in those. One of them is a sprint, one of them is a 10k, one of them is a 10 miler or it's a 16k, and one of them is something ridiculously long, like 25k or 30k
EH: Racing aside, how does the training compare to rowing? It's similar? Is it like you have a steady state day, and an AT day, or interval day?
Hugh McAdam: We don't do that so much, as we were very new to the team last year, so it was mostly just volume; steady state. And then we would do the higher intensity stuff on the rowing machines. That might change this year now that we all have some experience with skiing, but we haven't seen the training schedule yet so we don't know.
EH: How do results stack up on the skis versus in the boats? Are they similar?
Hugh McAdam: Yeah.., John's usually on top and Kyle is really fast on the skis, and then there's a group of like me and Steve, and Phil and Phil. . Again, we were all really, really new to skiing last year.
EH: I'm just curious. The crossover between the two is just kind of legendary.
Hugh McAdam: I mean it's great cross-training. Cardiovascularly it's basically the exact same thing, muscularly it's pretty similar, so there's a lot of crossover. It's not as sport specific as it could be, but there's enough where if you work at it, you're going to get faster.
EH: Going back and forth from erg to cross-country skiing, is it like you are sore every day from changing activities frequently?
Hugh McAdam: Once you get used to it, you don't really get sore or anything like that.
EH: After the first week of skiing, are you beat?
Hugh McAdam: Oh yeah. Especially going through the learning process, it's one of those things where you're doing new things, you're working really hard, your brain is trying to process this new movement, and you're just tired all the time. (To Josh Konieczny) - things you get to look forward to.
EH: You haven't done this yet?
Josh Konieczny: No. This is my first time skiing. I'll be back of the pack for a while, I think!