The pandemic forced many sweep rowers to become scullers, some more reluctantly than others. As another spring rolls around and various restrictions are still in place, those who don't want to miss out on another racing season are taking the leap from not just training in, but racing in, the single.
The most difficult part of racing for a new sculler is the start. My advice is to not worry about being the first off the line, but instead focus on having a clean start. Spend time getting comfortable simply sitting at the catch with the blades buried. That's where you'll start from and you want to be as relaxed as possible.
The first stroke won't win the race for you, but could lose it for you
On that first stroke, be sure the blades are solid in the water, to prevent washing out or discovering too late that the oar wasn't fully squared. Don't kick the legs down when you hear go, focus on squeezing the legs so that instead of jarring the boat off the line, you create a smoother initiation that you can then accelerate your way through.
The first stroke is simply about getting the boat moving. You won't get the boat up to full speed on the first stroke, and no matter how good your first stroke is, it won't win the race for you - but if it's bad enough, it could lose it for you. And when the time comes, don't forget to settle! Practice finding a rate that works best for you and go with it on race day.
From there, focus on one stroke at a time. Don't rush through any one stroke to get to the next one, make each stroke count. I like to keep the image in my head of planting the blades securely in the water and then moving the boat past the anchored blade. The oar is your lever with which you're moving the boat forward; you're not ripping the oar through the water. Set the blade, pry the boat.
As important as it is to stay relaxed, most people find it difficult, especially their first time racing a single. So alternatively, think about racing at 90% pressure. That gives you a little room to slow things down, focus that 10% on technique, keep the rating under control. For most newbies, being smooth and clean will do more to improve speed than exerting more raw power.
Unlike in a head race, you won't have to practice turning or passing during the race but you do need to be able to go straight. If you find yourself consistently steering to one side, check to see if you're pulling the same length arc on both sides. I find that with most people being right hand dominant, they want to reach out a little further at the catch with the right arm. If you're even just a little bit longer every stroke, you'll soon find you've lost your point. Practice getting a stern point and seeing how well you can stay on that point. You won't need to look around but you do need to stay in your lane.
Learn as much as you can about the race before you arrive: What does the race course look like?
What is the traffic pattern?
When do you need to launch?
How far from the launch area to the starting line?
Is there a current?
What time is your race?
How long do you need to get in your warm up?
What is your warm up?
What is your race uniform?
What will be your pre-race meal?
The more confident you are in all these little areas, the more you can focus on your race. Good luck!
Check your oarlocks!