Are you heading back to the erg this winter to prepare for a 2k race? If so, do you have a set pace strategy for your race? Getting your pacing right can be the difference between success and failure when it comes to reaching your peak on race day. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning (JSC) examined pacing strategies used by various boat classes in 2000m World Championship races from 2001 to 2009. These on-the-water pacing strategies can help you understand how to best approach 2k racing on the erg. Integrating and mastering these essential skills early on in your training cycle will help set you up for race day.
While this recent JSC study considered results from both heats and finals, for the purpose of this article, I will focus primarily on the finals . Data (500m splits) from the finals of the 2001 through 2009 World Championships showed that team boats were fastest in the first quarter of the race, while the second fastest 500m splits came in the final 500 meters. In the 1x, however, the study determined that boat speed decreased throughout the race -- with the first 500m being the fastest and the last 500m being the slowest. While several variables effect these differences, one factor is the change in momentum at the finish of the stroke, where the 8+ will have the greatest benefit from this, and the 1x the least. One thought would be that increasing boat speed in the final 500m would be easier in a larger boat versus a smaller boat such as a 1x. The standard Concept 2 ergometer most closely simulates 1x when we consider change of direction momentum in relation to the rower, as there is none.
Rowing is a unique sport in that one must start the race with a sprint to get the boat up on an efficient plane -- the larger the boat the longer it takes. On an erg, an athlete can get to race pace in 5 or 6 strokes, as opposed to the 20 to 25 strokes required in an 8+. Since the first 10-seconds of your energy system comes for free (with regards to oxygen debt), getting to your race pace on an erg does not induce an additional lactic acid penalty if you keep your start short.
Numerous pacing studies conducted on a variety of other sports including running, cycling, and speed skating, have shown mixed results. A recent study involving collegiate women cross-country runners explored how different race strategies affected 5k times. All subjects first established ran a 5k base-line race to determine their race pace. Then, over a three-week-period each athlete raced three additional 5k time trials. Pacing was used in the first 1.63K (1 mile) only, then athletes finished the 5k as fast as possible. The subjects used the following pace strategies: right at base-line pace, 3% faster than base-line, and 6% faster than base-line. Test results showed that the fastest overall time in 8 out of the 11 participants occurred using the 6% above base-line pace for the first mile, while the other 3 fastest times came using the 3% faster pace for the first mile of the 5k. The even-pace method produced no fastest times. Similar results were observed with speed skaters in 1500m racing at the 1988 Olympics: athletes who went out the fastest in the first third of the race ended up with the best results.
Whatever your racing strategy is -- flying off the start and slowly fading or negative splitting your 2K piece -- a few helpful guidelines will keep you on-course for best results on race day. First, decide on a pacing strategy early on in your training cycle and master it by consistently using the same patterns during your training cycle. Also, keep in mind that the 1X rowers, 5K cross country runners and 1500m speed skaters all used the same approach to their races by starting above pace and losing speed for the remainder of the race. And lastly, be careful to not stretch too far beyond your current race pace (more than 6%) as it may seriously hinder your ability to complete your 2K erg race. As always, carefully planning and consistently following your training program will lead to best results on race day.