For the past several years, I have been coxing men’s boats in the annual Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR), held every October on Boston’s Charles River.
This year, the men’s team I usually cox wasn’t coming together for the race, but I knew it was HOCR’s 50th anniversary, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to be part of the race. Plus, Boston in October can be beautiful—and there is no event in rowing that is quite like this.
When I was asked to consider coxing a master’s women’s 8+ back in May of this year, I was hesitant to give up on the Pocock men, but I knew the women had a chance to do very well. They also seemed like a great group of women to get to row with.
A few of the rowers are good friends of mine, and a few I had never met until a few months ago. We all had one thing in common: We wanted to go fast—really fast—and we were all willing to do what it took to see what that would be. Many of them worked out six or more days a week, sometimes twice a day. (While they were doing that, I was training for the Chicago Marathon.)
We were going up against numerous boats full of former Olympians (Canadians, an Australian/British combination, Dutch, and United States to name a few). We were not a boat full of slackers and had a couple of U.S. Olympians among us, but compared to the others, we did not have quite the same rowing résumé.
Knowing this helped fuel our training and our many early mornings on the water. We knew the crews we were going after were not considering us in their race strategy, and we wanted to take advantage of that.
Fall in Boston can bring all types of weather. I have raced when it is 75 degrees, but also in the snow, and in 1996, the Charles was canceled due to a hurricane. (I was not competing that year.) We prepared the best we could for foul weather conditions.
We all made our way to Boston during the week of October 13 (just a few days after I completed the Chicago Marathon). There had been a downpour the Thursday before the race. On Friday, it was 72 degrees and sunny, but the wind was 10–20 mph and the weather was predicted to be the same for Saturday, the day of our race.
Race Day in Boston
Thankfully, we awoke to a gorgeous fall New England morning on Saturday, October 18. At race time, the temperature was predicted to be 70 degrees with wind at 13 mph. Our start time was 3:21 p.m. We were starting third, just behind BMA (a boat full of past-U.S. National Team members) and Toronto (a.k.a. the former Canadian Olympians).
Head races are started single file with approximately 15-second centers. It’s you against the clock. The Charles is just shy of a three-mile race.
At a quarter-mile in, we had moved on BMA. We ended up catching them just by the Weld boathouse (Radcliffe), the halfway point in the race, and passed them as we went under the Andersen bridge—just shy of two miles in. We were right on track and rowing strong. Toronto was just ahead. With all the turns on the Charles River it was difficult to tell how far away they were. It looked like they might have moved a little, but we still had time and we were a strong crew.
As we rounded the final turn just past Elliot Bridge, they were just out of sight with a half a mile to go. We charged on—pushed the rate up two beats, and then up again one final time, finishing at 35 strokes per minute.
As I said, it is a race against the clock. We never knew what the 15 boats that started after us were doing. When Toronto came back in sight, it looked as if they had pulled ahead. Regardless of the outcome, we had had an outstanding race and we knew we had already beaten one of the crews that started ahead of us.
By the time we landed on the dock, our coach knew the results. We had reached our goal of beating the course record, which was previously 17:15, and we did so in remarkable fashion, finishing 15 seconds faster then any previous crew—until this year.
Unfortunately, in 2014, two other boats also set course records: Toronto, which took second place with 16:50.63 and Moseley, which won with a time of 16:36.25. We took third against these amazing competitors.
To continue my October rowing adventures, the following weekend, I went back to Gonzaga University, where my rowing career began, for our first-ever rowing reunion.
My coach, Dave Reischman, and the varsity men’s boat I coxed in 1991 were being honored, and I had not seen most of my boatmates since that year. There were teammates from all four years. It was great to see the gang, and we even went out for a row together on Saturday.
Here I am with my Gonzaga teammates after our row.
Head of the Lake
To finish the 2014 season, several crews from the Pocock Rowing Center raced in the Head of the Lake regatta here in Seattle. The women’s masters 8+ lineup was slightly different from the boat that I coxed in Boston and a little younger too.
Again, we knew we had the chance to do well. Although we were racing in a particular category, our goal was to be one of the overall fastest boats on the water that day. We reached that goal with a time of 19:15: We won our event and we were the sixth fastest women’s boat on the water. The only faster boats were from the University of Washington, Washington State University, and—coincidentally—Gonzaga beat us.