On the first 5k of spring

So it’s the first 5k of the year. The wonderful quarter-of-an-hour-and-a-bit of agony that lasts longer the more you let the pain get to you. After various occurrences during the day that resulted in me standing on the landing stage for a hour in -3’C (Cooper not turning up for training) and walking the three miles home from campus (the 12 bus running by its own timetable matching neither of the (oddly different) ones on the wall of the bus stop or the electronic boards), I wasn’t sure whether to be hopeful or not. I turned up my standard while late about three minutes before everyone else was about to start. Opting to wait for them to finish and warm up rather than jump on and hope for the best, I sat on an erg for a few minutes turning it over at about 2:20 trying to choose a drag factor as if it would magically stop my time by thirty seconds or so. By the time I was finished and had drunk enough/been to the bathroom enough, the others were on their last 1500m or so and in various stages of death. I’d never been behind a test erg before or coxed anyone at anything so it was quite odd shouting people down for their last few minutes. After the initial ‘what the hell do I say?’ moments I quite enjoyed it even if it did destroy my throat. Turns out my shouting is in no part reliant on my diaphragm.

One quite strange moment involved watching the guy nearest me in terms of fitness/erg times (just under 110kg and six foot something) whimpering “help me” with 750m to go. Give him his due, he held it and finished on 17:11.5. It was a damn good time and one hell of a target but at last I knew what I had to beat.

After a short while longer and the sorting out of various other people who had missed the first session, we were lined up with the slight nervousness that comes with looking up and seeing 5000m sitting smugly at the top of the erg screen.

Handles, attention, Go. First ten strokes take nothing. Something to do with biology means you can push far harder than normal with no detriment to energy levels for the first hundred metres or so. It has to be used at the beginning though and it’s a fine line trying to balance making good use of it and holding it too long and using up normal energy sources going too flat out.

After 150m I’m consciously trying to force my split up. I’m still at 1:40 and r32 and far faster than I can hold but it feels so easy at that point. Settling onto rhythm seems to take forever, 500m in and the screen is still flicking from 41 to 44 seemingly laughing at my attempts to control a steady split slower than I feel I able to at this point.

4250m. Eventually it comes though and 43 sits steadily in front of me with r28 glowering from the top corner. No amount of spinning the hands would move it so I ignore it for a while.

3500m. Starting to feel it now. The familiar complaints from various body parts that rarely even get noticed. Ignore the slight tightening of my right forearm. Focus on the 43 in front of me every stroke.

2600m. Nearly half way! Wait…that means I’ve got more than I’ve done so far to do again. This is most uncomfortable.

2000m. Final 2k. How hard can this be? Someone behind me shouts something about eating 2ks for breakfast and I’m momentarily distracted by strange mental images of long tables and awkward meals before the reality comes flooding back and I still have 1900m to go.

1300m. I switch off for a second and 46 flashes on the screen for a single stroke. The uproar from behind me at this ensures it’s not allowed to happen again.

1000m. Final k. This is possible after all. I can do this.

950m. What am I saying? I can’t do this. This hurts too much, I could stop now and be comfy again right now.

900m. Nope. Not stopping. Not giving in. 900m, how many strokes is that? 90. Ninety?! That’s loads, don’t think about that.

750m. Average is 43.5 and I’m pulling 44 for most strokes now. This isn’t right. This isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. Why isn’t the number lower?

700m. Pull 43 for a stroke and swiftly discover why I’m on 44s

600m. Predicted time is taunting me from the bottom of the screen. 17:16 would still be a PB.I could settle for that.

550m. Fuck that. I’m into the last split. Nearly. Those 50m seem to take forever.

500m. 1:44 of pain left at this rate. Let’s see what I have left for myself. 50 strokes? Still too many to think about.

450m. People are shouting. I’ve no idea what they’re shouting but I’m aware of noise and a general consensus that I’m not going fast enough. It doesn’t even matter any more. It’s working. The thought of the reaction if I don’t give everything to this final sprint is enough to push me on.

400m. We’re back on the 43s with 42 flashing up occasionally. The shouts from behind me make it clear which is preferred.

350m. Somewhere between 40 and 35 the remaining strokes became acceptable and I now have ~32 strokes to think about. To count down.

250m. With the knowledge of impending finish I’ve gone suicidal. 38 flashes onto the screen and the rate passes above 30. I’ve no idea how long this can last but I’m going to goddamn try.

200m. Suddenly things settle for a stroke or several. This doesn’t feel too bad. I’ve surprisingly got loads of energy left. Rating is 34. Split is 1:37.

150m. Fuck you adrenaline. I have nothing left after all. Now working on credit. This energy is going to be charged back at enormous rates of interest.

100m. What’s there to lose? Ten strokes. Nine. Eight. Each harder than the last. Five. Four. I see 1:35 in front of me and a rate of 36+. Last two strokes and we’re done. I have enough time to catch a glimpse of 17:11.2 on screen before the huge effort of what I’ve just done hits me and I hit the floor shaking. A cry of “he’s gone foetal” comes from somewhere and I’m out of it.

I think I stayed conscious but I’ve no idea how long I’m on the floor for. I dimly register people finishing around me and falling into various states of exhaustion.

Even after all of this I quite enjoy erg tests. They’re a chance to prove yourself and earn respect for the effort you put in. Worth every second of agony and every ache the next morning. I may be lying in a puddle of my own sweat and unable to move but I’m elated. That’s nine seconds off my PB, five seconds off my target and second fastest in the club (by 5.6 seconds to someone 8kg heavier ). That’s worth mild discomfort and 17 minutes of anyone’s time.

It almost looks like one erg screen doesn't it?

Not the worst thing to see once you’ve finally peeled yourself off the floor and achieved verticality

Categories: Rowing | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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