How to Pace Your 1km Row

Sticking to an intelligent plan can spell the difference between falling apart and sprinting like a hero.

We have all done it. You are rested and ready for that erg test. Attention… Row! You blast off as fast and as hard as you can for the first minute or so. You feel good. This 500m split is not that hard to hold. Why is my goal split four splits slower than what I am holding now? I can totally hold this for 1000 meters.

And then it happens: the burning in your legs, the cramping in your arms, the frantic breathing. You take the split back to where you should have started in the first place. Okay. Just hold this split and you will be fine. You might even pull a personal best. But the burning is just too much. You can’t even make it all the way up to full slide anymore. The split keeps getting higher and higher. You are in agony, made worse by the fact that you have just watched your average split tick further and further above your goal. The test is over. Not good.

If you want to avoid the scenario above, it is important to go into a 1km test with a plan. Look back to past workouts. What worked for you? What didn’t? What splits were you able to hold for the last few race-prep workouts? Determine a goal split and stick to it to the best of your ability.

Midway Adjustments

If you are past the halfway point in the test and still feel too good, your goal split might have been a little conservative. However, there is still plenty of time left in the test, and you should have enough energy left to go a bit faster than planned and to start the sprint early.

If your goal split was too aggressive, and you need to reassess at halfway, it would be prudent to hold your current split or pull one split slower until it is time to sprint. That way, you should be able to avoid a blowup (or ‘fly-and-die,’ as we like to call it).

Negative Splits

A good way to pace a 1km test or piece on the machine is to negative split from start to finish. This means your goal will be to get faster every 250m. For example, let’s say your goal split for a 1K test is 1:45 / 500m. The breakdown for each 250m split could be:

  1. Goal split +2: 1:47
  2. Goal split +1: 1:46
  3. Goal split: 1:45
  4. Goal split -3. 1:42

At the start of the test, make sure you are hitting the 1:47 by the end of 10 strokes. Don’t waste energy off the start trying to crank on it. You are just building up lactic acid, and will pay for it later.

Plan for Your Strengths

The more times you test, the better you will be at determining what your goal split should be, and how to maximize your strengths. If you are more of an endurance athlete (more aerobic than anaerobic power), you may end up with a more evenly paced piece (goal split +0.5, goal split, goal split, goal split -0.5). If you are more of a power-based athlete, you will be better off with a very conservative first 750m, saving your power to really drop the hammer in the last 250m.

Pacing on the Water

On the water, pacing is a different story. Other factors besides physiology are at play. At the start of a race, it is important to get off the line quickly, cleanly, and with the other crews. There is a definite psychological advantage to being in the lead during a race. If you are in the lead, you are able to see what your competitors are doing and make moves accordingly. It is also important not to get too far down on your competition, so that you are not impacted by their boat wake (or the wake from the official/media launch). It is hard to pull back into the lead if your boat is being tossed around by a wake.

A typical pacing strategy for racing on the water is to go out high and hard for the first 30-40 strokes to get your boat up and running, then lengthen out to your base pace. Hold that for the middle 500m of the race. With about 250m to go (or 350m if you are down on your competition) you would start to sprint, bringing the rate up and really increasing the speed of the boat. Again, depending on your physiological strengths, you might have a more even-paced race (and faster base pace) if you lack the power to get off the line quickly, or walk thru crews in the sprint but have a bigger aerobic capacity. Or you might rely more on your start or sprint to pull into the lead, if you have the power to do so.

These same pacing strategies can be applied not only to 1km tests, but to many different length pieces, tests, or races. Remember, planning is key. Pace yourself and have confidence in your plan. No more fly-and-dies. Attention…Row!

You’ve got the strategy, now it’s time to start training:

8 Weeks to a Faster 1k Row

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