UPDATE: I'm going to "bump" this post from last winter, as there seems to be a bit of "action" on it. I won't change anything I wrote at the time, because I still feel the same way. So, instead of searching for this post, here it is again at the top of the stack.
Ok, here we are after the turn of the year, when most crews start testing over 2000m in preparation for sprint season a few short months away.
The 2k test became a staple in the rowing world in 1996, when the Charles River All Star Has Beens changed the format of their little event from 2500m to 2k. Everyone can blame these clowns for the invention of the dreaded erg test in 1980. They thought it would be "fun." Thus the erg, never very popular before, became synonymous with pain.
You see, there is a big difference in discomfort between a 6000m and 2000m test. As I've written before, the 6k is a test of endurance and mental toughness. The 2k emphasizes endurance, power delivery, mental toughness, and pain tolerance. The 2k hurts you, if you do it right. It hurts you a lot, and being mentally prepared for that pain is far better than not knowing what you're walking into. So, off we go.
I loved only one thing about 2ks, and that was the feeling of the first 350m. All the nervous energy would burn off, and most people get to their target split without too much trouble. (Always have a goal or target for a 2k. Always.) After that first 350 is the beginning of the "fun," because the rower starts to hurt.
Not a lot at first, but enough to be noticeable. Lactic acid was produced in that first 200m burn, and it ends up in the muscles where it was born, so the legs start a little complaining. The best route here is to find that goal split and concentrate on "building the piece" of as many of those splits in a row as possible. If 1:40 is the goal split, make sure every stroke is there at 1:40. An early indication of a piece in trouble is the inability to hold that goal, with the splits jumping around with every stroke.
At 1500m to go, I'd like to take a little power 10. Nothing serious, just 10 strokes to push the splits down 1 or 2 and get ready for the worst 500m of my life. Because the 2k is going to fail or succeed right in that second 500m, and the mental toughness of the athlete will decide it. Right there, I would usually think, "I can't hold this pace. I need to back off," because here it really starts to hurt and you are not even halfway done yet!!! But know this:
IF YOU BACK OFF YOUR GOAL SPLIT IN THE SECOND 500m OF A 2K, JUST FOR A FEW STROKES, YOUR PIECE WILL CRASH AND BURN.
Why? Simple: The difference in power output into the machine from a 1:40 to a 1:42 is mere percentages. The athlete will still hurt just as much producing the energy for a 1:42 as a 1:40. But the mental drain that comes from "stepping off" just a little opens the door to "stepping off" a lot. Suddenly, an athlete whose goal was 1:40 and was capable of holding that split is pulling 1:44 or 1:45, gasping for breath and wondering why they still hurt so much.
The lesson, as always: RACES ARE WON IN THE MIDDLE.
Tough it out through that second 500m. The time from 1300m to go to 1100m to go will be the longest 42 seconds of any one's life. Gut it out.
At the 1000m to go mark, it's time to take a power 20. Why? To prove you're still alive and attacking this test. Always attack. Suffering along is waiting for another boat to come and get you, so train the 2k test like you plan to row in the spring.
I always felt a sense of liberation as the clock dropped below 900m to go. The worst was over, it was more than halfway done and I had "held the line" of goal splits. A good piece will find the athlete still holding the goal split for a majority of strokes from 1000m to 700m to go.
Here's where my process differs from what I'm teaching the CC novices. I would always "step" at 700m to go, dropping the split down one and holding it there. At that point, a one second difference will move the average split number after 6 strokes or so, and it feels good to be going faster than the average split number. I imagined each 1/10th of a second on that average was one seat of an opposing boat, and I needed to "walk up" that boat, taking seats. I would prefer the novices to hold their goal splits through here, saving mental energy for.....
....the last 500m. As a coach, when I'm selecting a boat, I want to know two things about an athlete's erg test. Did they hold steady through the second 500? Did they go faster in the final 500? Yes, taking a power 20 at the 500 to go mark is great. But a power 20 that is only 1 second faster that what was being held, followed by dropping a second slower isn't what I'm looking for in my first boat. As you can see, races are getting closer as time goes on, and that last little inch just might bring a National Championship. Is the athlete capable of being on the winning side of a race like this one?
So, that final 500m tells me a lot and told me a lot when I would suffer through this. Lift once at 500 to go, keeping whatever rating I was at, then lifting the rating and leaving whatever energy was left in the final 200m.
The key to the sprint is to stay long with the legs and not shorten the stroke, and to sit tall with the body. The athlete's legs are in cramping, burning agony at this point, and the easy way out is to start rowing half slide and asking more of the back and body. This might work fine on the erg for a few strokes, but the back muscles aren't big enough to produce as much output as the legs, and the splits will fall off. Plus you don't sprint at half slide on the water.
Remember, after all, we're doing this to go fast in real boats on real water. Ergs don't float.