Indoor Rowing: A 2k Race Plan For Beginners

I confess. In the past I’ve competed without a 2k race plan. You, however, are probably smarter than me. With months yet to go you are already wondering how you’ll attack it. Good for you. Seriously. You are much more likely to do well by training smart with a plan in the works. Yes, everyone is different and will find their own unique blah blah, but first you need to know where to start. Here are the 5 steps that worked for me and actually improved my time this year.

1) Know Your Baseline 

You won’t know what to realistically shoot for until you have a baseline to work from. Do a 2k test, which is as straightforward as it sounds. Set your monitor for a single distance 2000m piece and row it with a little extra fire than normal and a sprint at the end. Record your split/500 and finish time. This is the pace you’ll shoot for at the beginning of your training, adding intensity gradually over the weeks as your conditioning and strength improves. On my team, we’ve been able to take anywhere from 2 – 10 seconds off of our baselines come race day.

2) Choose Your Pacing Strategy and Train for It

How are you going to attack each segment of your race? At 6 – 10 minutes, the 2k sounds short but feels like an eternity. Seasoned rowers break the distance into chunks to keep things manageable mentally. If you’ve ever run a race you’ve probably encountered pacing strategies before, and rowing is no different. Start with a popular tactic and tweak from there. Which one are you?

The Firebreather (Positive Splits)

You’re an animal on the erg. You row hard out the gate for as long as you can and hang on. Sounds like a good way to win a race, but it usually leads to a case of fly-and-die, as in premature exhaustion. As in death by lactic acid legs. Revisit my story to see how effective this is as a strategy if you have any doubts.

The Gamer (Negative Splits)

You’re confident in your training and like room to kick extra ass. You row the second half of your race a level faster than the first and pull even harder for a sprint to the finish. This works great for some and exhausts others. You won’t know until you try.

The Workhorse (Even Splits) 

Eh, leave the risks to the kids. You pick your goal split, hit it out of your start sequence and stick to it for each 500m segment, saving room for a sprint to the finish. This is a very effective strategy (and one you can fall back on mid-race if negative splits start to fail you.)

So what’s going to work for you? Try a few approaches on for size during the course of your training. Enough trial and error and boom —you’re suddenly a strategy-aware human noticing nuances in your performance and how to optimize them. The better you can spot the places where your energy starts to flag or where you can tap a hidden reserve of power, the better you can place your cues in your final plan.

3) Draft Your Race a Week Before

With just a week to go it’s time to start tapering. Wherever you’re at with your goal split and time is what you should be basing your race plan on. It typically includes:

Race goal (just getting through your first, getting a PR, or something personal)

Pacing strategy

Starting sequence (number of strokes, when you want to settle)

Goal SPM

Goal split

Preferred cues for different segments of the race. (Do you want to take 20 focus strokes at the 1000m mark? Do you want your cox to call out “technical 10’s” to remind you of your form and get your mind off the pain?)

4) Prep Your Cox

Establish who your cox is in advance of the race. Ask a coach, ask a fellow rower, but make sure that you have one. They’re critical when your brain is too jangled up with adrenaline to remember what the hell you wrote down.

If possible send your cox your newly minted plan a day in advance of the race. Also, bring printed copies for them on race day. They’ll be adjusting to how you’re doing in the moment, so help them help you you stick to your plan.

Your cox is not a mind reader, so communicate with them the day of the race. Go over your plan face to face and answer their questions so they can be a better cox for you. This is your race. So don’t be shy about telling them what cues you like/don’t like, and which coxing style makes you burst into tears (not everybody likes a screamer).

5) Execute Your Plan

Come into the race rested, hydrated and ready to row. You’ve trained hard and have a solid plan, so don’t lose it now. Stay focused and trust in how prepared you are.

Remember, race plans help, good form wins races!

Additional Reading:

How to Survive Winter Rowing – Great detailed race plan tips from an on-the-water coxswain