|Lightweights racing at Crash-Bs in 2012 (Photo: B. Kitch)|
1. Don't worry if you can't sleep. Being nervous is natural, and look at it from the positive standpoint of neurological and physiological preparation: your body and mind are ready to get after it. That's good. The best advice I ever heard regarding sleep was as simple as this: when your body needs sleep, it takes it (I believe this came from Matt Pinsent or Peter Reed). If you are completely unable to sleep, then you probably don't need it at that time. So, relax. Let your body take over the night before, after you have made sure to properly hydrate and nourish it.
2. If you are testing in the morning, it is beneficial to be awake for three hours prior to intense athletic activity. If there's no way you can manage that (say, if you are set to test at 6am), then give yourself a full hour at the least. The body takes time to fully awaken and it's important that you are running on all cylinders for your test.
3. The warm-up should begin roughly 45 minutes before your test, with a steady-state about ten minutes long. At the outset, you should be at something very easy, in the range of +35-40 on your goal split. As your body warms up a little, you can start to let it creep down to +25-30. This is simply to get your system up and running, and a good sweat going. You can follow this up with a little water, and five to ten minutes or so of ten stroke bursts at or below your race pace. A trick that often worked for me was to close my eyes for the last of these bursts—usually, you'll find that you are well below your goal. Following these short intervals, get up, stretch, and walk around a little. Breathe and relax. You know your goal.
4. Sit down on your test erg as soon as possible. Take full advantage of the five minutes you are usually given prior to the test (this is the procedure at Crash-Bs), and begin by doing a drill: two legs-only strokes, followed by one full stroke. One of the hardest things going into a test is staying relaxed enough in the upper body to keep from wasting energy. This drill will help to remind you to keep your shoulders, arms and hands relaxed as you initiate the drive.
5. Have a race plan, and commit to your goal split. Some people have elaborate plans that they tape to the base of the erg monitor, and some people are more free with their planning—but everyone needs to go into a test with an expectation of where they will be at a given point, as basic or complex as that expectation may be. Personally, I don't like to over think things. People often talk about "the third 500" in daunting terms, so my own, very simple plan eliminated it. I knew my goal, and I knew I'd done the work. I would say to myself, "get to 700m to go," and that was enough. I knew that I'd be able to hold my goal split through 1300m, and by the time I reached 700m to go I would be more than half way through the dreaded third 500. From there, it always comes down to grit and rage—probably the reason I started rowing in the first place.
6. Again, commit to your goal split. Everyone feels like Hercules when they take the first five strokes of a 2k test, and there is always a temptation to linger too far below your goal to be sustainable. This cannot happen. You are a robot, programmed to pull one number. Execute.
7. Remember to keep the hands moving. The more tired you get, the more likely you are to leave the hands in the finish. Continue to draw all the way through to the body, but keep your swing and momentum by making the handle speed away from the finish a reflection of the drive. If you can manage this, you'll always be able to take up the rate when your vision is starting to blur and you're losing feeling in your extremities.
8. Do not fall on the ground. If you have the ability to go full pressure all the way through a test, then you have the ability to sit up and put the handle down. What flopping on the ground says is that you are not physiologically prepared to handle the distance, or that you've had a bad test. (Take a look at Henrik Stephansen after shattering the lightweight men's world record, if you'd like an example.) Sit up, and pat yourself on the back. Leave the test knowing that you executed your plan, and take satisfaction in that, whether it brings you a medal or not.