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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa rowing team recently headed South for a training trip in Elberton, Georgia. The Hawkeyes blog about their experiences at Richard B. Russell State Park — an official training site for the 1996 Olympic rowing regatta.
After a lovely day of travelling, the Hawkeyes have landed in the outskirts of Elberton, Georgia, the granite capital of the world. Once we arrived, we got comfy in cute little cottages, and dreamed sweet dreams of the week to come.
Day two dawned, dark but warm, and we drove to the beautiful lake of Richard B. Russell State Park, which was the training site for some of the crews in the 1996 Olympics. We rigged by the glow of the headlights that surrounded our boat trailer. After we were all rigged and ready to go, we had a dance throw-down while we waited for the coaches to make sure our rigging was done right.
Then we went out onto the gorgeous lake, which seemed to go on forever. The first practice of the morning was designed to not only get all the travelling out of our system but also to get a feel for the awesome Hudson boats we get to train and race in this year.
After the first session, we drove back to the cottages and relaxed or explored the gorgeous Georgia state park before the second of the three practices of the day. Soon it was time to get back out there and, like sled dogs, we were raring to go. The skies were blue, the birds were chirping, the water was like a mirror it was so flat; a perfect day to row.
We did some low-rate technique work and then headed back to the cottages, inhaled the delicious trail mix head coach Andrew Carter‘s wife, Kim, made for us, and waited for the brave souls who volunteered to buy the groceries for the week. It was a great way to prepare for the third practice of the day.
The grocery store adventurers got back around five and before we knew it, we were off to the final practice of the day. This one had a power focus, which included timed pieces with bungee cords wrapped around the hulls of the boats to give them extra resistance. Let us tell you, that worked perfectly! To finish day one, we had a big team cookout in the group pavilion at the park, complete with more dance parties, and then took our tired, happy, sunburnt selves to bed to get ready for tomorrow’s adventures.
As nice as Iowa City is, it’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that we’re heading back there in a couple of days. After spending a week in Elberton, Georgia, Iowa rowing has grown tremendously. It all started with sunshine, blue skies, and warm temperatures to put everyone in good spirits. Having all of our cottages nestled in the woods with the lake in our backyard made for an ideal training location. The serenity allowed the team to eliminate all outside distractions and focus entirely on rowing and working towards achieving our goals for this upcoming season.
Waking up at the crack of dawn and having the unique blends of pinks and oranges of the sunrise light up the sky behind those carrying oars down to the dock was like something out of a movie. On some mornings, the two eights and the two fours split ways and completed the workouts with their corresponding coach. The crews kept it competitive while putting a fun spin on things. Even the one day of pouring rain didn’t stop us from having a good time. If anything, Thursday’s choppy waves and whirling wind just gave us an even greater challenge to overcome. But luckily we only had to deal with that once. Every other day provided us with ideal rowing conditions, which we used to our advantage.
After docking from a hard morning’s work each day, some would decide to take a plunge into the cold lake water once we got back to the cottages. We would then enjoy a nice lunch on the dock and a quick cat-nap if time allowed. Some of the days, however, we would all gather at the pavilion for a homemade brunch consisting of pancakes, eggs, hash browns, fruit, and, of course, bacon. We also shared some team dinners at the pavilion after our evening sessions on the water. One dinner in particular seemed to be a favorite amongst the team, and that was our chili cook-off. Each cottage dug out their favorite chili recipe and dished out small batches to be taste-tested by the coxswains and coaches. The top three chili winners were put up on a “pedestal” to have their picture taken (see it on Instagram). We all devoured the chili after we topped it off with our favorite fixings. On the way back to the cottages for the night, we jammed out to some oldies as we do every ride to practice.
Reflecting on a week filled with progress and team bonding, it seems that our second annual trip to Elberton, Georgia, proved to be a success. Completing three to four weeks of training within one week’s span has helped us put our goals into perspective and obtain the right mindset to achieve them.
Monday morning started bright and early with a high-intensity session. All five crews, three eights and two fours, battled down the buoyed 2000m course with exciting speeds. Once we finished the workout, the crews eagerly turned the boats and headed to the docks, motivated by a promised generous breakfast. We tore down practice and headed for the pavilion where everyone met.
Head Coach Carter and his family showed off in the kitchen flipping pancakes and frying bacon, although Coach Carter did forget his apron. Junior, Gabby Watson, showed great team commitment as she griddled eggs despite the promise of an anaphylactic reaction if she “really touched” any of them.
With full stomachs we dispersed to our cottages for a few hours of down time. Some of us chose to let our pale Midwest bodies soak up some sun (or in some cases simply reflect the sun) on the quiet docks behind our cottages, while others napped inside preserving energy for the afternoon row.
Our beloved free time came and went and we were picked up for another practice. The evening session consisted of playing around with starts. The glassy water was a great training ground for finding important technical changes, but as the old saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” After spending all practice in beautiful water, we came around the corner for the last 1000m to the dock and were greeted with a firm handshake from Mr. Headwind, who had clearly been hiding all afternoon. The crews landed at the docks excited, once again, for food.
After a great night’s sleep, crews loaded up the vans bright and early on Tuesday and headed to the course for the start of another long day. It was St. Patrick’s Day and our own Skylar McSorely’s 21st birthday so we knew it was going to be a special day. Shotgun riders were the DJs responsible for lifting everyone’s spirits and, as usual, they didn’t disappoint. At the rowing site, we were greeted with another beautiful Georgia sunrise and glassy water. Coach Jeff Garbutt captured the beauty and posted it on our team Instagram if you want to check it out.
The superb conditions helped all five crews get some great mileage in, including some over-distance pieces. As the temperatures rose we headed back to the cottages to refuel for another row and, before we knew it, we were back on the water. We went for a nice long row down to the cove where our cottages are to say hello to Coach Carter’s family who were out on the dock waiting for us.
After a quick spin and a few minutes to get rehydrated we were bee-lining back to the dock. The steady, long distance pieces took their toll on everyone’s hands which gave us all motivation to get back to the dock. We quickly put the boats away and piled in to the vans. Since it was the hottest day of the week, with temperatures reaching over 80 degrees, a group of girls ran straight from the vans, dropping their bags on the way and plunged in to the chilly depths of Lake Russell.
After a few hours of much needed rest, we were headed back to the course. We had a bungee row on the schedule, but with racing coming right around the corner, Coach Carter used the afternoon to help precisely tune each boat to the rowers occupying it. Once the stations were set, we tested them out on a lovely adventure row through the coves of Lake Russell before heading in for the day. The evening was spent in the pavilion as a team enjoying homemade grilled cheese and tomato soup. Coach Julie Quoss showed off some superior grilled cheese flipping skills and again the Carters’ homemade dinner completely satisfied the team with full bellies and carbs ready to fuel us for the next day’s training.
Wednesday morning provided another opportunity for all crews to test their race day speed on the buoyed 2k course. All five crews lined up bow ball to bow ball and before we knew it we were off. We faced varying weather conditions, but our coxswains skillfully guided all crews down the course. This gave us a great opportunity to practice maintaining boat speed throughout different circumstances.
Exhausted but encouraged by the work we just put in, we headed back to the cottages eagerly anticipating a nice long break. Some girls went for an afternoon adventure to the lakeside beach, while others went to the grocery store to stock up for the upcoming chili cook off.
Since we were excited with the speed we displayed in the morning session, Coach Carter gave us time to refine our starting sequences in the evening session — a rower’s favorite. Taking the boat from a dead stop to full speed in just under ten strokes is as exhilarating as it gets. After some great progress, we settled down with some steady over-distance pieces to finish off the session. We wrapped up the day piling into the vans, windows down, and beats blaring.
Following a rainy, yet relaxing afternoon off the team returned to our normal early wake-up call.. We hopped in the vans and headed towards the lake. Upon arrival the team silently took to setting out oars, loading the launches, and stretching our tired muscles. It’s a Friday morning, and we are five days into our spring training trip. This is typically the point of the week where the training really takes its toll and your mental toughness really kicks in. We knew the workout would be a challenging one, but following Thursday morning’s torrential downpour, most of the team was just relieved to take in another peaceful sunrise on the lake.
As expected, the workout was difficult and our bodies were in need of a good refuel, so we packed up and headed to the pavilion. Once there, the team dispersed to play cards, chat, or rest their heads, while others put on their chef caps and helped the coaches cook pancakes, eggs, potatoes and bacon. After devouring nearly all the food, we returned to our cottages until the next practice. During this time, we all in front of the television to catch the University of Iowa Women’s Basketball team take on American University in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
With a victory for our fellow Hawkeyes we excitedly loaded up the vans once more to head off to the final practice of the day. This time around we had some leapfrog scheduled. For those who don’t know, `leapfrog’ is just what you would imagine. One boat rows at a steady 18 spm (strokes per minute) while the other boat rows at a higher, stronger 30+ spm. Once the boat rowing at the 30+ has successfully rowed through the other boat then each boat swaps stroke rates and speed. It proved to be one of the more entertaining (and sweaty) pieces of the week as you are consistently changing rates and rhythm to propel your boat through the water.
As the team gathered for our usual post-row stretch many stopped to take in the sun setting over the lake. For some, Saturday marked their last time in Elberton, Georgia. With only two more practices left and the week wrapping up, most of the team didn’t mind taking a few minutes to snap a picture and chill in the parking lot.
Iowa City is pretty great and all, but there’s something about spending a week in Georgia in the middle of March that brings out the crazy tan-lines and Instagram sunset artist in all of us.