Men's and women's rowers step off the ergs and onto the water

by Evan Morgan | 4/7/17 1:30am

At its most basic level, rowing is about suffering. The best crew, more often than not, is the crew that can suffer the most and still produce winning times. After months of pounding away at the ergometers in the winter, the Big Green crews have finally moved from the gym to the water.

Throughout the winter, a sheet of ice over the Connecticut River kept the teams indoors. Winter training sessions can be grueling, stretching to interval lengths of 3x30 minutes.

“It’s probably the hardest season,” men’s heavyweight captain Spencer Furey ’17 said. “You can pound away at the erg more than you can when you’re on the water.”

But machines cannot capture the intricacies of putting an oar in the water. To simulate the technical aspects of the stroke, Dartmouth’s rowers work on indoor tanks where the port and starboard rowers sit together in mock boats and the coaches can work with each group.

When the men’s and women’s rowing teams first got on the water during their spring break trip in Clemson, South Carolina, the first item of business was to shake off the winter rust. This meant relearning the skillful aspects of the stroke.

“It’s like riding a bike. It comes back pretty quickly, but there’s definitely an adjustment phase after being on the machines for three months,” Furey said.

The teams spent 10 days in Clemson working aggressively, training between two and three hours at a time.

“We were able to get a lot of quality meters in there,” men’s lightweight rowing head coach Sean Healey said. “One of the keys of a training trip like that is keeping the quality high.”

In the fall, the crew teams compete in head-style racing over a six-kilometer course. To prepare, the teams focus on aerobic fitness.

Spring racing, by contrast, is about anaerobic fitness. In the spring, crews race sprints over a two-km course. Unlike head races, sprints start from a dead stop, giving an advantage to explosive teams that can start quickly.

After hitting the ergs hard in the winter, the teams head into the spring with a high level of fitness. On the heavyweight team, Furey said, this leads to fierce competition at the beginning of the spring season.

“It’s a dogfight for seats,” Furey said. “We have a lot of fit guys and really technical guys competing. That’s the vision of the program, with internal competition driving us forward.”

Rowing is a sport where numbers can describe a team’s success in its entirety. Consequently, all of Dartmouth’s coaches take a data-driven approach to training and racing.

“We have data all the way from five years back, and data going even further back from other squads,” Healey said. “We can connect the dots and say, ‘Last year we were averaging 1:45, and this year we’re averaging 1:44.’ We can look back and see the progress physiologically.”

After a data-heavy three months on the machines, coaches have precise measures of where their teams are heading into the spring.

“We had a very solid indoor training season, lot of personal records on the ergometer, so that’s encouraging,” women’s head coach Linda Muri said.

In the fall, the women’s team finished in 23rd in the championship race of the Head of the Charles, 12th at the Princeton Chase and fifth at the Foot of the Charles.

The heavyweight rowing team is coming off of a strong fall season, which saw them finish 11th in the Head of the Charles in October, a 10-spot improvement from the year before, and second at the Princeton Chase. The heavyweight team’s performance in the fall was the best among the past five years.

Lightweight returns to the water with their “A” boat having placed 12th in the lightweight division of the Head of the Charles and 13th at the Princeton Chase.

Dartmouth’s women’s rowing team opened its spring season last weekend at the Doc Hosea Invitational in Camden, New Jersey, a meet that Muri emphasized as an important barometer for their season. The varsity eights finished fourth in the grand final, and the varsity fours won the petite final.

For the heavyweights, if this past weekend is any indication, the team has a bright season ahead. The team swept its races against Columbia University and the College of the Holy Cross and are hungry for more.

This begins a month of constant racing, where Dartmouth will race Ivy League competitors as well as other northeast teams. For the women, the season culminates with the Ivy League Championships; for the men, the conference championship is the Eastern Sprints Regatta. For the women, a strong performance at the Ivy League championships can qualify them for the NCAA National Championships, while the men can qualify for the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta, where they can compete for a national championship.

“We’re operating on a week by week basis, and we’re preparing for the next race coming down the pipe,” Allen said. “If we keep getting better each week, we’ll be in a good spot.”

The women’s team and the heavyweight team will continue their seasons this weekend against Yale University in Derby, Connecticut, while the lightweight team will make its season debut this weekend against Princeton University and the University of Delaware at Princeton, New Jersey.

Correction Appended April 7, 2017:

The original article incorrectly stated that the team's spring break trip was 10 weeks, not 10 days. This article has been updated to reflect this change.