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It’s (Almost) 2K Time Again!

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It’s a top question for every rower – and CrossFitter – how do you go as fast as you can over 2,000 meters? Whether on the water or on the rowing machine, it’s a physiological challenge that has different answers for different athletes, but one common theme in all of them – man, is it hard!

Especially as the indoor rowing season approaches, it can be helpful to have an idea of how to approach a 2K erg test – whether it’s simply been a while since you raced that distance, or if you think you’re due for a PR, but not sure what your goal should be on this test.

There are three basic plans of attack for your 2K test: the even split, the fly and die, and the negative split. (Side note: one of the most important reasons to keep a training journal, at least of your erg tests, is so that you can see which “plan” you’ve followed in your best performances. On test day, set your erg monitor splits for either 250m or 500m, and write down your data afterwards.) If you’re training as part of a team, your coach has probably developed a focus on one particular plan, but whether you’re training in a group or solo, it’s helpful to look at these plans, and develop the strategies and insights that can help you reach your peak performance.

There are three main 2K race strategies: The Even Split, The Fly-and-Die, and The Negative Split.

So…let’s consider each strategy, one at a time.

The Even Split strategy entails choosing your goal time for the test (say, 7:15 or 6:30), figuring out the average split for that time (1:48.7 or 1:37.5), and then attempting to hold that split for the entire test. There are a few important things to remember if you decide to even split your test:

  • Choose a goal time that is reasonable for you, based on how you’ve done in your preparation workouts, and as compared to your previous best times. If your PR from last year is 6:50, you are probably not going to break 6:00 on this test.
  • The beginning of your test may feel either easier or more difficult than you had anticipated, depending on your preparation and how big of a PR you are working towards.
  • Focus on finding rhythm and relaxation, and making your stroke as efficient as possible, to hold your goal split. If you’ve chosen your split well, as the test goes on, it will be increasingly difficult to hold that speed, so focus on relaxing, breathing, and consistency.

The Fly-and-Die strategy uses your goal split as well, but in a very different way. Physiologically, rowers train to pick the boat up out of the water, accelerate it to faster-than-race-pace speed, and then hold onto that speed for as long as possible. “Flying and dying” is doing the same thing on the erg: going harder than your target split for as long as possible, until your body forces you to shift to a slower split. Many times, rowers get excited during erg tests and regardless of their planned strategy, there is a fly-and-die element from race-day adrenaline. It’s important to realize that on-the-water races usually have a race profile like this. If you find yourself struggling in the middle thousand meters of your 2K test, dial into your team’s race focuses — like a power 10 at the 1000-meter mark or a 15 to sit up at 500 meters to go — to help you bring your focus back and your splits under control.

The Negative Split strategy, in my opinion, sets rowers up best for a good test. This is especially true if you suspect you’ll be faster on race day than your previous test, but you’re not sure by how much. To set up your plan, calculate the split of your previous test or PR (e.g., 7:20 is a 1:50 split, 6:20 is a 1:35 split), or make your best guess at what you think you can do on this test. During your test, focus on holding a split close to that personal best for roughly the first 1000 meters, and then get progressively faster through the second 1000. An important thing to remember is that the beginning of the test will probably feel very easy. If it feels good to go harder in the first 20 strokes than your goal split, that’s okay, but the most important focus is locking onto the “easy” split with a good rhythm, good breathing, and minimal effort. You will be able to find more speed later in the test by increasing the stroke rating, sitting up, and starting to push. I usually break the last 500 meters into 10-stroke increments, trying to increase my stroke rating and get faster with each one.

Whatever you decide is the most effective 2K plan for you on race day, remember that if you do it right, you’re going to leave absolutely everything out there. Something will probably go worse, and also something will go better, than you’d envisioned. It definitely helps to do a walk-through visualization on the erg in the day or two before.

And, as my high school coach told us, you can do anything for a minute. When the final meters show up on your monitor, buckle your seatbelt and go for broke. Good luck and go fast!