Fix the rowing.

Match the speed of thecrews in front of you.

Make your move.

When you’re behind in a race (let’s assume “behind” equals trailing by at least one length of open water, sometimes called “open back”), there are three things you can do to get back into it, and none of them involve invoking some sort of “magical call.” That call doesn’t exist. 

Of course, there are great motivational calls that you can have tucked away, but you can’t rely on them to be the game changer when you’re down by open water. Resorting to spouting platitudes for the rest of the race is akin to putting Band-Aids on a bullet wound: they’re not going to stop the hemorrhaging.

Fix the Rowing

If you’ve fallen off the pack, it’s safe to assume the quality of the rowing has fallen off, too. Your first task is to unify the crew by getting everyone to take the same stroke at the same time. You probably have a solid understanding of technique and the stroke your coach teaches. Apply that knowledge to what you’re seeing and feeling in order to get the rowing back on track. Here’s an example:

“900 meters in, one length of open back on Columbia. Let’s tighten up the timing and complete the strokes. We got this guys! The race starts right... NOW! Squeeeze through… squeeeze through–that’s it! Hold the back ends and breeeathe through the recovery… now. In our rhythm … let’s accelerate and swing together. Squeeeze swing… hands out together now… hands now… hands now… accelerate swing–there it is… accelerate swing…”

Match The Speed

It’s hard to move on a crew that’s moving away from you. Before you can start closing the gap you first have to stop allowing them to advance. This is where you need to watch the stroke rate and make sure you’re at the pace you want. One tactic I’ve used in the past is raising our rate one beat to match the other crew(s) if it looks like they’re rowing higher than we are. The risk-reward is very high here, so you’ll need to make a quick assessment. Ask yourself, “Can we raise the rate without spinning our wheels and sustain that speed/pace for the next few hundred meters?” If you can, commit to executing it.

“1100 meters in, time to shut ‘em down. We’re at 35 right now, we’re taking it up to a 36… pick it up together… on this one! LEGS commit, LEGS 36–right here, stay in this rhythm now and attack… legs loose… legs loose… get stubborn now, hold on to them… legs yea middle four! Trust our rhythm, trust our speed … holding our margin now, that’s it…”

Make Your Move

The moment you sense the margin is holding, you have to capitalize on it and go. You can’t waste time or meters. By this point you’re probably well into the third 500, which means you’ve got time for maybe one last 20 before it’s time to sprint.

“Four seats of open back now guys, let’s close that gap and make contact over the next ten … ready in two… in one… commit NOW! One go! Two go! Three commit! Load together send… that’s it, WALKING! Two seats back now… it’s yours, take it! Hit it harder with the legs, together in two… one… two, GO NOW! Legs go! Legs go! Do not sit, do not quit… together go! Bow to stern now, bow pair, reel it in! Six bend ‘em! Seven break them! Eight break them! Nine last 500… ten stay on it!”