To A Noble and Excellent End – or Pain Management in a 2K Erg Piece

My rowers and coxswains pulled their second 2K Erg tests of the year today. It’s always energizing watching them come together for these pieces. You can’t help catch the energy they generate as they row and cheer each other. I was able to stop up a little early and talk to them about pain management in the context of a 2000 meter erg piece. We discussed:

Pain vs. ‘the feelings of working hard’: Pain is a protection mechanism that minimizes bodily harm, erging pain is a sign that you are working hard, growing, pushing limits, etc. It is unfortunate that our language does not distinguish between the two sensations, but it does not so all feelings are lumped as ‘pain.’

Tolerance: Some people tolerate ‘pain’ better than others. Why? They attribute the pain to different things ( I am working hard vs. I am out shape), confidence – having blasted through it in the past makes it easier to do so again, and desire – if you don’t want to challenge yourself this way then you should rethink your decision to row on a competitive crew team.

Techniques to actively deal with the pain of a 2000 meter row:

  1. Attention Diversion:
    1. on short pieces and on the water divert your attention to something rowing related such as breathing, form, or timing
  2. Countering (followed by self instructions)
    1. such as when that voice tells you ‘it hurts, you should ease up’, count er with ‘yes, so what? that doesn’t mean I have to ease up, stay on it!’
  3. Forced Breathing:
    1. 3-4 deep, rapid breaths, attempting to expel all air on the exhale

Those reading this that are not rowers may not understand why mostly sane people would put themselves through something like this. An excerpt from one of my former rowers says it best. She has just described the feeling of the first time she broke 8 minutes on the 2K erg test:

I still wonder how I stuck through that first winter, having rowed only four times the past fall and knowing nothing of the spring sprint season, that heavenly light at the end of the tunnel. Whenever I find myself in need of extra motivation to push me into the lion’s den, to lead me like a lamb to the slaughter of the erg, I remember that 2K, the approval of my role models, captains and coaches at my achievement and the unrestricted pride and confidence I had in my own ability. I remember what that room has taught me- to push myself to the farthest limit and with one more stroke to break it, to sacrifice a moment’s happiness, comfort and oxygen for later reward, and that I am mentally and physically stronger than I ever thought possible. I now know I can enter hell and emerge triumphant, and even have fun along the way. I know I will enter the erg room with reluctance and face the erg with apprehension, but I know I can and will prevail, for the erg room is not really hell, and it is not the enemy, but the best means to a noble and excellent end.

So, how do you manage the pain of a 2000 meter erg piece? I’d love to hear your answer in the comments.

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2 Responses to To A Noble and Excellent End – or Pain Management in a 2K Erg Piece

  1. Rocket Roy says:

    I just tend to ignore it and just concentrate on the zero’s and hitting every one with the correct split, thinking about my plan and how good I’m feeling, thinking about my technique and keeping it smooth and relaxed. Ignore the pain and alway pull as hard as you can right thru to the end.

  2. kpd says:

    That is a very assertive approach – focused on the numbers with a bit of mental talk. Thanks.

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