(me at the far end, with the white t-shirt, getting ready to start the indoor rowing race at 30-39 YO division)
I took the initiative to participate in the 2009 Greek Indoor Rowing Championship only to experience in close rowing action from dedicated athletes into this sport. However, I did have my preparation too. I studied carefully the rowing technique, I have followed systematically sprint and long in duration training sessions. My aim was to push myself close to a 7 min finish time for a 2000 meters distance, which is the reference distance to judge your rowing ability. If you have never rowed before it's not easy to hit this time limit people, believe me, even if you are a sporty person. I put down a 3 month advanced schedule, based around indoor rowing, in the hope to achieve a respectable ranking at the race. The race was 1000 meters long and on average a 3 min and 10 secs or less finishing time was the average time for most racers each year. After 2 and a 1/2 months in the gym I could hardly get down to 3 min and 15 secs for a 1000 meters distance and that was killing! (I was FORCED to take a break for at least 20 min even for such a short sprint time). I knew though that it was a fair time considering the circumnstances (no coach, no previous experience).
I eventually appeared at the start line of the Championship. I had no stress at all, I knew that I was there just for fun and to enjoy stroking against actual rowers. I had put down a simple plan: Just to follow my own pace - I wanted to stay on a plan that I followed during the gym session. I had a very lengthy warm up time prior to the race: 20 min of stretching and another 20 min of 'jumps' and self-exercises to make me sweat (but not to the extend to get tired of course!). Sprint rowing requires proper warm up, else you can shock your body and run out of glycose storage soon after you start to row hard (rowing IS physically very demanding).
After the hit of the gun (actually the machine's integrated monitor was the countdown watch) I forgot everything I prepared! A mass of 200+ people on the stage were filling in our ears with loud screams. I wasn't ready for this. I was rowing harder than I was supposed, thinking that if I stay behind then I will not be able to catch the experienced rowers at a later stage. I was rowing faster than my average pace (1.32min/500m instead of 1.40min/500m), but I was feeling confident. Perhaps the atmosphere around me was motivating me to forget pain and tiredness. I was in between the first 3 people (out of 12 people) until the first 600 meters (out of 1000 meters). During the last 250 meters my lungs were screaming for rest - I was marginally keeping a steady pace, but to my surprise I realised that I was at first place, with the second guy just 20-25 meters behind me (that's around a 4 to 5 secs lead). When I entered the last 150 meters my body activated the 'red' zone - alarms were buzzing within my brain, I was overloading my body and my muscles were full of lactic acid! I knew I was entering a level 5 intensity, my pace was still around 1.32-1.35min/500m and the distance from the second was increasing, now he was around 35 meters behind me. Could I last during the last 100 meters? (that was approximately another 12 hard strokes to go...). Countdown....12 strokes...11 strokes..........2 strokes...1 stroke........ thanks God it's over. I finished at first!!!!! What was that?? How did this happen????!!! I didn't think too much about the win, because I was ready to collapse. Soon after I stood up from the machine my knees were so weak, I almost had no feeling of a proper balance - I took a few steps and..... fell down!! Embarassing, but I couldn't do anything about it!!! It took me 30 min to recover, and even after that my lungs were feeling as if they were bleeding. However, the end of the day was the most rewarding: A medal for my first place and a new national record at my age group was a fact!!!! A deep satisfaction, but I won't take part to such a race again, because I don't think I can achieve such a win again!!! :D