Sunday, May 13th, 2007...10:51 am
Paula left to meet her mother in London for a few days, leaving me as a bachelor in the Netherlands. While she was gone I decided to go carousing through the Netherlands drinking and hanging out with my buddies. By the end of the day I had seen a lot of the Netherlands, drunk more than I could handle, did not eat enough, had a Dutch women undress me, and had some one else drive me home. By this point you may be wondering why this is on the Outlaw Web page; well, it’s because this was all part of the Ringvaart Regatta. Before you decide this race sounds really fun, read on.
First, I need to provide a little insight into what a ringvaart is. As you probably know, the Dutch have converted many bodies of water into useable land. A low lying area that has been reclaimed is called a polder in Dutch. One of the keys to reclaiming an area is to build a canal around the entire area. The canal that encircles a polder is called a ringvaart in Dutch. Historically, Windmills were placed along the ringvaarts to pump water out of the Polder to keep it dry.
The Ringvaart Regatta is a 100 km race that is primarily on a large Ringvaart southwest of Amsterdam that encircled a large piece of land that includes Schiphol Airport, which is the international airport for Amsterdam. This is the 32d consecutive year the race has been run and there was a good turnout with 107 boats and well over 400 competitors. Many of the crews take the race very seriously and train specifically for the race. The race includes every type of rowing configuration possible including some that I find just unthinkable for this distance including a coxed single and coxed pair. The 8+ is the most popular and there are always a few 8x. Each crew is a required to have a pit crew and I now understand why. Martien and Monika, our pit crew, were awesome. They took pictures, videotaped sections of the race, provided coaching, added encouragement when necessary, and were always available with our essentials. This is not an easy job since they had to ride their bicycles for well over 60 km of the race with all our extra stuff.
The race starts in Leiden and for some reason the sadistic race organizers make you row 5 additional kilometers just to get to the start of the race. The start is a mass start of all the people in your heat (19 boats in our heat) with a sprint across a rough big open lake to the beginning of the 60 km Ringvaart. After you complete the circle you race an additional 40 km through Leiden on to the finish in Delft (where Delft china is made). In general you row on very nice canals that that are wide enough for about three boats. You have to share the canals with large barges that are nearly the width of the cannel, but we only had to deal with 4 or 5 of them.
My partner Eric-Jan has rowed this race at least 7 times previously including in the 1x a few times. (He was a member of the crews that hold the record in 2 categories, 8x & Mx2x). He had won his event every time he raced except for the time he had to stop due to a major medical problem. Just a few weeks before the race he asked me if I wanted to do it, and I decided to go for it to get the full Dutch rowing experience. Thus, we did not have time to train and ended up only doing two long rows together to establish our optimal pace. Two other people from our club (Beatrix) had won the last few years and had been training seriously for the race. I guess behind the scenes our entry was getting some attention within the club.
On race day I had to wake up at 4 am, to lots of wind and rain. I met Martien at 5:00 am for our 2 hour drive to Leiden. We arrived late; the weather had cleared slightly but the wind was still blowing. While we were driving Erik-Jan had been busy rigging the boat, mounting a larger splash guard on the boat, installing a pump, adding cellophane strips along the gunwales to keep the boat from being swamped in wakes or waves. To my surprise Eric-Jan had changed our entry to a composite entry Arizona/Beatrix so just before we launched I quickly changed into my Outlaw Uni that I had brought just in case (also for good luck). So I officially rowed as an Outlaw in the race.
Our plan was to row at 23 to 24 strokes per minute, with a pressure similar to what I applied during my previous marathons, and we would take a short liquid break every 30 minutes. Erik-Jan showed his experience by steering a nearly perfect race. It became obvious he had all 100km memorized including all of the bridges and canal intersections. I was able to keep up the marathon pressure and still feel good until about 50 km. At that point my body was in reasonable shape except it was very painful to come up the slide. I mentally struggled with this for the next 10 km fighting not to rush the slide and continue on. People told me that everyone has a mental break at some point during the race and if you can make it through it the pain would reduce. At around the 57 km mark we took our first quick break outside of the boat where I was able to stretch my legs. This break made all the difference – my legs were back in action. However, the pain in your hands when you start rowing after you stop is excruciating. I am glad that people warned me about this and convinced me the pain would go away, otherwise I probably would have immediately jumped back out of the boat when I tried to take that first stroke after the rest. I found the pain of a million pins puncturing your hands only lasts for about 5 minutes once you start up rowing again. Unfortunately I had to endure this every 30 minutes after each water break. Another factor is that rowing 11,150 strokes can get very boring, even when it is across the very beautiful Netherlands.
At the 90 km mark everyone has to stop to portage around a lock. This is the only place where the clock actually stops for the competitors during the race, and they allow a 30 minute break. During the break volunteers & your pit crew portage the boats while the rowers get fueled up and seek medical attention. They also have masseuses there to provide messages. At this point all your coordination is gone so the masseuses had to help me get undressed, then she provide a great massage, and then help me get into a new set of dry rowing gear. After this I felt great and the last 10 km was a relative piece of cake.
I was very proud of completing the race and extremely happy to learn later that we were the 3rd fastest boat out of all 107 entries with a time of 8 hours 3 minutes and 19 seconds (split including rests of 2:24 /500m). An 8x and unfortunately a 2x from another club beat us, so we ended up second in our category (no age divisions). It is amazing that we were faster than all the 8+ and 4x boats that should be much faster than our 2x.
So in summary my buddy Erik-Jan and I rowed a 100k race across the Netherlands, chugging energy drinks, and pushing our bodies until we could barely function while my wife was away, instead of doing the normal bachelor things in Amsterdam.