British rowers shift attention to Head Season as winter approaches

‘We really have to put our trust in the data’ says British Rowing’s Holly Norton

As Britain’s rowers return to club rowing up and down the country, the focus of their preparations now shifts from the summer’s regattas to the very different head racing season.

The head racing season poses a significantly different challenge to rowers over the winter months as competitors are required to race in a time trial format for the fastest time rather than side-by-side against other crews.

Two-time World Champion Matthew Tarrant, and 2016 World Rowing Championship gold medallist Holly Norton, spoke to SAS - the Official Data Analytics Partner of British Rowing - about the main challenges that they face when head racing.

The 24-year-old Leander Club rower, Norton, said: “When it comes to head racing you don’t really have any idea of how you’re doing, because you don’t have a boat in front of or behind you to compare to, so I find them quite challenging in that sense.

“The data that I monitor most closely in a head race is almost always the pace we’ve set coming out of the start line, which isn’t always as important in a regatta as we’ve got a visual representation of how we’re doing compared to the competition. When we’re in that situation, we really have to put our trust in the data we have in the boat, because that’s really the only way of keeping track of how we’re performing. Whenever we’re in the boat, we always think that we’re pulling as hard as we can, but the numbers will always show if we can go faster, so I find data particularly important for head races.”

The key difference that Matt Tarrant identifies between the two formats is the length of the race. While a regatta is traditionally raced over 2km, head races can be up to 10km long, making it a significantly different test for rowers as there is a far greater emphasis on endurance.

Speaking about the endurance levels required, the 27-year-old said: “When it comes to head racing, for me the data is vital in ensuring that our endurance remains on track throughout the race. The data really helps me to understand the way my body is performing, particularly when monitoring my heart rate. Even in the middle of the race we’re able to correlate heart rate with performance on the water and we can see if we’re working too hard for the speed we’re at. The most important thing is to be able to find a good middle ground and hit as fast a speed as possible, without completely draining your body before the end of the race.”

Over the coming months both Tarrant and Norton will meet this challenge in head races at a number of GB Rowing Assessments. British Rowing will use the data from the 5km time trials at Assessments to make team selections for upcoming Championships, as well as identifying areas for improvement as the squad moves forward towards Tokyo 2020.

Find out more about SAS’s partnership with British Rowing.

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