The aftermath of an erg test
It looked like the scene of a bloodless massacre. Eight bodies lying in the rowing club gym – some motionless and slumped over, others sprawled on the floor. But look! On closer inspection, it appeared that some were gasping for breath, and the occasional whimper could be heard. Perhaps there were some survivors after all.
This, my friends, is the awful reality of an erg test – the ultimate physical and mental challenge that awaits every rower who is serious about getting competitive. For the non-rowers amongst you, I should explain what all the fuss is about: it involves a test on the rowing machine – a set distance (commonly 5km or 2km) or time. The results are recorded and used to help determine crews (and, let’s face it, all-round swagger – a good erg score is something to feel pretty good about… or so I’m told). You push yourself to your limits… and beyond… and then, in the final sprint, a little bit further, until you’re one of the ones slumped over your machine with your lungs screaming and your legs burning.
You don’t have to spend much time with a rower before you hear them banging on about erg tests – who scored what, why they need to improve next time, when the next one is, how the weight-adjustment algorithm works, how damned hard it is… and on it goes. It’s a minor obsession in most rowers’ lives. And as soon as one is over the next one is there, following them around like a little black cloud.
Asking around before yesterday’s erg test (a mere 1 km – really, you might wonder, how hard could that be?) I discovered that quite a few of us – tough, feisty women with serious jobs and serious priorities – had been feeling sick all day and experiencing phantom aches, pains and other random (and entirely psychosomatic) symptoms. I was jittery and edgy, and as I warmed up I felt as weak as water. Nausea start to rise and my mind began telling me all the reasons I couldn’t do it. “I feel terrible, I feel sick, I’m too weak, I can’t do this, I need to get off, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I CAN’T DO THIS!”
So why the big deal? Surely rowers are used to pushing themselves to the limits? Well, yes and no. We’re used to physical pain and endurance, but there’s something about the personal battle between rower and machine which, combined with the urgent need to score well, makes the erg test particularly tough.
The only way to handle this trauma, I’m slowly discovering, is to have a race plan. So before I started I knew what split I was aiming for, what rate I’d stay at, what I’d say to myself when I got that panicky feeling that my lungs weren’t big enough… everything was pre-planned. And, miraculously, as the test began, that planning, coupled with the season’s training, kicked in and several long minutes later I was there, alongside the other victims, trying to force some air back into my raw lungs.
And that’s it for now. That was the last one before our next big event – the British Masters Champs in less than a fortnight. Crews will be made official in the next couple of days (although I already know that, whilst greatly improved, my scores aren’t good enough to win me a place in a Serious Boat).
But for now, I’m just enjoying the feeling that it’s over. Until the next time.
Tags: british masters, British Masters Champs, erg, erg test, rowers, Rowing, rowing machine