A Rower's Routine

Chloe Laverack is rowing her third Head of The Charles Regatta. She’s no stranger to practice.

On the banks of the Charles River this Oct. 18 and 19, you won’t find the typical still waters and quiet hum of autumn. Instead there’ll be buzzing excitement for an event that draws more than 9,000 athletes and 400,000 spectators each year.

Those still waters will be traded for a rush of sculling boats competing in the world’s largest two-day rowing event: the Head of the Charles Regatta. It was created in 1965 by the founders of the Cambridge Boat Club.

Now in its 50th year, the event will attract rowers from around the world ready to compete in the strenuous three-mile rowing race. The course features some tricky obstacles including five three-arch bridges, which take plenty of practice to master. Navigating the lanes beneath these bridges while among the other boats proves to be a challenge each year—and teams practice ardently to get it right. Chloe Laverack, a senior at Northeastern and a member of the women’s rowing team, hopes that her team has done just that.

“For Northeastern, and other Boston schools and universities, practicing on the Charles is a beautiful home advantage,” explains the Southbury, Connecticut native, “We are able to practice doing Head of the Charles pieces competitively within our team on the actual course to prepare confidently for the official head race.”

The chemistry major is no stranger to the competition. She’s competed in the race in the last two years and is ready to give it another shot. “My hope for this year’s event is to decrease our course time from last year and raise our place,” says Laverack, who was a walk-on to the women’s rowing team her first year at Northeastern. “I had never rowed before and my experience on the rowing team hasn’t been easy. Being on a varsity team with the physical demands of rowing is challenging,” she says.

Chloe Laverack may have never rowed before she joined the team, but she was accustomed to the vigorous work known as being an athlete. She was captain of her high school cross-country team and was a track and field athlete all four years. At 5 feet 10 inches, Laverack is an athletic force to be reckoned with and she focuses on the physical demands of training as progress.

The Head of the Charles is, as Laverack puts it, “by no means a sprint.” She detailed the dedicated training schedule that goes into such a physically challenging race. “I am truly part of a team,” she says. “Together we are on the water just after 6:00 a.m. every morning.” What is done during a single practice can vary between longer aerobic workouts and shorter, more intense pieces. Practicing both ways aids in perfecting the high competitive stroke rate. But when they’re not working together, they’re working against each other. Groups within the team race against other groups as well. According to Laverak, the workouts are not only early, but also long. “We are typically on the water for an hour to an hour and a half, and afterward we may do a run or a circuit.”

Rowing isn’t all about being talented and well-practiced in the water. Rowers need to be in peak physical condition overall. The workouts for the women’s rowing team continue long after the 6:00 a.m. practice. The team gets back to work in the afternoon, hitting the weight room or going for a run. They also do series on erg machines, or ergometers, more commonly known as indoor rowing machines.

“To be able to exert yourself to your maximum ability for three miles means many, many more miles need to go under your belt first,” she says. This practice-makes-progress mentality pervades the mantra that Laverack uses for herself. “It’s about progress. I believe you are always training up to the point of the race that you are in. After you finish that race, you use the experience and the work you’ve gained from it as training for the next race, and so on.”

Training involves more than vigorous exercise—smart diet choices are imperative. Laverak notes eating high carb and protein snacks like toast with peanut butter and bananas with water or Gatorade are perfect for before and after practices. “I have a favorite pasta recipe I make before all my big days,” she says. “It's whole wheat pasta with a sort of bruschetta mixed in, mozzarella, garlic, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.” And after a big race? “Maybe a bowl of ice cream or slice of cheesecake. I'm human too!”

While pasta is definitely a pre-race ritual for the rower, so is wearing her lucky sports bra. “It’s a champion black sports bra,” she says, “I think black clothing is intimidating so I have that little token.” When she’s not donning the lucky bra, Laverack says her personal choices to train on her own are beneficial to the team as a whole. “Personally I have been training for the 2014 Head of the Charles for three and a half years now, since I started rowing. Training is something that compounds on itself as long as you keep working it. To stop training for the future would be to not progress in speed for myself and the team.”

The common team goal is to be better than they were at the 2013 Head of the Charles, but the real goal, according to Laverack, is to work harder than she ever has before. “I hope that we have great, fast, competitive races that we can look back with pride at, and know that we truly performed at the highest level that we are capable of,” she says, reflecting on her last time rowing in the race.

Progress is what Laverack has been working towards since she walked on to the rowing team four years ago. Her team’s performance this year will tell us if she has obtained the progress that she has trained so hard for.