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Rowing through the Finnish summer.

A race report.

First two Finnish championship wooden boat races done (58km and 24km), two remaining (10km and 1km).

The Quiske team, consisting of Kristina Björknäs and Pentti Soini in their Myrskylintu double wooden boat, committed to participating in all the Finnish Championship wooden boat races the summer of 2016. Since wooden boat rowing was completely new to Kristina, she would have to learn how to handle the wooden boat at different intensities to be able to complete all the distances (which range from 1km up to 58km).

Although this type of rowing is not well known abroad, it is very popular in Finland and in fact the world's biggest rowing event takes place is a wooden boat race here in Finland. In the Sulkavan soudut over 5000 rowers compete against each other rowing around the Partalansaari island over a 58km course. The 24km Pirkka rowing race is the biggest city rowing competition and it attracts over a thousand rowers in wooden boats.

You may be wondering how wooden boats differ from the better known Olympic boats? The answer is they are made of wood of course! But they are also shorter (6.5m) and with their 45kg weight they are quite a bit heavier and more stable. A further difference is that wooden boat oars do not feather but are in squared position also through recovery. In the wooden boats the rowlock is not extended outboard on a rigger and because of this the wooden boat oars typically cross by 34-38cm so that the left and right hands need to follow different paths.

Preparing for a summer of wooden boat races involved getting in shape by clocking hundreds of kilometers on the Concept 2 indoor rowing machine during the long harsh Finnish winter. The Concept 2 is an unforgiving machine in that it requires full concentration and commitment to gain serious results. The team participated in all the indoor rowing Finnish championship competitions during the winter and training and this made it possible for Kristina to reach her best ever aerobic fitness by spring. The Quiske team trained indoor rowing almost exclusively on slides, since this allows concentrating not only on power but also on rowing technique. And due to this experience the Quiske team is also focusing on creating a system to measure indoor rowing performance, especially when rowing on slides.

However indoor rowing was not enough, so this winter we drove 5300km to Northern Italy with a wooden boat on the roof of our car just to be able to do some first prototype measurements and a little bit of training on water. Why Italy you ask? The reason is during winter here in Finland the lakes are covered by a thick layer of ice forcing us to find somewhere else to row.

The hobby of rowing requires a lot of driving. Here the wooden rowing boat is above the Hakovirran sillat where the Sulkava race starts

The 58km Sulkava long distance race was the first race of the season and the Quiske team prepared by completing as many long distance sessions as possible. We squeezed in a 36km training 10 days before the race. Doing long distance training before the 58km race was needed not only to increase physical endurance but also for psychological reasons, to allow the novice rower to realize that it is possible to row the long distance without collapsing.

The oar blade flight path

Endurance is important, but efficiency is even more so, especially when it comes to long distance rowing. The Quiske team made use of their own prototype rowing measurement system while preparing for the races. The measurement data gave useful feedback especially to Kristina the novice who was recovering the blade of her left oar too high above the water. Getting feedback on rowing technique from a sensor on the oar is really useful in improving rowing technique.

Kristina's (on the right side) and Pentti's (on the left) oar blade flight paths of a number of strokes shown side by side.

The oar blade flight paths of a number of strokes of the two Quiske team rowers are shown side by side (Pentti on the left and Kristina on the right) to enable comparison. Based on these results Kristina brought the oar blade closer to the water surface both during drive the drive as well as during the recovery.

58km rowing race 9th of July 2016, Sulkava, Finland

The final preparations for the race involved carbo loading and drinking copious amounts of water. As one of the Quiske team members is also a beekeeper so the carbo loading included many many spoonful’s of honey!

Race day dawned and the team felt ready. The carbo and fluid loading had made us feel bloated but in spite of this we still had two cups of coffee and some juice during breakfast, which was not a good idea as Kristina was to learn later.

The race started underneath the big Hakovirta bridge with wooden boats all trying to line up to get the best possible start. The Quiske team were positioned just right of a promising looking male double that we thought would provide for a good lead for us. It turned out however that our start was too soft, the racing felt comfortable rather than as agonizing it should. However, the team enjoyed the rather slow start together with the other boats and figured that we could speed up later, after all there was lots of distance to cover.

Coming back to the morning coffee, Kristina ended up in a very uncomfortable situation already just one hour into the five-hour race... Kristina watched as her heartrate plummeted from 160 down to around 125bpm and was unable to bring it up from there for the remainder of the race...

Also, as Kristina had never tested her endurance on this kind of a distance she was not sure of her limits and possibly therefore didn't give her everything, which in turn might have led to the arms of Pentti cramping...

A 58km race should include not only sweat but also pain and the temptation to quit, however we experienced none of that and 5 hours later we were given 4th place.

What did we learn?

The Sulkava 58km race needs to be approached with a humble mindset but still you must go fast right from the start (it is difficult to accelerate to the frontline if you are left behind right from the start). There was no edge in our Sulkava race this year and there is a big difference with giving everything and just rowing at a leisurely pace. Kristina drank too much coffee, that is an easy thing to fix in future races. Also, we analyzed the balancing of our boat and changed the position of our seats to bring us closer to the center of mass of the boat. We invested in a new set of oars that enabled rowing at a higher pace so that Kristina could keep her heartrate up even during really long sessions.

Next year we try again!

Pirkka 24km rowing race, 23rd of July 2016, Tampere, Finland

This is the biggest city rowing competition in Finland where the best single and double wooden boats compete against each other. The Quiske team was full of determination and prepared by getting our boat ready with the new Quiske logo.

The new look! Our boat was decorated with Quiske stickers the day before the race.

On race day morning our team fueled up with the famous Tampere black sausage we were full of energy and determined to go commence the race with maximum speed right from the start and so we did. We had a perfect start taking the lead in the mixed double straight away. We stayed in the lead position for the entire 12km first lap.

The Quiske team (Kristina Björknäs and Pentti Soini) in the Pirkka race. Photo by Ruud van Veelen

During the final lap the best competing crew slid ahead of us in at around 16km but we were determined not to give up and rowed hard keeping up with the leader until the final stretch. There we decided to use our final gear and we pushed ahead during the last kilometer and won gold by a mere 1 second margin!

The finish line where the Quiske team won by a mere 1 second, after two hours of rowing side by side! Photo by Ruud van Veelen
The Quiske team is all smiles after winning. Photo by Ruud van Veelen

The race was perfect from start to end even if it did contain a bit of a sightseeing detour during the first lap... and this time Kristina managed to keep her heartrate up for the duration (Suunto recording)

The Quiske team represent the Keravan Urheilijat Rowing club just like the second best crew
The Finnish championship gold medal!

What's next?

The next wooden boat races are short distances: 1km and 10km and this year they are organized at the Tuusulanjärvi lake close to Helsinki in August: Tuusulanjärven SM The short distance wooden boat races are organized by Keravan Urheilijat, the most active rowing club in Finland.

Quiske will also participate in the World Rowing Masters Regatta in Copenhagen in September.

We look forward to meet with the 3500 large crowd of rowers there! We will continue to write about our preparations for Olympic boat races as we proceed.

Looking forward to the exciting races!

Smiles all around for the Quiske team ( Kristina Björknäs and Pentti Soini)

Image credits: The photos of the Quiske crew in the Pirkka rowing race were shot by Ruud van Veelen.