The Devil's Plaything
Here's how one rowing coach describes it:
The 2k test became a staple in the rowing world in 1995, when the Charles River All Star Has Beens changed the format of their little event from 2500m to 2k. Everyone can blame these clowns for the invention of the dreaded erg test in 1980. They thought it would be "fun." Thus the erg, never very popular before, became synonymous with pain.
You see, there is a big difference in discomfort between a 6000m and 2000m test. As I've written before, the 6k is a test of endurance and mental toughness. The 2k emphasizes endurance, power delivery, mental toughness, and pain tolerance. The 2k hurts you, if you do it right. It hurts you a lot.The pain stems from muscle fatigue and lactic acid build-up. Rowers have been known to go beyond hypoxia and barf all over themselves during a 2K test.
The Level One test requires that I finish a 2K row in 8:10 or less -- a mark I've never managed to achieve at home. I've been practicing on the rowing machine (ergometer or "erg") in our garage, with underwhelming results. (Examples are here and here.) In fact, the one time I tried to row 2K for time, I missed the 8:10 mark by 6 seconds. (And then promptly toppled off because both of my quads seized up painfully.)
I've been telling myself that the 8:10 standard wouldn't be so bad if I were larger, heavier, and/or had longer legs. Rowing is all about using a forceful leg drive to crank out a long, powerful stroke; sadly, my small size, stubby legs and shitty technique all contribute to a less-than-efficient stroke. Concept2's website features a Weight Adjustment Calculator that equalizes the performance of rowers of different weights, and it shows that -- for my weight -- I'm actually doing much better than my results indicate. But it's of little comfort. The Level One test doesn't distinguish between a little guy like me and a 6'4" 200-pound rower whose legs reach up to his neck; we both have to finish in 8:10 or less.
I knew I had to give it a shot today -- not because I was confident in my abilities, but out of abject fear and self-doubt. Chances were good that I'd fail today, but if that happened, I'd have another week to try again.
After stretching in the morning, I tried to keep as loose and relaxed as possible. Then, at 11, I drove to the gym, where a number of others were chipping away at Level One and Two tests of their own. No one, however, was doing the 2K test but me. The ergs were all lined up outside in the sun.
Chasing the butterflies out of my stomach with a swig of water, I hopped on one of the ergs next to another Level One test-taker, Jimmy, who was rowing to warm up for his squat test. "Just keep a good pace," Jimmy advised. "Keep it at a 2:00 [500-meter split] pace and you'll be fine." Easier said than done, I thought.
"Did you already do your 2K?" I asked.
"Yeah." He laughed. "It was the single toughest CrossFit workout I've ever done. When I finished, I just rolled off and clutched my legs for fifteen minutes. I couldn't walk. It was BRUTAL."
I didn't want to think about it anymore, so I just started cranking away.
The first 500 meters were relatively easy -- and I was surprised to see that my average 500-meter split was 1:45 -- much faster than I'd expected to go. But then came the second 500 -- and I started to feel the burn building up in my thighs. And my split time -- while still under 1:50 -- started creeping up. Fuck.
By the time I arrived at the third 500, sweat was pouring down in sheets, and my breathing was sharp and irregular. My lungs were bursting. I wasn't just aching anymore -- I was in serious pain. My legs were on fire, and my hip flexors felt like they were about to explode.
Just then, Tim walked over and glanced at the digital display on the monitor. "Great pace!" he said encouragingly. Then he looked at the damper setting. "Did you know you're set to a higher resistance than necessary?" I couldn't catch my breath to answer. Didn't matter anyway -- I was too far into the test to change the setting now. Getting no response from me, Tim gave me a quizzical look and strolled off to check out some other test-takers.
Two guys came over to check out my performance as I entered my last 500 meters. My strokes were now ragged, inconsistent and feeble. I was wobbling from side to side, and my knees were starting to splay out. My throat was on fire. This was getting really, really ugly.
But as my cheering section -- consisting of two complete strangers -- yelled out words of encouragement, I started to just pull away with abandon. "You only have 200 meters left! Let it fly!" It's incredibly clichéd, but I closed my eyes and left it all out there. It wasn't pretty, but I went as fast as I could go. Failure was not an option because I couldn't fathom having to repeat this monster.
When I finally heard a whoop of congratulations from the guys hovering above me, I opened my eyes. According to the monitor, I finished in 7:45 -- more than half a minute faster than my single previous attempt, and 25 seconds faster than I needed for Level One. Most rowers would laugh at my pathetic 2K time, but to me, it felt like a herculean accomplishment. (My weight-adjusted time was 6:40.)
I was in too much pain to celebrate the completion of my Level One requirements. My legs were so cramped up that I couldn't do anything but rock back and forth on the erg, moaning and punching my thighs. After a few minutes, I tried to stand up, but my left knee buckled and I stumbled to the ground. I crawled a few steps into the gym, and lay on the floor. Tim snapped a photo of me as my sweat seeped into the floor. I tried to mug for the camera and crack a joke, but I was too hoarse (which was puzzling, given that I hadn't said a word during the row). Even after driving home and crashing on the couch, it took me another hour and a half to feel somewhat normal again.
But enough bragging and whining. As M reminded me: "Your entire workout took less than 8 minutes."
She's right, but that eight minutes wrecked me. With my immune system shot to shit, I promptly developed a fever and am now down with a cold.
It was worth it to finish the Level One test, though!