For the Harvard crew teams and fans around the world, the most wonderful time of year is approaching: the highly-anticipated Head of the Charles Regatta. It takes place every year in Cambridge in mid-October, and all four Crimson teams, women’s and men’s lightweight and heavyweight, will be racing.
Not only is the Head of the Charles the largest two-day regatta in the world, but it is also the first regatta of the Harvard crew season, requiring ample physical and mental preparation from the Crimson.
The teams hit the ground running with intense training both on and off the river.
“We’ve really been concentrating on a higher-level focus in our training. We’ve also been running the stadium twice a week,” said senior men’s lightweight rower Aidan Crawford.
Similarly, lightweight women’s crew is working to build a strong base, and they did an erg test on the first day of practice to dive right into intense training.
“People really did well with summer training and staying fit on their own… That set us up well to start hard training early on,” said women’s lightweight captain Molly Lesser.
In addition to erging and rowing on the river, the teams have been running and lifting frequently.
In terms of mental preparation, Harvard is using its experience with the Head of the Charles and other big regattas to its advantage.
“People are generally pretty mentally prepared for the effort… we have a lot of experience, even in the freshman class, of racing at really high-caliber events,” said first-year John Mark Ozaeta, a men’s heavyweight participant who is already attending the Head of the Charles for the third time.
Another important part of the Crimson’s mental preparation has been its cultivation of team chemistry, which aims to make races smoother and more successful. While the teams are confident in their experience, there’s understandably still some nervousness among the rowers.
“There’s definitely more pressure because the Head of the Charles’s the highlight of the fall racing season,” Crawford said.
Crawford offsets this pressure by preparing for the regatta in a more light-hearted manner, including getting frozen yogurt with his boatmates and sending them famous speeches from movies to motivate them.
With the race taking place in its backyard, Harvard is looking forward to the advantage of racing at home on the Charles, where the Crimson rowers are comfortable and well-versed in the river’s terrain. All four teams have been practicing long pieces on the course. Being at home also means that Harvard will garner support from fellow students.
“It’s nice to have a bunch of people show out when we race down the river on our home course,” said Ozaeta.
This is not the Crimson’s only race on the Charles of the season, but it will presumably be the one with the largest crowd of student spectators, which adds an extra level of excitement for the rowers.
For the teams, the Head of the Charles regatta means more than racing; it means that they get to see their families and friends from high school rowing, making this weekend a busy one for them. Early in the season, the coaches informed their rowers about the itinerary for the weekend so that they would be able to plan time both to see their loved ones and to get off their feet for a few hours to rest. The night before the regatta, the four Harvard crew teams will have a banquet, and they will have team meals scattered throughout the regatta for some bonding and downtime.
“It’s so fun. But you have to realistically be like, ‘I’m also racing, the goal of this weekend is to race and to do well,’” said Lesser when describing the importance of balancing social time and recovery time during the regatta.
The Crimson has a good track record at the Head of the Charles; last year, women’s heavyweight finished in 12th place overall, men’s heavyweight finished in fifth, and men’s lightweight placed sixth. The women’s lightweight fours won, while the eights came in fifth and ninth. This year, Harvard is once again expected to be competitive.
“I’m racing in the second eight, and we’re starting just in front of Yale, so that’s a big motivator. We’ll see them our entire way down the course,” said Ozaeta.
Bolstered by its preparation and motivation, the Crimson rowing will look to capture the same success they have had in past years.