Prep your mind for Race on the Charles 2022

Marie Le Hur

Our third annual Race on the Charles is just around the corner, where you can join Hydrow Athletes and three time Olympian Mary Whipple on the Head of the Charles Regatta course right from your Hydrow!

Although it’s not necessary to train for the Race on the Charles, there are steps you can take to help you feel your best during this special workout. There are positive actions to help prepare not only your body, but also your mind! We sat down with Hydrow Athlete Aisyah Rafaee to get some advice. 

When it comes to prepping athletes, Aisyah has some formidable credentials. She has a Masters degree in psychology and athletic counseling, has worked with mental skills coaches in her own journey as an Olympian, and has since trained athletes of all levels and abilities herself. 

For Aisyah, one thing is true: Better mental agility is for everyone, not just elite athletes. Everyone can gain from learning these skills and they are applicable to many other areas in life. Here’s what she recommends:

Before the race:

Remember the 3 R’s

The mind-body connection is unbreakable, so it’s good practice to integrate mental preparation into your regular workouts to a point where it becomes second nature. To do this, remember the 3 R’s:

Recognize: All the possible distractions that can affect your performance, such as feeling tired, unmotivated, the fear of feeling fatigued, or other variables that can affect your mood, like temperature or even the music you’re listening to.

Regroup: Stop your brain from focusing on that distraction. Our brain can only focus on one thing at a time. If the distraction is not going to help in your performance, focus on something that helps instead! Find your own regrouping strategy that works for you. It could be thinking of a big, red STOP sign whenever you recognize a distraction. It could also be something you say to yourself like, “BREATHE”, or something you can do to yourself like rolling your shoulders back in an exaggerated movement.

Refocus: Make a plan on what to say to yourself or do when these distractions come about during the workout. Planning on what to say to yourself or do next will save you from the mental energy to think about next steps. Use the “If…Then…” strategy. So for example, if your legs feel tired, imagine that big, red STOP sign and focus on sitting tall!

Practice the 3Rs until you master the art of it!

Next, imagine your workout zone

At the start of the workout, imagine that you are “stepping into” a workout zone. Aisyah likes to imagine herself stepping into a wrestling ring whenever she’s on the Hydrow. She says to herself, “I’m going to be ready to take the punches and fight hard.” How do you imagine your “workout zone”? 

On the day of the race


Before you start rowing, break the race down into easily manageable pieces. For example, you can break a 20 minute workout into four 5-minute blocks. 

Suggested Race on the Charles plan:

First 5-minute block: Start off the blocks at rhythm number 28. Ease into it, breathe. Settle to race pace at 26. The first 5 minutes is about finding your rhythm. Your heart rate will be high (it is a race!) but that’s not going to worry you because you’ve been here before during training. 

Second 5-minute block: Think about being in control. Lock into a split and keep at it. 

Third 5-minute block: Here it’s about being consistent. Your legs and lungs are getting tired, but you’re applying the 3 R’s. You’ve been here before. You’ve trained yourself to ignore the discomfort and focus on something else. 

Last 5-minute block: Focus on the minute you are in. Every time a minute passes, you’re going to increase the rhythm number by 2 and make sure your splits decrease by 1sec. 26, 28, 30, 32, and in the final minute you’re going to hit your lowest split at whatever rhythm number you are at. 

After the race

Post-workout self-reflection

You did it! The race is over. Now, getting better is about analyzing where you can improve. You can ask yourself these questions or write your thoughts in a training journal:

What went well mentally for me during that workout? Example: I wanted to give up but pushed through.

What did not go as planned mentally during that workout? Example: I hit a wall and I took a few strokes of rest.

What can I do better next time to be mentally stronger? Example: Next time I feel tired, I will only allow myself to take 1 stroke easy and then I’ll get back on it.

It’s always helpful to have a positive affirmation that you believe in and can repeat and makes you feel good about yourself, such as “I am strong and fit!”

And remind yourself why you chose to do this. Remind yourself of the WHYs. Remind yourself of the amazing person that you are because you could have chosen something easier, but here you are putting yourself through this challenge!

The most important thing to remember

In the end, the most important mental skill is to be able to have fun! You’ve put in hard work and will do great. Remember that Race on the Charles is for everyone, and these tips are complementary to all the work you’ve put in to feel your best.

See you on race day!