19
- July
2020
Posted By : Gregory Smith
Randall Foils vs Smoothies

Randall Foils are small foils that can be added to the top edge of the oars.  The developer of the Randall Foil has made some remarkable claims about the speed benefit of using them.

This claim has caused some interesting conversations on rowing discussion boards.  In these discussions, there are advocates and detractors.  A common theme to the detractors is that burden of proof is on the folks making extraordinary claims.

I was intrigued by the notion of an equipment modification that could improve boat speed.  I was impressed by the winning performance of Mario Goretti at the 2020 world championships using the foils.  I was also attracted by the testimonials from a number of masters rowers who have used them and been happy with the results.

At the same time, I did not see any side by side comparison that supported the 5% improvement in speed.  I decided to conduct the experiment myself.

Getting Ready

Preparing for this experiment took a long time.  There were a number of challenges to overcome to make the test as fair as possible.  The first challenge was that the Randall Foil is designed to be rowed at 0 degree pitch.  If I wanted to do a fair A vs B test, I needed to be able to swap between oars equipped with Randall Foils and regular oars (with I prefer to row with 4 degree pitch).  The solution was to get a pair of Concept2 Smoothie2 oars set to a pitch of -4 degrees.  When these ors are used with my 4 degree pitched oarlocks, I get the desired 0 degree pitch.

Then I had to assemble the foils onto the oars.  Luckily, Shell Repair USA sells a randall foil mounting kit, and they posted a very clear youtube tutorial on how to do the job.  It was an easy 30 minute job and they have been rock solid ever since.

The next challenge was to come up with a fair test plan.  This really comes down to eliminating as many variables as possible, so:

  • Same boat:  Using my 2013 Fluid for all tests.
  • Same rower: That’s me.  I’m 57, weigh about 200 pounds.  5’11”.  Current 2K is (I’m guessing now) 7:00.  So, I guess this test is most appropriate for middle of the pack, competitive masters rowers.
  • Rower bias:  To try to avoid “gaming” the results.  I changed the speedcoach fields so that I could not see the splits, and I rowed each piece really hard.
  • Similar conditions:  Design the test to enable fast swapping and do most testing on the same day.   Make sure oars are tested in both directions to account for any wind differences.
  • Comfortable rowing with either foils or no foils:  I used the foils in 5 training sessions before the test.  60km, 6 hours.  Including steady state and hard sessions.

    Then prior to the testing I went back to my old oars for a 5 sessions to make sure that I felt good both ways.
    There were two specific tests.
  • Same day interval testing.  Test Smoothies vs Foils using short intervals at 24, 26, 28 and 30 spm.  Compare speed, power and other factors.
  • Head race testing:  Since head racing is the racing I focus on, I am most interested in how fast I can go for middle distance events.

Interval Comparison

Today, 19 July, was A/B test day.  I did all testing on Lake Quinsigamond.  There was a reasonably consistent wind from the SSW at about 5mph.  I launched from Regatta Point and returned to that dock to swap oars.

The plan was:

  1.  With Smoothies:  2′ @ 24 North, 2′ rest, 2′ @ 24 South
  2. With Foils: 2′ @ 24 N, 2′ rest, 2′ @ 24 S
  3. With Foils: 2′ @ 26 N, 2′ rest, 2′ @ 26 S
  4. With Smoothies: 2′ @ 26 N, 2′ rest, 2′ @ 26 S
  5. With Smoothies: 2′ @ 28 N, 2′ rest, 2′ @ 28 S
  6. With Foils: 2′ @ 28N. 2′ rest, 2′ @ 28 S
  7. With Foils: 1′ @ 30N, 2′ rest, 1′ @ 30 S
  8. With Smoothies: 1′ @ 30N, 1′ @ 30 S

But, I screwed up the plan.  Lack of oxygen resulted in the following:

  1. With Smoothies:  2′ @ 24 North, 2′ rest, 2′ @ 24 South
  2. With Foils: 2′ @ 24 N, 2′ rest, 2′ @ 24 S
  3. With Foils: 2′ @ 26 N, 2′ rest, 2′ @ 26 S
  4. With Smoothies: 2′ @ 28 N, 2′ rest, 8′ @ 28 S
  5. With Smoothies: 1′ @ 30 N, 2′ rest, 1′ @ 30 S
  6. With Foils: 2′ @ 28N. 2′ rest, 2′ @ 28 S
  7. With Foils: 1′ @ 30N, 2′ rest, 1′ @ 30 S

Yep.  I managed to skip the 26 spm with smoothies.

Results

      Workout Summary - media/15f237a53d-20200719-140107o.csv
--|Total|-Total----|--Avg--|-Avg-|Avg-|-Avg-|-Max-|-Avg
--|Dist-|-Time-----|-Pace--|-Pwr-|SPM-|-HR--|-HR--|-DPS
--|17523|02:15:18.2|03:51.6|088.7|25.2|141.1|178.0|05.1
W-|05564|00:23:53.1|02:08.8|213.2|27.1|157.8|178.0|08.6
R-|11971|01:51:26.3|04:39.3|062.0|24.8|137.6|178.0|05.4
Workout Details
#-|SDist|-Split-|-SPace-|-Pwr-|SPM-|AvgHR|MaxHR|DPS-
01|00495|02:08.6|02:09.8|196.9|24.2|149.7|158.0|09.5 - Sm/T
02|00445|01:58.2|02:12.9|211.3|24.9|152.3|164.0|09.1 - Sm/H
03|00484|02:04.5|02:08.5|196.8|24.6|155.7|166.0|09.5 - Fo/T
04|00412|01:51.2|02:14.9|202.0|24.8|159.1|169.0|09.0 - Fo/H
05|00466|01:57.8|02:06.4|204.3|26.4|157.8|172.0|09.0 - Fo/T
06|00423|01:54.2|02:14.9|202.8|26.3|162.9|175.0|08.5 - Fo/H
07|00504|02:04.4|02:03.4|229.3|28.4|160.4|175.0|08.6 - Sm/T
08|00448|01:56.8|02:10.2|234.1|28.8|165.1|177.0|08.0 - Sm/H
09|00264|01:03.8|02:01.1|250.5|30.0|143.3|167.0|08.3 - Sm/T
10|00230|00:57.3|02:04.6|242.6|30.3|158.8|169.0|08.0 - Sm/H
11|00471|01:59.0|02:06.3|201.9|28.7|161.3|174.0|08.3 - Fo/T
12|00460|02:02.1|02:12.7|208.1|28.5|165.8|178.0|07.9 - Fo/H
13|00233|00:57.4|02:03.2|223.0|30.3|150.5|167.0|08.0 - Fo/T
14|00228|00:57.8|02:06.6|227.2|30.0|157.4|171.0|07.9 - Fo/H
  • At 24 SPM:
    • Smoothies: 2:11.4
    • Foils: 2:11.7
  • At 28 SPM
    • Smoothies: 2:06.8
    • Foils: 2:09.5
  • At 30 SPM
    • Smoothies: 2:02.9
    • Foils: 2:04.9

So, at a summary level.  There was no significant difference at 24 spm, 2.7 sec difference against the foils at 28, and 2 second against the foils at 30.

Metrics comparisons:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This confirms what I was feeling in the boat.  I was having trouble finishing cleanly with the foils as the rates got higher.  It was definitely impacting the work per stroke at these rates for me.

Head Race Comparison

This I did on two different days.  The first was with the Randall Foils on 23 June.  This was my 5 session with the foils and I was very comfortable rowing with them at that time.  The second was with Smoothies on 17 July.  Conditions were very similar on both days.  Light (2-3 mph) wind from the S, which was a tail wind on the course.

In June, I was competing in the Lake Quinsigamond GPS Speed Order.  The course ran from the south cove to the DRC docks.  Total distance of about 4800m.

On July 17, I was competing in the July challenge.  The Wormtown Chase.  This course starts a little different, with a big turn around the islands.

To account for that difference, I looked at the final 17:40 of both pieces for the purposes of the comparison.

Head Race Results

With Foils

Workout Details
#-|SDist|-Split-|-SPace-|-Pwr-|SPM-|AvgHR|MaxHR|DPS-
01|03891|17:40.0|02:16.2|174.7|25.1|177.3|187.0|08.8

With Smoothies

Workout Details
#-|SDist|-Split-|-SPace-|-Pwr-|SPM-|AvgHR|MaxHR|DPS-
01|03984|17:39.8|02:13.0|193.4|25.6|170.5|179.0|08.8

So, 3.2 seconds faster without the foils.  The power is 19W higher with the smoothies and the HR is significantly lower.  I think that shows that I am in better shape than I was a month ago.

Metrics comparison

With Foils

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With Smoothies

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Qualitative Comparison

I did not enjoy rowing with the foils.  They add weight at the end of the oar.  It isn’t a lot of weight, but it is on a long lever arm, so you can really feel the difference.  Rowing with the foils in any kind of chop is a punishing experience, unless you are able to row with a LOT of clearance on the recovery.  Having an inch of width bash into a wave top is very jarring.  I found myself gripping much more tightly on recovery.  In a head wind, you can definitely feel the pressure on the handles during recovery.  It was pretty noticeable today when I was doing head to head testing.

Maneuvering in close quarters, and paddling around takes some getting used to.  With zero pitch, the oars tend to dig into water as you coast, and you need to keep downward pressure on the handles to keep them from catching.  Also, if you are someone who flips the blade to back the boat, you need to NOT do that.  extracting the oar with the foil buried is an unpleasantly unstable experience.  Also, if you are used to executing tight turns by cutting the top edge of the oar into the water, you need to unlearn that habit in hurry.  And remember that trick to stop the boat within a length by digging both top edges in?  Don’t do that.

Conclusion

Having said all that, I believe that rowing with foils improved my rowing.  During the sessions where I used foils, I concentrated on getting better clearance.  More importantly, it was a tool that force me to maintain appropriate oar depth from catch to finish.  The characteristic profile of my stroke is to go deep at the catch and wash out at the finish.  Rowing with a set of oars that stopped me from doing that enabled me to develop some muscle memory that transferred to rowing with regular smoothies.  Also, since the foil wants to stay in the water, I needed to work on crisper finishes, and really getting the blades out of the water cleanly.  That seemed to transfer over to rowing with smoothies too.

While this testing was enough to convince me that I do not get sufficient benefit from foils to adopt them for racing, it is possible that different rowers, with different techniques, and skill levels may see a benefit from them.  It is possible that if you practice with these blades, and there is no wind, and you are focusing on sprint racing (1K and 2K) that the Randall Foils will yield better results for you.  Also, if you have a blade depth problem that you can’t solve, the foils may offer you an equipment based resolution to your problem.

If you get the chance to row with a set of foils for a few sessions, I highly recommend it.  But if you are looking for free speed, it certainly did not live up to that promise in my experience.