Sunday, 2 March 2008

WEHoRR

In yesterday's rowing time trial on the River Thames, 237 women's eights (rowing boats) competed in The Womens' Eights Head of the River Race (WEHoRR) from Mortlake to Putney Bridge, a distance of 4 1/4 miles. Our boat finished 102 places higher than it did last year. Winter training has evidently been paying off.

(pictures courtesy of RachelC)



Lining up for the start

Lining up isn't as easy as it sounds - the river is flowing quickly, with the current pushing the boat into the banks. All the while, coxes are trying to keep their boats away from the banks, and away from the boats ahead and behind them, whilst not being able to see straight ahead with their view blocked by their crew. This led to a number of coxes finding themselves with no alternative but to disembark (illegally) to prevent their expensive boats (~£15k when new) from running aground. Our cox tried this and misjudged the depth of the water. He spent the next half an hour with bits of river sloshing around in his wellies.

The first hundred boats line up before the start line, fifty on either side of the river, and spin into the stream when told to do so by a marshall. They set off in order, speeding up under Chiswick bridge such that when they reach the start, they are already at their race pace. Once one set of fifty eights has gone, the next fifty eights on that side paddle down to the start and so on. Once all the boats have got themselves into order, it's fairly straightforward. It's getting 237 boats into numerical order in a fast-flowing stream which is the hard and chaotic part.




Moving out to overtake a slower crew

In head races (time trials), there is always the prospect of overtaking. Whilst motivating for the faster crew, it can also be a detraction, having to move out of the fastest water to get past the crew ahead, who have no obligation to let you pass. It is fantastically motivating to move past other crews early on in the race, and I'd much rather pass crews than have no opposition to push off from during the course, but having to overtake many boats is not the most efficient method of getting from the start to the finish.





Nurture the pain...


My ability to sense of the passage of time disappears completely during races. Once in a race, it is as if there is only a single moment, the cycle of a stroke, which is endlessly repeated, the start being an incomprehensibly long time ago and the promise of the end being an agonisingly incomprehensible long time into the future.

We overtook five crews on the way down to Putney. Our first victims tried to steer into us at one point (this is not very sporting and nor is it very bright). Fortunately our cox had words with his counterpart, and they moved across with roasting ears. The second crew we overtook seemed to be having steering issues, too, but these seemed beyond their control. Judging by the way they were apparently moving at random around the river (including clashing blades with us a couple of times) they'd probably lost their rudder and weren't able to steer.

Our crew were collectively a little wound up by this point, having lost valuable seconds through being impeded. It was therefore a welcome sight to pass under Hammersmith Bridge, a noteworthy landmark in any case, and to read the banner that one spectator had unfurled which declared "Pain is weakness leaving the body". It re-focused my mind wonderfully on what I was supposed to be doing. Judging by the way the boatspeed had picked up, the rest of the crew had read it too.

The next two crews in our sights were better mannered, and moved out to let us through. One of them must be heartily sick of the sight of us by now, as we have roundly beaten them in every race we've rowed this season. They're getting better, though, sufficiently so that we might have our work cut out over summer to keep them in our wake.

Coming up to the finish, we had a sixth potential scalp, overlapping them coming down the finish. They evidently hadn't been working hard enough out on the rest of the course, as they had plenty left in the tank to hold us off until the finish. Drat...

It is a very peculiar pleasure to get to the end of a hard race, with nothing left to give from your pain-racked sleep-deprived body, certain that it has been worthwhile because you have beaten some other people who were similarly inclined to race. Agony and ecstasy reside together on the winner's side of the rower's coin, an exquisite confirmation of the dominance of the will over the body. The flip side of the coin is agony and disappointment, performing poorly and knowing more could have been given, a pain which doesn't dissipate after the finish line has been crossed.

18 comments:

Casdok said...

Well done to you and your crew!! Thats fab!
I did a couple of years of Dragon boating so know a bit of the hard work that it takes.

But Why? said...

Casdok,
Thanks, we were jolly pleased with our efforts. So much so, in fact, that we're having a week off training. I will have to rediscover whatever it is that I do in my free time...

Pixie said...

To now have the level of fitness to compete is astonishing. I'm well impressed.
enjoy your week off, you could just go and sit on the tube for old times sake with a god book!
pxx

But Why? said...

Pixie,
That's it! I knew there was something I used to do in my free time... Forgive me if I don't take up your suggestion of extra-curricular commuting (and also the god book thing - I know my level of religious understanding leaves much to be desired, but I think I'd rather more enjoy a meaty novel...)

As for the fitness, it's onwards and upwards (just as soon as I can bend my arms sufficiently to apply Deep Heat to all sore areas and hopefully move my limbs again).

trousers said...

Excellent to read about such progress: Well done! Here's to having a well deserved rest. Oddly, reading about it made me think of our pub quiz team: presumably because that's the only form of competitive, team-based activity that I regularly take part in (my cycling and other activities are either solitary or non-competitive or both).

During your week off, you could order plenty of product for yourself from the Theakton's online shop :)

Rob Clack said...

Fantastic! And I just love Pain is weakness leaving the body. Wonderful! I don't get that kind of pain at all, so presumably my body is completely full of weakness.

But Why? said...

Trousers,
What a fantastic idea! Despite playing a few holes of pub golf in the evening, we failed to sink anything as tasteful as Theakstons. Several holes and many hours later, I could be found attempting to negotiate the stew of randomness which comprises the network of nightbuses which meander around London with no apparent agreed route or timetable (at least, that's how it seemed to me at 3am on Sunday morning). I am far too old for those sorts of capers...

Rob C,
Pain... yes, I loved it too, in a slightly resentful "I-think-I'm-hurting-enough-already-and-I-notice-you're-spectating-rather-than-rowing" form of love. It's evidently a special form of love I reserve alongside my inner sado-masochist for race day.

I suspect you may have lost all your weakness earlier in life and perhaps that's why you no longer have the pain. I seem to have it all to go through, still...

DJ Kirkby said...

Beautifully written yet again and well done on your improvvement on last yeat! I am starting to develop a real interest in all of this, as a spectator not a competitor I hasten to add! Loved the 'Pain is weakness leaving your body' banner, not at all true but very motivating I suspect.

Rachel said...

Lovely write up. Up at the start I was glad I was just taking pictures instead of trying to keep a boat off a bank. I've been in that position a few too many times!

But Why? said...

DJ,
Thanks! Are you sure you couldn't be encouraged into a boat? I seem to recall you rejoicing in your tallness on an earlier post - it sounds like you're already halfway to being a superb rower. Oh, and if you have any cox-sized kids, take them along too - clubs can usually find a use for them(!)

Rachel,
Thanks for the photos! I had a couple of friends spectating down at Putney who tell me they've only just thawn out after an hour in the freezing wind. I'm sure it was no warmer up at the start - many thanks for your efforts and dedication. Myself, I'd sooner be rowing - at least there's the prospect of being warm by Hammersmith...

Kahless said...

Congratulations.

I love reading your rowing posts; kindof makes me wish I was a rower. I can't help but think of your words kill kill kill

very inspiring.
:-)

But Why? said...

Kahless,
I'm slightly worried that I appear to have inspired you to kill (do we get to find out who?), and, as an afterthought, that I've just become an accessory to murder. Eeek.

Note to self: Be on best behaviour when round at Kahless' place. Consider turning up in trainers and running kit just in case a quick get-away is required...

Kahless said...

Actually I am a remarkably placid person believe it or not. That is why I find other people expressing such base urges satisfying maybe!

:-)

Oh, and only one person has needed a quick get-away from my place - a spammer who left a message saying 911 was a figment of the western worlds imagination. An anonymous comment in that.

I can assure a fellow geek is quite safe. :-)

But Why? said...

Thanks for the reassurance that I haven't actually persuaded you to go kill in any sense, though I can understand your reaction to the spammer. IMHO, spammers should be semi-air-dried, slow-roasted alive, and served thinly sliced on sun-dried tomato and olive ciabatta, and I think I'm a fairly placid person, myself. Working on customer sites, being required to act diplomatically and non-confrontationally, seems to have rubbed off on me. I just have to save the anger and frustration until I can get on the water or in the gym.

Kahless said...

And I feel like I am getting into the zone and rowing with you!

But Why? said...

Kahless,
Ah, forget the rowing - we should go into the lunchtime sandwich trade serving up a signature sarnie of air-dried spammer on fresh ciabatta. I think a juniper marinade would work well with that combination - what do you reckon?

Kahless said...

Yes, a good combination.
And I will use a Japanese kitchen knife to cut the sarnie into manageable pieces to consume.

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