The Life of a UEL Sports Scholarship student-part 3

13th October

Well, this weekend was an interesting one. I am a cox. We know this. In a dark and distant past I did used to row though (and actually, I think rowing before you cox is pretty important). So, in the summer after Henley Royal Regatta, and before training at Leander resumed, I had a bit of a laugh with a fellow cox and we messed about in a double on the river. Let’s be honest here, two small coxes, one of which had never rowed, and one who hadn’t in about 6 years was never going to be quick was it? However, we poddled up about down the Thames, stopping between (short) outings for picnic lunches or shopping (I am not actually joking) and even entered TWO regattas. Warwick, underneath the castle, was the scene of our début. AND WE ONLY BLOODY WON. Still proud of that. Granted, our competition were not excellent, and we won despite some awful steering (turns out coxes loose all sense of direction when going backwards), some awful rowing (from us both) and a bit of screaming (entirely Clare). The photos were on Facebook to show the world though, which came to bite me on the arse on my birthday (16th September by the way – send cake next year)….

 Zizzi in Henley, 16th September. Chat returns to rowing (again) and someone mentions Pairs Head.Now, I need to explain a little. In the winter season, there are a couple of Head races that are bigger than others – these include races on the stretch of the Thames between Mortlake and Putney, where the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race is run each March. There are races for fours, eights, singles and pairs – I’m sure they’ll all get mentioned at some point.

 So basically, to cut a long story short. Debbie has this brilliant idea that I will do the Pairs Head with her. In a double. Rowing. For FOUR THOUSAND METRES. This is no piddly sprint regatta in the back end of nowhere. While I was literally gibbering my refusal across the table, Debs had already organised a boat, blades and entry. This was happening.

So… Debbie isn’t my friend the cox. Debbie, apart from being an awesome friend, also happens to be an Olympian. Silver medallist to be exact. Twice. Oh, and will be going to London next year in the GB women’s quad to continue the quest for Gold. No pressure then.

 Race Day/Day of Doom:

I have been nervous about racing all week. The race is at 2.30pm, so I still rock up for training at Leander first thing on Saturday morning at 7am, where the boys are doing time trials in single sculls. Us little people help the coaches time the pieces, and then sort out the hundreds of times into Chris’ mental Excel spreadsheet afterwards. I’m doing pretty well through the first session, and haven’t thought too much about racing. Weirdly, I didn’t feel consciously so nervous, that feeling had been replaced by a definite and very genuine sick feeling. Alex, a fellow cox and mini coach of our double, demands to know what I’ve eaten that day, and on the answer “nothing, I feel sick” I get booted upstairs to the crew room and a plate of scrambled eggs is plonked in front of me. I forced down a slice of toast and enough eggs to stop Alex worrying, but it wasn’t very successful.

When we got to London, I sent up a big prayer of thanks – there was a massive tail wind down the river, and at 17*C, it was fairly warm. Perfect. Lightweights aren’t built for headwinds! Lunch with a few other rowers was just as unsuccessful as breakfast, and I was rather grateful when we could finally get kitted up and boat.

Nerves are so interesting. Usually when I’m coxing, I get horribly nervous in about a 20 minute block just before we boat. Beforehand, and the second we push off, I am cool and calm. For that 20 minutes or so though, my stomach is churning, and I’m working overtime to not let any of my crew see the slightest ruffle. It’s so important that my nerves don’t impact on my crews’ performance, and then need to have total trust in my calm and collected sense to guide them through. Doesn’t mean I don’t feel it though. Thinking back, I was so nervous because I haven’t raced over that distance for so long, I didn’t know if I could perform at the level I’d expect, for that long! Coxing though, I know that I’m capable of performing really well, so it’s just a matter of making sure I pull it out of the bag at the right time. So the nerves continued all the way until the first stroke of the start. This time, it wasn’t until we had passed under Chiswick bridge and we’d found the rhythm we were looking for that my nerves evaporated.

 The winners of our event were a certain Rebecca Humphries (our very own UEL lightweight rowing scholar) and her partner from London Rowing Club! Awesome performance from them, and great to have some friendly banter on in the marshalling area. Racing was awesome, I am a tiny weakling of a rower, but the photos at least give the impression we looked alright, and despite my lack of training, we came second! 🙂

 17th October 2011

The whole of today I have heard this sentence; “Are you okay? You look really tired (honey added here if from a girl)”. All I can say is thank you to Mr. Relentless Supplier for being the only reason I learnt anything in my lecture on Project Structures. I’m writing this on the train on the way back to Reading (I’ll get home about midnight I think) – writing will stop me falling asleep and ending up in Cardiff… Here’s a fairly typical day in the life of me right now:

 06.15 Phone springs to life from somewhere under my pillow, giving me the unwelcome announcement that it’s time to get up. Snooze…

06.30 I finally decide I should get up.

06.35 Kitten fed, I return to bed with porridge (always made with water and with home-made blackcurrant jam…. it’s got to the stage that if I have none of Mum’s jam, I don’t eat porridge) and a cup of tea.

07.00 Leave to drive to Leander Club in Henley on Thames.

07.30 Squad briefing in the gym.

07.45 First session: Time trial. The whole club does this, so myself and Katie organise the start list, and hand out numbers. Then, stopwatch in hand, we head out along the bank to time the crews.

09.30 Second Breakfast. The boys eat about 6500kcal a day, so this is pretty important.

10.00 Progress review with Head Coach.

10.45 Second session. Today this was an ergo session in the gym where we monitor lactate levels. Simply, this means we can check if the boys are training at the right intensity.

13.00 Home. Attempt to do some uni work…

15.00 I have uni on Tuesdays, so today I got on the train to get over to the Docklands for lectures 6-9pm. On a non-uni day, I nanny to earn my pennies, so I collect little Emily from school 🙂

21.30 On a Tuesday, I will be found at Paddington. On most other days, I’ll be found in bed!

 1st November

So, a bit late, but the next blog entry has got to be about my trip to the US of A! My first time in the States, and I am definitely a convert, I’d love to go back and travel all over now.

My brief visit was to Boston, MA., for a race called The Head of the Charles. I cannot describe to you how big this race is. For those few au fait with rowing, it’s like the Head of the River Race multiplied about 6 times, with the addition of the atmosphere of Henley Royal. Mental. Over the weekend, 9,000 athletes race over the 5km course, upstream on the Charles river. It starts in the middle of Boston, surrounded by skyscrapers, and finishes alongside a park. We boated from Harvard University boathouse, which was amazing, and included the opportunity to chat to their Head Coach, who also happens to be the most famous coach in US National Rowing. Surreal!

Result. Well, we came fourth. Personally, I believe fourth is the worst position to come in anything. So close to being up there in the medals. We were only 0.6s off 3rd too, so agonisingly close. We may have to return next year to sort that one out….

Experienced my first red-eye flight. I now know exactly why they call it that! Kept thinking that the morning had been what in fact was the morning before. Very confusing.

Meanwhile, the others have been in a much wetter, windier and generally less exciting Boston back home for the GB October Sculling Trials and BUCS Small Boats Head. The scholars squad brought home some pretty sweet results. Full articles on this HERE.

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