3:30 AM. I awake, look around the room, and eventually locate the origin of the shrieking emanating from my alarm and terminate it. Sluggishly I pull myself out of bed, already half dressed for travel, don the rest of my attire and wolf down my breakfast, a pitiful excuse of a reward for rising at this god forsaken time. In my weary state, I barely notice my flat mate and a fellow club member who slept rough on our couch sitting next to me, we barely acknowledge each other and communicate with physical gestures, a nod here, an enquiring thumbs up and the universal facial expression for ‘don’t talk to me’. Our ride arrives and we begin our silent pilgrimage to Gatwick airport where we will meet up with the rest of our squad, consisting of 9 other rowers and our coach. Check In at 5:45 AM, a quick bite to eat, board flight EKRX738 and we’re Barcelona bound. Sounds exotic doesn’t it? We arrive and make it outside the airport a little after 10:00 AM local time, but before we have time to appreciate our new surroundings we’re bundled into a minibus and charge north for the french border. Over the next 4 hours the scenery changes from urban to rural, to barren and finally settles into a mountainous winter wonderland, we’ve arrived in the Pyrenees. Finally. And now time for some much deserved rest. Yeah right.
As we arrive in Font Romeu, the oldest ski commune in the Pyrenees, we’re told that there’s no time to lose as we’re scheduled in for an afternoon taster session of snowshoe hiking. Its as awful as it sounds, though despite the hard work and bitter cold temperatures we can’t help but feel buoyed by the environment we find ourselves in, the majesty of our immediate surroundings is breathtaking, or it might seem difficult to breath because we find ourselves at an altitude of 7000 ft where the air and as a result, our lungs are starved of oxygen, at times each breath was a monumental task in itself. Eventually the day winds down and we crawl to our rooms at the Centre National d’Entrainement en Altitude (CNEA), a world class training facility often frequented by top class athletes of all sports, the travelling and afternoon excursion have evidently taken their toll and an early curfew is accepted graciously by all involved. Besides, we know the coming days will be …eventful, and rest is a necessity.
The next four days follow in a similar vein, a gruelling concoction of early morning strength and conditioning sessions before breakfast, complimented by not one but two cross country skiing sessions per day separated by a hearty lunch. On occasion we’re treated to ice baths or 2k swims to spice up our routine before retiring for the evening after another comprehensive meal. The only thing that makes the rigorous training bearable other than the scenic views, is the camaraderie on show, where as individuals we may of faltered the collective powers through, we take it in turns to spur each other on, whether its to go that extra kilometre or to push out one more rep. It pays tribute to our sport where the whole squad is greater than the sum of it’s individual parts. Had it not been for my crew mates, this might of been quite possibly the worst way to spend my 21st Birthday.
As the end of our stay comes about we’re glad to leave but remember our time there fondly. We descend upon Barcelona with our tails between our legs and grab a few hours of some well deserved R&R, barely making it on time to the airport after some spectacular individual performances from our group, almost being denied re-entry to the UK was also a special highlight for one of our party. But somehow we make it home in one piece.
See you guys same time, same place next year.
UELBC Social Secretary