Yes, it is that time of year again, year end. That can only mean one thing, my annual review of the year! Let’s see if I can successfully save this one though after last year’s over-writing disaster! This year the format is slightly different – hopefully makes it easier to see the break-up of events over the year.
Christmas is done – it seems to have gone by really quickly. I have been very bad on the blogging front this month. I have had quite a few ‘topics’ I wanted to blog about, but I have quite frankly felt cr*p for most of the month. The general rubbishy feeling came to a head the week before Christmas when I came down with tonsillitis. I spent my last 4 working days of 2012 sick on the sofa at home but recovered sufficiently in time for Christmas – phew (not least because of the amount of travelling we had to do!).
We went up North for Christmas and it was nice to spend the day with the Cook Family having not seen then for the last two Christmas Days. We also had awesome Christmas crackers: Reindeer Racing!
Mum also made us a tasty Christmas cake to take home. Slightly more pro than my effort from last year, but she has a lot more cake decorating experience than me!
We’re now back home which is always a nice feeling. I’m going to take the decorations down shortly though which is slightly sad. Only a few days and 2012 will be over. So, I will finish up now because my end of year review is due in a few days and I need to try and remember what has happened in the last 12 months. Hmm, I might need tea to help with this…
It’s been a while since I have done blogged. There are a few things I keep meaning to write about, but a combination of training camp, evening commitments and some kind of virus have kept me away from my computer at home. In the last few weeks though, we have moved in to ‘that time of year’: Christmas. I find it an odd time because there are bits of it I enjoy (time off work, giving presents, getting presents, ‘The Muppets Christmas Carol‘ on TV) and bits that I dislike (travelling, trying to work out what to buy people, busy shops, the cost). But, this year, I have decided to try and get in to the Christmas spirit a bit more than normal because it would be nice to end 2012 on a cheery note. So, today we have put up the tree:
made Mince Pies:
listened to Christmas Tunes and watched some festive TV specials (‘Wallace & Gromit – A Close Shave’ and ‘The Office Christmas Specials’)
(Apologies in advance, this is a long one, but it demands the time!)
Rowing isn’t a main stream sport (even though it’s popularity has boomed since the London 2012 Olympics) and all too frequently you hear it referred to as ‘elitist’. I always defend it, but recently thought it may be worth actually considering whether it is. Now, upfront, I am going to remove the rowing schools from the equation – the schools themselves are elitist (or rather, expensive) so it’s not really fair to judge the entire sport with them in the equation! I will also rule out University Boat Clubs for the same reasons, since there are academic requirements that must be met before you can even get close to those.
Elitist is defined, according to Collins, as
“organized for the good of a few people who have special interests or abilities“
Trying to apply this to rowing then I can see there are several ways rowing could be elitist:
My club, the lovely Broxbourne Rowing Club, is £326 / year. London Rowing Club is £480 (full membership) – £558 (full membership for Senior Squad), Hexham Rowing Club is £196 or £260 is the annual fee for York City Rowing Club. So, very immediately a variation throughout the country is apparent, although that is probably a positive thing since salaries do vary this way too. Also not a surprise that the Tideway club is the most pricey and has two rates. The average price (exclusing the LRC senior rate) is £315 / annum.
Now, rowing club fees typically include:
That brings the finally annual tally for rowing to….drum roll…£457. Still less than gym membership.
Now, I have not included race fees in this. That is because I believe racing should be deemed a ‘leisure’ activity; like going to the cinema or for afternoon tea, it is an optional thing which is done for fun. Some may think it an odd sort of fun, but it is fun none-the-less. But, I shall mention race costs briefly. A rower will pay per seat for racing; This can be anywhere from £10 – £25 depending on the event (local regattas where you start off are about £10 – £12 with the cost going up for big events like Fours Head, which are for higher ranking rowers. Much of the additional cost is often to pay for river closure; for example, large events run on the Tideway (the tidal stretch of the River Thames) require the river to be closed to other traffic for safely so organisers need to pay the Port of London Authority (PLA) to close the racing stretch for the duration of the race.
It’s also worth bearing in mind here that even for ‘free’ sports such as running, competitions are not free. Entering the mainstream marathons (London, Brighton etc) costs in excess of about £50.
Conclusion: Whilst not free like running round that park, it is not prohibitively expensive for an average person to join a rowing club. So, not elitist here!
As with any sport, there are a few clubs where you meet certain criteria in order to join. Examples include:
– school boat clubs (already ruled out of this discussion anyway);
– University boat clubs (there are a lot of these, but they are also ruled out);
Aside from these, most other clubs will cater for all levels of rower from Novice to experienced Senior. Typically you will find the following squads:
– Junior: for kids aged approx. 10 – 18 years, covering all abilities. If the squad is big, they will usually have sub-squads. Typically they break down by age range;
– Recreational: for people who want to row but more to enjoy the outdoors and the exercise, but have no desire to compete. Cover all age ranges and tends to operate a much more informal schedule – slightly more ‘turn-up when you are free’;
– Novice: People who are new to the sport but who want to race. The people in this squad will have no competitive wins so will have no ‘points’. This is usually where you start off. Typically split in to Men and Women;
– Intermediate: People who have racing experience and whom may have one at least one race (so have a ‘point’). Again, split Men / Women. This squad will have a base level of fitness requirement but won’t see you hung, drawn and quartered if you miss an erg now and again!;
– Senior: The top end of the squad who train the most heavily (from 5 – 12 times a week depending on the club). The senior squads (again split Men / Women) are likely to have entry criteria. Usually people in this squad will have a fair few ‘points’ from previous wins, but that is not always the case if you get a very capable novice;
– Masters: Once over the age of 27, one can row as a Master. These events are again categorised by age so this squad has an older age average. Caters for Men and Women (it is more common to have mixed Masters events than Senior events) and all age ranges. Typically the squad will be a mix of former Seniors and older ‘Intermediate’ or ‘Novice’ rowers. Sometimes some of the Senior or Intermediate rowers over 27 will also moonlight in Masters crews.
Over the last few years, British Rowing have also really pushed the Explore Rowing programme to make rowing accessible to everyone. Many clubs, including Broxbourne, are also pushing forward on new initiatives, such as our Learn 2 Race programme – designed to get people from having never been in a boat to actively competing within one year.
Conclusion: I believe the above covers all age ranges, experiences and availability requirements. Not every club will offer every squad, but they will usually find a place for anyone or support people starting up a new squad. Again, I do not think that, in general, the rowing model is elitist.
Rowing requires a decent body of water on which to row, so this can limit availability in some areas. However, there are almost 700 clubs which are registered with British Rowing! Now, not all of these are available to anyone, but over 300+ are. British Rowing has a nifty little Club Finder on it’s website so it’s really easy to find out if there are clubs near you. Also, don’t assume that the absence of a river means no rowing club; Leeds Rowing Club row on a lake and Trafford Rowing Club on a canal.
Conclusion: Absence of a body of water aside, there are rowing clubs all over the place. A short drive may be necessary (mine is 15 – 20 mins each way) but clubs are accessible to most – not elitist in the slightest.
Rowing is not an elitist sport. Sure, it’s not free, nor is it always absolutely on your doorstep. But, not everything you do can be found right outside your front door and for no cost. There are also some exception clubs which are limited to the upper-echelons of the rowing community or to academic establishments, but they are by no means the majority. All in all, in the UK at least, rowing is a very open and accessibly pursuit. Give it a try and after a few sessions on the water and a few weekends in the club house, you will feel like your club is your second home!
I should have been racing at Fours Head today. For the first time in, well, my entire time at Broxbourne, we got a crew line-up out 8 weeks in advance of the race. Not only that, but all four of us were almost equally matched in build, erg speed and strength. As mentioned in my previous post, our first race of the season was thwarted by illness. But Lou, bounced back and last Saturday and Monday we had two good sessions. We were ready.
Unfortunately, fate / life / luck (whatever you want to call it) had other ideas. On Thursday, Lou had a relapse; It was not wholly unexpected in some ways but after two successful outings, we had not activated our contingency plans. Sadly, despite a lot of trying, the viable subs were not available at such short notice. If it has been an eight, we’d have had more options. But you need to be cautious about who you sub in to a coxed four, especially in a boat known to be quite twitchy! Couple that with the fact that we were racing WIM1 (a fairly high status only superseded by Elite and Senior), we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves – that does nothing for morale.
We took the tough decision to scratch the crew. It brings the racing year of 2012 to a rather deflated close. But, it is a timely reminder that sport, and life, can be cruel. Putting all of your focus and energy in to a single event comes with great risk. Whilst I feel real disappointment, it was certainly not as deeply felt as in 2009 when the race was cancelled due to conditions, but where I had been channeling all of my work stress in to training for that single event. A more public example of the risk of working towards a single event was the Cambridge / Oxford Boat Race this year, where some numpty swam in to the path of two racing eights (I still cannot understand who would not see that as a terrible dangerous thing to do but…). Of course, you cannot always avoid it, but having other things in life to focus on are important. (Shameless plug here for my review of ‘The Secret Olympian’ which touches on some of this for Olympic Athletes.)
So, onwards and a focus on keeping fitness up / improving over Christmas, a period known to be tough for training. I am determined to take some positives from this. Yes, we didn’t race, but we have made real leaps and bounds in that 4. If we can continue to build on that, 2013 could be a much better year…as long as no-one trips over and squashes any of the eggs of course.
At least once or twice every season, most rowers will ask him/herself “Why am I doing this?”. This isn’t going to be post about the joys of rowing; If you are interested to know why I row then there are endless blog articles on that very topic, including the very specific So, why do we row? Back to the topic in hand though, I recently had one of the aforementioned moments – on Friday to be precise.
There are several things which really play on my mind when I even consider when / if I would ever leave the sport:
I met a former rower friend on the train the other day; It was quite a fortunate meeting actually both because she was working late on a day I happened to be out on work drinks and also because I wasn’t 100% sure if she had left the club or not. Her absence had been noticeable over the last few months but sometimes people drift away for a bit. It turns out she had, sadly for us, chosen to leave rowing behind her. Her reason: she just wasn’t enjoying it anymore. The most honest and frank reason there is and one which everyone should be honest with him/herself about since, after all, we do this for a hobby.
I asked my friend what she did with her spare time: lots of other fitness stuff like running, swimming, zumba. She saw her friends, did a bit of travelling. But mainly, she just had some extra time for herself, enjoying those Saturday lie-ins. She seemed happy and that was wonderful to see. Although I did nag her to come down and visit us one Saturday morning because we missed her!
So, on Friday, when it was getting cold and I was tired, I asked myself if I still enjoyed rowing. At that point, I couldn’t think of anything less pleasant than getting up to row on Saturday. But after some sleep, despite the freezing temperatures (it actually had dropped to zero and I had to de-ice the car!), I was glad to get to the club. I had a really good outing with my crew, who are also my friends. We talked racing strategy for our race today and enjoyed a cup of tea together. Then today, when we were unable to race because of a sudden crew illness, it was all too apparent to me how much I had wanted to get back in to competition and how, for the first time perhaps ever, I really felt ready for a race.
With that in mind, I know I am not ready to lose rowing as part of my life, as part of me. But having seen a good friend actively step-away, it reassured me that if I ever have to or choose to make that choice, there is something on the other side!
Apple have launched the iPad Mini today. As always with Apple, the device is quite stunning – slick and shiney; It doesn’t look cheap and, to be honest, it doesn’t come cheap. Aside from the people who are Die-Hard Apple Boycotters, you cannot help but want one. The very fact that Apple have gone to the effort of making a smaller version of it’s world dominating tablet strongly indicates there is a market for it. But, as always with these launches, I find myself asking where the gap is in my life for this latest accessory.
My last two phones have been iPhones and about a year ago, I converted over to a MacBook Air for my personal laptop. It may sound a bit corny and geeky but even now, I love my thin, speedy little Air. It genuinely makes me quite happy. I also get good use from my phone. Being a commuter, I use it to check the news on the train. I use it to send mails. I am a relatively big user of social media. It has also absolutely and completely replaced a paper diary. We also have an iPad for ‘bigger screen’ browsing, videos etc. So, where would I fit an iPad mini in to my life. Not sure I could. It’s not as portable as a phone, but the screen is smaller than it’s iPad big brother.
Obviously there is an audience who have been dying for an Apple tablet but for whom the normal iPad is a bit weighty to carry round. They will be delighted by today’s news. However, what I fear is that the normal ‘Apple Excitement’ will take hold and people will just by a Mini for the sake of having a Mini, leaving their relatively new iPad 3 (which replaced the perfectly functional iPad 2 last year) sitting woefully at the side lines. Or perhaps I am being too harsh. After all, they have launched a new and improved iPad today as well – choices, choices.
It is, in my view, human nature to look to blame others when things go wrong. A few years ago, I started to made a concerted effort to take a step back when issues or challenging situations presented themselves, trying to look at them objectively; It wasn’t a conscious decision, but hearing myself and others always pointing the finger and placing blame began to grate. It made me mindful of a comment I read in one of my rowing books which in essence said ‘You are never good enough at something to be pointing out faults in others’. I forget which book it was, but the message was clear: take a look at yourself before you start pointing the finger at those around you.
I would like to state up-front that despite my efforts to stop blaming others, I do still slip in to the bad habit. The irony of those situations now is that if I have done so, I often feel more anguish afterwards for rashly blaming someone else than if I had placed the blame on myself entirely! However, I still feel some success in being able to at least partially stop myself from doing it because there are so many people who seem to go through life believing themselves to be innocent, or victims of others.
I’m not implying that everything is always and entirely ‘your’ fault. Rather, every situation presents an opportunity to grow and improve. Take progression at work for example, I believe an individual is responsible for their own progression and to be clear about where they want to go, or ask for advice from those around them. Too many times I have heard people claim to ‘never be given the opportunity’ only to confess they had never asked for it when asked ‘Why?’. Similarly, with rowing, Olympic rowers are being critiqued through everyday of their training so I should always be learning and trying to improve – no amateur rower is ever faultless and this extends in to…well…everything. On the flip side, I also meet so many people who believe their ‘way’ of doing something to be flawless – but the same mindset applies as strongly to them. There is no such thing as perfect in my opinion.
Not everything can be changed, but the easiest things to influence are those completely under your own control. So looking for your own areas of improvement is a really great way to move forward quickly and keep smiling, which can only be a good thing!
…to work, commute and train to be an even half-competitive rower?! (For those from the rowing fraternity, I am targeting WIM1 levels of competition.) I suspect it is the time of year but, 8 weeks in to the new season with a structured training plan, my belief is wavering. My resolve and focus are still there (although often hidden behind a mask of tiredness and confusion) but I do question what is achievable.
Of course, this is by no means me saying I am quitting or cutting back or anything of that nature. In fact, the competitive part of me sees this as the next mental hurdle I need to jump (the first being the first 5k of the season, obviously!). Nothing tests your focus and commitment to the cause than when you get in after over an hour of travelling (and cycling home in the pouring rain) that chucking on your all-in-one and pounding out an erg or lifting 10-tonne kettle bells. Okay, my weights aren’t that heavy, but you get the idea!
On a serious note though, I suspect there will be a limit. With over 2 hours of commuting along with the working day (equating to just short of 12 hours out of the house), there will be a limit to how much training is manageable, especially during the winter. Last week was quite stressful for work and I was feeling physically worn out too. But, so caught-up in my routine was I that I had to be instructed by two people to have a night of rest when I was almost asleep on my feet on Thursday. I did rest and I was better for it – I reminder that sometimes a rest is, er, the best. Again, you get the idea!
But, I shall continue on with the plan – next week moves to HIT so a break from the erg of doom! – and see what difference it has made by the next 5k and Fours Head – the thought of both make me shudder slightly even several weeks away 😉
The first thing I have been trying to tackle in my nutrition ‘review’, in part because it is the easiest, is hydration. It hasn’t involved any radical changes, but just a slightly more diligent approach to my drinking. I was already quite good at remaining hydrated, but less so at drinking close to and around my training sessions.
The most crucial change I have made is taking an additional bottle of water in the car on my way of training. It is just water but something for me to sip on the way there and the way home. That means I am routinely taking squash with a pinch of salt for my training beverage (supposedly a good substitute for commercial sports drinks, although I need to look-up a proper recipe). Often on the way home I would get a headache because of dehydration but the last week and a half I haven’t: so far, so good.
Generally though, with the introduction of twice-weekly weights, my body is feeling the fatigue. It’s not muscle wrenching aches, but just an under-lying weariness. During my swim today, I could feel I was using a lot of my energy supplies to keep going. But, this is the purpose of this winter (and specifically UT) training, so hopefully I will slowly adapt and recover better and also see the benefits. Until then, I am making sure that eat plenty to keep the energy topped-up; my appetite is certainly coming back.