There aren’t many big events that take place in Welwyn Garden City. In the six and a half years we have lived here, the only things that come to mind before this weekend are: the Olympic Torch route and being one of two main filming locations from The World’s End. This weekend we got to add event number three to the list: the fourth stage of the first ever Women’s Tour ended on Parkway in the centre of WGC!
Sam and I are both cycling fans and, having watched most of Le Tour last year, it would have been rude not to go down and support the ladies. We had it in the diary from early March and invited the Watling Parents to come with. Despite some interesting weather, a lot of other local people had the same idea and Welwyn was positively buzzing (for Welwyn GC!)
The race wasn’t due to finish until close to 2pm so, getting in to town by about 11am, we had some time to kill. We took a look round the numerous stalls and events and got some tea and cake. About 1pm though, crowds were starting to build so we decided to bagsy a space. We got a good spot near the finish line, although on the second row back.
The first riders arrived through just after 2pm. Before they appeared, the compere said to keep watching because “blink and you’ll miss it”. He wasn’t lying. They came by at such a tremendous speed that we didn’t see the front riders. Sam managed to get a snap of the riders just behind them who placed about 5th / 6th +.
We were in a great spot for the presentations though and got to see British Rider Lizzie Armistead (who won Silver in the 2010 Olympic Road Race) pick-up the Best British Rider Jersey.
We also got to see current World Champion and 2012 Olympic Gold medallist Marianne Vos pick-up the Stage Win, the Points Jersey and the Yellow Jersey!
You can see the full set of pictures Sam took on his website.
Whenever I watch elite sport, I always feel an urge to go and train harder again. Of course, the reality is that training for even the level I was in amateur rowing is time consuming and both mentally and physically difficult. None-the-less, Sam went out cycling this morning because he was signed-up for an Evans Sportive; Cycling there and back, he clocked-up almost 45 miles! I did a hard, but by comparison meagre, 30 mins on the cycle trainer. Better than nothing though I guess..!
Lou and I finally went back out in the boat on Saturday. It’s the first time we’ve been on the water in 7 months. Yes, SEVEN MONTHS! I’m shocked that it’s been so long but we have both also enjoyed retaining the feeling in our extremities over the winter, not getting soaked to the bone and, for me personally, not having to steer on dark nights! We only did a light outing of 7k, but it felt really nice to be back on the water. It was beautiful day for it too.
It never ceases to amaze me how ‘normal’ it feels to be in a boat no matter how long I am out of one. The moment we pushed off, all the old habits came back straight away, including all my steering knowledge of the bends. The river has changed since we were last out and it was interesting to observe some of the changes; Some trees had definitely gone after the windy winter although one particularly intrusive willow (it covered half the river at a particularly sharp bend!) will not be missed.
Now we’ve been out, we want more and have (in a interesting twist for the two of us) provisionally scheduled an ad-hoc outing for one night this week! My muscles need a few more sessions to get back in to the swing of things because I was a tad stiff on Sunday. My hands bore the brunt of it though – I’m quick to forget the discomfort of rowing blisters! Ah well, a few more sessions and the calluses will be back. It’s nice to feel like a rower again!
A couple of months ago, Lou and Graham convinced Sam and I (I needed more convincing) to sign-up for the 38 mile leg of the Wiggle Spring Saddle sportive in Newmarket. Even after Sam had registered us and paid the (not cheap) entry fee, I still wasn’t looking forward to it. However, Lou and I spent every Saturday morning at the club on the spinning bikes. I then usually did 30 mins on the bike trainer one night during the week. After a small freak out at the start of March, I even went out for a whopping 10 miler one Sunday. You would think I would have learnt this was insufficient training after 2012 and 2013 experiences. But no!
We assumed it would be relatively flat, given the location. We were quite wrong about that. The wind was also awful – about 16mph+ according to the weather forecasts. We had barely left Newmarket racecourse before we got hit by a wall of wind. There were also quite a lot of gradual hills which slowly killed my legs. I got separated from Lou just over halfway through and due to a fault with my bike computer earlier, I had no idea how far there was left. At what I think was about 10 miles to the finish, I also had to stop half-way up a hill with agonising cramp in my hamstring, although I managed to stop from getting much worse by stretching at the side of the road. Fortunately, after conquering a couple of rather tough hills in the last few miles, I made it to Newmarket race course. Subsequent analysis by Sam has show (see above) that the 38-miler was actually almost a 40-miler and the true profile was much hillier towards the finish than that advertised!!
So, I have my ‘medal’ and after a bath and a decent dinner, I am still shattered. I don’t intend to move from the sofa tonight!
(Sam did really well though and his moving time was fast enough to be in the silver medal category. Unfortunately he took a 5 min break at the rest stop so we think he’ll just miss out based on the times recorded by our chips. But at least we know he did it!)
I have been lax of late with my training. After my self – elected break from full on rowing training over the winter, I pottered along keep keeping fit but just not pushing myself to the limit every session. It was a nice change and a break I emotionally needed.
But as we have moved in to the summer, I began to become a bit complacent about my training. We all know that complacency breeds laziness. What happened? Well, my fitness had no longer just ‘levelled off’, it was dropping. Gulp! So this week I made a pledge with myself: to train every night from Monday to Thursday. Friday would be a permitted rest day before my Saturday outing. The training didn’t need to be all intense but I had to do something every day.
Fuelled by my new enthusiasm I started the week with a 10k steady-state erg. 10k is quite a long distance on an erg I was cruelly reminded, but I finished in an acceptable time. This boosted me for Tuesday when I decided to run. Yes, run. I did a pretty amateur 2 mile circuit but, again, it was tougher than I remembered. It was hard getting upstairs last night.
Today I was tempted to wimp out but one thing a rower always retains is a stubborn pride in the face of failure. So I opted for a body pump workout on one of my Davina DVDs! The thinking behind that was it would focus more on arms than legs, which needed a break. Sadly this DVD was not the same as the other one – the session was VERY leg focused.
This evening my legs are very sore. My core is highly likely to reap revenge tomorrow with some delightful muscle cramps. I was also zonked by 8pm and am going straight to hit the hay after this blog! I am off course quite happy in a slightly sadistic way that any athlete will understand. But I also can’t help but feel it would have just been easier to not let my fitness drop in the first place. But where is the challenge in that..?!
Sam has been getting in to his cycling even more recently. We were doing some research about cycling techniques and we learnt (basic for any above-amateur cyclist I’m sure) that cadence is actually a key cycling measure. Cadence in cycling is the number of reps per minute of the pedals. After reading an interesting article on cadence from Bike Radar, Sam decided to try working on getting his cadence higher. I thought I might do the same.
Having never monitored my cadence before, a couple of weeks ago I kept track of it on Sam’s cycle trainer. I struggled to keep my cadence above 80! So, when I went on the trainer again today, I knocked the resistance down to begin with and got my cadence up to 90 – 95. After 10mins though, my HR was stil sitting at 100 – 115 – not that high for me when my resting HR is ~48 and I can get it to 175 on my erg! So I bumped-up the resistance and managed to hold it for 15 mins, getting my HR to an acceptable 150 bpm (my AT zone).
Certainly something to work on but a complete contrast to rowing. In rowing, you start off by doing low rate work to build power and technique. Then, when that is embedded, you work on doing all of that but at higher ratings. Trying to get the right technique for cycling almost requires the opposite approach. It’s going take quite a lot of practice for me to get used to a higher cadence, but to build the habit I will need to knock the resistance down. So, I’m having to work on speed with less power, introducing the power as a secondary step.
So far I have only tried this on the cycle trainer – will have to take the bike for a spin soon. After last years accident, I am still not as confident on my bike as I was. Hopefully I will overcome that this summer!
It’s a difficult time of year for training. The weather is not at it’s best and there is nothing harder than forcing myself out in to the dark and cold conservatory to erg. Or out of the house and down to water training after work. Or out of bed early on a Saturday to de-ice the car for weekend outings. I enjoy my rowing and my exercise, but with just the rigmarole of getting to and from work in the cold, as well as doing normal house-hold tasks, I find my energy lagging at the start of the year.
I’ve mentioned before in a blog post that I wonder whether it is possible to commute and seriously compete in the world of Senior rowing. This isn’t one of those posts, but I suppose this is the time of year where I find myself asking ‘Why am I doing this?’. Not the rowing, as I said, I love the rowing, but the repetitive commitment I make to it as I try and stay at a certain level. The pressure to do that comes, for the most part, from within too.
For fear that some of my squad will read this and think I am not pulling my weight, I do train my way through these dips; I guess that is what the routine does – engrains the training habit in to you. Yesterday though I had my first “Nah, I don’t want to.” moment mid way through training. It wasn’t because I physically couldn’t (the reaction we all often get during a rather arduous erg piece), rather I just didn’t fancy it. Any ‘normal’ person would probably have let it go, but I felt a tinge of guilt at not seeing the session through. But then, this is my spare time and my hobby, should it matter?
I suppose this is why professional athletes tend to retire at the top of their game. To compete at a sport of any kind means you have a certain level of competitive drive. This is usually underpinned by a desire to be the best (or try your damn hardest to be as far up that ‘Erg Score’ list as possible!). To not have a clean break is difficult because you just have to slowly watch yourself slip down that ladder, all the time knowing what you used to be capable of. I guess there is one obvious word which sums this up: pride.
I’m not really sure what I am trying to achieve from thinking all of this through – perhaps reaffirming to myself that I do get some pleasure out of it. Having not raced in such a long time, it’s hard to know. It’s just not very motivating to realise that some of the races which may re-inspire me involve sitting out on the river in these sub-zero temperatures! Time to buy some more thermals maybe…
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.
(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.