Winter training

A few years ago, I was a regular competitive Angler. I would spend my days on the banks of a river, canal or lake, come rain or shine. Back then people used to tell me I was crazy. That I should spend my days in the warmth and get a new hobby.

These days, I spend my time ON a river, canal or lake. It’s progression, but definitely in the wrong direction! As a rower, we go out in all weathers. Well, nearly all. We don’t go out in electrical storms or when the river is completely iced over!

Yesterday, I was due to train with Huntingdon Ladies as they’ve asked me to fill in for an injury ahead of their Cambridge Winter League race next week. When we got to the boat club, it was -8c and the river was 90% frozen, so we didn’t go out.

Apparently it was -10c in St Neots yesterday at 8.30am and yet the open water swimmers still went out! With the water temperature at 1c, I think they take the prize for being the craziest!

This morning it was a balmy -1c when I arrived at St Neots. We have a Ladies 8 preparing for a number of Head races coming up. The first, the Head of the Trent (6K) is just a fortnight away and they were in need of a cox. Yes, I volunteered.

Luckily with plenty of layers on, it was just my toes and face which felt it most keenly. It was a brilliant outing but with a small amount of ice navigation required. Staying away from the edge, I managed to navigate the boat through the open, clear water but by 10am, the ice was breaking away from the edges.

When we turned near the club house for the first time, there was a strange sound. As we stopped, we realised the sound was coming from the mass of ice next to us. I can only describe the sound as magical. I’ve never heard anything like it before, but as the ice broke up and gently brushed against the block next to it, it seemed to sing.

We’re one of the only clubs near by with a river that isn’t frozen so we’ve had Peterborough and Star Rowing Clubs training this weekend. During the second turn, one of the other crews out shouted to us to stop. I halted the crew and asked what the problem was and they shouted simply, ‘ice’.

We drifted and there was the familiar clunk as we hit the side of a drifting plate of ice. Our coach on the safety launch pulled back and helped to guide us out.

A small amount of careful navigation later and we were clear. As we travelled down the river, there were only one or two plates of ice, but I could see from the thickness that we wouldn’t want to hit them!

Nice cup of warm coffee, boiling hot shower and lots of layers to now warm my poor cold bones.

Here’s to warming up! Summer training can’t come soon enough.

The morning after…

Tuesday ended on a bit of a ‘downer’. I’ve not been feeling like myself for the last couple of days, feeling alone and more than a bit doubtful on whether my life is going in the right direction. I guess seeing the stress that my family is under due to the illness of my Grandfather, is probably the cause. I hate feeling useless and in this situation, that’s exactly what I am. Other than providing support, I can do nothing.

For the last four months, I have felt the same helplessness about my own health. I originally started feeling ill in May and ignoring it cost me four months of rowing training, the entire winter head racing season and could have cost me my long term health.

Last Thursday, I was given the support from my doctor that I had been dreaming of. Despite not having the test results from a hospital visit a few days before, the doctor said, with a smile on his face, that he was happy for me to start some graduated training. I couldn’t believe my ears. Ok, so I have to wait another couple of weeks for the all clear, but this was the best news I’d had in a long time.

I got home that evening on top of the world and immediately started the plan for light/recovery training, from Monday. My plan consisted of swimming, a gentle jog, light ergo (rowing machine) or dancing with at least one ‘recovery’ day in between which is to be completed for the next 4 weeks.

With Monday’s early start I abandoned the plan for Monday and instead decided to start on Tuesday night.

Heading home last night and talking about it with a friend on the train, I realised I was incredibly nervous about doing any exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I walk to the train station most days and at speed, so it’s not completely alien to me, but this was different.

The plan for Tuesday was a 10 minute jog. One minute walking, one minute jogging. In order to do this I had to take my pulse first thing in the morning, when I got home from work and then at intervals during the training. This was to ensure that my body was in the right state to be able to cope with exercise. I had already established that if my resting heart rate in the morning was above 55 or above 65 after work, then I wont train. With my pulse at 52 in the morning and 59 after work, I decided to go for it. I set out and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

My illness over the summer had resulted in some concerns over my heart and it scared me to death. Everyone around me keeps commenting on how I must ensure that I don’t overtrain. To those people, I ask if they think I have a death wish. One Wednesday in July I was left not sure whether I’d see Thursday. I’m not saying that for effect. It’s true. I found myself unable to speak, slurring my words and in a lot of pain, it’s something that I will remember for a long time to come. Maybe this gives an insight to why I was nervous about a bit of a jog.

I had planned for the exercise to be in my cardio zone and after 5 minutes, my pulse was just a little over my target.

When I got home I wanted to cry. I’d never found 10 minutes work so hard. This was the first time I realised just how unwell I’d been and how much work would be involved in getting me back to competition fitness. I just wanted someone to hug me and tell me it would be ok. I’m a strong person, but maybe the summer took more of my strength than I realised.

This morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Part of me thought that I would wake with a headache, as I’d been doing before I got sick, or maybe even feeling like I had flu – a good indication that I’d done too much.

As the alarm went off I felt groggy. But after 15 minutes or so, it passed and although there was the feeling that I may develop a headache during the day, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. And I was so hungry it was ridiculous!

I know the road ahead is going to be one of the hardest of my life, but standing on the train platform this morning, I felt that buzz coming back.

Yesterday may have ended feeling down and unsure of my abilities. But I have definitely come back fighting today!

A late addition to my weekend

Friday finished with a bit of a whimper. After a long week I had great plans on a Friday night of comfort food, a glass of wine and listening to the Cheltenham game online. When I arrived home, I ensured I had everything packed for Saturday’s trip to Gloucestershire and then retrieved my laptop from it’s case.

While waiting for the commentary to start, I started cooking, grabbed a Friday night treat of a glass of Cab Sav, courtesy of Jacobs Creek and played a few tunes on my guitar to help me to relax for the weekend ahead.

About 15 minutes into the match, I received a phone call from a friend at my Rowing club asking if I was free in the morning as they needed a Cox for racing in the Huntingdon Head of the River. To be honest, my first thoughts were that I would miss my lie-in (had to be at the club for 0730), but I agreed enthusiastically, realising this was a good chance to be back in a boat.

The rest of my evening consisted of shouting encouragement for Cheltenham as they secured another win against Accrington Stanley (match report) and looking up the course map for the race. At this point I should point out that, as I live in a top floor flat, my neighbours are very understanding.

Saturday morning’s start was painfully early. The alarm going off just an hour later than in the normal working week, left me with dark thoughts toward the cheery way I’d agreed to be part of the squad for the race.

I reluctantly left the warm confines of my flat and drove to the rowing club in St Neots. We left in convoy to Huntingdon to meet the boat trailer.

When we arrived it was beautiful. Not a breath of wind, the air crisp and full of anticipation of the day ahead. The sun was streaming through the tree’s and the reflection from the water was magical. People started to arrive and the barbecue was fired up next to the boat house.

St Neots had all four crews racing in the first division, two men’s and two women’s fours. There had been a late crew change for our Novice women which required a status change, but once that was all finalised and the boats rigged, the crews began their warmup and the coxwains began the process of putting on as many layers as we could find! Although not as cold as the Cambridge Winter League in March, it was still bitterly cold.

The division started at 1000 and as such we had to be on the water and heading for the start by 0900. The 4km course has a number of difficult bends and is very narrow in several places. I made a mental note of where I would need to make calls to drive the crew on and sections I would need to be careful on, when taking the bends. One crew member’s tip to me was to take the bends like ‘a racing driver would’. An interesting way of looking at steering a 4+ along a river.

When the race got underway, my nerves evaporated. I had a very unsuccessful attempt at parking the boat at the start but this was where I come into my own. The crew went off fast and at a good rating, quickly catching and over taking the single scull ahead of us.

Then, at the narrowest part of the river and on the sharpest bend, a mens coxless Quad attempted an overtake. I positioned the boat as best I could and with full lock on the rudder I had to get stroke side to pull on as hard as they could, while bow side lightened off to ensure we missed the moored boat, the bank and the other crew. We had inches to spare. Straightening up, I was determined to not let the Quad leave us behind. The crew pushed on and we were still in sight of them at the finish.

Crossing the finish line, we came alongside the Quad and the men thanked us and complimented us on how we’d given them a good race. I was thrilled. The crew however, had an almost disappointed air about them. It hadn’t been the best row, but the worst stroke of the race was taken literally on the finish line and for a scratch crew, I thought they did brilliantly.

Trying to land the boat turned into a logistical nightmare. One landing stage, 30+ boats and a marina to navigate around. We were holding on to two boats when trying to land and when I jumped out of the boat, I nearly careered straight over the landing area and into a small section of river the other side!

Once we’d retrieved the boat from the water, we all caught up with the other crews to hear how they’d got on. My near miss with the Quad seemed tame compared to the other men’s crew. They’d had two accidents on the way down the course! Sadly despite this, they were still 25 seconds faster than my crew. After 10 minutes or so, I gathered my things together as I needed to get going back to Gloucestershire. As I was saying my goodbye’s and wishing everyone the best of luck for the rest of the day, one of my crew came over with a smile on his face. It looked like we were the fastest IM3 4+ in the first division! Later in the day I had a text to confirm that we’d won and I had a Pot. My first ever Pot for a race. I always felt I wanted to get that first Pot for a race I’d actually rowed in. But you know what? As a cox, the work you have to do to concentrate and get those lines right, is just as hard as rowing flat out for 4000 metres.

Hopefully, come sprint season I’ll have another Pot to add to it, this time for the work I do with an Oar, rather than the rudder.