A very, very busy couple of months!
As always, much has happened since my last post, and “final” trials have been and gone. With that, I’ll get straight into the details!
2000m of pain…
Unfortunately, one last test on the rowing machine was required before the final rowing trials in April. Nobody likes 2km tests, nobody!* To make matters worse, I was hitting dieting issues – i.e. running into what felt like my body going into self-preservation mode. I felt like crap and couldn’t pull any decent splits in the prep pieces. Thankfully, I gave it some thought, and in the few days preceding the test, I increased my intake to see if I could get some energy back (the joys of lightweight rowing…).
The test itself actually wasn’t too bad – I settled onto a good pace through the middle and was on for my target of sub 6:20. Unfortunately, I didn’t push on early enough for the final sprint. Leaving everything too late left me a second off the pace and feeling I had more to give. This is a test I really need to nail at some point – I’m certain that my physiology is better than my PB would suggest :/
*I’m sure there are some people who do like 2km tests, but they’re clearly deranged.
Following the 2km test on the rowing machine, there were only a few days left until the Head of the River Race on the Thames. The biggest of all the Tideway head races each year, this is the chance to battle over the boat race course (backwards) for a title of being the fastest eight in the country.
We’d put together a top lightweight eight to challenge for the lightweight pennant, and our training had been going quite well in the run-up. Sadly our training together had also been fairly minimal. The race itself came on a suitably windy day (for some reason, HORR seems to have quite bad luck on this front…), and this perhaps didn’t help our fledgling crew. We rowed ok, but struggled a little in the conditions.
The result was good, but an irritating 2nd place in the lightweight category, losing out to Leander as we had done at the Fours Head back in November. The 13th overall was also a good result, but disappointingly missed out on a top-ten finish and also by only one place to our college student eight!!
The following party would have been excellent, but I was leaving at 5am the following morning for a few days cycling in France before training camp. Despite spending the afternoon running around trying to pack my kit and bike, I somehow made it for a couple of beers and a bit of unhealthy food :D
Luckily our group of cyclists all managed to get out of bed so we could leave for France early on Monday morning. However, we didn’t quite leave enough time to get to the Eurostar, and missed the latest check-in time by about 1 minute. We then got put on a crossing 2hrs later. And then that crossing was delayed by a further hour due to “signalling issues”. Typical. This obviously put us somewhat behind schedule, and in a minibus limited to 62mph, there’s not much that can be done to make up time… After a long drive (which ended late in the evening in driving rain), we finally made it to the Base Nautique de Bellecin. This is almost certainly a great location for a rowing camp, but it was also perfect for a cycling camp. Brand new self-catering chalet accommodation for very reasonable prices!
The area was pretty good for cycling, although we didn’t have the best weather – got caught in several rain showers during the three days. Thankfully there was enough time to dry out between showers, and we managed to get some pretty big rides done with plenty of climbing. Good training miles in the bank!
On the final day of cycling, we decided to drive to the base of the Col du Grand Colombier to tackle that ascent. We obviously ignored all signs near the base saying that the pass was “Route Barreé – Pas Déneigeé!” and carried on up. The climb was pretty epic, but soon the warm weather gave way to drizzle, followed a few km later by sleet, then snow. I was, however, going well and climbing at a decent speed. That all came to a rather abrupt halt though, when I came to a wall of snow across the road with only 3km to the summit. B*****ks. The route clearly had not been “déneigeé”…
And so it was onwards to the main focus of the trip – rowing! (Although you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m a cyclist.)
The first thing I found on arrival at Aiguebelette was that the rigger for my boat had not been packed into the truck back in London. A bit of a show-stopper. I had a bit of a rant and then headed to the accommodation as soon as I could, got my bike out and went for a spin. By the evening it seemed we had a plan for getting the rigger to Aiguebelette, thanks to one of our coaches who was coming out a day later – phew.
In the meantime I planned a cycle route for the following morning, which actually turned out to be rather excellent. The weather was great, and the route took in some beautiful rolling countryside, followed by a long stint on a cycle path by the side of the Rhone. I took a (mandatory on any long cycle) coffee stop and chatted to some friendly veteran French cyclists before tackling the climb back up to the hostel.
Thankfully my rigger did arrive safely the following morning, and I was able to crack on with the training in my scull. The lake itself is quite picturesque:
For whatever reason, I managed to injure myself during the camp (possibly caused by bad bike setup), and ended up with tendinitis in my ankle. As you might imagine, it made rowing rather uncomfortable, and meant I had to moderate the time I spent in the boat, replacing some sessions with cycling. Oddly, cycling (with my ankle strapped up) didn’t seem to cause any issues, even though it may have been the cause… Explain that one!
As the camp drew to a close, we prepared to travel up to Belgium for the final weekend, where we’d race at Ghent Regatta.
After a long and cramped minibus journey, during which I ate mainly sweets to cut my weight down for the regatta, we arrived at the regatta course in Ghent. It was glorious weather, and it looked set to be a fun event, despite several people warning me that the water get very “bouncy” with all the wash. A quick pre-paddle (which confirmed the bounciness!) and then back to the hotel before heading out for pizza (my pre-race meal of choice…).
On the Saturday morning we smuggled our sandwiches out of the breakfast buffet at the hotel and headed over to the course. Weigh-in was spot-on, and I was glad to have practised getting down to 70kg ahead of trials the following week. The race itself (you only race once each day in Ghent) was interesting. I went out pretty hard and was soon looking for the 1km marker! Thankfully I was able to hold on and win my heat, despite fading a little.
The time from the Saturday heat was also enough to get me into the top final on the Sunday. With many Germans. In fact, it was me and four Germans in the final, and unfortunately they all blasted out of the blocks PDQ. I nearly overhauled one of them in the last few hundred metres, but it was not a successful race. A valuable lesson nonetheless! And the event itself was great.
With that, it was back to sunny London to prepare (recover!) for trials.
The week building into trials went well. I managed to recover from my exploits in Belgium, and had some quite encouraging pieces on the water. All was set for a good trials. And indeed, the weather was set to be my favourite conditions – stinking headwind :)
The time-trial on the Saturday was an unexpected success. I decided to go for a negative split (getting faster through the race), since I knew from last year that the conditions would get much worse, and I needed something in reserve for the second half. I finished the TT thinking that I’d overdone this idea, and still had more to give at the finish. On the flip side, I was able to maintain good (for me) technique all the way down the track. Nevertheless, I was disappointed with my row. Until I saw the times.
Somehow I’d managed to some third :o
Clearly rowing better than normal had actually made me go faster! And perhaps a little luck too, but I could do with that every once in a while.
With my solid performance in the TT, I was up in the A/B semi-finals with all to play for. I then went and f***ed up any chances of making the A-final by failing to sprint out of the blocks anywhere near fast enough. Those with international race experience proved why, and I was left for dead in the first 500m. Luckily I managed to pull through into 5th place, but there was no point going any harder once I realised that the top 3 boats were well clear :/
The (B) final was a much better race. I got myself into the race off the start and was well in the mix the whole way down the track. In the third 500m I managed to move up from 5th into 4th place and thought I might be able to continue moving. Sadly it wasn’t to be, and I slipped back to 5th in the final sprint. It was a close race though, with all 6 boats separated by the same number of seconds!
All in all, a productive final trials. I’ve improved on my rank of 18th from last year by moving up to 11th, so I’m happy with that.
The way forward…
Following my performance at trials, I have managed to get involved with a bit of seat-racing (swapping people between boats to find out who moves it fastest). Everything has gone ok so far, although training and racing with the guys currently in the GB team has made me realise that there’s still a lot more hard work to come if I am going to make it into a boat for the World Championships. I have made a good step on this year, but I cannot take my foot off the gas just yet.
The next major event will likely be Essen regatta in two weeks time. It’s a major international regatta in Germany that sees many nations putting out their development crews so they can see how they perform at a top level. I’m currently training for it in a double scull with a team-mate from ICBC – Tim Richards. I have a lot to improve on technically, and I’m now very motivated to make the changes needed to go faster.
Time is also ticking away on my year out. My sabbatical from Cambridge Consultants is set to end in early July, and I’m starting to realise just how much I want this year to be worthwhile. I know I’ve given it my best shot, but soon I will have burned through all of my savings and tutoring earnings. The pressure’s on to make the team. It’s possible, but I’ve got to get everything right.
Watch this space.