The Summer Round-Up and The Future

I have delayed writing this post for quite some time now, constantly tweaking it and re-writing it, unsure of what to say, and indeed what I was going to be doing in “the future”.

But here it is!

A lot has happened; some good, and some not so good. Since April trials I have been racing in some form or another every other week. The racing has been tough, and the training no less so. It has been a stressful couple of months, and ultimately may not have worked out as I might have hoped.

Perhaps a quick run-down of what’s been going down would be best…

“Seat Racing”

Very shortly after final trials, I was thrown into the mix for some seat racing. For those who don’t know, the basic premise of seat racing is to race two (or more) boats against each other repeatedly, switching rowers between crews each time. From the relative winning/losing margins, one can infer which rowers are moving their boats the fastest. Over two days, we raced five 1500m pieces, each one a balls-to-the-wall effort leaving each of us wondering how on earth we’d do any more.

But you always can do another race. It’s amazing how much pain you can put yourself through when you really want something. Those rowers already in the squad are fighting to keep their seats, and those not yet there are trying to displace them. You have to get the most out of your crew, but also know that when you’re switched over you have to make a completely different crew go fast.

However, after the news that we were done – you can’t ever know how many races there are beforehand as it might affect the results – I realized that it had all been for nothing. I hadn’t even been switched during the 5 races. Here’s an analogue: being invited to an interview and then finding there wasn’t a job available for you in the first place.

Frustrating; yes, but not entirely unexpected if I’d given it some thought. The possible crew for the development rowers (such as me) was most likely to be a quad scull, and we hadn’t done any testing for that. So it was time to get back to the grindstone and put in some serious training before Essen Regatta in Germany.

Enjoying(?) the life of a professional rower

Much as I have spent a great deal of time rowing this year, I had been training at Imperial College BC – a club. Nobody at Imperial is paid to row – most are students or have full-time jobs. A few have coaching jobs or similarly flexible sources of income (like my tutoring), but nobody just rows.

If you make the team though, rowing becomes your job. Like cycling or tennis or football. But you’re paid a whole lot less. Rowers don’t do it for the money. You’ll earn enough to live off, so you can focus on the training. And you need to. Competing at an international level requires miles and miles of rowing, erging and hours in the weights gym. A fairly normal week might have 16 training sessions. If you’re wondering – yes, that’s more than two per day.

To make it a little tougher, I am not paid to row. To keep myself afloat financially, I have been doing a modest amount of tutoring alongside (in addition to decimating my savings). Unfortunately the tutoring comes with a fair amount of commuting, and some preparation work. Add to that the fact that training for Team GB is based in Caversham, but I was living near Putney – a bit more commuting. Doable, but I certainly haven’t been very sociable for a while..!

Essen Regatta

Anyway, the first major race was Essen regatta on Lake Baldeney. I was racing in a double scull with Tim, also from Imperial. The racing was hard – as expected from an international regatta – and conditions were pretty terrible. The lake is large and exposed, with plenty of river traffic and wind to get the waves going. We had a solid, but not spectacular couple of days, finishing third on both days. It was a good experience of the standard required, but the terrible conditions made it very hard to make the most of the event, particularly in a crew that hadn’t spent that long together.

Met Regatta

Following Essen, it was only two weeks until the next racing opportunity – the Metropolitan Amateur Regatta at Dorney Lake. As one of the biggest domestic regattas, we would be expected to put in a strong showing. The weekend was also going to be used for some testing (to be honest, every race you do is being watched carefully). A double and quad scull would race both days, with crew members changing between the boats.

MetRegatta

 

I raced the quad scull on the Saturday and the double on the Sunday, gaining a decent win in the quad and a very close second in the double (to a heavyweight development crew). The real result however, was that the quad and double did similarly on both days; suggesting that all of us were a similar standard.

More Seat Racing

After only a couple of days to recover from the weekend, it was straight into some more seat racing -this time in double sculls. The first day was a bit of a false start, with one rower having to pull out for illness, and one of the three doubles going fast enough as to make them clear favourites. As a result, we reconvened the next day with only two doubles. It was clear that just three of us (probably the three considered to be at the lower end of the group) were being tested.

The racing was close, but unfortunately it wasn’t my day. Over three 1500m races (a little under 15 minutes), all three rowers were separated by less than two seconds, with me sadly coming out on the wrong side of that 2sec.

To put that into perspective, 2 seconds over 15 minutes is about 0.2%.

Psychologically, I was a bit battered after this set of racing. It’s difficult to commit fully to the training when the likelihood of achieving your dream has just reduced significantly. Given how close things were, I had to pick myself up and keep on trying. I had put so much into this year that giving up now would be a waste.

The Holland Beker – Rotterdam

Thankfully, my mind was soon taken off the seat racing when we found out that the next event would be the Holland Beker (only a couple of weeks later). Once again it would be in a quad and double scull, and once again, I’d be racing in the quad on the Saturday and double scull on the Sunday.

The drive down to Rotterdam was long, tiring and uncomfortable (speed-limited minibuses are quite tedious), but we arrived to find a great venue and super hotel! We had a couple of days to train in our crews for the weekend, but then due to illness, the crews were changed the day before the regatta.

The Saturday was a good row, but sadly second to the only other lightweight quad – a strong Danish combination – by 3 seconds. The race was actually run alongside the openweight quads, with the Canadian national crew storming to the win about 10 seconds clear.

The Sunday (in the double scull), had a bigger field of 6 crews. We settled into a solid rhythm, but were unable to match the Dutch Nereus/Orca crew. We did come in comfortably ahead of Canada, Indonesia and Portugal though. Unusually for a rowing regatta, the whole thing was filmed, and there’s a brief clip of our rowing here (See time 00:51:20):

Henley Royal Regatta

The week after Rotterdam was Henley Royal Regatta. Our development group split into two quad sculls – an U23 quad and a senior quad. We were in separate quarters of the draw, so would not meet until the Saturday, where there was the prospect of a lightweight showdown.

Our first race (on Thursday) was against a composite crew from Molesey Boat Club and Sir William Borlase. Their crew contained some Olympic and Worlds finallists in Adam Freeman Pask, Dan Ritchie and Tom Solesbury, along with Angus Warren who won at Henley the year before. Thankfully they didn’t seem to be as practised or fit as they might have been, and we won 3/4L (albeit making it hard for ourselves).

Day two saw us take on the Reading University top quad, who went well of the start. Thankfully we settled into a really sweet rhythm, and started moving away through the middle of the race. Everything continued smoothly, and we ended up taking the win by 2 3/4L.

HRRFri

The semi-final was the big race. As predicted, it was us versus the U23 lightweight quad. Unfortunately however, it wasn’t to be. After a strong start, we let them come through us early in the race, and after they pushed out to a 1L lead, we never really got back into the race despite a hard push past Upper Thames. The U23 quad continued to push off us towards the end of the course to win by a pretty dominant 2 lengths.

A shame to lose out to the young guns, and when the margins are so tight between lightweight rowers aiming for GB selection, that result put the kaibosh on any (slim) chance I still had of making it to the world champs this year. Fair play to those guys though – a really strong group of U23 scullers. [They’ve since won silver at the World U23s, and are moving forward to the senior Worlds with only one change. Best of luck to Jamie Copus, Sam Mottram, Steve Parsonage and Zak Lee-Green.]

The end..?

Well… not quite!

With the chances of a row at the Worlds gone, my sabbatical ambition was over, and with it I was faced with the harsh choices of the “real world”. Over the 12 months I had spent all of my savings and lived quite economically while doing some tutoring to make ends meet. I was left with tough choices to make about whether to commit to another year out for rowing (and given that the odds of making the Rio team are looking extremely slender; several more years out), and how on earth to fund such a year. Alternatively I had my fantastic job at Cambridge Consultants waiting for me, and with it a good future career.

But actually, somewhat by chance, a third option came around that allowed me do combine both the rowing and engineering. As of today, I’ve started a new job working for Carl Douglas – a rowing racing shell manufacturer. Whilst I am sad to leave Cambridge Consultants, the new job is a chance to combine my passion for engineering with that for sport. I’ll also be able to continue with my GB aims for now.

Watch this space.

Discuss - One Comment

  1. Duncan Coneybeare says:

    Thanks for sharing the highs and the lows so honestly, John. Wishing you the best for the future – and hoping to see you representing GB soon.

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