The desolate and windswept suburbs of Slough played host to senior squads’ first side-by-side regatta of the season. This was not just about winning or losing on the day, but about finding out whether the season would be full of Pimms on the bank or protein shakes in the sauna that is the Lea gym in summer.
Understandably, tensions were high. Butterflies were flapping fast enough to create hurricanes on all seven continents. Maybe it’s because of all the time spent anxiously waiting, as opposed to the head season when you are just thinking ‘please get me out of here I’m so cold’, but side-by-side racing has this peculiar power to create the feeling deep in the stomach that something is gnawing away at your insides. It also seems to put a lot of pressure on the urinary system; something which coaches Paul C and Richard P probably now appreciate having not factored in sufficient time for the fifteen toilet visits needed by the women’s squad just before boating.
The WIM2 4+ (Bridget, Maddy, Katie, Becca, Harriet) kicked off in fine style, winning their event convincingly after some rapid improvisation of heel restraints, a five minute warm-up, and emergency statins for Paul C. The coaches concurred that the rowing was somewhat ‘agricultural’ – I didn’t want to be too much of a smart arse and point out that agricultural fertilizer can be used to make explosives, so I am doing it now.
Next up were the WIM3 4+ (Sue, Donna, Nicola, Liz, Nigel) and the author in her first foray into racing in a single (well racing properly, she has raced into the bank at Sudbury in a single). The WIM3 4+ comfortably cruised into the final, winning their heat, eventually coming 6th in the Final. The author did not make it into the final (coming 5th out of seven in the heat), but survived her first experience, dignity intact and pleased at the decision not to fall victim to a sudden bout of bird flu or measles as she had been considering at 4am that morning. The final women’s boat was the WIM2 8+ (Anna, Nicki, Katie, Maddy, Ali, Ruth/Rachel, Bridget, Lucy, Harriet). With some changes to the line-up from the victorious WEHORR crew, this was their first race together. It was always going to be tough as it seemed to be the event of choice for the school girls (who are, despite what you think, notoriously good). The eight cruised through into the final, second in their heat and third fastest overall, agreeing that they hadn’t had the best row – determined to row better and longer in the final.
By the time the final came round Paul had booked himself in for a triple bypass, decided to quit coaching and work with animals – he had worked out that herding cats would be easier than getting the women’s squad to the start on time, moreover they don’t cry as often. Luckily, on this occasion, his feline herding skills left enough time to identify that one crew member was sick and so a rapid substitution was made for the author, who jumped into the (Size 15!) shoes in the bow seat. The final was tough; with a good start we were neck and neck with the only other club crew really in the race up to the 1500m mark. But then tiredness began to show and we failed to respond to their push for home, ending up fourth overall. The crew felt they had a good race, but all recognised there is work to do.
On the men’s side the pressure of racing seemed to have differing effects. Having attempted to K.O their coach, the men’s IM1 4- (Emilio, Josh, Ant, Jim) won their heat to progress into the final; although Josh was disappointed that he couldn’t blame having to look over his shoulder for steering difficulties…or maybe he was just disappointed that he failed to persuade the women’s squad to purchase orange blazers. They eventually came 5th in the final.
The aspiring upper middle class contingent of the men’s IM2 8+, normally found dressed in Jack Wills and shopping in Wholefoods, seemed rather than feeling the pressure, seemed largely preoccupied with merits of the artisan bread they had purchased en route to Dorney Lake. Never ones to allow practicalities to get in the way of fashion, they had not turned up dressed to race and so somehow the change of attire had to be achieved, a challenge given that the environ of Dorney lake is not known for its secluded hiding places. In a gentlemanly nod to modesty Phil B decided to hide behind the (empty) trailer where the author was happily enjoying her lunch. Baffled onlookers watched as he wrestled with his underclothing, exposing parts of his body that would make the reader blush, eventually pulling his trousers out of his lycra to rapturous applause from the rest of the men’s eight. They narrowly missed the final, in what by all accounts was a hard fought race. Elsewhere the IM3 4+ came 6th in their heat, a race they all felt was disappointing…luckily there’s plenty more regattas to come.
We all left exhausted, that is apart from Nicki, who texted the author at 1am in the morning declaring that she wanted to go dancing…I think maybe there will be some more races for Nicki next time…
Written by Rachel Lund