The Boston Marathon

DSC_3022-whole-crew-at-finish_crop Subtitle: Snow white and the seven dwarves, though it is some time since I’ve been snowy white (even if I am wearing my SEH MCR 1988 top and my “these are older than you are young lady” rowing shorts) and some of the ladies are bigger than me. Left to right: Anne, Ev, Mels father (support car driver), Amy, Louise, Alan (trailer driver), Jo, Joss, Mel, Elissa (volunteer cox from Magdalene), Me. As you’ll notice, they are female and I’m not. This is because they had a spare space and the men, as ever, hadn’t quite got round to organising themselves. I was keen to do it, and also thought I might get an easy ride this way. Certainly the ladies do a better job of balancing the boat, either that or their boat is intrinsically more balancable. Main thanks (apart from the crew for the rowing fun and the aforementionned support crew) to Anne for organisation, but also to Andy S for emergency rigger maintenance and Paul for lending us the trailer. As to the all-important time: we got 4:57:25, just under the magical 5 hours. That is a looong way adrift of the winners (Monmouth, 3:13) but we don’t care. We should have been novice, but there weren’t enough so no cat for that, and we should have been mixed, but ditto.

To those few not familiar with it, the Boston Marathon (not to be confused with the colonial’s road race, or even their HotC) is a 50 km event (techically a race, but crews at least at our level don’t treat it as such) from Lincoln to Boston. Both places have enormous cathedrals that can be seen from miles out – it took us a long time to sink Lincoln cathedral. There is only one break at a lock, and lots of the river is very straight – quite an experience for anyone used to rowing at, to pluck an example out of the air, Cambridge. At the start the river is fairly thin (and has a nice kink after 50 m designed to trap unwary scullers) but after that is nice and wide.

He we are fairly close to the start, courtesy of JET photographic who probably don’t mind the plug. After 13.5 km there is a lock – Bardney lock – where we took the opportunity for a (pre-arranged) change of order; most of us swapped sides; I moved up to 7; ultimate power was not quite mine. And for those of you wondering WTF, yes, the boat is indeed bow-rigged. We look OK; I’m almost precisely in time with stroke but have a fraction extra length which is as it should be. Someone was snapping at about 40 km but I can’t find those online. I’m in two minds about whether swapping is good. It did rest the hands a bit but next time I’d try to arrange to do most of the race on my good side rather than me trying to pretend I’m ambidextrous.

Unlike the events I’m used to, there were few eights at this one: mostly sculls and doubles, a fair number of fours and quads. Maybe any given club has a hard time finding 8 fools rather than just a few :-). At least with an VIII you can rest people out in pairs while they drink, eat, plaster up, or whatver. We did that every ~25 mins.

Up to the lock, and until about 20 km, the miles just glided by. To the half way point I began to notice; 30 km was a long way. 40 km was very long (the pic is taken about then by Elissa as we trundled along, oddly I’m the only one rowing topless), but from then on we were getting close to the finish. Past 40 I counted every stroke to get me to the next kilometer. We overtook a couple of quads and the little Green Men in a double towards the end which kept us going, as did holding off a revived quad briefly. And then all of a sudden it was over. Overall it was a wonderful experience thanks to everyone which I’m keen to repeat next year, and might even make some attempt to organise.

Advice and stuff

Part of the reason for writing this post was to put down some useful advice for me next year or anyone else. So rather randomly:

* It is very hard, if not impossible, to do without a support driver. You’re likely to be sh*gg*d afterwards (especially if you’re the only man amongst 8 women :-))) though I think I could have drive home at a pinch. But anyway you need someone to drive from the start to the finish. You could just about manage that by dropping the boat at the start the evening before, driving the trailer to the finish, somehow getting back to the start; etc. But it would be a lot of hassle.

* Make sure the weather is good. We have a beautifully sunny day, but not too hot, with little wind and what there was a tail wind. Doing it in a headwind in the rain would be an entirely different and far less pleasant experience.

* If you’re new to this kind of distance expect the limiting factor to be your hands falling apart rather than getting completely exhausted; but nonetheless it is pretty tiring by the end. Also make sure your feet fit well. And a spongy seat cover is good. We all had these and as far as I could see even the Big Boys had them. Lots of people have gloves. Amy had some cute strips-of-neoprene things apparently designed for weightlifters that worked well. I just used plasters, that worked for me. You don’t want to end up like this.

* You might want to train a bit beforehand I suppose. A reasonable amount of rowing to toughen up the hands would be a good idea, and if I did it again I wouldn’t have done the mens outing on saturday morning – not for the tireness, but again because of the hands. The ladies went so far as to do some 2 hour ergs; I never had that much time but did manage 1 hour (14,317 since you ask) .

* Don’t expect to get a relaxing break at the lock. You’ll likely be hassled through quickly in order not to break the flow of traffic. Do make sure you hang on to your stuff – a nice lady there offered to take my Sigg bottle for me but alas in the confusion ended up throwing it at the boat as we pushed off, missing, and down it sank to the bottom. Don’t expect to take your oars out – there is no time. Either let them dangle (sculls) or tuck them into the next rigger (sweep).

* There are nice km-signs every, um, kilometer. Initially they breeze by and you’ll barely notice them. Past 40km I found I was counting and waiting on every one. On an erg, one stroke is 10 m ish. Over the last 10 km, we were taking about 145 strokes per km.

* Don’t take too much food. I did. Two bananas and one small marzipan bar was all I needed. And about a litre of water (ahem). [nb: others disagree about this. It worked for me, but see the comments]

* If you put on sun tan lotion, remember that you row backwards and put it on the right side :-)

* Playing music in the boat didn’t work for us. Silence is better.

* It is fairly easy to miss the turns in Lincoln going to the start, even if you know it is fairly easy to miss, and trying to reverse a trailer is a pain. Tip: if you acidentally drive into Riverside North it doesn’t matter as despite appearences there is a bridge over to South at the start line.

* Both the start and the finish sold burgers-n-coffee-n-cans-n-mars-bars type food, and there is a much-needed bar at the finish. Cute image of the day: two young girls at the start sent to walk round the trailer park saying “food for sale at the boat house” rhythmically but quietly, even though they were saying it into a magephone.

[Somehow I contrived to turn comments off for this post. Sorry. Now fixed]

[More pix from birdmanphotography]

Comments

  1. #1 GL
    2009/09/22

    [Since I managed to start this with comments disabled I got some by email. Apologies -W]

    I was the race promoter for the Petaluma River Marathon (42K) (Petaluma California) last year and helped organize it this year. It is a really beautiful race but much much smaller then Boston. Out and back course. Unlike Boston 8′s never win. It is hard to find 8 people who
    can actually race for 26 miles. The course record 2:58 was done in a mixed quad. The fastest single was a 3:01.

    Got to disagree about a few things. If you actually try to race it race it rather then just survive, then hands may not be what gives out. We had one person in a 1x do very well for 30K and then his hamstrings cramped up. He did the last 10K with arms and back only. He needed help getting out of the boat and walking afterwards. Other people have cramp up and had a very difficult time rowing.

    I did the full marathon last year (1x), the half this year(1x) and two years ago(2x). I actually never had any trouble with my hands or butt during any of the races. But I had trained for them. For the marathon I did rows over 30K at least once a week, and did 43K the week before the race so I was used to it. Couldn’t put enough millage in the other years to race rather then just survive the full marathon.

    Your advice on food and water is not good. Some people can survive on minimal food. Especially if it is only 3 hours. But for many will need more. If it is hot, 1 liter of water is down right dangerous. In my marathon I drank a bit over 2 liters and ate 2 cliff bars (finished in 3:11).

    For the half marathons, the first time I ate once and drank a little 3 times (once on the way out once at the turn around and once on the way back). This year I didn’t drink or eat at all, and I think I would have done slightly better if I did drink something at the turn around.

    Oh, and don’t drop a cliff bar in the bottom of the boat when waves are breaking over the splash board. It gets pretty gross.

  2. #2 LCS
    2009/09/22

    [Another pasted in -W]

    Hello snow-white,

    Nice write-up. Dwarfish quibbles…

    Consumption during row:
    2.7 litres of water (which contained 450 cal)
    3 energy bars (645 cal)
    Half a twix (123 cal)
    A banana (100 cal)
    (=1318 cal)

    Plus a total of 800-1200 cal, 1.5-2 hr before starting (300-500 drunk in 0.75 litres, 500-800 eaten).

    I think that scoffing that much was quite helpful for me (although I am probably several kilos heavier than at the start :)); was still high on sugar at the end and for an hour or two afterwards. If I did it next year, would eat/drink the same (doing it with less water would be pretty bad for me…) and put in more work from 10-25 km, which was my nervous somewhat slacking phase. Only thing I’d leave behind was the three surplus squashed bananas than somehow smeared themselves over the remnants of my tape.

    Hands: climbing finger tape, alongside gloves, worked great for pre-taping and ongoing repairs. Had a near blister-free row. Although the gloves made feathering occasionally erratic.

    -Happy (pka Grumpy)

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