Pic: all of us: L to R: Jo (3), Mel (7), Anne (6), William (4), Joss (4), Freya (Stroke), Amy (Bow), Me (5), James (Cox). Spot the survivors from last year. You can also read Amy’s take on it all. The results are now up: 4:43:04 for us (I made it 4:42, but I started my watch a fraction late).
Saturday was a lovely day, and we put the boat onto the trailer in glorious sunshine. Alas, Sunday wasn’t. I hate rowing in the rain. So, I got up at 5 and made my way down to Combined where Tom and Andy were waiting with the car and trailer, with James and William. And off we went (pausing only to dump my bike near Queens). The 2 hour drive to Lincoln was enlivened by William, who had brought along his comedy satnav – my how we laughed. Still, despite its best efforts, we got to Lincoln. Once there we promptly made the same navigation mistake we made last year, and missed the turn off. Fortunately Tom is ace at backing a trailer. We were there at 7:30, well before the crowds, and took our boat (the Ladies VIII, Dawn Treader) off the trailer and stuck it together, and the pair for Tom and Andy. Then Tom got to drive the trailer off to the finish, Boston, and leave it there, getting a lift back to the start from some of the Ladies, a heroic driving endeavour made necessary by us not having anyone not-rowing who was able to be around and drive from start to finish during the race.
While he was doing that, those of us hanging around, errm, hung around. Anne and I got some coffee and sheltered in the Lincoln rowing club for a bit, talking schools, then headed back. Above, we all are taking shelter under a fire escape. In truth, though it was raining, it wasn’t bucketing down. Later we found some inside, and James took the chance to rest a bit – he had been up all night with some Dread Disease and looked awful. Fortunately when it came to the race itself all his ill-health fell away and he perked up like some bloodhound on the scent.
This is a view of the start (well, the start-queue: the actual start is under the bridge I’m standing on). There are approx two spaces on the pontoon, or maybe three if you’re all sculls, and since they try to start you at minute intervals that means you get two minutes to get the boat on the water, put the blades in, get in, settle, and get off. Which isn’t nearly as much time as you’d want. Of which more anon.
Exciting innovation of this year was the GPS watch, which allowed me to track our progress, the usefulness of which is only slightly vitiated by the kilometer posts that are available for all to see anyway. But it also gave me instantaneous pace, which was useful.
That is the garmin connect version. Oddly, the site is rubbish for displaying pace, which is what it should have been created for, so I drew my own:
The big spike at 13k is the lock, where you have to wait to get in, then panic and struggle to get the boat across, then jump in, then get pushed out before you’re really ready. Which is why there there is a spike afterwards, too, as we fiddled and settled ourselves down whilst roing in pairs. The same is true at the start (the hassle, the lack of settle time) which is again why there is a spike at the start, and then a little while after. And the ones at 24 and 40 km were water breaks, again in pairs. 50 km in 2:43 is 2:50 / 500 m as an overall average (I think). Which is hardly fast, but its a long race, and we lose time at the lock. This year’s winner was a 4X- in 3:19. The course record, for an VIII, is a little under 3h. Which is ridiculous.
So, where was I? Oh yes – as we pulled into the lock Tom and Andy pulled up in the pair – they’d started 10 mins behind us and (as expected) caught us up. We wished them good luck as they sped off (story told by Tom: as they were heading off a sculler, to avoid congestion at the landing stage and to speed himself up, put his scull onto the water, jumped into the river, vaulted back onto his scull and was off. When he did it he hadn’t realised the water was waist deep, but it looked Well Hard). I was Topless at the lock – despite the overcast, it was warm work rowing.
As we went along the weather got steadily better (in the sense of less rain, though there was never much, and then weak sunshine just at the finish) and worse (in the sense of a headwind, moderate but persistent). Apart from that we just… kept going. We probably under-rated at the start: we were down at 16-17-18 for maybe the first 10 km, but crept up to a more plausible 21 ish after a while. I had to stop to plaster my hands a couple of times (speaking of which see pic, which isn’t there to show you how horrific it was (since it wasn’t) but to remind me which bits needs taping up at the start next time. And also to sing the virtues of electrical tape), and I drank most of my half litre bottle of water, and ate a banana (just before the lock) and a small marzipan bar (at about 30 km). I got tired after about 40 km but it wasn’t hard to keep going. Looking at the GPS distances and paces was good to keep me occupied (one rowing stroke gets you about 10 m in a good boat, so perhaps 9 m for us, so every stroke the watch ticked over: 9.41, 9.42, 9.43… you get the idea). There isn’t much scenery to distract you: most of the time the river is between floodbanks. A bridge is an event. We got overtaken by some crews in the first half of the race, and we overtook other crews in the second half, roughly. Particularly towards the end there were some totally shagged-out looking crews. We encouraged them with cries of “keep it up!” and “not far now!” – apart from expressing general good will and a relief from the loneliness (for the scullers), I’m not sure how much good that did.
James did an excellent job of coxing us, so well done him. He went from sick-as-a-dog “why am I here” mode straight into coxing mode and really pushed us along when we flagged, as inevitably we did, coaxing us back under 2:30 when we lost it (note: there is a considerable disparity between the GPS rates and the rowcoach rates, presumably because the impeller has never been calibrated on the boat. I reckon the rowcoach was optimistic by maybe :10. James had made an iPod-to-coxbox converter and played a few judicious tracks to cover the oh-so-difficult 25 k to 40 k stretch: Queen and “Don’t stop me now” was inspired.
At last, we came to this bit:
the finish. Ah blessed relief. In fact it came slightly earlier than expected, because the race is 31 miles which isn’t quite 50 km. We had enough energy to take the rate up to 28 over the finish line, hurrah. And then that was it really. Haul the boat out, collect the baldes and lost bags, get a pint, go to the loo, buy the tee-shirt, get photos, not necessarily in that order.
Here is the pair (yellow) on our trailer, DT on the trestles just visible and (as you can sense perhaps) we were somewhat boxed in. Never mind, it was a good excuse for not going anywhere too soon. Andy and Tom finished in 4:23 ( might have got a prize, but they were the only entry in their category – pairs are not popular for Boston) so hadhad a chance to rest before we got back. Since we finished faster this year and started an hour earlier we got to sit around watching others finish, instead of being nearly the last, which was good.
Prize for Best Lycra goes to this one (of IV). And then it was time to split up into our respective cars and head home. James treated us to his secret stash of coxing porn on the way back (recordings from Boat Races, but also some from bumps) and then it was only a matter of unloading the trailer and trogging the boat back to Queens, where she lies until someone shall put her together again.
Thanks to: the Ladies, for organising it (in particular this year I think Amy) and for inviting me. Tom for the trailering (I still owe him the money). Boston rowing club, for organising the thing. Miriam, for giving me the day off.
Oh, and I nearly forgot: my Top Tips for the race. First, the lock is only 1/4 of the way. Second, don’t take any excess kit. Third, protect your hands. Fourth, don’t bother with a seat pad (well I didn’t and I was fine, but almost everyone else did have one).
That makes two years in a row for me. Apparently there is one chap who has done it 43 times. Will I make three next year? Will the Men ever get their arses in gear and manage their own entry? Will I succumb to my fatal urge of trying to scull it, even though I don’t really know how to scull. All these questions and more will eventaully be answered by the passage of time.
Postscript: no sooner do I pat myself on the back for having done this but Amy finds us a 100 km row round Amsterdam> Looks good, even if it is all in Foreign. Quite a few times in the 12 h bracket. I must inquire of Si+B.