The latter part of 2017 certainly had its ups and downs in my own rowing calendar. An unnecessary and highly frustrating organisational mishap was followed by a narrow and highly satisfying win; and then, to wrap up the year, a result which was just about OK but should have been better.
There were lessons to be learned; memories to be cherished; New Year resolutions to be made. Just the kind of bumpy ride which we rowing addicts have to get used to. Here are some of the highlights, as I saw them
Murphy’s Law strikes
6-10 September. World Rowing Masters Regatta 2017 – Bled.
I had it all so beautifully organised. Got my entry in early, arranged accommodation, and volunteered as co-driver for Thames RC’s boats trailer from London to Bled.
Having wrapped up the logistics, I then spent much of my August holiday working on preparation. If my fitness and technique could be brought together at the right moment I reckoned I was in with a good chance for my age group.
One thing I hadn’t reckoned with, though, was the cowboy in Montana who had got hold of my credit card details and was beginning to live it up at my expense. The bank noticed what was going on, and I agreed with them that all US-based transactions should be cancelled – which seemed sensible as I never use my UK credit card overseas anyway. However, another unreckoned-with factor was Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong“) which on this occasion determined that the World Rowing organisers should be processing all payments for the Bled World Masters event via a US-based bank. So my payment was blocked – and by the time I discovered what had happened it was too late: my entry for Bled had been cancelled due to non-payment. Irrevocably down the plughole. Moral: check everything twice.
Annoying, to put it mildly. But I decided to go to Bled anyway – and I’m glad I did because I met so many interesting people there, saw such wonderful scenery, and had some great cycling too. I even managed some recreational outings on the splendid Bled lake: (it was the least I could do for my beautiful Carl Douglas, after all those hours and miles of fine-tuning and trailering. I hate to let a good boat down.)
Let’s go cycling instead
I had taken advantage of the Thames RC trailer to bring my bike – a Pearson frame with a new Shimano 105 groupset – and took it for a memorable ride with a Slovenian athlete called Žiga Galičič . Ziga was a junior World Champion in their quad and subsequently sculled successfully for Slovenia in other World Championship events. He now keeps fit with regular cycling – and boy is he fit! The first main hill went on at 12 % for a good five km… and then flattened off for a few minutes of gentle rolling along before swinging into another climb labelled 18% – (“Not to worry this only goes on for another two km” Ziga cheerfully told me as I shifted down and saw my heartrate leap up)… We passed a succession of beautiful lakes, villages and mountain views, which I saw through a breathless haze.
Our last 40km back to Bled was done into a strong headwind, in about an hour. The Pearson was great; comfortable on the climbs and controlled on the descents.
We discussed Ziga’s ideas for cycling, sculling and kayaking holidays in Slovenia, which he is able to organise. Anyone interested in taking him up on this, let me know and I’ll put you in touch. He has comfortable accommodation for small groups, and can provide all necessary equipment.
What’s new in Scandinavian Telemetry
Among the many people I met in Bled were two teams of young telemetry specialists. One of the teams, from Norway, were yoga-practising scullers who have developed a specialised sensor to display and record the stroke powercurve, along graphic lines similar to those produced by the RP3. As I’ve been using powercurve data in coaching for many years, I found this concept particularly interesting, and ordered one of the sensors. I’ll publish a verdict once I’ve tested it on the water in Bergerac, where, if it works as described, it should be extremely useful.
The other team, from Finland, are developing another kind of sensor which measures blade and seat movements. Since seat speed and arc angles are difficult to co-ordinate with any precision within a crew, I was keen to find out whether these new data sources would turn out to be be useful in practice: so I invested in a pair of these gadgets too, with a view to doing some testing prior to the Pairs Head the following month. (See more on this below.)
What about the races?
With so much else to see and do, I had little time to watch the races, aside from those where I was cheering on the Thames RC crews, my own club Putney Town, and our other London neighbours Quintin and Mortlake – plus friends and acquaintances from various other clubs and university crews around the world. I have to admit that even for an embittered victim of a ghastly mishap like mine, the World Masters is fantastic fun. A giant sporting and social occasion.
Then it was time to head back home. My co-driver on this 1,500 mile round trip was Colin Barratt, a World Champion lightweight rower and a distinguished coach who, in addition to his well-known work at Ardingly RC has trained several national teams, most of whom, oddly, start with an ‘I’ – e.g. Ireland, India, Iran. (When his lightweight Iranian women’s double beat the USA – an unlikely-sounding event which happened at the World U23 Championship 2009 at Racice, Czech Republic where Iran came 11th and the USA 12th – he briefly made it into the international news headlines.) He will I hope be visiting Bergerac as a guest coach in the not-too-distant future.
Here is our trailer, with Colin tying the boats back down ready for the return journey. It had been raining all day and the parking area had been churned up into a fine sticky Welsh Rugby-type mudbath.
It had been a hard week, and not at all what I had planned. But Murphy’s Law did not strike again, so we got back with all boats intact, and my mental picture of Bled is now much more positive than it would have been if I had decided to stay away.
Hard work pays off
14 October. Pairs Head Race – Thames Tideway.
Back on home waters, my Pairs partner (Kosta Kolimechkov – Osteopth and sports injury specialist) and I set about final preparations for the Head race. Using the new Finnish sensors, we detected a slight discrepancy between our seat speeds and arc angles: Kosta was covering about four degrees more than me at race pace and about eight or nine less when doing gentler technical paddling. By making various adjustments, we were able to achieve exact stroke alignment, in both paddling and at race pace, and could then confirm this improvement by further measurements. (It remains to get our seat movement precisely harmonised: something to sort out in 2018!)
What difference, if any, minor adjustments of this kind might make to the final result it’s impossible to say. But when races are lost or won by fractions of a second, attention to small physical details can potentially swing the balance; and even this line of thought might be psychologically significant.
Anyway, we managed to win the masters division by just over 2 seconds – i.e. a margin of about half a second per kilometer covered – over a very strong double from Exeter. They sent us a message afterwards saying “We won’t make it as easy next time…”. I can assure them: it wasn’t easy!
Not bad – but could do better
2 December. Scullers’ Head 2017 – Thames Tideway.
Next up for both of us was the Scullers Head. Similar setup to the the Pairs Head, but with a slightly larger number of boats. It’s a big event: 539 competitors started (although with 508 crews the Pairs Head had over 1,000 oarsmen on the water). This year it was being run with the flood tide, i.e. coming from Putney towards Chiswick – as with the Oxford & Cambridge boat race.
The preparations went well, and Kosta and I paddled down to the start from Putney Town. We then had to wait for half an hour, during which I almost froze. It was a very cold day with a fair bit of wind-chill thrown in. My heart-rate dropped and even once we got started it did not get anywhere near my usual race pace. It was still around 140 BPM after a good two miles when passing the island after the St. Paul’s bend. I should have been fifteen beats higher at this point and the cadence should have been six higher.
It was only around here that my hands started to warm up; and looking down at them I started to think about the critical comments John Hale had recently made about my fast hand speed around the turn. Perhaps I should copy the Australian Awesome foursome, and relax a bit more around the turn, a bit like this.
As the feeling returned to my fingers I became more aware of my hand speed and looked at my NK Speedcoach GPS (which incidentally does five samples per second vs one for most phone speed apps) and goodness, John seemed to be right. Overcome with curiosity, I started to alternate sets of seven strokes, shifting from the constant speed around the turn to John’s more relaxed slower hands-away.
Experimenting with handspeed during the most important race of the year is not at all sensible – but in my groggy semi-thawed state I found myself doing exactly that. My rating dropped, and I was still happy with the speed, but I have to admit that the photo taken at around that point shows me doing almost everything wrong. Knees broken before the arms are straight; wrists not totally flat; and that’s not all.
Looking on the bright side, though, it’s clear that I had lots of speed to find, and could have done a lot better.
Room for improvement?
Kosta on the other hand was sculling beautifully, and looking fashionable too, in the Bergerac top designed by Iolo, and the headband from the Quiske telemetry providers – which some people thought made him look like Bruce Springsteen in the 80’s. He did well, finishing 2nd in his division, and beating me by a full seven seconds, only some of which was due to the strengthening tidal current, and the greater resistance to cold which comes from growing up in Eastern Europe. Not much room for improvement there, it seems. I’ll beat him next time. Perhaps.
Meanwhile, lots of things to be sorted out in Bergerac, so it looks as if the rest of the month will be spent there. Then it’s time for the 2018 New Year Resolutions.
A happy new year to everyone!