That time of year again

It appears that this tradition (if three posts can be considered a tradition) is destined to be a biennial one; two years in a row is apparently too much for me. I do seem to remember writing one last year but it appears to be lost in the backlog of drafts I’m getting so good at ignoring.

Bundling these the two years together will be interesting; I’m not sure any two consecutive years of my life have been so different. Continue reading

Categories: Cycling, Everyday Happenings, Rowing, Work | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Counting Down the Days

After nearly a year of aimlessness, my life is about to regain some direction. I have hopes this will bring all sorts of new wonders. Maybe I’ll post more than once every four months. Maybe I’ll sleep at a reasonable hour every night. Maybe these two contradict each other and I will fail on both counts trying to achieve the other.

Tomorrow I am visiting a rowing club with the aim of getting back to regular training as soon as possible.
I have a feeling it’s going to be a shock to the system. I’ve not trained at all (don’t even mention the 500 miles) recently and my hands haven’t held a blade handle for many months.
In roughly 60 hours I will be arriving at a new job doing something I hope I can both do and enjoy.
I can’t helping feeling they’ve made a mistake and will turn me away at the door, “Oh sorry, there’s been a bit of a mix up. You’re not the person we wanted to hire”.
In less than a week I move into my own flat.
Over a farm house in the middle of nowhere. I’ve lived in the middle of (a different) nowhere since I can remember and this still manages to look remote. Think single track roads and no other houses in sight. Still, it’s going to be mine, even if it is in a rented kind of way.

I don’t think I can pretend not to be an adult for much longer.

I’m an adult. Who knew?

Categories: Everyday Happenings, Rowing, Work | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lost in the Rain

In a metaphorical sense more than a literal one. I’m not actually lost anywhere. I’ve not been any further than the front door and I’m not quite yet in a state of mind to get lost between the kitchen and the living room.

I have spent the weekend aimlessly drifting from one mindless activity to another.

For the past three years, almost without fail, I have spent my weekends rowing. Sure, there have been breaks in this regime for holidays and trips etc, but these have been the odd, different weekends. A normal weekend has me out by seven or eight, rowing until midday and getting home at about one completely shattered.

Anything I get done in the afternoon is a bonus. More often than not it’s spent either trying to keep my eyes open or giving in and sleeping.

This week it rained. Rain isn’t a problem (unless you’re a witch). On the other hand big rain makes rivers swell. Again, this isn’t usually an issue, it just makes rowing more difficult.

This week we’ve had really big rain. The sort of rain that makes the river climb out of the banks, up the landing stage and the steps and into the boathouse. The sort that blocks roads and puts people’s houses in severe need of decorating. I have no particular desire to paddle to the boathouse. Compare, if you will, the boathouse as normal and the boathouse as of late. It’s quite shocking.

Note the landing stage and light coloured section of wall

Note lack of landing stage and light coloured wall. Also the heron

So I’m lost. I’m at home on a weekend with nothing going on. And no rowing. I don’t know what to do with myself.

Categories: Rowing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Success on the bad days

I can’t remember who said it, maybe Mike Spracklen (ex-GB and now ex-Canadian rowing coach) but one line, however clichéd and cheesy it may be, has stuck with me from the moment I heard it.

We don’t train to win with our best performances. We train to win on our worst

(or words to that effect) While the amount of winning I have had so far is disappointingly small, the idea that you shouldn’t have to rely on having one of your best sessions come race day to win, is one that makes a huge amount of sense. Going into races with the confidence of knowing you are fast and don’t need luck or good fortune is something that can bring a whole load of calm that would otherwise be missing and prevent you from having your good row anyway. The races I have won are the ones I knew we were fast enough to win beforehand. Only once have I won thinking we were outclassed.

What I do have experience of, is being in crews that thought they weren’t too bad and should be alright on a good day only to find that during the race it’d all fall apart because the other crews were close to us.

Taking this to the lowest extreme, we had our weekly erg today and as I sat down I was not hopeful. I’d done the 40min UT2 session this morning without meaning to. Careless I know but it didn’t dawn on me until I was midway through that I don’t usually train on the morning of the erg.

Coupled with that was the lack of food I’d had during the day. Lack of time and lack of food in the house meant I had a banana. I managed to get a piece of toast in the evening after work and before heading to the boathouse but not enough and at the wrong time to be helpful.

Setting off I settled onto the split I got last time on the premise that by rights I should be able to make it. By half way I was floundering but still fighting for the split. From there I was giving pretty much all I had every stroke to hold the split but slowly, it did start to drop again. I finished 0.4s better than last time. PB+1.9 and Target+4.4

This will happen by next year.

Categories: No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Second Double Single Outing

My second day in the single was much better. I still wouldn’t say it was good but I’d moved off the ‘slowest-boat-on-the-water’ position again. It had been a bit of a shock going from fastest boat at the club in the double to being overtaken by things, even if they were doubles and fours.

I’d like to think this progression wasn’t entirely due to the juniors being training.

From the start I was still a bit shaky round the edges and my navigation still left a fair bit to be desired.

By the end of the session though, I was only having to stop for juniors and increasingly rare encounters with unruly trees. The sort that jump out at you from around corners and steal your sunglasses.

I have a new found respect for bowmen and coxes

I’m still not confident for the race I’ve agreed to do in it in four weeks time. That is going to be either agonising or hilarious (if you are me or watching me, respectively).

Categories: No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The helpful side of irritating

I’m sure every one in life has people they don’t get on with. The people you try not to be left in the same room as for too long. There are very few people I actively dislike, I generally choose to ignore them and get on with life around them. There are quite a few people that I would’t choose to spend time with.

What happens though when one of these people offer you help? Especially when you need the help they’re offering?

The bowman is still training in a quad so I spent this morning out in a single. I’ve not been in a single for a long time and as I always am the first time out, was shaky at best. I spent a few miles paddling getting used to it again but wasn’t really getting anywhere. The problem is that I have never really been coached in a sculling boat. When at the end of a length one of the more irritating members of the club (also out in a single) suggested we did the next length together, my heart sank. I’d got used to working at my own rate. If I wanted to stop I could. If I wanted to go to arms only for a few strokes there was nobody to complain. Now I had to not only make small talk, but stay at steady state in a boat that wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do.

It is often said that the people you don’t get on with are the ones you can see yourself in. If this is true I apologise profusely to all who know me. This guy was one of those people who knows they are always right. There’s no point giving your opinion. If it differs from theirs it’s obviously wrong and if it doesn’t it serves no purpose other than to inflate their ego. They delight in being able to impart their knowledge to people and explain why they are doing things wrong and why the way they do it is the best.

The one place where this is a useful attribute is in coaching. I now had a voice beside me giving me a blow by blow account of why everything was going wrong in my boat. No detail was spared. If he thought he could find fault, he’d say. Possibly the only thing more annoying than this was the fact that it was useful. I needed someone outside the boat giving feedback and advising on technique. The things he said were things I need to work on. I spent the rest of the session begrudgingly going along with him and listening to what I was doing wrong and how he was a mighty fine sculler having been at Henley once. To add insult to injury the changes worked. It did start feeling better and by the end I wasn’t bouncing from one bank to the other with such regularity. I suppose I ought to be grateful.

Categories: No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s not over until it’s over

I mentioned yesterday our spectacular race last weekend and thought now was as good a time as any for it to be aired. Hopefully people will stop laughing at us for it soon.

It started, as all things do, with general disorganisation. We were travelling in two vehicles (our double and another from the club – one of the guys from the erg race and another) with the others and the boats on the roof of a van (or in the van, either way) and me by car having decided the floor in the back of a van was an inadequate way to travel any significant distance. Things being as they are we were never going to arrive at the same time and I drew the short straw and ended waiting in a delightful supermarket car park in Henley town centre.

As an aside, while I was waiting I watched a large number of people unload bikes from cars and proceed to sit around in the car park talking before heading off on some group XC ride. It made me oddly nostalgic. I think I may have to sacrifice some training weekends next year and go back to some XC races. It’s been too long since I rode properly; the Stumpjumper must be getting lonely.

It’s been too long. I think it’s time to see how well rowing training translates

It’s been too long. I think it’s time to see how well rowing training translates to XC

After fifty minutes or so of people watching I wandered over to where I might find a boat or two. The areas along the Thames through Henley look so alien during the non-Henley-Royal 51 weeks of the year, it’s hard to imagine it’s the same place. Gone are the huge marquee boat tents. Gone are the enclosures with their brass bands and raised seating. Instead there is a quiet field with trees and a road that seems lost without being edged by high white fencing. And trees. Somehow the trees are completely absent from my memories of Henley during the regatta.

After a while wandering round a field full of other people’s boats, the van arrived and with it, the mad rush that was the rigging.

With about ten minutes before it was too late to boat, we collected our numbers and faffed around deciding what we were racing in (braving short sleeves in the end – hypothermia be damned). Joining the end of the boating queue, we watched school/junior crews being shepherded around by worrying teaches/coaches as they took it in turns to forget racing numbers or got blades the wrong way around. I think this must have been the first race for many of them. Having first stepped in a boat in September, getting this far was quite an achievement in itself. Whether the race would go there way or not was almost immaterial. Looking back on my first race, I keep telling myself that anyway. That was after a lot longer and we were terrible.

I would have laughed (to myself) at the crew who forgot to put the seats in the boat before carrying it down to the landing stage but we did exactly the same thing at the Pairs’ head the week before. And we didn’t even have the decency to be at the back of the queue (third boat on the water – stand around for five minutes waiting for someone to find seats. Problem?).

Eventually we were all on the water and, basing our opinions on the carnage that was the marshalling area last year, were having our doubts about whether we would get to the start in one piece let alone on time. As it turns out things were better organised this year. They actually had marshals telling people not to ram each other and the boats were stacked four deep against the bank. We were even on time as well although I’m not sure we’d have wanted to be any later.

The race itself was a fairly non-event. It, along with the pair’s head three weeks before, were the only time we’d held race pace for more than a few strokes and it showed. Looking back at the photos for the head there are some serious timing issues at rate that are probably the main reason we’re unable to rate high enough.

One of the better moments of the Pairs’ head. I think this was just after Chiswick bridge.

It wasn’t terrible though and since there were only two boats in our division with us going off first, we had a good idea of how we were doing compared to our competition. As hard as it is to judge distance from ground level, we seemed to be sitting fairly level with them, gaining and losing ground as we went through faster and slower sections of the course.

As we came through where the enclosures would be during the regatta, I had flashbacks to our r41 finish against Imperial. Still a different league unfortunately. We did wind the rate up slightly though and reached the heady heights of r33. Not good but it’s the thought that counts, right?

This was where things started to unwind. Some one on the bank by the finish seemed to be under the false impression that our competition should win more than us and as we reached them, they shouted (to the other boat) something along the lines of

“Come on [their number]! [our number] is already through!”

By this point in a race I’m not usually too focussed on what is going on outside the boat but apparently not all are so inclined.

I don’t want to seem like I’m passing blame for the events that followed, but I can’t seem to find any other way to put it. When I said things started to unwind, it may have been misleading. Our race wasn’t unwound so much as cut off mid stroke as I suddenly found myself the only one rowing. Forgetting momentarily that there was a bell and a finish sign at the end of the race, a certain someone in the boat took the “…already through” to mean through the finish.

By the time I’d turned around and convinced myself that we hadn’t passed the finish after all and then convinced the remaining non-believers, we’d missed four or five strokes. Paddling the last few strokes across the line I was unsure what to make of it. There’s not really much you can do except laugh in disbelief.

11 seconds.

I don’t suppose we’ll ever know how much faster we’d have been otherwise, the only thing to be sure of is that it probably didn’t help. One good thing to take from it all is that we’re not that far from our competition otherwise.

(The more observant of you may have noticed that this post was actually published tomorrow – I wrote it today but ended up not submitting it due to family taxi service duties taking longer than expected and sleep becoming a priority)
Categories: Cycling, No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Far too competitive by half a third

As part of our new training plan, we have one hard erg a week to use as a fitness marker. The erg we’ve chosen (or uni chose last year – I copied the training plan almost session for session) is the 30min r20. Another couple of guys from the club have also joined in with the plan and do the ergs with us and occasionally follow our outing plans as well. It works quite well and it’s better to have a group of people (albeit a fairly small one) to train with.

Taking two months out of training over the summer to let a torn hamstring heal, lost me a lot of fitness. When we restarted in September, I was covering about 300m less (~4s off on the split) than my PB over 30 minutes. I’m still a long way off now and given that the target I’ve given myself for the middle of next year was 2.5s/500m better than my PB. I have a long way to go. The mornings sitting on a bike in the shed are paying off though; the distances are creeping up and the split is falling. The gains are coming in fits and starts though, depending on how I feel on the day of the erg each week. PB+4, +3.6, +2.8, +2.4, +2.3.

I’m getting there slowly. Give it until Christmas and I’ll be back in PB territory. I know I can do it, I’ve been there before, it’s just frustrating when my legs don’t agree.

This evening was supposed to be this week’s erg although it was plagued with problems from the start. My back has been playing up since our race last week (a whole sorry story in its own right. It may have to have its own post) and I wasn’t looking forward to a hard session. Erring on the side of caution I decided I wouldn’t do it but I would go to the boat house and do a UT2 session on an erg, just for a change from the turbo if nothing else. The bowman had his own problems as well. Apparently he’d damaged his shoulder over the weekend while training in the masters 4x. A good combination really.

Since I’d said I wouldn’t be doing the normal session I arrived to find them doing a weights circuit. I joined in on a couple of the less back dependent lifts (bench, bench pull etc). For the first time lifting anything heavier than the boat for a long time, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It still wasn’t good.

When they’d decided they’d finished the idea of an erg was floated. An interesting, shorter one instead of the usual. A relay with two pairs was suggested. It’s worth noting here that I have an unfair advantage over the other three in terms of fitness. I benefited from three years of regular, planned training that we were expected to both attend and push ourselves in. They’d learnt to row and rowed a few evenings a week for a year or two. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been an official training plan as such, only an evening a week of circuit training run through the winter season. In the half hour ergs, this translates to around 7-8 seconds on the average split. When this was pointed out (by them not me) the pairs idea was vetoed and a 3 vs 1 race was suggested instead.

This is the point I should have laughed and told them to bugger off. My back needed resting. What actually happened was that I laughed and took them up on it. Where the original plan was going to be alternating 500m pieces, the new idea was for them to still do this and for me to do 1500m. As a slight help to me, they’d have to change over twice in the middle missing 4 or five strokes each time. As a slight help to them, there were three of them and they’d only have to sprint 500m.

With two ergs set for 1500m, and me and the first of them lined up, we went off. This was the first high rate erg I’d done since June and I had no idea how it would go. I ended up settling about 3s slower than my 2k PB pace and about the same behind the first of the competition. By the first switch over I was down but not a huge amount, maybe 30m. By the end of the switch I was up again, maybe 20m. It’s hard to tell when both numbers are changing quickly.

Their second leg was faster and though I was still holding the same average as before I was now 5-6s slower on the split and the advantage I’d gained, slowing thinned and vanished. By their second switch I was back down to 40m or so behind. Gaining a similar amount on this switch I found myself slightly ahead again as I went into the final 500m.

Starting to feel the effect of the first fast erg in a while I should have held the pace I’d settled at and seen where I finished against them. It turns out being beaten isn’t something I much approve of so pushed harder and harder as the distance fell. I was looking at their screen as much as mine by this point and I still couldn’t tell who was ahead.

At 200m to go I upped the rate as their final leg slowed up. I think the last few strokes we were on the same split. Falling off the erg at the end onto a stretching mat trying to catch my breath I almost immediately wondered why I’d done it. I’m sure it’s not a recommended treatment for aching back muscles and I had nothing to prove. We all know who’s faster than who amongst the four of us. I could have lost and had the perfect excuse. Three perfect excuses even. After a while though someone flicked through the monitors and found the times we’d actually done it in. I had managed it. By 0.3 seconds.

That was why I’d done it. That third of a second against three people who are racing for the same club as me mattered much more than I care to admit. I didn’t even care that they would have been faster had they had slightly better changeovers, that they’d actually been faster for the time that they’d been rowing. It was somehow still justification for going flat out and giving everything when I’m supposed to be resting. I sometimes wonder if I’d be better off not caring. I seem to manage at the rest of life.

Categories: No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

To boldly not go. To boldy stay at home instead

If one was inclined to believe in parallel universes, it would be nice to imagine the one that branched off a decade or two ago where I am a productive individual. The one where I work hard and find motivation in the least appealing situations. This morning for instance you’d have seen me waking early (having gone to bed at a reasonable hour) and moving purposefully around the house eating breakfast and picking up a bag of rowing kit (packed and sorted yesterday evening) before setting out with a smile on my face and a determined resolve to achieve all that was possible in a single training session.

If you’d actually been watching me this morning (in a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances), what you would have seen was me hitting snooze and rolling over. 20 minutes later I stumbled out of bed and saw that it was pissing down. Already wondering if I wanted to be going out, I had a leisurely breakfast and meandered around picking up pieces of assorted lycra from wherever they happened to be scattered. Drying racks over radiators, the floor, a couple from another kit bag from last weekend. Everything goes past a smell test before it’s accepted. Even freshly washed stuff is liable to start smelling of mildew. The house is undergoing ‘minor adjustments’ and as such is lacking central heating. Things don’t dry quickly.

The thought of rowing on my own on a high/fast river in a single 20 miles away was already starting to beat the motivated part of me into submission when the final straw arrived. It started snowing. This was taking it too far. I’ve rowed in the snow before, raced even, but when you know you have no one else relying on you being there, the whole scenario just screams of unpleasant.

Rowing (or rigging) in the snow

From my novice year. I’m sure I’m soon due to start looking back fondly at those races in the battleship of an Eton. I’m not sure it ever got past the safety check first time. Or finished a race without something coming off.

Reading the news this evening, I’d like to think it was a good choice, “Police said several vehicles became stuck in snow near [boat club town]”.

Courtesy of the BBC.

So what did I do instead. I joined in the excitement of the aforementioned ‘minor adjustments’. I’m sure for most sensible people, DIY means putting up shelves and takes an afternoon or two. This house has been in chaos for the last three months. Walls have been demolished, floorboards ripped up and chimneys torn down. I currently have a hole in the floor of my room that I’m getting used to walking around.

Today was a concrete day. So I pushed a wheelbarrow backwards and forwards from one side of the house, where my father was manning a cement mixer, to the other, where my mother was paddling it into a recognisable phrase or saying (or floor to be more precise).

This is what progress looks like

This went on for several hours and may have been a fairly mundane task but did make me feel at least slightly productive. We now have almost the same number of floors in our house as we did to start with. It’s all getting rather exciting. Maybe one day soon we’ll have ceilings too.

Categories: Everyday Happenings, No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Scrap Yard Challenge

I had two simple tasks to do today. I can now safely say that I am about to go to bed having precisely two tasks left to do tomorrow.

I was going to row this morning. This isn’t abnormal for a Saturday although today I was going to be in a single. The bowman was off training in a masters’ quad that he had been grafted into for the fours head. I was too young to join such frivolities. About ten minutes before I was due to leave, I was forewarned that rain had stopped play.

Rowing in the rain isn’t an issue. You just get wet, The problem in this instance was that it rained heavily yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. This leads to our small, gentle trickle of a river morphing into a torrent that throws trees into bridges and generally wreaks havoc with the peaceful idyll of a rowing training session. With that in mind joining the knowledge that I’d not been in a single for a long time and that last time we took the double out in rough water it was ‘interesting’, I decided to err on the side of common sense (and even more common laziness) and give it a miss in the hope that it would have receded slightly by tomorrow.

It doesn’t look much but having watched an VIII get spun off the landing stage last time (when this was taken) I’m not sure I’d want to face it in a single.

I then found I had time. I was almost shocked by how much of it I had. It was an unusual experience where until very recently it was to be expected. I chose to embark on the second of my day’s quests.

I recently bought my first car. A landmark occasion for anyone and I was no exception. If anything it was magnified by the fact that, although I’d had a car licence for a year, I hadn’t got around to it until now. I’d gone down the motorbike route at 17 preferring the cheaper, if less practical, option. Since the regulations for learner riders is much more stringent than those for drivers, I had a 17-year-old 125cc Honda. It was (and still is I’m sure) a wonderful machine in its own way. It just didn’t offer ease of use or outstanding performance. Sure, it does 100mpg and costs £15/year to tax but you have to accept that you’re not going anywhere fast (0-60 would best be described as ‘sometimes’ rather than a figure). Or carrying anything bigger than a small backpack. Or wearing whatever you want to be in when you arrive at the place you are heading for.

It's a car!

My new carriage as of the day I brought it home

Over the course of the last five years, I got used to travelling everywhere at 52mph with a frustrated looking person in a car (generally a BMW for some reason) behind me and a resigned demeanour knowing that at the next inkling of hill on the road I would slow down to a sedate 43mph and wonder if it would actually make it to the top. I got used to carrying a helmet around with me wherever I went and wearing the same kevlar-denim mix jeans far more often than one would normally consider appropriate. It was a fact of life that if it rained I could be seen in a giant plastic baby-grow like overall that would leave me almost completely dry except for select patches of damp that would appear in various awkward places.

But anyway, I digress. These days, I drive around in luxury. I have air conditioning and an accelerator that seems to have a connection to the speed. I can hardly believe it. It wasn’t long though until I started taking these things for granted and began noticing that I couldn’t see. Deciding I’d like such extravagances as see-through windows, I set about replacing the only broken part I could find. The windscreen wiper.

My search took me to a scrap yard. What wonderful places they are. Where else can you wonder through stacked car carcasses with a spanner and the knowledge that you can remove whichever parts you can reach? It’s like a giant adult playground. Only with the added sense that you’re benefiting from the demise of other people and/or their cars.

“Like looking for a wiper in a scrapyard” I think it could catch on.

Having rummaged for a while and discovered that each and every 306 had had its rear wiper removed or broken, I think I may have found the single flaw in the car. I finally found one on a 406. They’ll be the same I thought. Oh how wrong I was.

Turns out the smaller car has the bigger wiper. I think it's compensating for something

How could I have made that mistake?

So now I have two non-working wipers and still can’t see where I’ve been. This mission may not have gone quite how I’d planned.

Categories: Everyday Happenings, No NaNoWriMo, Rowing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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