History in the making

Sport is so emotional. Just look at the crowds at football matches, and that’s the people who aren’t even participating in the activity. If politics can be tribal, sports seem to take us back to our primitive roots.

This weekend was historical in the world of rowing. It was the first time the women’s crews had been “allowed” to compete on the same day and same course as the men have been competing since as long as I can remember (someone can Google if the current course is the one they’ve always used). I have a patchy record when it comes to watching the race, solely because I usually forget when its on and/or get distracted on the day. But I didn’t want to miss this one.

When I raced the course (no, not in THE boat race) we did it in reverse, ending up in Putney. When we were down in London a few weeks ago I ran beside the Thames and the memories came flooding back – driving down in a minibus all day with a trailer of boats on the back, sleeping on the floor of one of the local boathouses (I suspect we slept well after the trip down there), and then rowing on the Thames for the first time, trying to get the hang of the currents and other boats on the river having trained only on a narrow canal. I still have the photo of us coming under Hammersmith Bridge. We were fast, but we didn’t look very pretty with everyone’s oars doing something slightly different. But hey, if it works.

The two main races were, in the end, not much of a contest and Oxford even ended up winning all four races. And it’s not as if Cambridge weren’t fast or good, they just weren’t good enough on the day. Some of the commentary was about how much better Oxford were looking after a few minutes. That’s what happens when you are that far ahead and can relax. Everything comes together and stays together. If you’re the boat behind them, not only do you have to row in the other crew’s wake, everything else is psychologically much harder and that can be reflected in scrappier strokes, less cohesion as a crew and just generally not having it as “together” as the crew in front.


Nice boat, not much good for racing (for the techies among you, this was originally a 300Mb scanned negative)

I find it’s not a lot different with running. If things are going well, it’s easier to relax, find a good stride, move well and enjoy the experience. Once it starts to go though, it’s a lot harder to get back into it again. And no matter how much training you do, you will have good and bad days. The cliche that sport is [insert random percentage] effort and [insert another random percentage] mental is spot on. You have to believe you can do what you’ve set out to do. Despite the bad days, the setbacks, the injuries. And the weather (yes, I’m still scarred from yesterday’s horrendous weather – why couldn’t it be warm and sunny like today instead of just above zero, raining and snowing the whole time?). It’s all part of the experience. We talk of life being a marathon, not a sprint. Well marathon training is also like that – months or years in the making for a few hours on a certain day at a certain time, and then once it’s over and we’ve decided that the vow at about mile 20 never again to do such a stupid thing was perhaps a little hasty, we start thinking about the next event when we’ll do this or that differently or try to hit a new personal best. Sometimes the bad runs, or even the bad races, are the thing which renews our determination and gives us new motivation.

And now all I need is to go for a recovery run today and I’ll be back into the swing of things again and ready for another week of training. Today is a good day for a run. Pretty much like every day.

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