Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Chesterton Women’s Winter 2014 Round-Up

We had two goals for Winter training; The Winter League (three head races held on the Cam in January, February and March) and WEHoRR.
Our land training had consisted of weekly strength sessions at Core Cambridge, a usually gruesome Erg plus a water session often coached by Andrea Bosnyak. We’d been blessed with a mild winter so few outings had been cancelled and unlike the rest of the country not too much in the way of flooding.

Winter League

After the first leg of the Winter League we were in joint first place in our Novice Women’s Eight category so we were game on! After the second leg we pulled away from the nearest opposition by 10 seconds so just had to keep it together for the third leg. Luckily we were placed just behind the Champs Vet Men who we were able to hunt down in the second and third races and they really helped give us something to aim for which helped our times. The second and third legs were slower on paper due to strong stream and head winds but overall we progressed up the field going from 101st up to 63rd and finishing as the ninth fastest women’s eight and Winner’s of the Novice Women’s Eight category.


With heavy persistent rain over most of the south part of the country all Winter there was a question mark over whether the race would go ahead or not. The Port of London issued a river flag system and this was Red (meaning no rowing on the Thames) due to the strong flow in the weeks leading up to WEHoRR. A week or so before this the flag changed to yellow but there was still uncertainty as to whether Novice crews would be able to enter. A final decision was made two days before the race, Novice crews could enter but had to prove there suitability and that their cox had Tideway experience. Our lovely cox Alison although incredibly experienced had only coxed Tideway once and not being able to assess the conditions herself took advise and made the decision that she didn’t feel she had the experience to cox the race in the unprecedented strong stream. This was a massive blow but fortunately James T the Men’s cox who has coxed Tideway many times before stepped into save the day.
2014 turned out to be an epic race, the fast flow and quick NW wind helped the course records to tumble. We were racing alongside Olympians (Katherine Grainer, Helen Glover, Heather Stanning and Anna Watkins). We boated from beautiful Furnival gardens under the cherry-blossom trees and were blessed with blue skies and calm conditions. We started hard and kept the rate (32/33) and splits (sub 2:00) seemingly consistently throughout the race. Lea overtook us in the first third of the race and there a bit of clashing of blades as we jostled for the steam. As we came under Hammersmith bridge the massive cheer from our bank party spurred us on to overtake the crew in front. The long ergs paid dividends as we slowly took each seat until James was on their bow and we had clear water. The finish didn’t come a moment too soon we’d given it our all.

We came 154th out of 239 (a reduced entry due to the conditions) and 4th out of the 13 in the Novice Club category in a time of 21:17.7. Our best result by some margin. Last year we’d finished 247th in a time of 22:20. Even more satisfying was that we were faster than three of our Cambridge rivals all of whom were IM3 crews.
A fantastic result to the end of a good seasons training.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Head of the Cam: Saturday 26th April 2014

The Head of the Cam Race is to be held on SATURDAY 26th APRIL 2014


Course of 2,600m upstream on the river Cam. 4 divisions, VIII's, IV's, smaller boats. BR, CRA, College classes.

NOTE: at present, there are "works" on the bank by the finish. We're not sure yet what the state will be on the day, and it may be necessary to shorten the course. Similarly, its not yet clear whether the Green Dragon bridge lights will still be in operation. We'll let you know when we know.

Deadline for entries: Tuesday, April the 22nd.

Prizes of tastefully engraved shot glasses for category winners.

Enquiries and entries: please contact the Race Secretary, William Connolley, at headofthecam@gmail.com / 07985 935400.

For entries, please state your crew details:

* club, boat type (VIII, 4+, 4-, 4x, 2, 2x, 1x, etc),
* crew status (CRA / BR / College 1st Mays, 2nd, etc.),
* preferred division,
* and any constraints with crews in other divisions.

There are 4 divisions, times:

Division 10900
Division 21040
Division 31220
Division 41400

It would be greatly appreciated if you would provide an estimate of your expected time, to be used for seeding purposes. If you don't provide one, I'll guess. Please attempt to be accurate rather than optimistic or pessimistic. An accurate estimate is most important for crews hoping to race without overtaking or being overtaking, either of which can slow you down. If you've got no idea of your time (new crew, visiting crew, whatever) then don't worry.

Divisions tend to fill up for the VIII's, for which we have a rough limit of 25 per division. But (within reason) we can accommodate as many sculls and small boats as you like.

Entry: £7.00 per rowing seat. Cheques, payable to CRA, should be sent to W M Connolley, 28 Silverdale Avenue, Coton, CB23 7PP (or direct transfer, details on request). Put your crew name(s) clearly on the back or on an enclosure.

Entry deadline: everyone wants to know what the entry deadline is, so that they can submit their entry 5 minutes before it, or more likely a day afterwards. Don't make me come and kill you. The deadline is the Tuesday before the race.

head-of-the-cam-course-mapThe course is 2,600 m. Click on the map for a larger version, or explore via google maps.

Visiting crews: boating facilities are available at various places along the Cam; you may be able to make arrangements with local clubs. Failing that, facilities are available from Combined Boathouse, by prior agreement. Please get in touch with me by email.


Previous years

2011 2012 2013

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas head

Um well there you go. Superheroes all. My vote for best fancy dress went to Dr Manhattan, who bent over to show us that he'd drawn a tiny arsehole in the right place. The giant cock he'd drawn on the front was easy to see. However the true winner - as decided by official judge Luca - was Jon for his hand-stitched Superman costume.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Vet Fours Head: 1st December

We weren't leet enough to get into the real Fours Head (you need 8 points in the boat, imagine!) but the Vet Fours on the Sunday was an acceptable substitute. The women, as I understand it, had a rigourous process of crew seleection and training; we menfolk had a somewhat more haphazard "OK, who's available then?" approach. But we were in tip-top condition after Ely.

Simon the E was kind enough to trailer, so he got the leaving-at-6am-short-straw; I got to luxuriate in leaving-at-7. Bring back Ely! We all met up at Tideway Scullers (last there for Hammersmith Head in March 2010?). All the rigging stuff as ever, then we trundle off down the course - TSS is near the finish, which is good.

And here we are during the race: me, Ian, Will, Paul, and that nice Mr Tidy. Photo credit Steven Andrews, who shouted what I assume was encouragement from Hammersmith Bridge. Notice decent separation at the catch. I don't recall all that much about the race: we went off at about 30 and stayed there; we went past 2 crews and one came past us - oh yes, with a little blade clash along the way, James doing an admirable job of shouting at the overtaking crew to get out of our way, with the confident tone with which he very nearly got away with "Caius! Which side of the river do you think you're on!" when he was on like totally the wrong side himself.


And here are the ladies: Anne, Meg, Lorraine, Juliet, ably coxed by Robert:


vet-fours-head-mens-crew-IMG_3521 Afterwards, it was time for a trip to the Ship on the far bank for a pint or two and sos-and-mashed-pots, where we met up with SA and Sarah, and rather noticeably didn't meet up with Katherine. Ahem. And here we all are with TSS and Chiswick bridge in the background.

There are zillions of other photos on the facebook page. Should I link to them? Oh go on then, for posterity: ladies men men.

Oh, results. You wanted results? Well. We fine manly chaps came 2nd of 4 in our class: 19:53.2, only 8 seconds behind York, who won. Hey ho, so it goes, though it would have been lovely to win on the Tideway. The ladies were 7th of 11 in their category in 23:35.4 .

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Isle of Ely small boats head

'twas a gloriously sunny early winter's day, and we headed off to Ely for the Small Boats Head, which for us meant IVs. It was wonderful to be able to get up at a civilised hour - we met at Queens at 9:30, having de-rigged yesterday - and set off for Ely with Quadcoque and Spare Rib on Queens' trailer, accompanied by some quite interesting fungus.

Our division was 12, but the start was at the end of a 5 km course, plus 1.5 km to the finish line, so we were supposed to be ready to boat by 11. Which proved to be no great trouble.

We can't quite remember why we've never done this race before. Perhaps its new.

I recall the Ely rigging-grounds from the Great Ouse Half Marathon, its a somewhat bizarre place: "Death Race 2000 meets Wind in the Willows" as a certain Mr P. Holland put it. Here he is supervising the riggers as they get down to work.

Ely only has a couple of landing stages, and only one for IVs really, so there's a bit of a queue, but they do try to manage your boating times. From there its 6.5 km downstream (but today, against the wind) to the start at Littleport. And its nearly but not quite dead straight. We mostly just "settled", not having rowed in this crew for a while, but threw in a couple of tolerable bursts of high rating  - it takes us a while to stabalise. James pointed out a few landmarks along the way, but really the only one is the Lark at 2 km into the race. But, as it turned out, they also provided km signs (and somewhat unhelpfully a marshall at about 700 m from the finish who shouted "you've got a km to go").

At Littleport we sat around waiting for the start, and failed to pull into the landing stages, so I couldn't turn my GoPro on (motto: turn the thing on before you push off; still, one of the reasons for bringing it was to learn lessons like that). Some crews had clearly failed to boat on time, and the division was about 15 mins late.

We were a little nervous over the start line, and thinking it was at the bridge when actually it was someone earlier didn't help; but pretty soon we settled down and things were going well. With a tailwind we were hovering a little over 2:00 splits, but pleasingly they were stable, as was the rating at ~29. It felt a a bit fragile: hovering on the verge of not being sat enough to row well, needing attention from most of us to keep it stable, not leaving us quite enough free to really put oomph down. And it stayed like that for 5 km, which is quite good really. Through the race I was watching the sculler behind us: he gained on us off the start, then we held place, then he slowly slipped back after 3 km. In the end, we beat him by a second. But for a scull, it was impressive.

The full results are available from IOERC: we got 20:40, third in our division and eighth overall (my PB running time for 5 km is 20:38). The ladies came 42nd in 23:45.

Here we all are, afterwards, in the Ely club car park:
  IMG_9170[Ian Foster, James Tidy, William Connolley, Dave Richards (Paul Holland underneath), Annie West, Meg Richards, Simon Emmings, Bailee Stratton and Anne Roberts.]

There was tea and there was cakes. And then we trundled back to Cambridge, for a drink in the last of the sunshine outside the Fort.

 Update: us on the course:

from http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/33359327_XkFWdh#!i=2898477497&k=gHkTbtD, which is I think http://www.davidboughey.com/

And the ladies:

ladies from http://www.davidboughey.com/.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Boston: the ladies IV

Four crazy rowers from the women’s squad decided to row the Boston Marathon.  Me [Anne], Joss, Bailee and Annie.  The initial enthusiasm dwindled a bit and after nearly having an VIII, in the end it was just a IV.  The plan took on more seriousness once Robert had agreed to cox it – and even though he had asserted he would only cox an VIII, he was not surprised to find a IV.

We were enormously relieved to get a place on the Emma trailer towed by Ian with Champs W1.  This spared us the logistical nightmare of towing our own boat and needing to leave the boat in Lincoln, the trailer in Boston and get the trailer driver back to Lincoln.

1234055_10202159711898515_580716194_n When the draw came out we were boat number 6 going off at 9.06am.  This meant a very early start from Cambridge.  So early in fact that we decided to stay in a hotel on Saturday night and spare ourselves a 5am start.  We found ourselves a 2 bedroom cottage right in the centre of Lincoln which was very comfortable.  Bailee and Annie shared one room and me and Robert the other.  We got Robert a Z bed.  Apart from drying out damp coxing kit from his many outings with City (there’s not accounting for taste) which began to smell of wet nappies he was a very well behaved roommate.  The smart amongst you will realise we were missing one crew member.  Joss.  She had been having the week from hell at a conference in Manchester that only ended on Saturday – the day before the race.  In fact, as four of us drove to Boston, Joss was still in a coach travelling from Manchester to Cambridge.   Fortunately, Mel agreed to drive Joss up on Sunday morning and we were very pleased to see her arrive.

The early start proved to be a cloud with a silver lining as at 9am it was dry, calm and a sensible temperature for rowing.  There is a very steep bank down to the start, where the officials from Boston RC cheerily told us ‘it’s very slippery!’  (Hey, why don’t you put some grit or sand on the bank edge).  It was.  There are lots of Masters’ scullers in this event who could easily have ended up needing a hip replacement.

We had set ourselves a target of 5 hours to row the event.  We started at a comfortable rating of 22spm.  Every kilometre is marked along the course and we began ticking them off at a good rate.  We had a ‘push for 5’ at every kilometre mark which stopped us slipping back on the power and rating.  We pushed Lincoln Cathedral good bye, and made Bardney Lock in good time.  I have to say we made a brutally efficient transfer through the lock.  Shoes on; back packs on; just picked up the boat with blades still attached; and hand bagged Spare Rib over – to another slippery landing dock.  And we were off again.  The weather was still quite reasonable at this point.  Clearish skies, cool but comfortable, but clouds were forming.  We reached the halfway mark at about 2 and a half hours.  All good.  A slice of malt loaf every 10 kilometres – worked well for me.

1175602_10202165915733607_1590515034_n And then the wind started blowing from the south.  In fact it came straight at us.  Poor Annie in the bows took the brunt of it.  You could feel the wind on the square blades blowing us back to Lincoln.  The time between the kilometre marks began to increase.  I could also tell that something wasn’t right with Joss – and when she asked for ibuprofen, I got worried.  It turned our afterwards that she had a very painful hip.  She started leaning away from her rigger to ease the pain.  Sitting at 2 there was not much I or any of us could do to help her.  Robert later confessed that this was also his ‘dark’ moment in the race probably as weren’t rowing very well.  Our timing slipped so that bow pair and stern pair were not quite together.  Ooops.  And we all realised in our own little bubbles that were not going to make our 5 hour target.

However, as committed rowers, we were going to make the best of it.  We kept pushing through the wind and now waves.  We set ourselves targets of catching certain boats ahead and holding off boats behind as they came into sight for a certain amount of time.  The temperature dropped and I was rowing in my splash top – something I almost never do even in an outing.  It was cold.  It drizzled too which was not good for my purple glasses.  We used our weed hook 3 times.  Thanks to Andy S for advising us to take one.

For me the worst bit was 30 – 40 km.  From 40km we could sense the end and the tempo picked up again.   At 45 km Robert visualised an outing from Baits Bite back to Queens’ boathouse which we all appreciated.  I was not impressed when the tannoy announced our arrival with ‘and this crew set off at 9am so they have been rowing a very long time’ – well actually for a novice coxed IV the course record was 5.02 hours, so coming in at 5 hours 33 was pretty decent given the howling gale.  We rowed in strongly and tidily.  Ian and Mel met us.  Thank you.  Our bums were numb.  I had a bit of damage to my stroke side hard skin, but nothing to complain about.  Desperate for a pee.  Delicious bacon roll, tea and cake.  Cheeks glowing (both kinds).

Yes I would do it again.

Monday, 16 September 2013

End of an era

1272534_10151853347897350_1221604156_o Alternative but rather lengthy title: I should have listened to my old father when he said to me "Son, if I ever catch you trying to organise a crew for the Boston marathon, I'll nail your head to the floor".

Ahem. But it all worked out brilliantly in the end, so doubtless we'll have another go next year. If there's one thing I'm really good at, its not learning from experience.

As you can probably guess from the picture here of us all smiling, we won! Our category, not the fastest time overall, but we did win at IM2 despite being humble IM3 folk; and we were the fastest sweep-oared boat this year, and 6th overall.

[Note, which I need to put somewhere near the top: this post is about the Men's Boston. Since we went off at 12, and the ladies at 9, and we didn't share a trailer, we didn't arrive till after they were off and they left before we got back, so we didn't see them all day.]

We came in 3:56 (2:21 split, including time at the lock. Our GPS track is here from Garmin connect though it shows up better on Strava - you might want to think about that, Garmin people). The overall winner was an 8x+ in 3:35, which was a fine effort in the conditions. Speaking of conditions (a tail wind to start off, though it didn't last all that long, followed by headwinds for much of the course): my rough and approximate calculation (based on looking at the ratio of Master's scullers across categories C-G, because there are lots of these and the winning times are quite consistent) is that the weather, and headwinds, this year was worth a 0.94 correction factor over last year (this turns out to be quite important later on :-). Which would have made us 3:42 last year, if anyone cares about that.

Who were those masked (wo)men?

Our fine crew was: James Tidy, cox. Kate Hurst, stroke; William Connolley, James Howard; Ian Foster; Ralph Hancock; Luca Simonelli; Ulrike Bauer and Paul Holland, bow. Therein hang several tales, and it is only fair to list our fallen comrades. The original intent was to enter the Great Eight that went up three to 9 in bumps and won IM3 at Peterborough. And that was what we sold to James Howard - with, perhaps, the possibility of one or two exceptions - when he agreed to come down from the Frozen North to reprise those events. But Mr Wykeham couldn't make it due to Hols, and Chris "old man" Wood couldn't make it due to creaking, and Dr Southgate needed to regenerate in his coffin, so we roped in Paul "slag" Holland, Luca Simonelli and Tom "legendary" Watt. That crew lasted about 5 seconds, or possibly an outing, when Dave had a family event, but happily Kate Hurst quite fancied it (or perhaps us :-) so we were a crew again. What could possibly go wrong now? The answer was Tom's creative ability to injure himself, though to be fair a half ironman is tough, and we were running out of insane rowers, but fortunately Ulrike "mad as a bucket of frogs" Bauer also fancied trying her hand at Boston, so we were on again.

DSC_3213 It's time for a picture of our "pots", which were rather fine cut-glass tumblers well suited to drinking whisky from; seen here in rather greater detail. But enough gloating; on towards the race.

However, no post about Boston would be complete without mention of transport, logistics, and trailering problems. In this case our chief problem was unusual, a choice of competing trailering possibilities, but we went for the cheap option of hiring and driving Queens' trailer and driving ourselves. This had the advantage of not depending on anyone else, but the disadvantage of needing to turn up two hours early, leave the boat (and some of the crew needed to be there early to put it together), drive the trailer to Boston, get picked up by someone else, and then drive back to Lincoln for the start. It all worked, though it made for a long day. And since we got lost in the Lincoln one-way system coming back for the start, we had a pretty harried rush-to-the-start.

Get on with it

On with the race. So, we're in the start queue, waiting for our chance to move down to the pontoon, careful of the wet grass. But contrary to the dire forecasts, it isn't actually raining at the moment, and for a mercy there's actually a tailwind blowing towards the start line. We boat, hurridly, and they're keen to push us out ASAP to get the last few crews off, so we're sitting in the stream making the last few adjustments. Newbie cox Mr T tries to take us over the start line before they're ready for us (they start at 1 min intervals, its not like a head race when they start you when you're ready) so we back down and try again. We're off!

Almost immeadiately there's a problem: the cox-box isn't working in the bows (such a shame there wasn't 1.5 hours to put the boat together and check everything before the off :-). Dropping out a pair enables Ralph at 4 to fix this moderately quickly, but I see the next crew - Liverpool Victoria, the other IM2 8+, coming up on us. Happily as soon as we get back to rowing all eight we drop them quite rapidly. At least, I was pretty sure they were LV which if true was great news - they were the only other crew in our category (we entered as IM3, which is what we were, but they bumped us up to make a cat).

But more interesting than that was our probable time. I'd estimated before the race that 5 mins at the lock and a 2:15 split would get us 3:45; James Howard and Kate, more optimistic than me, had told the Boston commentator that we would do 3:30. My GPS was showing some pretty promising splits - up to 9.5 km, we were averaging 2:00 or better, with a tailwind (incidentally, we'd taken off the impeller for that tiny-extra-speed for bumps, and hadn't put it back on since, and didn't put it on for Boston due to Weed (not that there was much this year) so James T was relying on Kate's GPS rowcoach, which he'd never used before. And all its splits were vastly optimistic, by 5-10 pips. No idea why. I didn't say anything during the race). But after that we hit moderate-to-strong headwinds, and those persisted, and our splits correspondingly dropped. Looking, now, I see that 9k is where the river turns from due East to SE. At 42 k, where the river turns East again, our speed picks up, then drops at 46 k as it heads SE again, until our final spurt over the line. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Time at the lock is time wasted

Bardney comes up quicker than you think. And I always forget the "shape", so here's a pic of my GPS track. The "offical" split times for the course are calculated assuming 5 mins to get over. I thought, this time, that we'd done pretty well, but it turns out we took 6:30. That breaks down into (something like, its hard to reconstruct exactly from the trace): 50 secs coming into the stage (partly due to City, partly due to a scull so James took a slightly non-optimal glide-path and we need to stretch and be pulled in); about 1:20 getting out of the boat; about 2 mins going from one side to the other (we were handbagging it to save faffing with blades; this is Correct); about 2 mins pushing off, reassembling ourselves on-water, and getting ready to go. Our thanks to the City eight who, clearly slower than us, allowed us to push past them for the re-boating stage.
To do it faster you need: a clear stage to come into, fast (which needs either luck, or someone on the other end of a mobile phone to clear it for you; or, perhaps, arrange a water/food break just before the lock rather than after, if there is no space); a crew well practiced and prepared to leap out and go; and a clear exit stage.

The next three quarters

And so, on to the next three quarters of the race. This passed surprisingly quickly. I distinctly recall in earlier times - admittedly, when I was in slower-moving boats - that the last 20 or 10 k crawled by. This time the higher rating (we started around 22, rose through 23 to 24 after perhaps 10 k, held that for most of the race and raised to 25 for the last 10 ish k, with a virtuoso sprint up to 31 over the line) gave far less time to gazing around, and I had to actually concentrate on staying in time and stuff like that. Actual rowing. Which was nice. I barely looked at any scenery at all - not that there is much of it.

We were going for a moderate-to-high rating for such a long distance, trying to keep the technique light and the pressure, if not light, wasn't too high. As with any such long-distance event it starts off feeling easy and ends up feeling terrible; with rowing there is always the problem of blisters, and we ended up with a fair crop. The boat had a variety of precautions: some had gloves of various sorts, some had used various forms of tape, others were just Hard. I (I'm writing this for my own information next year, you understand) found that fabric-type tape around the middle bit of two fingers on the pulling hand and one on the feathering worked well, combined with lightweight running gloves to ease friction and stop the plasters from rubbing off. My worst blister was one inside the thumb on the pulling hand. Or claw, as it became for the last 10 k. But that's the ideal, isn't it ;-? I used a gel seat pad, and I had no "bottom" problems at all.

By about, say, 30 k it was clear that we weren't going to hit our 3:45 (let alone 3:30) unless the headwind eased off, which it didn't. By 40 k it was more a matter of wanting to get in under 4 hours; but I'm moderately sure I was the only one of the crew staring at a GPS and calculating probable finish times given certain splits as we went along. At 40 k we needed a 2:30 average split from then on to get under 4 hours, which was pretty likely, and as time went by and we kept hitting 2:20 ish it became more and more certain.

This time, we had the pleasure of overtaking boats. Lots of them. That's a nice feeling, and also something to break up the monotony, and something to give you a chance for a slight lift to keep up the pace. And it definitely beats being overtaken a lot. Fairly soon after the lock a double appeared in the distance behind us. Slowly slowly slowly it crept up on us; I think we pushed a little to hold them off, and once or twice they got a bad corner whereas James T's coxing got us good lines. But then they caught us and came past, again slowly. But that was the only crew to pass us, and they ended up fourth overall.

And then, all of a sudden, we'd finished. Suddenly you transition from full-on race mode to sit-quietly-on-the-water for a bit, then come-on-get-the-boat-out, where to put the blades, find some trestles (we'd left ours at the start, of course, and had forgotten we out to have left a second pair at the finish), section the boat, put it on the trailer, go get some tea and...

Is there anyone here from Chesterton Rowing Club?

Yes indeed there is! And yes we'll happily take some of those rather nice pots off you. Technically I think we were a Chesterton / Cantabs  composite (for Ulrike). But never mind the fussy details.

After that, well, it's time to go home. And this really did feel like the End of the Affair. We'd stretched our the eight to Peterborough and (just!) to Boston, but now the season is over. We say goodbye with regret to James Howard and wend our way back to Cambridge to put away "Octo" in the rain and a final pint in the Waterman. The End.

Secrets and Lies

Or, vaguely useful advice. See also last's years thoughts.

* It isn't 50 k; its 49.1. Don't be fooled by the distance markers, because while it ends at 50 it starts at 1 (work it out :).
* I've been advised that driving yourself / your trailer back afterwards is dangerous / a bad idea: well, your mileage may well vary, but we didn't find any problem, after an hour's rest.
* Having now tried it, I advise mostly energy gels for food if you're in a hurry, with perhaps a banana or two to be eaten if you happen to have a bit more time for whatever reason. I didn't finish my litre of water.
ps: did I ever mention how much I loathe the awful auto-formatting that blogger does?