Friday, 23 March 2012

The Boat Race

This post was initially going to be about WeHORR


and race week


and the new changes to the Women's Boat Race (women row too! :D)


but these things, for the moment, can wait. This post has been written and deleted twice now, and I'm still not happy with it. It is apparently very difficult to write about The Boat Race.

I write to you from Henley as CUWBC does it's final preparations in the last week before the Henley Boat Races. It is an exceedingly odd time of year - while 'normal' rowing clubs emerge from WeHORR and the Head of the River (or 'Man HORR' as us girls know it) and begin to gear up for the summer racing a few months in the future, the Oxford and Cambridge University clubs face the biggest race of their year.

Look in the constitutions of any of the Cambridge or Oxford clubs and you will see a phrase along the lines of "The sole function of this club is to defeat Oxford/Cambridge* at the Boat Race" (*delete as appropriate). One race. That is all that matters. You do not gauge the success of your season by PBs achieved, pennants won on the Tideway, medals hung round your neck in the summer. Did you win your boat race? Which shade of blue crossed the finish line first?


To others it seems perverse, backwards even. Other Universities have Varsity matches (Durham/Newcastle, Bristol/Bath) but they are merely another fixture on the full calendar of summer racing. However, in the weird, twisted Oxbridge bubble, these races are all.

I began my personal quest to win a boat race back in 2008. I had more hair, much less kit, was scrawny as and was even allowed to stroke boats back then. I also did not yet own The Oakleys :-(

LOL CATCH TIMING. I still maintain the ability to never wear enough kit.
I went on to make the blue boat in both 2009 and 2010 and lose in both of them. On the finish line in 2010, having lost by 4 1/4 lengths I swore to myself I would never row another boat race. I took to my single and tried to forget. I watched from the bank the following year and wept like a fucking baby when the lightweights and Blondie (heavyweight women's reserve boat) won and despaired when yet again the CUW blue boat failed to cross the finish line first.

I knew then there was something I had to do. I had to know what it felt like to Win. That. Fucking. Race.

It knaws away at you. It gets into your soul. You know you have to go out there again and put yourself on the line because you must know what it feels like to win.

This is a universal thing among rowers, I believe. Rowing is about suffering and finding out how much you can make yourself suffer. Some things (the best things?) are worth suffering for. You don't get up at 5am out of a sense of duty or because other people need you, you get up and train because you want to win and you know this is the price of winning.

Often when you read about rowing, and especially university rowing, the word "sacrifice" gets mentioned a lot. I have always found this odd. Sure, I would've gone to a lot more dinners and visited a lot more pubs and probably spent more time figuring out maths. But you know what, not doing that stuff was never a sacrifice. I can honestly say I've learnt more about myself facing my demons on the Henley Reach and in Ely and on the erg and doing MASSIVE WEIGHTS then I would have spending that time drinking in a pub. (Also, beer is gross).



No matter where I am or what I'm doing, it takes no effort at all to imagine myself back on that stake boat. No other race is like this. I couldn't tell you which lane I was in in the 2010 Nat Champs, or how I felt waiting for the start of Fours Head in 2009. But sitting on that stake boat in Henley, waiting. How I felt, the blade handle in my hand. That image is crystal clear and always will be. Oxford cheering before you've crossed the finish line. That shit hurts and I know I will never forget it. The shock and despair in 2009, the crushing inevitability of 2010 and thinking "I will never, ever put myself through this again" as I tried to lose myself in my footwell and cease to exist.

It's just such a personal race. It's just you and them, one winner and no second place. It is pure, clear cut and utterly brutal. You must crush them or they will crush you. Everything that rowing stands for, in my mind, concentrated.

You sit on the stake boat and the unknown yawns in front of you. You know it will hurt and that you will well and truly throw yourself into the abyss to cross the line first. But will it be enough? It is not like you can content yourself with a silver medal or move on to the next race of the season. This IS the season and there is no second place.

This is how and why I will find myself yet again lining up against Oxford this coming Sunday. 6 minutes of racing. Glorious agony. Victory or failure.

Vengeance.  Fours years is a long time.

Photo credit Jimmy Appleton

26 comments:

  1. GO GO GO! GDBO.

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  2. This is a fantastic post and sums up the bizarre and overwhelming-ness of the Boat Race. Smash them. GDBO.

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  3. As one of my crewmates put it in 2006, revenge is a dessert best served cold...

    GDBO

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  4. Every one of us who's ever not had the chance to go back and try again will be there on the start with you... win it!

    GDBO

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  5. Great post. I can really feel your emotion and am almost tempted to switch allegiance. Nope, sorry, gone. But great post.

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  6. You guys are going to blow them out of the water!
    GOOD LUCK, and GAME ON!

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  7. Good luck. GDBO.

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  8. Do it! Glad to see the CUCBC Flag is in agreement: http://www.cucbc.org/flag!

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  9. Good Luck at your race on Sunday. Row hard!

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  10. Congratulations!

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  11. Sorry about late
    Hope you had enough luck in store and air kept pumping through you through out the race until the very end!
    Cheers!

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  12. He's actually so chuffed with this photo
    http://imgur.com/ljyAh

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  13. Mission accomplished. Well done!

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  14. Congratulations on your racing today! I have returned many times to your blog...has me in stitches every read. So. Freaking. Hilarious. Because it is all SO TRUE. Also have added the term "badgering" to my daily vocubulary. Such a helpful and satisfying term; who knew woodland animals could be so versatile? Thanks for writing.

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  15. Well done Anna! Congratulations!

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  16. Congratulations Anna! Back with a big bang!

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  17. Congrats on the victory that you will cherish for a lifetime! Compliments on yet another excellent post!

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  18. Congrats. You've earned it!

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  19. Congrats on your win!!!

    Time to train.

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    1. Indeed! Casual 105 mile cycle the day after. I have got this recovery thing nailed.

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  21. Despite being in the Dark Blue camp on Sunday, I have to say congratulations for your win , you deserved it. I've been reading your blog for a couple of years too, it's great!

    Does the win mean that you're hanging up your oar(s)?

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  22. Another dark blue reader (although my boat race feels loooooong ago now!) pleased to see you win on Sunday.

    Nice work. :D

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  23. i meant to leave a comment here ages ago, but got distracted with falling back into life after HBR - i really enjoyed reading this, it sums up many feelings. have been following your blog for many years from the dark blue corner ..... its great! let me know how the posters are getting along ;)

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