Thursday, 29 March 2012


This blog is getting out of hand now with the amount of people who read it, which means that every post I write now feels like I am addressing about a trillion people all in a big stadium or something.

I feel it is only a matter of time before things go to my head and I start referring to you guys as "Railtonites" or something, wearing a cloak and fashioning a throne made of mugs. (Talking of mugs, I've updated the Mugs page - there are some new ones!)

Firstly I'd like to thank all of you who wished me and my crew good luck/congratulations this past week -  it really meant a lot. You guys are amazing.

As for the boat race itself, you've probably all got by now that the Newton's Women's Boat Race was won by us, Cambridge, and it was great. It was also one of the most bloody stressful races ever, thanks to some slight... crustatean...action in the bows.

Anyway, I did this:

(Click for bigger-er, or here)
There are some quite frankly ridiculous photographs as a result of this race. Have a gander at this (with many thanks to Jon Glass):




 Oh bow girl works her magic, somehow and we get going again c.15sec later.

From the side (you can just see me starting to look to my right with a look of horror on my face). Downing at bow is already on it.

Nothing like giving the spectators a good show though. Jeez. Here's a video from the island of the finish line (cheers Rowing Voice), which I can't work out how to embed because I'm an idiot. SO STRESSFUL, but the yellow boat finished first so it's all fine. On the finish line it was a very odd mix of relief and shock at how close we came to losing it when it had all been going so well.

But yes, boat race win = DONE. Took 4 years, got 1/4 length back off Oxford. Only 5 more lengths to go!

Going back in time a bit, we've had WeHORR, which I neglected to talk about nearer the time. With joy and fear in our hearts, CUW headed off to Putney to talk on the Tideway.

It turned out to be another eventful race (there is a theme emerging isn't there...?). It was all going so well up to Hammersmith. We overtook a struggling Agecroft coming under the bridge (they shouted at us to move over - harsh) and eventually slotted in in front of them. Thames and a crew from Zurich were motoring up behind us on our right. (I initially thought the Swiss crew were Headington and was like "NOooooooooooooooooooo cannot be overtaken by school girls noooooooooooooooooooooo".)

Then, as is the way with CUW races, we caught a huge crab. Thankfully it was in the stroke seat so we could all see what the fuck was happening and thus react quicker. While we were floundering, Agecroft were on a collision course with us - it was possible they had not seen us as we were probably in the cox's blindspot. I swore A LOT (well, as much as possible 5K into WeHORR) and prayed that Kate, our cox, wasn't going to die. With metres of clean water left we scrambled a restart and just got out of the way of Agecroft's bows. Unpleasant. All the while Zurich and Thames were absolutely flying. We crossed the finish line and I went "FUCKING HELL RAGE" as I usually do in such situations, convinced a pennant was now long gone. (Fortunately it wasn't - IM2 in the bag).

Thames went head, really well deserved. This is a video taken on a GoPro camera on the coxes head... it is fucking nails. Really balls to the line racing there and it was great to see them take the headship - the chance only comes once every 4 years for a club to take it! Fucking great coxing too.

You can just see our crew in the top left at the end. I was going "Fuck you Thames FUCK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU" at the time, but water under the bridge y'know?

Also, Vesta, next year we're coming for you. You heard it here first :-)

Last, but by no means least a word about the future of the Women's boat race. Thanks to the men's Xchanging contract coming to an end and new sponsors taking up the gauntlet, the women's boat club will now have equal funding to the men and in 2015 the women will move and race on the tideway too.

I immediately did some mental maths:


This news is now two months old (see here, here), so I am really behind and should have talked about this earlier.

The story has provided the Great British Public with a way of venting some truely outstanding misogyny. I shall share with you some of the best, mostly from the Telegraph website:

"Oh, I didn't know they had kitchens on the Tideway" (I found this pretty funny tbh)
 "Another tradition devalued on a whim." (Yay! Like empire building! And not letting women or poor people vote!)
"Oh goodie!
Yet another once hallowed British institution destroyed......."
 "How long before they decide the Boat Race doesn't have enough appeal, and the outfits they wear become more important than the race? " (Just... confusing...)
My personal favourite:
 "This is just another example of a female sporting event being parasitic....Women are always attaching themselves to men who are more successful than they are. Women are parasites."

Shit, I didn't know that being born without a penis made me a parasite! Thanks for letting me know! I'll get on sorting that out!

So, I've been in the Uni rowing system for a while now. The sparcity of funding for CUWBC never bother me too much. We have eights to race in and blades. We have a trailer. We have a boathouse in Ely. We have shown we can be competitive nationally with what we have. You see what you've got to work with and you just get on with it.

What did rankle though was how much easier (and cheaper) life would be if I was born a bloke and was above average reasonable at rowing at Cambridge. Take boathouses:

CUWBC: Boatbay, 5 racks, small room out the back to get changed in. If you want the loo, you go into the Kings School BH next door.
CUBC: Boatbay, 20(?) racks, changing room, SHOWERS, a room to chat and eat in. They get given a new VIII every year to race in (good advertising!).
CULRC: Field. Go to Tesco if you need the loo/warmth.

Oh, so you want to go out in a pair? CUW has a pair!

It's a Burgashell and does literally fold in two when you sit in it though :-)

It really does!
Meanwhile, I look sadly at all the CUBC Filippis being crashed into the reeds. You want to get to Ely? You should nearly bankrupt yourself getting the train (at £6.30 a shot) then! Woo!

Now, do not think I'm having a go at CUBC. I'm really not. They do let us use Goldie to erg in when they really don't have too (albeit it with restrictions on when we use the water at Ely) and they would quite frankly be stupid to help fund us. They have their own boat race to win after all. It was just so incredibly, punch a wall frustrating for everything being so unequal. As it stands, I really do not give a shit that I buy all my own kit and get trains to Ely to go rowing. It so happens that I really like rowing and that's what I have to do to go rowing. But the fact that I would have free kit heaped upon me, get driven to training, get new boats every year and free access to your own physio if I was a man? You have to agree, that's bullshit.

It's just so odd. Every other uni boat club outside of Oxbridge is unified - men, women, heavyweight, lightweight - and yet here we are, plugging away at a hugely inefficient system where everything is separate. Sure, stuff changes slowly in Cambridge, but badgering hell!

I knew the change had to happen eventually and I am so very lucky that it's happened within my rowing lifetime at Cambridge. Our new sponsor and it's progressive CEO are basically saints in my book, as are the Boat Race Company Ltd for working really hard to make this happen. I am really looking forward to what happens to CUWBC in these next few years and am honoured to be there for the ride.

Onwards and upwards. The Tideway beckons.

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