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Unfortunately I don't look much like this model. I am more smiley, though.

Unfortunately I don’t look much like this model. I am more smiley, though.

Hurrah – the clocks have changed, the sun is shining, evening rowing is GO and summer is just around the corner! It’s early days, I know, but I’m excited about the season so I want to tell you already about a cool (in every sense) top that I lived in during last year’s fabulously warm summer season.

Sports clothing range Odlo kindly gave me one of their new Evolution X-Light range to try out – and I was seriously glad of it. Sprints on a muggy evening aren’t fun when you’re drenched in sweat, so their baselayer singlet rapidly became the only top I would wear for rowing on a hot day. All my usual favourites just felt heavy and sweaty in comparison.

The top is featherlight – a medium size weighs just 75g – and it wicks like a dream. Apparently it has silver ion technology to stop it getting whiffy, but I didn’t put that to the test as it was chucked in the washing machine after each outing. It washes really well and dries in record time.

If I’m being picky, I can’t say I love the salmon pink colour – it’s a little more orangey than the picture would suggest – and the fit is a bit straight-up-and-down for my own physique – but those really are minor details as the fabric is so great.

Now all I need is for the temperatures to rise so I can start wearing it again.

Odlo singlet Evolution X-light, £30, from Odlo

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There comes a point in every rower’s life when the Rowing World starts to overlap with the Real World. Specifically, your rowing friends meet your normal friends and your secret life as a weirdo-river-lover is exposed. Is there anything scarier than someone announcing, “Ooh, I met someone you row with”?

This has happened to me more and frequently of late, so I think it’s time I came clean with an aspect of my rowing life I’ve tried to keep quiet until now.

Here’s the thing. We go in for quite a lot of nicknames at my rowing club, and I have not escaped. I won’t go into how exactly it came about, except to say that autocorrect was involved. The fact is… my rowing nickname is…

Trash.

Or, if someone’s feeling particularly affectionate (ie. wanting me to cox), Trashy.

image

So there. I’ve said it. No more secrets. But if you really want me to cox, I’d recommend addressing me as “madam”, “my Lady” – or, better still, “can I buy you another drink?”

 

 

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this. My first time coxing a race was meant to take place on a nice, straight course with no major obstacles or risks, just to ease me in gently.

Huh. I should, of course, have known better. If there’s one thing that has characterised my rowing career, it’s things not quite going according to plan. So when Evesham Head was cancelled and I had to drop out of Cardiff because of a family emergency, that left the one race that I had sworn I would never, ever cox: the Head of the Dart.

Deceptively pretty

Deceptively pretty

Looks pretty, doesn’t it? Well, don’t be fooled. The Head of the Dart – a 15km course from Totnes to Dartmouth – was, I’m convinced, specially designed to fox the most confident coxswain. Think the Tideway’s tricky with its stream and multiple crews? Pah.

At the Dart the fun starts with an early encounter with a ferry that stops for no man.

Another bend, another ferry...

Another bend, another ferry…

It carries on with two markers that you have to cross on the outside or you’ll get disqualified (and most years a couple of crews do). It continues around sharp bends, through open waters with no visible exit, past a dinghy event and along narrow channels lined with multiple moorings.

And then, to make it really exciting, you have to time your finish according to the whim of a chain ferry that, we were cheerfully told in the briefing, can slice the boat in two like a cheese slicer (yeah, thanks for that). When you can see the cars lining up on the ferry ready for the return journey, let’s just say it focuses the mind.

Cheese slicer. Also known as Dartmouth chain ferry. (Image by Herbythyme)

Cheese slicer. Also known as Dartmouth chain ferry. (Image by Herbythyme)

With any other crew I might have been just too scared to embark on this madness, but when you have a boat full of Monmouth’s finest ladies (Mas E W8+, in case you’re wondering) you know you can count on them to respond in an instant, to execute a faultless handbrake turn when asked and row harder than is entirely ladylike.

And so, by some miracle, we made it through in one piece, in a highly respectable time of 52:50 – the fastest women’s 8+ of the day. On the way we even passed two mixed 8+s and we even beat a men’s 8+. Sadly there was no competition in our category so we didn’t get a pennant or a shiny cup like the Monmouth men did, but it’s not always about the bling.

Most excellent crew.

Most excellent crew.

As for me, having always seen myself as a pretty chilled kind of steersman, I turned out, in fact, to be That Cox. You know, the one that roars at the crew ahead to make way, who’s lost her voice by the end of the race and who says things like, “bow 4, in time would be good”. Oddly, my husband was not remotely surprised by this revelation and muttered something about how good it was for me to “get it out of my system”. No idea what he’s talking about…

With the race over, the rest of the weekend was mostly spent laughing until our sides hurt, though we did manage to explore the fabulous Dartmouth area by ferry and steam train.

So. Much. Laughing.

So. Much. Laughing.

And will I cox again? Well, I might, in a moment of madness, have agreed to cox a race at Nat Vets, but I can’t deny I’m looking forward to facing the other way for a while. Let’s just say we’ll see.

 

 

 

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Photograph by Rud Glazn

Photograph by Rud Glazn

I didn’t really want to write this post. I don’t like getting into Twitter-spats and try to keep things friendly here. But as the Boat Race approaches, the jibes – invariably involving the words “over-privileged”, “class-ridden” and “toffs” – are as predictable as the champagne and Hunter wellies, so I’m going to take a moment to go through a few of the arguments and explain what I think about it all.

1. It’s ridiculous that it’s only Oxford and Cambridge- what about the other universities?

Well, it’s a private match – a challenge by one university to another. There is, incidentally, an annual head race open to all universities – the BUCS 4s and 8s head, and a lot of university crews also enter the annual Head of the River and Women’s Head races that run over the same course as the Boat Race. No, they don’t get the same coverage, and I wish they did. It would be great to bring rowing out from behind the “other sports” barrier.

2. Well, in that case, other universities should be allowed to have their own private matches.

They are, and some of them do. There’s an annual Bristol / UWE Boat Race, for example, and a Scottish Boat Race between Edinburgh and Glasgow universities. And yes, it would be great to see them on TV, too.

3. They’re just a bunch of toffs.

This is usually a lazy shorthand for private school-educated. It is true that the privately-educated crew members outnumber the state school ones, and there’s a reason for this. Because rowing is a sport that uses expensive equipment and requires use of a boat house, not many state schools have a rowing club. I’ve blogged about this HERE, in case you’re interested. Rowing is a difficult technical sport so whilst you do get one or two people who start rowing as a fresher and progress quickly enough to represent the university, most simply can’t get up to the required standard in time. Inevitably, then, there will be more privately-educated people in the crews. You’ll find it’s the same at every university.

4. Why should the river be closed off for a race, anyway?

The river is regularly closed off for races and nobody seems to mind about that. There’s the Head of the River, the Vets’ Head, the Women’s Head, the Fours Head, the Vets’ Fours Head, the Pairs Head, the Scullers Head… shall I go on?

5. What’s the big deal anyway? It’s less than 20 minutes.

Trust me. It’s hard. Really, really hard.

6. They’re not even the best rowers in the country.

No one said they were. They are the best that those universities can field, and some of them, like Oxford’s Constantine Louloudis, go on to row for GB. But it’s a university private match, not the Olympics, so it’s self-limiting.

7. Half of them are only at Oxbridge for the rowing.

Well, it is true that the prospect of rowing for the university is a draw for a lot of excellent rowers, but they do have to prove themselves academically to get into the university. I have it on good authority from a number of Oxbridge admissions tutors that outing yourself as a serious rower can be a hindrance rather than a help in applying for a place as you’re likely to spend more time on the river than in the library. The idea that they’re just jocks with nothing between the ears just isn’t accurate.

8. No one cares.

Actually, rightly or wrongly, they do. UK viewing figures alone average nine million. Add the people lining the banks and the overseas viewers (the worldwide radio and TV figures run to 400 million, apparently) and that’s a lot of people who do care.

9. Well, it’s ridiculous that it gets so much coverage.

Look, I get that it might not be your thing. Rowing isn’t for everyone. The Boat Race isn’t for everyone. But nine million people are switching on their tellies for it, and in the minds of the BBC that is reason enough to screen it. If the figures fell away you can be sure that it would be axed from the schedule in a heartbeat.

10. But it all just smacks of privilege – it’s all asset management this, champagne that.

All right, you’ve got me on that one. I can’t deny feeling a little uncomfortable about the message the blue chip sponsors give about our sport and about rowing culture. For most of us, rowing is not a glamorous activity. We don’t go around swilling expensive champagne (if only). We wear mismatched wellies that occasionally spring a leak. We don’t have top-of-the-range kit and we certainly don’t wear tweed and pearls when we’re off the water. It’s just not like that, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was when you see the sponsors. You win that one, OK?

So that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject. Lecture over for another year. As you were.

 

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Now that I’m feeling perkier and am officially Back on the River, I thought I’d mention a few things that I’ve tried in my quest to get my mojo back. My recovery was mostly down to being sensible (*yawn*) – taking a break from hard exercise, eating well, yada yada yada. But life being life, I didn’t manage as much of this thing called “rest” as I should have, so what I ate and drank became a bit more important than usual.

So first up was a food supplement. Just around the time I was having to step things down, Herbalife got in touch to see if I wanted to try their trusty Formula 1 protein powder, and offered to set me up with a recipe called “Vitality”. Well, since vitality was exactly what I was lacking I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Shake from side (480x640)

I don’t normally bother with protein powders. I prefer to get my nutrients from real food. I don’t like that very individual flavour that comes through even if you bake with them, and am definitely not a fan of the aftertaste. And yet… I was surprisingly sold on this one. For a start it doesn’t have the sickly flavour and there’s no saccharine aftertaste.

Herbalife shake ingredients (480x640)

I dutifully made up the Vitality shake every morning for a couple of weeks and, in a rare departure from usual porridge or boiled-egg-and-toast, had it for breakfast. Here’s the recipe, to serve two people:

  • 2 tbsp Herbalife Formula 1 Vanilla
  • 1 tsp Maca powder
  • 1 small mango, peeled
  • 3 fresh or tinned lychees or half a melon (I advise tinned lychees as the fresh ones are a bit fiddly, especially first thing in the morning)
  • 1 pint rice milk (I used ordinary milk)
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1 tsp raw coconut oil

The lychees apparently contain oligonol which is meant to aid recovery after exercise and the maca is reputed to have revitalising properties.

Shake from above (640x480)

So, what was the verdict?

Taste: pretty good. I liked the delicate coconut flavour and the fact that it didn’t taste like a traditional protein shake.

Performance: again, surprisingly good. Although I didn’t feel as full as I would after a normal breakfast, I didn’t get hungry. And here’s the interesting thing: to my great surprise it gave me an unexpected buzz, so much so that I had to stop the breakfast coffee alongside it. I have had it after rowing a couple of times, too, and it stopped that sudden crash I often get when I come off the river.

I liked this a lot more than any protein products I’ve used before. There are a couple of things that might put me off. First, you are supposed to buy this product through a Herbalife distributor. Secondly, I’m not keen on the weight management message that comes through in all their marketing – for me sport isn’t about that. Apart from that, though, it’s a great product and I’m happy to recommend it.

mitoq

Next up was  product called MitoQ – a “mitochondrial-targeted” antioxidant. The manufacturers claim that it “works to replenish and support the body’s mitochondria by flooding it [sic] with vital antioxidants to protect against free radicals, lessen the damage to cells, and restore health.” You may have heard of Co-enzyme Q-10 (some studies suggest it may help with a range of conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes). Well, the idea is that this deposits Co-Q-10 inside the mitochondria.

I’m fairly sceptical when it comes to excitable claims made for a product, so am going in cautiously on this one. The manufacturers say that these supplements have “a decade of research” behind them, yet mitochondrial targeting is in its infancy. The studies linked to on the product’s website are fairly inconclusive, though not all of the sources provided a link so I haven’t been able to look at them all. What it really comes down to, I think, is that it might help with a variety of conditions, and there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest it helps with fatigue.

But did it? Well, it’s hard to say. There’s no doubt that I’m feeling better, but whether it’s down to the pills, which I took for a couple of months, I simply couldn’t say. It might be worth a try if you’re feeling under the weather and want to try something new. It’s certainly an interesting and developing field of research and there are plenty of people who claim it works – but I can’t make any promises.

 

 

 

 

 

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I guess it was inevitable. Having had a brief flirtation with some other sports a couple of years ago, I came back to rowing, my long-term love, and all was forgiven. But once you’ve strayed it’s bound to happen again, and sure enough it has. Before you look away in disgust, though, bear with me. My dalliance could even be good for my relationship with rowing – you know, keeping it fresh and all that – so keep reading.

So, what’s been going on? Well, in an act of insane generosity, GoPro – the people who make the deceptively small, hyper-cool action camera which is proving increasingly popular amongst rowers – invited me to watch the spectacular Nine Queens event for female freestyle skiers and snowboarders, which took place last week in Serfaus in Austria. Not only that, but they let me play with my very own GoPro Hero4 – and yes, there will be a review of it just for rowers coming soon, hopefully in a Certain Magazine you’re probably familiar with, once I’ve got the hang of it and taken it out on the river. It’s a seriously clever bit of kit – and I promise I’m not just saying that because GoPro were such amazing hosts. I can’t wait to do some filming on the river, even if it does reveal all the flaws in my technique. Like I said, it’ll be good for my rowing.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share four things I discovered on the mountain last week.

1. This occasional, friends-with-benefits thang I’ve had going on with skiing just isn’t working for me. I’ve only managed to sneak away for four days on the slopes in the last 10 years. Four days. So things have got to change. It’s time to commit. And if you take a look at some of the pictures taken last week, I think you might just understand a little why I’ve become so smitten again.

Got air... GoPro pic by Johannes Östergård

Got air…
GoPro pic by Johannes Östergård

GoPro pic by Johannes Östergård

GoPro pic by Johannes Östergård

 

Oh, you know, just hanging out with world champion freeskier, Kaya Turski... Pic by Kaya Turski (squeal!)

Oh, you know, just hanging out with world champion freeskier, Kaya Turski…
Pic by Kaya Turski (squeal!)

 

2. I need more yoga in my life. It puts me back together when my body’s all tense and twisted from rowing, hunching over a computer or skiing, and it settles my crazily busy mind. OK, so I won’t always be able to have the amazing Anna Langer teaching me on a glorious mountainside roof terrace, in the company of some of the world’s best freeskiers and snowboarders. But hey – even in the local village hall, it’ll meet the need.

This is how yoga should be done. If you don't happen to have a handy Alpine roof terrace, a village hall will do nicely. Photo courtesy of Anna Langer.

This is how yoga should be done. But a village hall will do nicely.
Photo courtesy of Anna Langer.

3. Freeskiers and snowboarders are some of the coolest, bravest, friendliest people you could hope to meet. So are rowers, obviously, but there’s something I have to tell you – and I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you. The snow fiends are way, WAY better at dancing than rowers. Just saying.

4. I’ve established that I am back in fine fettle after putting up with some pretty lousy health over the last few months. OK, so the early mornings, late nights and partying did finally break me, but I felt pretty strong on the slopes and even managed an outing on the river the day after I got back. Hurrah!

So, then. I’m going to try to strike a balance. The rowing is here to stay – that goes without saying – but there will have to be room in my life for some mountain time and a regular yoga session. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

If you want to know more, look out for my interview with the fabulous Jamie Anderson – first ever female slopestyle snowboarding Olympic gold medalist – coming soon in Snow magazine online, and for my GoPro review.

And finally… huge, grateful thanks to the brilliant team from GoPro for an action-packed couple of days, to the organisers of Nine Queens for a fantastic event, to the gorgeous Anna Kathalina for back-saving, blissful yoga, to the endlessly patient film-maker Johannes Östergård for great pictures and footage (and for not minding when I accidentally punched him twice in the face – whoops) – and of course to my new girl-crushes, Jamie Anderson and Kaya Turski, for being so lovely, helpful and generally awesome. Namaste.

 

 

 

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Running for rowing …

MCSBC logo

Just want to give a quick shout-out to the kids at Monmouth Comprehensive School Boat Club, who are raising money to support their club. We share a boat house with MCSBC and what a great bunch they are. OK, so quite a few of their parents are friends of mine, so I’m a touch biased, but seriously, they are fab. Great rowers, nice kids, and they don’t even mind when I yell at them when I’m coxing  on a Saturday morning (I dunno … perhaps they’re used to being shouted at? ;) )

Anyway,  on 21st March they are doing a half marathon. Some are running; others are cycling. Whatever they’re doing, it’s a heck of a long way and let’s face it, if they wanted to be runners they wouldn’t have joined the rowing club, so kudos to them.

Here’s what they have to say about the fundraiser: “We are the only Comprehensive School Rowing Club in Wales and were the only ones to attend the National Schools and National Championships Regatta in which we did quite well. The money also allows us to keep the fees low so that money is not a restriction when joining our rowing club.”

Can’t really think of a better reason to support them. So if you happen to have a spare fiver that you found in your pocket or down the back of the sofa, it would be great to send it their way. Here’s the JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/monmouthboatclub/

 

 

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Cox wrapped up against the winter weather

Why so serious? Staying warm is no laughing matter.

Damn, but it’s cold out there. Heck, it’s even snowing inside – just look at the photo. And since I’m on coxing duties until my rib finally heals, and good winter coxing gear is essential, I’m seriously interested in how to keep warm in the ninth seat. Continue Reading »

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CoolingGel30gArnicareBath&MassageBalm

 

It’s silly, but as soon as I see my first snowdrop, I convince myself that it’s Spring time and confidently expect the temperatures to rise immediately. And of course they don’t. This morning the countryside was covered in a thick layer of hoar frost and it’s distinctly parky out there still. All of which means that we are still deep into winter training which, as any fule kno, is hard on the body and harder on the skin. Continue Reading »

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I’ve been feeling pretty RARRRR! about sport the last few days. First there was the awesomely fantastic This Girl Can campaign launched by Sport England, designed to encourage women to get involved in sport. If you haven’t seen it, check out their video (and even if you have seen it, it definitely bears a second (and third, fourth, fifth) viewing).

Continue Reading »

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