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There’s nothing like racing to make you feel positively adolescent in your emotions. Elation. Deflation. Anticipation. Fear. Hope. Disappointment. Joy. Despair. Envy. Frustration. It’s a giant melting pot of swirling feelings, actions and reactions – the worst and the best that it’s possible to experience. Goodness only knows how actual adolescents cope with it.

The emotional rollercoaster of rowing

The emotional rollercoaster of racing – (right hand pic by Zara Cottrill for Ben Rodford Photography)

Anyway, this year’s British Masters Champs, where the old timers get to strut their stuff, promised to be no exception to the rule. I was deeply honoured to find myself in a couple of crews – a mixed 8+ and a women’s 4+ – and emotions (my emotions, anyway) were, as always, running high. Representing your club at an event like this is a big deal at any time, but this time I was in the only women’s crew from our club. I felt as unworthy as if I’d been asked to row at Rio.

Before I go any further, I’m going to let you into a secret. We nearly didn’t enter. With four hyper-perfectionists in the boat, we had spent several weeks in the run-up to the event tying ourselves in knots, analysing every bit of our stroke until we’d convinced ourselves we were not so much a crew as a masterclass in How Not to Row.

Rowing, as we all know, is as much a mental battle as a physical one, and we were in severe danger of losing the mind game. Thankfully luck was on our side. An injured squadmate was kind enough to spend her recovery time not only coxing us in the run-up to the race, but being our Number One Cheerleader. Endlessly patient and encouraging, she got inside our heads and re-ordered our thinking. Gently and good-humouredly, she got us sitting up instead of slouching, smiling instead of grimacing, pulling instead of yanking, and slowly, slowly coming together as a crew. We didn’t have nearly as much time on the water as we’d have liked – a combination of life, work, Monmouth Regatta and an ill-timed thunderstorm stole a frustrating number of training sessions away from us – but we did what we could.

Unnervingly, when we arrived at Holmepierrepont on Sunday morning the Monmouth encampment was already Bling Central. Every five minutes, it seemed, another crew from our illustrious men’s squad appeared dripping not just with water (it was very wet) but with silver and gold. Mostly gold. The pressure was on.

Even more unnervingly, although we rowed strongly – or so it felt – in the mixed 8+, we didn’t place. We tried not to let it get to us, but setting off to race in our 4+, it was hard not to feel fatalistic. Yet luck, once again, was on our side. A timely last-minute pep talk from our most blinged-up rower, positively jangling with medals, flicked a switch in my brain. I was going to row like a boss, right from the first stroke.

Represent...  (pic by Ben Rodford)

Like a boss…
(pic by Ben Rodford)

The final bit of luck came from the rather fabulous cox we were allocated on the day who, miraculously, got us on to the starting line in as good a state of mind as it was possible to be in. After a blistering start she made us believe, right to the last moment, that a medal was ours. And so it was. Not the gold – though we fought to the last stroke to catch the excellent crew from York who secured the win (chapeau, ladies) – but a silver, which did not feel in any way like a consolation prize.

When the cox stands head and shoulders over the crew...

When the cox stands head and shoulders over the crew…

So elation it proved to be. And profound gratitude to all the people who had kept my head together. Rowing is team sport, and this weekend never more so. Thank you, squad.

The elation bit... (pic by Ben Rodford)

The elation bit…
(pic by Zara Cottrill for Ben Rodford Photography)

All smiles now... (pic by Ben Rodford)

All smiles now…
(pic by Ben Rodford)

 

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So, with just days to go until British Masters Champs (affectionately known as Nat Vets) and with the draw now out, my palpitations are in full swing. This is pretty much how I look right now:

The draw is out!!!

The draw is out!!!

Fear aside, it’s always about this point that I start feeling that unwelcome scratching in the back of my throat that heralds the beginning of a cold. I don’t know whether it’s just my mind playing tricks on me or the effects of too much training, but I invariably find a cold threatening precisely five days before a big day like a major regatta. Coming down with a streaming cold just before a big event would be Not Cool, so it must not happen.

Happily I have a few products that I come back to time after time. Historically I’ve zapped any incoming colds with First Defence spray, but if I’m honest I find it a bit of a blunt instrument, and don’t much like the burning feeling in the back of your throat as it works its magic.

Anyway, a couple of months ago I was writing a piece for Top Santé mag on how to stay healthy on an aeroplane (which is out shortly, as it happens) and was sent a cold-prevention product that was new to me. I started using it immediately as at the time I had a cold threatening, and was impressed enough that I have added it to my cold defence arsenal. I thought I’d share it with you in case you get the same pre-regatta cold thing (even if you’re my oppo – see, I’m nice like that).

ImmunPro lozenge

ImmunPro lozenge

The product in question is a lozenge called ImmunPro (by Hübner). The active ingredients are Cistus Villosus – a medicinal plant – and herbal polyphenols which, according to the blurb, form a protective film across the mucous membrane, and you suck one at the first sign of a cold. It has a pleasant, sweet taste – slightly minty and slightly herbal – and is way nicer than taking First Defence. I haven’t spent any time researching the science of it, but I have found it works for me, and apart from anything else it’s a nice distraction from gazing at the draw in a state of agitation.

The other weapons I use in the fight against the common cold are, by the way, very simple: Vitamin C and zinc (one of the few things actually proven to help) and herbal tea to help me sleep (and calm those palpitations).

The cold has no chance against this trio

The cold has no chance against this trio

So that’s it, really. Just thought I’d let you know in case you fancied trying them. They are available from Boots for £7.95 for 15 tablets (with a special focus on the airport stores).

If I have time later in the week, I’ll do a post on keeping injury at bay before regatta day. If not, see you Sunday, if you’re going to Nat Vets – and don’t forget to give me a shout if you spot me!

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John Hartland with his daughter, Kate

John Hartland with his daughter, Kate

When an elderly man standing on the riverbank was watching my quad, not long after I’d started rowing, I didn’t think much of it. All I noticed was that he was watching us intently. It was only later that I learned it was a figure who has made a massive impact on Monmouth rowing – John Hartland. I knew his name, of course – there’s a boat named after him – but it was a while after that that I discovered quite how much he’d given to rowing in our town.

As well as running the rowing at Monmouth School and founding the club at Haberdashers Monmouth School for Girls, John played a big part in Monmouth Rowing Club as chairman and regatta secretary, and was a central figure in the building of the clubhouse in the late 1960s and its extension back in the 1990s. He was also chairman of Welsh Rowing and led the Wales team to the Commonwealth Games in 1986. As rowing careers go it’s a pretty impressive one.

As a coach he seems to have made a huge impact on his students. Everywhere you go, people ask after him. Even at the start of a race last year, with seconds to go before the race began, a member of our opposite number called across and asked how he was.

Now, sadly, John (or possibly Mr Hartland to you), who turned 80 recently, has Alzheimers. Having spent a harrowing six months in a psychiatric hospital last year, he is now settled in a nursing home and is much more contented, but the engaged, knowledgeable, hard-working rower he once was has been stolen by the illness.

John’s daughter, Kate Callaghan, who is head of rowing at the Habs school in Monmouth, is running Swansea Half Marathon later this month to raise money for the Alzheimers Society. If you knew John Hartland, or have been affected by Alzheimers, it occurred to me that you might like to support her. She can be sponsored at https://www.justgiving.com/teams/Runningforourheroes

Alzheimers can happen to anyone. Please give generously.

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Queen B close up 2

Girl on the River in regal mood #noplaceforaprincess

In the five years I’ve been writing Girl on the River, I’ve shied away from collaborations. Sure, I’ve done product reviews, but I’ve never felt it was quite right to go into any kind of long-term relationship with any company. Nobody felt quite right, or quite up to scratch.

Until, that is, I discovered Queen B Athletics. The kit-lovers amongst you might remember my post last year when I got my hands on the Bridget, which I still maintain is the nicest all-in-one in the entire world. I’ve tried a few, believe me, and I’ve still to find one I like as much.

And when, later, I got a chance to see – and feel – the whole range, I was smitten. It was everything I looked for in rowing kit. The fabric is soft, forgiving and unbelievably flattering. Even straight after Christmas. Even with the few extra lbs that are currently sitting on my hips. The colours are fab. And the attention to detail is unmatched. The Bridget has a little frill and gorgeous coloured lining for when you pull it down before and after racing, the all in ones are designed not to ruck up when you are rowing hard (we all know that look, right?) and the leggings have undergone extensive testing (don’t ask) to make sure they don’t show your knickers.

So … drum roll… I have been initiated into the Royal Family. I am going to have the Queen B link and logo on my site – see the side bar on the right – so everyone can share the love, and you’ll see me wearing Queen B stash pretty often. Which for someone who clearly feels so very much at home in a crown, is just as it should be. For anyone worried that I may have sold my soul to the commercial Big Boys, fear not. There’s no money changing hands, and I’m collaborating with a small, hand-picked company purely because I genuinely love their stuff.

Queen B Sammy Sports Bra with Cyrus

With King Cyrus, modelling the exceptionally fabulous Sammy Sports Bra.

Sammy Sports Bra and Daisy Dee leggings. And crown, obviously.

Sammy Sports Bra and Daisy Dee leggings. And crown, obviously.

Sammy Sports Bra and Daisy Dee leggings, with added magnolia.

Sammy Sports Bra and Daisy Dee leggings, with magnolia detail.

 

Laura all-in-one, conveniently in Monmouth navy-and-claret.

Laura all-in-one, conveniently in Monmouth navy-and-claret.

You may call me Ma'am.

You may call me Ma’am.

If you love the look of all of this, check out the Queen B website. They’ll be at Nat Schools at the end of the month, by the way, and if you can get a few people at your club interested, have a chat with them as they will always discuss a club deal. And, for that matter, club kit. What are you waiting for?

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Coxmate

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge gadget-lover. I’ve never been the one to go for the latest bit of tech, and have shown little interest in those digital computer thingies – whatever they are – hanging from the necks of coaches and coxes.

So when along came Rowperfect said I could borrow their new GPS offering – the Coxmate – I was curious but not overly excited to have a go with it. For those fellow Luddites among you who have no idea what this is, it is a mini sports computer, customised for rowing, that uses GPS to give you information such as boat speed, stroke rate, time, distance and distance per stroke. It’s the size of a small-but-chunky mobile phone.

If used in conjunction with certain chest straps it displays your heart rate, too, though my elderly analogue Polar was not supported by it. You can buy a compatible chest strap for an additional £42. Importantly, it connects with software that gives you read-outs of all the information you’ve collected during the outing. It fits a standard stroke coach mount and you can put it on a suction mount and attach it anywhere in the boat.

So, how was it? Well, I  was surprised to find how easy the touchscreen was to use. It was clear, with nicely designed icons, and was super-easy to navigate. Once on the water, I found it easy to read as the screen is, helpfully, extremely bright, so even a quick glance is enough. I did encounter some difficulties resetting it during the outings, which involved tapping the screen several times – this didn’t always seem to work for me, but as I am a technical dullard this was, I’m quite sure, entirely my fault. I also had a few teething problems connecting it to my computer afterwards, but Rowperfect were very helpful.

The more I used it, the more I found I was hungry for the information. We are, of course, just heading into regatta season and rowing in different line-ups, so I found it really interesting to know how fast we were going and what our coverage actually was. Puddles, let’s face it, whilst less prosaic, are not wholly reliable as an indicator of speed. I can see that if you were in a more organised training regime than I am, it could provide invaluable feedback on what (and who) worked in the boat, plus the tools to analyse it afterwards.

It’s worth saying that – in my experience at least – the information isn’t 100% perfect. There seemed to be occasional fluctuations in some of the distance-per-stroke readings that didn’t entirely make sense. Again, that could be me misreading the information, and unless you’re all about the 1/100 seconds, I suspect it doesn’t make that much difference.

And what about the cost? Well, it’s £229.99, going down to just over £200/unit if you club together with other people and buy five. Although considerably cheaper than the Speedcoach GPS model, for a distinctly average club rower like me it’s still a bit steep. For anyone serious about their rowing who is eager for facts – or if you happen to have a handy £200 going free – it’s definitely worth saving up for.

The Coxmate is available from Rowperfect.

Coxmate GPS three-1

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Every now and then something happens that shakes a club to its foundations. So it was last year, when Colin, one of our most stalwart members, was diagnosed with cancer. He will hate me making this all about him (sorry, Colin), which in itself tells you all you need to know about him. He – and his whole family, for that matter – are the ones who are always there, putting in the hours on the erg and on the water, sweeping the steps to get the silt off, wielding the brushes when the gym and toilets have flooded (again), organising all kinds of stuff behind the scenes. It was unthinkable that anything bad could happen to any of them.

Colin at Llandaff, not letting the diagnosis stop him from racing - or lugging blades around.

A very wet Colin at Llandaff, not letting the diagnosis – or the rain – stop him from racing

It was equally unthinkable that he would let the illness get the better of him. So as soon as he had got a very welcome all-clear, following various rounds of treatments, he was back at the club and doing ergs that put the rest of us to shame.

And now he, and a frankly unhinged group of other rowers (including his daughter), are about to embark on a challenge to raise money for the Velindre Cancer Centre, where he received treatment. They are off this weekend to race 90 km through some of the loveliest bits of Holland in the Heart of Holland race.

Tulips

Even the sight of these won’t make it easy.

If you read that quickly, I urge you to go back and read it again. 90km. That’s 55 miles. Or 18 x 5k sessions. Or 9 x tortuous 10 k sessions. In one go. Think of the blisters. And the rest.

For one of the rowers, it’s a mere hop. The whole crazy endeavour was prompted by an old friend of our club, the pint-sized and frankly astonishing Helena Smalman-Smith, who rowed the Atlantic five years ago (I wrote about her here). Every year or so she rounds up some old pals and – with persuasive powers they struggle to resist – talks them into doing a rowing challenge.

What Helena failed to disclose in her original invitation to the gang (mentioning it only once everyone was on board) was that not only is it a heck of a long way, it involves some fearsomely difficult navigation. Wrong turnings are a distinct possibility. And as the crew are taking it in turns to cox, they’re all under the same navigational pressure. Not to mention the fact that some of them (including Colin) have had to learn to scull in order to compete.

Waterway

Don’t be fooled – it’s not all this straight…

So why did they all get talked into it? I asked a few of them. Here’s what Eric, who is rowing alongside his wife, Lisa, had to say:

“It was easy to agree when Helena asked us to join her for the Hart van Holland because she is a master of organisation and logistics. I have done other long distance rows at her suggestion – round Lake Geneva and in Finland last year in Church boats. Helena also coxed the MRC ladies 8+ at Boston a few years ago so Lisa felt she should repay the favour and has not actually rowed with Helena before which was also an appeal.

 “The fact that Colin wanted to scull and raise money for Velindre (the clubs charity this year) following his recent treatment there made it more compelling.”

Then there’s John, who only stepped up two weeks ago when another member of the team had to back out because of an injury.

“Our Chairman James has such a lovely persuasive manner. He assured me that I would spend a fair proportion of the time coxing, which would give ample time to feast from the picnic hamper, tend one’s blisters and admire the tulips and windmills in the spring sunshine, while occasionally urging on the crew of sweating 50 year olds to greater efforts.

“Then I saw the course map: waterways like roads branching all over the place, signposts, if any, in double Dutch, right angle bends, bridges so low the crew has to lie flat, big locks, a dyke so narrow that paddles are needed, crossing the Rhine twice. Too late, I’ve agreed to do it. What a privilege anyway for a lightweight ancient mariner to be able to row with such superb MRC oarsmen.

“I don’t enjoy fundraising, but most of us know friends or relatives who have been affected by cancer, and as an ex medic I know how wonderful it is for a hospital to receive charitable donations. This row will be a huge challenge for all of us, and to raise some money for Velindre cancer hospital will make it even more worthwhile.”

Most importantly of all, here’s what Colin himself said:

“In the summer of 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer. I raced at Llandaff knowing the diagnosis but not the prognosis, effectively I thought that was it for my rowing. The prognosis was as good as it could have been, the prescription – chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I was spared the need for surgery.

“I attended Velindre as an inpatient for a couple of weeks for the chemotherapy, then for six weeks as a day patient undergoing radiotherapy. Treatment was completed on 6th November 2015.

“My time at Velindre was no picnic, but all of the staff – cleaners, food servers, doctors and nurses – treated me with dignity, empathy, and humour. I have the greatest admiration for the staff and their dedication.

“Since the treatment finished I have been challenged by the side effects, but with the help and support of my family and friends (particularly those at MRC) I have made great progress.

“The message I received loud and clear was that I should not let cancer dictate my life, so back to rowing. It is clear Velindre needs money, I needed a new challenge to put my two fingers up to cancer, and the two come together with Utrecht. Big challenge, learn to scull, get some fitness, put some weight back on, and raise money for Velindre. Work in progress on all fronts!”

I dare say all of this has given you pause for thought. Perhaps, like me, you’ve discovered something in your eye. So instead of wiping it away and moving on, I urge you to make a donation, however modest, to help the guys put two fingers up to cancer. It’s a brilliant cause, and the money is being raised by some brilliant people. Go on, just do it – just click here.

Just do it.

Just do it.

 

 

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There’s a lot of nonsense talked about rowing. Of all the foolishness I’ve heard over the years, two dumb ideas stand out. One is that women’s rowing is less exciting to watch than men’s. The other is that although a cox can lose a race for a crew, they can’t win it. Both were disproved in dramatic fashion at this weekend’s nail-biting, watch-through-the-fingers women’s boat race.

Both crews looking good before Hammersmith Bridge. Pic by Ian Howell.

Both crews looking good before Hammersmith Bridge. Pic by Ian Howell.

Although I am essentially dark blue, I had a foot in both camps this time as I knew someone in each boat. The most-talked-about woman of the day was, of course, Oxford coxswain Morgan Baynham-Williams. Morgan is originally from Ross Rowing Club, our neighbours on the Wye where I spent my first rowing season. Back then, Morgan was a very small girl with a very loud voice – excellent attributes for coxing. In fact, not much has changed, except that she has grown up, made her mark on the coxing world and ended up at Oxford.

Oxford digging in, with MBW coxing like a boss. Pic by Ian Howell.

Oxford digging in, with MBW coxing like a boss. Pic by Ian Howell.

In the light blue boat, I was excited to spot a familiar name in the four seat – Théa (pronounced Tay-ah) Zabell. I knew her when she was a five-year-old tomboy in camouflage trousers, in the same class as one of my sons. Perhaps there was a small glimpse into her sporting future when the two of them spent an afternoon flooding our patio and making things float on it just, you know, to celebrate the end of term. Anyway, she was a very cool kid then and appears to be equally cool now. I was willing her to do well.

The Tideway spoiling for a fight. The crews fight back. Pic by Ian Howell.

The Tideway spoiling for a fight. The crews fight back. Pic by Ian Howell.

So back to the idea that a cox can only lose a race for a crew. Initially the commentary was critical of Morgan for an early decision, but how the tables turned when the Tideway turned nasty and in a bold move Morgan steered hard towards the bank to catch the calmer water. It meant – and this is where the risk came in – leaving the stream, which is the fast bit of water in the middle of the river. A cox will only take her crew out of the stream in exceptional circumstances, but Morgan reckoned it was worth the risk, and everyone is pretty much agreed that it won Oxford the race. Sheltered from the wind and the waves, they were able to get down to the business of rowing as hard as they could, and as the gap between the crews grew, her decision became unarguable.

Morgan's incredibly bold line, keeping Oxford out of the choppy water. Pic by Ian Howell.

Morgan’s incredibly bold line, keeping Oxford out of the choppy water. Pic by Ian Howell.

Meanwhile, the Cambridge boat was taking on water faster than the on-board pumps could shift it. Some alarming footage showed them becoming engulfed by the river and they were directed to pull over to the bank. But in an equally bold decision their cox chose to keep going and as they finished the race, to huge cheers from the crowd, it was apparent that her decision was the right one.

Cambridge taking on water. Pic by Ian Howell.

Cambridge taking on water. Pic by Ian Howell.

In their own way Cambridge had won, too. They had fought the Thames and defeated it. Thanks to their cox’s decision to keep going, and her well-founded belief that she had a crew tough enough to battle on to the end, not only had they overcome the river, they had proved to anyone still harbouring doubts about allowing women on to the Tideway that women have the sheer strength, courage and mettle to be there.

So massive respect and congratulations to both crews and especially to the two courageous coxes. You did women’s rowing proud.

Oh, and Théa, you’re welcome to come and flood our patio any time.

 

 

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Failing to be cool at the Tideway...

Failing to be cool at the Tideway…

There are certain times in a girl’s life when she really, really wants to be cool. Parking. Clubbing. And, as it happens, racing on the Tideway.

Sadly, I am incapable of being anything other than tragic on any of these occasions. Especially on the Tideway – as I proved in no uncertain terms this weekend at the Vets’ Head.

By the time we arrived, a toxic combination of nerves and excitement at being back in the Smoke had me in a state of near-hysteria (manifested, mostly, in uncontrollable giggles at the slightest provocation). If that weren’t enough to bring out my inner loser, finding that we were sharing our borrowed clubhouse with the Oxford University Boat Club was the final nail in my coffin of cool. I was a simpering, fan-girling wreck. One look at the ranks of dark blue wellies by the door and I was having palpitations.

It’ll be fine once we’ve got hands on the boat, I assured myself. Alas, no. Hours (or so it felt) of queueing on the bank with a heavy old Janousek biting into my shoulders and hands and making my spine concertina (I have bruises to show for it)  left me red-faced, sweating and puffing before we’d even got out on the water. Ah, the pitying looks of the men of the Tideway clubs as they effortlessly slung their featherweight Empachers on their shoulders before strolling a couple of yards from club to water.

So flustered was I by the time we reached the water’s edge that I was even too shy to introduce myself to one of my coxing heroes, the equally pint-sized Zoe de Toledo, who was standing right next to me as we boated (in a rather fabulous Queen B hat – heck, I even had a talking point). To be fair, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to distract an elite cox as she directed a VIP boat on to the water, but still.

Still trying to be cool...

Still trying to be cool…

Anyway, we were there to race, not to pose, and at least on the water we put in a workmanlike performance. No crabs, no disasters. But for all our efforts, our rather cobbled-together crew could not be described, even by the most generous spectator, as fast. As crew after crew overtook us, we knew our time wouldn’t be great. Let’s just say the row was described as “gutsy” in the post-race report. Which, as we all know, is code for “last in the category”.

So when the results came in, as we hurtled back up the M4, and as the post-race Prosecco wore off, I’ll confess I started to feel a bit disheartened. Until, that is, we got to the service station. Suddenly thrust back into the real world, amongst people whose biggest achievement that day was getting to the front of the queue in Burger King, it dawned on me what I’d achieved. So we weren’t the most composed. Or the neatest. Or the fastest. But we’d spent the afternoon racing from Mortlake to Putney. Which, importantly, is Putney to Mortlake in reverse.

I might not have won on the water, but even an uncool, starstruck, emotional fool like me could say, as our cox brilliantly put it, that I was winning at life. And damn straight, that’s cool.

Post race

Slightly more cool…

 

 

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Over 55 kg

It’s OK to be over 55 kg

We’ve all been guilty of this, to some degree or another. Perhaps you haven’t actually pinned your cox to the wall and told them they need to lose weight, or wrestled a Snickers out of their hand. But I’ll bet you’ve joked with your cox at lunch time on race day, “Hope you’re not eating ALL OF THAT SANDWICH”. Or, “You won’t be having any cake until after we’ve raced, will you?” Or maybe you’re a school coach who has watched your tiny prize cox suddenly developing hips (as girls do) or pre-pubescent chunkiness (as boys do) and gently suggested they might go easy on the Big Macs.

So listen up, because this is important (and I urge you to read this post all the way to the end, because it really is very, very important). I’m here to tell you that, however lighthearted or well-intentioned your joshing might be, however much you think your cox can take the joke, however tactful you imagine your words, it is NOT OK – it is NEVER OK – to suggest, even in jest, even out of concern, that your coxswain should lose weight. Unless you’re the GB official coach or dietitian. And even then, only with care.

But really, what’s the big deal? Why can’t you ask your cox to keep their weight down or lose a few lbs? Isn’t being light part of the job description? Isn’t that why coxes have to be weighed for regattas?

Well, in a word, no. Here are five very good reasons why you should never ask your cox to lose weight. Again, I urge you to read them all, to the end.

1. Your cox has officially and deliberately been given the right to eat by British Rowing, which understands how important this issue is. They have even enshrined it in British Rowing’s Cox’s Charter:

Cox's charter

2. The coxes’ weights prescribed by FISA (55kg for men’s crews and 50 kg for women’s and mixed crews) are MINIMUM weights, not maximum ones. They are designed to safeguard coxes against the pressure to lose weight. These weights are NOT, repeat NOT, aspirational weights for your coxswain.

To put it into context, I’m 5’3″ and generally regarded as pretty slight (some would say tiny). When I had my body composition tested last year in a super-accurate (and frankly terrifying) contraption called a BodPod, my body fat percentage was a mere 18.2% which put me just on the border of the ultra-lean category. On a light day I’m 53kg. If I tried to get down to 50kg to cox a women’s race I would be underweight to a very unhealthy degree. Now imagine someone several inches taller than me trying to do the same. Exactly.

Having my body composition tested - this is what 53 kg looks like

Having my body composition tested – this is what 53 kg looks like

3.  The weight of your cox only has a marginal effect on the performance of your boat. Coxswain extraordinaire, Zoe de Toledo, who coxes the GB women, has a brilliant analysis of the issue on her blog, here. Amongst other things, she points out that only in an elite boat are a few kgs here and there going to make a difference. “Unless you are in a world class boat, and you are winning or losing races by only a seat or two, and your athletes are not carrying any extra weight on them, or even have their water bottles or some extra kit in the boat….then a few kilos is going to make very little difference to your performance”, she says.

4.  A starving cox is not a safe or effective cox. You need all your wits about you when you’re coxing, and the last thing you need is to have your head swimming, your brain fuzzy and your mind fixated on food. It will cost far more than a precious half-second or two if you make a serious coxing error.

5. Most importantly of all, asking someone to lose weight – especially a growing teenager – can be downright dangerous. In case you don’t know much about eating disorders, let me give you a very quick crash course:

(a) An eating disorder is a brain disorder, and until you develop one, nobody (including you) knows if you have the genetic predisposition that is now thought to be responsible for one person developing one and not another.

(b) If you do happen to be genetically predisposed, losing even a relatively small amount of weight could trigger it. You can develop an eating disorder without looking particularly underweight or having a particularly low BMI.

(c) You can develop an eating disorder – even anorexia – without, in the case of a woman, losing your periods.

(d) You can develop an eating disorder without having any major psychological traumas or problems and even without intending to develop one.

(e) You can develop an eating disorder if you are male. About one in 11 cases are boys or men.

Even if you don’t trigger an eating disorder, putting pressure on someone sensitive about their appearance to lose weight can make them self-conscious, unhappy and unnecessarily anxious about their weight and appearance.

So I’ll say it again. Do not, ever, EVER put pressure on your cox to lose weight. Especially if your cox is a junior. It won’t make much difference to your boat speed, it won’t help their coxing, it breaches their rights, and could be catastrophic.

And if you’re a cox and somebody asks you to lose weight, I suggest you take your cue from a coxing pal of mine. When one rower suggested she lose weight, she told him that his ego weighed more than her extra 2kg.

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Blue Heron side view

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a bit of a rowing kit geek. I have strong views on what is OK and what is not when it comes to river attire, and will be the first to admit that I’m picky. So when Blue Heron – the new kid on the kit block – launched last year I was keen to find out if they would have something new to offer.

Happily I had a chance to find out for myself when Blue Heron kindly sent me one of their rowing suits – an all-in-one (or unisuit) to the likes of you or me – to try. And such is my commitment to all of you that not only did I try it out, I was even prepared to pose outside in it, on a freezing day. You can probably see the pain in my eyes (though that’s partly the after-effects of an erg test the night before).

So, what did I think? The Women’s Henley is an unashamedly high performance piece of kit. Light as a feather, with a mesh panel at the back, it is designed for people who work hard on the water and on the erg and is a really classy bit of sportswear.

Blue Heron back view cropped

Super-comfortable, I found nothing to chafe or irritate, and the detailing is superb. There’s a cute little zip at the front and – brilliantly – a rear pocket with a separate, zipped mini-pocket so you can keep your rings or keys safe and carry your water bottle. There’s a reflective stripe on the back and it has a water-repellent finish. The price tag reflects the quality – this all-in-one retails at an eye-watering £95, but if you have the budget for a luxury item it is a lovely piece of apparel.

It’s worth noting that it is not the most forgiving garment. Although there’s some flattering contouring, with grey side panels that make your waist look a little narrower, the combination of a dropped waist and white front panel means that it’s not one to wear on a fat day or straight after Christmas, and it might not be for you if you’re carrying too much spare. But this is aimed at the high performance market, where I’m guessing most people don’t have to worry about that kind of thing.

Blue Heron front view

If you’re going to wear this it’s probably also a good idea to get hold of a nice, white sports bra. My black one meant I couldn’t quite do it justice, but don’t let that put you off.

The Women’s Henley is available from Blue Heron for £95 and comes in seven sizes, with three different height options. They make specific suits for both men and women and amply cater for tall people (real rowers) as well as midgets like me. Check out the Shorty, which has short sleeves, and the long-legged Winter, both of which have a touch of merino wool for warmth and breathability. Definitely worth a browse.

With thanks to Blue Heron.

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