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Yup, that's pretty much me...

Yup, that’s pretty much me…

As we head towards the highlight of our rowing year, the British Masters Champs (better known as Nat Vets), I have found myself in a regular crew. Which is great – really, really great – except for one thing. I am, without doubt, the weakling of the crew. I’m not even allowing myself to think about the difference in our erg scores. Suffice to say that there’s probably a good 20 seconds’ difference in our splits. Sigh.

Now I’m sure I can’t be alone in this predicament, so here are my tips for what to do if you find yourself the weedy one in a crew of Amazons.

1. Stick to the plan

Use them. They work.

Use them. They work.

If you have a training plan, keep to it. You won’t turn yourself into the Incredible Hulk overnight, but the least you can do is to let your crew see you’re  working on your strength and fitness. I’ve been hitting the gym and yeah, everything hurts, but I figure it gives me the best chance of pulling my (frustratingly light) weight.

2. Work on your technique

It’s not rocket science. If you can row smoothly and keep a good length and rhythm, you have something worthwhile to add to a crew. So you might not have great power in the water, but you can make up for it on the slide. Ask for criticism (I know it hurts to be told – I’m as needy for praise as the next person) but you will only get better if you know where your weaknesses lie. When you’re in the boat, focus, listen and keep it neat.

3. Be nice to people


That pretty much sums it up

That pretty much sums it up

If you’re nice to people, they’ll like rowing with you even if you’re not the strongest. So a bad outing can be demoralising and we all have our good and bad days, but try to stay positive. Don’t whine, moan, bitch or criticise and even if you don’t have a naturally sunny disposition, make an effort to be cheerful.

4. Bring cake

Everybody loves cake...

Everybody loves cake…

This is last resort territory and I confess I haven’t had to rely on it … yet… but most rowers can be won over by cake.

5. Relax



Chill. Seriously, it’s just rowing. Somebody had enough faith in you to put you in a crew, so just go with it. What’s the worst that could happen? Actually, don’t answer that. Just relax.

So… all I have to do now is follow my own advice. Wish me luck.


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Chocolate beetroot brownies, hand-made by Girl on the River

Chocolate beetroot brownies, hand-made by Girl on the River

I can’t deny I make sacrifices for my readers. I like to go the extra mile. Which is why, in a supremely self-sacrificial gesture, I have forced myself to make and eat a batch of chocolate brownies, just so you didn’t have to. I know, I know, it’s crazy, but that’s the kind of girl I am.

Now, our Monmouth women’s squad takes race day seriously. We have email threads running to many hundreds of emails on the subject of what to wear both on and off the water and when travelling (I’m actually not exaggerating here). But far more detailed are our food plans. These are planned in meticulous detail. Race day food matters, after all. Get it right and you feel like you’ve got wind in your sails. Get it wrong and you’ll feel like you’ve got wind somewhere else altogether.

So… back to the brownies. These ones are extra-special because they’ve got beetroot in them, and if that makes you feel queasy, hear me out. You can’t actually taste the beetroot in them and there is method in my madness.

There is this much beetroot in one batch of 16 brownies.

There is this much beetroot in one batch of 16 brownies.

Beetroots are just the business. They contain potassium, magnesium, iron and folic acid as well as vitamins A, B6 and C (besides carbs, protein and antioxidants). If that’s not enough, they might even improve your performance – research from the University of Exeter suggests that beetroot juice improves endurance, helping you exercise for up to 16% longer. The reason is thought to be the nitrates in beetroot; the researchers think it affects oxygen uptake in the body.

There’s another good reason to include beetroot in your brownie. The beetroot replaces a lot of the fat – the usual amount in a recipe like this would be 250g rather than 100g – so they are much lower in fat than your average brownie. As the body diverts energy and blood to processing fats, you don’t want to load up on fats before you race (seriously, step away from the burger van).

In the interests of testing them out (I told you I was a martyr to my readers) I even tried one of them out a few hours before a particularly nasty sprint session and can confirm that it was pure rocket fuel. My husband, who is equally altruistic, had one-and-a-half of the beauties at lunchtime and put in a PB on a run later in the afternoon.

Rocket fuel

Still good close up

Aside from the beetroot, it’s a pretty traditional recipe and the result is a brownie with just enough goo without being sickly. And yes, that is cayenne pepper. It’s optional, but it gives it a nice little kick.

The rest of the ingredients

The rest of the ingredients

So, enough already. Here’s the recipe. Oh, and if you read to the end, there’s even a picture of what my kitchen really looks like. Hey, you didn’t think I was that tidy and stylish all the time? I spend my spare time rowing, not cleaning.

Chocolate beetroot brownies

Note: this is an amalgamation of various recipes. You can play around with it, to taste.


  • 150g plain flour
  • 250g cooked beetroot, drained (you can roast your own, raw beetroot if you’re feeling keen. I bought mine ready-cooked from Lidl)
  • 250g dark chocolate (preferably min. 70% cocoa solids)
  • 250g light brown sugar (if you want to use ordinary caster sugar, knock yourself out. It’s really fine)
  • 100g butter, plus extra for greasing the tin (I told you it wasn’t much)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Up to 1 tsp cayenne pepper (I used slightly less)


  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees (180 if it’s a fan oven). Grease and line a baking tin. Mine was about 23cm x 26cm – a bit smaller would be fine. I wouldn’t go any bigger.
  2. Puree the beetroot in a food processor until it’s smooth. This takes a a little while – be patient or you’ll end up with tiny chunks of beetroot in your brownie. Even I wouldn’t like that.
  3. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. You can do this in the microwave too, apparently, but I haven’t tried it.
  4. Add chocolate mixture to the beetroot and pulse a few times. Crack in the eggs, pulse again, and add the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and cayenne pepper. Whizz until thoroughly mixed.
  5. Pour into the baking tin and put in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, but check from 20-25. You want it to be set on top, but if you like it nice and squidgy you don’t want to overdo it. If you stick in a skewer you want it to come out clean-ish.
  6. Allow to cool completely in the tin.
  7. When it’s cold, cut into 16 pieces. Do not eat all at once.

And finally, as promised… so you don’t imagine I’ve really gone all food-blogger on you…

OK, I'm quite ashamed #fitspofail

OK, I’m quite ashamed.

Tweet me with other ideas for race day baking. As I say, I’ll even eat cake for you.


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Just another day in the office.

Just another day in the office.

For the last week I’ve been making everyone hate me with photos of my rowing trip to Bellagio, and I couldn’t blame you for being green with envy. I won’t be blogging about this trip as I’m writing it up for everyone’s favourite magazine, Rowing & Regatta, so don’t forget to look out for my article later in the summer. There will also – eventually – be GoPro footage to drool over once I’ve got around to editing it (OK, when my son has finished his GCSEs and can edit it for me…) and I promise to let you know about that when it’s done. Continue Reading »

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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 – Continue Reading »

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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. Continue Reading »

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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. Continue Reading »

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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. Continue Reading »

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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) Continue Reading »

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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. Continue Reading »

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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. Continue Reading »

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