Sometimes you only know if you’re going to be able to do something by trying it. So it was this weekend, when I rowed in my first ever marathon.
With my dodgy medical history, I was fully aware that the Great Ouse Marathon – 21.5 km upstream – was going to push me to my limits. When I did the 15km Head of the Dart earlier in the year I felt I was right on the edge of what my body was prepared to take. But hey. The Ouse was there asking to be raced, and I have a habit of accepting challenges against my better judgment. And in case this challenge wasn’t quite enough, I swapped sides a few weeks ago, just, you know, to make it more fun.
As the day approached I honestly didn’t know how it was going to play out. I didn’t say much to anyone about my fears, but in my quieter moments I had serious, lingering doubts about my stamina – not for want of training, but because it was by far the furthest I’d ever raced. I genuinely didn’t know if I was simply asking too much of my unpredictable body. It’s not that I feared I wouldn’t keep rowing to the end – once you’ve started, that’s it, you’re in until the finish. But I didn’t know what would happen when I asked my body to keep going properly, powerfully, meaningfully, right to the end, enough to justify my place in the boat. Enough to do justice to the other seven strong, sassy women in my crew. I had to find it in me, somewhere, to believe that I could.
Help came, bizarrely, in the form of a set of temporary tattoos which my partner at the pointy end had brought for the crew. With a tattoo proclaiming “STRENGTH” on one arm and “I CAN AND I WILL” on the other, I instantly felt that little bit more powerful. Another saying “WILD AND FREE” dealt with my tendency to stress and hunch.
And then, brilliantly, I found a tattoo with a shiny golden tiara on it. As an official Queen B, it seemed made just for me. And it reminded me of the Queen B Athletics slogan, “No Place for a Princess” – the perfect mantram for a tough race.
Weirdly, it worked. As we raced I could see the golden crown glinting in the sunshine, out of the corner of my eye, and it somehow gave me that little bit of va-va-voom. Our brilliant cox remembered everyone’s slogans and quoted them back to us mid-race. I’m a simple creature, it seems, and it was just the motivation I needed. Yes, it was tough. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it took courage to do the final push when we took it up and went all out for the record. But I did it. I pushed with every ounce of my might, right to the last stroke, without hesitation and, most importantly, without any doubts that I could.
And we didn’t just finish. Our WD8+ crew beat the record for our category by a satisfying three minutes (not bad in windy conditions), only missed the C record by seven seconds, and was the fastest women’s eight of the day, beating a WB8+ and three WIM38+s.
There’s no denying it took it out of me. Three days later I’m still aching, my hands are in shreds and I’m still yawning for Britain. But for someone who, eight years ago, couldn’t walk more than two miles without having to lie down, a milestone like this is worth a few aches and pains.
So what now? Well, I’m already thinking about the next endurance event. And trying to persuade Queen B Athletics to bring out some official Queen B tattoos. After all, this is no place for a princess.