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My regatta career has involved huge highs and lows. There have been disasters. Tears. Joy. Pain. Cake. Beer. And occasionally a pot to drink the beer from. Through all the agony and the ecstasy I’ve had plenty of time to think about what makes the perfect regatta. Winning obviously helps, though it’s not essential, but I’ve come to the conclusion that certain elements are.

Monmouth's Coffin Dodgers crossing the line at Stourport BC - photograph by Ben Rodford

Monmouth’s Coffin Dodgers crossing the line at Stourport BC – photograph by Ben Rodford

I have to say that Stourport regatta, where I coxed our Old Men (affectionately known as the Coffin Dodgers – their phrase, not mine) to victory in the Mas.G8+ this weekend, came pretty close to nailing it. With its jolly village fête atmosphere and super-friendly club members, it was one of the nicest days out I’ve had in a long time.

Victory aside, here’s my recipe for hosting the perfect regatta.

1. Perfect weather

You need good contacts here, but they are worth cultivating. Perfect weather, for the record, involves sunshine and warmth, but not blazing heat. Rain is a no-no. Wind is worse.

Sunshine good, rain bad, wind worse.

Sunshine good, rain bad, wind worse.

2. Flexible events

We all want to get more than one race in, especially if we’re travelling any distance to the regatta, and most clubs don’t have too many people prepared to cox. A good regatta will acknowledge this. Of course nobody likes to wait whilst their oppo gets off the water from another race, but if you impose too many rules about doubling up and get too pernickety about bringing events forward or back, clubs will just choose a different regatta.

One of the tools Monmouth used to stay on track.

One of the tools Monmouth used to stay on track.

3. Tight time-keeping

Ah, the flip side of flexibility. As I say, this is a tricky one to get right. You want things to run like clockwork, but shit happens. People capsize. There are re-rows. Someone doubles up unexpectedly. And at some regattas everything has to stop for canoeists or pleasure boats. But if you can keep things ticking along nicely without being too fierce about it, it really does keep everyone happy.

Can’t be done? Well, without wanting to be too smug about it, at Monmouth this year we stayed bang on schedule and even finished a little ahead of time. It took a lot of man-power, and quite a few shouty announcements calling people to boat check, but somehow it worked.

Admirably calm people helping with boats on and off.

Admirably calm people helping with boats on and off.

4. Friendly people

Wow, this makes a difference. I was blown away by how nice everyone was at Stourport, from registration and weigh-in right through to the prize-giving. The marshalls were easy-going, I was given fabulous advice on steering a good line from two separate club members (who were too sporting to ask if Stourport were our oppo – though thankfully they weren’t), and everyone managed to keep a smile on their faces. I was nervous about this event – it was only the second regatta I’d ever coxed, and as the first one was at Holmepierrepont this presented very different demands, but at no time did anyone make me flustered. I’ll be back.

I love this pic! Fabulous photos by Ben Rodford.

I love this pic! Fabulous photos by Ben Rodford.

5. Great photographer

So if you crash into the bank or catch a crab you probably don’t want it caught on camera, but it’s always lovely to have a memento of a strong race, and a good photographer is worth his or her weight in gold. Ben Rodford, who took the pics at Stourport, is one of those rare photographers who remembers that coxes are part of the crew, too.

Another awesome coxing pic from Ben Rodford.

Another awesome coxing pic from Ben Rodford.

You don’t, incidentally, necessarily need a professional rowing photographer, though it’s your best guarantee that people will get the images they want. At Monmouth we have a talented amateur in the club who takes thousands of great pics and posts them on our Facebook page, so you can download them without charge – especially popular amongst the cash-strapped juniors.

Paul and Mary would approve.

Paul and Mary would approve.

6. Tempting food

Food matters. A lot. Yet I’ve been to regattas where the food has let the side down badly. Stale cake, limp sandwiches, stray hairs (and no, I’ll not name and shame on that one… *shudder*). So here’s how you do it.

Breakfast has to include bacon butties, or the umpires will go on strike and the campers might actually cry. A barbecue is nice for when racing is finished. Cake is essential. Sandwiches are important.

Stourport, notably, had cakes that would have been worthy of the Bake-Off tent – well done the Stourport star bakers.

7. Well-stocked bar

Need I say more?

Stourport BC pot

8. Shelf-worthy prizes

It’s hard to beat a nice pot. I’ve yet to win a pewter tankard so that’s currently top of my rowing bucket list, but a good china one is welcome, too. If you’re going down the medal route, make sure they’re chunky, and do consider still having pots for novices. Your first win is special – I should know – and you want something for the shelf. If you’re going for a novelty prize instead, I’ve heard hip flasks go down well.

Thanks to Stourport BC for this lovely presentation pic of our MasG 8+ aka the Coffin Dodgers

Thanks to Stourport BC for this lovely presentation pic of our MasG 8+ aka the Coffin Dodgers

9. Swanky prize-giving

Winning is still enough of a novelty to me that I get pretty excited by the idea of a presentation (though it’s handy to be able to pick up your prize early if you need to head off home). OK, so not everyone can do what we did at Monmouth this year and lay on an Olympic star coach like Robin Williams to give out the medals, but Stourport had the mayor, complete with stage gear, which was a nice photo opportunity.

Olympic coach Robin Williams presenting medals to two Monmouth winners

Olympic coach Robin Williams presenting medals to two Monmouth winners

10. Shopportunities

If you have room for a whole shopping village, so much the better – it brings in a bit of cash for the club when you charge for the pitch and keeps everyone occupied in the lull between races. I love post-race shopping probably just a bit too much (celebratory if it went well, retail therapy if it didn’t) and have quite a collection of ill-advised purchases from regattas, but that’s part of the fun.

EVERY regatta should have one of these.

EVERY regatta should have one of these.

11. Brass band

Until Stourport I’d never thought about this one, but wow, what a great idea. It gave the whole thing such a cheery atmosphere and had little kids dancing along.

So that’s it – a complete guide to the perfect regatta. And to maintain the party vibe, I’ll let Stourport brass play you out:

 

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This isn’t the first time Bridget has made an appearance at Girl on the River. I first introduced you to her last year when I came up with a list of Christmas gifts for women rowers. At that point I hadn’t met Bridget in person – she was just a cute all-in-one I’d spotted online and thought looked like my kind of thing. She had me at cross-over back, in fact.

But then… the marvellous Brid herself, of Queen B Athletics, kindly sent me my very own Bridget.

Queen B all in one

Oh my. This is a classy bit of kit. If only every all-in-one were this good. If only this were my club all-in-one.

I’m not sure if you can see it clearly, but it has a frill – an ACTUAL FRILL – up the front. What’s more, it’s made of beautifully smooth and flexible lycra, with an extra layer from the waist down, which is always a good thing in an all-in-one.

Queen B all in one back view

The cross-over straps and pink stripe across the back make it even better (and if you don’t want your sports bra to show, Queen B do a lovely range of cross-over sports bras, so you can look even more fabulous).

I’ll tell you how good it is, in fact. I received compliments from ALL of my shipmates on this. As a squad we never agree on anything. Anything at all. Especially my kit, which usually attracts comments like, “Trash, that’s vile”. But with Bridget… ahhh, everyone was happy.

And now for the surprise, which is when my fellow rowers actually squealed with delight. OK, one of them did. And I did, too. Look what happens when you roll it down, as you will at a regatta…

Queen B all in one rolled down

Squeeeaaaallll!! Pink lining!!!! I know, right?

So yes, this is the best all-in-one, like EVERRRRRR. And yes, you may curtsey.

Bridget all-in-one, in blue and pink, from Queen B Athletics, €72

Note:

1. Queen B is an Irish company so the prices are in euros, but the delivery prices are not outlandish.

2. This all-in-one was a gift, but not with a review in mind. It was only because I loved it so much that you’re reading this.

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When I finally won my first pot and point last summer, there was one thing missing that made it not quite complete. My rowing buddy and partner in crime Susy wasn’t in the boat. After all the near misses, close shaves and disappointments we’d been through in our attempts to lose our novice status, my excitement and delight was always muted by the knowledge that Susy was still an IM3-in-waiting.

Until this month, at Llandaff, when the Monmouth ladies spent two days tearing up the Taff. This time it was my turn not to be there (I was off at a family reunion), but at last Susy won her point in a closely-fought race. So, to my delight, did my opposite number, Mandy, who has consistently turned in uncannily similar erg scores to mine and raced in front of me for my first London head.

Mandy and Susy get their pot

They were actually happier than they look…

 

So far, so thrilling. But then the following day four of our finest novice ladies stormed to victory in the women’s novice four. More swimming and splashing.

Ex-novices

Dunking, in the time-honoured tradition.

 

But here’s the thing. I’m aware there are a few other novice ladies who weren’t in the boat, and who are still waiting for that first win. All I can say is that I know how that feels. It sucks. I’m not going to say, “Your day will come”, because that was my very most hated expression during my own wait. What I will do, though, is cheer you up with the photo of the year, with ex-novice Susy inexplicably emerging, alien-style, from Mandy’s belly. There. Bet you’re laughing now.

I can't even...

I can’t even…

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DCIM100GOPROGOPR2103.

I’ll admit it. I’ve not been around quite as much as usual the last few months, because I’ve been gallivanting rather a lot. All in the name of work, you understand, but gallivanting nonetheless. And one of my latest trips might just tickle your fancy, seeing as it’s on a boat. Not a rowing boat, admittedly – a rather fabulous, sleek, wooden Turkish gulet. But still a boat.

I was a guest on a Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyage – a fitness holiday that took me hopping around the Turkish coast and the Greek islands, with daily yoga, hiking, swimming, bellydancing and rather more laughing than is entirely ladylike. My review of the trip is HERE.

If you’d like a little taster of what it was like, though, here are a few pics that pretty much sum it up. And do read the review. If you like boats and you like keeping fit, you’ll love this trip.

MDFV - Patricia belly dancing

Belly dancing on deck. As you do…

 

Smiley yoga

Early morning yoga. AND we’re smiling. OK, grinning.

 

Patricia on deck

OK, yuh, this one’s just showing off. Sorry about that.

 

MDFV - top of volcano hike

Volcano hike. Hot, hot, hot.

View from my cabin. Yes, another show-off pic.

View from my cabin. Yes, another show-off pic.

Turkish hammam. Dontcha wish your boyfriend was hot like this?

Turkish hammam. Dontcha wish your boyfriend was hot like this?

 

 

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Merrell - Old and new walking boots

It was a sad day when I had to bid farewell to my old hiking boots. They’d seen me through some amazing treks – nothing especially glamorous, you understand – but ones that meant a lot to me, and they’d covered the miles. But the relationship had run its course. They were leaky and creaky and it wasn’t working for me any more. With a heavy heart I had to acknowledge it was all over between us.

So worn were they that I couldn’t even tell what make they were, but I didn’t care. Because just as I’d consigned them to my past, along came Merrell, offering to send me a pair of extremely swanky hikers that captured my heart from the first moment.

Merrell Capra shoes Sporty over Forty

I mean, look at them. This is a goodlooking bit of footwear.

Merrell walking shoes Capra Sporty over Forty

What you can’t tell from the picture is just how light they are. They weigh in at a featherweight 326g, which is less than my Converse All Stars (I know this as I weighed both when I was trying to make weight for Ryanair’s oppressive baggage restrictions).

Merrell Capra hiking shoes by pond

They are wonderfully, awesomely comfortable. I kept “breaking them in” at home, which was just an excuse to wear them all the time, because from the word go they were like old friends. They have a nice bit of “give” in them – perhaps it’s the Vibram soles – and are brilliantly grippy. I tried them out on the slipperiest slope and they held fast.

Merrell capra hiking shoes stepping stones

So yes, it’s love. I haven’t even given the old pair a passing thought. Who, them? It’s all over between us.

Merrell Capra hiking shoes Patricia Carswell stepping stonesMerrell Capra Sport GORE-TEX is available from Merrell here

£125

Merrell - woods

Merrell - Stream

Merrell - leaf

Note: these hikers were a gift from Merrell, but my opinions are always independent and honest.

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DSC_0022Every now and then I am sent a product that causes a bit of a stir in the family. As a journalist and blogger I am sent quite a few parcels to review, and most are greeted only with mild interest. The Monkey Nutrition Primal26 Pro was not one such. Even before I’d unpacked the box, my teenage son was circling with a gleam in his eye. He knows his whey, and had heard about this particular product.

So what’s the big deal? Well, here’s the blurb:

“Primal26 PRO is the upgraded version of the award winning Primal26 and one of the most advanced powders on the world market today. Fortified with a clinically tested, superior digestive enzyme complex, Primal26 PRO increases amino acid concentrations in the blood by up to 55 times, when compared with other fortified powders, allowing for more effective growth and recovery. The ProHydrolase enzyme complex helps to ensure smaller, non-immunogenic protein peptides are formed, reducing inflammation and the potential for gastric discomfort, which are often associated with protein consumption.”

So, in a nutshell, it’s a classy product, it’s easier to digest than a lot of whey powders and is – so it claims – more effective in helping your recovery.

It’s hard to test such a claim (especially as I don’t find other powders a digestive challenge) but I was very interested to find out what it tasted like, especially when I learned it was flavoured with real, organic cocoa rather than a nasty flavouring, and is sweetened with stevia.

I’m pleased to report that on the taste front it earned a huge thumbs up. It tastes of chocolate milkshake, in a thoroughly good way (mmmmmm) and is properly chocolatey (very important to a chocolate-lover like me). The aftertaste is better than with most protein powders, which earns it extra points.

I tried it just as it comes (milkshakey) and also made it into a seriously good shake with banana, peanut butter and even more cocoa powder. Sublime.

DSC_0019

There’s just one problem, though. I have had to find ever more inventive hiding places for it, as every time I get it out of the cupboard I find my son got there first and it’s gone down a bit more. I’m down to the last sprinkling now and may just have to carry it around with me everywhere I go.

Would I buy again? Most definitely, but I shall have to buy a whey-sized safe first.

Monkey Nutrition Primal26 Pro whey protein isolate £29.99 for 434g, currently reduced to £21. It ain’t cheap, but it is good.

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Bend that blade…

Fresh from the British Masters Champs, fondly known as Nat Vets, there’s a little bit of wound-licking going on this morning. Although delighted by the sculling golds picked up by our ladies on the Saturday, there’s no denying that Sunday was bit of a disappointment and I came away empty-handed after a long day’s coxing (a bad back having put paid to my rowing plans).

And yet… the long drive and the rain and the losses were all worth it for this one photo, which captures my final race as we crossed the line. Nobody, I think you’ll agree, could deny that I don’t push my crew to blade-bending lengths. Captions on a postcard, please.

Bendy blade

callusquench

With just two (*gulp*) weeks left until the British Masters Champs, aka Nat Vets, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the river lately. Normally by this stage in proceedings, with outings consisting of sweaty, splashy sprints, my hands are a horrible mess. Blisters, callouses, blisters under callouses, rips, tears and broken nails. It’s not pretty. My only consolation is that since I’m a bowsider, I don’t have to shake hands with my bad hand.

This year, however, everything is different. My left hand sports just a neat little row of small-but-perfectly-formed callouses. No blisters underneath them. No bits hanging off. Beautiful. To a rower, anyway. Perhaps not so great for a hand model.

Left hand

The reason for the change may be partly down to an improvement in my technique – perhaps I’m not gripping quite so hard on the blade handles. But it’s not just that. No. The main reason my hands are in such good nick is because of a brilliant little product – only just launched – that I discovered recently: Callus Quench by Dermalicious.

I had seen pictures on Instagram of the transformation in the hands of weight lifters and wanted to know more, so I contacted the company and they kindly sent me a sample. It was well timed as I received my tube just as I returned from my rowing trip to Bellagio when I’d spent two days sculling. After a winter season only doing sweep oar, and not very much of that, my right hand had the texture of finely-spun silk and the trip took its toll. I had a nasty raw patch in the middle of my palm, just bursting to be treated.

Well, let’s just let the picture do the talking. The top picture is my right hand when I got home, before applying Callus Quench. Below is the same hand 24 hours later.

Hands

Since then I’ve used the stuff religiously. The theory is that rather than encouraging your callouses to dry out, you should tend them like a newborn infant. Dried-out callouses are at risk of cracking, ripping and then bleeding, so instead you hydrate them and keep sanding them down to a tolerable size. And guess what? It actually works. It’s pretty miraculous on dry lips as well and, I’m told, on hard feet, too (but of course I’m too ladylike to have hard feet, so just have to take their word for that).

The key to the product’s success is not magic pixie dust, as I had assumed, but rather the gorgeous ingredients. Just look at the list – it almost sounds edible (don’t eat it, by the way).

  • Beeswax:  Acts as a hardening agent, allowing the lotion stick to be portable in a tube.  It acts as an emollient and a humectant, drawing moisture to the skin and sealing it in.
  • Avocado butter:  Helps to moisturize rough, dry, cracked skin with out skin feeling sticky.
  • Safflower oil: Highly moisturizing and deeply soothing.
  • Castor oil: This heavy viscosity oil has soothing and healing properties, which acts as a medium barrier against harsh conditions and or environments.
  • Emu oil:  Contains fatty acids (omegas) that have incredible healing properties on skin application from cuts, burns, psoriasis, sore muscles, nail fungus, joint pain etc.  But the omega’s big job is to reduce inflammation, therefore reducing pain and discomfort. .
  • Lanolin:  Works great on extremely dry/chapped skin.  Lanolin is a derivative sheeps wool, and it locks existing moisture into the skin and absorbs additional moisture from the air around it. It’s rejuvenating to the dry skin tissue, and skin cracking.  Due to its skin cracking relief, it’s popular among breast feeding mothers.  Unfortunately, some people are allergic to Lanolin.
  • Tamanu oil: Remarkable topical healing agent.  Notable for scarring, stretch marks, cuts, rashes, sores etc.
  • Calendula infused oil:  Gentle, cooling and soothing oil.  A must for an herbal first aid remedy which is infused in organic olive oil.
  • Comfrey infused oil: Used for wound healing and cell proliferation, infused in organic olive oil
  • Plantain infused oil: This oil is a skin lubricant that offers a speedy recovery.  Infused in organic olive oil.
  • Oregano infused oil:  Treats Candida, fungus and skin conditions and significantly improves psoriasis and eczema.
  • St. Johns Wort infused oil: Offers speedy recovery of wounds, stings and mild skin irritations.  Infused in organic olive oil.
  • Yarrow infused oil: Used for wounds, infections and bleeding.  Yarrow has antiseptic action, and works wonders on eczema.
  • Olive oil: This organic, and extra virgin olive oil is used as a carrier oil for all our infusions.
  • Sea Buckthorn oil: This oil is loaded with fatty acids and carotenes and is a concentrated, highly prized oil for damaged skin.
  • Rosemary extract: A natural preservative
  • Essential oils: Peppermint & lavender for their cooling and soothing properties.

Sounds good? You can buy it from Etsy here alongside the COOLEST wristbands (Wonder Woman!!!) and head bands (please, please, please do some Wonder Woman headbands, too!)

Better still, you have the chance to win your own tube of Callus Quench as they have kindly given me 10 tubes to give away!!

All you have to do is follow the Rafflecopter instructions below. I promise I won’t be using this as an email-harvesting exercise – just a way of spreading the love. I’m afraid I can only allow UK entries (sorry!)

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck. And if Dermalicious could just sort out my rotten nails, my life would be complete ♥

I told you last time that I’d been shifting some tin in an attempt to get some muscle on my feeble limbs before regatta season starts in earnest, so it was timely that MyProtein recently sent me a selection of products from their range to try out.

The arrival of the MyProtein box created some excitement as my gym-lovin’ teenage son is a big fan of the brand, which he describes as a reliable, no-frills, good value range. All I knew was that I wanted them to taste decent (I really, really don’t like that protein after-taste that you get with some makes). I was also interested in something portable for the post-rowing and post-gym munchies – I’m prone to get a bit lightheaded after I work out.

I tried a few of the products, and they all did what it said on the tin, but there were two stand-out ones that I would buy again.

1. Protein cookie

Good enough for the cookie monster

Good enough for the cookie monster

I wanted something that you could just chuck in your bag and grab quickly, and – equally importantly – something that felt like “normal” food. This did the job beautifully. The ones I tried were chocolate mint flavour and didn’t taste of protein powder. They were pretty filling (not surprising as they contain 37.5g of protein) and half would probably have done, but they tasted so good I never managed just half. Admittedly my son got to quite a few of them before I did, but I think we’ll take that as a good sign. He is dropping heavy hints to me to buy some more now the box is empty.

£16.99 for a box of 12 from MyProtein.com.

2. L-glutamine

Surprisingly tasty

Surprisingly tasty

Glutamine is an amino acid, in this instance in powder form. I’m aware that opinion is divided on the need to take it as a supplement, but its proponents say it’s worth taking as glutamine levels fall sharply during intense training and take several days to return. Glutamine is necessary for synthesising protein and is thought to help the immune system.

I’m not a professional dietitian so I wouldn’t feel qualified to comment on this, but to a lay ear it sounds like sense to me. With my medical history I get easily run down so anything that can help me along during hard training appeals quite a lot. I’ve been taking the L-glutamine for a little while now and so far so good in terms of energy levels and recovery (OK, everything aches right now, but nobody said it would stop that from happening).

The main thing is that it tastes OK. I was sent the tropical flavour, which I confess I expected to be revolting, but actually it’s quite nice – a bit like a fruit squash. And yes, I’d buy.

£5.99 for 250g (you take 15g/day) from MyProtein.com

Note: the products featured here were sent as a gift by MyProtein but, as always, this is my honest and independent opinion.

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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

What?

What?

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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