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Throughout our Spectacular Summer of Sport, I found myself regularly baffled. It wasn’t the sudden and unexpected ability of GB to win at sporting events (though that was a joy that I hadn’t bargained on), nor even the fact that the country’s transport system didn’t grind to a halt (contrary to the Jeremiahs’ darkest warnings). No, it was something that the athletes, during their obligatory interviews with the press, kept saying.

“I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it”, was the constant refrain.

Enjoy it? Really? Despite the screaming muscles and the burning lungs and the rising tide of nausea as the exertion reaches its peak?

This wasn’t just adrenalin-fuelled, pre-race hype, either. Even after the races were over, the athletes would insist that it had been an absolute pleasure.

“I loved every minute of it”, they would say, grinning broadly as they fought to catch their breath.

Now I know that athletes have to enjoy what they do in order to put up with the hours of hard slog that propels them to the top of their game. But as for actually enjoying the race… this is where I find myself confused. I can honestly say that I’ve never enjoyed a race. I might get a sense of satisfaction once it’s over if I feel I’ve rowed well and pushed myself to my limits, but while it’s going on all I want is for the pain to stop and for the race to be over.

Maybe this is why I’ll never be an athlete. Could enjoyment be the secret ingredient that makes the difference between sporting success and failure? And if so, can I learn to love it? I’d love to know what you think.

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13 Responses to “Racing: does anyone really enjoy it?”

  1. Jools says:

    Methinks that you only enjoy it when you WIN. Lets get out there girl………

  2. Helena says:

    Jools is right – it’ sthe winning that makes it enjoyable.

  3. John Yeatman says:

    Sorry GotR but you have just disqualified yourself as a true rower.
    All true rowers enjoy, nay revel in pain.
    How else do they do 1hr ergs, hill sprints, stupid circuits and mega-rep weights sessions for months on end?
    A mere 1K, 2K or even 20mins head are joy in comparison. Winning a race merely puts the cherry on the icing.

  4. Redsculler says:

    I agree with John,

    we do (did) all that hideous training so that we can race – and though it hurts there is a very particular pleasure about it.

    I miss it!

  5. Ben says:

    I’m one of those rowers who say that and mean it! However, there’s also definitely a period in the race when I hate it! Say 1200 -> 1600m in a 2km? The rest is pure excitement, adrenaline, the joy of letting rip and the desperate last release knowing you don’t have to hold back anything at the end.

    Maybe I’m just an optimist and like to focus on the good bits, but even at the start I’m finding the nerves translating into excitement rather than anything bad.

  6. Tom says:

    Me rower, me like pain, pain good.
    Coach say win make pain go bye bye so me make more pain to make pain go byebye

  7. John Marchment says:

    The girl is right! Having rowed more or less since I was 14, now 60, I can agree that only the first 30 or so strokes of any race are enjoyable and of course the last stroke, as long as you won! I suppose that if after the first 30 strokes you are a length in front it might be OK, but call that a race? Having bike raced as well for the last five years I can vouch that cycling as hard as you can also hurts, but at least in a road race you get a few moments to catch your breath, unlike rowing.

  8. Richard Steed says:

    Well impressed John, my respective ages are 12 and 52, but I don’t race much these days. I’m also a rower doing a lot more cycling, plus a bit of running. I find I decide I enjoyed the racing a few hours afterwards.

  9. carswellp says:

    I’m going to give the final word on the subject to the fabulous Victoria Pendleton. I asked her today at a book event whether she enjoyed racing and she said, no, she didn’t. She loved the training, she loved the bit after the race and she loved winning, but she didn’t enjoy the race itself. I consider myself fully absolved!

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