One of the reasons I was so excited to see the Cambridge University Women’s crew training for Sunday’s Boat Races was the fact that the number three seat is occupied by none other than Irish Olympian, Claire Lambe. Claire represented Ireland in the women’s lightweight double at Rio last year, and made it through to a closely-fought and nail-biting final. She’s also one of the Queen B squad, which makes her extra-special in my eyes. Although sadly I didn’t manage to catch any time with her afterwards, Boat Race sponsor, Hunter, has given me access to an interview with Claire (and provided me with these pretty cool photos), which I’m delighted to share with you.
By the way, in case any of you imagine that the Boat Race rowers are all airheads doing Mickey Mouse courses, you might be interested to know that Claire is a graduate engineer (she studied mechanical engineering at University College, Dublin) and is studying for an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development at Homerton College. Quite.
How much of the training is mental rather than physical?
It is physical. Unfortunately you can’t stay in bed and imagine you are training. But your mental attitude before and during the session can massively impact on how well it goes. There are times when it can be difficult to keep constant motivation and to keep pushing on session after session but when you are in a boat of 8 other people, pulling their weight for you, it’s a lot easier to find that motivation and dig a little deeper.
How important is the team and working together as part of that team?
The team is everything. It is the team that pushes the standard to above what you thought was possible. If one person is pulling down the team it can have a very negative effect on the whole boat. That’s what is so great about Cambridge, everyone is so motivated and knows how to train hard. You wouldn’t do the hard graft if it wasn’t for the great team you have around you!
What keeps you motivated through the long months of training?
Again, the team is what kept me motivated. We take training and racing seriously but we have good banter around it. As much as it is tough going training at 5.45am, a lot of the time it’s fun. We try keep the training upbeat and there’s always good encouragement between the rowers in the boat. I know this experience of getting to row in the boat race is once in a life time. I know when the time comes that I don’t row anymore, I’ll be longing for the days when I felt as fit and strong as I do now and I may even miss the mornings I woke at 5am to go rowing.
What do you love about the sport?
With rowing, you answer questions about yourself every day. You must challenge yourself every session and ask ‘Can I go harder?’ It doesn’t matter what you achieved yesterday, or last week or last year. At that point you, again, must prove you are good enough and that you have more to give. Rowing is all about being greater than the sum of your parts. Each individual brings their own attributes to the team and together you all work towards making the boat go faster than you ever thought it could.
What inspires you?
My team mates. I’ve never met such a hardy bunch of girls in one boat. They do things 99% of the population in Cambridge couldn’t even imagine.
What does being a member of the team mean to you?
Every-day I get to be around likeminded people and we all go through pain and hardship together, this creates friendships that are hard to create outside of sport, particularly rowing. I think I gain so much more from achieving a goal as part of a team rather than as a single. And the celebrations after winning as part of a team are way more fun!
What does winning mean to you?
In the case of the boat race, where it is one versus one, there is no second place. There is only the loser. For this reason winning is everything. This won’t stop me enjoying the process to get to that point. The result won’t change how I look back on the experience of rowing with CUWBC but on the day….winning is everything.
What do you do the day before/the morning of a race?
We will most likely have our pre-row to loosen out, that row always calms the nerves. Between then and racing I’ll just stay chilled with the girls. If I’m relaxed and in a good mood I know I’ll perform to my best. There’s nothing to worry about at that point. We will have done all we need by then.
How much does the unpredictability of the Tideway, the course itself, impact on your preparation?
For that reason, we train in every condition. There’s never a day too windy, too cold or too wet to be out on the water. The unpredictability adds an element of excitement and another degree of how we can be better than our opposition.
Are the ever-increasing crowds something you notice during the race? How do they affect your performance?
I will notice them. I think it would be hard to not to and we are prepared for that. I will still be focusing on our process to get the best out of myself and execute our race plan, the crowds will have no effect on that.
You can, incidentally, buy your own pair of the lovely, minty, CUWBC (or CUBC) boots (or, if you’re a dark blue fan, the Oxford ones) exclusively from Hunter either online here or at 83/85 Regent Street, London W1, for £100.
Good luck to Claire, her crew mates, and everyone else racing at the Boat Races on Sunday. Hope you all row like the wind (and not against it).