Most days my life is pretty humdrum – a regular cycle of eat-sleep-work-row-repeat. But then along comes a day like the one I had recently that makes the rest all worthwhile. After a morning in the press launch watching the Cambridge crews training for the Boat Races (read about it here), in the afternoon I was fortunate enough to meet GB Olympic and World Champion rower, Will Satch MBE. It doesn’t get much better than that for a river-lover.
Will was opening a spanking new Powerhouse Fitness store in Willesden, north London. Powerhouse Fitness, in case you’re not familiar with it, is the UK’s number one fitness retailer and the new store was, I have to say, pretty fabulous, stocking superb gym equipment including a gorgeous British Rowing white oak, bespoke WaterRower, inscribed with the British Rowing logo. To make the launch more memorable, teams from Cardinal Vaughan Memorial secondary school and Roehampton university tried to beat Will’s 250m time of 32.6 seconds and one of them came pretty close at 35s, with Will offering encouragement on the sidelines. It was all pretty fun, but if I’m honest I was really there to meet Will and my main aim for the day was to keep my fan girling under control.
So anyway, afterwards we got a chance to have a chat and Will was remarkably candid. Here’s what he had to say.
Girl on the River: Were you always going to go for the next Olympiad?
Will Satch: Not always. London [where Will, then aged 23, won a bronze medal in a pair with George Nash] was lucky but it came very quick. [Winning gold at Rio] has made going for Tokyo harder and it was quite a hard decision to make. George, who I get on with a house on fire with – he’s my best mate – says why? You’ve done it. And I don’t know whether it’s because I’m brainwashed by Jurgen to think it takes a true champion to do it twice but I want to get two, and I think to do it in this day and age is tough, really tough.
Girl on the River: So how is it getting used to the new regime with Rio over and all the focus on Tokyo now?
Will Satch: It’s very new to me. I came into London very late and to have that as my debut was fantastic. And then I had a lot of fire in my belly after London to do better. To do four on the trot [three World Championship golds and an Olympic gold] was the dream. A number of eights, like the Kiwi eight back in the day and the American eight, have done three consecutive wins and then got it wrong on the night. So to complete it was great but it’s almost made it harder now.
It’s not necessarily physically harder: I know how to push my body and where I need to get to, and fitness-wise I think I’m actually there or thereabouts. But mentally it’s a new ball game for me because I’ve always been hungry to achieve the best and I’ve achieved the best.
There’s a new bunch of people, there’s new, young blood. At Rio, at 27 I was the youngest in the eight and this says how much depth we had and how many people stayed on, whereas now I’m still 27 but I’m in the middle, towards the upper end of the age range, and it shows that it is a different team.
It’s not going great at the moment. On the water, technically I’m not quite there but hopefully as the season prevails I’ll pick that back up – like I said my fitness is there so I just need to get back on top of rowing well.
It’s tough because I’ve rowed in this specific seat for a long time. I can stroke a boat OK, and I’ve had some really awesome guys behind me so the depth in the field seems to be huge. It’s not necessarily just raw fitness and power, it was the amazing camaraderie built by Moe [Sbihi] who was our athletes’ rep, over the last four years. Then you’ve got the likes of the Hodges, the Reeds, the guys who are there in the background and have done it before. Having that confidence made a big difference and sometimes gave me belief through the dark times when you’re up at altitude and it’s miserable and you’re doing 220km a week and you know that’s what will get you the result at the end of the day.
I can look back at rowing now and remember rowing under the sun, under Christ the Redeemer, but the reality of it is I got there by training really bloody hard in the winter months. And that’s that.
Girl on the River: A lot of rowers regard the erg as an instrument of torture. What’s your advice for learning to live with it?
Will Satch: The ergo has always been my friend. You have to learn to like it because a lot of the mileage is done on it and it can hurt a lot. My top tip is to find a good playlist. We all listen to the same music when we’re training. Moe creates a new playlist every day. We all like Chase & Status. After Rio we went out to Ibiza and actually met them. Then when it comes to a 2K, I’d go for something aggressive!
Girl on the River: What would your top tip be for improving your performance on the erg and would your advice be different for non-rowers?
Will Satch: The raw basics of rowing are that it’s a pyramid. To get that top peak higher, you have to build a bigger base. You have to build endurance and deal with the lactic threshold so it’s really a question of getting the miles in.
If you’re a non-rower, I’d say just enjoy it. Anything that releases endorphins can be enjoyable. My New Year’s Resolution was to enjoy the sport a bit more. I’ve been striving to win and that’s good – it’s paid off. But I’d say just enjoy it.
Girl on the River: And finally, a quick fire round.
Rowing or sculling?
I went to the Youth Olympics as a sculler, but I’d have to say rowing.
Bow side or stroke side?
London or Rio?
I’ve no answer for that. London was very special – there was the sweetness of turning up to the Olympic Games, and you could hear the crowd from the start. But then the eight… it was a blue ribbon event, there was the power and the aggression. It’s almost a different sport…
Tideway or Henley?
Dark blue or light blue?
I don’t have any loyalty there. My girlfriend’s at Oxford but George went to Cambridge, so…
Digestive or Hobnob?
That’s easy. Hobnob.
It’s worth saying that a couple of weeks after this interview Will came first in the GB trials in a pair with Moe Sbihi, so it sounds like the magic has returned.
My thanks to Will for such a fabulously open and honest interview (though Hobnobs? Really?) and to PowerHouse Fitness and WaterRower for inviting me along. It’ll keep me going through many more months of eat-sleep-work-row-repeat.