We’ve just officially had the hottest August Bank Holiday on record. I think the technical description is “scorchio”. And since we all know that August Bank Holiday means Ross Regatta, it meant I was racing in temperatures more appropriate for the average sauna. Not great for a fair-skinned Celt whose treatment has left her even more heat-averse than before. To make matters worse, a perfect storm involving a missing footplate and a borrowed boat meant a lot of unforeseen standing around in the midday sun. By the time we got into the boat I was feeling seriously light-headed, despite every attempt to keep cool before we boated. I had to use every trick in the book to keep my body temperature at a safe level and thankfully I managed to keep it together for our race (and avoid heatstroke). Anyway, it made me realise that I really ought to put together my thoughts about racing in the heat and how to survive a hot regatta.
1. Stay in the shade for as long as possible
If you’re lucky enough to have a club gazebo or marquee, make use of it. If that’s no good then catch whatever shade your trailer affords or skulk around the host club or (better) the boat house which tends to be cooler. Obviously there are some things you can only do in the direct sun, like rig the boat, but do everything you can to get back into the shade as soon as you can. It might feel lovely to sit on the bank watching the racing in the sunshine, but unless you’re particularly resilient to the heat you may pay for it later.
What about warming up? Well, take a view on that. I row better when I’ve warmed up, and thought I was being clever by doing a quick warm-up with a skipping rope in the shade of the concrete bridge at Ross, but looking back I think it was that warm-up that tipped me over into overheating. I might have been better off just doing a few stretches.
Sounds obvious, but it’s incredibly easy to get dehydrated at a regatta when there’s so much to do. I’m a big water drinker normally – any time there’s a water shortage my husband claims I drank it all – but even I’ve found myself getting dried out at regattas. Bring a refillable bottle and keep drinking. If you’re knocking back loads of water it’s worth having the odd bit of salt and sugar in whatever form you prefer (gels are pretty useful on these occasions but by no means necessary) to keep your electrolytes topped up, otherwise you might find yourself getting cramp.
3. Get wet
A brilliant way of cooling down is by soaking a cap, top or towel (or all three, as I had to) in cold water and then wearing them. I rowed up to the start with my cap and a long-sleeved top freshly dunked in a bucket of water, and it made a massive difference. I stripped the top off just before racing but kept my damp cap on for the race. I did look a bit overdressed, but that extra layer kept the sun off and my temperature down.
4. What about full immersion?
There’s nothing more glorious than jumping into the river after you’ve raced on a hot day, especially if you’ve won. BUT this comes with MASSIVE caveats. First off, don’t do it while racing is still going on as you might get in the way. You really don’t want to find yourself in the path of an eight at full pelt (or any boat, for that matter). Secondly, be mindful of the safety of the river, especially when water levels are low – there’s every chance the water might not be swimmable. Although the Wye is one of the cleanest rivers in the country, there were warnings at Ross this year that the river wasn’t fit for swimming – the pic below was taken a couple of years ago. Even if the river is clear and clean, don’t be that person who jumps into shallow water and hits their head on the bottom. There’s plenty of information out there on safe river swimming and it’s wise to look it up if you’re unsure, though it’s all really just a question of common sense.
5. Wear spf and sunnies
OK, again obvious, I know, but I’m constantly amazed by the number of rowers who don’t do either. I am a big fan of Aloe Up, which does reef-friendly, waterproof sunscreen with no parabens and other nasties – I’ve just bought some for the Worlds next month. And I’ll be blogging very soon on why you ought to include sunglasses in your kit list so all I’ll say for now is wear some and make sure they have UV protection.
6. Don’t be afraid to scratch your race
If you’re feeling the heat badly, there’s no shame in just not racing. I ended up scratching my single at Ross for the good of my health. By the afternoon, when I was supposed to be racing in it, I was still feeling woozy and knew that although I could manage the race itself, I’d feel the effects for days afterwards, so I took a deep breath and pulled out of the race. Needless to say I spent the rest of the day wondering if maybe I could have raced after all, but I knew in my heart I’d made the right call. Of course if you’re in something like an eight you’ll have to think carefully before pulling out and letting everyone else down, but your health must come first. I have learned this the hard way over the years.
6. Remember it won’t last
Whatever you do, keep your grumbling to a minimum, because before you know it it’ll be head season and you’ll be looking at your breath rising in plumes as you try to get feeling back into your numb fingers and toes. It may be uncomfortably hot, but it won’t last. Go to the tea tent, buy yourself an ice cream and enjoy it while it lasts.