The Rowing Club Journal: Novice Edition, 2

Semester 1 has flown by and now it’s time to look forward to the next which is bound to be busier.  The Christmas workouts that they’ve given us have not been easy and I’m finding it difficult to row by myself – it’s just easier when you’re rowing in a line, going at the same rate as the rest of the team.

Since I have a placement within community pharmacy the first week back I won’t be able to go to training and so I’ve signed up to Puregym at Cardiff Queen Street. It’s such a nice gym and a good one to be a nosy parker at. I usually split my time between ERGs and the treadmill and since some of the treadmills face the ERGs its quite enlightening watching other. So many have poor technique – this coming from someone who’s done a total of 3 months of occasional rowing. Hunched over and swinging the handle over their knees each time as they complete sessions at a fast rate – but with poorer splits than I.  The restraint it took not to barge in and stop them.

The first ERG session back at 6:30am comprised of 2x20min sessions with only 2 minutes rest.  My splits were awful but I count it was a win since I managed to last the whole session. I can never seem to complete 20 minute sessions by myself in the gym – I get bored, by backside starts hurting from the uncomfortable plastic seats, or I start feeling like I’m dying.

My progress is improving at a snail’s pace and barely managed to scape off a couple of seconds out of my 2Km.  to be fair, I could have put a bit more energy into it but they had us do a 250m sprint right after at a rate of 35+.  I have never gone above rate 28 before. So obviously, I didn’t manage the 35 this time either, but managed a slow 32 and ripped the skin between my thumb and forefinger. The joys.

25/01 – Cycled down to the Bay under a steel coloured sky and was half hoping that they would cancel with the drizzle setting in and the water looking particularly choppy but no such luck. The last time I was out on the water we got quite a bit of rowing in and I was hoping that it would be the same this session, but this time we focused on technique. My hips locked and my hands and feet froze and the fact that we had to carry the dripping boat back above our heads didn’t help with the hypothermia that was quickly gripping me.  I must have looked it as well as one of our coaches, noticing my clattering teeth and involuntary shivers that wracked me, asked me if I had any spare clothes with me and that I didn’t need to help with getting the little speedboat in so I could go inside. I never take spare clothes with me, and this one instance I wish that I had.  The thin splash jacket (that cost me an arm and a leg) was doing nothing to keep out the biting wind.

I had hoped that I would be able to compete in at least one race this term but rowing is turning out to be quite expensive.  I would have needed to pay a top-up membership, a British Rowing racing membership, and pay for the race and transport fee.  Oh, and lets not forget the pricey kit that I bought last term, and the gym membership that I now had to start. One word of advice – ask about additional costs before joining ANY society.  It may narrow down your options if you’re like me and want to try everything.

Completed my first (ish) 5km.  I mean, we have done a few in the Tuesday morning sessions while doing our 2×20 minute sessions but they weren’t taking our splits and so it wasn’t a race. I didn’t do too bad, gaining a split of 2.28 and so it’s a definite win for me.  I was the last to finish (as usual) but I felt powerful after finishing, even though I must have looked incredibly weak with sweat dripping down my face, gasping for oxygen.

Evening ERGs have been moved down to the Bay and so it was a little dark going there and back.  As usual I finished my 6x500m sprints way after everyone else but it is nice to cycle there and back, giving me a break from work.  I did however, for the first time in years, fall off my bike.  Tried to mount the pavement and the bike slid sending me sprawling.  Scraped my chin quite badly and possibly bruised my ribs and cried all the way back. We all need one stupid accident to happen to us during our Uni life.  I guess that was mine.

Everything has been cancelled due to COVID-19.  

It has been an extraordinary year so far and have gained so much confidence in myself. My parents thought me foolish for trying out for rowing, believing that I was too weak and even though I didn’t have the opportunity to compete I have proved to myself that I can do it – maybe not to the same standard as the rest of the team but at least I tried and didn’t quit.

My only regret is that they didn’t have just a ‘casual’ team – it’s all about competitions and races which excludes many from even trying out a new sport.  It would have been wonderful to be out in the crisp weekend mornings, rowing on the Taff, and getting to know the team.

The Rowing Club Journal: Novice Edition, 1

Starting my second year, I knew I wanted to try some form of sport.  I had been jogging before work during the summer holidays but the sun was rising later and I had no intention of jogging around the park in the dark.  I was keen to try my hand at a water related sport – either sailing or rowing, and since I didn’t manage to drag myself down to Cardiff Bay for the sailing GIAG, I stuck to rowing.  

Here is part 1 of my time as part of Cardiff University’s Rowing Club, Novice Women’s team.

Why Rowing?

It was all because of a book – ‘A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness. Diana Bishop, a professor at Oxford rows early in the morning (definitely not an Oxbridge stereotype) to release some pent up adrenaline and she found flow within the rhythmic strokes of the scull.  It was something that I desperately needed, a few minutes where my brain can switch off and I can breathe in the salt of the sea.

What’s training like?

I do not go to all training sessions – I’m not in this to win it and so I go to ERGs practice twice a week, a circuits session, and then once a week on the water (my favourite part).

The Diary Bit

I hadn’t really used an ERG before and the one time I did use it in school, no one told me how to use it.  They kind of just let us loose in the gym ‘cause they couldn’t be bothered to teach us anything. The first few sessions of ERG practice is just learning the technique.  Believe it or not, there is so much to think about and as you increase your rate you have to make sure that your technique is on point.

25/10 – Multiple 1000m, first one starting at rate of 26s/m, going up to 30s/m.  The best speed I had was a split of 2.15 (a split time is how long it takes you to row 500m) and I nearly died.  It just felt like it dragged and so as a result it felt draining instead of exhilarating.  I need to figure out a flow strategy where I go into my happy place and my body takes over using muscle memory.

02/11 – Water session was cancelled.  Why did I think it was a good idea to try and row in Wales?  The weather hates us here.

05/11 – Tuesday mornings are endurance sessions and I can’t believe my body can produce so much sweat. We had to do 15 mins at 20s/m, break for 3 mins, then do the same thing again. Three freaking times.

However, before starting we did an exercise where we had to push off from catch position and lift our backsides off the ERG while our partner moved the seat so we didn’t land on the bar part. It was weird and it was a hard bumpy landing but when I was doing the 15 min session I realised why we did the exercise – I really gets you to engage your muscles and push off with your legs instead of pulling with your arms/upper body.  It means that the only time you should be using your body weight is in the back position when you’re leaning back a little.

16/11 – Was finally allowed out on the water again, blame the weather. Slight problem though.  Previously, two seniors had been plonked in the back of each boat to help steer and get us going but this time, we had no seniors and a newbie cox. We were zigzagging our way along the Taff.

Since we’re only learning, we don’t row continuously, and instead in pairs so we can get used to the change from ERG to boat, and since for most of the time I’m just sitting quietly, I’ve been having problems with my hips while in the boat. Its like my hips freeze and lock and the pain lasts for about 2 days later (which is not good, I know).  We were about 10 minutes into the water session and I was in so much pain I was tempted to ask one of our coaches who rides along next to us in a speedboat to let me get out.  If you’re thinking about rowing but know that you have tight hips, you might want to join yoga aswell.

19/11 – Three sets of 2500m at rate of 20s/m and its only now, two months in, that I’ve finally got the hang of what they mean by intensity.   Each time I’m on the ERG I’m going the same number of strokes as everyone else but I’m always the last to finish. A higher intensity means that each stroke looks slower but you push off from the catch much quicker, using all your energy in the first section of the stroke.  It takes so much of your energy and I’m incredibly weak which makes it all the harder to increase my intensity.  I managed to complete the first 2500m alternating between a higher intensity and the very low intensity which is how I’m used to doing it. Its just so difficult and I feel like I’m sweating buckets while doing a poor job while everyone else is barely breaking a sweat and getting amazing split times.

7/12 – I signed up for sculling, what I thought was being in a wobbly boat by myself, hence why I tortured myself with putting in contacts cause I way no way risking falling in AND losing my glasses in the Taff river. I got to the boat house and turns out sculling is when you have two oars instead of one, and there were four of us the boat.  Panic over. Once you get used to the hand positions you can easily slip into a flow state and it feel so much more like rowing as compared to being in an 8 boat with one oar each.

Well, here it is, its finally the end of the term.

Its been an incredible experience for me to be out on the water and I’m slowly gaining confidence, hopefully enough so that I can complete next term.

Until next time.