Sunday, 26 February 2012

Head of the Trent

This year, we went to the Head of the Trent (Sunday 26th February). It was great, we should do it more often - like the Head of the River, only more convenient to get to and less hassle all round. But still a big river where the stream matters, and hundreds of crews [*]. It is nominally a 6k course, but actually 5.5 in distance, and effectively less than that due to the stream. In practice, it is pretty well the same duration as Tideway, probably not accidentally.

Most of us went up the night before and Paul organised us a dorm at The Igloo which was great for our purposes, and only slightly less great for the one other guy in the room who had to cope with us all getting up at 6:45 and trooping around in exaggerated quiet, then back in a bit later to collect our bags. The giants amongst us got to sleep on the floor, since the beds weren't huge, but I was happy. The Italian was good, too, even though they forgot to keep the table we'd booked. So I won't tell you their name, and anyway I've forgotten it.

DSCN2382-in-the-shadow-of-brian-clough As I say, we crept out early and drove down to the Brian Clough Stadium and met up with James and James, who had brought the boat (no obvious secure parkage for overnighting it). Since we were early, we had the car park nearly to ourselves, and I forgot the Golden Rule, which is make sure your exit route is (un)covered - there are multiple divisions, and we were in the first, so getting out when we were done was a bit tricky.

DSCN2384 If you look very closely at the previous pic you can see... two bikes on our trailer (which is the far one). Here is a close up. And the reason is: when we came to put the boat on Queens's trailer on Saturday, we found that someone (or rather, sometwo) had decided to use the trailer as a convenient cycle rack. Rather than break the locks we took the wheels off and slung the bikes into the trailer. My how we laughed.

DSCN2392-refl_crop So far, it was a beautiful dawn and morning, and the weather stayed gorgeous all day. Which was a contrast to the last time we weren't here, when we wimped out at the last moment because the almost-forecast was for the race to be cancelled due to bad weather. We boated early and missed all the rush, and got out onto the millpond-smooth water with plenty of time for a quiet warm-up rowing up the course.

James T took us up beyond the start, and on any other day we'd have been too early, but the weather was so good it was fine to just sit and wait for the other crews to come up. James found us a good place to tuck in, Simon who was bank-partying came down and said hello, I wee'd out of the side of the boat but others failed to follow my fine example and a pee bottle made its way down.

And so at last crews started arriving, we made our way to the correct place in the queue. One of the Mighty City VIII's was ahead of us somewhere, and a somewhat less mighty City boat of unknown quality was just behind us in the start order. Which conveniently leads me into a tale. Like all good tales this has two sides; I'll tell ours, you can ask City for theirs.


So, the start, and off we head, leaving a nice gap between us and the crew ahead as is only polite. City, oddly, are following quite close on our tail, and it soon becomes clear that they are going to play silly games, crossing the start line about - well, I forget. Perhaps a length, perhaps only half a length, behind us. Their game plan, presumably, is to row right though us in the first 500 m or so and leave us in their wake. But, it doesn't work, because they aren't fast enough. They are faster than us, but not by enough, and Tidy is not a man to be forced from his line except under extreme duress. Their cox does some dodgy steering, I think I recall, cutting off corners, which doesn't work - you need to be in the stream, just like Tideway.

head_of_trent_SE_6_crop The pic above is, as you see, of us being chaste (picture credit: Simon). Lets pause for a moment and examine the in-lined one of just us. One could pick out various faults, if being churlish; or note certain stylish elements like the delicately bent elbow at 2; but overall the impression is of a crew working well together.

head_of_trent_SE_1_crop A little way further down the course - oh, hold on, you're going to want to be vaguely familiar with the course map - things had got even more amusing with a third VIII (St Peters School) coming into play. They had put in a mighty spurt to catch City, and ended up clashing blades with them somewhere around the first big bend, so both crews had fallen back. By the time of this picture we were going round "the steps" as I thought of them, but really called Victoria Embankment I think. We were cutting the inside of teh curve, to give the St Peters boyz the line to come past, which they were doing, veery slowly; and City were still - as you see - on our tail. Had they been faster than us at this point I don't know what would have happened, but they weren't, so round we all went.


We all rowed off into the distance. Up ahead you see the Trent bridge, which is perhaps 3/5 of the way down the course. We made it though first, but after that both St Peters and City came past us. It all became something of a blur, to be honest, even at the time and certainly fairly soon afterwards, let alone two weeks later which is now when I'm writing this (whatever the date on the post may say). The finish line is below the boating point, so when we started passing finished crews heading back up we knew the end must be nigh, and so it was.

I don't seem to have a crew photo of us all, so for reference we were: James Tidy, cox. Steven Andrews, stroke; James Howard, 7; William Dulyea, 6; Chris Woods, 5; William Wykeham, 4; Chris Flowers, 3; William Connolley, 2 (and your author for this post); Paul Holland, bow. With Simon Emmings as bank party.

General venue notes: there was food n stuff, but it didn't wind up early, so was thin before the first division. Plenty of stuff afterwards though. The lane by the river got crowded; it was how we drove in and was fine then, but a better way to leave was out of the back away from the river.

What of the results I hear you cry? We came 34th, in 19:04.4. City beat us by 11 secs, and St Peters were another 35 secs ahead of them. We were pleased with our row; good for this stage of the year, with a promise of more to come.


* [*] But arranged in 3 divisions, so not so many all at once.
* Our GPS track

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Winter league, leg 2.

Sunday was quiet and sunny, with a slight headwind on the Reach declining through the day. The first division unfortunates were happier than leg 1, since the sun was up. And the results were...

Div Crew Class # Leg 1 Leg 2 Total Place
301.00 Cantabs Men IM1 8 1301 08:58 08:59 17:57 1
401.00 Cantabs Men IM1 8 1401 09:19 09:25 18:44 2
402.00 Cantabs Men IM2 8 1402 09:23 09:26 18:49 3
302.00 IoEly/Robs Men IM1 4X 1305 09:34 09:31 19:05 4
404.00 Nines Men IM3 8 1403 09:49 09:34 19:23 5
201.00 City Men IM2 8 1101 09:33 09:56 19:29 6

at the top. Cantabs continue to dominate, and the City men fade. Can it be pure co-incidence that later divisions are faster? I blame the headwind dropping (but couldn't find the effect in closer statistical analysis).

Lower down, we come to the interesting bits (err, for the men):

204.00 X-Press Men Nov 8 1215 10:14 10:42 20:56 18
104.00 Radegund Men Nov 8 1156 10:20 10:47 21:07 24
408.00 Champs Men Nov 8 1457 10:40 10:36 21:16 26
105.00 Chesterton Men Nov 8 1106 10:27 11:04 21:31 29

So (curse them!) Champs have sneaked past us to take the #3 spot. If you look at the full results you'll see that most crews were slower in leg 2 (we certainly were, as were Rad and Press). But Champs were faster, ho hum - possibly benefitting from less headwind in div 4, or maybe they've just been practising :-). The result was a bit of a surprise, since the row felt OK - 30/31, decent line, not obviously flawed rowing, and I at least was back on the One True Side.


343.00 Chesterton W Nov 8 1323 12:41 13:48 26:29 161
148.00 Chesterton W Nov 4+ 1123 12:52 13:46 26:38 164
251.00 Chesterton Men Nov 1X 1244 13:52 13:54 27:46 174

The Women's VIII stayed a little ahead of the IV in overall time, but the IV beat them by 2 secs on this leg. I improved my time, relatively, in the scull, being only 2 seconds slower. Err.

To show how the two legs compare I made this picture, which I think is instructive:


It is a plot of times against current-position (which means that deviations anti-correlate: if you were slow in leg 1, then on this plot there will be a spike up in leg 2. Think about it...). But it is noticeable that our deviations are larger.

To be continued in leg 3...


* Leg 1 - January

Thursday, 9 February 2012

It was a dark and snowy night...

Tuesday was just very cold. Wednesday there was ice, and the mixed VIII had to be cancelled. Today day was warmer, the ice meleted, but as we pushed off a gentle snow started. By the time we got back...


Unfortunately I don't have a photo of either Simon or Fio: both looked like snowpeople after a bit; at least we rowers were moving. And warm(ish) snow beats -4 oC any time. Apparently the night-time coxing was easier, too, because the banks were more obvious.

As to the rowing: 3 reaches, with a very pleasing enthusiasm from the crew for the third reach. Short pieces up to the railway bridge up each reach; from my fallible memory, the best was the last (at 26), the worst was the first (at 28) and the 30 was tolerable. We have a problem with rushing; at 30, the natural rush-rate mostly corresponds to the stroke rate, but we're not properly in control. At 28, nasty things happen (so we should try to do this more and get it right). At 26 there was a pleasing amount of control coming forwards, and more power.

Winter chronicles, continued: Saturday

Reports varied as to the actual temperature, but all agreed that it was f*ck*ng freezing - literally so; at 8 am there was about a centimetre of ice on the river. My car said -10 oC; James H reported the Cambridge weather station at -12. Anyway you looked at it, ergs were inevitable, and that is what we did. The good bit, though, was that we did them as a matter of course.

It was an absolutely gorgeous morning if you ignored the cold: heavy rime on all the trees and absolutely still.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Head of the Cam: Saturday 28th April 2012

hoc-shield The Head of the Cam Race is to be held on SATURDAY 28th APRIL this year (or, if you're coming from the Cambridge Rowing Messageboards, its on the 28th of Badgering).


See the new posting: final results and round-up.

FINAL Results

The final results are now available. Congratulations to Caius in both the men's and women's categories.

Note: some of the boat numbers are wrong in the final-sorted pane. This will be fixed.

Note: a pair on glasses in a Kangol case were found on the towpath during the event.

Final draw

The final draw is now available.


Useful notes

  • Race control is at Queens boathouse, upstairs. We're open from 7:45 for numbers.
  • Divisions 1 and 2 have a large number of VIII's - to ensure a prompt start, it will help if the crews can make some attempt to come up the reach in reverse order.
  • The overtaking rule is going to be "cede the racing line to the faster crew".
  • The start marshall will endeavour to be flexible about the start order, particularly at the tail of the divisions, either at crews requests or as seems suitable to them.

Entries are closed

Entries closed on Tuesday (yes, really they did, honest. Unless you're very very nice to me.

Provisional draw on Wednesday. After the howls of outrage, the final draw will be available on Thursday. So far, everyone has got the division they want unless I've specifically told them otherwise.


Course of 2,600m upstream on the river Cam. 4 divisions, VIII's, IV's, smaller boats. BR, CRA, College classes.

Enquiries and entries:

please contact the Race Secretary, William Connolley, at / 07985 935400. For entries,please state your crew details: club, boat type (VIII,, 4+, 4-, 4x, 2, 2x, 1x, etc), crew status (CRA / BR / College 1st Mays, 2nd, etc.), preferred division, and any constraints with crews in other divisions.

4 divisions, times:

Division 10900
Division 21040
Division 31220
Division 41400

Entry: £6 per rowing seat. Cheques payable to CRA, sent to W M Connolley, 28 Silverdale Avenue, Coton, CB23 7PP. Put your crew name(s) clearly on the back or on an enclosure.

Entry deadline: everyone wants to know what the entry deadline is, so that they can submit their entry 5 minutes before it, or more likely a day afterwards. Don't make me come and kill you. The deadline is the Tuesday before the race.

head-of-the-cam-course-map The course is 2,600 m. Click on the map for a larger version, or explore via google maps.

You can also look at the Head of the Cam, 2011 featuring links to photos of all crews and videos too.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Erging theory

With ergs increasingly in the news as you'll know from your emails, it is perhaps a good idea to put down a few wise words of advice.

Let's start off with a motto: "It never gets easier, you just go faster". In fact that isn't what I want to say at all, but its a great quote!

How not to hate ergs

This is the important bit. Many people seem to approach ergs as a once-a-year test for which-crew-will-I-get-into. Or, they do them so infrequently that every one becomes a quest for a new Personal Best or Seasons Best. This is a recipe for making every erg deeply unpleasant.

JH found Winter Workouts: Why do Rowers Fear the Erg? which expresses much the same thoughts. If you're doing running training, you don't do every practice run flat out, or near flat out. Ergs should be the same: do them regularly, but do most of them well backed off from your PB. They are supposed to be regular fitness training, not episodic tests.

How to like ergs

This is the converse of the above: positive advice as to what to do.

* Pick a piece to do regularly. Record your times / distances. Compete against yourself. Compete against your crew members, in a caring-sharing-group-huggy good way, not in a fanatical race to the top of the table way.
* Join heiaheia, and join the Chesterton group to share your training and see other people's.
* 30 mins is a good piece: long enough to gain fitness. 2k is good as a test piece but it isn't long enough.
* If you're new to all this (a) ask for advice and (b) consider starting off with 10 or 20 minutes before venturing on 30 mins.
* Establish a regular schedule, say once a week (assuming you're doing other training during the week; more if not).
* What works well for me is a "sawtooth" schedule, which is roughly: 30 minute pieces, done at PB-900m, then PB-700m, ..., PB-200m. That forms one set; repeat until fit. Possibly fling in a test piece at the end of each set or two. PB-800m is fairly easy, but you still sweat. PB-200m is hard work. Adjust the exact numbers to suit yourself.

How to do erg tests

However, if you really do want to try your hardest for a test, then you might like to read:

* How to: Pull a 2k test
* Something about rowing..? The 2K
* Dr Southgate's advice column from the old website.

Other good things about ergs

You can also use ergs to practice your rowing technique. Not all of it, obviously. But if you're told, in the boat, that you're rushing the slide; or you're told that you're not separating properly, or your hands-away is too slow: then all of that can be practised on the erg. And usually, if you'd like, someone will be available to coach you.

What we do with ergs

We're doing the ergs to get fit, at this time of year. But they will also form part of the crew selection process come the summer. So I'd better talk about how we compare people.

The current "table" is here, and it is aimed at Head of the Trent type distances, which is not too dissimilar to 30 minutes.

Weight adjustment

In order to compare scores there is a "raw" and a "weight adjusted" value. "raw" is, as you'd expect, exactly what the erg says. But in the real world a heavier person presses the boat down in the water and slows it down a little. So it is fair to correct the scores to a nominal weight. But a truely fair correction is elusive. What I've done is use a 2/9 power law for the weights, and correct against "your weight plus deadweight", where deadweight is your share of the boat+cox weight (which works out at about 20 kg). If all that is gobbledegook to you, all you need to know is that both the raw and adjusted values are judged, but the adjusted ought to have preference, and that in practice, it hasn't generally mattered which we use. If all that made sense but you'd like to know more, just ask, I can mail you the exciting spreadsheet for you to play with yourself.

Let's try to make it clearer by an example. The nominal weight I use is 85kg. So:

* Steven Andrews, who weighs 95kg and has a raw time of 21:12 for 6k, gets corrected to a longer time: 21:44.
* William Connolley, who weighs 73kg and has a raw time of 22:53, gets corrected to a shorter time of 22:07.

In the spirit of "how not to hate ergs" please don't treat the above as targets.


As a very rough guide, which we will feel free to tear up if we want to, the aim for M1 is an 8k 30 min piece, a 22 min 6k piece [*], and a sub-7-min 2k. All weight adjusted.

Since M1 tend to do more ergs, we have a better idea of their targets than anyone else. Very roughly, I'd say 7500m for 30 mins would be a decent target for M2; that then scales (via more magic; 1.06 power law) to a 23:40 6k and a 7:23 2k.

[*] More exactly, 22:07, but 22 is a nice round number.


* Ergodic theory