Sunday, 17 March 2013


wehorr-chesterton-2013 [By Alison]

The Women’s Head of the River Race is, for many of us, the highlight of the rowing year. Although less immediately dramatic than the Bumps, it offers a much greater challenge: 20+ minutes of full-on racing on the Thames, against opposition from all corners of the UK and beyond. Just knowing that you’re taking part in a race alongside Olympians and along the same stretch of river as the Boat Race is pretty exciting!

This year, despite a terrible forecast, we were blessed with ideal conditions: no rain and best of all little wind. The crew were well-prepared, having made the best of limited water time together by committing to a programme of long and gruelling ergs which really paid off in terms of fitness over the long course.

We boated from Putney, right on the finish, which meant a good warm-up along the full length of the course and a chance to spot the landmarks that we would use later on to break the race into chunks. There followed about an hour of marshalling, tapping the boat in pairs to keep in position before we finally edged towards the start and spun. The race was on!

It was my first time coxing on the Thames, and although I’d watched the helpful ‘Coxing the Tideway’ video (on youtube) several times, coxing on such a wide river with such a strong stream has to be experienced before you can really understand how different it is from the humble Cam. We got off to a good start, with our stroke Lorraine establishing a great rhythm and the rest of the crew backing her up and really committing to every stroke.

Not such a great start for me, however, as I found myself too far over to the Middlesex side with an unexpected buoy looming and a marshal looking the other way from his boat just in front of it! Fortunately he saw us just in time and moved out of the way, although I had no choice but to go the wrong side of the buoy.

overtaking-caius After that I found the stream again, and remembered the most important piece of advice from the video: the fastest stream is usually in the middle of the river, so there’s no point trying to cut the corners. Maybe I’m not the only cox used to the twisty Cam who found it hard to resist the impulse to take the inside of every bend!

Anyway, as we approached Hammersmith we really settled into our stride, and found ourselves bearing down on a Caius College crew. The overtake was really satisfying, with us shooting out of Hammersmith ahead of them with clear water between us, and with our supporters really lifting us with their shouts from the bridge.

The crew really had to dig deep during the last third of the race, with each landmark seeming to take ages to come. But here the long ergs paid off, giving us confidence that we had the strength and stamina to stay strong to the end. In our crew chat before the race Anne had urged everyone to give everything, so that no one got to the end thinking they could have worked a bit harder. I think I can safely say that that finish line didn’t come a moment too soon for any of us. We were so glad that we only had a short distance to row to get back to our landing point.

We came 247th out of 303 with a time of 22:20, a really satisfying result given that our previous placing was 272nd, and that we were within a minute of some very much more experienced Cambridge crews.


8: Lorraine 7: Joss 6: Anne 5: Jo 4: Annie 3: Juliet 2: Meg 1: Alex

Cox: Alison

Many thanks also to our brilliant supporters and bank party: Emily, Janice, Mel, Simon, Dave, Abby, Nick and Freya.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Dropping the outside shoulder at the catch?

Part I in a series of, quite likely, one, posts about rowing technique. This particular one is a bit of a theme of mine. I sometimes wonder if people know what I'm talking about. The answer, or perhaps more accurately the question, is something like this:

That's Caius M1 from Grassy, Thursday Lents 2013. What you see is bowside (they've sensibly bow-rigged the boat, so bowside is stroke's side, so to speak) lunging out of the boat at you. You might possibly argue that they are doing this to excess, and indeed the comment on that pic is "oh god we're all so not in our range". However, they're racing to defend their headship. And as I was taught ages ago when I used to play Go: "anything you can see the best doing, you're allowed to do yourself, even if it looks like poor style". The unspoken caveat of course was "as long as you understand what's going on".

In a way this one:

is more interesting, because Kings have bumped and are just cruising home.

Before we go on, pause to notice the nice compression: vertical shins, chests touching the knee. And of course the separation (note that separation, at the catch, means the way the two sides of the boat part (as viewed from the coxes seat) leaving a lane between their heads (here is an excellent pic of Downing that shows this well); this is completely different to separation, at the finish, which means separating out and doing in sequence hands-then-body-then-slide).

Dropping the outside shoulder

However, that wasn't what I actually wanted to talk about. What I wanted to say followed from a perspicacious comment by Simon E when I praised the first photo. He asked "Interesting that everyone's outside shoulders are dropped, I always thought it should be the other way around?" And now he says that, indeed, yes that is what everyone is always taught, though I can't say I like doing it myself: the "Caius way" comes more naturally; and if you look, only about half of Kings are doing the "right thing", even though I'm sure that nice Mr Smith has been coaching them well.

And the "right thing" is? Well, the "right thing" as taught is to keep the shoulders roughly parallel to the blade, which implies the outer shoulder is higher than the inner. I can't find much detail about this online; this little thread about summarises it: the argument against dropping the shoulder is given as "With high school kids (ie, often with less experience than college rowers), those who drop the outside shoulder tend to also press down on the oar handle before the catch, and sky their oar, leading to a lousy catch." That would apply to our novices too, of course. Holding the blade to stiffly, and leaning at the catch, can easily lead to dropping the hands and skying the blade too.

In which case, its an answer you can discard, as long as you know the reasons for it (which is to say, teach people not to "drop their hands into the shell and sky the blade"; don't teach them "don't drop the outside shoulder"). I think I have no problem, in my own rowing, with simultaneously dropping the outside shoulder and raising my hands into the catch (what I find very hard to do is to do this whilst staring forwards, as Caius are doing so nicely; I far prefer to look at my hands, which really annoys coaches).

Another possible downside is that it can lead to over-extension and weakness at the catch: if you've leant too far out your back will be weak; this can either damage you or weaken your stroke; but again, this is a matter of care rather than prohibition.

Comments on this, particularly by people who know better than me, are welcome.

Other pic

* Boat race crew, training.
* Kiwi Pair (e.g. 4:49)

Monday, 4 March 2013

Winter league 2013, legs 2 and 3.

2013-03-03 12.19.57 See-also leg 1.

Somehow, I didn't get round to writing up leg 2, and no-one beat me to it. Press have the results for all three legs up.

How did we do, overall? (And at this point, "we" = the crews I was in. Someone else can write up the other crews :-). As an IM3 crew, poorly; as a novice crew, excellently. So, that's our problems solved then: we drop Dr Southgate. Or we drag our other points back in (paging Dr Howard...). We were nearly a minute (overall) faster than the best Nov 8 (and still 30 secs faster on the first leg, when we didn't have Dr S).

Oh, and did I mention that the third leg was an exceptionally wet row? Outstandingly so, despite being clearly our fastest.

But we were about a minute (overall) slower than the next 3 IM3's, and 2 minutes behind Champs M1/M2 squad composite - but then again, we know both their M1 and M2 are "about as fast" as our M1, and we're not yet close to our M1.

And me, as a single sculler: I got faster by ~30 secs each leg, but it was mostly a reminder to me that I need to get some more practice in and up my technique.


* Squamata WL3 courtesy of Simon E. * Squamata WL2 ditto.