I hate the tideway. Not as much as I hate the Trent, but it's still a sucky piece of water. I hold this opinion because I havn't been on it very many times, but every time I have it's been an awful fucking race in awful fucking conditions.
So when O Captain My Captian announced this week that we were doing Women's HORR on the tideway with a scratch crew filled jointly by Bristol and Mortlake, you can imagine my thrill.
Let me lay out the scenario for you:
Getting up at stoopid o'clock to be in London for a 2:30 pm race
I have not sweep rowed in several months, and I havn't been in an 8 in, um, over 2 years.
One woman in the crew just got back from a year off and hadn't been in a boat at all in over 7 months.
One woman had done some light training, but hadn't RACED since her first kid was born. 4 years ago.
The Bristol and Mortlake women had never rowed together before.
This one had success written all over it.
Rowing is a psychological sport. 90% of winning is how well you deal with the voices in your head telling you to quit because the pain isn't worth it. It's a very short hop from "Why the fuck am I doing this?" to "I don't want to do this." And the instant you make that hop, the very instant you think "I don't want to do this," you've lost. That's it.
Never mind the physical agony of a 4.5 MILE race. I was thinking "I don't want to do this" before I even set foot in the boat. And so was everyone else.
Flashback: I've been having a hard time keeping motivated lately. I go to training, I slog back and forth on the river for 90 minutes, i go home. Usually in a single scull, which I don't really give a toss about. No coaching. (Our coach keeps getting snatched to fill out the men's second 8, as their members have been dropping like flies lately.) No attention. It feels like if I stopped showing up no one would notice and no one would give a shit. It's very hard to keep going under those conditions. I talked with Big G (sage man who knows the score and whose advice I trust) about it, and he said it was mid-winter doldrums, and just keep on keepin' on. "It will get better," he promised. "You've come a long way this year already. Trust me." I trust him. So I keep on. (Don't you love how i did the flashback in sepia tones, just like in the movies? i'm clever like that.)
But shit I've had no motivation. This did not help my motivation yesterday morning.
Finally the moment came and we launched the boat, shivering in the wind in our mismatched kit. The wind was against the tide, so the water was "bouncy," as Coach sweetly put it. We queued, tapping it on by 2s and 4s up to the start. I gave a shout to the lasses in purple in gold from Manchester as they went past. "This sucks," i thought. "I don't want to be here."
And then something peculiar happened...
It was strong.
It was light.
It was swift.
It was fucking GLORIOUS!
As our bow approached the Chiswick Bridge we took it on the legs for five, building up our speed. The cox called 10 for fast hands, and we spun the rating up. We crossed the start comfortably at 34 with an easy ratio. (Coach said later that he was watching us from the bridge, and when he saw us he thought to himself, 'They're rating way too low. They can't do this race at 24! For fuck's sake pick it up!') We did the first minute at 34 spm, called a stride, and settled well at 31 without losing power.
And then we waltzed the next 4 miles at 31. No one came near us. I was told the race breaks down like this:
"When you get to Hammersmith bridge, you've got about 1700 m left. That's where all the action happens. It's a sprint from Hammersmith to Putney. When you pass Hammersmith, you're in a regatta. The first half is a race to Hammersmith. Think of it this way: the sooner you get to Hammersmith, the sooner you can start the regatta. So get there as fast as you can, and then race."
We were the first crew in our division to set out. When we got to Hammersmith, we went through the last crew of the previous division. And then we flew for home.
We emptied the tanks. We brought the rate back up to 34, all on the legs. The boat lifted out of the water; it sang through the river. We flew! I can't describe the adrenaline, the glory, the pain, the joy, the ecstacy. I wish I could explain it to you. I wish I could help you to understand the feeling of every muscle in your body screaming in pain, your throat feels like you've swallowed hydrochloric acid, there are spots in your vision, and your heart is leaping for joy. If you had the water to spare you'd be weeping, but you need every drop of hydration you've got left to cross the line.
Christ I needed that.
It was the rowing I had been missing. Days like that are the reason I do this, they're the reason I get up at 6 am 4 days a week to train, the reason I do 15K ergos in the gym several times a week, the reason i cycle 22 miles round trip to the boathouse, the reason I don't go to the pub with my mates, party, or take time to do much of anything that isn't work or training. Days like that justify everything. They're the reason this is my religion, my soulfood.
I got my groove back. I found the joy I had lost. The results of the race don't even matter.