It has been a while since you’ve heard from me. This is because we have had a pleasantly uneventful winter of getting the work done.
Our winter training season officially ended a few weeks ago, with our final selection trial and this kicks off the start of the racing season.
We have endured two particularly gruelling altitude land training camps in Spain and South Africa, and one water camp to Portugal. The winter trials have been a bit more competitive as two of the stronger members of the team (who were out of action for much of last season having had hip surgery) are now back in action. To add to this one of the lower ranked members of last years team has stepped up remarkably in the boat class we trial in. This means that competition for seats in the top boat was going to be far more fierce.
Physically we had both done some really good work which resulted in me getting a personal best on our most important fitness test. We also had some crew boat testing which was very intense and extremely tight. This is obviously quite stressful but at the same time very promising for the summer as it means there are a whole load of combinations that could potentially work quite well! Our last hurdle before boats for the start of the summer were formed was the illustrious April Trial.
For me preparation had been going very well. I had adjusted how I train a little bit. I had been trying to make the easier session a bit easier to then make the harder sessions really hard. This had been really helping my physiology. A few technical changes in the boat had helped me with my efficiency as well which really helped my mid race cruising pace. I was feeling very confident that I was going to do a performance that did my hard work justice. It was going to be very tough to defend my title from last year but I knew I was going to put up a fight if it was going to be taken from me.
First race of the trial was a time trial to determine what semi final we would qualify for. Mine was very solid and I finished second qualifying me for the A/B semi which was very pleasing. The semi final draw came out and I was up against Jonny in the semi. My plan was to go out hard with Jonny and we would secure our final place early in the race and make our lives easy in the second half of the race. In the race I chugged away and myself and Jonny were in first and second at halfway but a guy called Harry Leask from outside of the team was still with us and we couldn’t let him beat us. So rather than cruise home I kept my foot to the floor to make sure. Jonny was a bit more confident than me and calmed his tempo down a bit to conserve energy and managed to keep his nose in front. We’d qualified into the A final.
I was very excited for the final I knew what I was capable of and I was excited to go and get the result I deserved. This ended up being my downfall.
We blasted off in the final and I found myself hanging on to the back of the race. This was not where I had planned to be. I should have had faith in my ability to come through in the second half but I decided to try and come back through the race too early. I slowly got myself back on terms with Jonny who was a bit in front of me. By the time I had got to a point where I was level with Jonny and the others they had taken the tempo up again and I had used a bit too much gas and was left behind once more. I tried my best to hang on and ended up coming 5th with Jonny in front of me in 4th. This was quite disappointing for me. What was most disappointing was that I knew what I had done wrong as soon as I finished.
There is no shame in being beaten by the athletes in our group. They are some of the best scullers in the world but it is in our nature to to be disappointed with anything less than a win. I know I have done a good job in ticking boxes for my selection but it would have been good to put the cherry on top.
We are now back to training and enter a phase called ‘Crew Formation’ where different combinations are raced and different crews are looked at. Things are looking promising and the crew announcement for the first World Cup in Belgrade, Serbia will be made on the 22nd May. Whatever happens it is sure to be good!
Sorry it’s been a while since I last wrote anything down, I’ve been a bit busy.
We got to our altitude work camp in Silvretta (Austria) expecting misery. No air, changeable weather and a brutal programme can make Silvretta a bit of a hell hole. It is redeemed to an extent by its incredible views and the promise of success that it represents. After embracing all of our squad traditions setting the course out (new guys get all the rubbish jobs), we were ready to go. We got stuck into our work with a lot of enthusiasm and after a couple of shaky days early on, things started to really take off. It was really nice to be a part of something where everyone was willing to dive headfirst into the changes they needed make and get some good solid work done. We finished the camp with some intense pieces, and we compared well to our other flagship boats. Satisfied, we drew a line under the camp. After a steak and a bonfire it was back home to get our kit washed quickly, because we were off to Portugal for our finishing camp.
In Avis (Portugal) our job was different. It was now time to turn all those technical changes and all that hard work into boat speed. The weather was decent and this place always caters so well for us. As the intensity slowly built, so did our confidence. Parts of our races that we weren’t happy with, we practised and perfected time and time again. Jonny was being a real taskmaster and made sure that we left no stone unturned. Even though Avis was not as physically tough as Silvretta, the mental intensity was very heavy going. It was now time to go back home for our last proper test before we flew to Florida.
At Caversham we had our final speed order and our job was very simple. Piece together everything we had worked on for the last month. We were set off to catch our trusty training partners, the mens coxless four. The conditions were far from ideal, but we ticked every box we had said we would and we finished very high up the rankings. This was yet another great confidence booster and rather than being nervous about what lay in front of us, we were all itching to get out to Florida and do the job.
After a long flight to Tampa, and feeling like we were inside a kettle at full boil we arrived at our team hotel. I was put in a room with Jonny for the first time since Rio which was actually very settling for me as I knew what I was getting. New room mates for him had taught him some room etiquette, and at long last I avoided having his used contact lenses chucked at me at bed time.
When we arrived the course was still being built due to Hurricane Irma. It was quite obvious from the amount of work being done that this was going to be an incredible venue and it was just that. The fans were catered for really well and there was so much space for the athletes which was a real bonus. The lake itself was also really nice and we managed to avoid any altercations with the resident Alligator.
The momentum we had built on our camps was carried really well out onto the lake and we were paddling round the lake like heroes. It was really hard not to get too excited and carried away any time we paddled near another quad.
The heat came and was very straightforward. After a short while we were in front and we stayed there all the way home. In our debrief we all agreed on a few adjustments for the semi.
Semi’s are a very nervous race as the result means all or nothing. We set off a much hotter pace than the heat and found ourselves in the mix, with the Dutch in classic style out in front early. We slowly chewed them up and spat them out for the win in a very quick time.
After the race the realisation hit that we could actually do this and take the top spot. All the stars were aligning, and the boxes being ticked, and if we handled ourselves the way we had been for the last 5 weeks we were going to do the business.
On the day of our final we had an incredible pre paddle. Tearing round the lake at a rate of knots, all our burst and practise starts were absolutely on point. We got in absolutely buzzing and went to rest. An hour before the race we had our pre race chat. This was the moment. We were all so switched on to what needed to be done. All emotion was left aside and we were ready to go and do a job that had been done again and again.
In our warm up everything was going sweetly. We just had to do our last practise start then we could go to the start line. Jonny called it “Attention, GO!” In my head I’m thinking ‘Knees down arms soft’ I notice Petes leg pop out to the side a bit on the first stroke. 2 Strokes later he stops. This annoyed me. If he needed to be sick from pre race nerves he could have waited another few seconds. He pushed himself up off the seat with the rigger and tried to get himself comfy. He then turned to me and as calm as anything said “we need to go back, you need to get Graeme, my backs gone.” No one was panicking we just rowed him back down the course and Jonny ran off to find Graeme. We got the race delayed and waited to see what was going to happen.
Pete was laying on the landing stage getting some medical attention and was flipping back and forth between trying to stay calm and getting emotional that he had cost us everything. At that moment in time I was still in the zone. As far as I was concerned this was no different to a bolt being loose or something. It wasn’t ideal but it was what it was and it was no time to be getting emotional as we had a job to do. Afterwards I even joked that I could have ‘rolled him into the lake and put him out of his misery.’ I was also really annoyed as I had a bet going with the team spare Frazier Christie that if we won a gold I would get to cut his hair however I liked. This would no doubt mean the end of that dream.
Graeme came running over, up pulling his lycra up like superman coming out of a phone box. We quickly briefed him and hopped in. We had about 10 mins to get to the top before our race left without us. We quickly warmed up and oh boy was it a different boat. In Pete we had an efficient, rhythmical albeit not the strongest sculler. In Graeme we had an incredibly powerful athlete who to put it nicely was a bit rough around the edges.
We got on the start and had a few moments to chill before we set off. It was a very strange feeling. We had gone from having quite a lot of pressure on us to having absolutely none at all in the space of half an hour. In a way it was a relief but at the same time already a disappointment that we knew we weren’t going to finish the project as we had started.
Of we went and Graeme set a piping hot tempo that we all struggled to keep up with. He was steering for the first time ever and I had to remind him a few times to stay away from the buoys at the same time begging him to calm down before a mushroom cloud appeared in the middle of the boat. I had very little concept of where we were in the race until about 500 to go. I had a little look around and realised that we were making our way into the Silver position and Graeme was going mad in front of me. I thought to myself “we can f**king do this, we can still get a medal!” and did my best to go with him. Estonia started their charge but I knew we had just enough left in the tank to hold that off and we crossed the line in Silver.
My first emotion was disappointment about everything that had gone on. The emotion of it all was let loose and it was upsetting to not finish it the way we wanted to regardless of the medal colour. Battling that was the feeling that I’d finally got on a championship podium which was incredible. I was also immediately really happy for Graeme and it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment what a hard couple of years he’d had after the disaster of Rio and the quad being plagued by injury and illness before that. He had done well just to be back in a boat in time for the championships so to hop in and do a job like that was just a testament to what a sculler he is. As we rowed the boat to the podium I also felt really bad for Pete. I knew he’d be relieved that his injury hadn’t cost us a medal, but he’d put in the work to get us to that level and he’d missed out on the grand finale. He took it so well though and after a beer or five to numb the pain in his back, he was on great form.
Sitting here now in my first week back training, I can look back and appreciate what happened a bit more. Its a really exciting place to be, in a team where anyone can hop into any boat and still get on the podium. Onwards and upwards.
The last couple of weeks have been busy!
The first Sunday in July signals finals day of Henley Royal Regatta. This is a very important part of our racing calendar. Henley is the only event we always do on home turf, and is a very unique style of racing. It is a side by side river race where the fans can be loser to the end of your oar than you are. This really amplifies the emotion of racing as everyone can see the whites of your eyes whilst you’re hanging every fibre of your being off of the oar handles. If you’re winning you can really swagger past the huge crowds being applauded on your way to victory. There isn’t anything quite like it. The flip side of that is that when you’re losing, the pain and shame is unbearable and you just wish the river would open up and swallow you whole. It makes it a medal that every rower wants to win.
We faced off against the Kiwi mens quad in the Queen Mother Challenge cup for International standard mens Quadruple Sculls. From the first stroke it was a very hot pace and the Kiwi’s who we had dispatched so easily in Poland were matching our pace well into the race. We slowly nudged away but every time we tried to definitively put them to bed they would attack and so the race went all the way to the line. We held on for the win and paddled the boat back into Leander Club to be told that we had just broken the 28 year old course record! We attended the prize giving later to receive our beautiful medals.
We had a couple of relaxed days of training to recover and then we were off to Switzerland for the third and final World Cup regatta on the Lake of the Gods, The Rotsee. We had built a lot of confidence through the second World Cup and Henley Royal, but we knew that we would be facing off against the Lithuanians here. They hadn’t been beaten all season and had also strengthened their quad by taking out their slowest member and replacing him with an Olympic Silver medalist called Saulius Ritter. He could easily be mistaken for Ivan Drago from Rocky 4.
We were in the other heat from them and so in the first round we got out and in control of the race fairly early and booked our ticket straight for the final. The Lithuanians did the same in the other heat. Everyone else would have to race the next day for the right to race us in the final.
Sunday came around and we donned the yellow jersey of World Cup leaders that we had earned by finishing so well in the other 2 World Cup regattas. This was my first yellow jersey and it was awesome to finally have one.
We set off very well and us and the Lithuanians set the pace quite early, with the Poles hanging onto our coat tales. As we approached the final third of the race they started to nudge away from us. We tried to fight our way back but they always had an answer and the two of us moved away from the rest of the field. Lithuania came home in Gold, us in Silver and Poland in Bronze. We had turned up thinking we were capable of a Gold so this was quite disappointing for us. This result did still secure us the overall World Cup win for the series and that offered us some consolation. We came home with the Golden top and did our bit to keep GB at the top of the World Cup standings.
Next on the agenda is a big block of training. We have a few weeks at home before we go on our work camp up to altitude and then on to our finishing camp in Portugal. This might sounds a lot of glamorous jet setting but these camps are going to be pure suffering. Suffering which is going to get us a lot closer to the World Title at the end of September.
After missing out on racing at the Europeans, I was very hungry to race in Poznan at the second World Cup Regatta. I don’t normally get that excited before racing because I know how much its going to hurt, and even if you completely bury yourself in a race, at this level theres no guarantee that that’ll be anywhere near good enough.
That said I was super excited for Poznan. We had a little rearrange in the quad and Pete Lambert was returned to his spiritual home in the Stroke seat with me backing him up and Jonny calling the shots (Jack just sits quietly up in the bow). This new order started off a bit ropey and I wasn’t so sure, but every session we were taking leaps forward. We started making some very encouraging speeds in training and we started to relax and really find a sweet rhythm.
Turning up in Poland we were all very confident. We opened in our heat with a solid (but not too tough) race. This was the fastest I’d even been in a quad, and I didn’t have to kill myself to do it! That really let our confidence grow and in the final we set off with calm heads and strong legs. We didn’t lead from start to finish but we knew that it was going to take a pretty special crew to hold off our cruising speed. We sailed out in front in the second half and cruised home clear for the gold! This was another personal best time in a quad and better yet my first gold.
This has given us a real hunger to get to the top of the podium again and we’ve turned the screw on the intensity of how we do things.
This Sunday we race at Henley Royal Regatta against the Kiwi quad. This will be a good test to see if/how much we have stepped on by and its an event I’ve never raced before.
Henley Royal is an event that I absolutely love. Such intense emotions and the contrast between the glory and swagger of winning versus the bitter shame and disappointment of losing. I’ve experienced plenty of both, and as you race just a couple of metres past the people in the enclosure they can see the pain or elation in your eyes clearer than your own crew mates.
It’s also a great opportunity to put things in place for the third and final race in the World Cup series in Lucerne. If we manage to make it to the final there we’ll be donning the yellow jerseys as World Cup leaders and that is a title that we very much intend to defend. It would be the perfect way to round off what has been an incredible World Cup series.
Its been a long while since the bright lights of Rio de Janeiro…
We all got to start this season with a clean slate. We pick the lessons we want to learn from the last Olympiad and start afresh with new energy and rested albeit chunky wheezing bodies.
So far this season has been busy but also a bit more relaxed and really quite enjoyable. I kicked off the season with a win at the Pairs head of the River with Jonny. This was meant to set us up nicely for a trip to Boston for the Head of Charles but alas, the pace was too hot and our bellies were still too big. We flogged ourselves for another month and managed a decent win at the Fours head of the River joined by Jack Beaumont and Nick Middleton. Back on track the season continued with a winter assessment here and an erg test there. After a well behaved Christmas we went on training camp up to the mountains in Spain. This was painful and miserable but just what we needed to flush the last of the summer sins out and get our bodies back to some of their past form. This was followed by some good ergo tests and on to our Final Trial where I managed to sneak the win. I thought this would be something I’d be delighted about, but having to beat your good mates is something that I don’t feel like celebrating. Obviously a proud achievement but for me I was way more excited about what was to come after.
Our quads project started in Belgrade at the first World Cup with a Bronze medal which was great in a way because Jonny and I haven’t spent a great deal of time on the podium, but we came back for more than a Bronze and I think we had hoped for more. Moving on to Europeans I went down with a stomach bug the week before and was pulled from racing so had to watch from the bank and run around supporting my team mates. This was frustrating but also a very eye opening experience and I think I learnt some things about the event that I didn’t know before. Now we’re looking ahead to Poznan and hopefully Henley Royal and Lucerne I’m very excited about this project. Its new and we’ve got all the right ingredients. Its just about delivering.
Welcome to my website!
I made this site in order to record and share my journey through the Tokyo Olympiad. I’ll do my best to keep it up to date with blogs and photos from training and events to give you and inside look into the British Rowing Team.
If you have any questions for me rowing related or otherwise. If you want to ask me about speaking or appearances or coaching just send a message through my contact page. I’ll be more than happy to talk to you all.