Posts Tagged ‘sport’

Much is still unclear about the 2012 Boat Race. First and foremost, we don’t yet know how Alex Woods is; the latest we’ve heard is that he’s been taken away in an ambulance, and everyone’s thoughts are of course with him. We don’t yet know who the rogue swimmer was, nor what he was doing in the water (a protest, one assumes, or perhaps just a head case). And then the disaster of the blade clash and Oxford’s brave decision to keep rowing despite the certain loss that was facing them (one commentator suggested that they should just stop in order to save face).

What we can say with certainty is that the Boat Race 2012 will go down in history, and not for all the right reasons. Much will be said about the swimmer and about the umpire’s call over the blade clash, and I’ll not go into that as the pundits will have more than enough to say on the subject later on.

There were two things that stuck in my mind, though. The first was Cambridge’s initial elation after what could only be described as a hollow victory. Of course they could be forgiven for being delighted with a win, whatever the circumstances; they’d worked phenomenally hard for a year and dealt with a difficult and stressful race with courage and strength. And yet I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as they whooped and splashed and stood up in the boat and generally carried on as if it had been a normal win in normal circumstances. Perhaps, with my history of losing races, I identify too strongly with the unfortunate losers (and I’ll confess I’m an Oxford girl myself, so am bound to be a bit partial), but given the interruption and restart when Oxford were ahead and looking like they might well win, coupled with the fact that (whatever the merits of the umpire’s decision), Oxford had been a man down, it still felt a bit wrong. Not quite cricket. Certainly not quite Henley.

But the second thing that struck me was the speed with which they adjusted their behaviour when Oxford’s bow man, Alex Woods, was lifted out of the boat, clearly in trouble. Their smiles soon became muted and their celebrations dignified. Woods’ crisis reminded everyone what was really important. It’s a shame that we need a man being taken away in an ambulance to remind us what matters most, but at least it did. Sport, after all, should be sporting and the Boat Race should epitomise that. Oh, and to prove that I can practise what I preach… Congratulations, Cambridge; commiserations, Oxford; and get well soon, Alex.

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Over the last couple of weeks I have done something I swore I would never, ever do again. Banned from rowing, I have crossed over to the dark side and been… gulp… running.

Oh. My. Goodness. I thought rowing was hard. I’ve always maintained that I’m not a runner and nothing I’ve encountered over the last month has dissuaded me from this idea. Still, needs must and it’s either running or lying on the sofa eating multi-packs of fun-sized Milky Ways. Even I can see the sense in forcing myself to pound the pavements.

But here’s the thing. Which is actually better for you? Rowing or running?

Sadly I don't look like this when I run

On a pure, calorie-burning front, running seems to be winning at the moment. According to the indoor machines (and I know these aren’t fully accurate), running burns off wondrously high numbers of calories – way more than my pathetic efforts on the erg ever did – and certainly I’ve managed to munch my way through obscene quantities of pasta, mince pies and cupcakes over the last little while without covering myself in a layer of lard.

I’m discovering some new muscles, too, especially since Son on the Run gave me a running tutorial and pointed out all of my faults. With my new, improved technique, my calves are screaming so much that I can barely walk.

Equally thrillingly, without the thrice-weekly body-thrashing that is my normal rowing routine, I now have silky-smooth skin. No blisters. No callouses. No track bites. And I’m pleased to report that I’m currently sporting a lovely set of unchipped, perfectly painted nails (in Chanel’s Rouge Noir, for those who care).

On the downside, unlike rowing, running does pretty much nothing for your upper body (which is good for healing a shoulder injury, but horrendous for the emerging bingo wings). It’s also worryingly high impact and, I suspect, will do my joints no favours in the long run. I also read somewhere – and this is fairly horrifying – that running eventually makes your face slide down towards your toes (along with everything else). I’m sure nothing like that ever happens in rowing.

So come on, let me know what you think. Rowing vs. running. Discuss.


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I didn’t see it coming, even though all the signs were there. I guess I just wasn’t listening – or at least was only hearing the bits I wanted to.

Anyway, here it is. Son on the River has given up rowing.

I can, now I’ve thought about it, entirely see why. Like me, he’s neither tall nor bulky. However good his technique may be (and I’m told it’s pretty good) until such times as there’s a lightweight category for juniors, he’s never going to make the cut at the top end of the sport. Unlike me, though, he runs like the wind. So Son on the River has decided – for the time being at least – to become Son on the Run.

Why am I telling you all of this? It’s not to draw you into my family affairs; I long ago vowed to stop plundering my kids’ lives for writing material. The fact is that it has some pretty major implications for me.

Now that I’m no longer one of the Rowing Mothers (much, much scarier than any Hockey Mom, I can assure you), it means that my own rowing is… just that. My own.

It’s strangely liberating. Much as I loved talking rowing to Son on the River (probably too much, as it turns out), the idea of having my beloved sport all to myself is surprisingly thrilling. It is My Thing – not just something I took up to keep my son company.

I guess that means I’m a keeper.

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It started as a whisper. Just a tiny twinge in my ribs as I shifted in my chair. Within a couple of minutes, though, I realised what was happening: a hard session on the erg that morning was taking its toll.

Rest is not a dirty word

As the afternoon passed, the twinge turned into a pain and, to my dismay, several rowing friends told me that I was suffering from one of the most common rowing injuries – rib strain.

The only time I’d ever hurt my ribs before was during a particularly raucous ceilidh at our local village hall. A dance called the Basket and a neighbour with large hands (don’t ask) caused me to crack a rib and put me out of action for weeks. I never imagined such excitement could happen on the erg. Since then I’ve learned that rib stress fractures are actually quite common amongst rowers – and particularly female, lightweight ones.

Naturally my first reaction was just to ignore it and to carry on regardless; indeed I made it through a tough old weights session that evening.But when someone from the US rowing squad tells you need to stop, you don’t ignore their advice.

Twitter being an egalitarian kind of place where no one stands on ceremony, my complaint about my rib was picked up on by US national rower, Esther Lofgren. She referred me to a post on her blog for here for some excellent advice for anyone suffering from a rowing injury (or indeed any sports injury). Basically, you can turn a rib strain into a stress fracture if you don’t give it a rest.

The good news is that you don’t have to lie around scratching yourself while you wait to heal. There’s plenty of stuff you can still do, though it can take a bit of imagination to keep the pressure off your injury. At the same time, it’s essential to allow your body to heal. Rest, it seems, is not a dirty word.

For once, I’ve done the sensible thing and followed the advice of my elders and betters (well, betters, anyway – I definitely win on the elders score). I cancelled several rowing sessions. I rested. I drank water. I went to yoga, which stretched my poor, creaking body until it felt young again.

Since every year takes me deeper into the veteran category, this will not be the last of my rowing injuries, especially as I tend to attack my training like a rabid terrier. I wonder how long I can maintain this moderate, restrained approach? Only time will tell.

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Even though I’ve been shockingly busy the last few weeks, it hasn’t stopped me trawling the net for the best rowing and sports blogs, and this week I’ve come up trumps.

My hot favourite this week comes from the gorgeous Esther Lofgren, who is a member of the US women’s rowing squad. If that fact in itself isn’t enough to get you clicking on her blog, who could resist the title? Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. Come to think of it, I’d quite like this emblazoned on a T-shirt. Esther’s elite status and superb choice of title aren’t the only reasons to give her blog a whirl: it’s actually a great read. This month I’m loving her erg music playlist (it even got the thumbs up from the uber-choosy SonontheRiver) and alongside the insights into life as a world class athlete, there’s useful advice for even the most inexperienced rower (her post on rib injury saved me this week from turning a rib strain into a stress fracture, so thanks, Esther).

If you need a bit of inspiration, my next rowing blog is Pacific 2012 from the utterly hardcore Charlie Martell. Next time I’m feeling feeble about the prospect of a mere half hour erg, I shall remind myself that in May next year, Charlie will row solo and unsupported for 6,000 miles across the North Pacific from Japan to the USA to raise funds for two charities, and to set a new Guinness World Record for the first and fastest solo Briton. Phew. The blog features some interesting thoughts on how to go the distance (more advanced than just “man up”) and nutritional advice which, pleasingly, takes budget as well as performance into account. If you’re reading this at work, I should just say that the bit about the charities might make you well up a bit. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Finally, moving away from rowing to a more general sports blog, there’s the satisfyingly rigorous Sweat Science, described as “fitness myths, training truths, and other surprising discoveries from the science of exercise”. As a health and fitness writer, nothing irritates me more than urban myths and misinformation when it comes to sports and health and let’s face it, there’s an awful lot of rubbish spouted on this subject. Consequently this site is my idea of solid gold. It brings you the results of proper, empiricall- tested research, all presented in language that an Ordinary Person (even a rower!) can understand. Bookmark it and don’t let the snake oil salesmen take you in.

So there you have it. PB-inducing playlists, injury advice, inspiration, tear-jerking charities and gold standard science, all wrapped up in three rowing and sports blogs. You are, of course, most welcome. Happy weekend and happy reading.

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Sitting in a business meeting with my bleeding knuckles a scarlet accessory to my painted nails, I couldn’t help but question the sanity of a sport that inflicts so much pain and discomfort. So other sports might bring on a bit of stiffness and breathlessness, but few of them involve anything as hardcore as rowing, with its early starts, deep exhaustion, aching muscles, trackbites, blisters, grazed knuckles, vomit-inducing ergs and (gasp) broken fingernails. Are all rowers a bit mad? I think perhaps we must be.

It’s not just the pain, of course; it’s the way the sport takes over your life. I’ve already got rowing events in my diary that are over a year ahead and yes, I’ll be keeping those weekends free.

Even when I’m sleeping I don’t take a break. I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who’s undergone the torture of the rowing nightmare – the sort where you find yourself showing up for a race in the wrong kit, in a boat that’s barely seaworthy with weird blades and with your old headmistress coxing (oh wait, maybe that’s just me).

Asking around, most people I spoke to agreed that yes, rowers are certifiably mad.

You don’t need to be a bit crazy to be a rower,” said one fellow rower. “You need to be a *lot* crazy, both enthusiastic and insane”.

“I now take ‘mad’ as a compliment”, said another.

But before you order in a straitjacket, let me share an alternative view, from a self-confessed rowing addict named Angela.

“We are just ‘the next level’ of human being and need to give ourselves a bigger challenge than normal folk”, she said.

I like that. In fact I think I’m going to go with it. We rowers are not mad. We’re just more evolved. Beam me up.

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It’s 4 a.m. and I’m lying in bed, wide awake. It’s not the heat or the cold or even my snoring husband keeping me awake. I’ve been rowing, so I’m hungry. Again. I already got up at midnight for a snack but the hunger pangs have struck again. This time I’m too famished to sleep but too tired to do anything about it.

There’s something about rowing – and it’s not just as simple as the number of calories burned – that makes you hungrier than any other sport I’ve come across. Even cross country skiing, which I tried last year, didn’t make me as ravenous as a session on the water or the erg.

I don’t normally have to think too much about it; I just eat more than I used to in my former, non-rowing, life. The problems arise when I find myself in the company of Ordinary People. Especially if they’re providing the food. One look at the miserable portion on the plate and I know I’m in for a late night attack of the munchies.

Girls’ nights are the worst. Even the obligatory tiny cupcake or brownie wheeled out at the end doesn’t make up for the Lilliputian amounts of food on offer. I literally have to stand guard over the dips at the beginning to make sure I can get through the evening without my stomach rumbling.

If this sounds familiar, the chances are you’re a rower, too. Asking around, I discover that I’m far from alone in needing a ridiculous amount of food just to keep me alive.

“Two different colleagues told me last week that I eat ‘like a man'”, says one (female) rower.

It is lunchtime yet?

Others tell tales of second and even third breakfasts on rowing days. There’s talk of giant pots of porridge, huge plates of pasta, eggs, sausages, muffins, toast, crumpets, smoothies and, of course, the obligatory malt loaf. Oh yes, we rowers like our food.

Special contempt is reserved for what one rowing friend calls her “rice cake-eating colleagues”. Clearly, thin slices of polystyrene don’t cut it in the rowing world. We need real food, and lots of it.

I could say more on the subject, but all this talk of food has made me hungry again (and since I’m rowing tomorrow morning I need to stock up on the calories). I’m off for a snack. Or three.

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World Rowing asked this morning if anyone could describe rowing in three words. Easy, I thought… until I tried to narrow it down.

There’s the day-to-day stuff. Blisters, callouses, trackbites. Hunger, thirst, food. Erg, shower, sleep. But that barely scratches the surface.

When it’s all about racing, I might go for adrenaline, excitement, anticipation, but that’s before I’ve even got to the starting line. What about pain, perseverance, courage? And then – depending on what happens – triumph, elation, joy or frustration, calamity, distress.

When it’s a smooth, summer’s evening scull with the sun setting and the swans gliding past, it might be calm, beauty, serenity.

Or on a freezing winter’s morning with the mist hanging over the water and icicles forming on the riggers it might be chill, ice, slide (and hurry up and get this boat on the water before we all die of pneumonia).

When the rowing’s going especially well or especially badly, it’s support, encouragement, teamwork.

Or on nights out with the squad, it’s fun, laughter, dancing. (Oh yes. Lots of dancing.)

Of course, if I’m really honest there are three little words that pretty much sum up how I feel about rowing. It’s just that I’m a bit shy and I’m not sure if I’m ready to say them yet. Maybe if I whisper…

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I’ve always known that being vertically challenged is a disadvantage in rowing. Thankfully up until now no one has made a big deal of it, but I can’t help noticing that my height – or lack of it – has been the subject of rather too many conversations for my liking in the last week or so.

It started last weekend, when an otherwise delightful club member stated that I was “teeny tiny – the smallest person in the world”. I laughed along, hoping that it was just a one-off, and promptly forgot all about it.

Until yesterday, that is. I was talking to a rower I’d not met before, when he said that he probably just hadn’t noticed me. “You’re so small you’re practically invisible”, he hooted.

Now this is all highly entertaining, but the truth is it’s  not good news for me. If you’re trying to be taken seriously as a rower, you really don’t want your USP to be your diminutive stature. Even if you’re the bow monkey.

So I’ve decided that there’s nothing for it. I shall just have to become taller. Now obviously – short of going on the rack – I can’t actually increase my height, so instead I have hatched a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel. I shall simply fool my shipmates into believing I’m taller than I am.

Possibly the most beautiful shoes in the world

Operation Sultan (named after Sultan Kösen, the tallest living person in the world) begins this Friday at the dinner dance, when I shall be rocking these five inch babies:

Wearing these thoroughly desirable examples of footwear fabulousness I shall instantly shoot up to a respectable 5’9″ (175 cm for my American readers). Job done.

But what about the morning after? I surely can’t wear my killer heels down at the rowing club. Especially now that we’re all splashing around in wellies.

Thankfully, Louis Vuitton (who else?) has come up with the solution. Allow me to introduce you to the revolutionary concept of the high-heeled welly.

I'm sure no one will notice the difference

Armed with these instant height-enhancers, I’m convinced everyone will be fooled. It’s only a matter of time before I move from bow monkey to engine room powerhouse.

Now if I could just find some shoes to improve my erg scores…

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It’s that day of the week again: time for me to recommend some fabulous rowing blogs for you to read over the weekend.

The first is the excellent Training in Transition, written by the fabulous Tory, who is My Kind of Girl –  a rower who’s funny as hell, has callouses to be proud of and takes nail colour seriously (she has a whole post on it – gotta love it). The blog isn’t just nail trivia, though: there’s useful advice on dealing with blisters, chafing and suchlike. If you like GirlontheRiver you’ll love this. What are you waiting for?

My second recommendation is not so much a whole rowing blog as one page in particular, as it comes from an American college rowing site, most of which is instructions about what time to turn up. But this page is so brilliant I couldn’t not share it with you. Here it is, all the way from Grand Rapids, Michigan: Crew.

Now, you’ll notice that there isn’t a third blog up here, as per my previous blogrolls. What I’m rapidly discovering is that there aren’t that many rowing bloggers out there. So if you find some, please send me a link or my Friday tradition might just peter out fairly quickly.

Have a great weekend.

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