With Sydney behind me, I find myself back on home water with peeling skin beneath layers and layers of kit. The recent World Cup down under was a teaser for what’s to come later in the racing season, but now we are back to the routine and my least favourite part of the year.
Jumping from an eight straight back into a pair is a tough thing to do. The speed of the eight is enormous in comparison to the far slower pair, and that takes some getting used to. Pete (Reed) and I get off to a shaky start to say the least, and we really struggle through training. We have no qualms about admitting that we are not a natural combination in a pair and the differences in our boat-moving fingerprints really show up. Rowing is so reliant on the crew moving in absolute unison with immaculate timing, so any minute discrepancy can upset the balance and the run of the hull through the water. We found this to be the case right from the start but it was a situation that we couldn’t easily get out of. Everything we tried seemed to make very little difference and when we had exhausted our ideas we were left to fight our way around the lake every session. When sitting in the stroke seat it is so important to set up a strong consistent rhythm for the person behind to follow and work off. I found this difficult in our situation so I felt I was letting Pete down. Pete is an incredible athlete with amazing physical capabilities and because of the way we were rowing we were not getting the most out of him. It was a very frustrating time for us both.
There are always tough times in rowing and I’ve learnt that if you just stick out those times you will come out the other side a stronger athlete. Of course, we ploughed on in our own inefficient, uncomfortable way and discovered that when doing timed pieces, we were very competitive with the rest of the team despite our slow training speed. We discovered that as the rate increased, there was less time in each stroke for our differences to show, so we came closer together and moved better as one. It was by no means perfect; we really had to work hard physically for the speed but it was there – the confidence we needed!
Before we knew it we were on a plane again, this time headed for Portugal, our usual pre-trials training camp venue. Soon into the camp we came to the decision to swap seats, so Pete would stroke the boat and I would move to the bow. This seemed to help our situation, as suddenly Pete could use more of his immense strength, move freely and get the most out of himself while I could adapt to his movements and steady the boat from the bow. As the days get closer to the trials the atmosphere changes, each pair closes down and becomes reliant on their own small unit. We shut our competitors out and conversations become forced and uncomfortable. I always find this a shame – teammates one day to enemies on the water the next. It’s an annual occurrence but one I will never get used to.
Fully prepared and ready to race we head back home to Caversham, the home of British rowing. It’s unusual to hold this event here but I’m glad of it, as it brings a slight sense of familiarity that helps me keep calm and relaxed. We start the two-day racing programme with a time trial, setting off one by one down the course at thirty-second intervals. We have a good race, forcing every ounce of energy and power from our legs in the closing hundred metres. Time trials are tough, there are no tactics involved as you risk not getting into the top 12 and missing out on the semi-finals. It’s all about racing hard from start to finish then waiting for the results! With a thorough warm down behind us we discover we have come a pleasing second place, a good start to the weekend. We move into the semi-final later that afternoon and take control of the race early on. We race hard and put together the best rowing we have so far this season. It’s a good day’s work and we head home feeling positive and relieved that we managed to pull it together when we needed to.
Sunday dawns and finals day is upon us. There is a matter of pride at stake here as the winners of the final can claim to be the leading pair in the squad for a year, which gives bragging rights as well as putting them in the best possible position for crew selection. We go out to win, but early in the race we fail to find the same rhythm we had the day before. Crews we comfortably beat are alongside us for far more of the race than we would want. We press on and gradually move ahead, but Andy Triggs-Hodge and Moe Sibhi have taken a lead and are controlling the race in front of us. This powerful, slick combination have been consistent in training and have shown great speed right from the start. They maintain their lead over us and cross the line victorious. Bragging rights are theirs, we come home second.
It’s not too disappointing considering the difficulties we had leading up to this event. We finished in the position we needed to be in, despite it not being the one we wanted. Crew selection is the next stage and Jurgen will make the decision over the next couple of weeks as to which boat to prioritise for the coming season. As ever, the important thing is to keep performing and pushing the training on to show that I am invaluable to whichever crew I am put in. The season really starts now.