by Will Pearson
The men’s senior squad had a positive vibe going into the Remenham Challenge this year. Approaching Christmas, there has been a great atmosphere at training and having two 8s out battle paddling in the build up to the race has kept everyone in the squad feeling motivated and competitive. A short outing on the Friday night before the race with a few two minute race-pace pieces was probably some of the 1st 8’s best rowing this season, so there was optimism in the air.
Unfortunately, the race looked under threat the next morning when there was also a thick fog in the air (worse even than the foggy memories which some squad members were to experience the following day after the post-race Christmas party). A pre-paddle gave us a chance to check out the conditions, but after we came off the water and consumed the obligatory coffee and porridge, visibility continued to worsen and the race was in doubt. But the fickle Putney weather wasn’t settled yet. The trees in Bishop’s Park emerged from the mist across the river once again, and the race was on.
The 1st 8 boated and made its way up to the start at Chiswick Pier, slotting into place between London and Kingston. The order came to spin and before we knew it, Mario was calling us up to rate. Off the start we quickly settled into a rhythm which was perhaps one or two pips lower on the rate than our pieces the night before, but had good length and ratio. Through the fog we could just see Kingston some way behind us, and we pushed off them. There was little else to look at besides a wall of white, so who knows what line we were steering, but Mario kept us focused on our technical points.
Races tend to become a blur in my mind, but I’m sure Mario said something about finishes, and maybe catches? Probably the drive and recovery too. Whatever he was saying seemed to work, as we slowly crept away from Kingston, and towards the Twickenham 8 which was propping up the bottom of the Elite entries ahead. We were still striking a consistent 32 and as we emerged from Hammersmith Bridge we made a sustained push for 100 strokes to take us towards the finishing stretch where we would begin our build. The Thames crew who were to finish as eventual winners of our category had charged past Kingston behind us, so we now had a new crew to hold off in the sprint for the line. The rate came up slightly and the legs pushed just that little bit harder as we ticked off the markers: the Mile Post, Barn Elms, Beverley Brook, the Black Buoy… Vesta flag pole couldn’t come soon enough!
We crossed the line having given everything, and paddled through the bridges to spin. We made our way back in to the club, with a waiting bottle of port acting as the motivator for our engine room to get the boat back on the rack in double-quick time.
We were all in agreement in the debrief that for the first 8s race of the season, we’d had a solid row, finishing 4th of 7 in our category. We now head into the Christmas period knowing where we stand and what we have to do to emerge stronger in the New Year, as a crew and as a squad. We are all eagerly looking forward to the 12 ergs of Christmas which will provide us with some justification for the over-indulgence of turkey and mince pies.