Women’s Performance Squads Rowing Camp
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that of a group of rowers on training camp, one will fall in, one will cry, and all but a blessed few will end up with hands that sting, bleed and ooze, as if they had actually been lashed by their coaches.
The Lea RC senior squad’s camp in Belgium fulfilled these criteria. There was stinging and bleeding and oozing and a reasonable number of tears were shed. It was also discovered that coxes cannot walk on water - if one should step off of a pontoon they’ll fall right in just like anyone else.
An hour from Brussels by train, a 30-minute walk from the nearest shop and nestled amongst chemical factories, to those who hadn’t been before, the venue sounded wholly unpleasant. ‘It will break you’, was a common refrain from seasoned ‘Seneffers’. However, unpleasant is not a deterrent to a group of rowers and in early April roughly 50 of them, along with coxes and coaches, made their way to camp.
For most the journey started early on Saturday, by car or by Eurostar. Some came in the club truck with one eye over their shoulders on the 21 boats that had been masterfully arranged onto one trailer. Masterful arrangement seemed to be a theme as it was marvelled at how some had packed so lightly. Where were their snacks? Some others had clearly left nothing at home. People arrived in various groups throughout the day and claimed their beds. Those beds then had to be made and for some this was the first real test of the week.
The trailer was unloaded, boats were rigged, and the Director of Rowing gave a briefing to the group on what to expect in the week ahead. Seat racing would take place the next day for some and this news was about as welcome as a Putney High School crew rowing up beside you on a start line. For the rest of the first day people unpacked snacks, played Exploding Kittens and waited for the ordered-in dinner which arrived at a rate of ten pizzas an hour; this is not an acceptable rate for rowers.
After a first night of negotiating the optimum room temperature, cursing the inadequacy of the pillows and identifying, too late, the snorers, people emerged bleary-eyed and ready to row. Each morning started with a long, low rate paddle in various line-ups and it proved to be a great way to wake up as most people woke up on the row back. The novelty of a long, wide, uninterrupted river would not wear off.
Breakfast was the next order of business but not before you weighed in. This was to ensure that you ate enough all week to account for the extra energy you were using up. Those who missed the scrambled eggs on the first day quickly got wise to the art of dashing to the dining hall.
The second session on Sunday will be forever known for some infamous seat racing in which one and one did not equal two, some dark horses showed that they meant business and it transpired that amongst those fighting for seats there really wasn’t much in it. The inconclusive results would prove to be the beginning of a coaching migraine. A break was taken to watch The Boat Races back on the Thames and two things were learned: firstly, how remarkably high a cox’s heart rate gets at the beginning of a race and secondly, that you are never too old for anything.
A routine for the week quickly developed. Alarms went off, kettles were boiled, and coffee was mainlined before people gathered in the middle of the yard to hear crew lists. Often, second thoughts were had about the appropriate number of layers to wear and there was a sprint back to the rooms. The second session of the day was sometimes a technical one, sometimes in 2-s, and invariably tough. Lunch always began with a pot of soup, each day a different variety, and napping before the third outing was soon an essential ritual. The highlight of the day for some was the slice of cake and juice box at ten past five.
There were time trials for all over 1km and it was established where various boat types stood in comparison to last year’s Henley times but still nothing was conclusive on the women’s side. Marathon townhall style meetings with the coaches took place more than once. More race pieces, battle paddling and mid-session seat swapping began to take its toll. Row-motions were running high. On Tuesday none could believe that it was only Tuesday. However, a mid-afternoon off had been expertly scheduled and a rest was had. Some escaped to the shops, some did yoga on the balcony and some gathered to watch David Attenborough describe the fate of some poor cliff diving walruses.
By Wednesday alarms had to be set earlier to allow for time to tape up hands. Various methods to ensure the tape endured a session were advocated. At night Savlon and TCP were employed. Wednesday also brought the annual 6 x 500m races where men’s and women’s crews were matched and raced. This was where rusty racing starts, replacing the rolling starts of the winter, were attempted; some managed to time their air strokes to when they were just in front of Gill. She noticed.
There was also a tightly contested quiz on Wednesday night where what your fellow rowers did and didn’t know was illuminating. Everyone learned that WEHORR began in 1927 and may the phrase ‘what is WEHORR?’ never be uttered by any men’s squad members again.
Thursday brought a high demand for foam rollers. If you find yourself on camp next year stretch after every session and bring your own foam roller - it’s how you win friends. Other things you can barter include hydration tablets, plasters and scissors, and dry socks. Share a room with someone with a Nutribullet because, while it may seem unnecessary or a luxury on Saturday, a daily fruit, vegetable and protein smoothie will help get you through the week.
There were a few 80-minute paddles that felt as long as they sound, outings where people switched sides willingly and unwillingly and sessions where people learned to steer. There were minor crashes. The quad learned a secret start that they are taking to Henley Masters. Occasionally a péniche went by and the rowing stopped. A péniche is a barge, roughly 38m long and 5m wide, that you really don’t want to get pulled in beside. Thankfully they wouldn’t fit down the Lea.
Friday dinner brought the last veggie burger of the week and a bizarre tuna and peach delicacy but on the whole the food was decent and even if it hadn’t been, people were so hungry that it wouldn’t have mattered. The last rowing session of camp was a women’s 8 versus a men’s 8, free rate over 1km and it was as much fun as it sounds. The women, who started first, hit rate 46 and settled to 38 and almost, but alas not quite, held off the men. After a mammoth derigging and loading session people got ready to party. There was a party. It was naturally a tame and respectable affair.
Before Seneffe, when booking a week off work, you might have been at pains to point out to family and colleagues that it wasn’t for a holiday but for a serious training camp. However, it was a week where, the rowers at least, didn’t have to make decisions about what to do next, about what to eat or have time to be restless. There was no daily commuting. It allowed, within reason, for an abdication of thought and responsibility. It was an opportunity to just row and keep rowing, to try to get better at rowing and to row really fast. It was at times stressful and painful, but it was, on reflection, very much a holiday. It was a holiday from real life doing something we love to do, with a great bunch of people, in a place that is actually rather nice.
Paula Jane Murphy