Fancy a fun end to your season…. get over to Vienna in Austria and compete in the Vienna Night Row 350m sprints.
Fancy a fun end to your season…. get over to Vienna in Austria and compete in the Vienna Night Row 350m sprints.
I have just returned from a weekend coaching in Invercargill. And, yes, I have heard the joke before; you know, the ones which goes something along the lines of “I won a raffle; first prize was a weekend in Invercargill. And second prize was a week there…” Invercargill is about the southernmost rowing centre in the world. It is a long, long way from the glamorous centres of our sport. From the Rotsee, the Charles, from Eton Dorney.
Invercargill is nearly as far south as you can go in New Zealand and the weather is not renowned for its friendliness. That part of the country is in the Roaring Forties and the standard wind is southwest, cold and wet. Most of the country likes to look down on the Southlanders, they must be provincial and backward. After all they haven’t joined the rush to the sunny and fashionable northern regions.
But. And it is a big but. New Zealand Rowing is still basking in the glow of Olympic success.
At the recent games in London NZ had a fabulous regatta. Twenty six athletes won three gold and two bronze medals. Four of these athletes are Southlanders, from Invercargill, that looked down on place at the bottom end of the world. Nathan Cohen was in the M2x that produced that amazing sprint that brought a win. Storm Uru was in the LM2x that had arguably the rough side of the conditions and the unsportsmanlike behaviour of the Brits and still brought home a bronze. Storm’s brother Jade was in the M4- and Louise Ayling in the WL2x. Invercargill has a population of about 50,000. NZ has a population of 4.4million. So 1% of the country produced 15% of the rowers in the team.
It seems to me that instead of looking down our noses at the southerners we should be looking up at them and asking them how they do it. How does a small town with a small rowing community consistently produce way more than their share of winners?
I have some ideas about the reasons behind the success. Whenever I visit Invercargill I notice the old fashioned hands on style. This weekend they held the first of the regular Winter Training Programme camps for promising young rowers. It was also the first of the regular winter series of 7km races. There was activity on the river all weekend. Young, old, fast and slow they all came out to row. Children cycle out to row on the Oreti, a river shared with fish and ducks (and fishermen and duck shooters), parents join in with maintenance and fund raising. The kids I coached said “Thank you” after each session. Simple stuff, but rowing in Southland is proof that simple still works.
Rudyard Kipling, the poet of the British Empire, reputedly called Invercargill “The last lamp-post in the world”. I would rather think of it as a shining beacon on the road to Olympic excellence.
One of the urban legends about legal methods of increasing a personal test score or an important race is to take bicarbonate of soda before a 2k erg test.
Here’s a useful article that sets out how to calculate how much bicarb to take (body weight), and what the effects were on a test group of athletes.
During intense exercise a significant proportion of the energy required for muscle contraction comes from anaerobic respiration. This is when you produce energy whilst having a limited oxygen supply. This has the negative effect of increasing cellular and blood acidity. High acidity limits the ability of your muscles to contract, meaning you slow down. Bicarbonate is an alkaline, meaning it will neutralise an acid. This is also referred to as a buffer (because it ‘buffers’ the effects of an acid). Bicarbonate is the body’s primary extra cellular (outside of cells) buffer. As such, ingesting bicarbonate before intensive exercise should increase the body’s buffering capacity (how much acid your body can buffer). So we may hypothesise that by consuming bicarbonate of soda before exercise, we can delay the point of slowing down (because our body will buffer the acidity for longer).
Most athletes experience some bad side effects – principally runny tummy and cramps as a result. THis is well-known and puts many people off using bicarb.
I thought it interesting that the study scientists dissolved the bicarb in water. I’ve always heard that athletes swallow the powder insider gelatine caplets (as pharmaceutical medicines use). The large amount of water may make you feel bloated and I’m not sure an hour beforehand is enough time for the body to process the liquid into urine.
Although they say the scores were ‘better’ but not statistically significant. Well, in my book, any improvement in a maximal output test score is a good thing – as an athlete I wouldn’t worry about the significance of the statistics – I only want to be able to submit a better score.
What do you think? Anyone tried this?
Get up to speed reading some of our back-issues and blog posts.
Robin Williams is the quiet man of British Rowing. Since leaving the Boat Race programme he’s rarely interviewed but remembered for the technique columns he’s written for the British Regatta and Rowing Magazine.
RowingChat is a regular webinar interview with top rowing coaches and personalities from around the world. Designed to help you improve your rowing as a coach or athlete, RowingChat allows you to set the agenda, ask the questions and get the insight you want from some of the most experienced participants in our sport.
John: “Are individual athletes now training to the limit of their physiological competences, leaving us to find more extreme specimens to improve on performance?”
Paul: “Do you find it easier to coach men or women?”
Nick: “what is the best technical sculling drill?”
Carlos: “How many sessions a week do you use to build rowing skills by doing drills with the crews you coach? Do you do it on specific sessions for that or just use part of the practice? ”
We have just seen the usual flurry of reportage, analysis and comment about the Boat Race. I decline to call it the BNY Mellon Boat Race, which is probably a failure in etiquette, but I do intend to add my might to the outpourings from scribes around the world about this unique and fascinating race. As an aside, how many other sporting events are identified by simply the addition of a couple of upper case letters to a generic description? Is there the Horse Race or the Football Match?
I spent three years involved in the race and came to love the contest. It is certainly different from any other race or match I have ever experienced. Many things come together to make the unique mix that is this race. A course that is undefined except in the mind of the umpire, and certainly not fair and equal and sterile the way that we try to make our 2000m rowing tracks; A format of racing that allows a crew to cut in front of the opposition once they have a lead and makes the race effectively a sprint until you are in front or can’t hang on to the other crew any more – some races have been won in the first 10 strokes and a few have lasted for the whole 17 minutes or more; A set or racing rules that don’t admit the possibility of a weather delay; these are some of the special things about this race.
Another unique feature is the frequent cries of “Elitism”. The competitors come from two of the best universities in the world and this seems to rile some observers, including the idiot who swam out in front of the boats last year. But what is the alternative to elitism in universities? I want my doctor, my engineer, my lawyer and my writers, and even my bankers to be the best they can possibly be. To be part of an elite! Not everybody has equal ability – that may not be fair but it is true. All of us benefit if we identify and encourage the best of our fellow humans to stretch themselves and perform to the best of their ability. To do this they need training and if you select the best and put them together then the institution you have created can be called elitist.
It seems to me that all high level sporting events must be elitist by definition; once there is selection to be in a team the team must be an elite. My observation of Cambridge certainly led me to believe that entry to those gilded portals was largely based on ability and not on social standing, and I know that selection for the crews that represent both Oxford and Cambridge is rigorously based on merit. Both clubs are open to any student at the university who happens to be male.
Elitism is good. Whether it is to find and train the best academics, or the best rowers, I am a fan of elitism and stringent selection.
Discrimination is not good. Keeping someone out of an elite organisation based on anything other than ability goes strongly against everything I believe. But elitism and discrimination are not the same thing. Rowing is a sport where it is relatively easy to measure performance and we should celebrate elitism in our sport and encourage our best and brightest to aim for the top.
We got a question in from the Captain of a student rowing club “How do you deter your athletes from binge drinking when the athletic union promotes it a minimum of once a week!”
Tough situation: the long term solution is to only select athletes for your crews who don’t indulge in the binges if you really can’t live with having binge drinking athletes in your crews. But as I’m guessing as you are a student you will probably not be there within another few years and a new Captain with different rules will take over.
I would suggest a couple of possible solutions
As a squad, you should then discuss whether you want the goal enough, that you are prepared to ALL commit to enhancing the positives and cutting down on the negatives
If there is a talented rower who won’t commit to cutting the negatives (which may be more than the binge drinking), then ask the coach not to select them. Even if they are a good rower, if you really want to stop this culture, you may have to make a sacrifice of a good athlete in order to get the message across to the rest that this is worthwhile.
What did you do when you were a student rower?
A roundup of articles from our archive that will help you prepare for rowing camp
My question is, my daughter is 14 she was inspired by the Olympics and in August joined a sculling club, it is a lovely club but lacks funds and has very old equipment with hardly any coaches and so gets hardly any time training, she has showed promise and the founder of the club has taken an interest in helping her, he has lent her a competitive single boat and blades and has entered hera race
He said she is up against other Juniors that will have had much more training than herself, but must start somewhere and it will give her an idea of where she needs to be next year and what times she must work towards.
She is in her opinion not fit enough, can you suggest a fitness program in a short space of time, to bring her fitness up to a suitable level. She has only a couple of weeks to get fitter, she does extra curricular P.E. every lunch time and has a rowing machine at home, not a concept 2 just an air wheel one. This would help greatly if you have time to answer thank you in advance.
As far as fitness goes, the best thing she can do is running or body weight circuits. Until you are skillful in a rowing or sculling boat, it’s hard to get fit while training on the water.
For running, find a hill and sprint up it and jog slowly down – try to run up for 1-2 minutes and do this 8 times to start and build up to longer sprints or more repetitions, or both. Or you can run up stairs – is there a multi-storey car park nearby as several flights of stairs works just as well. If she gets fit enough, she’ll be able to go up running two stairs at a time.
She can also do body weight circuits like these ‘home exercises’ we put up in a blog post about how to stay fit when away from home
Do let us know how she goes.
Any other suggestions from readers?
Rowperfect has all the help you need thanks to our friends at Coxmate. They’ve compiled a free email with Boat Race coxswain Martin Haycock’s steering guidance FREE for you.
Go to How to Steer the Tideway Head and add your email address in the box, confirm the subscription and, by return, you’ll get an email with all his advice ready for the Womens Head this weekend and the Mens / Vets Head in three weeks time.
Good luck to all the crews.
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