Saturday, 24 September 2016

Lake Geneva again: the 10th anniversary edition

Ten years ago, I was a cox who could scull. Competently, but not fast enough to win any races. And after 20 year in the sport, I still had what British Rowing designates Novice status. Officially, I was the lowest of the low as an oarswoman.

But then I discovered marathon rowing.

Initially, I decided that I should have a go at sculling the 50km Boston Marathon (that's Boston in Lincolnshire, don't forget).

This was scary. Apart from anything else, as I was coxing a serious senior crew eight times a week, I wasn't really doing much training.

But before the BM even took place, my "rowing challenge" goalposts got moved. One of the crew I was coxing found out about the 160km Tour du Léman à l'Aviron. We entered. And my rowing life (not sure why I included the word "rowing" in there) changed forever. For the better, I hasten to add.

Ten years later, I've started the Tour du Léman seven times, finished it six (we sank one year, but so did almost everyone else) and won the "Elite Feminine" (read that in a French accent) category four times. But better still, I've made friends in the sizeable Dutch marathon rowing community there and have taken part with them in subsequent Tours du Léman as well as all sorts of other events in the Netherlands and Finland.

I have, of course, learned a tremendous amount about marathon rowing in the intervening years (although I have failed to work out how not to be beguiled by the Tour du Leman from entering it again and again, of course),

Conditions this year (calm-ish, hot in the middle of the day, no colder than cool after dark) were pretty similar to those in 2006. Almost everything else was totally different though:

Me at bow. Dutch friends at 2 and 3. Hannah at stroke.
Then: Mixed crew.
Now: Women's crew. I have nothing against mixed crews in principle, but in practice, I prefer a women's crew as you don't need to move the footplates when you swap coxing, there are fewer issues in the toilet department, and we smell less.

Then: Rated about 20 for several hours.
Now:  Rated 24-25 the whole way. The most efficient way to row touring boats (also known as C boats on the continent) a long distance is just to keep tapping it along. Keeping long, of course.

Then: GPS batteries died somewhere along the French shore.
Now: We know the course well, have added some waypoints of our own to keep the best line after Yvoire, and we're fast enough we get to Sciez practically in daylight (helped by the race start being moved back to 8am). And I bought a new GPS.

Then: Took FAR too much water. Poured loads out at the top of the lake and still finished with gallons of the stuff.
Now: Only take two litres each and "make" any extra needed using sterilising tablets. Quite a lot of the locals don't even bother with those. We do go past Evian after all.

Then: Wore an all-in-one.
Now: Wore shorts. If you want to know why, try pulling a damp all-in-one up whilst sitting on a rowing seat after having a wee.
Loving the trophies as much as ever.

Then: Goal – to finish.
Now: 1) To win the women's category.
2) To beat our previous best place of 11th.
3) To beat our best-ever time of 14 hours 29 minutes.
4) To break the record (this was a decidedly BHAG or "big, hairy, audacious goal").

We succeeded with 1 and 2 but were 19 mins (2.2%) away from goal 3 or and 48 minutes (5.7%) from goal 4. You'll note that "finishing" wasn't even listed – it was assumed. This change in mindset was best summed up by Hannah who described how she now takes more carbohydrates to eat during the race than she did when we were "only" trying to get round.
Winners continue to be grinners.

Then:  Time: 16 hours 24 minutes.
Now: Time: 14 hours 48 minutes.

Then: Not sure what position we finished in, but there were 19 crews so it was probably somewhere around 15th.
Now: 9th out of 22. Beating two men's and nine mixed crews.

Then: Thoughts on finishing – "Thank goodness", and "we never have to do this again".
Now: Thoughts on finishing – "What do we need to change to beat the record set by a German crew in 2004 which included a women who had won an Olympic medal that year?"

Of course, the biggest difference between then and is knowing we can do it. Marathon rowing is as least as much mental as it is physical.

Not bad for a novice, though, eh?

Thanks as ever to Gerald for the airport transfers, taking us back to the dormitory after the race, timing us at Versoix AND Le Bouveret, Stephane for organising, Charlie and his team of juniors for putting our boats on the water and (possible THE best thing about this event) taking them off again after, and all the other volunteers too.

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