Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Test of What? Patience, Most Probably!

Indoor rowing at Manchester Velodrome

The weather is absolutely beautiful, unseasonably warm and almost making up for the dismally wet summer. You would think, then, that the rowing fraternity at our local club would be eager to take to the river as quickly as possible during the sun-balmed evenings. Apparently not!
I have noticed a distinct tendency, very akin to that which I noticed as a former air-sports instructor, to stand around and talk about the sport rather than actually get on and do it.
This is particularly true of some of the more experienced crews: they certainly look the part standing round in flip-flops and faded splash-jackets and gazing distantly downriver, but I could count the times I've actually seen them rowing on one hand. The Husband is distinctly aggravated. Not only does the 'training programme' (and I use the term loosely here) change literally week by week (actually, none of the proposed sessions have been fulfilled), but he can never tell if, when he turns up at the boathouse as instructed whether there'll be anyone to coach him, even if he's gone to the trouble of arranging a coaching session. What tends to happen is that he arrives (along with his new rowing buddies) and finds that, despite it being perfect weather, no-one is there, or that there's been a gym-session declared, or that by the time everyone's got their arse into gear it's getting too damn dark. But - hey - they've had a splendid time standing round talking about what they would have done.
Last night he turned up promptly from work hoping to get a good hour plus on the water only to find that everyone was expected to do a 2k erg test. Even the poor guy who'd just returned, unwarned, from holiday. Fortunately the Husband wasn't too bothered - he's competed in the British and English indoor rowing championships and is currently following a Concept2 training programme at our local gym in order to compete again in the spring - climbed on his erg and did an easy sub-seven. Didn't push it, had something left in reserve and  recovered quickly. This caused some consternation amongst the men. Husband is a total novice, so wasn't expected to perform well, yet he beat most of the squad with ease. There seems to be a mystique to the erg that 'real' rowers like to bang on about, as if it's some dreaded instrument of torture that they love/loathe simultaneously but that 'non-rowers won't understand; etc. etc., but in reality all it gives is a basic indication of stamina and cardio-vascular condition.
It's not rowing. There is no point to it until you've got the technique sorted out - you'll never use the fitness it imparts unless you can row well enough for it to make a difference, and the best training for rowing is rowing itself. And as for using it to determine who gets a place in the best boats....well, that had to be quickly rethought!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Autumn Break Point

I have actually ground to a halt. My best intentions to write 500 words per day for my thesis are foundering in slack-jawed apathy. The dissertation is growing - in fact, it's probably growing too much. My latest chapter (so nearly completed!) is now over 52,000 words, and it's going to need some heavy pruning before submission. But it's nearly one-thirty on Friday afternoon, and here I am blogging - not doing academic stuff, carelessly frittering the remains of the day away.
My elderly parents came round this morning and regaled me with tales of their holiday in the Italian Lakes and I started to feel restless and very twitchy. I need a break, preferably abroad for a few days, but I have a feeling that just ain't going to happen this autumn. It's the financial climate, I guess. That, plus the rowing club fees are due for all for of us (and NO direct debit facility - ridiculous!), Daughter #3 wants to go on a residential school trip, the car needed taxing, new school uniforms, birthdays...the whole routine. Nor did we manage to get away this spring either as Daughter #2's second baby was due near the half-term holidays and I was on standby for minding the delightful Bouncing Babba #1.
It really aggravates me how hotel prices shoot up in half-term holidays (cynical or what?) but we are practically threatened with excommunication if we take the kids out of school in term-time. I did think about going to Rome for the weekend, taking them out of school for the Friday and claiming it was a pilgrimage. Well, it would have been - to the Tazza d'Oro coffee shop near the Piazza Navona as much as to go to St Peter's!
The weekend looms with all its usual activities. I just can't imagine what 'normal' (i.e. non-rowing) families do. Just lately, Saturdays consist of the rowing-convert Husband cycling off to the rowing club for 8am, hopeful of calm conditions, and me walking into town later to meet him for a much-needed latte and listen to his exploits.
Sundays usually start early again with me accompanying him to rowing and helping him out with the boat, boating up etc., or with me arriving an hour later (9am) with Daughter #3 and the Bright-Eyed Boy for the junior rowing training session, where I'll either coach singles from the riverbank (trying not to slip on the goose-shit and fall into the water) or cox a quad (getting noticeably chillier by the day).
Last Sunday the river was high, so the Husband and his cronies opted to stay in the gym (ffs!). The juniors put them to shame by blithely boating up and paddling off, although it was a bit 'exciting' on occasion, judging where to land etc. This again is followed by a welcome hot drink, coffee and rowing chat at the local Costa, which I surely must have shares in by now (that's probably where all the money's gone!).
Both Saturday and Sunday afternoons see us two adults (and occasionally children, too) down at the recreational gym near our house (much nicer than the boathouse gym), trying to fit in the weights sessions that we have failed to do during the week (more correctly the guilt-wracked Husband has failed to do - I'm a goody two-shoes and get there most days before I start my work). Into this we must fit the usual colossal school/work clothes wash and iron, prepare and cook food, homework (for the Husband too, sadly), and shop for the forthcoming week's packed lunches etc. Housework and gardening doesn't get a look in, not that I'm really that sorry, but I'm increasingly aware of disapproving glances at the fluff-wads and overgrown grass and weeds. Sunday night and we're knackered -slumped with a pile of food and glass of wine having a marathon sport-watching session of stuff we've recorded whilst out.
So yeah - I could do with a break, a complete break from the routine. We're going to tot up the air miles again and scan RyanAir and EasyJet. I seriously doubt it'll be on the cards...and if it is the only cards it'll be on is the Mastercard. I might have to live with that. Seize the day etc. Autumn on the banks of the Tiber....lovely!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Full Stream Ahead: Again!

The view from the boathouse
 Our river, the Yorkshire Ouse, is a ridiculous river. Having spent most of the summer at such a low level that we were practically scraping the fins through the silt boating up, we are now in overnight flood season. The levels go up and down like a 'bride's nightie'. A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure(?) of coxing the J15 boys upriver in against a stream so rapid that it took them all their time to make any progress at all. Again this week after a torrential thunderstorm on Friday night (both in York and up in the feeder hills), the levels rose steadily. Sunday morning at the juniors training session, the tow path was covered, annoyingly only by two or so inches of water, which made boating up a real problem. If the levels are higher it's fine to plop the boats in the water just at the bottom of the boathouse steps -the fins and rudders won't catch. But because there wasn't quite enough clearance under the hulls, we had to (very tentatively) paddle through the water and put the boats out just past where the towpath ended. Very cold, especially for those without wellies. I had my Crocs with me, so I wasn't too bothered about the getting wet, although the getting cold was a bit unpleasant! Some of the juniors, who hadn't been out during such conditions, were a bit phased about taking their shoes and socks of and paddling about, but that's what seperates ruffty-tuffty rowers from ordinary mortals (as I pointed out to them). Because there was a fair bit of stream on the river (but not too bad) the younger ones went out in quads and the older in doubles. I had a crew of J13s - quad scull novices - including my own Bright-Eyed Boy (some quad experience under the belt) and one lad who'd never been in a quad before.
It was a bit optimistic asking them to warm up in pairs 'arms only, body lean, quarter-slide' etc. Feeling the flow of the river I swiftly called for full slide and asked for a bit of a squeeze to get us through the arch of the railway bridge where the venturi effect was evident. Rounding the corner to St Peter's Straight, the onslaught eased a little and we made reasonable progress upriver until we reached the turning point before the next bridge. Spinning the boat was a doddle: just paddling a bit on bow allowed the current to drift the boat round and we easied (well actually, we didn't, we had to keep backing down slightly to remain 'stationary') as the coach shouted out instructions to me. Start rowing, then stern pair (the slightly more experienced pair) to square blades, then back to feather, then bow-pair (including the new boy) to do the same. It was the usual rocky old business, although I did (briefly) get all four on to square blades . Spinning the boat for the upriver leg by the boathouse wasn't easy: we had to turn earlier than we would normally and even then there was a bit of a hairy moment when we drifted slightly sideways nearly under Lendal bridge.
Another circuit, same stuff. The new boy coped, and kept up, remarkably well given that everything in a quad scull happens much faster than in the single tracers that theclub normally starts them off in. As they were true lightweights, and the river was high, their session was a bit shorter than the normal one-and-a-half hour's stint. Landing the boat was rather tricky too - I couldn't quite see where the edge of the tow-path was, and not wanting to damage anything, had to shout to a rower in wellies for directions. I was a bit worried about plunging off the invisible edge of the path on getting out too!
All safely landed, I had to co-opt the Husband to help carry the boat up the steps and, after washing it, help slot it back into its rack. The little guy at bow just wasn't tall enough to be able to half-turn it without dragging the gates on the floor. Aww! My feet, which had just got wet again were freezing - I felt that I'd never deserved a steaming latte and sticky-toffee muffin as much.....

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In Full Flow

Not our river!

Monday morning came around, as I knew it would, and I had to sit down at my desk and look with intrepidation at my thesis. Not a word has been written since the start of the school holidays (mid/late July) and, having made a commitment to submit 10,000 words for scrutiny in early October, the pressure was on. One thing I have learned over the course of my doctorate is that slow and steady wins the day: "It is quite possible" said my supervisor during one of our first meetings nearly three years ago " to get a PhD by sheer application and getting enough words down."
I'd originally had some fancy plan about strolling through the groves of academe and reading for - ooh! about a year - and then putting down the fruits of that intellectual indulgence in a pure stream-of-consciousness argument of profound depth and cogency, but he had other ideas. "Write" he said "from day one. If the words are down, you can make something from them." And that turned out to be excellent advice, and the thesis has grown and grown (in size, if not in quality) like a piece of knitting grows even if you only knit two rows per day. So with approximately four working weeks to knock out the ten thousand, that's 4 lots of 5 days, 2,500 words per day, 500 per day: eminently achievable. Except of course, the actual writing is the easy bit, the quick bit. What takes the time is the reading, the formulation of ideas, the cross-referencing, bibliography and checking back for logical progression. And all the time in the background is the mantra of business guru Steven Covey 'The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing'. There is endless scope for fascinating digressions and if you're not careful you can end up several light years from where you should be!
Coupled with this return to academic activity has been the loss of rowing activity. Having 'persuaded' the Bright-Eyed Boy to have a crack at rowing this summer, I've been accompanying him (and Daughter #3)down to the club up to five mornings per week in an effort to get him up to speed and feeling confident about the whole thing. It seems to have worked and he has progressed from tracer up to a fine(ish) boat, had a go in a quad (where he's held his own quite nicely) and, as of today, a double with another J13.
I've got a real glow from seeing his confidence and satisfaction increase and hopefully he will soon be as competent and confident as his sister who started rowing two years ago. I am, however, feeling distinct withdrawal symptoms both from coxing and coaching the beginners from the riverbank. I'm still trying to get down once midweek and once at the weekend, although the oncoming darker evenings will soon put paid to the former. Actually, Daughter #3 was supposed to be at a regatta in the West Riding today, but it was cancelled due to unfavourable weather conditions: I didn't need much persuading to go and cox the J15 boys. We had a fabulous trip: our river was calm and, accompanied by the coach in a single alongside, we went 6k upriver at a low rating, working on balance with me calling for single strokes, two strokes, five strokes....they just got better and better, and we glid along magically under the willows, silent, balanced....
The Husband, who has also taken up the sport, has had a less happy time. Being 6' 6" tall and 18+ stone (all muscle), it's been a struggle to find a boat he finds comfortable and confident in. Eventually the club decided to rig up  a heavier weight one that's been hanging from the rafters for a couple of years. He's been going down as often as humanly possible (and crikey! that's been tricky in the family/dinner stakes!), but it's been a bit frustrating. It's not unknown for coaches to fail to turn up for arranged training sessions which leaves the novices frustrated as they can't go out unsupervised and things are, in general, slightly chaotic although friendly enough. Additionally, everyone keeeps giving him different advice about EVERTHING - even getting in and out of the boat - and generally bewildering him to such an extent that he's came within an ace of chucking it all in. This was crowned the other week when he turned up for a training session, was dispatched DOWNRIVER, along with another novice, by the coach who told them he would 'catch them up in the launch'. Well, he never did! The Husband fell in about 1k from the boathouse, breaking the sax-board of the tracer he was in. He eventually managed to get back in (don't forget, he's a BIG guy), cold and slightly shocked, and made his way through the heavy river traffic, gradually taking on water because of the breached upstand and other boat-wash.
Arriving at the boathouse, the coach had apparently buggered off without even venturing out on the river, leaving the two novices get on with it! Fortunately, I'd just turned up and managed to help him out with the boat and explain what had happened to a club-member whilst he took a warm shower and changed. Not good. I guess, at base what it really needs is someone to volunteer to shoulder the burden of organisation, but as most members work full-time this is not practical.

The sporadic and ever-changing nature and quality of the coaching has been a a bit of a let-down and is a real shame given the truly excellent nature of the junior set-up where the kids can train seven days a week, 363 days per year (if they so desire) and be assured of good, safe, coached rowing whenever the conditions permit.
Which they nearly didn't last Wednesday when I turned up to cox.
The river was really high: the tow path had disappeared and we had to quickly boat up from the steps - seven boats out, one after the other in rapid succesion. We headed upstream accompanied by a coach in a launch. The stream and wind were incredible, and I had all on to steer it through the tricky 'S'-bends one and a half kilometers up. We just had to keep going: any 'easying' was rewarded by the bow swinging round, so we just kept plugging away. Once upriver we spun the boat (pretty rapidly) and headed back down doing pyramids of 10, 20, 30, 40 light and firm strokes, keeping up with another quad who'd also been due to race this weekend. I needed all my concentration to cox, not only steering and calling for adjustments for current and wind, but counting down into the firm pieces whilst keeping a tally of what we'd done/had left to do, and looking out for logs the size of alligators that the river likes to disgorge during its periods of flood. We got back early, unsurprisingly given the speed of the stream, and managed to spin the boat and land at the steps without too much drama.
And do you know what? I found it the most marvellous and relaxing experience: having spent the day wrangling with grammatical features of the hellenistic Greek language, my mind was purged by not being able to think of anything that was going on except the rowing.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I just cannot believe how long it's been since I last posted on this blog - nearly six whole months!
I guess life just got in the way....
Things have been moving on apace: my return visit to the practice nurse for a blood pressure check involved her telling me that I had, in fact, lost a stone in weight (wahay!) and that my BP was righting itself quite nicely (Woop woop!).
Spurred on, I resolved to stick with my new regime and, lo and behold, I am now more than two stone lighter than I was in January.
Am I pleased? You betcha!
There was some minor inconvenience as I found myself having to purchase a complete new summer wardrobe (nothing from last year fitted - none of the trousers would stay up) but that was trumped by being able to wear a bikini (yes! a bikini!) without shame on the beach, for the first time in nearly a decade and a half.
I've actually impressed myself with my tenacilty, and to be absolutely honest I just had to put my head down and get on with it. I initially started by swimming everyday, working up from 15 minutes a go for the first few days and working up to sessions of half an hour/forty-five minutes. Into this I added three sessions a week of weight-training, divided into back/biceps, chest/triceps, legs and shoulders. After a few light sessions, I worked up the weights and concentrated on deadlifts, bench-presses and squats, with additional curls and pushdowns for the arms. After Easter I brought in some abs and core and ergo (rowing machine) work and, finding I enjoyed it, fitted in a session every day (40 mins on its own or 20 mins post-weights) and dropped the swimming to a relaxing post-workout role, along with a steam or a sauna.
I did all this by leaving for the gym as soon as the children were on the school bus at 7.30 in the morning, busting my ass, and then making sure I was at my desk working by 9.30 every day.
I daren't think about it too much - I just made it part of the daily routine and found that no matter how tired I was at the start of a session, by the end I was buzzing with endorphins and feeling totally energised and WELL!
So the hard work has indeed paid dividends - I bought (and fitted into) some size 10 super-skinny jeans last week and have no intention of letting this slip.
One of the major motivations was starting to cox the junior rowers in loves a fat coxswain although, as I told the kids in the early days, they should look on me as resistance training, much as athletes occasionally train with a car-tyre chained to their waists. I work on the premise that, having trained with me on board, a race with another junior coxing will be a piece of cake!
Much to my surprise, just before the summer holidays, the Bright-Eyed Boy finally capitulated and agreed to give rowing a go. Actually it was a bit of a stand-off: I told him I was not prepared for him to waste another summer holiday on the XBox and that I wanted him to try it out until the autumn at least. He agreed surprisingly quickly (maybe he'd already been considering changing his mind from his earlier outright refusal) and said that 'Maybe it would be quite fun'.
Well, he hasn't looked back: since his first tentative captive-rope outings in mid-July accompanied by the Husband (I was away at a conference, godddamit!), he has taken to it like a duck, progreesing over the holidays into a fine single sculling boat and making a pretty decent quad-crew member, keeping up in the firm pieces with boys a year older than himself.
Proud or what? Even better when I get to cox them...
And now the summer is practically over. Daughter #3 (who has had a pretty happy regatta and rowing season herself) is back to school for a year ten orientation day tomorrow, and the B-E B returns on Monday. So that's it for the daytime training: back to after-school sessions, which will get gradually curtailed by the earlier onset of dark.
I could feel quite melancholy, as is my usual September wont (see previous years' posts), but I have way to much to do. WAY, WAY too much, with the thesis due for submission in March!
But that's a different story.....