Six months for seven minutes

9 June 2009

Lightweight Rowing

Lizzie Polgreen – Women’s Captain

There’s just one race, and it lasts less than 7 minutes…the end result of six months build up, nearly 200 outings, two terms of carefully counting calories, over 50 hours of ‘erging’ (rowing on a machine indoors), 6 dedicated coaches, and 40 committed people who turned up on the 22nd of September to try to win a seat in one of the university women’s boats.

Preparation for racing Oxford begins with training to build strength, increase fitness and improve technique. A typical week involves 12 sessions: A generous lie in on Monday and Friday, otherwise mornings (including weekends) mean getting up early and making a bleary-eyed train journey and weekday evenings are used for weight training or erging.

The price of rowing for the university includes; getting up before some of your house mates have gone to bed; the cost of train fares, and the hideous population of deformed ducks covering Ely in excrement; but watching the sunrise over long, clear stretches of uninterrupted water makes the 5.55am train worth catching.

As a lightweight woman the final element of preparation for Henley was making sure that we weighed less than 59kg on the morning of the race, so we spent two terms counting calories and eating a lot of sugar-free jelly. Selection is done by 2km erg tests and seat racing. This involves racing two evenly matched boats of eight people side by side and then swapping over two people between boats and repeating, until everyone can be ranked in order.

You’ve no idea which race matters for you until it’s done and you’re told to swap places with someone, which means you race every race as if your seat in the boat racing against Oxford depends on it, because it might. Seat racing was the most exhausting outing I have ever done. Over two terms we’ve entered several races, including Head of the Trent, Women’s Eights Head of the River and Cambridge Autumn Head, but the main focus of the year was Henley. The Crew I was in lost and it is hard not to let the subsequent feeling of emptiness colour the memories of the six months I dedicated to that race.

Even so I don’t regret the time and effort, I have made great friends, as well as huge improvements in my rowing and I am proud to be part of CUWBC lightweights 2009.