After months of training and racing, Head of the River 2015 took place on the 29th March, on a wet and windy day in West London. After 2 years of bitter disappointment, the race finally went ahead, with CSRC crews starting at 93rd and 239th respectively. The IM2 boat made up of John, Piers, Mike, Joel, Stuart, Gareth, El Capitan Jamie, and Andrew, trained tirelessly for months in pursuit of glory leading up to the race. Having endured numerous selection criteria, including a gruelling 5000 metre test, the crew honed their racing skills with tune-ups in Boston, Doncaster and Nottingham, seeing success at South Yorkshire Head in early February.
The weekend of HoRR began much like any other, with an early morning outing at our training base at Damflask. Having put the finishing touches to our technique and racing plan, we moved on to more important matters. These included the gathering of kit, derigging of boats, and confirmation of who would be bringing cake. After that, the crew made their way down to the bright lights of London, with Andrew and Piers towing the boats down in the relative luxury of a Land Rover, which I’m sure must have been more pleasurable than the usual Transit van.
Race day was upon us. The crew met on Putney Embankment at 7:30am in order to get on final outing in, and to get our bearings on the Tideway. Ably coxed by University of Sheffield Men’s Captain Louis Fox (who stepped in in the absence of Vicky for our final session), the boat had their best outing of the season, leaving morale high in advance of the race. Following a quick break to refuel and re-layer, boating time came at 11:30. The wind was building, the rain was coming in, and the course was covered in a blanket of mist all adding to the suspense. As the crew made their way 6.7km up to the start line, we encountered a number of international athlete’s racing for less prestigious clubs, including the paupers of Leander and Molesey, who would go on to finish in the top 2 positions of the race. They were of course impressed with both our physique, and the quality of our equipment.
Soon, the crew was to discover the great advantage of starting so high up the race order. Rather than spending hours sat in the drizzle, waiting to start, our intrepid heroes barely had time to delayer before it was our time to race. Expertly coxed by Vicky, we were soon up to race pace, enjoying the encouragement of other Sheffield based crews waiting at the start line. The first third of the race passed without incident, the boat flying down the course as we enjoyed the most of the stream, pushing off the crews behind. Gradually however, we were caught by those heathens from north of the border at Clydesdale RC. Excitement ensued as both crews looked for the advantage, racing side by side for the best part of a kilometre until we succumbed to their strength close to Hammersmith Bridge. Here, we were spurred on by our support team, and the crowd which had gathered to see what some observers had called the finest crew the sport had ever seen (probably). Of course, the technical improvements made at his point had nothing to do with the presence of numerous photographers. Thankfully, Gareth’s face paint had washed away by this point, sparing us great embarrassment.
However, we were about to encounter the worst the weather could throw at us. Building waves, combined with a strong headwind, spelt trouble for our increasingly tired crew. Into the last kilometre, we began to pass numerous landmarks which identified the end of the course. Willed on by Vicky, we sustained one last push through the Embankment, and the race was done. Our aching legs carried us back to the boat houses and waiting cake, where we were greeted by our enthusiastic support.
Our final placing was 190th out of 350, which should be seen as a success given the relative lack of training time and resources in comparison to our competition. A top 200 achievement is something to be proud of, and we looked back on our efforts with a feeling of accomplishment. Although 6.7km is a long way, the effort and dedication was inspiring to be a part of, and should set us up well for future events, especially given the presence of two Csrc crews for the first time in a number of years.
However, we couldn’t have achieved this without the efforts of our cox Vicky McDougall, and the support of Cat Thomas, Cat McDougall, Philippa Turnbull and others on the day. Additionally, our preparations were aided hugely by the work of Alice Kearsey, Sally Jones, Cat M and Louis. Good job team!