Those of you who read my blogs will know that I go to bootcamp sessions with Regiment Fitness and that more recently they have started up some extra tabbing sessions which I am enjoying. They had organised a Dragon Boat Race family fun day at Stanborough Lakes on the Sunday of the August Bank Holiday weekend which I had signed up for, and I decided that I would go in the St Albans boat as that is my home bootcamp location, despite the fact that I also know so many people from other sites, and especially from Welwyn Garden City. As it turned out, that was not a bad thing.
I did have some worries about the St Albans ‘team’. First of all, each boat was supposed to have 16 rowers and 1 drummer, and at the last count we had around 10 people in total; secondly, we had agreed to go in toga fancy dress (being the Romans from St Albans) and although I knew that Eve Tobias and Sarah Bracken had been out to get togas, I was not convinced anyone else was doing that; and finally, I was more than a little concerned that my toga fashioned from a sheet was not going to stay up ! I had extra safety pins, just in case. I arrived in good time and made my way over to where I had spotted Eve and Sarah, and while I could see many people in the park, I could not see any more that I recognised from St Albans at the moment. I could not miss the Welwyn Garden City team who were dressed as vikings and pirates…and a penguin. Then we had Lucie Johnson, Sarah England and her friend Natalie Taylor (who was really from Watford) and Selena Gold, but that still left us very short on numbers. Shaun Casey from Regiment Fitness was rushing around trying to sort things out and suddenly we had Alice Cobley and Jessica Maryan from Northampton, and our numbers were starting to look a bit better. Then it all looked an awful lot better as we were joined by a group from Welwyn who I knew very well, Adrian Carroll, Len (in a penguin outfit), Robbie Permenter and Abbie Sol (who both looked very scary indeed), and a friend of Stuart Messenger, John Fitzgerald. Shaun was still looking around to fill our numbers and finally we were joined by another two guys (and to my great embarrassment I do not know their names), and we had a boat ! We still needed a drummer, though, and it was proving even more difficult to find someone to do that than it had been to find a crew member. Eve and Sarah had nominated me to be the team captain so I went over for the safety briefing and listened intently, or at least as best as I could over the sound of Shaun on the microphone trying to sort out the assembled masses on the slopes overlooking the lake.
The format of the competition was straight forward. There would be four rounds of heats, with four races in each round. There would be three boats in each race (except for a few which only featured two). The best three times out of four for each boat would count towards a grand total, and the top six boats at the end of the heats would go through to two semi-finals. So it did not necessarily matter where you placed in a race, what mattered was your time. The winners from the two semi-finals would go through to the Final with the fastest loser. There would be medals for the top 3 and a trophy for the Winners. Someone from the organisers would be at the helm of each boat and would give us some tips on technique as the day went along. We would need to gather in our numbered pen as the race before ours set off, to make sure we had our life jackets on and paddle in hand ready for when that race had finished and we were called to get into our boat. I relayed that information to the team and we got into our pairs.
We got into the boats one at a time, in our pairs so that the boat was filled gradually either from the front or from the back. We then sat with one leg pushing forward against a lip in the floor of the boat, and our outside hip pushed against the side of the boat. During the course of the races we found out just how important this positioning is, because if you move away from it the boat can very suddenly become incredibly unstable. We had managed to persuade Stuart Messenger to be our drummer boy for the race, and he sat at the front of the boat. We followed instructions from the helm and then rowed to the other end of the lake, turning around to come to the start line, holding until the starter was ready, and then we were off, paddling furiously for about a tenth of a mile, which took just over a minute at most. We won our first race in 59.64 seconds, and that ended up being the third fastest time from the first round. I got out of the boat and my toga was soaked from all the water being splashed up by the paddling, which, for whatever reason, was not something I had expected to happen. It definitely made my toga a lot heavier, and I was very glad it was a sunny day so at least I dried out a little between races !
Our second race saw us taking on the fastest boat from the first round, Harpenden/Leighton Buzzard, and as after the first race we had been told that we were losing the rhythm a bit in the middle of the boat, we decided to attack that issue head on by moving some of the stronger rowers to the front of the boat, with the plan being that the middle of the boat would now follow the stronger rhythm up front, rather than getting away from the front rhythm. We also had a new drummer as we were joined by Kieran, one of the new Regiment Fitness instructors, and we managed to keep hold of him for the remaining races, despite attempts to poach him. This made a lot more sense because Stuart was also rowing in the Welwyn boat. We took our new power strategy into the race itself, pushing Harpenden/Leighton Buzzard all the way, and while they just stayed ahead at the line, we came away with an improved time of 55.98 seconds, which remained the second fastest time of the day at the end of that round.
We decided to do another little shuffle of positions in the middle of the boat before the third race, and although we came second to Bedford & Luton in another improved time of 55.78 seconds, we decided that we had found our best order and stuck with that for the rest of the tournament. As it turned out, Bedford & Luton had knocked over 4 seconds off their previous best time to beat us in that heat, and it would not be the last time we would face them this day. Selena was a duck for that race, presumably to provide some company for our penguin, but Len had been slipping in his costume, so he decided to leave it off for the remaining races.
1 Adrian Carroll 2 Len the penguin 3 AN Other 4 Me 5 Abbie Sol 6 Robbie Parmenter 7 Sarah England 8 Natalie Taylor 9 Selena Gold 10 Sarah Bracken 11 John Fitzgerald 12 AN Other 13 Lucie Johnson 14 Eve Tobias 15 Alice Cobley 16 Jessica Maryan Drummer Kieran
Our fourth and final race in the heats saw us up against Harlow & Sawbridgworth and Potters Bar/Borehamwood/Barnet, and we won it in 56.20 seconds. It was not our best time but the performance itself had been smooth and we appeared to be ironing out some faults at the right time, with the result meaning we went into the semi-finals with the momentum of a good win behind us. We discarded our first time as it was our slowest, and our three remaining times added up to 167.96, meaning we were second fastest overall (although our best time made us only the third fastest boat of the day), putting us into the second semi-final with the third and fifth placed boats. We watched the first semi-final, which was won by the favourites, Harpenden & Leighton Buzzard, who had been the fastest boat all day, and Welwyn came in at 57.56 seconds. If we did not win our semi-final, that would be the time to beat to qualify for the Final as the fastest loser, and we knew we were capable of beating that time. Only our first time of the day had been slower than that.
We were facing Aylesbury and our old foe, Bedford & Luton, in the second semi-final. We were very motivated to get a win to take us through, and not leave it to the possibility of being the fastest loser. We definitely felt like we had it in us to win the race after analyzing our performances to this point. It seemed that where we were losing time was in the middle part of the race, when we lost our patience and became a little chaotic with our rowing, and at the very end when we tended to stop as we passed the jetty, with the actual finish line just a bit beyond that. Our row out to the start line was very smooth, as it had been throughout the day, and if we could keep that form in the race we would win it. It was impossible to know who had won between ourselves and Bedford & Luton, but it felt like it had been a fast race. Bedford & Luton got the decision in 56.83 seconds, and we had hit spot on 57 seconds to reach the Final as the fastest loser. It had not been one of our fastest times after all, but we would take that !
So here we were in the Final. I do not think any of us believed this could have been possible at the beginning of the day, and now we were guaranteed to go home with a medal, with all that was to be decided being which one, gold, silver or bronze. We went into the Final as the underdogs because we had not yet managed to beat either of the other teams, so that also gave us a sense that we had nothing to lose. We had a quick turn around from our semi-final and as we moved towards the start line our helm decided we should practice our start. This would be 5 quick, deep strokes, to get the boat moving off before we moved into our steady rhythm. We did this as we moved to the start line and it went very well. There was a real sense of determination in the boat – we wanted more than the bronze ! It was tense edging to the start line and then we were off, our 5 quick strokes getting us going before we definitely seemed to keep our focus and our rhythm because it felt like a very smooth row. It was a strong, fast rhythm, and it was consistent, and everyone in the boat gave their all. A glance across showed this was a very tight race approaching the jetty, and I could feel that we did not stop at that point and kept the rowing going strongly. As we crossed the line the winner was clearly Harpenden & Leighton Buzzard, although we had pushed them every stroke of the way, but it appeared to be very close for second, and way too close to know from looking across. I congratulated every one of the team as they got out of the boat because they had been exceptional today. We had built a team from nothing and now we were anxious to hear just how far we had taken things. I heard someone say there was nothing in it. Then I heard someone else say the decision could be in our favour. I did not want to get my hopes up but there was a definite sense of excitement in the team as we made our way to the organisers’ tent for the medal presentations. And when it was announced that in third place were Bedford & Luton we could not help but be elated because we had won the silver medal. It felt like gold ! We could not have done it if we had not come together as a team so quickly from the point of not even knowing each other and it says everything about the people in our boat that we did. Congratulations to Harpenden & Leighton Buzzard for their win – we will be back next year to challenge you again and we are looking to go one place better.
Thanks must go to Regiment Fitness for putting on the day, to Shaun for trying to pull together some form of order from the chaos, to Adam for the photographs, to Cable Events for organising everything to do with the boats and providing the helms, and I would also like to thank Nigel Cox for some excellent action photos, and I hope he will not mind that I used a couple in this blog.
You can see more of my photographs from the day here.