Plovdiv attracts events of the calibre of the World Rowing Championships, and a pleasing amount of sunshine. Drago first arranged a training camp there in his native Bulgaria in 2012 - generally thought to be crucial in getting two crews to Henley. This year, the guys were back for more - including Ross, who took this shot. Thanks to James Reeves for the write up.
It’s 2.30 in the morning and I’m on a train. That’s pretty odd in itself, but weirder still is bumping into two people you know, and yet not being surprised that they are there.
Greg, Mark and I are on our way to Gatwick to catch a plane to Bulgaria for the annual senior men’s squad training camp. It’s my first, and I confess to being a little nervous at the prospect of nine consecutive days of rowing at three outings a day. But I’ve got a healthy supply of recovery drinks, blister cream and I’ve been doing all the training to date; how hard can it be?
We meet the rest of the squad in the baggage queue. There is a mixture of bleary eyes and surreal early morning excitement. Marcus appears to have arrived in his work suit. After the usual queuing and much shifting of rigger-jiggers into hold luggage we make it to the plane and we’re on our way to Sofia. I’ll never get bored of that feeling you get after a cramped, air-conditioned flight and step out of the plane into 30 degrees and glorious sunshine. After an hour in a taxi we arrive at the Hotel Globus in Plovdiv, our hosts for the next nine nights. Dave B and I grab the key to our room, and spend the next ten minutes trying to work out how it opens the door.
Dump the bags, change into rowing kit, and we’re off for our first outing. There is barely enough time for Mirko to apply his third coating of sun-cream. It’s a casual 10 minute stroll to the sport’s complex which consists of a stadium, a few tennis courts, football pitches and, of course, a rowing lake. My only previous experience of a 2km rowing lake had been Eton Dorney. There my first thoughts were “Man, that’s a long way” and “If it’s a lake, why are there so many waves?”. But in Plovdiv: “Is it a lake or a swimming pool?” It is sheltered by trees on three sides with a pedestrian bridge at the 1km mark. The boat house is at one end, a climbing wall at the midway point; and a conveniently positioned bar is at the finish line.
We settled into a consistent training routine over the week. Get up around 6.45, grab a snack, and head over to the lake for 7.30. The first session is a 10km technical session; lots of squared blades, slap-catches and all that good stuff. Off the water at around 9, and back to the hotel for breakfast and a quick doze. We head back over to the lake for around 10.30-11 for the second session. The sun is beginning to get serious, so it is time to lather up with sun cream and bring out the bad hats. The second session is much more intense; some days a heart-pumping series of UT1 pieces, others a series of back-to-back sprints. A particularly ‘memorable’ session involved a series of (eight?) 500m sprints; as much a mental as physical test.
After the 2nd session there is just time to take a quick dip in the lake, before heading back to hotel for a much-needed lunch and a couple of hours sleep. It’s then back in the boat for the last session, a quick shandy, dinner and bed.
It’s an intense schedule, but there were some moments to relax. During those periods I learnt a few things: bowside are better than strokeside at LaserQuest, there is such a thing as a ‘four hand massage’, the mountains around Plovdiv are spectacular, rowers are really good dancers and there is a very funny nickname for Dave and Dave in a pair.
Over the week the boat just got quicker and quicker. As a relative new-comer to rowing, I quickly realised that I hadn’t previously been in a boat that really moved. At the best moments I could just finish a stroke and sit at back-stops watching the water stream by. I think it is fair to say that at the end of the week there is a real sense of optimism around the squad that we are going to be competitive in the upcoming regattas, and hit our end-of-season goal of qualifying for Henley. Thanks to all the squad; to Peter and Kate for coxing; Sam and Drago for coaching and organising; Drago and Michael for translating. It was a terrific week.