The first few minutes of the sculler's head can sometimes feel like you're not pushing on enough. It is too easy to blast through Chiswick Bridge only to have your legs scream out in protest, then quit entirely.
My plan was to set off and find a race rhythm, perhaps concentrate on a few technical points, just keep everything under control and relaxed. However, head races are about catching the boat in front and not being caught by anyone. So when I realised the chap behind me was matching my boat speed, all plans for relaxation and control were abandoned. I was going to have to work to keep this guy at a safe distance.
It was around Barnes bridge was when my internal dialogue (read: shouting match) really started. "Maybe you should slow down and not worry about being overtaken". "Nonsense, this is a race, no one is allowed to overtake you". So naturally I tried to go faster and push away from the sculler behind me. That's when the red flags started to appear.
Almost half way into the race and things generally got quite uncomfortable. My heart had been bouncing off the rev limiter for 10 minutes, that all too familiar burn in the legs had found its way into every other muscle in my body. I'm asking for more power, but all I'm getting are apologies. Is this what I signed up for? Well, apparently, yes.
Next land mark is Hammersmith bridge. It's "downhill" from there - I thought before the race. But you have to trust me when I tell you that in fact, along the Fulham reach, the river actually goes uphill quite steeply and time slows down. I was entering what many athletes describe as "a hole". A deep, dark and inhospitable hole. I was trying to make minor adjustments to steering and technique. But my body, now acting autonomously, wasn't responding.
As I passed the black buoy, the final land mark before the finish, the internal dialogue became one single word, repeated over and over with each stroke. "Survive, survive, survive". I'm still not sure if it was meant to be an instruction or a plea. The last few strokes were completed, I passed Putney pier and the world collapsed around me. Marshals are telling you to keep paddling through the bridge, they make it sound so easy. I wasn't sure if I would make it through the bridges, I really had no idea how I was going to make it to the club.
Immediately after the race I was telling anyone who asked that I would never do that again. It took a full day of rest to recover physically and apparently mentally too. I'm already planning on entering again next year.
Finishing second for the club in 180th was Greg, last year's club sculling champion with another strong performance. Just a few seconds behind was Eoin with a massive improvement over his finish postion last year. Well done, but where was Niall? Les also broke into the top 200, securing business class starting position for next year, in Mas E. Our other vets - James, Dave and Stephen all sculled well and improved on their positions from last year. Good going everyone. All we lacked were female athletes this year, but with the women's squad in good shape I'm sure we'll see some in future years.