While waiting at the train station on the morning of the race, it transpired that most of us hadn't managed to get much sleep the night before, which was somewhat reassuring to know so as not to feel the odd one out.
The train and tube journey to the Furnival went smoothly without a hitch (bar a moment of tension going past the Piccadilly Circus without stopping and hearing "Please leave the station immediately" announcements). The weather looked promising, the river wide and calm, Furnival Gardens busy with fellow rowers assembling the boats. I must say I've found all this rigging and de-rigging equally fun (I guess until the novelty wears off), and it was a revelation to learn that the actual boat comes apart in halves.
An hour and a half waiting before putting the boat on the water was spent calculating how many times one could go to the loo taking into account the length and speed of the queues, how many layers to keep/take off, how much water to drink, and fretting about taking the boat down a steep and scary ramp whilst being circumnavigated by runners, cyclists, families with prams and other members of the general public on a busy Saturday morning Thames embankment.
And finally off we went. Usually the worst part of any race is sitting around and waiting for ages whilst getting cold and anxious. Here, it felt nothing like - time for a short practice, some steady state rowing, de-kitting/re-kitting, watching the crews racing past - all while generally feeling safe and secure under Dave's composed and confident guidance rowing past shouty marshalls and stray boats in the middle of the river.
The scene looks strangely familiar and different at the same time, like in a dream - a tow path along the right-hand side with runners and dog walkers (but no fishermen), a river (but a bit wider, and pebbly beaches instead of grassy corners), houses on the left-hand side (but a bit grander), bridges (but wider and higher)... Maybe I was dosing off after all after a sleepless night.
Finally, a nice and wide spin (instead of a three-point turn) and we're racing!
Thinking about it now, the race went for me in a flash. I remember saying to myself, "It'll be over in 20 minutes or so", and concentrating for the rest of the time with not much room for reflection.
Oh yes, there were a couple of events along the way to keep us entertained: we worked hard to hold off an overtaking boat for some time, we tried to sort out the balance by applying various strategies, we welcomed the cheers from the Hammersmith Bridge, then I didn't respond as I should have to the "mind the blades on bow side" call and hit a buoy at full speed, which was swiftly followed by a slight collision with the blades of the boat we were trying to overtake. The incident cost us some time and probably a few places, but we recovered and managed to go ahead of that boat, and then we were very pleased to hear "the last 500 meters" soon afterwards. Another boat was gaining on us towards the end, which gave us an extra incentive to push harder and I think we did manage not to let them overtake us (just about!) at the finish.
The row back was long but I was still too excited to feel the tiredness. The life on the banks was busy and I enjoyed taking it all in when it was our pair's turn to have a rest.
We landed on the beach (which again appeared easier than expected) and then went through the same boat-carrying process in reverse to complete our mission.
I think we all had a feeling of achievement in the end - all the months of training, hours of preparations, waiting and anxiety were well worth it!
PS And the hardest part of the day was cycling back home from the train station.