It doesn't seem a year ago since the last Autumn Head, my first ever race, when we witnessed a stunning sunrise that I later used as inspiration for a poster (pictured) for our own club race in April; the Head of the Cam. I felt so honoured to be on the river to bear witness to such a beautiful morning. It was misty and the boats ahead were silhouetted against the warm sun. Now, a year on, I feel so lucky to have a connection to the river and its wildlife; that I get to see it in its many different lights and seasons.
This year the Autumn Head was later in the year and later in the morning but the river magic was still there as ever. We had the first of Autumn's crispness in the air, a gentle light and a cold, choppy wind on our backs.
We only had a few boats on the river for the Autumn Head this year with some of our club off at the Amsterdam Marathon (they smashed it of course and we are super proud of them!). Even without some of strongest, super-marathon-running-women, our Women's IM3 VIII (me included) won our division by 4 seconds!! Congratulations to Katie, Dawn and Evelyne on winning their first pots!
We were a pretty hotch-potch crew, consisting of CRC Women's 1st, 2nd and 3rd boats and had a few unnerving changes to the crew at the last minute. The row up seemed pretty lethargic as we lugged the boat to the start but Alison, our cox, was there with just the right words, reminding us to all pull our weight, to put in that extra effort and trust the rest of the crew to do the same. She made us work hard on the row to the start, pushing our muscles into racing mode. We stepped up our game and I was reminded of the importance of a great cox who can gauge exactly what her crew need to hear.
There was the usual shuffling about at the start line with boats getting tangled in knots like a ball of wool. We managed to detangle ourselves, spin and pulled up at the bank. By this point our Men's VIII had already begun their race and were heading towards the boat houses, leaning into that strong wind. The Men’s crew had many newcomers, some racing for their first time or second only to the craziness of Bumps week. We saw them at the boathouse before they set off, one an old friend I have known since school. I had a flashback to those first race jitters, wondering if I would not have the energy to row the full course or worse, catch a crab. They finished second in their division. I am pretty sure they must all have caught the rowing bug by now.
Gradually our Women's VIII approached the start with a steady build and the knowledge that it would soon be over. I found I still had those nerves and slight disbelief that I would make the full 2600m. But our race was a good one. We took tight corners and kept to a strong and steady rhythm, set by our stroke and new Women's Captain, Amelia. It felt calm and capable, building back up when we seemed to be waning. Needless to say, throughout the race our cox, Alison, continued to pull every last bit of strength from us, making all the right calls of encouragement and discipline. She's a great cox.
Our third boat in the Autumn Head was our Women's IM3 VI. Three of the crew had already rowed in our VIII after generously subbing in for missing crew members, so had a tough job to muster the strength for a second solid row. The fourth crew member was the wonderful Naz, who stepped in from a different club altogether. They had a tough row, finishing last in their category, not true to their usual form.
For CRC, this was a positive start to the winter season. Our Men’s Captains, Simon and William have done a fantastic job bringing in more men to the club this season. We have some very promising rowers who are keen and able; a real plus for the club. The Women's crews continue to go from strength to strength with regular land training sessions and frequent outings. Now with November approaching fast, we've had an email from our Captains planning for the winter league and racing season. I'm excited to think of the months ahead of cold, icy mornings, training on the river. Whenever I tell people who don't row that I row, they always ask about early starts and winter outings, thinking these must be the downside of rowing. But it's at these times where the river really comes into its own and you feel part of a secret club who know winter’s true beauty. On these coming frosty mornings, when the streets are quiet and most people are still tucked up in their warm homes there's a lively buzz down at the river. And all around, the sound of blades chopping through the cold water. I love it. Roll on November.