BRICing it 2017!

[By roving reporter Dawn Hawkins] Cycling home from the pub at the end of the day, through the calm, crisp midnight air, I was thinking “yeah - that was a cool idea – I’m glad I did that”. Twenty hours earlier, however, it was a different story: I’d woken at 4am realising “OMG, today is the day I’m signed up to go to London to do a 2k in the middle of the Olympic Velodrome watched by a load of people”. Doubts about my own sanity were still coursing through my head a couple of hours later when I joined a small band of rogue Chesterton rowers, taking the 6:15 to Kings Cross heading for the British Rowing Indoor Championships.

The sun was only just rising over the East End as we sped from St Pancras to Stratford International and the Velodrome. Even so our support crew, the wonderful Angela armed with flag and flapjack, had managed to arrive in advance of us and stake out a Chesterton base in a perfect spot for watching both the red and the blue racing areas and for nipping to the bathroom to vent pre-race nerves.

First up was Jonathan. He had been put with the lightweights so he went off to convince people that this was erroneous, which took just one look. We watched him ready himself for action in the warm up area, disappear underground and re-emerge on to the race floor to the “please welcome the athletes…” announcement to stirring music. As Jonathan erged to a 7:04 at a magnificently powerful 23 strokes per minute on the race floor, a little yellow boat, with his number on it, jostled for position with about 50 others on a massive screen behind him. A commentator ramped up the atmosphere. Then, suddenly, the image switched to live camera shots of individual ergers – the agony, the determination, the exhaustion.  For a moment I forgot that was going to be me in a very short while but then it came back to me. Ugh.

Although we were in different categories, Anne, Eleanor & I marshalled together which was great, not least because I got to witness the moment one of Anne’s competitors told her that she was going for a world record attempt. Waiting for our 2k races to be called, my mouth was getting pretty parched with nervous tension, not helped by the hot dry atmosphere in the heart of the Velodrome. Then things went more drastically off plan when our warm up was cut to 6 minutes, to make up time lost to some technical issue, and the ideal 10 minute warm-up Anne & I had perfected over the last 12 weeks of training went out the window. As we entered the race floor, the sight of the race marshals holding stacks of those grey cardboard sick bowls, usually reserved for medical institutions, did nothing to improve our nerves. Anne confessed to me later that she’d never suffered from such overwhelming butterflies and feeling of feebleness: About sums it up.

Finally, I was seated on Erg number 12 in blue race area with the familiar Concept 2 little screen of hell in front of me. It had all the usual stats plus my name – my name on a Concept 2 monitor - oh dear!  I thought about making a run for it but pulled myself together and managed a respectable 8:20 to come 6th in the masters 50-54 women while Anne clocked up a tidy 8:26 to come 4th in the masters 60-64 women. Slightly disappointing in terms of times but both happy to have made it through and got good placings. Attention was then on Eleanor, no PB for her either but nevertheless, she stormed to 3rd place in the womens 40-49 year old lightweights with an impressive 7:46.  Anne & I sneaked into the medal presentation area and saw her getting a bronze medal up close.

Next a short break from the Velodrome for a walk through the Olympic Park and lunch on Victory Parade. Then we watched the Open 2k finals with the men’s race including several GB rowers plus, accompanied by much media attention, Sir Bradley, looking like a 1970s petulant John McEnroe with his white head band and bushy hair: He even seemed to do a McEnroe a bit of a stomp off at the end when it didn't go to plan. Most inspiring of all, the para and adaptive athletes and a couple of world records smashed.

By the time 500m events started my state of nervous tension and receded to more manageable levels. Jonathan was first on again and doubled his rating [46? Are you sure? - Ed.] to put down a handsome 1:32. Then it was the Chesterton women’s trio turn. Everything was more familiar and, what with a full length warm up, I think we all felt much more together and got our a hat trick of PBs. I went sub 1:50 for the first time and Eleanor’s cracking 1:47 only missed the podium by a second. However, it was Anne who put the icing on the cake with a 1:56 that landed her convincingly in second place and lead us to another award ceremony to get her silver medal.

We had to make a hasty retreat after that, so sadly missed the relay which featured five teams of women GB rowers, but we all had things to look forward to back in Cambridge. Our journey from Stratford International to Cambridge Central only took in 1 hour and 1 minute, which must be some kind of record. Anne went off to Senate house for a dose of long-ago-booked Handel’s messiah but Jonathan, Eleanor & Angela proceeded homeward to ready themselves for the Club’s Christmas party at the Pub where I re-joined them after an uplifting detour to see my son is his school production of Sister Act.  All in all a highly memorable and, mostly, enjoyable day.

With thanks to: My fellow BRICers, super supporter Angela, Captain Rachel’s BRIC countdown (and the title for this blog), the various messages of good luck and congrats and to those who posted photos of Team Chesterton dressed as baubles and the like on Facebook which were an excellent antidote to the more tense aspects of our experience!