In April this year the Newton Women’s Boat race was held on the Tideway for the first time, and I was privileged to be part of it. However the road to racing on the Thames did not start this year, the move to the Tideway has been known since 2012 and since then Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club has been preparing for the race.
I came to Cambridge in September 2013 before my course here started to being training with CUWBC, it already was clear that the club was making preparations for racing on the Tideway despite the races being held in Henley that year. Throughout the 2013/14 season we went to London to race and train on the Tideway. At first, I found it very intimidating as the river there is very different compared to anywhere I had trained. However, the more we trained on the Tideway the more comfortable I became. At the end of the season, I competed in the Blondie-Osiris Boat Race losing by half a length. Despite this disappointment, I knew that I wanted to be in another boat race because overall the year had been a lot of fun. Last September with a brand new squad, we saw a various changes to prepare us for racing on the Tideway; 5km weekend pieces at Ely became the norm, there were a greater number of visits to the Tideway to train and multiple sessions watching past Boat Race videos. We also saw the change in our land training sessions, 5km erg tests rather than 2km, and I can promise you a 5km is defiantly worse! Not only had the training changed this year so had the interest from the media and the sponsors to make raise awareness of the race, it made the process more exciting but throughout it all the focus was on the training rather than the excitement of the first women’s race on the Tideway. For me it was a very challenging year, more so than my first year trialing, however when the crews were finalised I had made the Blue Boat.
The most concentrated media attention we had before race day was at the weigh-in which was held just over a month before the race. This marked the official announcement of the Boat Race crews. The event was held in the Royal Academy in London and was probably one on the most bizarre days my year. Standing on a set of scales in a uni-suit in front of many members of the press, whilst Claire Balding read your name and weight was a very surreal experience.
When the race came, although it was the first on the Tideway, it did not feel like we were doing something new or different. It was the course we had trained for all year and the race we were ready for.
We moved to London a week and a half before the race to begin final preparations. The time we spent as a crew in London was some of the most enjoyable of the whole year, being able to really focus on rowing close to the race and come together even more as a crew.
I do not remember much of the race itself, and it was over surprisingly quickly. Before the race I had expected to be aware of the flotilla following us and thought the noise of the crowds would be very distracting, however I noticed neither during the race. Despite losing I know we did our best that day, I can look back on the race and the year proud to have been part of that crew and the squad.
Throughout the year we were often asked ‘What does the boat race mean to you? What does it mean that the women will be on the Tideway too?’ I think the answers I gave were probably always a bit disappointing, I had not really thought that much about the impact the race could have on women’s sport but now feel we are yet to see the full effect it could have. I feel very privileged to have been part of the first race on the Tideway and I look forward to seeing many more Cambridge crews race down that course.
Throughout the process the college has been very supportive, particularly the Master Roger Mosey. Research for my degree has taken me away from Cambridge this term so I cannot race in Mays, which I shall be sad to miss. I had a lot of fun racing with the college last year and I wish them every success this year.