Boat Race – Fit & Healthy

‘The Boat Race is upon us! And yet the last weeks of our campaign have been the quietest. Our social calendar has dried up and studies are taking a back seat. Instead we have been more consumed with developing our rowing skills and coming closer together as a squad and as individual Isis and Blue boats.

The January 5000m ergo test was another example of the high profile of our event and the general media interest. Arriving at the OUBC training centre we noticed television cameras were being set up alongside the ergometers. Ergo tests can be messy affairs – cheering and shouting while sweat and spit spray everywhere – and this was no different. The cameras captured everything, with some particularly intense close-ups, and the producer seemed happy with the result. I can’t wait to see the final production.

The final crew selection was understated and brief, attended by only the coaches and rowers. We were kitted up, expecting a pre-row briefing in the Imperial College boathouse. After explaining the coming outing, our coach Sean Bowden then stated the final crews in the most matter-of-fact way possible. And so seven months of hard work was decided in one moment beside the Thames. I’m in Isis. The reserve crew is always an interesting mix, including people who are desperately unhappy to miss out on the Blue Boat and others who are ecstatic to be out of the spare pair.

It is a huge honour to compete for Oxford in the Boat Race and during the day I often catch myself smiling for this reason. Some friends are sympathetic that I didn’t make the Blue Boat, as I had aimed to do, and others congratulate me on winning a place in Isis. Personally I have overcome so many injuries and setbacks, that I am grateful for this outcome. It also takes me closer to my wider rowing goals.

Training has frequently been on the Tideway and Westminster School Boathouse in Putney is becoming our base away from Wallingford. The river is also becoming more familiar. During our first row in London I was completely lost and was horrified to learn that Hammersmith Bridge, which seemed so far from the start line, was less than halfway along the course. Now it feels like home.

Throughout February and March the two crews race against various opposition. Events are known as ‘fixtures’ and allow us to test our speed against strong crews. The first fixture saw Isis race University College Dublin, beating them convincingly over each half of the Boat Race course. The Blue Boat raced the University of Washington, beating them by open water.

I feel strong and healthy for the first time all season. We are extremely fit and as we ease into the final week, it’s fantastic to feel the benefit of seven months of constant fatigue. I feel mentally prepared for this unique race and respect the opposition, the river and the weather, without fearing them. I’m enjoying the fanfare, without being distracted by it. On race day my attitude will be the typical Australian approach to sport – fight as hard as you can and enjoy yourself to the maximum.’

Mike Valli