Five things I wish I’d known when I started university rowing

Former Bristol University rower Keir Salter passes on some hard-earned nuggets of rowing wisdom for students


Bristol University students at BUCS Regatta (c) John Stead

Rowing requires an iron will, a strong physique and an unhealthy ability to only let yourself stop when the job is done. Here are five things I wish I’d known when I first started rowing:

1. This is how friendships are made

Besides training and travelling, you will develop an unbelievably close bond with the people who stick at the sport throughout the year. This is especially true of nights out when you can play spot the rower. It’s usually not very hard, just look for the tallest person in the room. Eventually, even you will become bored with yourself talking about rowing all the time so vary your social circle.

2. It is acceptable to eat malt loaf at any time of day

How many calories are in it? A common question when rowers go shopping together. Rowers are often found crowding the bread aisle of the local supermarket as all 33 malt loaves that were meant to last the week are snapped up in a matter of seconds. Fuelling your two sessions a day, six days a week is no mean feat. It literally becomes a case of fuel, burn and repeat, so it’s important to vary your diet or at least put peanut butter on your malt loaf once in a while.

Rowers are often found crowding the bread aisle as all 33 malt loaves are snapped up in a matter of seconds

3. Waking up early never gets easier

Pre-9am lecture outings are enough to make anyone want to punch their alarm clock and pull the duvet over their heads. An unwritten rule of regattas, head races and general training is that the earlier something starts, the better. I had to walk past my fellow students drunkenly returning to their beds on countless times as I was heading down to the river. Make the most of your lie-ins, when you can, and learn to recognise the beauty of a winter’s sunrise.

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4. No pleasure without pain

It is said that there is no pleasure without pain, and this definitely holds true for competitive rowing. A 2km test hurts like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s a heady cocktail of pain, mental anguish, fire in your lungs, thundering of your heart and the hope that, if you’re lucky, you might just be able to break into rowing nirvana. In the end, competitive rowing is an endurance sport that requires hour after hour at the grindstone. There’s no way round it, you have to embrace the pain!

Make the most of your lie-ins, when you can, and learn to recognise the beauty of a winter’s sunrise

5. It will alter your level of organisation

Rowing gives you a sense of impetus when it comes to completing academic work. As you’re training six days a week with outings, weights and land sessions all taking place after lectures, the self-discipline you gain from rowing enables you to eradicate procrastination. Rowing gives your day a defined structure that you can fit your work around, just make sure it doesn’t get the better of you!

This article was first published in Rowing & Regatta magazine.