<p">Rowing is a well established
tradition at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It’s a sport
that demands strength, endurance and co-ordination and, in addition, to be part
of a crew of eight rowers and a cox. As devotees of long distance running, we
can appreciate the qualities that help us achieve personal bests. Do rowing and
distance running have qualities in common?
<p">Jess Barker provides an
example of a recently graduated student who has done both. She’ll soon turn 22
and from the beginning of March 2006 will spend three months in Uganda, continuing her
zoological studies with a view to undertaking further studies in the USA. As an
undergraduate, she rowed in the women’s boats for her alma mater, Jesus College, Cambridge, as well as
running the 2005 Flora London Marathon in 3:42:19.
<p">Rowing plays a big part in
life at Jesus College, although this
academic institution has developed disparate talents and not just in sport :
Steve Fairbairn, one of the best British rowers of the 19th century,
was at Jesus as was Laurence Sterne, the writer and author of “Tristram
Shandy”, in the late 18th. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was
greatly interested in German literature and especially the philosopher Immanuel
Kant, was also a student in the early 19th century.
“At school I didn’t really
consider myself that much of a sports type, “ reflected Jess Barker. “I ran now
and then, did an occasional cross-country race on Hampstead Heath in north London and occasionally
ran the 1500 or 3,000 metres in local school championships.” She also took part
in the Flora London Mini-Marathon but without achieving anything special. When
she went up to Cambridge, she decided to
try rowing. Perhaps the reason behind this lies in her genes, since her father,
who is well over 6 ft. or 1.84 metres, also rowed while her mother has the
sinewy physique of a natural long distance runner.
At Jesus College Jess
discovered the world of rowing : an average of four sessions a week on the
water, plus two with weights in the gym and two “Erg” sessions, where
individual and crew performance are measured indoors over a particular
distance. These latter tests took place indoors and consisted of either
half-an-hour at a consistent tempo or “The dreaded 2km Test”, where every crew
member had to row as hard as they could.
Togetherness was also
important. After training, the crew would often eat together, especially the
evening before a race. Cambridge has a tradition of races called “Bumps” : a
college may enter several boats, they race against crews from rival colleges
and when a boat is overtaken, it is called a “Bump” and they have lost that
particular race. The victorious crew earns the title of “Head of the River”,
i.e, best boat on the river Cam.
Jess wasn’t so strong on
technique but she had stamina, and the feeling of being with other, technically
better rowers in the same boat was a “Wow”, a great experience when everything
went right. But in her final year at university she, more or less, changed
sport and concentrated on running. Time was tight in the face of the
She certainly gave herself a
big challenge when she decided in the autumn of 2004 to run the next year’s
Flora London Marathon. Instead of the river Cam, her training venue became the
flat landscape around Cambridge. But it went well, running between 1:40 and
1:45 for two half-marathons and 45 minutes for 10km. Being on the feet for a
long time was in contrast to rowing, when you could reckon on giving 100%
effort for up to 15 minutes and had to pay keen attention to the instructions
from the cox. “In running races I could enter my own world of concentration.
But when I did two 20 mile runs in training, they were hard.”
On race day things went
mostly to plan : “I’d planned to run inside 8.30 minutes per mile but then
slowed over the last 4 to 5 miles.” She reached the finish line in 3:42:19 but
“Afterwards I could barely walk and felt completely out of it.” A massage later
that day helped the recovery process.
Two sporting achievements :
running one of the world’s greatest city marathons and fast, competitive racing
in a rowing boat. How did she compare her fitness on these occasions?
<p">“When I produced my best
results in the “Erg” sessions in my second year as a student, I certainly
couldn’t have run 45 minutes for 10km on the road. Conversely, in the weeks
after the London Marathon, I found it really hard to keep up with the others in
an “Erg” test. The experience of preparing for and running a marathon was
simply something very different.” </p"></p">