You have to be in it to win it. And the Great Ouse Marathon makes being in it at all more of a challenge than just about any race on the UK rowing calendar (I don’t really count the Boston Marathon because that is so crazy long it is more of an survival feat than a race and you do have to portage across a lock). And one of the dividends of the Great Ouse odyssey is that by kicking off the head racing season, all of the head races that follow will seem like sprints after it.
The finish sits in the long shadow of another massive icon of the area, Ely Cathedral, where competitors lay exhausted counting their blisters and other bleeding parts and downing countless quantities of liquid. I was taking some the photos here at check points along the route and found myself next to a few marshals spread out across the course. I’ve never heard so much radio chatter for St. John’s. Usually the obligatory paramedics are at events sipping tea all day ticking a safety risk assessment box and maybe getting out some plasters for bloody knuckles and foil blankets for capsizes. But the radio was calling in people coming off the water with back injuries, dehydration, etc. Busy day for them.
If the ordeal wasn’t bad enough, the competitors faced a 13 mph headwind most of the race. Ben Marsden, Marlow said that he didn’t to stop often to take a drink because he was afraid that he would be blown back to the start. The conditions didn’t stop Sophie Brown, Sudbury (photo above) from setting out to break her own course record. But her time, 37 seconds off her 2013 record, showed the impact on all the athlete’s times.
Important Safety Note for AS Rowers – The Great Ouse event has quite limited safety support. It does have a safety launch on the water, but it will take quite a while just to get to you if it has to travel 20 km. The event also has marshals spread out across the course on the bank. But these too are quite distant apart to cover so much ground and can’t be relied on to spot a problem. Their solution to the lack of safety marshals is to require every competitor to carry their phone in a waterproof container. If you get into trouble or capsize, you are instructed to telephone the race number for assistance. In principle, all AS rowers will have performed a capsize drill and can follow these instructions as well as any rower. Claire Connon completed the race in 2013 as a fixed-seat AS rower. But it is a well-established fact, that given the combined risks of being the highest impairment classification and having the most straps to undo, an AS capsize is always a cause for concern. If you are an AS rower and want to compete in the Great Ouse, make sure you are absolutely comfortable with capsize extraction and recovery.
Finally, the picture at bottom just goes to show you that “adaptive” equipment isn’t just about accommodating athlete impairments. A little creative improvised engineering goes a long to sort out issues with resource impairments. Like the club truck being taken to Bled for the World Master Regatta and not owning a car that can take a roof rack. Fortunately, I do have a generous neighbor with a pickup (thanks Wayne…no it’s not mine even with my American heritage) that can be fashioned into a boat carrier with a few adaptions.
Marsden (shown at the 17 km mark below) set down a marker as the first adaptive mens rower to complete the course. So despite the head-wind impaired time, he goes down in the record books. Congratulations to the survivors of one possibly the hardest race of the year (if not many years with the unusually strong headwind)…
- Mens LTA 1x – Ben Marsden, Marlow
- Womens TA 1x – Sophie Brown, Sudbury
- Adaptive LTA 2x – Susannah Barnet and Katinka Erst, Worcester
The other adaptive course records are as follows…
- Womens AS 1x – Claire Connon, Oundle (03:09:28 – 2013)
- Womens TA 1x – Sophie Brown, Sudbury (02:39.24 – 2013)
- Womens LTA 1x – Lizzie Bennett, St Radegund (02:14:17 – 2015)