Great Ouse Marathon

4 Sep

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)

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Great Ouse Marathon - pick up boat transport

3 Replies to “Great Ouse Marathon

  1. 22km (and the rest) and 13 mph headwinds to battle against. Not exactly what most people would dream or, desire, hope for, like or appreciate; bobbing up and down in a little boat on the Great Ouse river for two hours and eleven minutes.

    So why did I do it ? First and foremost to prove to myself that I could do it; to surprise a rowing club that I was doing it and could do it! But also to experience rowing in that environment for that length of time as someone who amongst other things, has a visual impairment, is on the Autistic spectrum with high functioning Autism, and proprioception and pain responses is a little ‘off.’ I can only describe it as the nerve connections between my muscles and brain do not work. I do not feel muscular pain. Some people might think I am very lucky; but imagine going for a run, or a 2 hour 11 minute rowing marathon and not having any pain in your muscles to indicate you have done any work at all. It would feel pointless.
    In actual fact in high intensity rowing, the only way I can tell I have worked as a result of muscle fatigue. Again I can’t feel it; but neither can my muscles sustain my skeletal structure. The minute I stop i become like a rag doll. Floppy and having lost all ability to balance. So why do I It?

    The answer to this is multi layered; but being on a river is a surface not to be seen but to feel. Unless experienced, I cannot know. Being in a boat turns my proprioceptibe senses from the vertical (ish – with my body) to the horizontal (ish) whilst bobbing, floating, moving on the river. Holding onto blades and pulling on the stroke gives me control of a ‘vehicle’ – an experience I have never had. I have control of speed, of power, even of technique and how smooth that makes my journey.
    I could go on.

    In short, rowing gives me a completely new and unexpected ‘world environment’. My outlook on what I am going to experience next, the smells, sounds, feelings is constantly being refreshed, yet always unpredicted. I have a present and a past tense, yet I have no future.

    Rowing gives my visually impaired, Autistic world a new world language. A new description of what life is. My thoughts and inner dialogue are transformed by how my senses are enlightened.

    This is Just a hint of why I ever dreamed of rowing 22k (and the rest).

    Part 2 to follow.

  2. Part 2

    I had decided that myself that there was no option other to complete the marathon from the moment; yet as soon as we arrived on site the butterflies in my stomach and the anticipation starts to build. Could we really do it considering how little training time I had had over the summer. I know my partner experiences a change of outlook too; or at least I assume she has because she becomes very businesslike and takes on her support role with diligence, though I know her heart is one of wanting to both do it for herself and to do it to enable me. Perhaps I am even the key that has ‘allowed’ her to do it?

    Yet I know that at the moment where when we arrived on site our ‘worlds’ we are becoming separated yes we would row the river together, we both have a focus on doing it and achieving, but our minds and the way we react to our surroundings are diverging.

    My trouble is difficult when somebody becomes very businesslike and directive with me; I tend to have the opposite thought in my brain and to want to push my boundaries; psychologically I don’t want to be businesslike but my mood becomes light hearted (and I apparently chatter!!). ((The other option in a disabled – non disabled relationship to react to a businesslike attitude would be rebellion.))
    I also push my boundaries literally . I want to know where I am; I want to know the ground I stand on and where it goes. I am acclimatising. The boundaries are even pushed at my first request at upon getting out of the car and the need to find the loo. Guided by my colleague, I have been ceremoniously dumped inside a portaloo and I was told once I had finished my ablutions that I could step outside but I was not to go anywhere. of course in my
    mind that’s completely the wrong thing to say. I had my cane, named Archie in my hand and so of course I’m outside finished my ablutions and Archie was put into service. What I actually found was a very uneven soft muddy field. Full of potholes, rabbit holes and probably very other type of hole a small animal might want to inhabit had it not been for the the many trampling feet that day. The land as I found it made it very difficult for Archie to roll along. Archie in this sense wasn’t much help . Archie just kept getting stuck in the holes and just generally added to my u unbalance – and my poor propriceptive sense and wobbling body trying to make sense of how I was telling it (zip theory) to move. Of course once my colleague had found me conversing with Archie on how useless he was being, Archie was promptly given the sack folded up and I humbly and gratefully took my colleagues arm . Whilst she berated my inability to do as I was told and stand still!

    Of course none of this really has anything much to do with Rowing other than you might begin to start to appreciate how different our worlds are. I was keen to explore but my colleague wanted to get on with finding our boat and our our blades and get on with the business of the day, get on the water and go. Of course she was right we did have things to do. Without these our purpose it was entirely pointless.
    With a feeling a childlikeness, I did stand still this time; listening to the babble around me as people quietly attended to their boats. Before I race is always quiet seriousness (the babble at the other end for those who completed would have been quite different. )

    Whilst standing as a statue I am greeted by a friend from Marlow club. Instantly my tendency to chatter is mentioned . I seem to have gained an unfair reputation . But it’s friendly banter. I feel the smiles emanating from people’s faces.

    Not long now; and I am taken to sit on a ledge. It becomes obvious to the race organisers that I can’t see; and once the boat is on the water (gratefully carried by my colleges and the chatter-accusing friend,) people start ‘managing’ me. This is the one part of rowing I really struggle with. My chatter-accusing friend asks my colleague which position, I am going in. I could have answered that question had it come to me – but I hope you now see (with vision) that sticking a blind person (with no vision) in a bow seat, wouldn’t exactly have been the wisest of choices. Maybe you didn’t want to assume, in which case I judge you kind. However my tendency is perhaps to think with greater clarifity that you just didn’t think . Clarity and reasoned thought had momentarily left you. !
    Many voices now fill my world and want to put my body, quitter forcibly, touching me without warning and putting me on the sliding seat, locking my feet in , make adjustments, tighten blade gates.
    It’s as if I am quite seperate from my body watching numerous people do this; Some poor pbody Is pulled and pushed into place. They mean well. I say nothing.

    If course, i then go through my own check of the gates and the foot plate position. If there is 22k coming up. It’s me who wants to make sure that everything is as it should be.

    Once my colleague is likewise in place behind me. Can we at last set of for the adventure which had taken so long to start ??

  3. Pingback: Paralympic Champion Naomi Riches–The Great Thames Row – Adaptive Rowing UK

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