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Last Updated:  Monday, 31 March, 2003, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Relentless rowing regime
By Mark Davies
Former Cambridge cox between 1992 and 1995

Cambridge out on the river
The university crews are out on the river every afternoon
Oarsmen are a strange breed, but university oarsmen are stranger still.

For a start, while they are extremely dextrous with a blade in their hands - the sensitivity of a good rower to the feel of the boat can be astonishing - it is not worth asking any of them to join your football team or stand at second slip.

The rower who is good at ball sports is a rare animal indeed.

If you spend any time in the company of a top-flight oarsman then the thing that is noticeable above all else is the amount they eat.

Approximately 7,000 calories a day compared to the average intake of between 2,000 and 2,500 - but strictly no sugars.

They feast on a complex diet of carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta, and rice. Food is fuel, but not fat.

The average person has between 17 and 25% body fat. A large proportion of the population may be well over 30%.

In stark contrast, an oarsman at the peak of his game will probably be between 8 and 12%.

For the ill-disciplined rower any excess is easily spotted as the physio's fat callipers come out regularly to ensure that everyone is in trim.

All of which means that the crews have to do an extraordinary amount of training, maximising the efficiency of the body, just as, on the water, they seek to maximise the efficiency of each stroke.

Race time: 18 minutes
Stroke rate: 36 per minute
Number of strokes: 648
Training per stroke: Two hours
Training time: 1,296 hrs
Training period: 216 days at six hrs a day
It is estimated that each member of the crew will have trained for two hours for every single stroke taken.

The training regime is a six-hour-a-day, six-days-a-week programme, and they still find time for a "day job".

Every member of each crew studies full time. The days when the university might have turned a blind eye are long gone.

Boat Race coaches face a balancing act, giving their squad leave for supervision, practicals, and exams, while still helping them reach their peak for the annual clash.

The daily routine of the squads is relentless:

  • 90 minutes in the gym before breakfast
  • A morning of lectures
  • Afternoon training outing up to 30kms long
  • An evening on the books, catching up on missed work

A weekend to recuperate? Nothing of the sort.

Saturdays and Sundays are made up of double outings starting at eight o'clock in the morning and lasting until mid-afternoon.

The life of the Boat Race oarsman is hardly a quiet paddle on the river.

After six months of that, it is easy to see why they are desperate to win their only race as well.

Links to more Boat Race 2003 stories



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