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What’s Rowing on in Your Head? - Alasdair Iredale

My Relationship with Rowing

It’s fair to say that this past year has proved different to all others. As we move past the year anniversary of the first lockdown, I often find myself thinking the good and the bad that has come with it, usually sat, paddling through the meters on the rowing machine. Many of my friends, family and colleagues have struggled deeply through the isolation. It seems like the sudden societal change managed to expose a lot of problems and issues which were otherwise hidden or ignored. In truth I have been lucky. In my immediate family no one has lost their job, my brother made it safely back from Italy and any cases of covid within the family has been mild. In the first lockdown my Dad described the time spent with the family as borrowed, I’m the youngest of three and the last left at university, it was unlikely I was going to spend any extended period of time with my siblings without lockdown.

Rowing at school

Like my Dad I find myself being unusually thankful for things previously taken for granted. Most surprisingly I found myself enjoying training more than I ever had. My relationship with my own training is complicated at best. I have struggled at school with ridiculous expectations I had set for myself leading to misery every time I had to sit on an erg because what I expected of myself wasn't attainable and I struggled due to getting worked up about my percieved 'failures'. I grew to really hate the rowing machine, and nearly quit the sport. I did however return to coach, spending my last year at school assisting with logistics and teaching young scullers to row.

When I came to Uni I was drawn back to the sport yet again. I found rowing on the wide and open Tay an intoxicating remedy to life in halls. Joining the boat club at Dundee led to a return to coaching for myself and a reluctant return to the erg. This time the machine felt like a necessary evil, one I owed to achieve time on the water. This I feel is a relationship shared by most rowers, putting up with the thing. I’m ashamed to admit that coming to a club where my erg score was top again with little training was a huge contributing factor to my willingness to do the work.

I found Dundee rowing hugely refreshing and buried myself in the club, doing my best to get in committees way in the process. My second year in the club found me in the position of Men’s Captain. In this capacity the erg became a nemesis. I didn’t feel able to prescribe training that I was not myself, willing to do. At times, my motivation won out, and occasionally the rowing machine beat me.

Coaching from the launch

My point in talking about all this is that it has taken me until my penultimate year of university and lockdown to appreciate the ergometer. I’m sure that pushing myself to vomiting on a 2k (when I work up the courage) will still prove unpleasant, but the machine itself is so fundamental to my time in rowing and the pleasure I have gathered from it. looking back on every erg piece once I was sat on the machine all fears would leave, I simply had to give my best on that day and move on. There is even pleasure to be derived form the relief for completing an erg piece that has loomed over me during the day.

In lockdown I found myself drawn back to the rowing machine, my families old model E. doing steady long pieces in the garden became a great pleasure, getting distracted by passing birds and finding my split creep up. Getting frustrated with the high splits and deriving a great pleasure from seeing them drop down day by day. Everyone’s dislike of the rowing machine doesn’t derive from the thing itself but from the pressure around it, with some people thriving and some collapsing under it. I many cases its probably both. No one likes coming out poorly in a comparison, and the rowing machine is the most basic way to compare people in a rowing setting. I think lockdown is a good a time as any to correct bad habits and question poor relationships (particularly with inanimate objects).

I’ve decided I’m thankful for the erg, an odd thing to say but a fair one. It’s kept me one step closer to getting out on the water and one step further away unhappiness. If someone had told me that two years ago that I would write what is effectively a rambling love letter about the rowing machine I would have laughed. But I suppose that is what borrowed time and a new perspective will do.

Castle Semple 2019
I’ve found a new love for erging in my garden over lockdown


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