Rowers from Loughborough Boat Club have made the most of the current ‘lockdown’ by continuing many of the Club’s activities from the confines of their own homes. The beauty of the River Soar was exchanged for the less scenic surroundings of ‘home gyms’, set up in spare bedrooms, garages, corridors, or gardens. Eighteen club members who already possessed an indoor rowing machine formed an online team to participate in the Concept 2 World Erg Challenge. This competition ran form 15 March to 15 April, and simply required clubs to register their team members on the Concept 2 website before each team rowed and recorded as many metres as possible between those two dates.
With Club Captain Tim Ives leading the way and spurring his teammates into action via the Club’s WhatsApp group, the million metre mark was soon reached on Sunday 29 March. This coincided with a virtual ‘Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race’, in which the Loughborough oarsmen chose their University colours and ‘rowed’ the length of the Tideway course from Putney to Mortlake, starting exactly at 4.44pm, which would have been the start time of the actual race. There was some debate as to the equivalent distance to row on an ergometer, since although the famous course is 4 miles and 374 yards long, the Blues’ boats actually travel less far through the water due to the tidal current. After much mathematics and some heated debate on the speed of the water on the Thames, a suitably arbitrary still-water distance of 3 miles 1018 yards (5,759 metres) was decided. Cheered on by other club members meeting who spectated on ‘Zoom’, and ‘steered’ by orders from one of the Club’s coxwains, Cambridge’s Mike Targett completed the distance in the winning time of 23 minutes and 14 seconds, claiming the trophy for the Loughborough Light Blues just 12 seconds ahead of runner-up Charlie Henry albeit 6 minutes behind a genuine Boat Race time.
Meanwhile, the Loughborough Ladies were organising regular ‘ergo’ sessions on normal Club training days, once again linking up online and boosting the team mileage significantly. Vicky Haines, Emily Quinton, and Jen Smith each exceeded the individual 200 km mark, closely followed by Nadine Storey even though she had to self-isolate for a week with a suspected low dose of Coronavirus. Michelle Mills, Hannah Ferris, Tilda Haines, Natalie LaValley and Gill Kershaw also contributed significantly to the Ladies’ massive joint total of 1,569 kilometres.
As the challenge’s closing date drew closer the competition increased noticeably, with the current scores of all clubs and individuals openly visible online. Since there was no limit to the number of members that could constitute a team, Loughborough were never going to be able to match some of the American clubs who had fielded well over 100 rowers, but there was still fierce competition between the similarly-sized UK teams. The battle for Loughborough’s individual highest-scoring rower turned into a close run fight between Jonathan Cox and Tim Ives, both of who seemed to enjoy lengthy and no doubt sweaty training sessions. Jonathan’s single session of 42,195 metres, the equivalent of a land marathon, was undoubtedly the exceptional row of the contest and took him 3 hours 24 minutes to complete. This huge distance resulted in Jonathan’s final total of 482km beating Tim’s score by a mere 216 meters.
A boost in the final week saw the club replicating the ‘Great Ouse Marathon’, which in real life is rowed for 21.5 km along the river from Downham Market to Ely. Once again, Jonathan Cox’s performance was exceptional, as he completed the distance in just 1 hour 33 minutes. These efforts had a big effect on the overall score, enabling the Club to finish in 89th place worldwide with a total of 3,189 km rowed – far enough to row from Loughborough to beyond Tenerife and on to the Western Sahara!
Other Club Activities during lockdown have included regular online circuit training sessions, with the fine weather enabling those with gardens to enjoy their exercise outside, and of course ‘zooming’ together for a cup of tea afterwards. The Club’s Annual Dinner was also held online, with a wide variety of home-made dishes and a speech from the Club President, Stuart Ward. A virtual presentation of the highly coveted ‘Rower’s Rower’ trophy was made to Allen Storey, who has been the outstanding organiser of the Club’s social media and online sessions and has enabled ‘the spirit of rowing’ to continue: thanks, Allen.