The ongoing cancellation of all rowing competitions and regattas has restricted rowers at Loughborough Boat Club to training sessions on their 4 km stretch of the River Soar between Zouch and Kegworth. Following the guidance of the Government and British Rowing, club members are currently able to row in boats crewed by up to four rowers, using a booking system and social distancing when ashore. Whilst this provides a welcome opportunity to keep fit and to retain key skills, many rowers have greatly missed the more demanding and competitive elements of the sport.
As a result, a small group of Loughborough oarsmen and oarswomen decided to recreate the challenge of the most gruelling of all rowing competitions, the ‘Boston Marathon’. This event is normally a 50km row along the River Witham from Lincoln to Boston. The effort required for completion is very comparable to that needed for a running marathon, with rowers typically negotiating the course in between 3 and 6 hours – which includes the time required to lift the boat out of the water and carry it round a lock! This year, with the event on the River Witham cancelled, the Loughborough rowers chose to complete seven ‘laps’ of their own stretch of the Sour, thus matching the prescribed distance. In lieu of negotiating a lock, one stop at the clubhouse was permitted for a stretch and a natural break.
With the start time arranged for 6.00 AM, six rowers took advantage of the first light of dawn to launch two coxless pairs and two single sculls. An unexpected advantage of rowing up and down the same short stretch of river was found to be the chance to spur on other boats either by rowing in company with them or by offering encouragement when passing in opposite direction. With the two single scullers, Mike Target and Matilda Haines eventually opting for the shorter but no less challenging ‘half marathon’, the field was finally reduced to the Ladies Masters Pair of Vicky Haines and Emily Quinton, and the Mens Masters Pair of Tom Haines and Jerry Heygate. An outstanding row by the ladies, who never stopped either rowing or smiling, left the men struggling in their wake, as Vicky and Emily came home in 5hrs 10 minutes, a good 15 minutes ahead of the blistered and cramp-stricken males. After a post-match debate on the length of time taken by the men during their ‘pit stop’, it was ruled that the clock had been still running and the ladies, who had chosen to hang on without a break, were easily the winners anyway! “We thoroughly enjoyed the challenge” said Emily, “although at one point we did get an oar tangled in an overhanging tree and nearly capsized”.
Vicky and Emily are to be congratulated on their achievement, and had the actual event taken place this year, they would have been crowned as record holders, being the first ladies in that age group and boat type to complete the course since records began. Let’s hope that the proper race will once again be held next year, so that the pair can officially repeat their success.