Bumps is quite a paradox. No matter how many times you have rowed a Bumps race, the simple thought of cannons and countdowns gives you the chills. And yet, any rower will tell you that Bumps are the most exciting races they have ever had. Some might even tell you that Bumps is the most fun one experiences at university!
As I walked into the boathouse today, that paradox was palpable. For six of us, today was their first Bumps race ever, and as we were getting ready to get in the boat, you could tell we were still trying to figure out that one question: to hype it or not to hype it? Serious pre-warmup chat from our cox; not hyping it. Rocking the Bumps shades; hyping it. As soon as we pushed off, there was no more question: head in the game, mind in boat, looking fly as we rowed past the boathouses.
The M2 division finished and rowed past us at the P&E, and quite a few of us were relieved to see our coach Mark arrive, his presence somewhat making things right, and alleviating our nervousness. The row up to the lock is always especially interesting for Bumps, because you row behind the crew that will be chasing you. It was time for some mind games. We had a strong fast practice start around Ditton, and a firm, low-rate paddle to our station, seriously closing in on Pembroke, and having to do some pausing. As we spun the boat into station 11, we were feeling calm, confident. We barely had time to start worrying again, the 4 minute cannon was fired. Time to check gates and footplates – even more so for Bow who had rowed our previous race in Bedford with an open gate! The one minute cannon went off, and silence fell in the boat as we were mentally preparing ourselves. We knew we were in for a long grind down if we were going to get Newnham.
As the cannon fired, and a “DRAAAW” came through the speakers, we started our Lent Bumps Campaign with a powerful, fast start, rating 40 as we later found out. High rate starts? Definitely our thing; Settling? Slightly less so. We were too eager to get away from Pembroke, to eager to start closing in on Newnham, to hear that first whistle that brings you so much hope, and the energy and strength that goes with it. All that eagerness was misdirected, and as the rate stayed sky high, our legs were struggling to follow. We were losing power, stroke after stroke, the blades were not coming through, there was no time to breathe. Eventually the rate started coming down as well, and with no sign of a whistle, we started to lose our focus, our determination. As we got round Ditton corner, onto the reach, it felt like we were slowly giving up, providing Pembroke with an opportunity for a Bump. As we heard their bank party give them a first whistle, we were still trying to figure out how to pull through, how to clean this up. Our cox tried calling for another start, hoping for a mental reset, but the concerted crew effort that required was still missing. Pembroke then got two whistles on us, and that was our wake-up call. We finally found it in ourselves to make a change as a crew, halfway down the reach. As we got our rhythm back, properly lengthening it this time, and pushing hard on those legs, we pulled away from Pembroke again, going for that final stretch to the finish line, and rowing over, safely to the other side of the Railway Bridge.
As we rowed back to the boathouse, our usual loud, cheerful, and chatty crew was rowing in silence, hard on the legs but with rather heavy hearts. Obviously, we would have preferred a bump. But that was not really it. We knew how much better this race could have gone, and this is what the silence was about.
“That was a scrappy row, sure. But we didn’t get bumped, and we learned a lot for tomorrow.” said Christina as we got to the boathouse. Sitting down with cakes and doughnuts in the boathouse, we had a long debrief with the crew, and our awesome Reana who gave us the “from the bank” angle. By the end of it, everyone had been convinced that rowing over in the first division was already an achievement, and was ready to try again, cleaner and more efficient the second time round!
We shall see tomorrow if lessons were put in practice!
Laurane Saliou, 5