Sir William Borlase Rowing training caravans Longridge Marlow

Elite training facilities, macro-biotic nutritionists, electrocardiograph stress-tests, carbon-fibre NASA invented equipment. These seem to be table stakes for world class performance. Maybe not. Sometimes wallowing about in the oppressive conditions is the biggest windfall one could be blessed with.

  • Hunger – At our annual Borlase Rowing dinner, I had a chance to catch up with our previous rowing director, Dave Currie, who was pinched by elite private school Abingdon. I asked him what he missed about Team Borlase and he responded, “The spirit…there is just this can-do attitude that despite all the mud, and muck and old boats, and equipment falling apart, everyone is just going to dig in a make the most of it.Mark Hunter echoed this sentiment with an almost Pythonesque ‘Four Yorkshire Men’ humour, “I know you guys have to train out of a bunch of run down caravans in a muddy swamp at Longridge, but you don’t know how good you have it. When I was first rowing, I didn’t even have a boating area. I had to wade out into the water in the East End in my wellies to get into my boat. But it was the best thing for me. It made me tougher. It made me want it more.” Failure to have feeds the hunger win.
  • Over-Training – I’ve already written about the need to train beyond your capabilities (and perform within them). But how does one do it? Throughout my athletic career, I recall vividly so many contrived means that superior athletes used to make life tougher on themselves in training so that the match itself would seem easy. The key to success at match time is deeper, tougher, harder failure during training time.
    • Army boots in the sand. I remember in high school watching a piece on Hall of Famer NFL running back Earl Campbell running in heavy army boots on the soft sand of a beach to give his legs unprecedented power (and I always remember the stat that his 36” thighs were bigger around than my waist).
    • Dulled touch. I always remember Crazy George Shauer coming to present at the John Havlicek Basketball Camp where he explained the secrets to his phenomenal ball handing skills came from practicing them with gloves on so that when he took them off, the tricks were ten times easier.
    • Cement boat. Team Borlase’s secret is its ancient octuple named ‘Apposer’. The juniors learn to row in this behemoth (if we can find enough folks around to carry the hulking mass to the water!). While it is battered and slow, the athletes work extra hard to get it moving. When they then can get into a proper boat for the big championship races, it then feels like they have just downed a can of spinach and are flying across the water.
    • More cow bell. I myself had been struggling in my own fitness training until one of my training friends recommended adding weight to the amount I was struggling with. The extra weight later gave me a boost when subsequently removed it in later sets.
  • Expectations – Expectations are the toxic adulteration of Aspirations. They are a brutal tyrant that undermine self-confidence and strengths. When I first caught up with our very first Director of Rowing Ali Brown after he got poached by the prestigious prep school Bedford Modern, I asked him what he missed about Team Borlase. He responded, ‘Expectations’. He explained that since BMS and supporters were pouring so much money and resources into a top flight rowing programme, everyone also ‘expected’ results. There was almost a quota on the number of medals they expected the team to secure each season. The whole atmosphere shifts from ‘winning’ to…‘not losing’. He missed the days of Borlase where every victory no matter how small or unexceptional was celebrated with the same ebullient enthusiasm and appreciation. Appreciating inevitable failures frames the mind for healthy aspirations.

The film world is replete with dramatic illustrations of these hardship advantages – Rocky, Karate Kid. But the true life story of the TMB Panyee Football Club told in the short film above is one of the best (thanks Danielle) and colourfully illustrates each of the points above.

So quit your complaining…you don’t know how good you’ve got it. And you don’t know how lucky you are to not have it good.