Philip Doyle took up rowing just four years ago while studying medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, where he rows with QUBBC. He was selected for the the Rowing Ireland Senior High Performance Team this year and competes at the 2018 World Rowing Championships in the heavyweight men’s double sculls with UCC athlete, Ronan Byrne. Here he shares his hopes and fears, insights and observations throughout the World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
His first World Championships Diary installment can be read here
The Heat is On
It is day one of racing. Ronan and I are both excited and nervous. The atmosphere at breakfast is different, quieter than usual and everyone has set into their race routine. A specific breakfast or type of drink. Small discrete actions that bring routine and calm to the most experienced athlete.
For me, breakfast consists of cereal and a cereal bar. Most of the calories are locked in from the night before. At this stage, keeping the stomach fresh without feeling sluggish and heavy is top priority. A short spin out on the water before the race focuses the nervous energy and reminds us of the small technical points we have been working on over the last few weeks.
After this is the dreaded wait, when you are in purgatory, neither training before the race nor getting warmed up for it either. There is not enough time to travel back to the accommodation but just enough to sit around the course wishing there was.
Then, from social media guzzling lazy lads we switch to race mode. With the land warm-up finished and the boat checks all done, we are ready to race. Any pre-race rituals or habits are in place at this stage. I have a favourite bandana I wear which changes from race to race and once it is ready, we transform ourselves from being two individuals to an in-sync double.
From here, we move together. I make the calls from the bow seat and Ronan sets up the rhythm. We do bursts to get the blood running through the muscles and remind the body what it must do to go fast. This is the mentally challenging part. We are rowing with everyone else in our category. We see their routine but can’t focus on them. We see their bursts but must ignore them. We must be inside our own boat and cannot afford to be distracted.
We are called to the start. There are cameras pointing at us from every angle, but we must stay within our own heads and remember our job. We are locked in. The front and back of the boat are fixed. We are straight (or so I thought) and we are ready.
Big breaths fill our lungs in preparation for what they are about to experience and for me a phrase from my mother runs through my head over and over. There is a role call and when we hear “Ireland” we move forward, lock our blades into the start position and from here it’s all focus on a little orange box with one red light which is on and a green one which is not. The green light pops into view and we are off. I count the strokes and feed back to Ronan, relaying when to bring more length into the stroke and when I want more power or rate. He doesn’t speak but I can feel his movements. If he pushes harder with his legs or speeds up his hands, I move with him.
About 15 strokes in we are at top speed but there is an issue. We are on the red buoys which separate our lane from the Italians. If our blade hits one we could lose speed and time, but we react well together to bring the boat back on course. As it transpired, we were not exactly straight and the bucket system which was holding the bow of our boat was holding against one side and we were already pointing into the buoys. That was my fault for not checking it and correcting it, but I had never used the bucket system before.
At 500m we are in 4th place but not by much. We can see all the crews alongside us. Greece are on our right and Italy on the left, Slovenia are there too. The New Zealand boat is just in sight but has had a fast start. We push through the group and manage to leave ourselves in third place with 900m to go. In the next 500m we passed the Italians and pushed ahead to finish second.
Second is good, and a new personal best time for us by over 15 seconds, but only the first place goes through to the semi-finals and the New Zealand boat was 10 seconds faster than us.
Yes, we beat Italy, but did they see that the New Zealand boat was trying to beat the world’s best time of 5.59.7 (they came close with 6.02.2) and slow off, knowing they would have to race again to get to the semi-final? We are happy with the time we produced. We are happy with our placing. We are happy with the race because it is over and the pain has stopped but we know there are things we could improve.
We have useful feedback from our coaches and from our own notes that we can use over the next two days to prepare to race again.
Our next race is a repechage and from it, two crews from five will progress to join the other heat winners in the semi-finals. We face Egypt, Bulgaria, Argentina and Russia.
Our bodies are burning as we cool down and our minds are wondering if we can do the same thing over again. We watch the other heats come down the course as we are rowing back from the finish line, seeing their style, their pace, their pain and we are happy that it’s over for us, but only for today.
Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne raced in the repechage of the men’s double (M2x) on Thursday September 13th. Read all about it in his next update here.