Racing is all about pressure, how much can we handle, how much we put on ourselves, how much we put through the footplate and how much we put into the blade during each stroke of the race. If we put more pressure in the water we go faster, or slower if we have the pressure going the wrong direction. If we put more pressure on ourselves, we could go slower or faster depending on how we handle it.
This season every big race for me has been on my own in the single. I have had only myself to rely on, my mistakes have had a negative impact on me alone and only I could have made the boat go faster or slower. Only I was a champion or a loser.
Now I must consider the crew, even if it is only a crew of two. Every bit of pressure I feel mentally to perform must be dealt with, so that I can have the greatest influence over the race, because if I can’t handle the pressure then I make my crew slower.
Today we race the repechage, which decides if we are going to progress to the semi-finals (top 12 in the world) or be in the lower half of the bunch, where the best result we can achieve is 13th.
There is additional pressure on us today because we have the fastest time of all the boats in our event from the heats. This means we should win right? Well no, it’s the World Championships and the heats mean nothing if you didn’t directly qualify. Crews could have slowed down, wanting to save their legs for the rep or something could have been wrong with their equipment. So, the pressure is on to win and we will have to work hard for it.
Yesterday, we had warmed up and the boat was ready. We were focused and prepared to handle the pressure and to lay it down, but the race was cancelled. The wind had picked up from the left-hand side of the course and had made racing unfair across the lanes so that the left-hand lanes were sheltered, giving crews there an advantage. This meant that our race was re-scheduled to an early slot before the already scheduled events the next morning. This again increased our anxiety. We were prepared and ready to battle, but we had to quickly disarm ourselves and relax ahead of a long evening and an early morning rise.
This morning we woke up early and headed to the course, we went through our warm up and we raced at 9:09 Bulgarian time (7:09 for our friends, family and supporters following our progress back home in Ireland).
We had a fast start. We put as much pressure through the blade into the lake as we could for 40+ strokes. At the 500m marker, we were 4 seconds clear and we held this lead until we crossed the line. We secured our place in the semi-final! The pressure was off.
But then when we heard that our time was the fastest from the reps and because we had missed the Wednesday slot, we had lost our day rest between rep and semi-final, this then piled the pressure back on again.
The pressure to make it through the semi-final was a day closer and because we had been so quick, the pressure was even higher to the make it through to the A-final.
We hadn’t even considered the A-final before we came. We had joked about it but had never said it could be a possibility because we were an untested crew with no pedigree. We didn’t want to put pressure on ourselves to perform to that level, when we didn’t know what level we were at. Now we must endeavour to manage and focus the pressure and expectation we have put on ourselves, so that we have the desired outcome tomorrow of reaching the A-final, a top six placing on our new world stage.
Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne race in the A/B Semi final of the men’s double sculls at the 2018 World Rowing Championships tomorrow morning (Friday September 13th) at 07:19am Irish time. The fastest three boats will qualify for the A final on Sunday. Follow the race live here