Row, Ho, Ho! (Sorry - Ed) It’s that time of year again. Winter has somehow rolled around, the turkey has been ordered, the days are short, the air cold, and we still haven’t bought mum or dad a Christmas present. Training might be at the back of your mind, but that is no excuse not to enjoy some light-hearted and entertaining racing at a festive regatta or head race.
Up and down the country in the month of December, rowers dust off their Christmas fancy dress, their ugly festive jumpers, and take to the rivers to compete in perhaps the least competitive race in this sport’s calendar. It’s often a welcome change from the status quo, a chance to relax and enjoy some holiday cheer, as well as providing a fun way to end the years’ hard work.
Many schools and clubs take up the challenge of putting on festive races. King’s School Chester has their annual ‘pudding races’ which comprise a short sprint of 300m, during which pupils are expected to wear their finest Christmas fancy dress. Every year they turn up in force, with about 140 in attendance at the most recent.
On the last Sunday before Christmas, you will find rowers from Grosvenor and Royal Chester taking to the river to celebrate over a 4k head “race”
Staying in Chester, and Grosvenor Rowing Club have their own version, with a bit more sherry, but the same Christmas spirit. On the last Sunday before Christmas, you will find rowers from Grosvenor and Royal Chester taking to the river to celebrate over a 4k head “race”. The spirit of the holidays takes root further down south as well, with the City of Cambridge Rowing Club hosting their own slightly shorter festive race. The 1800m course winds its way through the city and there are prizes not just for winning your category, but also for the best fancy dress, and the best line around Ditton Corner. The little quirks that represent club traditions make the races more endearing, and more of a cathartic end of year celebration for all the members and competitors.
There is always some riotous steering, light-hearted competitiveness, and a healthy amount of cake.
Carrying on our journey south, at the Lady Eleanor Holles School, hundreds of pupils take to the Thames in the name of Christmas. Their parents, teachers, and coaches line the banks, and all enjoy a fantastic start to the holidays. Further afield and across the Irish Sea, in wintery Belfast, the river Lagan can’t escape the festive mood. Belfast Boat Club accommodates all clubs that use the river and hosts an annual festive event – the course is just about the length of the normal head race and fancy dress is expected to be worn for the entire 2700 meters. There is always some riotous steering, light-hearted competitiveness, and a healthy amount of cake.
Most of these races are very internal and informal affairs, with part of the fun coming from racing against your own peers, often in strange combinations or very last-minute scratch crews. At Weybridge Rowing Club, this is exactly the tone they want to set, with the entries only being open to members.
There are, of course, more serious ways of getting through December, British Rowing do their own 12 days of Christmas workout programme to help encourage people to stay motivated and train when it gets cold, or when life gets quite busy.
Similarly, in Scotland, they have the Scottish Rowing winter league, where clubs can compete against each other to try and log the most distance over the winter (from rowing, to cycling, swimming or running). Again, this is mostly just a fun way to keep people motivated; December and January can be fallow months for serious racing, and these initiatives give rowers some variety and, in the case of the festive races, something to look forward to.
After a long period of limited training, no racing, and a difficult Christmas season in 2020, it is fantastic to see all these beloved races up and running
After a long period of limited training, no racing, and a difficult Christmas season in 2020, it is fantastic to see all these beloved races up and running. We all need a chance to blow off some steam, to dust off those terrible costumes, and just generally have a good time racing with no pressure on our shoulders. Because after all, why not celebrate Christmas by taking to the river and storming through a race, dressed as a Christmas pudding?