Head races, rituals and final touches

Head races, rituals and final touches

In a brief break from training, GB Rowing's Mat Tarrant sits down with Square Blades and discusses winter training, head races, pre-race rituals, and improving race performance.

How do you get through the slog of winter training?

Due to the distances of head races throughout the UK and globally, you need to really embrace the training to suit that distance. Everyone enjoys the summer racing because of the warmer climate and short sprint regattas. In the winter it’s dark, wet, cold and all about long distance competitions.

However, it’s an important time of year. There’s a saying Medals are won in the summer but made in the winter, this rings true to me as you can build such a solid fitness base during those hard winter months that can really turn your summer season on its head.

"I personally like to set myself short and long-term goals to focus me through those dark times."

You have to embrace the suck, and the boredom of sitting on the rowing machines for hours at a time. But, it does pay off. I personally like to set myself short and long-term goals to focus me through those dark times. If your dream is to win at Henley Royal then let that be your fuel when you start to doubt your ability to push on.

There’s a few days left before you head off to a race, what should your training focus on?

By now you should have a good base fitness and be in a pretty solid crew. The hard work is behind you. As we move into the final part of the winter season, you need to tie up the loose ends, add the finishing touches to bring the crew tighter together and above all else, trust the training.

Once you get the signal to go from the start marshal it doesn’t matter how big of an ergo puller you are, if you’re not mentally prepared or trusting in your crew mates you could very easily become the unintentional hand break of your crew.

"Add the finishing touches to bring the crew tighter together and above all else, trust the training."

Use your last few sessions before race day practicing your start as you would for regatta season, rehearse how long you’ll be at the high start pace and when you're going to settle, what pushes or technical focus you’ll have during the race and when and most importantly, finding your race rhythm. You don’t want to go off too hard that you blow, or too soft that you get dropped. You must know your limits and play to them.

Do you have any pre-race rituals?

I don’t personally have any pre-race rituals, aside from my eating pattern which is pretty basic. Last big meal three hours before the race with a few snacks leading up to boating, some caffeine an hour before my start time and plenty of fluids.

The important thing to consider when eating before a race is to eat far enough in advance of your race so your body has time to digest that food and turn it into fuel. You don't want it showing its face again when you've crossed the finish line or, worse still, during the race!

It's race day, you’re about to set off, how do you ensure you’re in the right place mentally?

The key to putting together a solid performance on race day is to have 100% faith in your race plan, crew and individual capability. It’s so easy to get caught up in what’s going on around, in front or behind you, but you have to stay completely focused on you, your crew and your crew rhythm.

If you have a cox, their word is final, don’t think, just react. If you have a problem with a call that was made, save it for the warm down paddle. Mid-race is not the place for an argument.

"If you have a cox, their word is final, don’t think, just react."

One thing that I’ve found that can really upset your race is worrying about the crew behind you. These days, if a crew is gaining on me, overtaking me or pulling away from me I tell myself to stick to my plan. Either they’ve gone off too hard and I’ll be seeing them again very shortly or, on the day, they’re just that little bit better than me.

Most importantly I stick to my plan because I know that’s how I’m going to achieve my best result.


Mat Tarrant is part of the GB rowing squad. Currently chopping on bowside in the GB Men's 4-, and hoping to make the Olympic Games in Tokyo. When he's not training, he runs a rowing fitness company called Row Elite. Offering training plans programmes written to benefit every experience level. Whether you're new to the sport of Rowing/CrossFit or an experienced competitor.