Row, run, row your boat – the Red Bull X Row
“Hi Ridler, we are putting a boat together for the Red Bull X Row – it’s a fun race where you row and run an eightin Switzerland.”
A simple text from a good rowing friend. Three months later and I am at the start line on the shore of Lake Zug in the beautiful but bitterly cold sunshine of a Swiss October morning, wondering quite what I have got myself into.
Looking along the line at our competitors did little to reassure me that I was in for a relaxing outing. Olympic gold medallists; national teams from Switzerland, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic; a composite crew of eight of the world’s best lightweight rowers. My crewmates and I glanced at each other. Suddenly our one training session together the previous weekend seemed a tad inadequate.
The starting gun fired and we were off. All 24 boats were aiming for the same single point in the distance, 10 km away on the opposite side of the lake. It resulted in a mad scramble to get ahead, with the inevitable clashing of boats and oars on either side – not great for boat speed, but excellent for adrenaline. Half an hour later, the first leg of the race was complete, with the next beginning in nearby Lake Lucerne. The only obstacle – 3.5 km of land between us and there.
If you have ever been tempted to try carrying a 100 kg, 18-metre long boat and 8 oars over a hill on a Swiss peninsula, I would strongly advise against it. Despite having cunningly padded the side of the boat with foam, every step delivered a bone-jarring blow as it bounced up and down on our shoulders. After several painful minutes our boat-carrying technique began to improve. We picked up speed, our confidence and adrenaline levels swelling. Nothing could get in our way.
This ill-advised optimism was short-lived, dispelled with a crash after an all-too close encounter with a lamppost. Perhaps not the most subtle of obstacles – but one that we rowers are not usually on the lookout for during outings. We crossed the summit and headed back down towards the next lake, fighting hard against the urge to sit back in the boat and slide down like a bobsleigh, fearing it may compromise the seaworthiness of our vessel.
Seaworthiness was soon required once more as we headed back into the water, and we were quickly powering our way across Lake Lucerne towards the village of Meggen. The water here was beautifully tranquil, and the 6.5 km row across it was actually (whisper it) very enjoyable. What awaited us on our arrival in Meggen soon made up for the pleasantness of the row – a 2.5 km run up another unfeasibly steep hill, which rapidly descended into a painful walk. Any technique we had developed to smooth out the carrying quickly disappeared, with the regular thump rattling from my shoulders to my feet.
By now truly suffering, we made it to the far side of the peninsula at Ober Rebstock. Unfortunately, the calm waters of the previous leg were replaced by the large rolling swell more commonly found in a North Sea shipping lane than an Alpine lake. Now having just 4 km to go, our weary limbs were fighting manfully against the waves, each crash of water that broke over the crew met with typical humour, cheers and laughter.
A seeming eternity after our start we arrived into the heart of Lucerne, met by the sound of cheering crowds and cowbells. For one final time we hauled the boat out of the water, running it the mercifully short distance across the finish line. From there it was straight to the first aid tent for foil blankets, warmth and the sharing of stories of how we had each survived – just.
What was left to do after a gruelling, cold, wet, painful but thoroughly enjoyable race, apart from enjoy the local hospitality. Switzerland – home of cheese, chocolate, cuckoo clocks, and the most beautiful backdrop for the most bonkers sporting event I have ever taken part in. And more bonkers still, I’m tempted to sign up for next year…