Charlie Pearson and Luke Robinson, crew mates and OUBC athletes

A couple of weeks ago, we caught up with OUBC athletes, Luke Robinson and Charlie Pearson to discuss training, recovery and overall preparation for this year’s Boat Race.

Charlie is rowing in the Blue Boat in the 2019’s Boat Race this Sunday (7th of April 2019) at 3.10pm, whereas Luke will be part of the Isis crew, who is racing Goldie at 2.45pm. Visit The Boat Race website for more details.

Have you done the boat race before?

Luke: I was in the squad before, I was in Isis last year.

Charlie: This is my first year, but I had rowed before. When I was at school, I did junior worlds, and then I took a year out because I was injured, and then I came back to trial this year.

What drew you to this particular race and sport?

Luke: It was more because I wasn’t so good at any other sports.

C: Yes, I think the same for me …

[Wattson Blue: we are sure that’s not really true]

L: When I joined Winchester, the only other sports I was good at was Rugby and they don’t really do Rugby there, and someone suggested I go down to the Boathouse and give rowing a try, and we won our first race, and it’s quite easy to enjoy something when you are winning. So it was pretty easy to get hooked.

C: I had played a lot of Hockey, and I had really enjoyed playing Hockey, and I wasn’t really good at many other sports and my dad had rowed when he was younger, so I thought I will give it a try, and like luke I started winning races, and it kinda sucks you in, and to be honest it’s a really good community to be part of.

What is your ultimate goal for this season/race in the lead up to the boat race?

C: Going into the season I didn’t really know what to expect, so it’s more about feeling like I did the best I could, rather than have an exact target to hit. I was never that strong on the erg, and we want to win the Boat Race and that’s the main goal really.

L: Having done it last year, I knew what to expect and so I went into the season with a few times on the erg and a few markers in the season I was hoping to hit around trial eights and fours head and so on.

When did you start your training for this season?

L: A few weeks after last year’s boat race, I kept my training ticking over, do an hour a day in that offseason. I started to ramp it up over the summer, probably focusing on trying to fix my weaker parts of rowing.

C: I probably started after the new year 2018, but not to the same level that we do in the season. I did college rowing last year and started doing similar training to what we do now but to a much lower volume.

What does a typical training week look like?

L: We have Mondays off. Depending on how rested we feel according to Wattson Blue and a weekly assessment, the coaches might adjust things, but we will generally have two sessions, an erg, and a row every day.

C: Weekends can be spent doing intensity, seat racing or traveling to London to be on the Tideway.   There is a lot of volumes. You start learning how you feel every session and you can pick up or drop intensity and volume depending on your heart rate. So I would say it’s pretty intelligent training.

How do you expect this to change in the next few weeks?

L: Training will generally become much more focussed, but with less volume. We will really start to focus on preparation practices. In the weeks before the race itself, we will start tapering and getting ourselves physically and mentally ready for the race.

How do you balance academic work and training?

Strangely enough, I find that without training I am not as efficient – training provides a structure and I am able to work around that.

C: I study Materials Science. So I have to balance training, my academic work, recovery and my social life. I have learned to be very efficient with academic work. Strangely enough, I find that without training I am not as efficient – training provides a structure and I am able to work around that. I find I am more organised and productive when I am busier and will plan my academic work and tutorials around my training times.  Sometimes we have to miss lectures for training, and you can catch up, and you just gotta make sure you organise tutorials outside training.

C: You gotta make sure you are good mates with people on your course, and just make sure the work you do is of good quality.

L: I am studying Engineering which involves a lot of labs. Like Charlie I am really efficient in the labs, making sure everything is done well.

C: But you also gotta make sure you don’t let it affect your sleep. If you leave things till last minute and then you stay up all night, you will then also have a bad training session the next day.

L Even though I have finals next year, the schedule is a lot more relaxed, whereas this year there is a lot more content packed into the course. I don’t think next year will be harder. It’s definitely hard but doable.

C: I think everyone in the squad, apart from Leo, do sciences, and the contact hours for science subjects can be much higher than arts and humanities. But I do think it’s possible to combine both if you are organised about it.

How does your social life impact on training?

C: At the start of the season when we do the same training every week, it’s easy to fit things around them, but in the second half of season and during selection, you just gotta get your head down and work.

L: I remember last year, some people forgot that I existed. I will either be in my room; eating, working or sleeping or at training,

C: It’s definitely difficult – I notice the difference a lot because I wasn’t doing this last year. As long as you do what you can when you can to see people, you then have the summer to make up for it, but it’s definitely one of the sacrifices you make.

C: One of the other things is that with training you are quite tired all the time – At the start of the season, I was so tired like all the time because it was my first year.

L: when you start on the programme, the first experience of the training load can be quite tough because it’s not like anything else. It becomes standard after a while. For me, rowing in the squad feels like a normal experience. I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything.

Do you have a favourite post-workout snack?

C: I gotta have chocolate milk, I like a banana. Sometimes SIS Rego stuff.

L: Yeah the REGO stuff is pretty good. Sometimes I treat myself with a chocolate éclair!

C: maybe cheesecake.

L: I tried to avoid it if I can

C: but that’s one of the advantages of rowing, you can basically eat what you like. As long as it’s not really bad food, and you eat it at the right time.

L: I really try and not worry too much about my diet. I weigh myself every morning and if that’s staying reasonably constant, I try and not worry about it.

Do you like training as a part of a team or do you prefer solo training?

C: Way better in a team, I don’t enjoy training on my own. Even when Dev squad started last summer, it was great to be training with other people. Even if you’re just doing an erg, I think it is better doing it with someone than yourself.  

L: Earlier this season, I had a chest injury and I was out for 6 weeks and so had to train on my own on the bike. I found it a lot harder to do the training. That’s definitely an advantage of being part of the team, they encourage and support you

We know recovery plays a huge part in training response and performance, how are you finding balancing training with your work and life commitments to make sure you get enough recovery and rest?

L: It is all about managing it. Sleep should always be prioritised. If I feel good I try to get ahead in work. Training isn’t full on all the time which helps. In the more gentle weeks, I can focus on getting ahead in work as I know it will help me in the longer term. 

C: Difficult for sure. You just gotta make sure you get your 8 hours of sleep, and do the basics right. Even in the hard weeks, you can try and hold yourself to the basics, and doing as much as you can during easier weeks.

L: Then also just listening to your body. If you have done your training and your RPE or HR was really high, just make sure you get enough sleep in the evening. How you feel in the morning can generally indicate how recovered you are, before any tests are done.

How are you finding using with Wattson Blue?

C: It’s helpful. You always have a subjective view of how you feel, but it’s nice to see the objective changes over time and to see how recovered you have been over time. And being able to know if you are ill, and feel something at the back of your throat and you see that your HRV is lower, and I might mention to the coach and maybe do less training.

L: For me, it highlights two main things. First, you always know how you feel in the morning subjectively, but having HRV to back it up and catch an illness early is good. Secondly, trending tiredness is helpful. The second thing is for coaches to see. E.g. this week when we have been doing lots of racing, the coaches can see how the squad is doing. They might skip a session to let us recover.

L: Also, on that last year around late February when we were trying out Wattson Blue for the first time, I got very ill for a week and a half.

C: When I looked back over data I could actually see the data which showed me I was getting ill around 2/3 days before.

C: After that, I started actively looking at it and act accordingly.

How does Wattson Blue come into preparation for the Boat Race?

L:  The obvious thing for us to avoid illness, but for the coaches in the taper towards the race, it’s useful for them to see how we are recovering, and they can make a judgment on how we are managing the volume and intensity and recovery.

C: If I was training on my own I would probably look into it more, but for most people on the squad, we mainly just look at the home page, making sure we are not getting ill. But it’s definitely a tool for the coaches. If you have a busy day, you just have a minute in the morning and then you can have a brief overview, but you can leave all the analysis to the coaches.

Do you use any other apps to monitor your training or recovery?

L: I use a GPS watch to record my training to Wattson Blue and TrainingPeaks, and use TrainingPeaks for detailed activity analysis.

C: I used to use HRV4Training for training but have now stopped and use Wattson Blue instead. Having everything in one place is great because you can start correlating things with each other.

L: At the moment I don’t see Wattson Blue as an all-in-one app just yet. I like Wattson Blue as part of the system we use. I think the fact that it uses our training when looking at our recovery is very helpful. I still use TrainingPeaks.

[Wattson Blue: Couldn’t agree more with Luke here – although you can track various activity and fitness metrics such as CTL, ATL and TSS in Wattson Blue, for super serious athletes like Luke who love data, TrainingPeaks still provide valuable details and analysis.]

How have you found the app’s feedback?

C: The app has come a long way from last year especially since the updates in Michaelmas. The home page is good to get an overview of everything quickly on the move.

L: I tend to do the HRV recording in bed before I get up and fill out the rest on the bus. HRV seems to correlate pretty well with how I am feeling. So I really think it works.

Are you feeling nervous about the race?

C: There is always a degree of nerves. Before a big race or a 5k you know you are going to have to push hard and my nerves are usually around that.

L: Not really. Everyone is very focussed on boats going well and moving as fast as we can – we have been training well and feel together as a team. With all the preparation work we do, we should end up on the start line feeling calm and ready to compete. I remember last year, being at the start line, feeling the calmest I have ever felt before a race. We have been training for 6 months. There are nerves, but they are useful controlled nerves.

If you could go back to the start of the season and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

L: Don’t get injured. Keep on top of the little things like the stretching and the monitoring as these are easy to fall behind on.

C: Not sure. I guess trust the process. I didn’t know many people and it has been a very different environment before. It has been daunting to make changes to how Oxford does things… but yeah, trusting any changes will be for the better.

What has been your favourite athletic achievement so far?

C: For me, it was Fours Head. We beat the Cambridge crew had beaten us at Brit Champs earlier in the season. It was good to get a result like that for the programme and the process.

L: It’s quite hard to narrow it down to just one. Lots of different races that I look back on. E.g. there might be a semi-final of a random race that you look back on and you feel like oh that was quite good, and I was feeling good that day. I think I am more proud of the incremental improvements rather than each individual achievement.

Charlie at the bow of the Fours Head winning crew, ahead of Cambridge in 2018. Photo credit Tristan Giron⠀

22. Do you have a sporting hero?

L: Roger Bannister I think is pretty cool. He went after something that people said was physically impossible. And the fact he still went on to do some cool research in medicine too.

C: Eliud Kipchoge: fastest marathon runner. I have watched a lot of documentaries about him. I liked his approach to solving difficult challenges. He seemed to have always been methodical and scientific about it.

L: I think who you look up to changes depending on what sport you are doing at the time and how serious you are about the sport. When you are young you are influenced by which athletes in the press and take an interest in them, but the more you progress the more you see the other athletes that may be less well known. E.g. for us in Oxford, it’s good to look at some like say Stan Louloudis, and realise what they have achieved.

 C: Agree, for example, when I used to play hockey I looked up to Maddie Hinch,  the British women Hockey Goalkeeper. For example, at the penalty shoot outs at the 2016 Olympics to decide the gold medal, she had researched the opposition and pretty much every time guessed which direction each of them went, which was very impressive.

Interview by Clarissa Coveney

We would really like to thank Charlie and Luke for taking the time to chat to us, and their support of the app over the past year. A few features in the app are directly thanks to their input. ❤️. Good luck this Sunday!