Patricia Carswell |

Life on the river: embracing winter rowing

This month, award-winning blogger and journalist, Patricia Carswell, shares her tips for getting through winter training in her exclusive British Rowing blog – Life on the river

The clocks have changed, the nights are drawing in and summer feels like a distant memory. And with the change in seasons and temperatures, there’s a new rhythm to rowing. We’re well and truly into head season, and judging by grumbling and dragging of feet going on around me, not everyone is fully on board with the change of season.

I find the best thing to do is fully embrace the transition into winter. Here are my top tips for making the most out of the cold season.

1 – Get properly kitted out

Being cold and wet is just miserable, so make sure you’ve got all the kit you need – this is no time for pride (or vanity, for that matter). You don’t need to spend a fortune to stay warm. You can pick up basic pogies for a modest price (there’s no shame in these – you can’t row well if you can’t feel your hands), and budget supermarkets often sell decent waterproof jackets. Walking socks can be a huge help, too (and as a bonus they help fill giant rowing shoes).


Can I also make a plea for visibility in the dark, winter months? I’ve seen too many near misses caused by people camouflaging themselves against the river. Get yourself something high vis, even if it’s just a hat, and everyone will be much safer.

2 – Don’t swerve the erg

As a former erg-hater, I get it. Most of us didn’t come into rowing hoping for hours indoors on a machine that never lies. But if you can learn to love the erg, it makes a massive difference to your enjoyment of winter rowing. Sure, even the weirdest of weirdos don’t enjoy erg tests, but the training doesn’t need to be a chore.


Unless you’ve got a specific programme, mix it up. Combine intervals on the erg with circuits using dumbbells or bodyweight, and the time will fly. When it comes to UT2, make these sessions more chilled – you don’t have to push to the max every time. The experts tell us this is smarter training – you should go super-hard on interval training and lighter in the steady state sessions. Use the longer pieces to nail your technique (or just to catch up on Netflix if you don’t find that too distracting).

“Often the chilliest days are the most stunning, with the sky a delicate pink and the mist hovering over the water”

3 – Notice the beauty

Even a brutally cold winter’s morning has a beauty all of its own. When you’re tired and shivering and wishing you were still in bed nursing a cup of tea, take a moment to drink in your surroundings. Often the chilliest days are the most stunning, with the sky a delicate pink and the mist hovering over the water.

I’ll admit it’s harder to appreciate a wet, windy day, but even then, if you’re determined to see something lovely you usually will.

4 – Plan post-rowing treats

There are few things as dispiriting as coming back from rowing chilled to the bone, only to find there’s not enough hot water or you’re out of milk. Prepare in advance. Check the heating and hot water before you leave, have a change of clothes and a hot drink ready in your bag and if it’s a really cold day, pop a hot water bottle in your kit bag so your post-rowing clothes are toasty.

5 – Remember this too will pass

If you really do hate the winter, hold on to the fact that enduring the hard months will make spring and summer rowing all the sweeter. This too will pass. I promise.