How to survive Michaelmas novice rowing

Some tips to help you cope with the realisation that you’ve accidentally become a rower xoxo

It’s the sport of Cambridge. There’s a boat race every year. They have the best socials and the best stash. As a naive young fresher, there seems to be every reason in the world to join rowing. But, after you’ve been to tubbing, joined the facebook group and steeled yourself for your first early morning outing, panic can start to set in.

Here are my top tips, from someone who was an enthusiastic yet mediocre novice (and remains a mediocre rower) on how to survive novice term.

Invest in some warm sports kit

If you’re like me, and started rowing somewhat accidentally, you probably came to university woefully unprepared for the realities of a 6 am outing. The worst thing in the world for your muscles’ general health is to spend an entire outing shivering.

If you can, invest in some cheap but warm leggings (H&M does good ones) and don’t be afraid to layer up. I was regularly wearing three pairs of  (old and very thin) leggings by the end of October. Get kit advice from your LBCs and look after yourself!

Those aesthetic river mornings are chilly (Image credit: Anna Feest)


The first couple weeks of novice term are deceptively easy since you spend most of the time setting the boat. Once you actually start rowing you will suddenly be very hungry all of the time.

Eat! Eat loads of protein and carbs, don’t be afraid to indulge in a “second dinner” and just make sure that you are giving your body all the energy you need. A classic rower’s staple is a Soreen loaf. I’m a big Quaker’s porridge bar proponent. Basically, rowing is an excuse to snack loads.

Don’t wreck your entire sleep schedule for an outing

It took me until Easter term to work out that flipping my normal sleep schedule of 5 am to 11 am to the early morning outing timings of 11 pm to 5 am every couple of days was, surprisingly, not doing wonders for my health.

It can be tempting to treat waking up for an outing as some sort of endurance test: I regularly slept with the curtains open so sunrise would wake me, while my friend used to sleep in her rowing clothes after nights out, with her bedroom lights on. This is not healthy! Get into a bit of a schedule, please…for your own sake.

early morning outings require carb-based fuel (Image Credit: Anna Feest)

Go to socials

I know it can be super intimidating to turn up at a social that is full of seniors. But socials are the way to make friends and bond with the boat club. Some of my favourite memories from Michaelmas term were nights when I didn’t know anyone initially.

It can feel isolating and quite lonely to not be a part of the “in” group and not get any of the inside jokes but if you push yourself a bit out of your comfort zone you can have a great time. Also, who wants to miss the electric atmosphere of Curry King on a Monday night?

Some post-social hijinks (image credit: Eleanor Vincent)

Don’t take it too seriously

Rowing is supposed to be fun. If you’re not enjoying it then something is wrong. I know it is supposed to be an intense sport but Cambridge is an intense place, you need extracurriculars that help you unwind, not ones that further stress you out.

So keep reminding yourself that you’re here to have fun. If you’re tired and you need a bit of a break, be honest and look after yourself.

Go forth and row!

Feature image credits: Iona Pickett

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