TP TALKS TO... Karen Bennett

by Travelling Peach

I DIDN’T PICK ROWING; ROWING PICKED ME
When I was 18, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be. Then, one day I saw a TV advert - Sir Steve Redgrave and Sporting Giants were hosting a nationwide search for the next generation of sporting stars. I’d always loved sports, team sports, individual sports, anything really… I played swimming, hockey, basketball, golf… so I thought ‘Why not go for it and see what happens?’ Initially, I tested for handball and volleyball but, after seeing my body, the scouts said ‘Why don’t you try rowing? You might be quite good at it. See if you enjoy it.’ It happened naturally.

I LOVE ROWING BECAUSE…
My favourite things about rowing are the team spirit and the feelings of escapism that being out in nature and so focused on a goal brings. When I’m on the water, it’s so focused and peaceful. Everything that’s happening on land melts away and it feels like I’m in another world. When I’m rowing, I really concentrating on my technique and rhythm and it sounds weird but it’s nice to just be on the water. You almost feel at one with the wildlife and, as you’re listening to the sound of the boat, you can just hear it as it runs; like its own language telling you how fast it’s travelling. Whether you’re rowing to train or for fun, it’s nice to go out there.
 

‘There are many ways you can row: in an 8, a pair, a 4 or a single. I like rowing in the bigger teams because I love the team spirit but you get the best of both worlds.’

 

LIFE: ‘IT’S TOUGH. GIVE UP…’ ME: ‘NO CHANCE! LET’S DO THIS!’
The biggest surprise of this whole journey was me. I’ve always set a high bar for myself but I could never have imagined just how much I can do and how far I can push myself. Sometimes it’s - I wouldn’t say a mental battle - but when it’s tough and your body’s screaming at you, the easiest option is to say ‘You know what, I’m going to stop this today. I’ve had enough’ but then you don’t because you know that, if you do, you’re going to feel terrible because you’d have given up on something that you’ve been working so hard towards. That’s something that I never ever do but I’ve definitely surprised myself by how far I can push myself and how far I can go.

 

MY GIRLS INSPIRE ME
Seeing all of the girls this year, last year, all of the different teammates. Everybody’s got their own unique strengths so we support and learn a lot from each other. I can look at my weaknesses, for example, and learn techniques from someone who’s strong in that area to improve my own rowing. They inspire me and keep me going everyday.

 

COMPETETIVE ROWING: YOU HAVE TO SEE IT TO BELIEVE IT
The whole experience of entering the world of competitive rowing is incredible. No matter how much you prepare yourself for how competing will feel, you can never prepare yourself for how different the reality actually is. With the Olympics, I knew how much pressure I’d be under. It’s such a big deal, there are millions of people watching you and, if you make a mistake and mess up, you won’t just ruin your Olympics; it affects the whole team. There were 9 of us in our boat so, even if I’d made one mistake, it could have been it for everyone. When I started rowing, I thought ‘Yes, I’d love to go to the Olympics’ but you just make these statements and, actually, you forget just how much work you have to do to get there. It’s definitely easier said than done.

Arriving at the Olympics was incredible. I loved every single second of it but I have to say, when I went out to race, I was so nervous that my legs were like jelly and I just kept thinking that I never wanted to do it again because I was really worried about messing up. Then, after we’d raced and won a medal, everyone was so happy that we’d achieved what we’d aimed to that you forget about all of that. You just feel intoxicated by the happiness of everyone around you and lap it up. Everything else just disappears.

 

 

FAVOURITE PLACES TO ROW IN THE WORLD
 

RIO. Rowing in Rio will always hold a special place in my heart. Normally, the Olympic rowing lakes are outside of the city but at Rio 2016, it was right in the heart of the city. That’s not very common so the atmosphere and scenery was incredible.

VARESE, ITALY. I really enjoy training in Italy. Varese is such a beautiful lake with stunningly clear views of the mountains in the distance. It’s absolutely gorgeous and the water is usually quite flat and warm. I’ve raced there once too and it’s quite a speedy course.

LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND. The natural scenery surrounding Lake Lucerne is lovely. So much nature, clear blue skies, fresh mountainous air and the whole town is so peaceful and picturesque. Lucerne’s very close to Italy so if you’re there and looking to explore, it’s definitely worth driving to.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND. I love travelling but there’s nothing like going back home to Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful city with so much to do and it’s always nice spend time with friends and family. Although, if you want to row in the UK, I’d recommend Longridge, Marlow or the Molesey stretch near Hampton Court Palace. They’re quite picturesque and there are some lovely traditional pubs where you can moor the boat and stop off for a spot of lunch.

 

A TYPICAL TRAINING DAY
Rowing training is boring but it’s effective, which is why we stick with it. We spend a lot of time on the rowing machines and in the boats, usually for 30mins-1.5hrs per session, with several sessions daily. It’s quite dull because you just go up and down the slide so having a good playlist on your iPod is key. That’s what keeps you going. We also do a lot of weights and core stability training.
 

 

THE MOST IMPORTANT AREAS TO IMPROVE ROWING TECHNIQUE


Intermediate? If you’re a keen rower, mastering the catch position will definitely help you to build a lot of speed from the front end of the stroke. Catch is when the blade enters the water so if you can get your catch well and in quite quickly and your legs on, fast and smooth, that’s where you can pick up the boat and that will dramatically enhance the speed.

Beginner? The most important thing is to ensure that you’re doing the basics well. E.g. pushing your hands away first; rocking over with your body second; and then bending your knees so that you come right up to the front. Keep repeating the motion, focusing on posture and positioning, and you’ll pick it up soon enough.

Loose Arms, Strong Wrists, Strong Legs. Most people think that rowing is an arms-based sport but it’s predominantly legs. Your legs are bigger muscles and, really, your arms are just holding the oars so they should stay nice and loose. That said, if you do want to row regularly, I’d definitely focus on strengthening your wrists and hands, in addition to developing strong legs and core stability. It will help substantially.
 

 

WATER-BASED DRILLS 
There are so many water-based drills that will help. Some ideas are…
 

1. Pausing. Take a stroke, then pause at different pre-agreed intervals. E.g. you can pause at arms away, at the rock-over, at half slide… There are a lot of options.
2. Cutting the cake. You can do this from any length. You do the drill as you go up the slide to put your blades into the water - that’s the slide. With cutting the cake, you don’t finish the slide stroke at the regular interval so you need to pre-decide where you want to finish the stroke. Usually, you’d go to half slide if you wanted to go halfway up the boat and then you’d go back to where you finish the stroke. Then you go up and you finish the stroke.
3. Square blades. This is when you take the paddles out and row with the blades square rather than feathering them.


 

I DON’T KNOW WHY EVERYBODY THINKS ROWING IS ABOUT YOUR ARMS
Everybody always asks ‘Oh so do you row?’ and when I say ‘Yes I do’, they always say ‘Oh you must have really strong arms’ but actually I don’t. I’m not weak - we train a lot - but rowing is mainly powered through the legs. That’s the biggest misconception.
 

FAVOURITE ATHLETE TO COMPETE AGAINST
Definitely my friend Katherine Douglas. If something funny happens, at the time it’s serious but afterwards we’ll laugh and talk about it. I really like Jazz Carling (swimmer) too. We met at the Olympics and she’s lovely and very talented so I’d love to race against her. I don’t know which sport I’d be faster in so maybe we would both swim and then both row. Be the new style of tri-athletes.

 

FAVOURITE PRE-WORKOUT SNACK
Maybe it’s because I’m Scottish but I love porridge. I have it every morning for breakfast with honey and a banana and it keeps me going throughout the day.

 




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