The Year of the Dragon is off to a strong start, with two training sessions now attended (and, most importantly, completed).
I was slightly disappointed that after my first training meeting with the illustrious Thames Dragons I then had to miss the next two dates. Work commitments first meant that I would miss Tuesday night’s training, and then a wedding reception in Essex was to keep me away from Sunday morning. I was disappointed and reluctant to miss them, and even tried to work out if it was possible to do all three.
If I missed dinner with my colleagues, could I go to training, finish by 9, then hot-foot it back to central London in time for the after-dinner drinks? If I went to a wedding reception on Saturday night, could I get up extra-early on Sunday morning, just to drive back to north-east London for training? It may have been physically possible to do these things, but it wasn’t practical: there would be plenty more opportunities to come.
Last night was the next opportunity to attend. There was a temptation not to go when I was invited out for a drink by my colleagues, but I have committed on paper — or, at least, online — to the Year of the Dragon and I’m determined to see it through. If I start not bothering this early on, then the adventure is as good as over already.
Instead of a warm, sunny Sunday morning when I’d worn shorts and applied sunblock, last night although still warm was threatening rain from the start and I knew that evenings on the river would need insect repellent before it would need sun protection. I arrived on the train in plenty of time and enjoyed the downhill walk to the river, and was glad to see that many dragon boaters were already there — including members of the Typhoon Dragon Boat Club in their team uniform — but also some reassuring members of my own club.
There were a few people that were clearly regular dragons that I hadn’t met before, along with a man who was returning for his own second session like me, and then a couple of completely new people. You can tell a newbie when they come along, slightly hesitant, and ask “Is this dragon boat racing?” and then questions about how we would be racing, and if you fall in the water. There is no actual racing, this is training. Later it was asked if anyone goes to races — I don’t know if the question meant did my team member personally race, did the team race, or if anyone actually races.
I can see clearly the areas I need to focus on for improvement. While my first session was focused on keeping time with my other team members rather than paying attention to the shouted instructions or speed, this time I felt I should at least start considering myself part of the team and acting accordingly. There are times when we start from what is called a standing start — you start with the paddles are buried in the water, then set off at a break-neck pace. Much like you would in a race. The only trouble with this is being able to keep up — and if you can’t keep up with the speed, you can’t keep in time. And the timing is the single most important thing. The other things I need to improve include not taking the paddle past my hip (I think the key is reaching much farther forward) and the occasional tendency to splash half the boat with water. I have no idea what goes wrong there.
Very soon, I am going to take out formal membership. And before long I am going to have to face that The Year of the Dragon is a very real adventure, and a challenge, even if it is entirely different from my previous adventures — and this means I am going to have to stop thinking of it as something I do for fun a couple of times a week, and actually start training for it. There might not be a dog sled and a frozen Arctic tundra up ahead, but if I am going to compete within the year, I need to take it seriously and train.