Interview | Lance Tredell
Elite international rower Lance Tredell came down to the studio to serve up one of his pre-competition meals. We stole some moments with the former President of the Cambridge Boat Club behind the scenes, to quiz him a little more on his career and nutrition.
Growing up outside Manchester, was there much of an opportunity to take up rowing from a young age? "So when I was young, I was a middle and long distance runner; my Dad was a runner and he got me into it, and got me engaged in it. From there I managed to progress to being the Greater Manchester Champion, Captained Greater Manchester at the Nationals... yeah I had a lot of success in my younger years".
Did this success, and being generally quite sporty help you transition into rowing? "Yeah I think it must've done, just in terms of having had some sort of training... I started rowing when I was 20/21 years old, so reasonably late; a lot of guys have been doing it since they were 12yr olds and sometimes even younger. So I think to have had some training base/foundation, even though it was a different sport was definitely useful".
Did you ever feel at a disadvantage then, compared to your colleagues who had almost a decade of rowing on you when you came to the sport? "I didn't ever feel like I was at a disadvantage, even though I'd taken a much different route compared to what my team mates has taken. I never represented GB at junior or under-23 level, my first national team appearance was at the senior level which is quite rare. You do tend to have guys who have almost worked their way up through the rankings as it were, from junior to U23 to Seniors.
Were you ever tempted to pursue running as career? "For me, running stopped when I was about 13; my parents moved house, and the running track that I grew up running on, and running too, was only about a mile away - so when they moved, there was no track to train on. Also I think my interests changed a little bit as I got into my teenage years, I wanted to spend more time with my friends".
Lets talk about the Boat Race. Millions of people from around the world tune in to watch it, but really very little is known about what is going on with the athletes behind the scenes. Talk us through, as a former winner & President of Cambridge, what is going on in the weeks building up to it, and on the day. Lets start with how the athletes are selected as both teams enjoy the chance to pick from a selection of British and International elite rowers and Olympians...
"So selection for the Boat Race starts on Day 1 of the whole campaign in early September. Usually quite a big group [of potential athletes] turn up, and in the very first week we undertake some physical tests on the rowing machines. We normally start cutting people in that week.
We have certain cut-off standards and if those aren't met then we have to ask those people to leave the group. The selection process is ongoing throughout the whole campaign, from day 1 all the way up until the crew announcement which tends to be just a month or so before the race itself. [Selection] is based on a number of things; rowing on the water we have what is called 'seat-racing', and we look at the land based performances as well".
So once the crew has been announced, the 8 guys you've picked know they're going to be competing in front of 250,000+ people along the river and 25million people on television. What happens on the morning of the race from the athletes POV?
"Usually, well certainly the day before, I try and stay nice & relaxed... for me it's all about managing your emotions and not getting too excited too soon. So the morning of the race; you know it's race day, you wake up and you're excited, you're nervous, it's a big occasion. We usually head down to Putney and have what we call a 'pre-paddle', check everything is tight on the boat, go for a little row... you know, a final sharpen of the knife you might say. Then we head back to our host-family house, relax, have some food, then we'll head back down to Putney for the race itself".
Interesting that you mention host-families; the athletes are not put up in hotels on the week of the race?
"So the host families are volunteers essentially; they are alumni of the club and they volunteer their house to us which is immensely kind. They feed & water us, and it's our home for the week. We're always very grateful for it, and it provides a nice atmosphere for us.
So as an already established international rower when you entered your first race on behalf of Cambridge, did you feel there was any greater expectation or pressure on your shoulders?
"I think definitely within the squad you have a wide-range of experience levels, and so I did feel a little bit that people would look to me at times for leadership or guidance, and I always - not just in my years as President, but in my first year - would try and lead by example and try and set the standard. And hopefully that was useful for some of the less experienced guys, because we are a team at the end of the day. Maybe as an individual I might have had more experience at the international level, but it's all about getting the most out of the team".
Have you got any particular pearls of wisdom you can pass along? Or was it more about helping your team mates raise their game, or manage their own approach to rowing?
"I think when I first arrived at Cambridge, having spent time in the national team; which is a very professional set-up - not to say that Cambridge wasn't professional - there were areas that I felt could have been more professional, been more diligent, and got more out of what we were doing. So that was something I tried to get across in my first year, and tried to carry through to my second year when I was President."
You've touched upon the fact you've competed in the Boat Race twice; in your first year you won - what was that like?
"It was incredible... surreal really. The campaign happens so quickly, its such an intense period so no sooner had I arrived at Cambridge in my first year, I'd won the Boat Race, which was the first time Cambridge had won in a few years.
I'd certainly had a lot of people say to me, when they heard that I applied to Cambridge, 'Oh why have you gone to Cambridge, they'll never win the Boat Race', and there was a bit of a feeling that Oxford were on a winning run, and having a dominant period (Oxford won in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015, before Lance's first race in 2016). The fact that we achieved what we did that year as a squad was an unbelievable experience, I can't really put it into words".
Did the Boat Race results influence your decision to apply to Cambridge at all, or were you more focused on your Academics, and rowing came second?
"It was a bit of both, I knew I wanted to compete in the Boat Race, and I knew I wanted to win a Boat Race; it's such a huge and historical event on the rowing calendar. For as long as I had been rowing, I'd known about the Boat Race and it was always on TV and a big event, so it was something I really wanted to do.
At the time that I was in the National team, I was living with Tom Ransley (now Tom Ransley MBE, European, World & Olympic Champion) who is an ex-Cambridge guy, he did the Boat Race in 2008 and 2009, and I was also being coxed by a guy called Henry Fieldman (now World Champion Cox) who was a Cambridge blue in 2013. So two guys who I would regard as some of my best friends were both Cambridge guys so I did have a bias towards the light blues, and I think ultimately... it came down to the fact that I got in. I applied to Cambridge and I got in, and I've never looked back from there".
So in your second year you were President of the Boat Club; is this something you get nominated for, or do you put yourself forward?
"Its an election process essentially. So the hustings take place once a year and usually, I think its around a month after the race itself, everybody from the current year gets together and the process is... you have to inform the current President that you plan to run, the current President will also, if he has identified individuals within the group who will be going to be returning for the following year, suggest that they run - if he thinks they have characteristics that would be suitable for the Presidents role.
It was a decision I took on, well between myself and my girlfriend, and I was absolutely honored to be elected. It's a tough process, a really tough process, but really honoured that the guys chose me to lead the team the following year".
First a foremost, which is something I think a lot of people forget; you are at Cambridge to further your education. How do you balance studying full time, and training full time as an elite athlete?
"It's a really tricky balance, particularly at Cambridge because the academic standards are so high. You're not allowed to slack in any area; the standards we expect at the boat club are so high, and the standards are equally high within the department for your course. It's a hard balance because you want to achieve the highest standard possible in both.
It's challenging, but very rewarding to come through it, and come out the other side."
So how did you manage writing your thesis, whilst competing at the World events?
"Yeah, the thesis... it was a huge piece of work, a research based piece of work... you know, it was one of those situations where, several times while I was writing my thesis - and I'd joined the national team again by this point - I was training full time with the national team, still having meetings with my [academic] supervisor in Cambridge, still had contact time at the department, and I was writing my thesis. There were times when I remember saying to myself, 'how am I getting away with this?', I almost felt like I was getting away with something, because it was not sustainable to [write, study & train full time].
Ultimately, maybe, that played a part in what came to bite me this season - my under recovery. It's hard to say, but I certainly felt there were several points when I was writing my thesis where I thought 'this isn't sustainable'. The program at Cambridge, and the set-up when your training with the Cambridge team is very much tailored to suit you being a full time student. Whereas at the national team, it is tailored to full time athletes who don't have any other huge commitments in their spare time.
Every athlete has to deal with losing at some point, as it is part & parcel of the game. In your second year with Cambridge, you were beaten by over a length by Oxford. How do you cope with the loss on such a public stage? How do you pick yourself up?
"As you say, losing is a part of sport... it's tough. I hate losing, and I'll admit that I'm a very bad loser. It's why I go to such great lengths to do avoid it. The Boat Race was a big one in 2017, it was a big... such a huge event, public, millions of people watching... my post-race interview in 2017 and my speech that night at [the post-race dinner] were some of the hardest interviews I've ever given. How can you describe how much it hurts to people? You've put so much in to it, you've laid everything on the line, and it just really hurts.
But you've got to pick yourself up to move on. For me, the best way to do it was to think about what you can learn, what you can take from the race. What did we do well, what aspect of the whole experience can I take that will make me better or stronger going forward. Once I've gone through all of that in my head, pretty quickly I'll move on to the next target.
Lets talk nutrition, what are you eating the morning of the Boat Race, as its much more of an endurance style race than an all-out explosive sprint?
"Yeah, so on the day I'll probably have some porridge, with a little bit of honey. I have quite simple foods on race day, I don't tend to feel like I have a huge appetite. I always have a big appetite the night before and I'll make the most of that, but on race day I'll have something small.
Depending on the length of the race, what I eat does change a little bit but not massively - not as much as you might expect. For a longer race you might want to be slightly more carb-heavy in your diet leading in [to the race], but for me, my prep nutrition-wise, wasn't different for the Boat Race compared to what I would do for an International race".
We touched upon your performances in the Boat Race, but sitting alongside it is the rowing at Henley - how do the races there compare or differ to your other races?
"Henley is a really cool event, it's a great regatta; there are a lot of spectators there... the things about Henley that really stands out for me is the closeness of it. The spectators are, literally at some points in the race, no more than a metre away from you in the boat and that's quite unique because you don't experience that in any other race.
Henley to me always feels quite personal, you are really aware of the crowds. Obviously at the Boat Race you've got millions of people watching worldwide and hundreds of thousands of people on the banks, helicopters above you, but apart from when you go under the bridges, the river is so wide that the [spectators] feel quite far away. At Henley though the spectators can almost feel like they're on top of you as you race which is quite a special feeling".
You've mentioned it already, and mentioned that you have an under-recover issue; how does a lengthy injury affect you as an elite athlete?
"Yeah it's been very tough this season, struggling with injury and illness; as an athlete its always hard to deal with because it stops being able to do what you're expected to do. As a full time athlete, your... purpose is to compete and perform and an elite level, so when there is something in your body that is preventing you from doing that, of course it is tough mentally.
Generally I'm a very positive person, I always look for the positives in any situation, and this season has been no different; Yes it has been tough, there have been injuries, recovery issues, over training, et cetera, but from that you can look at the positives. If I'm no longer training in the National team right now, and it's looking like I'll have to move on from full time sport, there are a huge number of positives in that situation. An approach I've always had is, always keep moving forward, always stay positive and look at the opportunities rather than the negatives".
A number of athletes have talked about how hard it can be to transition from full time athlete, to having a normal career; how are you managing this part of your career and life?
"I think, because I am goal orientated and driven, moving on from being a full time athlete into a a non-full time athlete, I'm very much thinking about the next target or goal. I keep myself busy, and I like to be busy - and I think that helps a lot with my transition, because I'm not going to be sat around doing nothing.
Moving away from being a full time athlete, you've got to have something else that interests and excites you".
Was this transition made easier or harder, in that the decision to step away from full time sport has come more through injury?
"I'd come to the realistation that my body was not going to survive the training programme in the National team, which is where I needed to be to achieve my goal of winning Olympic Gold, so... it's a tough realisation to have, but it was my decision to move on and try something else. In a way you could say it was made for me, because of a medical reason, but who's to say I couldn't have spent a couple of years trying to recover and bounce back from this, and get back to my best. That was most certainly an option, but as I say, with all things considered I took the decision that I should move on."