The international rowing season is fast approaching and four Marlborough-based rowers are working hard at Lake Karapiro prior to beginning their quests for world dominance.
Brothers Robbie and Karl Manson leave tomorrow for France where they will take part in the second elite Rowing World Cup Regatta. The double scullers then compete in the third regatta at Lucerne in July before tackling the world championships in the Netherlands in August.
Tom Murray is in the bow seat of the New Zealand eight who will compete at the Lucerne regatta before attending the under-23 worlds in Italy, where they are the defending champs.
Sophie McKenzie, bronze medallist at last year's under 23 worlds will team with Zoe McBride in the under 23 lightweight double.
The rowers spoke to the Express from their Cambridge base about their preparation leading into the business end of the season.
Robbie Manson "The boat is going all right. At the winter series we did some good times, been right up there, so we're just hoping things keep on progressing when we get overseas.
"I think the combination of Karl and I has definitely gotten faster than when we were at the nationals and over the summer.
"We haven't changed too much surrounding our training. We know what works best for us, so we we have been working on technique really and trying to improve that. Just get fitter and stronger - all the basics really.
"We've been doing some pretty big kms but mixing it up with a lot of shorter, intense sessions as well, which has made for a pretty hard couple of months.
"We have had no injuries this year, so we've been in the boat right through which is good. We're both just a little bit tired at the moment but that's part of it.
"We are actually a little bit flat this week. We've had a pretty hard couple of months training but I'm sure once we get on the plane we'll freshen up, bounce back and be ready to race when we get to France.
"I don't know the course we will race on [in France] but the world champs are there next year, so it will be good to check things out before then. From pictures I've seen, [the venue] looks amazing. I'm guessing that most of the top crews will turn up to race in France so they can get a look at the course ahead of the worlds next year.
"This year we will stay in Europe for three months. We do the French and Lucerne World Cups and six weeks later the world champs in Amsterdam. We came back [to New Zealand] before the world champs last year but it was too cold to train properly, so this should work out better."
Tom Murray "I'm in the same eight as last year and we've been together all summer as well, so we're starting to click in together quite nicely.
"We've had quite a few computers on the boat, one for everybody, and they measure all your angles and how much power you are putting out. We've been using them recently and have been able to improve just one or two percent to try to make the boat go just a little bit faster each stroke. We are starting to get down to the finer details just now.
"The boat is going faster than it was last year and every now and then we are able to hit a really good speed and that's happening more and more often and we're able to hold it for longer as we get closer to leaving. So it's all feeling pretty positive in the boat.
"Last year there were one or two injuries that kept us out of the eight. But we are getting to the stage where, if we feel an injury coming on we can get it sorted out early, to maximise our time in the boat.
"It's good to be in a crew you are familiar with. After the under-23s last year we all kept in contact via Facebook. We all have a big chat going so we can see what everybody's doing and talk to each other. That's carried on through this year as well. Nobody's afraid to speak their mind.
"We all know each other well enough now that we are all just trying to help each other. That gives us another little edge.
"The foot is flat down to the pedal at the moment. For example, last week we got a Monday off after one of our winter series. We would normally row 300km a week but we ended up, even with the day off, still rowing 330km. The foot is well and truly pressed to the floor at this stage."
Sophie Mackenzie "My team doesn't actually leave for Italy for about a month.
"Our build-up so far has been really great making some massive improvements together and pushing each other to new limits which is awesome for making us faster.
"From the start we have just gelled so easily and it honestly just keeps getting better.
We have had our share of lows too, both of us suffering from rib niggles but have trained smart around these and work together well.
"We have also had some amazing highs as a crew, getting near the top of prognostics in the squad sessions, ranging from 2-8km, which is always a nice feeling.
"Now it's winter, being a lightweight I've been battling the cold. Sometimes it feels as if I have a million layers on but still the freezing air bites me somewhere - usually the fingers or the neck.
As for what to expect in Italy, to be honest I have no idea. Each year I have found is so different and there might be some completely new countries to watch out for. I guess we just have to wait and see but, until then, train our hardest and prepare to fight it out for that gold. Determination really is the key and keeping focused on the end goal."
- The Marlborough Express