The Other Boat Race
The University Boat Race between the men's crews of Oxford and Cambridge takes place on the River Thames in London on Saturday, amid much pomp, circumstance, celebrity commentators and a breathtaking amount of column inches compared to those for other rowing events.
But the 'other' Boat Races, for women and lightweights, take place a week earlier in Henley (Oxford won the women's Boat Race, and those for women's reserves and lightweights last Sunday).
Being a proud veteran of these 'other' races, competing for Cambridge in 2003, I've been asked to give my opinion on the differences and similarities between the races, and the position of the Boat Races in the national rowing calendar.
The Henley races are a wonderful event: the banks of the river are lined three to four deep right down the course with our friends, family and supporters; there are busloads of students from each university, and the day is a true festival of rowing.
The men's Boat Race has been going on for longer, having first been contested in 1829, but the women's race has a strong tradition of its own, with a battle that has been raging since 1927.
Cambridge are exhausted while Oxford celebrate victory in the 2010 women's Boat Race last Sunday - Photos: Peter Spurrier
The race I took part in came just at the beginning of an Oxford resurgence following a period of Light Blue dominance throughout the 1990s.
We lost. In fact we didn't just lose, we were absolutely thumped, walloped, thrashed, call it what you will.
The thing about the Boat Race, and in fact all Varsity matches, is that it really gets under your skin. Once you embark on the six month journey to the Boat Race, it begins to eat away at you and by the time you sit on that start line, the desire to win the race has overtaken all the rest of your person, your identity, and your senses. So to lose really kicks you in the gut.
Of course, it's nothing compared to winning or losing at the World Championships or the Olympic Games; but the Boat Race is very different. At that stage in my career, I was unused to the rollercoaster of sport, and also it was a very personal thing.
These ancient rivalries, much like the Ashes in cricket, take on a whole new level of emotion. There's no consolation silver medal so if you lose, it feels like you've completely and utterly failed.
My experiences in the Boat Race were absolutely pivotal to my development as a rower. It taught me so much about myself, about the nature of sport, about winning and losing, and most importantly I made some of my best friends during my year at CUWBC.
The standard of rowing and racing in the men's race is far higher. Crews are filled with internationals, they have full-time coaches of the highest calibre, and a huge budget to spend on training costs each year.
When I competed, we shared our coach and one of our boats with one of the colleges, we paid for all our costs from our own pocket, and all of us had been rowing for less than five years.
The men had an enormous, purpose-built boathouse, branded minibuses and launches, and three full-time coaches; we had a lean-to shed for our boats and relied on the generosity of a gym in Cambridge for our land training.
Annabel Vernon and Anna Watkins went from the women's Boat Race to the Olympics and won a silver medal together at the 2009 World Championships - Photo: Getty
We were training for a university event. The men's race is not a university event. Yes, there are 'genuine' students and the Boat Race is a great development path for aspiring British rowers; but I don't think it's controversial to say that overall it has become a race for internationals who wish to take a year away from their national rowing programmes, have a good time and new experiences.
We are not talking about a men's and a women's version of the same event, we are talking about two completely different events which can't really be compared.
The women's event is representative of student rowing up and down the country, and is an absolutely incredible day for those lucky enough to be involved.
Finally, the question of moving the women's race to join the men's races on the same day on the Thames is often brought up. My opinion is, why would you change a successful format?
Moving from Henley would lose that unique and special quality and instead the women's Boat Race would become a poorer version of the men's.
We shouldn't snipe at the differences between men's and women's race, but celebrate the positives and applaud those who are willing to put pride on the line and gamble it all on one race just for the chance of saying, I am a winning Blue.
Watch the men's Boat Race this Saturday on BBC One and the BBC Sport website or listen on BBC 5 live sports extra. Rowing coverage on the BBC.