I've spent the last week in Varese, Italy on our final training camp of the year before the World Championships in Poznan, Poland, which start on Sunday. Our preparation has been divided into three phases, the first of which is the hard work bit.
For the past few weeks since our last regatta in Lucerne we've been training hard and working on improving our technique, to gain as much boat speed as possible.
The women and lightweight teams spent two and a half weeks in Breisach, Germany where we did lots of long mileage water and erg (rowing machine) sessions - a perfect opportunity to work on all the small technical improvements that we've needed to address.
During the seven week period of World Cup racing we focus on going fast during racing and working on our crew faults to get that speed. Now that we are back in full training we can look at our individual faults. It's a physically and mentally tough time but an essential one.
Breisach is a small town on the Rhine in south Germany on the boarder with France. The town itself surrounds a hill on which the cathedral and town hall can be found along with our hotel.
It's a typical old area with cobbled narrow streets leading up the hill which wouldn't normally be an issue but our mode of transport whilst in Breisach are "happy shopper" bikes, complete with limited gears, bells and the occasional basket. Climbing up the steep cobbled hill on our bikes from the river to the hotel definitely adds another training session into the day and several people opted to lock their bikes at the bottom and walk up!
During a typical day on camp we cover about 20km on the water, followed by a weights session to maintain the strength we have built up during the year, then lunch and finally another 16km water session or 18km on the ergs.
The workload is tough and the heat makes it a lot harder. The first week of camp is OK but after that it starts to catch up with you and most people can be found sleeping in any free moment they can find. Otherwise, you'll find us watching numerous DVDs or reading vast numbers of books. It's all about mentally switching off from rowing in our 'down time'.
The more popular series seem to be medical or crime dramas. CSI and House are both popular choices and it helps that there seems to be a never ending supply.
Our self-appointed crew entertainments officer, Sarah Cowburn, has managed to so far watch two full series of Greys Anatomy since we've been away and. I'm fairly sure that the book shops are making a good profit or us all as many of us have made good use of the 3-for-2 offers and have also raided the charity book shops across the Thames Valley.
Phase two is the race practice part, which saw us move to Varese. We train from Varese Rowing Club and use their 2km course on Lake Varese for our race practice.
The lake is quite large and it means that during a session you are unlikely to meet any other crews and can avoid the wash from other coaching boats. This is where it gets exciting and we put all our hard work to the test by challenging it in race situations.
Our aim is to race at about 35 strokes per minute, that's less than two seconds per stroke. That's when our technique is most likely to fall apart, hence the need to practice racing.
We do lots of races of various lengths against the other crews in the team so that we can get an idea of our race speed. We generally race the lightweight men's double or women's lightweight quad. We are all slightly different speeds but with some educated guesswork about head start gaps it generally all works out OK.
The training load here is less than in Breisach but the intensity of work has increased so recovery is still really important. We also benefit from the hot weather, which is great preparation for Poznan.
This week we fly to Poznan for phase three, a few days of tapering and adjusting to the climate and surroundings before racing starts.
We know that the crews we will be racing will be making steps to improve their boat speed and racing tactics and it's important for us to do as much as possible to make bigger steps than anyone else.
We won't be able to influence the way anyone else prepares or races. The only thing we can do is to make sure that we do all we can.