Garth Holden

Club: CUBC

Height: 201cm

School: St Benedict’s College Bedfordview (high school), Yale University (undergrad)

International rowing record: 4th in the 4+ at Junior Worlds 2014, 6th in the 2- at U23 Worlds 2016

Year you first started rowing: 2011

How have you coped this year?


Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

I was very lucky to be in a house with five other team members. We made big physiological strides over the lockdowns and supported each other in person for the hard training pieces. We were incredibly fortunate.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

Better. I loved having very clear set goals to work towards and essentially as much time as I wanted to be able to develop myself physically. None of the programs I’ve ever been a part of have been big on ergs or weights, always prioritising the water training. Having both lockdowns to push myself physiologically and being able to compete with my housemates was fun. The dreadful days were when we got snowed or rained on. But even then, sharing that discomfort with my housemates made those experiences feel gritty and rewarding.

What was your lockdown training set up?

We had a sizeable flat-tiled courtyard where we could fit three ergometers side by side. For strength and conditioning, we had a bunch of plates and a bar that we acquired super early in the season as well as kettlebells and yoga mats for bodyweights. It was a real old school set-up. For a while we had a big tarp set up to protect us from the elements, but that quickly became rid- dled with tears and holes from various storms. By lockdown 2.0 the tarp was gone, and we were facing whatever Mother Nature could throw at us.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

I know from years of experience that I will get incredibly nervous for any kind of big race. The higher the stakes the worse it gets. At this point I like to lean into it. Two hours before the race I allow myself to get as worked up as I possibly can, and by the time I’m dry-heaving into a porta-loo, I’m able to reason with myself that no matter what happens in the race, I will not feel any more embarrassed or pathetic than I do at that exact moment in time. After that it’s all free speed.

The biggest challenge?

For me personally it’s been constantly changing sides. I rowed on starboard from the time I started rowing until Junior Worlds, and then switched sides after school to be able to row a pair at U23s, staying on port all throughout my undergrad. I picked up starboard again at the beginning of this season because it seemed like we were lacking in firepower on port. It’s been an incredibly dynamic year and I don’t think I’ve stayed on the same side for more than two weeks this season. At this point I back myself to row either side on April 4th and still put down my best performance. I hope that this will give us an advantage in terms of flexibility and allow us to put together the strongest possible crew for the race.

The toughest session?

Sixty minutes free rate all out. Really excellent session for mental toughness and learning to move effectively at high rates but so awful. Forty minutes in and it’s already the hardest session you’ve ever done. The last twenty minutes are life affirming, like the ending sequence of “The Breakfast Club”.

The best day, so far?

Trial VIIIs was super fun, even though we lost. I think our eight was vaguely aware that we were physically the less strong crew off the bat, and that sort of mentally and emotionally spurred us to be very gutsy on the pieces leading up to the race, as well as to be pretty aggressive with the chat we threw at the other crew. We had won most of the shorter side-by-side pieces leading up to the race, and were really having tremendous fun upsetting the other eight as much as possible. We ran some 1500-meter pieces individually a few days before the race. The coaches knew the times and knew that the other boat had absolutely wiped the floor with us, but we were still blissfully unaware. Race day the other crew got a length on us off the start, but we kept clawing back the entire race, eventually ending up 1/3 of a length off at the finish line after an unreal sprint. It was a great example of the kind of synthesis you see when a team that has huge respect and love for one another gets to go to war for two weeks.

Only the Blue Boat races on the 4th April 2021: What’s it like splitting the squad?

Absolutely without a doubt the worst thing that happened to us on this campaign. The remaining athletes are our brothers and they’ve worked just as hard as us, often times in even harder training conditions to have the privilege of racing. To split up the squad and to have the Goldie race moved later is heartbreaking. I feel very lucky to have been selected in the top 12 and the guys who did not make the cut were incredibly humble and supportive about the split, but it’s been a huge blow to the squad.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

It sucks. The Goldie boys made training 10x more fun and not having another boat to spar with undeniably worsens preparation for the race. On the other hand, the loss of the Goldie race has really made the last few seats in the Blue boat way more valuable, and we’ve seen some insane improvements from the guys fighting for those last few seats in our seat racing. Our team’s culture is still incredibly prevalent in the 12 spots left and fighting for those 8 seats tooth and nail will only make us more prepared to face Oxford on April 4th.

“By the time I’m dryheaving into a porta-loo, I’m able to reason with myself that no matter what happens in the race, I will not feel any more embarrassed or pathetic than I do at that exact moment in time. After that it’s all free speed.”

How did it feel getting back on the water?

All I felt was ready to get down to business. Having a 4-week season meant that there was no time to ease into it and every stroke was precious. I had personally made huge gains physiologically in the time off and I was ready to commit aggressively to technical changes based on feedback from the coaches and the coxes to get the most out of every session.

Why do you want to beat Oxford?

I’ve wanted to win the Boat Race since I was 12. I feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity after the IRA and Harvard-Yale were cancelled due to Covid-19 last year. A lot of my best friends never got to have their last races. I feel tremendously privileged to be able to have one last ride down the course. Having a shot at making my childhood dream come true makes this race all the more consequential.