Martha Birtles


Height: 180cm

School: Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School and Holy Cross College

International rowing record: n/a

Year started rowing: 2018

How have you coped this year?

By taking one day at a time and working on improving my stroke.

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

Having to train separately and spending extended periods apart was difficult, especially for new athletes coming in, but there was such a good effort by everyone to stay in touch virtually, and it feels even stronger when we’re in person because we’ve made it through what were essentially long-distance relationships.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

The time flexibility and being able to play whatever music I wanted was nice, but I still would have taken the early mornings and terrible ABBA music if it meant I could have trained with my team.

What was your lockdown training set up?

I erged in numerous places – bedroom, dining room, lounge, garden patio. My exercise ball lives in my bathroom when I’m not using it. I constantly stub my toes on weights. The two ergs in my uni room make great drying racks though and my flatmates have been very understanding about the occasional shouting when doing erg tests. I always tried to be facing a window – as long as I can see sky I’m fine.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

I like to listen to music that helps to make me feel like myself. Anything by the Beatles or Stevie Wonder seems to work well. I also chew gum.

The biggest challenge?

Ignoring the urge to give up when times are tough and everything was looking very unpromising.

The toughest session?

It was all the ergs I had to do on my own when I was feeling low. It is hard to separate one particular session, they were all pretty bleak.

The best day, so far?

Seeing my teammates again in September after a long, lonely summer.

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

I feel so grateful that we can train at all, but at the same time I am so disappointed that Osiris won’t be with us on race day.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

It’s sad. I miss passing them on the river and saying hello.

How did it feel getting back on the water?

Physically and mentally tiring to be coached again after the hiatus, but the feeling of being on the water in a moving boat that was really good. It is always nice taking strokes that move a boat rather than a flywheel.

Why do you want to beat Cambridge?

Because I can’t wait to hear my teammates cheer and see them all smiling and laughing and relieved when we win.