Virtual May Bumps 2020

By Millie Hopkins

About 2 weeks after the end of Lent Bumps, the global COVID-19 pandemic was rapidly spreading. For the first time since the bubonic plague, the university closed and sent all of its students home. As members of NCBC went home to find safety, they scattered all over the world, across the UK and as far as Hong Kong, Australia and Hawaii.

With the boat clubs of the Cam spread worldwide, coupled with British Rowing’s ban on rowing in mixed households, it became apparent that May Bumps would not happen in its usual format. Luckily, the innovative attitude that encompassed so many aspects of the new pandemic lifestyle soon took hold of Cambridge’s rowing community and an idea from JCBC led to the creation of Virtual Bumps.

The premise of Virtual Bumps was a relatively simple one: instead of rowing the Bumps course, crews would run it. This would allow rowers to participate from whichever country and time zone they were now in. Each crew would consist of 9 runners – 8 “rowers” and a “cox”, who would each run 800m in the 24 hours leading up to the cannon. Crews would then submit their times in three groups of three, which would each be averaged to give the “boats” a different speed for each third of the course. This was designed to allow for the classic fly and die, all adding to the traditional bumps drama. These boat speeds were then applied to the existing 2020 Bumps starting order and entered into a simulation allowing bumps and overbumps to occur in the traditional manner.

Whilst the fact that Bumps was still running seemed exciting, for many of the NCBC’s members, a running race seemed a daunting prospect; most of us were relatively novice runners. This resulted in a term’s worth of training with different distance and interval runs being suggested for each week aiming to build both stamina and speed. We even competed in some rowing-turned-running events, such as Lockdown Regatta, to build our confidence in the lead up to the main event.

With just days before bumps were to start, we separated from training as a whole club to being split into 3 separate crews, with each crew containing 8 of our current rowers and one cox. The crews were as follows:

1st VIII2nd VIII3rd VIII
CoxZoe CavendishCatrina BomfordFania Chris
SEmma BrightmanSophie BaldwinRhiannon Smith
7Karla BoxallJasmine WellsSophie Yang
6Millie HopkinsMarta KubańskaLaura Rozing
5Rosanna BarracloughAmy RoweLaura Harmer
4Clemmie SmithBeth TaylorAlice Bell
3Florence BradshawMariana Quiroga LondoñoHelen Eastmond
2Ranait FlanaganEvelyn SvingenEmma Gough
BStanimira GeorgievaHéloïse DunlopEliana Johnson-Leighton

With crews set, the cannon went and the crews were off, ready for the first days racing! Once the running was done, all we could do was wait and see, with the results announced live each night in a CamFM commentary reminiscent of the real Bumps experience. 

Each night we faced steep competition, especially for our lower boats, often left to compete against other colleges’ first VIIIs, a tougher call than usual, given that we had all only recently taken to running. 

The first day resulted in the 1st VIII running over at headship, the 2nd VIII being bumped by a speedy Emma W2 and the 3rd VIII managing a strong run over lower down the division. 

The second day saw the 1st VIII run over, with a change in competition behind them as Caius caught Jesus. The 2nd VIII and 3rd VIII both moved down one, being bumped by Murray Edwards and Clare Hall W1s respectively. 

The third day was a hot and hard day’s running, and the results proved for tense listening, keeping us on the edge of our seats as all Newnham boats were hotly pursued along the Bumps course. The 1st VIII managed to just outpace Caius and cross the finish line at the top of the river. Meanwhile, the 2nd VIII fell to Sidney Sussex W1 and the 3rd VIII to the super-fast Addenbrookes crew. 

With the knowledge of not having to run again after this final race, the fourth and last day resulted in a whole host of PBs for NCBC, firmly using up the last of the energy in our legs. With virtual BCD looming, we listened in for a final time to see what our efforts had come to, the 2nd VIII and 3rd VIII had unfortunately been caught by Corpus W1 and Lucy Cav W3 respectively. W1 however, had run over for the 4th day in a row and therefore now holds the first, and hopefully only, Virtual Headship. 

All in all, we had a great week, with many of us smashing PBs and running faster than we had previously thought possible. Héloïse and I are very proud of the club and how we came together not only to boldly take up a new sport but also the team spirit that it inspired.

A more in-depth report of each days’ racing can be found here.