This is not the best book on the Boat Race (that would have to be 'Boat Race', by Daniel Topolski - far far better than the dreadful ghost-written 'True Blue') and not even the best recent book (unlike one other reviewer I found Mark de Rond's book much more interesting). But it is a good read, told from the unusual perspective of two brothers, David and James Livingstone, racing against each other in this event for the first time since 1901.
The 2003 race, of course, was an absolute classic, surpassing even the 1980 and 1952, and indeed the 2002 races (every one of them won by Oxford) for sheer drama. I replay it from time to time even now, and can still hardly believe the closeness with Cambridge losing by one foot, finally overtaking Oxford a foot or two past the finishing line. Even during the race itself, but still in retrospect, the sheer intensity of racing that David showed at 6 in the Oxford crew is awesome. I have never seen anyone race as hard as he was doing two or three minutes into the race and to keep on at that intensity for a further 15 minutes is barely credible.
But the account of the race itself left me wondering, less than convinced. I raced in rowing many times (including once side by side over the Boat Race course - not on the big day though!) and more than 100 times as a runner. Afterwards I have found it very hard to remember very much at all, beyond a memory of numbing pain, a wish to stop and a fear of giving into that wish. There are little snapshots - for instance an exchange of words with a fellow competitor at the 16 mile marker in a marathon, a vivid moment underneath a crane in a final at a regatta - but no more than that. And there is a reason for this: all the blood available to the body is being sent to meet the oxygen needs of the working muscles and non-essential organs, including the brain, get starved of blood and so of oxygen. Thinking slows down. Indeed James tells of his vision disappearing at the finish line, with his hearing long gone. I cannot claim absolute knowledge on this, but many other people who have raced hard also tell of this experience.
So, in one of the most intense races in a ludicrously high intensity event in a very high intensity sport, after an intensity of racing that few of us ever experience (beyond what I could ever imagine myself doing for sure), how come the almost perfect memory of what happened - and from both brothers? And the memory is not just of what happened but of what was passing through the brothers' minds as it happened. Permit me some scepticism.
But still - it makes a good read for sure.
The details of training sound very realistic although sometimes quite gross - e.g. the residue left under the erg by a previous participant in a 5k erg trial that needed to be cleared up by the next to suffer - and I had the opportunity to check out this grisly detail with someone who rowed for Goldie (the Cambridge 2nd VIII) that year - absolutely true.
I really liked the ending, with the two Livingstones and Ben and Matt Smith (there were two pairs of brothers in the race) taking a IV for fun down the tideway. So despite the reservations about the miraculous feat of memory, a good read and I have no hesitation in recommending.