Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

“You must be as fit as a flea”, commented a friend the other day. Having spent my youth and most of my adult life claiming (with some justification) to be thoroughly and hideously unfit, my initial response was to deny it. Yet I can’t ignore the fact that over the last few years, I’ve made steady progress away from the untoned woman who couldn’t even run for a bus.

So where am I now? Can I finally say that I’m actually, properly fit? And by whose standards?

Of course, going by the national average, I’m pretty much up there. I exercise several times a week, can hold my own at boot camp and am in reasonable shape. Yet at every sporting event I go to, I seem to be surrounded by hundreds of people who are in much, much better condition than I am.

There’s the 61-year-old in my squad who’s just run a marathon, with energy to spare for shopping the next day (my kind of athlete). There are all the people who overtook me on the Parkrun I attempted a couple of weeks ago (and there were lots of them). There are the countless triathletes, runners, rowers and swimmers who, every day, put me to shame. There’s even my own family who outstrip me in fitness in every way.

Of course, the sensible answer is that every person has to set their own standards and not worry about pitting themselves against others. That’s especially so for someone like me who has had to battle with chronic ill health just to get off the couch in the first place. But I still like to have a standard against which to measure myself.

Now, I’ve always had the idea at the back of my mind that someone was fit if they could run five miles. I’ve no idea where this notional marker of fitness came from, but it’s always stood as my personal gold standard. And I’m excited to report that today, for the first time in my life, I finally managed to run for five miles. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty, but I still did it.

Does that make me fit? It might not make me as fit as a flea, but for now, for me, it’ll do. Until next week, at least.

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Since I’m off rowing for a while, I’m anxious to be sure that I’m not falling behind too badly in my fitness. Without that weekly erg score to keep me focused, it’s been hard to keep track of my efforts. Until now, that is. The lovely people at Step Success have generously provided me with my very own Actiped – a 21st century pedometer – to help me track my fitness.

In the past I haven’t been too impressed with pedometers. I had one, for instance, that clicked every time I swivelled in my office chair. However satisfying it was to see my score soar, I knew that it wasn’t real and soon lost interest.

So far, the Actiped seems to be of a different order. Much more than just a pedometer, it forms part of an online fitness tracking programme. It comes with a memory stick to connect with your computer; you update your score by shaking the Actiped near the memory stick; it then magically syncs your data (OK, OK, so I’m not a scientist). Having analysed a full fitness and health questionnaire, including weight (shameful after Christmas), height, diet, alcohol consumption (ditto) and fitness regime, and with sophisticated inner workings that notice for how long your foot strikes the ground (which informs it about your speed), it aims to give an accurate reading of how far you’ve travelled and how many calories you’ve burned.

Particularly pleasing for a competitive type like me, it has pitted me against a group of equally sporty types (including award-winning body builder, Nicola Joyce), with a leaderboard showing how we’re doing.

Happily, my first full day on the regime has involved a run (the first after the festive season – ouch!), so my score’s looking reasonably respectable. I’m looking forward to finding out what it has to say about a planned shopping expedition and my everyday life.

I’ll report back at the end of the month and will let you know how I get on. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you tried a pedometer? Have you come across a system like Step Success? Are there other new generation fitness devices that I ought to know about?

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It started as a whisper. Just a tiny twinge in my ribs as I shifted in my chair. Within a couple of minutes, though, I realised what was happening: a hard session on the erg that morning was taking its toll.

Rest is not a dirty word

As the afternoon passed, the twinge turned into a pain and, to my dismay, several rowing friends told me that I was suffering from one of the most common rowing injuries – rib strain.

The only time I’d ever hurt my ribs before was during a particularly raucous ceilidh at our local village hall. A dance called the Basket and a neighbour with large hands (don’t ask) caused me to crack a rib and put me out of action for weeks. I never imagined such excitement could happen on the erg. Since then I’ve learned that rib stress fractures are actually quite common amongst rowers – and particularly female, lightweight ones.

Naturally my first reaction was just to ignore it and to carry on regardless; indeed I made it through a tough old weights session that evening.But when someone from the US rowing squad tells you need to stop, you don’t ignore their advice.

Twitter being an egalitarian kind of place where no one stands on ceremony, my complaint about my rib was picked up on by US national rower, Esther Lofgren. She referred me to a post on her blog for here for some excellent advice for anyone suffering from a rowing injury (or indeed any sports injury). Basically, you can turn a rib strain into a stress fracture if you don’t give it a rest.

The good news is that you don’t have to lie around scratching yourself while you wait to heal. There’s plenty of stuff you can still do, though it can take a bit of imagination to keep the pressure off your injury. At the same time, it’s essential to allow your body to heal. Rest, it seems, is not a dirty word.

For once, I’ve done the sensible thing and followed the advice of my elders and betters (well, betters, anyway – I definitely win on the elders score). I cancelled several rowing sessions. I rested. I drank water. I went to yoga, which stretched my poor, creaking body until it felt young again.

Since every year takes me deeper into the veteran category, this will not be the last of my rowing injuries, especially as I tend to attack my training like a rabid terrier. I wonder how long I can maintain this moderate, restrained approach? Only time will tell.

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World Rowing asked this morning if anyone could describe rowing in three words. Easy, I thought… until I tried to narrow it down.

There’s the day-to-day stuff. Blisters, callouses, trackbites. Hunger, thirst, food. Erg, shower, sleep. But that barely scratches the surface.

When it’s all about racing, I might go for adrenaline, excitement, anticipation, but that’s before I’ve even got to the starting line. What about pain, perseverance, courage? And then – depending on what happens – triumph, elation, joy or frustration, calamity, distress.

When it’s a smooth, summer’s evening scull with the sun setting and the swans gliding past, it might be calm, beauty, serenity.

Or on a freezing winter’s morning with the mist hanging over the water and icicles forming on the riggers it might be chill, ice, slide (and hurry up and get this boat on the water before we all die of pneumonia).

When the rowing’s going especially well or especially badly, it’s support, encouragement, teamwork.

Or on nights out with the squad, it’s fun, laughter, dancing. (Oh yes. Lots of dancing.)

Of course, if I’m really honest there are three little words that pretty much sum up how I feel about rowing. It’s just that I’m a bit shy and I’m not sure if I’m ready to say them yet. Maybe if I whisper…

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It’s that day of the week again: time for me to recommend some fabulous rowing blogs for you to read over the weekend.

The first is the excellent Training in Transition, written by the fabulous Tory, who is My Kind of Girl –  a rower who’s funny as hell, has callouses to be proud of and takes nail colour seriously (she has a whole post on it – gotta love it). The blog isn’t just nail trivia, though: there’s useful advice on dealing with blisters, chafing and suchlike. If you like GirlontheRiver you’ll love this. What are you waiting for?

My second recommendation is not so much a whole rowing blog as one page in particular, as it comes from an American college rowing site, most of which is instructions about what time to turn up. But this page is so brilliant I couldn’t not share it with you. Here it is, all the way from Grand Rapids, Michigan: Crew.

Now, you’ll notice that there isn’t a third blog up here, as per my previous blogrolls. What I’m rapidly discovering is that there aren’t that many rowing bloggers out there. So if you find some, please send me a link or my Friday tradition might just peter out fairly quickly.

Have a great weekend.

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Initially it was the cuteness (and the nicely balanced square blading) that made me want to share this video:

But it’s that bit at the end that got me thinking.

“It’s such a simple word: ‘Row’.”

And it is… deceptively so. When I started rowing in earnest last year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought it would be a nice hobby. I thought it would get me fit. I thought I might meet some nice people.

I was right about all of those things. But that simple word, “row”, gave no clue about what it would really come to mean to me: how it would get under my skin, take over my life, make me sing with joy and weep with frustration.

Row. Such a simple word. Such a crazy world.

No wonder we rowers stick together.


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It’s all very well having a lovely stroke, but however elegant your rowing you can totally, utterly ruin the effect when you get off the water if you’re attired in dodgy kit. Whatever anyone might try to tell you, what you wear on the river MATTERS. If you don’t believe me, just take a close look at the people who tell you it doesn’t. Precisely.

Luckily, I’m here to tell you what not to wear, so if you need sartorial salvation look no further. My thoroughly scientific research on the subject (asking around on Twitter) has unearthed horror stories of coxes in skirts (honestly), gimp suits (shudder), on-board rucksacks (eh?) and cashmere scarves (worn with precious little else – don’t ask), and I eagerly await photographic evidence to back this up. Until then, here are my top five fashion no-nos.

1. White

So many reasons not to wear white. It gets instantly dirty as soon as you get anywhere near the clubhouse and grubby clothes are never appealing. It becomes see-through when it gets wet, and remember, ladies and gentlemen, rowing’s a water sport.

But by far the most important reason to avoid white…

See what I mean?




well, I think in the interests of decency I’d better illustrate this with a picture instead of a description… (probably best not to click on the photo for a full-sized view. Seriously, don’t.)





2. Novelty all-in-ones

You know the sort. Roman centurions. Skeletons. Storm troopers. Dare I say it, animal prints? (whoops, guilty… I got carried away at a regatta…)

Now I canvassed opinion about this and the general view is that these are just wrong, wrong, wrong. My Twitter pal, @scullinggirl, expressed the commonly held view that novelty suits are suitable only for charity events or Christmas, and I’m inclined to agree.

But maybe we’re being too grumpy. Is there room in our lives for a little lycra-based humour? Or is it as hilarious as a repeat of the 1995 Les Dennis Christmas special? Tell me what you think (post it below) and if enough of you post, I might be persuaded to add a pic of me in the said leopard-print all-in-one. I said might.

3. Gloves and pogies

Boy, I hadn’t expected this to be such a controversial topic. Mention handwear and people get really quite cross.

“Pogies are for wimps. Man up!” cried one hardcore opponent.

“We do a sport that means going outside when it’s cold”, said another. “Pogies just make you look silly”.

Now I’ll have to confess here that I am an unapologetic winter glove-wearer. They keep the blood supply connected to my fingers, so I wear them. End of. But that is me and this is you, and I have never claimed to practise what I preach. The truth is that gloves (and even more so, pogies) do make you look a bit soft. You have been warned.

Oh, and as for the gloves worn all year round just to avoid blisters (particularly favoured, as one world-weary veteran noted, by novice men when they start out)? All I’ll say is that even I don’t wear those.

4. Status kit

Does my bum look big in this?

Look, if you’re a GB rower and you turn up for the Olympics wearing a pair of tatty old trackies and a wife-beater vest, that’s probably taking modesty a little too far. What I’m talking about here is perpetually advertising your status as an elite rower. Especially if:

(a) you aren’t an elite rower;

(b) your elite rowing career was so long ago that the kit doesn’t fit any more; or

(c) you’re a member of Take That and can’t actually row anyway.

Now, I’ll acknowledge that the kind of high quality kit that uber-rowers get to wear is pretty special and probably looks and feels pretty classy. I’m sure I’d look lovely in the Leander kit (and now that the boys there are practically my best friends it’s only a matter of time before I’m invited to join them and try it for myself. Cough.)

But until that day comes, you won’t find me sporting the pink hippo. Sorry, folks, but it  just wouldn’t be cool.

5. Nothing

Put it away, boys

“When the sun comes out, the guns come out”. Or so a teenage rower told me as he peeled down his all-in-one at a summer regatta to reveal what his mother had no doubt assured him was a fabulously muscular physique (bless).

I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for this behaviour. Some say it unnerves the opposition when they catch sight of the tremendous six packs on show. Hmmm. Others claim that they just find that thin layer of lycra suffocatingly hot. Again, hmmmm.

The truth is it’s just vanity. I’ve seen those same teenage rowers flexing and admiring their muscles when they thought no one was looking. And then, even more so, when they thought someone was.

Now, I’m not immune to a finely turned ab, but context is everything. And here’s the thing. Vanity is not hot.

My advice, then? If in doubt, cover it up.

So there you have it. You need never destroy your cred again by wearing the wrong kit. Just by rowing badly, and I’m afraid I can’t help with that.

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Next time you’re feeling a bit blah about rowing – if it’s raining and you’re tired and stiff, or if you’re grumpy and disgruntled, or you feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back – and you need something to motivate you to get back on the water… watch this.

Now tell me you don’t feel like it.

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Forgive me for being indelicate, but I can’t help noticing that with the head season nearly upon us, there’s rather a lot of testosterone in the air.

The gentlemen of the rowing world seem to be greeting the prospect of long ergs and distance rows with more than their share of grunting and posturing. The internet rowing world is full of “bring it ons” and “grrrs” and detailed accounts of erg sessions and kilos lifted.

Impressive though it is, I’m not altogether sure whose benefit it’s for. Perhaps it’s designed to unnerve the opposition. Perhaps it’s a misjudged mating ritual. Or maybe it’s simply a way of mentally shifting up a gear. Either way I find it kind of sweet, in the same way that I view my (small, male) dog’s noisy attempts to frighten the postman.

Meanwhile the fairer (and in many ways stronger) sex are going about the seasonal change in a more methodical way. Meetings are in the diary. Schedules are being drawn up. And, behind the scenes, quietly, the ergs are whirring into action again (though to my shame I discovered a tell-tale cobweb on mine this morning).

It doesn’t mean we’re less enthusiastic about the heads ahead. After all the noise and splashing and stress of the regatta season, I’ll be quite glad of the heads-down, no-nonsense nature of the long haul. There is, after all, more to take away from a head than the silverware. Even if you’re not first in your class, you’ve got a time to work on and to compare with last time and next time. And I can’t say I’ll really miss the adrenaline rush of the racing start.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. I have to go and get cracking on my evening’s workout. That’s an hour long erg at 1:53, followed by some weights and then a giant steak. Grrrrr. Bring it ON!!!

Just kidding. I’m really off to make a cup of tea.

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Since last week’s blogroll post, lots of you have been clicking away on their sites, so time to roll out another one.

First on this list is the fabulously named Rowing Is Awesome – well, how could I ignore a blog with a title like that? It’s full of rowing awesomeness, with some funny stuff, some inspiring stuff (the running clip made me go a bit teary) and some bits of general rowing interest. Go read: it’s awesome.

Now anyone who overlooks the importance of the cox is a fool, so my next blog up for  inspection is Adventure (In Coxing) Is Out There! by American cox, Alex Olijnyk. It’s always good to see life from the perspective of the 9th seat, so here it is. Coxes can be a bit scary sometimes, and I suspect Alex is no exception, but who could really be intimidated by someone who has a “puppy of the day” slot on their blog. Even if you’re not interested in coxing, check this one out if you like cute dogs.

Finally, as some of you (especially those of you who trained all summer for the Boston Marathon) sound like their week has a bit stressy, I’m going to suggest a visit to Everything Stress. Lots of great advice for anyone sitting with their shoulders hunched up at their computer (like me… hmmm…) If the tough guy rowers amongst you can refrain from laughing out loud at references to 30 minutes of exercise a day (if only), it’s full of useful thoughts and suggestions.

So there we have it. Your weekend reading lined up. Enjoy – but not so much that you never come back to GirlontheRiver.


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