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So yesterday we heard from some lightweight rowers about their quest to stay strong and stay trim. But what about the rest of us? Let’s face it; in the real world, most of us aren’t lightweight and most of us have to devote large amounts of our time to jobs and families. But wait! All is not lost. Can you lose weight and still train hard? I’ve spoken to two club rowers whose answer is a defiant “yes”.

Alison Brighton, Runcorn Rowing Club

Alison is a single sculler who has managed to lose an impressive 10% of her body weight whilst still hitting her rowing targets. Here’s how she did it:

“I had put 10kg back on after losing a lot of weight through the first part of my NQT year – I was up to about 82 or 83 kg, which is scary being female and also a problem when your boat is a 70kg boat.

“After rigging it really, really high so I could tap down over my quads, and changing my coach, my weight came down through volume – hours and hours and hours of steady state from about November through to March, working within a heart rate range which was set from my resting HR and a maximum from racing or a 2k (forget which).

“I was doing weights etc. as well, but very little on the erg thanks to a dodgy back and the ‘magic’ formula of 1-2 sessions a week of  about 10 being anything over ‘steady’. I believe this is closer to the ratio that GB squad do – masses of steady state relative to higher rating work (and that can mean 24+ apparently!)

“Foodwise – I was eating normal (large meals) plus making sure I ate/ drank something for recovery straight after training. I got fed up of the sight of large piles of pasta and feeling like I couldn’t eat enough to get through it.

“I was down to 74kg ish for Henley Women’s Regatta, although I wanted to get down to 72 really.

“This year, I’ve done much less steady state, due to change in coaching emphasis and being much further away from my club. Result: back up to about 78kg before I had a stomach bug. I’m about 76kg now (in reach of ‘race’ weight)

“But, really, I didn’t think much about food, other than whether it would make me feel sick before training (scrambled egg, tuna, anything with onion) and whether I had eaten enough.

“Once I decide if I’m actually in any state to race this season, after whatever last race is, going to go back to steady state, and make sure I get the miles in. It’s what works for me, for fitness, for technique, confidence in my boat and of course being lighter (am never going to be light!)”

Next up is my very lovely friend:

Julia Oliva, ladies’ vice-Captain, Monmouth RC

Some say she is the power behind the Olympic throne, and that Lord Coe leaves love-lorn messages on her voicemail. All we know is she’s called the Jools.

Jools took a more diet-based approach to losing weight and has lost a staggering amount of weight since November 2011. I’ve seen her on the gym and on the water and can vouch for the fact that she has lost nothing in energy. Here’s what she told me:

“S’easy! For lunch and dinner, fill a plate with gorgeous leaves, rocket, tasty herbs, etc., top with a low cal dressing and find a small gap on the same plate to  put whatever you fancy in the high protein/quality carb/low fat range. My favourites are salmon fillet topped with red pesto, chicken breast with green pesto. Go easy on the trash carbs and ‘up’ the protein – for satiation – I’m convinced that protein makes you feel fuller longer. When I say fill your plate with veggies – I mean fill your plate!

“That means for the Sunday roast too – start with a plate full of broccoli, carrots, beans, cauli etc then add your lean meat, finding enough room to just squeeze in 1 roast potato – to savour it 🙂
“This even goes for a curry – pile on some veg, add the meat/sauce, then squeeze in a heaped tablespoon of rice 🙂 You can eat the same as the family, just change the ratios.
“Eat whatever fruits you like between meals.

“I’ve lost 20 lbs since November and never really felt hungry.

“Drink loadsa water.

“Weigh yourself daily – yeah I know that the diet sheets say once a week, but there’s plenty of research out there that shows that daily weighers have more success at losing weight and keeping it off.

“…..And emotionally (I think this is an important one)  – don’t feel that you’re punishing yourself and resent being on a diet – love it! Realise that you’re going to be on the diet for 6 months – some people say ‘lifestyle change’ but I don’t think that means much. So set a SMART goal for 6 months’ time, with a couple of mini goals in between and work towards it. One bad day doesn’t mean ‘end of diet’, just have an extra lean day the next day. 

“Also remember that this is a good thing that you’re doing, but your body doesn’t think so as it prefers to be fat – again research available. So if you’ve been overweight before, your body will try to regain that state making it more difficult for you, for about a year after starting a diet 😦
“It’s a battle between body and you – win it ;)”
Huge thanks to Alison and Jools for sharing their secrets. By the way, if you’re looking out for Jools at any regattas this summer, she’ll be the one in the fetching leopard-print leggings.
So, we’ve had the lightweight rowers and we’ve had the club rowers, but – ever mindful of my audience – I know that not all of Girl on the River’s readers are rowers. So tomorrow I’m going to bring you Part III, with a runner who has lost mahoosive amounts of weight whilst training for various running events, and a bodybuilder who successfully got lean for her competition. Can you lose weight and still train hard? You betcha.

 

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The perfect wellies for rowing?

Like many rowers, I spend a fair bit of time wading around in the river and, like many rowers, I’m a little bit obsessed by wellies. Needless to say, I’ve developed some fairly strong views on what wellies (or rain boots, as I believe my American friends call them) are the best for rowing.

First and foremost, they must be long enough. I can’t be doing with wellies that only come half way up your calf. I’m told by a fashionista friend that this is more flattering, but soggy socks are not a good look by anybody’s standards.

Equally importantly, they have to be easy to slip on and off. Nothing worse than faffing around in the boat trying to haul off your wellies just as the boat is being pushed off.

Third, they should be foldable so that you can stow them in the boat, unless you’re one of those types who throw their wellies on to the bank for everyone else to trip over (you know who you are – stern look).

Fourthly, they should be a balance between affordable and sturdy. Contrary to popular belief, most rowers are not rich so we can’t all splash out (if you’ll forgive the pun) on expensive boots, but at the same time the cheapest ones, as I learned to my cost this summer, perish quickly and soon start to leak.

Finally, being horribly vain, they must be either beautiful or match my kit. One or the other; I don’t mind which. I’m not good enough at rowing to get away with the “chuck any old kit on and still look good on the water” approach (unlike the lovely but frankly quite terrifying Anna at somethingaboutrowing who violently disagrees with me on this score – see her rule 29). So, I’m sticking with fashion and wellies must look fabulous to earn my love.

With all this in mind, I was thrilled when Hunter (they of the famous green wellies and also the Oxford and Cambridge University crews’ boots in dark and light blue for the Boat Race) contacted me to find out if I’d like to trial their new range of RHS floral wellies. Admittedly, they were really hoping for a review of their gardening wellies, but when I explained that as a rower I was more interested in using them on the river than in the vegetable patch, they kindly obliged.

They actually sent me two pairs. One pair (pictured above) were for me to try on (in?) the river; the second were proper gardening boots (more about those later).

I have to admit I rather fell in love with the flowery beauties, but it’s only fair to tell you that not everyone shared my feelings. My fellow scullers this weekend were underwhelmed by their loveliness. I’ll have to let you form your own judgement about them (incidentally you can also get them in pink and black; I found it hard to choose). Anyway, as far as I was concerned, they fulfilled the visual criteria. And what about the rest of the requirements?

Yes to the length; they came right up to my knees.

Another thumbs up for ease of slipping on and off; no problems here.

They also passed the stowability test, fitting neatly in front of my footplate and making quite a handy cupholder for my water, too.

As to cost, this, I’m afraid is the one area in which they fell down. Hunter is a classy brand and has a classy price tag. This lovely legwear retails at an eye-watering £79 (gasp). Of course, you’re getting a well-made welly with the Hunter label on it, but yes, it’s still a lot of money.

So there we have it. I’m thrilled with mine, and if you’re feeling flush and fancy some florals, these could be the wellies for you.

I should, in fairness, give an honourable mention to Joules, which has a range of wellies with a zip up the back, which is marvellous for quick release. It’s worth noting that (in addition to being still quite expensive) they have a “lip” at the ankles designed, presumably, to stop them slipping off, which makes them hard to remove at speed in the boat and does rather detract from the benefit of the zip. Still, I can’t deny that the zip is a genius idea, especially if your calves are a little on the, ahem, meaty side.

Great for gardening; not so good for rowingOne last thing. If there are any gardeners out there, you might like the gardeners’ wellies that Hunter also sent me. No use for rowing as they’re only 3/4 length, but they do have a clever “dig pad” to stop the spade blade digging into your foot. They’re also nice and wide so you can wear thick socks and tuck your boots in. Mine came up big, so you might need a size down. Great for gardening (I tried them out digging over the veg patch) but, as I say, not the best wellies for rowing. That prize still goes to the florals.

Both types of boot available from www.hunter-boot.com.

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Pete Reed and Andy Triggs Hodge make it look easy
Photo by Peter Spurrier, Intersport Images

There are two things I really, really want to achieve in rowing this summer season (in addition to nailing my first win). The first is to get out in a single scull (though not until the water warms up a lot). The second is to try rowing in a pair.

For rowing virgins out there, a pair is a boat with two people, each with one blade. It’s regarded as pretty challenging as the fewer people in a boat, the harder it is to balance, but that’s precisely why I want to try it. So I was pretty interested to find this video on just this subject, featuring interviews with some of the best in the game, including Pete Reed who (with Andrew Triggs Hodge) is a triple world silver medallist as well as winning a gold at Beijing in the four.

Martin Cross, gold medal winner in the 1984 Olympics, sums up the challenge: “The pair is the natural boat for the tough men of rowing – the people who want to prove something.”

And as Pete Reed adds, “There are no stabilisers… the skill factor is very high.”

One question remains, though: who will join me? I need someone who can match me in strength, and it’s a well known fact that I’m by far the strongest and heaviest in the ladies’ squad*.

Equally importantly, as one of the rowers interviewed said, “You’ve got to get on; it’s more of a marriage”.

So, then. 29th February may have passed, but I’m still getting down on bended knee. Who is willing to take my hand?

*possibly not entirely true; the opposite might even be the case

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As it’s Valentine’s Day, I’m going to be inviting you to share the love a little today. No, not a mass, online love-in. No garage-forecourt-flowers, chocolates or teddies, either. Just a heart-felt plea to be a little kinder to your fellow athletes.

I can’t help noticing that there’s the rivalry that naturally exists between different sports often tips over from friendly respect to downright scorn. This is especially so on the internet, where the gloves are, it seems, permanently off.

The rowers love nothing better than a good belly laugh when they see non-rowers flinging themselves about on the erg, and don’t really believe that anyone else is quite as hard as they are.

The bodybuilders talk disparagingly of cardio bunnies, as though long hours pounding the pavements or slogging it out on the running machine is worth nothing compared with their tin-shifting power, and love to tell tales of the high-rep, low-weight cissies they saw at the gym that day.

The runners look on anyone with muscle above the calves as hulking neanderthals next to their gazelle-like litheness.

And the triathletes and Iron Man guys… actually, I’m not sure that they have any energy left to think, but I’m pretty sure they feel a cut above the rest.

So just for today, let’s call a truce. Let’s show a little respect for athletes in other disciplines. And if you find yourself next to me on the erg and see me smirking, just take a glance at my monitor. It’s bound to give you a laugh.

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It was a while into my appointment before I came clean. I was having my shoulder looked at, having injured it lifting some bad-ass weights which were, frankly, too heavy for me (I’d been showing off; I can’t deny it).

Finally I came out with it. “I’m… a rower”.

“Ah”, said the osteopath. “And how long have you been rowing?”

“Two years”, I admitted.

“Aha. Right. Yes,” said the osteopath, with a look that conveyed deep understanding.

I braced myself for the usual lecture on overdoing things. Instead, she looked at me intently.

“Listen”, she said. “If you couldn’t take a lot of pain, you wouldn’t have stuck with rowing for two years. You empty your legs at the beginning of the race, and then it’s just sheer pain. If you’re used to that level of pain, it can be hard to distinguish between ordinary pain and pain from an injury”, she went on.

So, are we rowers our own worst enemies? Is our tolerance to pain often masking the beginnings of an injury? Is that why so many of my rowing friends are nursing different ailments?

Whatever. For someone who’s always considered herself a bit of a wimp, I came away feeling pretty damned hard.

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Sitting in a business meeting with my bleeding knuckles a scarlet accessory to my painted nails, I couldn’t help but question the sanity of a sport that inflicts so much pain and discomfort. So other sports might bring on a bit of stiffness and breathlessness, but few of them involve anything as hardcore as rowing, with its early starts, deep exhaustion, aching muscles, trackbites, blisters, grazed knuckles, vomit-inducing ergs and (gasp) broken fingernails. Are all rowers a bit mad? I think perhaps we must be.

It’s not just the pain, of course; it’s the way the sport takes over your life. I’ve already got rowing events in my diary that are over a year ahead and yes, I’ll be keeping those weekends free.

Even when I’m sleeping I don’t take a break. I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who’s undergone the torture of the rowing nightmare – the sort where you find yourself showing up for a race in the wrong kit, in a boat that’s barely seaworthy with weird blades and with your old headmistress coxing (oh wait, maybe that’s just me).

Asking around, most people I spoke to agreed that yes, rowers are certifiably mad.

You don’t need to be a bit crazy to be a rower,” said one fellow rower. “You need to be a *lot* crazy, both enthusiastic and insane”.

“I now take ‘mad’ as a compliment”, said another.

But before you order in a straitjacket, let me share an alternative view, from a self-confessed rowing addict named Angela.

“We are just ‘the next level’ of human being and need to give ourselves a bigger challenge than normal folk”, she said.

I like that. In fact I think I’m going to go with it. We rowers are not mad. We’re just more evolved. Beam me up.

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Just found this interesting and thought you might, too: the GB team’s efforts to stay injury-free.

Now, for those of us who don’t row at international level, dealing with every little niggle straight away is a luxury we can’t always afford, but I do think there’s something even the cronkiest club rower can take away from this, even if we can’t MRI scan every ache and pain. How often do we ignore a twinge and let it develop into something more problematic? Do we stretch religiously after every erg? Do we work hard enough on our core muscles?

Maybe we owe it to ourselves (and our crew mates) to be more conscientious.

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