Posts Tagged ‘rowing blog’

It’s been a while since I’ve recommended any rowing blogs, but there’s a new kid on the block that I simply can’t ignore. Rowing Journal, the brain child of photographer Iain Weir, aka Shutteritch, is a truly democratic rowing blog, set up “to give you a platform to voice your opinions, experiences, observations or simply to pose a question to the rest of the rowing community.” Anyone, it seems, can join and post on it, and my goodness, they have done.

Now this was a pretty risky strategy. It could, let’s face it, have been dreadful. Let the world at large say what they want, unfettered by the rules of the river or even the rules of grammar, and the results could be grim. But here’s the thing. Rowing Journal has turned out to be a really classy read. Funny, controversial, at times infuriating – everything, in short, that a blog should be. I don’t know how it’s moderated – perhaps it’s self-selecting, the rowing community being made up of mostly excellent people. Either way, it works.

Posts range from totally recognisable rowing stereotypes to thinly disguised rants, with even the occasional motivational love-in. My personal favourite to date: “I just need to move my footplate, hang on” – a lament that had me laughing, as they say, out loud.

All of which is pretty annoying for a fellow rowing blogger. I would have loved to tell you that as rowing blogs go, it wasn’t nearly as good as Girl on the River, but sadly I can’t. It really is worth a read. Just promise me one thing. Now that I’ve introduced you to the younger model, you won’t go and leave me for her, will you?

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So, at last – after two long years of disappointment and frustration – I finally had my first win. Anyone who’s been following Girl on the River will know what a big deal this is for me, for it’s been a long time in coming. It was, in fact, the first race of any sort I’d ever won. Ever since that first sports day when, aged 5, I came last in the 20 metre sprint, I’ve been the one thundering along at the back with the Tail End Charlies. But not this time. This time – at last – I was in the winning crew.

Or was I? Because here’s the thing. I’m not actually sure if we did win.

We were racing in the morning division and had to leave before the results were posted. We had families to feed, work to catch up on and even lambs to deliver (we be country folk). It had felt like a good, strong race; we’d kept time, maintained a good rating and felt OK about how it went, so most of us were happy to leave the results ’till later. We weren’t going to be in line for a medal either way as the event only handed them out where there were three crews in the category.

By the time we’d got back home, we’d convinced ourselves we’d lost. We’d been up against a club that often beat us, and even allowing for a hefty handicap (we were Masters D to their Masters B), we weren’t at all sure we’d caught them.

But then, just as we arrived back at the club, the text came through. “You won!”

I was walking on air. All the doubts and anxieties about my rowing miraculously melted away and for a glorious 24 hours I finally believed that I could cut it as a rower. I was up there with the Big Girls in the squad. I wasn’t – as some have ungenerously suggested – a jinx. I was a bona fide, proper rower with a win under my belt.

I floated through to the next afternoon, when I thought I’d check the results to see how the other crews did. And that’s when the bubble burst. There, in black and white, was the name of our opponents on the leaderboard. It seemed we hadn’t won after all.

I’m still waiting to find out what happened. Did someone misread the preliminary results? Were we the victims of a clerical error or a slip of the keyboard? Or was the race given to our opponents by default because we’d skipped off home? I just don’t know.

Of course it shouldn’t matter. In an ideal world, my confidence and happiness would not rest on the results of one obscure race towards the end of head season. And maybe one day, when I grow up, that’ll be how it works. Until then, though, be gentle with me. I’m still dreaming about the one that got away.

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Most of you probably have some kind of sporting challenge coming up this week. Maybe it’s a 2k or 5k erg test. It could be a gruelling session on the river, or maybe you’re racing this weekend at the Women’s Head of the River (WEHORR) or (like me) Cardiff’s Head of the Taff. Whatever it is you’re steeling yourself for, I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t be as tough as the week that comedian John Bishop is enduring for Sport Relief.

As I write, he (together with Denise Lewis, Davina McCall and Freddie Flintoff) is rowing the Channel. The Channel! It’s expected to take them seven relentless hours, which puts most of our training sessions pretty firmly in the shade. Now remember, these are non-rowers whose hands don’t have the thick layer of callouses that the rest of us have. Quite apart from the pain their muscles are enduring, can you imagine the blisters? Only a rower will really understand quite how tough this challenge is.

If that weren’t enough, Bishop cycled 180 miles just yesterday from Paris to Calais, arriving in the early hours of the morning, so is doing his epic row on one hour’s sleep. And when he reaches the shores of good old Blighty, he can’t look forward to a few days of R&R: he has a further three marathons in three days to endure.

So why are they doing it? Yesterday, Bishop told Radio 1 that the answer was quite simple. The money raised for Sport Relief will – starkly put – save children’s lives. Each £50 will vaccinate 10 children against five deadly diseases. It’s that thought that is keeping him going through the pain and hardship.

So if you’re a rower – and even if you’re not – please honour his pain by making a donation to Sport Relief. Either text SPORT to 70011 or go online here. Just do it. After all, it’s a lot easier than rowing the Channel and it doesn’t give you nearly as many blisters.

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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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“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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A month ago I told you that I was going to trial the Step Success Actiped+ pedometer. As I said then:

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.

So, how was it? I have to say I found it much more motivating than I expected, especially when Joel, the Step Success founder and boss, kicked off the year with a rowers vs. runners challenge (and anyone who knows me I can’t resist a challenge). Normally I don’t need any extra impetus to get myself out to boot camp or rowing, but for running and walking sometimes need an extra boot up the booty. That’s exactly what the Actiped gave me. Comfortably in the lead most of the time, mostly because Joel was off sport for a couple of weeks thanks to an injury, as soon as I saw his step count creeping up towards mine, it was all the incentive I needed to haul myself out into the ice and drizzle.

Pleasingly, it also allows for manual entries for other activities like rowing, cycling (and even ironing, though I rarely find myself doing that!), so if your activities are more wide-ranging you can still log them. And, if you’re proud enough of your achievements to want to make them public, it syncs with Facebook so you can share your step success with the world.

It fitted well on both trainers and various shoes and boots; if you’ve got laces or a strap of some kind, you’re good to go. I haven’t used it so much this week as I’ve been living in Ugg boots (freezing in Wales!) and there’s nothing to attach it to. Occasionally I’d forget altogether to put it on; it can take a while to get into the habit.

Here’s a glimpse of what I would see when I logged on (click on the screen shot to get the full screen):

Step Success is mostly aimed at getting the unsporty and unfit into the habit of exercising, but I think it could really work for someone who is already fit but who is prone to finding excuses not to get moving (especially in the winter). Being pitted against others is great for motivation, and it’s heartening to see the calories burned and distance covered (cooking is a gratifyingly active activity, I discovered). It also won against my husband’s cherished Garmin when out on a family walk; his nerdometer (as we affectionately refer to it) failed to get a signal in the woods for much of the time, whereas my Actiped+ kept recording throughout.

It’s not yet perfect; it can’t tell whether you’re slogging up a hill or jogging comfortably along the flat, and I’d like to see more options for the manual entries, but Joel tells me that there are plans afoot for subsequent models to detect hills and/or heart rate. This would make it a more serious rival to some of the watches available. Definitely worth a try.

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If you tweet about health and fitness, you can’t fail to notice that fitness tweeters fall into certain categories that crop up again and again. The question is, which one are you?

1. The Caveman

This tweeter is All Man (even if she’s a woman). Tweets about heavy weights, even heavier muscles and, of course, the macho food that gives strength to the ultra-ripped body posing for the profile pic. Almost certainly on some form of paleo diet, it’s steak and greens and shifting tin all the way. Raaarrrrr!

Most likely to tweet: “Totally pumped after insane weights session and triple steak dinner!! Feeling STRONG!!!!!”

Least likely to tweet: “Cupcake? Don’t mind if I do.”

2. The Motivator

Come ON! Let’s GO! The Motivator – high-octane and full of oomph, vigour and AWESOMENESS – spurs everyone on to greater and stronger endeavours. Can’t help noticing that he (for it’s almost always a he) doesn’t say much about his own regime. Could he be all hot air?

Most likely to tweet: “What are YOU doing to make yourself fitter this weekend? Remember to make it AWESOME!!!”

Least likely to tweet: “Me? You want to know about what I’m doing? Ummm…”

3. The Happy Clappy

Life is endlessly positive in the world of this hippy-dippy, karmically-superior tweeter. Most days start with a round of inspirational quotes and from then on it’s happy-happy all the way. This tweeter is endlessly blessed. Her chosen form of exercise is yoga (the spiritual kind, naturally – none of your fitness yoga for this ethereal sort). But behind the screen, is she really in a state of dark misery, weeping into her herbal tea?

Most likely to tweet: “Your inner beauty is a blessing to those who meet you #peaceandlove”.

Least likely to tweet: “I hate everyone. Pass the gin #FML.”

4. The Foodie

For the Foodie, exercise is all about food. Workouts are logged by calorie count, and every hard-earned meal is closely described and invariably photographed. Never resorting to anything as crude as ready meals, this gourmand eats well and wants everyone to know about it.

Most likely to tweet: “Just a simple, post-workout dinner tonight: rosemary-infused poussin with confit d’escargots and home-made ravioli #simplepleasures”

Least likely to tweet: “There’s nothing in the fridge AGAIN. Oh well, I’ll just have some beans out of the tin #slob”

5. The Evangelist

In stark contrast to the Foodie, in the Evangelist’s world, the point about exercise is that it makes you morally superior. Couch potatoes are to be pitied and condemned in equal measure (especially if they’re fat). This tweeter wants you to know about every minute of exercise he or she does, especially if it’s early in the morning or late at night, and loves nothing better than a news item that proves how special sporty people are.

Most likely to tweet: “Kicked some ass in the gym, lovin’ the burn before dawn. Glad I’m not one of the LAZY ones eating muffins on the couch.”

Least likely to tweet: “Hey, whatever makes you happy.”

6. The Moaner

If it’s not the coach, it’s the rest of the team. Or the kit. Or the journey there. Nothing makes the Moaner happier than being unhappy. He or she is endlessly hard done by, and favours the passive-aggressive variety of tweet. Luckily Twitter is there as an outlet for the long list of complaints.

Most likely to tweet: “I wish Certain People would pull their weight. Another miserable session.”

Least likely to tweet: “Ah well, mustn’t grumble”.

7. The PR

Perpetually promoting something, but never quite getting round to admitting it, the PR is easy to spot. Each tweet is just a thinly disguised attempt to flog whatever the latest product is. Often strains credulity.

Most likely to tweet: “Long run this morning. Good job I was wearing my @magictrainers – they made me run like the wind!!!”

Least likely to tweet: “Can’t think of anything good to say about these lousy shoes. I know, I’ll pretend I went running in them.”

8. The Fisher

A little bit helpless and a big bit needy, the Fisher is after your compliments. Don’t be taken in by the constant self-deprecation; what this tweeter wants is validation and praise. And if you don’t play along, be warned. Flouncing is never far away.

Most likely to tweet: “Terrible session. I’m so useless. I’ll never make it as a runner/ rower/ human being.” (delete where applicable)

Least likely to tweet: “Hot damn! I was rocking it tonight. ”

9. The Show-Off

Anything you can do, the Show-Off can do better. This tweeter achieves extraordinary feats every day and never fails to tell the world about them. But with PBs to die for and challenges to envy, it’s hard to avoid a sneaking suspicion that behind the Twitter-facade, this is actually a lardy sloth whose only exercise is tapping away on a smartphone.

Most likely to tweet: “Smashed my running PB AGAIN. Another 3 minute mile!!! #awesome”

Least likely to tweet: “Exhausted after a trip to the toilet #hatethestairs”.

10. The Saboteur

One of the most sinister presences on Twitter, the Saboteur couldn’t be sweeter, but be warned. This tweeter’s main motivation is to stop everyone else from exercising. Swooping in as soon as anyone shows signs of weakness, the Saboteur will soon find you a reason to skive off.

Most likely to tweet: “You don’t want to overdo it – don’t want to get injured!! Anyway, isn’t it gin o’clock? Treat yourself!”

Least likely to tweet: “Man up and get your arse out for a run!”

So, do you recognise yourself? I do, but I’m not telling which one is me; you’ll  just have to follow me to find out!

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I have a nasty habit to confess. I spit when I’m running. It’s not a pretty habit, but I run in remote, wild, Welsh woodland, so it doesn’t seem to count. I probably wouldn’t do it in the road, though. After all, it’s Not a Nice Thing to Do. I hate seeing kids gob in the street (and footballers, come to think of it – ewww!) so I wouldn’t feel right doing it myself.

But on the river? Never. However much my lungs are complaining, I can’t bring myself to spit in the water. There’s something about seeing the bubbly globule floating away on the otherwise flawless, glassy surface that stops me, however great the urge to clear my throat.

It’s a delicate subject that I’ve not brought up with anyone before now and I hope I’ve not disgusted you. So come on, ladies and gents. Confession time. Do you spit or swallow? I think we ought to be told.

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Even though I’ve been shockingly busy the last few weeks, it hasn’t stopped me trawling the net for the best rowing and sports blogs, and this week I’ve come up trumps.

My hot favourite this week comes from the gorgeous Esther Lofgren, who is a member of the US women’s rowing squad. If that fact in itself isn’t enough to get you clicking on her blog, who could resist the title? Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. Come to think of it, I’d quite like this emblazoned on a T-shirt. Esther’s elite status and superb choice of title aren’t the only reasons to give her blog a whirl: it’s actually a great read. This month I’m loving her erg music playlist (it even got the thumbs up from the uber-choosy SonontheRiver) and alongside the insights into life as a world class athlete, there’s useful advice for even the most inexperienced rower (her post on rib injury saved me this week from turning a rib strain into a stress fracture, so thanks, Esther).

If you need a bit of inspiration, my next rowing blog is Pacific 2012 from the utterly hardcore Charlie Martell. Next time I’m feeling feeble about the prospect of a mere half hour erg, I shall remind myself that in May next year, Charlie will row solo and unsupported for 6,000 miles across the North Pacific from Japan to the USA to raise funds for two charities, and to set a new Guinness World Record for the first and fastest solo Briton. Phew. The blog features some interesting thoughts on how to go the distance (more advanced than just “man up”) and nutritional advice which, pleasingly, takes budget as well as performance into account. If you’re reading this at work, I should just say that the bit about the charities might make you well up a bit. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Finally, moving away from rowing to a more general sports blog, there’s the satisfyingly rigorous Sweat Science, described as “fitness myths, training truths, and other surprising discoveries from the science of exercise”. As a health and fitness writer, nothing irritates me more than urban myths and misinformation when it comes to sports and health and let’s face it, there’s an awful lot of rubbish spouted on this subject. Consequently this site is my idea of solid gold. It brings you the results of proper, empiricall- tested research, all presented in language that an Ordinary Person (even a rower!) can understand. Bookmark it and don’t let the snake oil salesmen take you in.

So there you have it. PB-inducing playlists, injury advice, inspiration, tear-jerking charities and gold standard science, all wrapped up in three rowing and sports blogs. You are, of course, most welcome. Happy weekend and happy reading.

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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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