Monday, November 30, 2009

Moving goalposts

Yet again a whole month has managed to pass me by without me posting. Eeek, sorry! My life feels like one constant round of training, working, sleeping and getting between the 3 with as much relaxation and eating as possible - which is never as much as I'd like, on both counts!

I managed to sneak home this weekend to see the majority of my family and celebrate my 29th birthday with a change of scene and less training than normal. Yes, that's right, I see 'less training than normal' a suitable treat for a birthday. Paid the price this morning - amazing how quickly you can get used to not doing a session first thing in the morning!

So, I guess I should update you on how it's going. Well, it's been a satisfying season so far. I've only had one real test to date - a 2k at Bisham - as World Champs athletes are exempt from the first round of trials at Boston. I'm relieved to say it went well - and certainly much better than expected - and gave me a bit of a boost that all the hard training I'm doing is definitely paying off. It feels a little strange to be this fit and strong so early in the season, but it's nice to not be struggling my way through 18k ergos and 20km outings!

Having said all that, the pressure and my mind set is no different - the goalposts have just moved. The fitter and stronger you are, the harder you have to try and the faster the targets get. It's been quite a daunting (and marginally disappointing!) situation to find myself in - that reaching the original goal doesn't bring with it the ability to relax a little bit and the satisfaction expected. What you want and expect just changes. The people I compare myself to, the numbers I want to see on the erg and water, the amount of weight I want to be able to lift.

And with that comes another element to consider - improvement, or rather expectation of improvement. Previously I've always seen improvement through a season, usually significant baring illness and injury. This year my coach has warned me that there will undoubtedly be a lower increase in my performance over the season than previously seen. There is also the chance that I may not improve - my performance might plateau - and I need to be mentally prepared for that. I mustn't lose sight of the fact that the absence of improvement or as much improvement doesn't mean I'm not fast. It's just more difficult to improve on something that's already pretty good. Of course, that also doesn't mean that I'm not going to try.... there's still a lot of breathing space between me and the established girls in the squad and I need to try and close that gap.

So it all boils down to moving my goalposts - on what I want, what I expect, what I aim for and, most importantly, how I review my performance. This year is going to be tough - tougher than last year for sure - and I'm going to need to make sure I keep my eyes on the prize and keep moving in the right direction. Which is a different direction to before...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Well I've been back to training 5 weeks and so far so good... until yesterday. It's been a tough week - amazed myself that I managed to push myself through it pretty much alone - and yesterday my body finally said enough is enough and something gave. My neck to be precise, and boy does it hurt! I've always been a sceptic when it comes to back pain/ neck pain/ headache. I'm not very easy to convince when the individual's pain isn't tangible! (Read: their leg isn't hanging off - I was never going to make a great nurse). How can one little ache cause so much bother? Well karma has definitely come to haunt me - I'm in agony.

Not quite sure when precisely during yesterday's two sessions I cricked my neck but by the time I'd walked back from the club to the flat I felt nauseous and distinctly out of sorts. Usually the first person to dive head first into housework on a Sat afternoon, especially when the flat looks like ours currently does, I walked straight into the bathroom on getting home to run a bath. In fact, I noticed on walking into the bathroom this morning that my house keys are still by the side of the sink by way of evidence! By the time Dominic got home I was sat on the sofa in my PJs (at 2pm) dosed up on ibuprofen with an ice pack handy. All I mustered up the energy to do yesterday was watch the GP qualifying and have copious amounts of sleep. I clearly needed it, and most people would call that a typical relaxing Saturday afternoon, but there's nothing that makes an athlete more despondent than being rendered totally incapable of doing anything. Especially when their own desire and determination to do otherwise can not overcome the fact that their body is telling them something different.

Had this been a week day I would have been to my chiropractors by now to have my neck fully examined and manhandled back into place. (I take the same approach to my body as the vast majority of the other aspects of my life - if it isn't working, keep pushing it until it does). However, being a Saturday afternoon I have to wait until Monday morning for that pleasure. In the meantime, the washing will have to remain in front of the machine and the hoover silent. Currently sitting in bed listening to the rain and catching up on Eastenders is all I'm capable of. Any other day I'd call that a fantastic recovery day - today it's a pain in the neck.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It started so well...

I managed a whole 2 weeks of training before succumbing to a cold. Typical. Granted it hasn't struck with it's usual ferocity (she says quietly before anyone hears her) resulting in sleepless nights and time off work - standard for an asthmatic - but the usual congestion treatment and 3 days off training has been self-prescribed. Cue olbas oil, tissues and Sudafed. Anyone within a 3m radius of my desk now has very clear sinuses!

On the plus side I'm in the office almost every day this week rather than out at clients. This means that I can cycle to work, which means I got a little exercise today in the form of 2 x 30min on the bike to test out the lungs, and also that it's less stressful as I can manage my own time and work at my own pace without client appointments hanging over me requiring prep and the inevitable post-meeting work. My team are a great bunch of people as well so it's nice to spend time with them, even if none of them will currently come more than 2m near me except to drop a cup of tea on my desk - quickly. Makes for interesting one on one meetings.

Anyway, I feel suitably recovered to get back in the saddle tomorrow. I'm entered in Elite 2x for the Pairs Head on Sat afternoon so preferably need to get some practice in with my partner Elaine, although it's a well known fact that training for this race is considered cheating, being the first race of the season. I might have to cough up some green stuff along the way but I'll try to die quietly.... :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back in the game... almost

Right, I did an abridged version of weights last night and cycled into work today. And I'm in agony. My quads hate me and as a result getting out of my chair in the office was amusing. I appreciate that I've had 2wks off and drank my body weight in alcohol approx. 50 times over, but I used to be able to do that AND a 20km paddle... and then do it all again the next day! Depressing. Going to be a gradual build-in me thinks...!

Monday, September 14, 2009

That's sport

So, clearly I have less time to write a blog back in the UK compared to the luxury of masses of free time as a full-time athlete on training camp! To be brutally honest, I've been putting this off. For a number of reasons. The main reason (like a massive elephant in the room) is the race itself. Most, if not all, of you will now know the result and what happened. Seems ridiculous reading back over my posts that a silver could be disappointing but that's what happened. We won the silver and were absolutely gutted. As with my reasons for not completing another blog entry until now, we were gutted with silver for more than one reason. The big reason was obviously, after the race for lanes, we really thought we stood a good chance of winning gold. We knew the Germans were going to be good, we knew that it was going to be a fight, we knew we weren't going to be so lucky as to have a repeat of the race for lanes. However, when you go into a race believing you can win it as much as we did, coming 2nd hurts.

Secondly, and this really pains me on a personal level, I messed up. I've almost put it to bed now (after numerous tears and even more numerous reassurances that it did not in any way affect the result) but it will always be there. I lost my blade in the World Championship final. It's every rowers worst nightmare. It really doesn't get any worse than that (although, admittedly I could've ejected myself from the boat, in which case I might have swam to the bottom of the lake and stayed there!). However, on the bright side, I did recover it, which - frankly - is a miracle. 95% of the time there is no going back when you lose a blade as spectacularly as I did. Game over. Finished. I still to this day have no idea how I managed to keep my head and get back into it. Mind you, I still to this day have no idea how I lost my blade. On some bumpy water obviously, but usually you know 2 or 3 strokes before that happens that it's coming. Not this time - it was there in my hand one minute and gone the next. Heart-stopping stuff I can tell you.

Anyway, I've done a lot of soul-searching since then, looking for the positives as every good athlete should (every race is a lesson, etc., etc., especially those that don't go as you planned...) and I've come to the conclusion that I should remember that I did get it back, that we didn't spin 90 degrees, slip to the back of the field and limp in out of the medals. We won the silver - despite having the bow girl out of action for 5 strokes - and we didn't give up. We fought hard for that medal and in the end I think the result was the right one. We were beaten by the faster crew. Granted, we didn't have our best race and it wasn't perfect, even before I lost my blade. But, as Laura (our 3 girl) put it so well in our BBC interview afterwards, 'that's sport'. And I for one am proud to say I was in that crew.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tomorrow is the day...

1048 (0948 GMT) is the time of our race. I'd like to say how I feel but there are so many mixed emotions I wouldn't know where to start. Currently I'm just trying to prepare myself for a fight. And the hardest race of my life. The thought of the pain scares me to death so currently I'm trying to think about the processes. One stroke at a time. Approx. 230 strokes total. I'm hoping I have a happy (and satisfied) story to tell when I next log on...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The first hurdle cleared...

As most of you will know by now, we won the race for lanes yesterday. As there are only 6 entries we essentially race to seed the lanes for the straight final this Sunday (fastest crew in the middle lane). This makes for quite a strange race - as the outcome essentially doesn't matter - everyone makes the A final. There are obviously some advantages to winning the race; firstly, it gives you confidence that you are a faster crew and therefore in a good place for the final and secondly, you are in the optimum position in the final in terms of being able to see what is going on and judge the race.

However, crews do play games. You can never be sure that everyone brought their A game to the table. There are a couple of reasons for doing this. Mainly, as you've probably realised, you don't want your competition to know your real speed and your race profile (how fast you go in each section - do you have a fast start or finish for example) and therefore you still have an element of surprise come the final. In addition, although there is a slight advantage to being in the middle lane, ultimately you can win from any lane as, obviously, the course is meant to be fair and every crew has to race 2,000m.

To that end, although we won yesterday we can be certain of one thing - the final will not necessarily be the same, both in terms of profile and outcome. Yesterday's race - although it gives us a psychological advantage - doesn't mean anything. We have certainly not put the gold medal around our necks. We are still preparing the same as we did prior to that race and steeling ourselves for a race that could have anything in store for us. All the crews start level and all are aiming to race 2,000m faster than the competition. On Sunday, we will be looking to deliver a performance that hopefully does just that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Opening ceremony

So, as some of you will already be aware from my emails home, the opening ceremony was NOT what we were expecting! As you can see from the photos above, it was essentially a gig. And not just any gig - a rave gig! Cue a massive DJ, a huge amount of noise and a large, pretty much drugged up crowd who were not there to see the opening of the Rowing World Champs but a rather famous Dutch DJ called Armin van Buuren. Whoever he is.

So, first we annoyed the huge crowd by all being ushered in by a side VIP entrance for free when we quite clearly had no interest in (or, more accurately, no clue) what was going on, and then we further angered them by holding up the DJ they had all come to see who exasperated them by rocking up on stage after 5mins of 'Armin, Armin' chanting and said 'Hey guys, who wants to hear some real trance...? Well, first of all, we have to get this stupid rowing thing out of the way...' Nice one, Armin. You really helped matters there!

Thus followed 40mins of firstly some boring chatter by some rowing officials (essentially lame fake banter with Armin, who made it pretty clear he was TOTALLY disinterested), then something about Poznan's recently deceased deputy mayor followed by EVERY single country being announced (and there are nearly 100) along with a lame firework and a flag. By Azerbijan the crowd was back to chanting 'Armin' and we were fearing for our lives! At least we aren't German I suppose - they got massively booed. All in all, the best bit was the massive firework display at the end (which was pretty fitting) and then the mad dash out of the gig to our beds!

So, not what I was expecting but definitely an interesting experience!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A few pictures of Poznan

2 pieces of news

Firstly that our race times have changed already:
Race for lanes Weds 26th @ 1012
A final Sun 30th @ 1048
Secondly, that the BBC are not planning on showing our race (boo hiss) as they are only showing Olympic classes:
Sunday coverage
Finals for lightweight women's double, lightweight men's double, lightweight men's four, women's quad, men's quad, women's eight, men's eight
  • Live on red button 1015-1230
  • Live on 5 live sports extra 1030 - 1215
  • Highlights on BBC TWO 1500-1615
I would assume however that we will get a mention and they will show highlights of our race if we medal so might be worth checking out the early coverage (as we will have raced by the time it starts on the red button) or the highlights on BBC 2 in the afternoon. You never know!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Racing schedule

Just so you know, we've got two races:

Race for lane Weds 26th Aug @ 0948 (0848 GMT)
A final Sun 30th Aug @ 0945 (0845 GMT)

Apparently it's being shown on BBC 2 but (i) not sure when coverage starts and if it'll be live and (ii) if they'll even cover our race as we're NOS (non-olympic scum, I mean squad - the Olympic boat crews' name for us!) but you never know, we might get a mention. Depends how we do I guess!

I also feel obliged to let you know the expectations of the crew and coaches as there seems to be a certain feeing amongst friends and family that winning is a given and I'm just playing it down as I'm a 'glass half empty' sort of girl. The truth of the matter is that success would be medalling. Last year the crew - of which all this year's crew except me were in - came 4th. The GB wlwt4x has NEVER won the World Championships, ever, period. Our competition will not be expecting us to be a threat. Poland and Germany are the favourites, the USA and Canada will be expecting to medal if not challenge for the title. The bronze would be awesome, the silver a real success - the gold unbelievable. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying we're not going to aim for the top prize. All 4 of us are going to lay everything we've got on the line and nothing will be held back - we're going to sell the farm as they say, blow the doors off, take it to them. I expect to have nothing to give with 500m to go, but keep going. Last year's winners (Australia, who are not here so the World Champions will be new this year) were 4th at halfway, 2nd with 500m to go - the race isn't over until we reach the line, and a race can be won by less than the length of the tip of your thumb. However, I just wanted to let you all know where we currently sit and where our minds and that of the squad are at. However, we have faith in ourselves and each other and know that, whatever happens, nothing will be left out on the course.

Friday, August 21, 2009

This made me smile (and slightly nervous)

No getting out of it now - my name is on the entry list:,_Poznan_EEListByEv_21_LW4x.cp.pdf

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Well my first full day of training on the World Championship course in Poznan is now securely under my belt, and it feels good to be here and have survived 24hrs without collapsing into a jibbering wreck as I expected. So far, so calm. I know the nerves will come - this is what it must be like to be a wanted man as I'm walking around constantly looking over my shoulder waiting for them to pounce!

I suspected that seeing the competition would help them kick in. So far I've only seen the USA crew - they're all shorter than me (which obviously means nothing) so I'm fairly unworried about them (Steph logic for you!). The ones to watch are Germany (winners of the World Cup in Lucerne - we didn't go - we did Henley Royal instead) and Poland (historically one of the best and they're going to be on home water, obviously). Germany arrived yesterday but I haven't identified the Wlwt 4x yet and I haven't yet seen Poland who I suspect might turn up later than most as they have least far to come.

Today we get a chance to practice starting out of the clogs; the plastic thing you see holding the bows at the front of the boat on international races that disappears when the start sounds - they prevent anyone jumping the start. Not really necessary for the other 3 girls in my crew who are all experienced internationals but essential for me as the new girl, especially as I'm at bow and therefore will be closest to the clog and therefore prob most aware of it. I'm really relieved that they use them for international races as, in domestic races, it's the bow's responsibility to make sure the crew is lined up in the lane. A pretty big responsibility as not going straight can cost you precious seconds as - obviously - you have to take a longer line. It might only be a matter of inches but races are won and lost by tenths of a second, sometimes less. And, worse than that, hitting a buoy can be disastrous. Losing a blade in a race - certainly an international one - would be game over.

I'm not going to dwell on that tho! Right now I just need to focus on doing my job. Next outing is in 60mins so best get ready to head to the course.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


The day has finally arrived. We flew from Varese to Poznan via Munich in the early hours of this morning, arriving just after lunch. Sat in the hotel preparing to go for my athlete accreditation and first paddle on the Worlds race course. All seems a lot more real now and I'm sure after going to the course the nerves will start to kick in. So far I've been so relaxed I've surprised myself but I get the feeling that might be denial rather than keeping my cool! My guess would be that I'll be calm until I see the other nations' athletes - that's when it'll finally sink in what I've signed up for!

I'm sharing a room with Elaine Johnstone - the girl I won Women's Henley in the Elite Lwt 2x with earlier this summer. She's racing the Lwt 1x at the Worlds after finally being told yesterday GB consider her fast enough (she's our crew spare so could have had to sit on the bank - rubbish!). They've really dragged her through it. Despite not knowing each other (other than eyeballing each other at races incl. GB trials for the last 2 yrs but never actually speaking!) prior to being invited to the doubles matrix in April, I would now consider her one of my best friends out here. Being in a room with her will be a welcome break from the rest of my crew (I was sharing a room with two of my crew in Varese) and will certainly help me relax. As the 2 new fish to the lwt women's squad, she knows exactly what I'm going through as a first-timer. We've just been asked to race the European Championships together in the lwt 2x so we're really excited about getting together again in that boat class to kick some international ass... however, before that we need to think about the World Championships. 7 days and counting.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Just a quickie to show you my new kit - I was presented with my Worlds race kit the other night as my first international race vest. Quite a nice, if a little cheesy, moment where the squad acknowledge that you are racing for the first time. Pretty cool, huh? Just got to do the race now...

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Today we had a full race distance (2000m) piece to do. This means a couple of things; firstly, that we have to weigh-in as we would on race day and, secondly, that we need to think about how we're going to tackle the distance. You might assume that both of these things would not be a problem for an experienced athlete who has surely done both of the above a hundred times. You'd be wrong.

Let's start with the weigh-in. Every lightweight athlete has to weigh-in within 1-2hrs of their race start time. For my crew (lightweight women's quad) each individual athlete can not weigh more than 59kg and the crew average weight can not be more than 57kg. In old money, 57kg is 9st 0lbs so for people who are, on average, approx. 14% body fat and 5'7" (the average woman is probably around 25%) this is not an easy weight to achieve. However, we carefully manage our weight throughout the season to ensure that - with a little food intake management in the few days before the race - we can make it. Needless to say, this means I've not been my usual happy cake-eating self for the past 3 days. Ugh.

However, the weight management is just one element of race preparation and, in my opinion, is relatively easy compared to the latter (aided of course by some slim family genes!). Race preparation takes many forms. In the long term there is of course the physical training. However, within the week before there is not a lot you can do to change your strength and stamina - you have to trust that the foundation you have laid down in the months beforehand is sufficient. No, in the week before there is a much bigger monster to tackle - your mind.

I am a firm believer that the mind is the most powerful part of any person - as a child it can convince you there are monsters under your bed, as a teenager it can talk you into doing things you know your parents are going to kill you for and therefore by the time you are my age it can be a very powerful weapon indeed. In sport, the mind is both your best friend and your worst enemy and you have to train it as hard as your body. Somebody once told me: 'In sport, it is not how fast you are that matters, it's how fast you believe you are that counts'. And he's right. Anybody who has ever had to do a 2000m erg (rowing machine) test knows that feeling of wanting to put the handle down, every INCH of their body telling them to stop because it hurts - the only thing that stops you from doing that, or indeed finally makes you give in, is your mind.

And that got me thinking. What is it in my head that makes me want to stop? Or, more positively - as the GB sports psychologists would like me to think - what is it that keeps me going? Well the answer to the first question won't surprise you - it's pain. The pain of a 2,000m race is indescribable, to the extent that I fear it. I mean, REALLY fear it. I can not even put it into words. I have to physically and mentally pysch myself up before any race or training piece to get me through the pain. And I can honestly tell you that in the second half of any race my biggest enemy is not my competition but my mind telling me to stop. However, I keep going.

Which brought me to my second question - what keeps me going? And you might be surprised to hear that the answer is not too dissimilar. It's fear. Fear of failure. Fear of having done 11 months of training to not realise my potential, to not win the race, to not achieve what I set out to do. And that is what drove me today. Today I raced to not let my crew mates down. (Apparently I'm in good company - the GB psychologist informs me that James Cracknell is driven by the same motivation).

So, ultimately I am driven by fear - it is my motivation. The fear of letting myself down, my crew mates down, my coach down is what stops me putting the handle down. My Mum probably figured that out years ago (and will tell me so too the next time I see her) and I probably, deep down, knew it had something to do with it. However, what I have realised this week is that although I should fear the pain of racing and training, or rather (more GB sports psych for you here) accept it as a necessary part of trying to beat the crap out of everyone else, but not worry about it as there is something I fear more - myself. Because no matter how much it hurts I don't want to let myself down. So you know what, fear is good - it keeps me going.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

DAY 5: The finish line much closer than yesterday

Today is definitely the hottest day yet. We're estimating it's about 34 degrees. The air con is set to 29 degrees and feels relatively cool. Thankfully we did both sessions this morning because I think I'd expire if expected to scull out there now, although to be honest the sculling is the best bit as at least you get a bit of wind chill.

We seem to be getting better by the day, which is encouraging as we weren't bad to start with. Our coach is certainly making positive noises anyway. I'm still having to focus really hard but the payback is worth it. However, I think some of the slight ease on the mind today is due to the Worlds entries being announced yesterday. There are only 6 crews - 6. This is a very significant number as it means a straight final. This is not what we wanted.

What they say is true - the victory is sweeter the harder you have to fight for it (not that I'll be complaining when the time comes but that feeling will pass quickly). For the past 2 months we've been preparing ourselves for a heat on the Monday, a potential but avoidable rep on the Weds and then the final on the Sun morning. Now we're looking at a race for the lane order on the Weds morning followed by racing exactly the same people again on the Sunday in the final. This means two things; firstly, that victory is not as sweet as everybody made the A final but also - and this is even more horrendous to think about - not medalling becomes an even bigger disappointment as there were only 3 crews to beat to do so. Not that doing that is going to be easy. For a start we have the USA, Canada and Germany in the mix, all of whom are going to be fast. Looking at times in previous races/ trials, it's going to be a race for the line - literally. It was always going to be close but this is going to be a real test of who really has it - the skill, the strength and, most of all, the desire to win so much that they are prepared to push themselves further than they ever thought themselves capable. And that's a dark place I can't even begin to contemplate right now.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


This is the lake in Varese where we're been for the past 4 days and are training until we leave for Poznan a week today. Those are snow capped mountains in the background, not clouds. Quite an appropriate setting to prepare for what's to come. It feels like there are no limits here other than those you impose upon yourself.

Today was a challenging day with a morning pre-paddle followed by pieces side by side with crews of a similar speed event. In this heat, racing is brutal. I had been warned that international racing is a whole new level above what I'm used to - quite a daunting prospect. Today I really started to get an idea of what they mean. Although I've been brought a long way from where I was at April trials, I'm always still learning every session. Although I'm through the biggest lessons (there is no settle, you can never go too hard, you're meant to get faster not slower over the distance, 40 is not a high rate off the start... you get the picture) I still get off the water with a mild headache from concentrating so hard. Every single stroke requires me to remain focussed, each stroke aiming to be exactly the same as the last, if not better, maintaining all the little details my coach has spent hours training me to pick up.

To the casual outsider sculling looks relatively easy - put the blade in at the same time as the person in front, take it out at the same time as the person in front, pull pretty hard between those two points. How hard can it be? Actually, you don't pull at all - you push (I knew that already by the way, just in case you rowers amongst you were worried that it took 10yrs and some GB training for me to figure that out - it's for the non-rowers out there, like my family and my colleagues). And you don't just put the blades in, push your legs down and hope for the best either. There's a very specific way - albeit with some poetic license - of 'driving through the stroke'. We haven't even mentioned the recovery yet - how you get from the end of one stroke to the start of the other... not that a stroke really has a beginning and an end. Are you still with me?

Hopefully that gives you a bit of insight into my last couple of months. I've gone through the above process of breaking down the stroke and building it back up all over again, from the basics, as I did when I started learning to row - and I'm not even close to being where I need to be. Well, close but no cigar. Ah well, my next lesson starts in 2.5hrs...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


So, where to begin. I'd like to say I planned this blog to track my first time racing for the GB rowing team from the beginning but that wouldn't be true. It's taken the necessity of filling in time between training sessions at the pre-Worlds camp to kick start me into action. I'd also like to say I know what I'm doing but that would also not be true - with regards to both the rowing and the blogging. Ok, so I've had 10 years of practice to prepare me for the rowing but technology scares the hell out of me and, to be honest, there's nothing like making the GB team 5-10yrs later than most to make you feel like a complete novice again. I'm having to learn fast - the World Championships start in 12 days and I'm signed up to be on the start line of the WLwt 4x heat on Mon August 24st. So, as with the blog, I'm feeling my way and - so far, so good.