Posts filed under 2013

Enjoying the mountains... - Jul/Aug 2013

As I sit writing this in my room in South Korea, we are just a few days away from our opening race of the World Championships. Six weeks have passed since Lucerne, where we had a very disappointing fourth place finish, but this has been flung right to the back of our minds. We have been through an intense period of training at altitude, where we have broken down our stroke and built it back up again from scratch. We have had a crew order change, refreshed our outlook on the next and most important stage of the season and, as a result, found speeds we weren’t finding before.

  Four of us stretching our legs on top of a mountain (Left-Right: Will Satch, Alex Gregory, George Nash, Dan Richie)

Four of us stretching our legs on top of a mountain (Left-Right: Will Satch, Alex Gregory, George Nash, Dan Richie)

Our altitude camp in Silvretta was almost a repeat of last year. We arrived there on the back foot having been beaten and desperately needing to find something new. Jurgen often says, “losers train harder,” and that is certainly what we did. We sat down as a crew and discussed in detail our goals and objectives of every session in that three-week period up the mountain. Every water session needed to have a specific purpose. We needed to move in unison so every mile on the ergo would be side by side, becoming mirror images of each other. Everything was aimed towards becoming as close together as possible in those few weeks and, without going as far as chewing our dinner in time, everything else was done together.

My aim for this year has always been to enjoy what I do, and make the most of this incredible opportunity I have to be a full-time athlete while I still can. While my body is able and my ambition remains, this year is to be enjoyed. London gave me what I needed; now I’m rowing with a little less pressure on my shoulders. With this in mind I took more time to look at and enjoy my surroundings up there in the mountains. I have been visiting this place for three weeks every year for the past seven years and have never really taken the time to appreciate where we are. Thousands of tourists drive, walk and cycle past us every day, taking photos, with our lake being the main attraction. We are the mad English guys rowing round and round, getting changed in the van as they stroll past. We row hour after hour in a dark garage and lift weights in the car park. We are a tourist attraction ourselves for a short time. But to us the lake is a tool. We are in the mountains not for the views but for the oxygen-depleted air, and there are no tourists in our team. We are there to do a job, so just this once I took a few seconds every now and then to stop and look. The amazing spell of good weather helped a lot. In my seven years of training there, at some point every time it has snowed. There has never been a week without wind and icy rain but this year was different. It was as if the mountain gods were smiling down on me, allowing me to soak it all in. Bright blue cloudless skies accentuated the snow-capped peaks and the sun shone down on our backs as we built up the mileage on the water. I really was enjoying myself.

  The lake from above, it seems so long when we row it yet so small from above!

The lake from above, it seems so long when we row it yet so small from above!

  A view of the lake from the waters edge, it's a beautiful place to be!

A view of the lake from the waters edge, it's a beautiful place to be!

Free time comes in dribs and drabs on this camp. With three training sessions a day, five meals and a 15 minute walk (uphill) from our rooms to anywhere, we are left with very little time for relaxation. I managed to catch an episode of ‘Dexter’ – this year’s chosen series, read my book or just tried to recover from the strains of the previous sessions by lying still. The fatigue builds up over the days and weeks; we are effectively broken down and, just like pacing a race, you must last the distance and cross the finish line. By the end of the camp I was empty and physically exhausted, but in a good frame of mind. The whole crew completed every session very well – this fact alone will bring us an enormous amount of confidence coming up to racing.

   Our home for the duration. The huts sit at the base of the dam, a good warm-up walk to training every morning.

 Our home for the duration. The huts sit at the base of the dam, a good warm-up walk to training every morning.

As Silvretta drew to a close, we pulled in the buoy line for another year. Most of the long mileage for the season was done, we have the fitness in our legs and our lungs are strong. All that’s left is to introduce the real speed work, to transfer everything we have worked on at low intensity to high racing rates and speeds. It’s here in Korea that we sharpen ourselves up to the point ready to race.

  Boats and mountains

Boats and mountains

It’s exciting travelling so far to compete in a place we have never been to before. With such intense, hot, humid conditions, South Korea is so different to anything we are used to. It has taken a week to get comfortable outside and the training sessions on the water have been tough, but I’m gradually finding it easier to work and move as my body adjusts to the heat. We have to drink litres and litres to maintain hydration and eating is difficult with a stomach full of fluids. White rice is the staple and I’m fast becoming sick of it. But I’m feeling strong, the speed work is improving every day, the boat moves well and we feel confident we can put some good performances together. Top two in the heat will send us straight through to the final a week later – that’s the aim. Now we must put everything together, do what we have done in training and the result will be there for us. Nothing is going to be easy; our opposition are fast and we must race with guts and heart, but, knowing the guys I’m with, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

  Phelan and Andy enjoying the view.

Phelan and Andy enjoying the view.

  Some of the other crew members - they all look the same to me!

Some of the other crew members - they all look the same to me!

Posted on September 8, 2013 and filed under 2013.

A roller coaster season - Jun 2013

With the racing season well under way, the last thing any of us need is to get ill. It started with swollen glands high in my groin – these developed over a week until they were the size of golf balls. I needed help. A blood test indicated I had glandular fever. This was a blow and it came as a huge shock; I had only ever heard bad things about glandular fever and the time it takes to recover. It was an immediate halt to exercise, rest at home for a week, then another blood test to see if any improvement had been made.

We had recently returned from the Essen regatta, somewhere we do not usually attend but this year it fitted into the calendar very well. Essen is a traditional German regatta, great fun to be a part of and a very different experience to the formal World Cups we are used to. Racing is held over two days with a different event each day. I raced in the four, where we were beaten on the surge by a fast German crew that just managed to out sprint us on the line. However, the main focus and preparation had been for the eight on the following day, and so with fire in our bellies after the narrow defeat the day before we attacked and stormed into an early lead. We won the race, beating the reigning Olympic champions Germany, and finishing off the weekend very well.

Not long after returning from Essen and with preparations for the Dorney World Cup well under way, I was taken out of the boat and sent home to recover. It was a frustrating time knowing that I was going to miss out on the first international regatta back on the Olympic course since the Olympics. After a week off training the results were positive. There was a significant reduction in the infection and I was given the all clear to start exercising again. I was to take it steady, with a week of light aerobic training and weights. There was no pressure for me to get back in the boat before the regatta; I wouldn’t be racing so I could take my time, build my strength slowly and get back in the boat when I was totally recovered. I made use of the time and enjoyed it.

  Leading with 200m to go at Henley

Leading with 200m to go at Henley

The Dorney World Cup came and went. I stood on the bank and watched the guys pull back from a poor result in the heat to win the event overall. Considering the unsettled lead-up this was a very good result and something the crew were quite rightly proud of. The next day I was back in the boat along with George Nash (Olympic bronze medallist in the pair) who had been finishing his studies at Cambridge. We hit the ground running, I was feeling well recovered and strong and the boat seemed to fly. We had an excellent two weeks of training where we were finding speeds we hadn’t seen before. Motivation was high, we were all looking forward to the Henley Royal Regatta where we would race in an international event called ‘The Grand’, representing our clubs. It’s a chance to really enjoy a historic, traditional event on the Thames, something we all relish and love being a part of. The entry was small but we came up against Washington in the final, who had beaten Poland to get there. We were expecting a very tough race. We started hard, rowed well, the boat felt energetic and had plenty of life. We gained an early lead before the end of the island, three hundred metres, in and maintained this for the next two thousand metres. Crossing the line we discovered we had won in a record time, the fastest crew to have ever rowed over the Henley course. A proud day for us all in front of our friends and family.

  The 2013 winners of the Grand challenge cup, a right motley crew!

The 2013 winners of the Grand challenge cup, a right motley crew!

There was no time to dwell as we were back to training the next day and on the lake preparing for Lucerne, the final World Cup of the season and a regatta with a big emphasis. It is the last chance to test speed out against the competition before the World Championships, to find out what needs to be done or how far ahead you are. Full of confidence from Henley we headed out to Lucerne sure of a good result. We would be meeting the German eight again and a new USA crew. We were under no illusions that these crews would be quick, but we were confident with the speed we had.

  Carrying the blades down for an outing on 'The lake of the gods' - a highlight of the year training and racing at Lucerne.

Carrying the blades down for an outing on 'The lake of the gods' - a highlight of the year training and racing at Lucerne.

The heat was underwhelming. We were missing the spring we had felt from Henley, that excitement in the boat and the long confident strokes we had been working towards in training. We found ourselves in the repêchage, which again was lacking. There was something not quite right, we weren’t locking onto the speed we had been getting in training and we couldn’t quite put a finger on why it wasn’t working. Thankfully we made the final, but we were beaten into fourth place. An extremely disappointing result, and one we had not hoped for. There was a little confusion among us about why we hadn’t performed, which we discussed at length. I believe there are a few genuine reasons for it, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that we were beaten by three crews that were better than us on the day. We have some work to do in the next month before the World Championships, but just like last year before the Olympics, that is exactly what we will do. It’s no bad thing to be beaten,as it will give us targets. We now know the winning crew is three seconds faster than us so we must gain more than that to be winning in South Korea. We will head up to our mountain retreat in Austria and go back to basics, revisit each and every part of our stroke. We will push ourselves that little bit more knowing we aren’t good enough and we will arrive in Korea a new boat and a new crew. Whether we will have done enough we will soon find out, but every day until 1 September we will be thinking about the USA, German and Dutch crews that put us behind them in Switzerland. Don’t write us off just yet, we have plenty more to give.

  At the start line looking down the course to the finish

At the start line looking down the course to the finish

Posted on September 7, 2013 and filed under 2013.

Teamwork... What is it? - May 2013

I’m really excited to get back in the eight after taking time out to race in pairs for trials. It’s good to be back in a team again, in the mix with my rowing family. I can now stop seeing everyone as my competitor and we can start to work together again and move forward as a team. It’s exciting to be part of a big crew, and in rowing there’s nothing bigger than an eight.

Teamwork is something that comes up so often in all walks of life. It means different things to everyone, but I’m not sure if it is always put to best use. I believe that if everyone knew the true benefits of teamwork, tasks could be achieved so much faster, more effectively and efficiently. Everything we do in rowing relies on working together as a team and so over the years my perception of what good teamwork is has developed. I’m sure there is no such thing as ‘the answer’, but I’m on a journey of discovery and enjoying the challenges and rewards when the answers are found.

Rowing is unique in many ways, but one of the most interesting parts of what we experience day to day is our interaction with each other. Teamwork is a necessity; without it we wouldn’t even get to the start line of a race. It is present in every boat class, between every athlete and every coach. The whole British rowing team is defined by and relies upon teamwork in one form or another, but it is never more apparent than in an eight. It relies on eight athletes, one cox and a coach working together in mind and body, to ensure that everyone is moving in exact unison. Any tiny difference in timing, positioning or mindset can have a negative effect on the speed of the boat. Everything we do in our training and racing is directed towards maximum efficiency and boat speed, so reducing those discrepancies is of paramount importance.

Rowing is often about deception. The best rowers make everything they do to onlookers seem easy and effortless, despite putting their body through excruciating agony. This can also cause difficulty for the coach, as often everything appears to be going well from the outside. It may look as though the boat is flowing, the crew look to be rowing in time, in harmony, and moving in the correct positions with no obvious problems. But so often, all it comes down to is a feeling in the boat that only we rowers are aware of. The boat may feel heavy, sluggish and mistimed, and as a result we don’t hit the expected times. This is where our teamwork is tested. We must use our senses to feel and hear where a discrepancy is being made. We communicate through movements, all eight of us experimenting on command of the cox. This is difficult; it takes skill to subtly feel and make a change together as a unit of eight individuals. When the right change is made we will feel the hull puck up, the bow will surge forward, the coach will notice the surge of the boat and he will see the difference on his stopwatch. It’s so good to hear one of the guys calling out “yes” or “good” when they feel that change, especially when you feel it too. It brings confidence, excitement and enhances the positive feedback from overcoming a problem. It’s so incredibly satisfying to work through problems together while out on the water in relative silence, in a crew where unity and movement is the answer. That is teamwork.

Communication is key, physical communication transferred to one another by our movements in the boat. But of course, verbal communication is equally so. Before every session we will discuss what we plan to achieve, how we are going to do it and how we are all feeling about it. After the session, once the boat is back on the rack, we discuss whether we achieved our goal for that session, what worked, what didn’t and how we can change things the next time. Everything is open, everyone has their say, and everyone is listened to. There can be disagreement as much as agreement. Not everyone has to feel the same way about everything; we are after all ten individuals (coach and cox included), all with different perceptions of feeling, motivation and beliefs. However, one thing links us all above everything else – we all want to win. It doesn’t matter how we get there as long as we eventually meet in the same place, on that finish line, in the lead.

After a great start to the season in Sydney, the team has felt incredibly strong, which bodes very well for the coming months leading up to the World Championships. With a couple of changes in the crew after trials, the project continues with enthusiasm and vigour and, I must say, the eight is a good place to be.

Posted on September 6, 2013 and filed under 2013.

Final Trials 2013 - Apr 2013

With Sydney behind me, I find myself back on home water with peeling skin beneath layers and layers of kit. The recent World Cup down under was a teaser for what’s to come later in the racing season, but now we are back to the routine and my least favourite part of the year.

  Happy to be back on home water. Caversham lake, cold, windy but still a bit of sun!

Happy to be back on home water. Caversham lake, cold, windy but still a bit of sun!

Jumping from an eight straight back into a pair is a tough thing to do. The speed of the eight is enormous in comparison to the far slower pair, and that takes some getting used to. Pete (Reed) and I get off to a shaky start to say the least, and we really struggle through training. We have no qualms about admitting that we are not a natural combination in a pair and the differences in our boat-moving fingerprints really show up. Rowing is so reliant on the crew moving in absolute unison with immaculate timing, so any minute discrepancy can upset the balance and the run of the hull through the water. We found this to be the case right from the start but it was a situation that we couldn’t easily get out of. Everything we tried seemed to make very little difference and when we had exhausted our ideas we were left to fight our way around the lake every session. When sitting in the stroke seat it is so important to set up a strong consistent rhythm for the person behind to follow and work off. I found this difficult in our situation so I felt I was letting Pete down. Pete is an incredible athlete with amazing physical capabilities and because of the way we were rowing we were not getting the most out of him. It was a very frustrating time for us both.

There are always tough times in rowing and I’ve learnt that if you just stick out those times you will come out the other side a stronger athlete. Of course, we ploughed on in our own inefficient, uncomfortable way and discovered that when doing timed pieces, we were very competitive with the rest of the team despite our slow training speed. We discovered that as the rate increased, there was less time in each stroke for our differences to show, so we came closer together and moved better as one. It was by no means perfect; we really had to work hard physically for the speed but it was there – the confidence we needed!

  A spot of free time between sessions.

A spot of free time between sessions.

Before we knew it we were on a plane again, this time headed for Portugal, our usual pre-trials training camp venue. Soon into the camp we came to the decision to swap seats, so Pete would stroke the boat and I would move to the bow. This seemed to help our situation, as suddenly Pete could use more of his immense strength, move freely and get the most out of himself while I could adapt to his movements and steady the boat from the bow. As the days get closer to the trials the atmosphere changes, each pair closes down and becomes reliant on their own small unit. We shut our competitors out and conversations become forced and uncomfortable. I always find this a shame – teammates one day to enemies on the water the next. It’s an annual occurrence but one I will never get used to.

Fully prepared and ready to race we head back home to Caversham, the home of British rowing. It’s unusual to hold this event here but I’m glad of it, as it brings a slight sense of familiarity that helps me keep calm and relaxed. We start the two-day racing programme with a time trial, setting off one by one down the course at thirty-second intervals. We have a good race, forcing every ounce of energy and power from our legs in the closing hundred metres. Time trials are tough, there are no tactics involved as you risk not getting into the top 12 and missing out on the semi-finals. It’s all about racing hard from start to finish then waiting for the results! With a thorough warm down behind us we discover we have come a pleasing second place, a good start to the weekend. We move into the semi-final later that afternoon and take control of the race early on. We race hard and put together the best rowing we have so far this season. It’s a good day’s work and we head home feeling positive and relieved that we managed to pull it together when we needed to.

Sunday dawns and finals day is upon us. There is a matter of pride at stake here as the winners of the final can claim to be the leading pair in the squad for a year, which gives bragging rights as well as putting them in the best possible position for crew selection. We go out to win, but early in the race we fail to find the same rhythm we had the day before. Crews we comfortably beat are alongside us for far more of the race than we would want. We press on and gradually move ahead, but Andy Triggs-Hodge and Moe Sibhi have taken a lead and are controlling the race in front of us. This powerful, slick combination have been consistent in training and have shown great speed right from the start. They maintain their lead over us and cross the line victorious. Bragging rights are theirs, we come home second.

  Racing at final trials. We both represent Leander club.

Racing at final trials. We both represent Leander club.

It’s not too disappointing considering the difficulties we had leading up to this event. We finished in the position we needed to be in, despite it not being the one we wanted. Crew selection is the next stage and Jurgen will make the decision over the next couple of weeks as to which boat to prioritise for the coming season. As ever, the important thing is to keep performing and pushing the training on to show that I am invaluable to whichever crew I am put in. The season really starts now.

Posted on September 6, 2013 and filed under 2013.

Sydney 2013 - First World Cup of the season - Mar 2013

Arriving in Australia was everything I expected it to be. The heat hit me like a smack in the face, waking me with a jolt after 24 hours in an unhealthy, air-conditioned aeroplane cabin. After the winter we have experienced, this is just what my body is craving and I immediately start to feel my muscles relax.

  The Opera House, taken from an afternoon trip by boat to Manly Beach. Real tourists for a day!

The Opera House, taken from an afternoon trip by boat to Manly Beach. Real tourists for a day!

We spent the first four days in Sydney acclimatising and slotting into the new time zone, which I managed with relative ease. It’s absolutely unheard of to have free time on a training camp but here, for these rare four days, the afternoons are ours. We finish training and head off to the chosen activity of the day; most popular is to get our pasty white torsos out on one of the local beaches. Sydney Harbour was a must, with a stroll around the Opera House and a meander through the city. I had the chance to meet up with an old school friend who I hadn’t seen for six years. Incidentally, he was the friend who first introduced me to rowing 13 years ago, so it was really quite an emotional moment meeting him and thanking him for doing so. However, this precious free time came at a cost, as Jurgen managed to squeeze in a sizeable schedule of painful gym work for us to complete before we could enjoy ourselves too much. With the promise of the beach in our minds, the daily ergo and weights were an accepted necessity.

  Bondi beach, the preferred destination for post-training relaxation! 

Bondi beach, the preferred destination for post-training relaxation! 

These four days of enjoyment had to come to an end, so, after a three-hour bus ride south we found ourselves in the vastly contrasting town of Canberra. There was immediately a different feel to the camp; we were no longer tourists but here for business. We were here to compete in the first World Cup of the season; in fact, the first international event since the Olympics. I was competing in the men’s eight, which comprised a mix of athletes: two of my crew mates from the Olympics, a couple from the Olympic eight and two new members of the squad; Matt Gotrel and Lance Tredell were being thrown in at the deep end. This was to be their first senior international regatta and as an older, more experienced athlete, I wanted this to be a special and successful trip for them. These guys are both exceptional athletes and fitted into the crew extremely well right from the start. It was a pleasure to train with such enthusiastic guys, and from the first stroke I knew I could count on them. We spent 10 days in Canberra with a heavy programme of mileage on the water. It was an exciting boat to be a part of and started off with a very strong platform from which we knew we could build an effective race performance.

  Early morning on the lake in Canberra, 11th March my birthday!

Early morning on the lake in Canberra, 11th March my birthday!

We were all thriving in Australia, and astounded at how much the weather can affect mood and attitude. Rowing in an all-in-one rowing suit, instead of three layers with leggings and a woolly hat, made life so much simpler. We weren’t restricted in movement and I found I was always ready to perform. My body felt constantly warm and so the physical effort of ‘warming up’ just wasn’t such an issue. I loved every aspect of being there and preparing to race.

As the days to the event grew closer and we travelled back to Sydney, I started to realise what this regatta meant to me. We were soon to be racing on the Sydney Olympic course, the same water that Steve Redgrave won his fifth and final Olympic title on. Since the summer of 2012 I will forever be a part of the coxless four history that he started, and now here I am, back on the shores of Penrith, about to race again. What’s more, the Sydney Olympics was the first time I had ever paid even the slightest bit of interest in rowing, as it was in that same year that I first stepped in to a boat, thanks to my friend Alex who I met on our third day in Australia. Everything was linked, everything was falling into place and it all felt good.

The venue met all expectations; it was how I imagined a grand Olympic course to look. Preserved in the Sydney Olympic spirit, it has been used solely for rowing ever since. We trained and prepared on the lake for a few days before our heat, but we were all raring and ready to go. This was fun, exciting, and there wasn’t the overbearing, crushing pressure I had felt the last time I raced during the Olympics. I really enjoyed the feeling; the result didn’t really matter. Would any race ever matter again? However, I wanted to prove that I could win in a different boat class. I wanted the new boys to be encouraged by standing in the middle of the podium with a gold medal hanging around their necks, and feel the pride that comes with that moment. We won the heat with relative ease. Pressure from a strong US and Australian crew in the first half meant we had to work to cross the line ahead, but it was a strong first performance. We came away with some clear ideas on how to improve our performance, but felt positive and confident.

  GB Men's 8, Phelan Hill (cox) Andy Triggs-Hodge, Pete Reed, Alex Gregory, Moe Sbihi, Matt Gotrel, Lance Treddle, Tom Ransley, Dan Richie.

GB Men's 8, Phelan Hill (cox) Andy Triggs-Hodge, Pete Reed, Alex Gregory, Moe Sbihi, Matt Gotrel, Lance Treddle, Tom Ransley, Dan Richie.

The morning of the final was a little more tense. There will always be nerves from the uncertainty about what’s going to happen. I know how much every part of my body is going to hurt, and that makes me nervous. I will probably be sick afterwards and will definitely have a pounding headache for the rest of the day, followed by a cough that will last for weeks. However, if we win, it will be worth it. We attack the race from the first stroke; a fast committed approach sets us up well for the first quarter. I’m not used to the noise the start of an eight’s race brings. Six coxes screaming through their microphones at their crew, shouting instructions, motivating the rowers; the clunk of 48 oars across the lake and the spray flying from the blades, which slice through the puddles. Its an incredibly noisy place to be, but that heightens the senses and brings adrenaline pumping in excess. An eight’s race is fast, the markers come quickly and before I knew it we were extending our lead, stretching out past the half-way marker and ahead of the rest of the field. The race was over in a heart-pumping flash and we finished a good length ahead of the closest crew. This was a great start to the Olympiad and a perfect end to one of the best trips I have been on with rowing, but I was most pleased for our newcomers who achieved their first international victory. The racing season has begun.

  The crew with our Gold medals - the perfect end to a perfect trip down under!

The crew with our Gold medals - the perfect end to a perfect trip down under!

Posted on September 6, 2013 and filed under 2013.

Some like to rinse cottage cheese - Feb 2013

I recently started reading a book about one of the most intense rivalries between two athletes that has ever been seen. During the 1980s Dave Scott and Mark Allen were far and beyond the world’s best triathletes and dominated the triathlon scene. Their rivalry came to a head in 1989 during the Hawaii Ironman. After seven hours and 58 minutes of racing side by side, Mark Allen edged out into the lead and broke Dave Scott, who came in second. It was these athletes’ vastly contrasting approaches to their training that really struck a chord with me.

  Mark Allen (closest) and Dave Scott during the 1989 Hawaii Ironman. They were side by side for 7 hours, 58 minutes.

Mark Allen (closest) and Dave Scott during the 1989 Hawaii Ironman. They were side by side for 7 hours, 58 minutes.

Mark Allen was a natural talent. He was easy going, quiet, insular and even laid back, whereas Dave Scott was an unusually hard worker, incredibly tenacious and anal in his approach to his training lifestyle. He carefully measured and recorded everything, including his nutrition routine (that was so strict he would go so far as to rinse his cottage cheese to remove excess fat) to get the best performances possible. This is an extreme example of an athlete wanting to be in total control, removing any variables that may hamper performance. His method worked for him and suited his personality, but what really fascinates me is that everyone is different.

Nutrition is a major factor in performance and is something we all take very seriously, but I take an unscientific approach to my dietary needs. To me, food is fuel and I have come to learn over the years how much I need, when to have it and what will happen if I don’t eat enough at different times of the day. Each individual is different and we all react differently to quantities and qualities of food; some get it right, some get it wrong, but generally we all hold our weight stable and maintain energy levels day in day out for years.

I have always struggled to eat enough. I’m not someone who particularly enjoys stuffing my face and I will rarely finish my plate and fill it up again out of pure enjoyment. It certainly became an issue in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics, when I was constantly struggling to hold my weight. I battled with myself at every meal to force food in just to get through the training. There was no growth or physical development, just purely surviving. Losing weight was so easy; if I missed a meal or didn’t quite eat enough I would feel it in the boat and see it on the scales. So many people said to me that I was lucky to have this ‘problem’, but for me it was exactly the same battle as someone desperately trying to lose weight, the difference being I was trying to put it on. I was training among Olympic champions, people at the top of their sport who were as strong and as fit as anyone can be. A good friend of mine gave me the nickname ‘stick man’, which, although very funny, also affected me. If I was thin then I wasn’t strong, so if I couldn’t pull hard enough to get the scores so I would never be good enough. There was certainly a psychological issue here and something I needed to overcome if I wanted to succeed.

  2008 Beijing Olympic spares with coaches on the night of the opening ceremony. (Left to Right: Tom Parker, Jonny Singfield, Alex Gregory, Pete Shepherd)

2008 Beijing Olympic spares with coaches on the night of the opening ceremony. (Left to Right: Tom Parker, Jonny Singfield, Alex Gregory, Pete Shepherd)

On returning from Beijing where I was Olympic spare, I set myself the goal of gaining 8kg of muscle, which would put me at 100kg body weight. I would be significantly stronger, hopefully post better times in the gym and on the water, and therefore have more confidence and improve overall performance. This would involve a strict weights routine but also a different approach to nutrition. I sought advice from the team nutritionist, at which point we concluded that my diet was healthy and balanced, I ate good quantities and had tried for years to increase body weight but made insignificant changes. I needed something else. As dodgy as this is beginning to sound, it was not of course. I had to go through the correct channels to ensure the supplement I was given was drug screened and suitably tested and certified. Once I was given the all clear I added a Science in Sport (GB rowing team supplier) supplement to my current daily intake. Overnight I doubled my calorific and protein intake by consuming these supplement drinks and, coupled with the strict and intense weights programme, I instantly started to see changes. My weight was rising, my strength was matching this rise, body fat held stable and within three months I had reached my 100kg target and had put on 8kg of lean muscle mass. My teammates had returned from their post-Olympic break by this time and I was already in full flow. I had taken the opportunity to catch up with them while they were resting, and suddenly found I was matching and beating those who I had always been behind. That year I was selected for the coxless four and in September 2009 I became World Champion for the first time, having been sitting on the side lines as reserve 12 months earlier in Beijing.

  Seconds after crossing the line at the World Championships in Poland. First World Championship win.

Seconds after crossing the line at the World Championships in Poland. First World Championship win.

This sudden change of fortune was not down to one sole factor, but I strongly believe that overcoming my nutritional issues made a huge change to my physicality as an athlete. Five years on I continue to supplement my diet with the carbohydrate protein supplements that are provided to us by Science in Sport. Some do not see it as necessary, but I feel it is an important part of my training routine. We as heavyweight men aim to consume around 6,000 calories a day, but honestly, I’m not counting. I eat five healthy meals a day, eat as much as possible in between, know when I’ve had enough, know when I haven’t and I certainly don’t rinse my cottage cheese.

  My son Jasper tucking into a piece of chocolate cake, he's showing no signs of eating difficulties!

My son Jasper tucking into a piece of chocolate cake, he's showing no signs of eating difficulties!

Posted on September 5, 2013 and filed under 2013.