Having never properly rowed before, or really trained for anything serious, I saw this challenge as a great opportunity to get fit. Get rid of those extra lumps and bumps and get the heart working to its full potential. Little did I realise that endurance sport needs body mass (fat) and less focus on the heart. Never mind, it was still going to be a great excuse to get fit and healthy whilst learning a new sport. Fit and healthy! The irony of that comment and what was to come.
It was going great. Gym sessions (although I had to hire a personal trainer because I do NOT have the motivation for, or understanding of, gyms), British Military Fitness in Richmond park, cycling everywhere (including those important meetings!), some rowing machine action (hate) and plenty of early morning and evening paddleboarding sessions (love).
By April, I was feeling good. Strong. In fact, on April 23rd (my birthday) I took my rowing machine down to Limehouse, London, and set up a station where I was going to row a marathon (42km), on London Marathon day. I hate the rowing machine, as much as I hate the gym. It’s indoors and dull. Unfortunately, joining a rowing club was going to cost me money and my life was so variable, I’d probably end up only visiting every so often. As a result, most of my rowing had been out in Soma, my ocean rowing boat. Anyway, I turned up on the Sunday, set up camp and grabbed a tiramisu (which, by the way, I didn’t realise was alcoholic until someone pointed out that it probably wasn’t the best pre-marathon fuel!) They were wrong! I sat for 3hrs 17 on the rowing machine, had a meeting whilst rowing, chatted, smiled, and pulled (not a guy, just the cable). I came 8th in the world for 2017 for all women. Well that was easy. I did a similar thing 6 weeks later but took 8 minutes off that time. I was strong and didn’t feel like I was really training that hard. Mmmmmmm
To add to that, a few weeks later, I’m on my mountain bike (which was kindly donated by an Instagram follower when my previous one got nicked), in London, in my ‘active wear’ and trainers (not the lycra type) and I’m overtaking pretty much everyone. This guy (I hear they’re called MAMILS – middle aged men in lycra!) clearly doesn’t like this situation. His ego is dented and his facial expression looks like his ego feels! I begin to think how beating men on bikes is fun, but not normal. Nor is the marathon erg time I’d done a few weeks before. At the beginning of June, I head to the doctor. Super strength was something I’d experienced last time I was ill so this was potentially something to be safer than sorry, with. My neck/double chins were reasonably evident, and I’d been getting up early without it being an issue. Life was also feeling pretty awesome, my photography was becoming more and more creative, and generally, I was full of energy.
6 weeks later, I’m back at the doctors discussing the MRI results. The tumour has come back and the best course of action was surgery. I’m fit, I’ve been here before and I’ve caught it pretty early on so all should be fine. August 1st, I wake up at 5.30am, cycle to King’s College Hospital. By 6pm I’m awake and tumour free, chatting away with my friends. 3 days later I’m out of hospital and 10 days later I’m on my bike doing a 100km bike ride. What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger (and wiser!).
So there we have it, my tumour, my humour and strength removed, goddammit! Obviously, training had to be a little more chilled due to the fact they had drilled a hole into my brain, but additionally, my cortisol levels had gone from being 3 times what they should be to 4 times less than they should. It’s like going cold turkey for a heroin addict. Whilst there are drugs, it’s still difficult to get them right. Consequently, the following weeks were difficult on the training front. The campaign work, meetings, talks, nannying (my pay-the-rent job) was using up most of my energy so training had been taking a little back burner, plus I was tired.
Two months on (October time, and 3 months to go) I discover I’m not only cortisol deficient, but also Growth Hormone deficient. GH works your muscle and is also part of proper sleeping. Not ideal as I’ll have to inject on a daily basis until (if) it returns to normality. However, on a plus side, this does mean I’ll be getting more of what I need to build muscle, – perhaps I’ll finish in Barbados looking like Popeye!
Training continues, I write this from the cabin of my boat having rowed a small journey up the river, anchored with the sun shining through the cabin door. My sessions on the water are always good and it is essential to get lots of time on the water, getting used to life on board. Learning the ropes in the comfort of a rescue service (RNLI) and shallow waters. Shallow waters mean I can anchor up when anything goes wrong, I get tired or the weather is preventing me from going in to a marina. In principle, this works, if you have an anchor. But sometimes we make mistakes, like throw the anchor over board when it’s not tied on. After 8 hours of rowing, a couple of weeks ago, I need to get back into Felixstow. With a tail wind and tide pushing me up the coast, I won’t get back in time if I don’t stop. That phrase, ‘she held on until the bitter end’, this is where it comes from… I had misjudged the power of the tide and wind, hadn’t tided on the anchor before throwing it over and I literally held on to the bitter end of the rope, until I could hold no longer. My anchor was gone.
Now, you can’t be a solo rower without an anchor. You can’t stop and rest or sleep and with the tide going out it meant that any of the marina’s nearby, weren’t an option to get in to. I had a few words with myself – why did I do that when I know better? What are your options? What are you capable of and what’s the weather doing? Worrying was (and still is) a waste of energy. I needed all the energy I could get and it wouldn’t change anything. I row for 4 hours back towards Felixstow, but my boat moves with the tide and wind in the opposite direction!! Soul destroying. The sun goes down, and 4 1/2hrs after my silly mistake, my boat is finally moving at 0 knots! I have never been so excited to see a speed of 0 knots. It had been moving, remember, at a speed in the opposite direction to where I want to go, despite rowing forwards. 0 knots meant the tide was changing which subsequently meant I had 7 hrs to row into the wind, but with the tide and in the dark, back to where I needed to be. I made it with 15 minutes to spare! Legs wobbling, (dehydrated I’m sure), hungry and sore with a sore bottom. I reflected and was very pleased to have had the experience – ‘what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger’. I now know I am capable of staying calm under pressure, and capable of rowing for 19hrs in a 24-hr period. All good things to take with me on my crossing. Oh, and make sure you tie everything on to the boat before it goes overboard. I won’t forget that.
“So, How’s the training going?”
“Good, I think”
This blog has taken so long that I am now just back from a 34km mountain bike ride. I somehow ended up out with two men, who were far more experienced than me, but I didn’t die. My thighs were fine, (main rowing muscle). So I guess training is going well. I also started at Roehampton Uni this week and I was faster than any of the others on the machine. Training alone, with no growth hormone, having been really strong, is such a head screw. I have no idea where I’m at but I’m doing the best I can, and I love my gym @fit8 in Wimbledon (PT on tap), so it will be fine. My arms, shoulders and thighs are pretty strong, and hopefully, when the Growth hormone arrives, will get even stronger…
Nutrition…..ah, now there’s another whole blog!