Tuesday, 03 August 2021

Day in the life of an elite athlete

AS most people were starting work on Friday, Debbie Flood had already rowed the Henley Royal Regatta course four times.

AS most people were starting work on Friday, Debbie Flood had already rowed the Henley Royal Regatta course four times.

The former Olympian and now Leander Club captain, who is representing the club in the women’s single sculls at Henley Royal Regatta this week, has been training for more than three hours a day.

She would row six lengths of the 2.1km course every morning and spend an hour lifting weights in the afternoon.

On Friday, Flood’s day began at 7am with the first of two breakfasts, which form part of the 4,000 calories she has to eat to make up for the energy she burns.

She finished her meal — a bowl of cornflakes about three times the size of a regular serving — before performing a series of stretches and fetching her boat from the Leander shed.

She then rowed up and down the course twice, turning round at the start line at Temple Island and again at the finish line by the stewards’ enclosure.

Less than 90 minutes later she was back in the crew room for her second breakfast — three poached eggs, two sausages, two rashers of bacon and two slices of toast with margarine.

Although she was only a third of the way through her daily regime, Flood said her training was stricter before she retired from international rowing last year. In her 16-year career, she won two Olympic silver medals in the quadruple sculls and three gold medals in the women’s quad at the Commonwealth Games.

She stepped down after competing in the quad sculls at London 2012 with Beth Rodford, Frances Houghton and Melanie Wilson and finishing fifth.

Back then she was training two or three times daily all year round and eating up to 6,000 calories.

Although she still works out most days, she only picks up the pace in the weeks before a big event.

She said: “When you are a full-time athlete, you are permanently tired but you get used to it. You don’t necessarily notice because it becomes a normal part of your day-to-day routine.

“When it comes to racing, the volume of training reduces and it starts to focus on key areas. That’s when you start to get your beans back and you start to feel great and ready to race.

“Although training is something I still do, it’s not necessarily a priority any more. I love training and I love racing but it’s lower down on the list now.

“I get a few sessions in every week but I’m perhaps not quite as fit as I was when I was an Olympic rower.”

Flood now spends much of her time representing Leander Club on school visits and other public outings.

She has also returned part-time to her job as a prison officer at HMP Huntercombe, near Nuffield, which she put on hold for her Olympic training last year.

This year, she decided to focus on training for the Henley Women’s Regatta last month, where she won the women’s single sculls event and so automatically qualified her the royal regatta.

“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “I won my single here in 2000 and that is still one of the highlights of my career.

“Over Henley week the whole rowing world seems to descend on the town. For most clubs, schools, universities and a lot of international crews, it is the big one — if you can win or even just compete here, that is a great accolade.

“It’s such a unique regatta, with the crowds lining the bank from start to finish. They’re so close to you that you can actually hear people calling your name whereas at a lot of other events you just hear noise. It’s a totally different experience. It is also psychological. You’re one-on-one and it’s a knockout competition and that adds a separate element to the regatta.”

Flood was back on the water at 10.30am and rowed two more lengths of the regatta course at a more leisurely pace.

By noon, she was back in the crew room eating a large bowl of lasagne for lunch.

Afterwards, she changed into her Team GB blazer and a pair of Union flag shoes for a visit to Hemdean House School in Caversham, where she gave a talk and handed out awards at its annual prize-giving ceremony.

She said: “I get asked to go into schools all the time and I could easily spend every morning, afternoon and evening chatting to kids and presenting prizes.

“I think it’s very important as athletes that we give back to our sport and to youngsters. When I was at school I was encouraged to do my best and as Olympic athletes I think that’s something we can do for the next generation.

“We can inspire kids to work hard, to be fit and healthy and congratulate them on what they have achieved.”

After returning from the school, Flood launched straight into her third training session at the Leander gym. Her workout began with 10 minutes of floor exercises to strengthen her abdominal muscles before she lifted a series of weights, some as heavy as 20kg, for the rest of the hour.

Friday was one of her last big training days before the regatta to avoid wearing herself out.

She said: “Henley has always been a big part of my life within the rowing world so it’s great to race this year.

“I know I’m not of international standard but it will be fantastic to represent my club and to race on the Henley course.

“I do feel a bit more pressure than normal because I’m captain of Leander Club but I’m realistic enough to know that I’m not a full-time athlete any more.

“Henley Royal Regatta is an international standard event and it’s going to be pretty tough.

“However, I’m still pretty fit and the royal regatta is such a fantastic thing to be a part of. As any rower would do, I will go out and give it my best.”

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