Saturday, 31 July 2021

‘Baby breakfast’ for reporter who trained like an athlete

I AM not an Olympic rower. I’m about a foot too short and much too weak,

I AM not an Olympic rower. I’m about a foot too short and much too weak,

writes Jamie Presland.

But on a sunny morning at Leander Club, I got to train like one.

Being an elite athlete is a path littered with challenges. The first one for me was getting up early enough to reach the club in White Hill by 7am.

I’m a man who likes his sleep, so I was still a little bleary-eyed as I left my bags in the changing room and met the rowers in the gym.

After a briefing from coach Ross Hunter on their schedules for the day, the crews took out their boats and got on the water.

The sunshine would have to wait for me as it was a morning in the gym learning how to row.

Ross took me through the basic technique: pull with your legs and back first, then the arms, letting the hands go back over your straightened legs before bringing your knees back up.

With a style best described as erratic, I was then set the daunting “warm-up” of a 2km row.

It was hard going but I completed the distance in about nine minutes after which Ross was delighted to hear that I could taste blood from my lungs. “That’s how it should be,” he said.

While I was focused on keeping my pre-workout coffee down, he had been recording my style and proceeded to show me where my stroke needed to improve.

I suspect he didn’t have enough time to correct all my mistakes but I was steadily getting better. It was then that the real challenge was sprung upon me — two 750m sprints, separated by a  30-second rest.

Ross had to go out on the river to check on the real rowers, so in his absence I was tasked with beating a computerised pace boat, which would complete each sprint in two minutes and 30 seconds.

Spurred on by the electronic competition, I went hell for leather on the sprints, beating the pace boat first by seven seconds and then three.

But it came at a cost as I found myself spluttering for breath and seeing spots.

Another warm-down of 2km followed, which became surprisingly bearable once I was into a routine. Nevertheless, I was running on empty at the end and was in dire need of some breakfast.

I was among the first to enter the dining room and downed a cup of tea before ordering sausage, bacon and eggs with beans. I considered it a fairly hefty meal until one of the coaches asked why I had opted for a “baby breakfast”.

A relaxing hour was crudely interrupted when I had to go back to the gym for round two.

Another warm-up got the blood flowing before I moved to the dynamic ergometer, in which both the seat and footholds move to mimic the action of a boat in water, for another tilt at the sprints.

I was racing alongside Ed Fisher, a Leander rower who had won two gold medals at a regatta in Germany two weeks previously.

Ed duly finished his first sprint a good 15 seconds ahead of me but I recorded a new personal best.

The second sprint was where I really felt the morning’s exertions but with Ross yelling in my ear and other rowers gathering to spur me on I finished ahead of the pace boat again.

My challenge was complete but it was just a quarter of what the athletes would do on a so-called “easy day”.

The level of exhaustion they must feel became clear when I spotted an athlete fast asleep on an exercise mat in the corner of the gym.

My hands were blistered from just a morning’s work but the rowers told me wearing gloves is not an option. Calloused hands are just part of the job.

After a trip out on the water to watch how the professionals do it, my training was over. It was back to the office for an afternoon of recovery followed by a nap as soon as I got home. How these guys do it every day, I just don’t know.

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