Saturday, 15 December 2018

Do you have what it takes to be an elite rower?

WAKING up at 6am, training in sub-zero temperatures and having three jobs ? It's all in a day's work for rower Ed Fisher.

WAKING up at 6am, training in sub-zero temperatures and having three jobs- it's all in a day's work for rower Ed Fisher.

The Leander Club athlete moved to Henley from Nottingham in November in his search for Olympic glory and, thanks to his hard work, it seems to be paying dividends.

The 21-year-old, who lives in Upton Close, is now ranked fifth in the country in the lightweight fours and won two gold medals at the Huegel Regatta in Essen, Germany, in May along with his under-23 crewmates Ben Reeves, Jonathan Jackson and Alastair Douglass.

His is knocking on the door of a Great Britain call-up just two years after worrying that he would never make the grade.

Ed says: "I've been rowing for 10 years and at Nottingham I'd been trying to get into the GB squad but it wasn't going to happen.

"I saw Leander were doing well and came down for trials. I'?d been here as a junior so I gave it a shot and they accepted me. The first year has gone really well. I've won medals and trained a lot more.

"I've got another two years at this age group and I'll review it after that to see if it's worth going into the seniors or if I should go into coaching."

So just how hard is it to reach the level of an elite rower? Ed rises early each morning, has a light breakfast and gets to the club in White Hill for 7.15am.

He is then briefed by coaches in the gym before stretching and warming up.

Ed heads out on to the river with his crew at 7.45am and trains until 9.30am, often rowing up to 20km. Then it's back to the clubhouse for a second, larger breakfast.

Ed can wolf down two sausages, poached and scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and even a bowl of porridge, along with several cups of tea or juice. A lightweight rower needs to consume 4,500 calories a day, including pasta, fish and milkshakes. For a heavyweight, that scales up to a whopping 6,200.

They are the calories Ed's body will need because an hour later he is back on the water for a second training session. As well as racking up the miles, the crew will often practise technique, boat control exercises and sprints or starts.

They are carefully watched during these sessions by the Leander coaches, who soon let the athletes know if anything needs tweaking.

The coaches carry megaphones but they often discard these as they bellow at the rowers to tidy up errant strokes. After his second river session, Ed returns to the club for lunch, typically pasta. The servings are big and even the coffee mugs seem to hold twice as much as you'd expect from a normal dining room.

After lunch, Ed's training is done and he has the afternoon free - or he would do if he didn't have to work.

He coaches at Henley Rowing Club, a 10-minute walk along the river, on most afternoons. In the winter, he also worked as a waiter at Leander and at Pachangas Mexican restaurant in Duke Street.

Most Leander rowers hold down part-time jobs which they have to fit in after their training.

Ed says his training schedule is gruelling but he enjoys reaping the benefits when it comes to racing.

"Depending on the season, we can do anything from 3km to 20km in a training session," he says. "That can be either on the water or the ergo. It's very hard work and it takes its toll but it's worth it. When it's -2C and you've got five layers on you sometimes consider why you do it but you see the gains and results in the summer.

"It takes a while to get used to the training at Leander and it took me two months to get into the routine. At Nottingham I was training once a day after college and now I'm doing twice a day intensive training. I'm doing twice as much work as I was used to."

As you would expect, Leander's gym is packed with equipment, including two types of rowing ergometers. While a lot of time is spent on these machines, it's also important that the rowers work on key areas of their body.

Many will devote a lot of attention to shoulder presses or strengthening their gluteal muscles, something that pays off when they get on the water.

The training can be so exhausting that it?s not uncommon to see rowers catching up on their sleep, sometimes even on the floor of the gym.

Ed says: "If we have a couple of hours' break between finishing training and starting work we try to get a nap in. It's anything between half an hour and two-and-a-half hours because the training takes its toll.

"If you don't get to nap then by the time you get to Sunday you're on your knees. It's a key part of maintaining a good level and not becoming sleep-deprived. On a normal day I try to make sure I'm in bed for 10.30pm so I can get a good eight hours. If you can get a nap in the afternoon that rounds it up to about 10 hours.

"It's definitely an important part of training. It helps you to maintain your body and get the right recovery in as well."

After training Monday to Saturday, the rowers are given Sundays off, although Ed works then too.

Training as an elite rower is about dedication and commitment. The athletes often push themselves to the point of being sick, both in the gym and on the water.

Ed works as hard as any and his determination has been noted by his coaches. If he wins a medal at the Olympic Games in Rio next summer, it will have been worth it.


Watch our video report of Jamie in action.

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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