Prince’s death this week has had a huge impact on many people that we know.
His music has been playing on radio stations, TV programs, mobile phones, ipods and laptops countrywide. I had a personal hour-long Prince tribute over the weekend and we played a couple of his albums on the boat when we were out on the ocean. There are a few songs in particular (I wanna be your lover, 1999 and Kiss) that instantly transport me back to the 90’s, a time of no responsibilities, carefree fun with friends at school, my first boyfriend and days of dancing!
The power of music has always amazed me and its power during the row was invaluable. Amongst many other performance enhancing strategy techniques that we used, music was one of the most effective tools.
We used it to shift our mind quickly from one mindset to another. Waking up at 3am and knowing we had to get up and out on the oars to row yet again or unwinding after an adrenalin filled shift and calming the mind ready to sleep.
Music is a wonderful motivator – we all had our personal power songs that we used to help us through times of monotony, discomfort and frustration on the Pacific. Everyone loves a good power mix to workout to at the gym or on a run.
Music is an effective distracter – It was a great way to pass a 2-hour row shift
Music is one of the best memory joggers – I love how memories always come flooding back when you hear a song or the way you can remember lyrics to a song even if you haven’t heard it for 15 years!
Music inspires emotion – I think most people have been overcome with great happiness and joy, sadness or reflection when listening to certain music.
It moves you. It penetrates deep into your soul and stirs emotion.
Music makes you move – A great tune will make you tap your feet, nod your head, move your hips, shake your shoulders or generally move in whatever way you feel inspired to and dance until you can’t dance no more. Dancing to music makes my heart sing! It’s also one of the best socials we had on Doris – a random 15-minute dance session with no-one watching us except the Boobies and Oceania!
Although I was unofficially banned from singing on the boat – I loved a good sing-a-long, and any opportunity that came up – LP and I would get our groove on. Some of you may remember us mention our ‘row dance’ – well…here it is…
Laura and Nat doing a little ‘row dancing’ during our journey.
(We’re even in purple – just for Prince!)
Make sure you have songs easily accessible that you know will quickly lift your spirits if you’re having a challenging moment or day, make you smile when you feel like crying, give you energy when you have none, relax you when you’re stressed and uptight, transport you back to a moment in time and make you remember that there are certain things in life that unite us all!! x
It’s how we react to situations that make us angry, sad or disappointed. It’s OUR emotional response and so surely we should be able to control it?
We all experience frustration in one shape or form – often! I may even go as far as saying that it’s an emotion we most probably feel on a daily basis. Work, relationships, getting stuck in traffic or being delayed on the tube, when something doesn’t live up to your expectation, trying to master a new skill, forgetting to do something, having to rely on other people, the weather, bad time management…there are many elements of everyday life that can provoke this feeling of disgruntlement if not managed well enough.
There are many ways to deal with frustration and many reasons for it to surface in our thoughts.
For us, when we were out in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, I would say that frustration was an emotion we felt on more than a few occasions!
We had good reason. Our expedition was filled with challenges. We were sleep deprived, hot, continuously damp and uncomfortable. There were days where we rowed hard against current and wind but travelled negative miles or in the wrong direction. There were days where we battled to keep the 1-tonne Doris facing the right way and when she kept swinging round the waves would crash continuously across her deck. There were moments where the pain or discomfort of our salt sores and pressure wounds were so distracting that we needed to wait for 10 minutes of a rowing shift before our backsides or hands became numb and we could push through the 2 hours. Our ipods broke, we lost our favourite bikini top, flannels or tupperware overboard or we just simply got bored of eating the same food over and over again!
It was understandable that we felt discouraged.
How did we control those feelings of being annoyed when we couldn’t achieve what we wanted? How did we rise above the frustration and how did we deal with it?
I’d like to share three of the techniques that seemed to work.
Control the controllable
One of the most important questions to ask in any situation is ‘can you control it?’ We can only control the controllable, so if something is truly outside your control, then surely you are wasting valuable time and energy on something that you will never be able to change. It’s amazing how often we forget this simple fact.
So, on Doris, we would remind each other that we could only control the controllable when we saw someone get frustrated.
YOU control your thoughts and how you react to situations / You are in charge of how you feel so choose a different emotion!
Understanding that we are all in charge of how we react to situations and how we choose to behave to them is in our control, makes you a lot more self-aware. Feeling frustrated is not a good, uplifting or positive feeling, so ideally we want to choose not to think in a way that will lead us to the emotion of frustration.
During the 9 months of the expedition, when I started to let my thoughts run away with themselves, I would bring myself back to the moment and find something different to concentrate my energies on. Watching the ever-changing movement and colours of the ocean or the shifting shapes of the clouds in the sky, telling each other life stories or listening to music were all great ways to transform our thoughts and shift our mindset to a more positive one.
It is always beneficial to stop, check in with yourself and breathe!
This is an invaluable tool that can be used in almost every situation you find yourself in when you feel as if your emotions or sensations are taking over.
Just breathe slowly and deeply – in for 5 and out for 5.
It has been said that it is better to view frustration as ‘delayed success’ not as ‘failure’ and then at least you know that you can overcome it, while others say that frustration is an essential part of success…so who really knows!??
All I know that is that through all the peaks and troughs of life out on the ocean, the challenges and the frustrations, the magical moments and beauty, we did our best, as a team, to fully embrace all the emotions that came our way and learn from every situation. We must have done something right as we were not only successful, but we achieved what we set out to do… in style.
We did it with honesty, humility, SPIRIT and laughter!!
Now…let’s see if we can continue dealing with life’s challenges in the same way on dry land!!! x
This week’s blog theme is frustration. There was plenty of this on our journey, both on the way to the start line and on the water.
One particular example was our struggle to get off the Californian coast and on our way to Hawaii. We spent 10 days battling through strong winds and large swells pushing us South towards Mexico. Everything was new to us, and the sea sickness wasn’t helping! But then it happened, we finally started to make progress West. Unfortunately, just as we did, some water damage meant that we lost the ability to charge our Victron batteries using our Solbian solar panels and we had to make the difficult decision to row 6 days back into shore to Santa Barbara to repair the damage. To say it was frustrating was an understatement. We had started our journey after years of preparation and were finally feeling that we had started to get to grips with the challenging conditions, and then we had to turn around, row back in and do a re-start.
I am really proud of the way that we dealt with this situation as a team. We accepted the decision and decided to put the frustration behind us, re-focuss and make the most of the opportunity. We took advantage of the time on land to repair the damage to Doris and make other tweaks to her and our kit. By staying focussed on the bigger picture, we transformed the frustration into a positive and left Santa Barbara feeling prepared and re-energised, ready to make it to Hawaii.
During the Night of Adventure evening which we spoke at a couple of weeks ago Al Hunphries gave everyone some advice about taking on their own adventures. He also gave his answer as to whether you should travel alone or as a team and concluded that if you wanted more of a challenge you should take on a solo adventure whereas to make it easier you should go as part of a team. Having been a part of the Coxless crew for 3 years now I don’t agree. I believe that our biggest challenges whilst rowing the Pacific where not the challenges which the ocean could throw at us but how we pulled together to deal with them. It was not the isolation from the outside world which was such a challenge as living in such close proximity with each other. Fortunately we didn’t underestimate these challenges and with the help of Keith formed a strong team who could work together drawing on each persons strengths and getting the best out of each other. I believe that one of the greatest successes of the row is that we have stepped off the boat as friends having achieved what we set out to do.
So as the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Yesterday Natalia, Emma, Laura, Izzy and Lizanne (via Skype) headed to near Bradford upon Avon to spend the day with Keith, our team psychologist (of Zeus Performance Psychology). We were hosted by Keith at his beautiful home and spent the day looking ahead at “stage 3″ of the row project. Among other things, we considered what we want to achieve as a team in the coming months, our team dynamics now that we are back on dry land, and what we each want to take from the row individually going forward.
At lunch time, we got the chance to catch up with Keith’s wife Helen and daughter Eloise (nearly 3 now) and Pam, Helen’s mother. As is always the case when we meet as a team and meet with Keith, we talked all day and could have kept going long after we had to leave! Thanks to Keith, we left the session with more clarity and focus.
Tomorrow we have another team catch up. Among other things, we will be polishing our presentation for the Night of Adventure that we are speaking at tomorrow night. It’s a great line up of speakers and we are really excited to be among them.
The last week has been a busy one. On Wednesday morning LP and I headed over to GSK to be a part of their first monthly podcast. We got to talk about the testing we have done with the team at the Human Performance Lab before, during and after the row. We are really excited to see the full results once all the analysis of our body composition and saliva testing has been completed.
After enjoying a lovely lunch with the HPL team I headed down the M4 to Bath to catch up with Keith for a full psych debrief. It was great to see him and to talk about the row with someone who has been there supporting us since the start and who we owe a lot of our success to. Before we left the UK I said that the row would only be a success for me if we got off the boat still friends and the fact that we have is definitely down to all the mental preparation and psych input that we had before we left.
I also got to spend time catching up with some good friends and spend some time walking in the beautiful countryside around my house. My legs are finally feeling stronger and I managed a couple of longer walks and to hike up some hills.
Finally at the weekend I found myself back in a boat for the first time since getting off Doris. I had planned to meet the Marlow womens squad for breakfast but as always seems to happen when I visit Marlow Rowing Club I ended up on the water. My lovely friend Tamsin took me for a paddle in a double and put up with my slightly wobbly rowing after so long in the stable Doris. It was lovely to be back on the river and even lovelier to see everyone at the club who are all so supportive.
The week was finished up yesterday with our first team Skype since arriving home and plans are afoot for reaching our fundraising target so stay posted for more news.
UPDATE: Under 30 miles to go!! We can smell Samoa… Wooohoooooo!
Today’s guest blog comes from the wonderful Keith Goddard, our team psychologist. Thanks Keith!
Blog of the armchair psychologist
It seems a long time ago that Laura and the crew wrote a blog about me (Day 43 June 25th) and a lot of water has passed under the ‘boat’ since then! At the time it was lovely to hear how much the guys valued the work we have done together, for me, reading such things always makes me feel slightly uncomfortable! So asking me to write a blog about ‘me’ I think is just plain revenge for all the tasks I asked of the girls over the years! Not to mention the ‘review’ emails despatched from my sofa whilst they are on the water! Nice one girls, like what you did there!
Blog 43 highlighted how and when I got involved so I won’t bore you with that again here. Needless to say it seems like a long time ago.
For those of you who don’t know already I’m Keith Goddard (@ZeusLtd) the team psychologist. By background for those of you who are interested I’m both an Occupational Psychologist and a Sport & Exercise Psychologist. The combination of which probably makes me reasonably qualified to work on a project such as this. Which really is three projects: getting the boat on the water (long project!), keeping the boat on the water (getting longer project!!), life after Doris (who knows how long project!). More of all that in a while.
So apart from professional credentials, why did I get involved? Well as you’d expect from a psychologist’s answers generally, it’s not simple but not complex either. The not simple part is that there are sooooo many reasons why you would get involved in something like this, the not complex piece – well it’s interesting and it’s there, oh and it’s not simple! The uniqueness of the challenge was an obvious hook for me, I was, I have to say intrigued by people wanting to spend so long in a bath tub (sorry Doris) with three other people for months (now I’m a fan of ‘celebrity get me out of here’, but this expedition takes things up a notch – clearly there are other reality shows available on other channels!). I could have looked at partnering with an Atlantic crossing crew, but one, the opportunity hadn’t arisen, and two, well the Atlantic, really?! (“sorry” to all those that have done such an enormous challenge!). The fact that the crew had not ventured into ocean rowing really appealed too. (The me bit…) It reminded me of when I applied to do the Marathon des Sables and people asked “Have you ran a marathon?” Keith: “Errm, no. But why would I bother with a marathon when I could do six across the desert!” So when I heard Laura’s idea and story, clearly it was going to get my attention! As we chatted in the early stages it became clear that it was going to be somewhat of a unique challenge from an applied psychology perspective, the skills required to plan, organise, lead, fund and create interest in getting the boat to the start line were going to be quite different from those required to keep the boat, the individuals and the team together whilst on the water. Before that we have to get 4-6 willing volunteers!! Post Doris’ adventure, well that’s another story!
At that point there were no charities involved, so the interesting turn of events that has partly kept me so involved for this long was the choice of charities. Having at a very early age lost my mum to breast cancer the choice of BCC resonated with me and seemed fortuitous, being ex-military from many years ago, WWTW also chimed. But I have to say whilst these gave me extra resolve to help get the boat on to the water, it was the resolve of Laura and the clear passion and focus for what she was trying to do that also kept me in the project. Then came Emma, different but of equal resolve to push the project forward. Many others that have come and gone along the way. Then came Nat and Izzy who individually brought different dimensions to the already different crew! Then more latterly Lizanne and Meg, again two very different characters to each other and to the rest of the others. And so began the next challenge – keeping a crew of different characters ‘rowing in sync’ in getting the boat (still not called Doris at this point!) on the water, and then being able to switch mode to keep the boat – sorry, Doris – on the water. I recall the frequent conversations in the early stages: do we go for the same types of people, all different, or a bit of both! These were interspersed with conversations about ideal row routines/shifts, sleep patterns, project management skills, career chats, team effectiveness, leadership, corporate engagement…..the list goes on! All of which served to confirm that the project was complex in its whole, as well as considering simple things like recruiting and developing the crew to be effective at managing boredom whilst maintaining key critical boat routines (should have recruited a Barnacle Bill!). What has always been against us is time and money! But that’s probably a different story or blog!
So what do I do? A question many people ask, sometimes with a wry small on their face (or a step back when they hear the word psychologist!), to get the full picture you may need to read the book when it comes out! But here’s the abridged version….I’d probably pause, go and make yourself a cuppa/glass of wine (clearly as long as it is within your weekly allowance for a healthy lifestyle!).
As a ‘performance psychologist’ I work on the basis that behaviour or performance derives from a combination of the ‘person’, the ‘role’ and the ‘environment’. So the starting point is getting clarity and establishing a deep and broad understanding of each of those three elements. The less obvious factor in here is ‘team’. As mentioned above, time and money were a challenge throughout, so planning was crucial. Having done some basics on planning and organising (I am known as the planning tyrant!) with Laura and the crew, I suggested that having a look at ‘best year yet’ may help the guys in running the project. Tick, one less thing off my list, delegation! One of my key principles as a practitioner and especially for this project was striving to create self-sufficiency and sustainability for the crew as a team and as individuals. So if I don’t hear too often from the girls on the water, I’ve generally done my job before they got on the boat (if they’ve done their homework!)! However, as some of the crew will probably tell you out of my ear shot, this generally meant me not giving them the answer, but the tools and questions to ask to get the answer for themselves! How very frustrating – yep! Think I may have over played that card at times: ‘Keith – we just need you to tell us what to do here!’ was heard more frequently at the start of the project and way way less before Doris and her cargo set sail. Testament to the girls’ ability to take ideas and tools and make them work for them. Underpinning much of the later work, especially when we had a full crew, or the first full crew (another story!), was team values (SPIRIT). For me this was going to be key to getting the boat on the water but way more importantly, keeping the boat on the water, and in fact one was great preparation and practice for the other. So we discussed an approach to developing a set of team values and what they should look like in order for them to work – developing green and red behaviours against each of the values. We know values create how it ‘feels’ to be around people or in a culture (or in a pink bath tub (sorry Doris!) bobbing around in the big blue sea), but they need to be lived, practiced and people need to be called out on them, rather than the values just sitting on a piece of paper. Hopefully the girls are living the SPIRIT whilst together!
One of the key difficulties was consistency of crew members and getting the ‘right’ people – see earlier comment (same/different; motivated & able etc.). But actually, as the amount of conversations we had around this proves, just finding people that want to do something as way-out as rowing an ocean, never mind the Pacific, is a challenge in itself. This is before we get to ‘can they do it’ and also do I want to spend 6 months plus in a pink bath tub (sorry again Doris, oh and she still wasn’t pink at that point!) with them. We had a number of false starts at getting people into a potential crew and over the years some of these came and went for various reasons. It has been interesting to see this unfold; you are looking for quite a specific ‘animal’ to complete this challenge, a bit like hens teeth! Right time of life, right time in career, relationships, able to financially support themselves (on bread and water at times I’m sure!), want to be at sea for a significant period, be in a potentially hostile environment, the list goes on and this was largely made worse by the lack of major financial sponsorship and the associated certainty the project was a goer. So back to consistency! Whilst I guided the guys in getting a good process in place to recruit potentials and help them with what they should be looking for and how to measure this in selection, it was ‘personality’ where I had a lot of input. We used the NEO PIR as our personality measure of choice, seen as the gold standard tool to measure accurately personality traits. I’ve been using this for years and know how predictive it is and how insightful it can be. We had a core set of criteria that we looked at everyone on and fed that into the overall mix for selection. In the early stages selection was mainly looking at these core criteria, further into the project we then used NEO to consider team fit for later potential recruits, as we already had crew members in place. So similar or different debate again?! Personality is not everything, a person’s values, experience, expertise and intellect all combine to make the ‘person’, and these were all added to the mix for selection. After an initial filtering selection centre (where self-deselection was a key factor) we also threw into the mix a bit of ‘stress testing’ the potential crew members, both to look at them individually under endurance conditions, including sleep deprivation, and also how they integrated into a team. Thanks to Martin and Matt at Fieri for providing the Brecon Beacons experience! Again self-deselection was key here.
As well as for team selection we used NEO extensively for individual development and for team development, initially to raise awareness, but then to deepen individual and team development. It gives a window into how someone might behave in a given context (role & environment). The team all shared their own questionnaires with each other and this both increases and accelerates awareness of self and others, but as importantly the act of sharing very personal information builds trust, which is crucial to this type of challenge. It also reinforces and embeds the team values. We also used ‘hot button’ exercises for the same reason. I worked individually with the girls on identifying and then developing areas we thought might be key to their individual performance leading up to the row but also whilst on the water. Effective team working and leadership were a key focus to getting the boat on the water and this was also a good practice ground for the skills that would also be needed on the water. However, there were other more specific skills that would be needed for the crew to cope personally with the extraordinary challenge they were about to embark on. So we tried to focus much of the individual development and skills into one point of reference: PESs as they are attractively known! Each of the crew’s Performance Enhancing Strategies (PESs) are their own personal ‘tool kit’. These look at the range of ‘states’ they may need to be in at different points in the day, the week, the stage, and the row overall. For example, how does someone relax quickly enough to get to sleep after a gruelling roller coaster of a 2 hour shift on the oars, equally how do they quickly wind themselves up to get themselves to quickly perform on the oars after sleep and being woken in the middle of the night! Also when people may not be at their emotionally strongest, how do they bring themselves back to a place of personal strength. In order to be effective in these states/zones; a range of strategies have been developed, all tailored to the individual’s preferences and needs. For example, learning to breath correctly and using it to arouse/de-arouse oneself is a basic must have! Not to mention it being the one thing we can control the majority of the time (aah the old ‘controlling the controllables!’). More specific tools are: generally a large, broad and varied music collection; a vivid and eclectic range of images (static and motion); the ability to be in the moment regardless of what is happening around you; the various positive mental scripts and thought reframing for the range of negative messages you might have in your head and be talking to yourself with; using touch stones that have high emotive relevance to us (for me my wedding ring when completing the MdS was a key touch stone, which got me through painful days (I lost 5 toe nails!) in +40C temperatures!). These are just some of the strategies that the crew will have individually developed prior to the row (don’t forget GSOH and also a smattering of optimism! – which they all have in spades!!). But then they will have refined their PESs into Hawaii based on their learning in leg 1 of which were or were not working, and are probably reviewing during the current tough phase to ensure they are effective for leg 3. Reflection, both individual and team, is key on a challenge of this sort. For those who like to know the science/evidence base of such strategies we used CBT, mindfulness, imagery & visualisation, many stress management techniques (e.g. STOP & BOPP), arousal control, self-efficacy development, individual motivational needs, realistic preview (What ifs), reflective practice, team cohesion (task and social), team effectiveness, conflict management, problem solving. I could go on but probably for another time!
Whilst on the water my role is slightly different to pre row. Essentially if Tony is ‘Uncle Tone’ then I must be ‘Auntie Keif’! Joking aside whilst fortunately we do not need to talk too often, myself and Tony are the crew’s first port of call (sorry for the pun!) if they need guidance or support. Tony being the key contact having frequent and regular contact with the girls to keep the boat going in the right direction; my role I guess is to support the girls individually and collectively to keep the inside of the boat rowing in the right direction. Another aspect is that we have developed clear communication plans for each of the crew and their families, so if quick critical decisions need to be made there is generally no doubt in who should be talking to whom and who decides what and when! Some of this is also liaising with Carver PR. So in some respects I perform a communication buffer/conduit as well as being another pair of eyes on critical practical decisions that may have an impact on the crew or families; it also frees Tony up to get on and do the practical stuff rather than worrying and spending time ensuring everyone is in the loop. But on a more regular basis I keep in touch with the guys and monitor how they are doing generally and help them work through any specifics that may crop up (we have a weekly review system that’s a bit like a barometer). Support can be as simple as regular email contact (daily quotes to keep their calendar metronome in sync and also as a motivational lift, and obviously so they don’t think they have escaped from my wittering!), to helping them work up their plans pre and post transitions through Hawaii and Samoa (not forgetting StB) – planning tyrant here again, did I tell you about ‘planning for the worst and hoping for the best’?!
Key to the progress of the boat and transitions has been working with Lizanne and Meg to try and get them up to speed with the prep the rest of the crew have had! An accelerated programme for them both, but without the added developing together and bonding time the crew has had – tough gig for them in the lead up to joining the crew with limited personal contact with the girls ahead of leaving SF. Skype is a wonderful thing! However, I did miss my 7am free Lattes (payment in kind!) and lovely lunches at the Hare and Hounds with the whole team, but needs must when you’re on a tight time frame. It was working with Lizanne and Meg that you suddenly realise how much work the crew has done to prepare themselves for the row and how many assumptions there are that need to be made explicit for Liz and Meg. Lizanne had the additional challenge of not being UK based, so credit to her for preparing ‘geographically dislocated’! Team values, hot buttons, boat critical what ifs, personal what ifs, hopes and fears, team dynamics & cohesions, the individual personalities involved, PES development and the underlying skills, not to mention the more functional elements of being part of Coxless Crew!
Key to all of the above are the family and friends of the crew and hopefully some of the pre meetings have made the journey easier for you, the silent heroes of the row (a strong community now). I cannot imagine what response I would give if Eloise says in 20 years or so time that she’s going to row an Ocean or climb Everest! So, as much of an inspiration for me is to be part of the extended support crew called ‘F&F’ (family and friends) – hats off to you guys! Can’t move on without a special mention of Ella, who is another unsung and silent hero of CC!
I’m nearly done, promise, stay with me……..it would be hugely remiss of me not to mention the team behind the team that is behind the team (crew). My wife Helen has been a stalwart of support over the years of the project, never a raised eyebrow to be seen when I got back from a team meeting 2-3 hours late – yes, Laura can talk! (sorry Laura!). Then little Eloise, my now 2.5y daughter (no you’re not climbing Everest!) who can now name all the girls and Doris, who is pink, and also knows ‘Izzy has left the boat!’ She will only realise later in life how much of an inspiration she is to me, even at 2 ½! Helen knows how much of an inspiration she is to me, but probably doesn’t think she is! I have trekked with her in some very odd and challenging places, she continues to show me what bravery is! Base camp Everest with full blown tonsillitis, Mt Meru with a parasitic friend (I’ll save you from the detail!) etc.
So why am I involved with Coxless Crew and why do I do this!? 1. Because it’s there, 2. Because it’s interesting, 3. Because what they are trying to achieve goes far far beyond rowing and ocean, 4. Because everyone has a Pacific to cross and working with those that want to try is a joy and inspiration! Especially for those that have to fight or strive for the opportunity, 5. Finally, because I have a family and friends that support me in my mad ideas and adventures and want to go on the journey with me!
Thanks to the Coxless Crew for inviting me to their party! Thanks to you for reading what started as a Blog and is clearly at least one chapter of my book yet to be written!
One final thing. For the many people that read the Coxless Crew’s daily blogs and may feel they do not have anything to say or contribute, next time you read one, drop them a note, just to say hi and I’m with you – you may think it’s a drop in the ocean! But at the other end, the splash will engulf them!
As in previous blogs, I’ve wanted to introduce you to the key people beyond us crew of 6, the key people that without them this row would not be happening nor be the success it has been to date. Previous blogs have introduced Ella, Kirsten and Keith, so today it’s time to introduce Alex Wolf aka. ‘Wolfie’ ‘Al’ ‘The Teddybear’ ‘The task master’ ‘The Meanie’. As a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Al is accustomed to being called an eclectic array of names! Alex has become one of my very good friends, he is someone that I truly trust and highly respect as both a person and most certainly as a Strength and Conditioning Coach. At the time of me starting the row, Al was the Lead S&C coach for GB Rowing and had been for the last Olympic cycle into London 2012, meaning that the highly successful GB Rowing squad including the likes of Kathryn Grainger & Anna Watkins, Heather Stanning & Helen Glover, Alex Gregory and the Men’s 4, to name a few greats and Gold medalists at 2012, were all trained by Al and his team. Knowing that the countries best were kept well conditioned under Al’s watchful eye and structured programmes, he was the one and only person I wanted to approach about discussing how best to get our bodies resilient enough to take on the Pacific. Having personally never rowed before, this was my first question to Al – ‘I’ve got a year (which ended up being 3yrs!) to get our bodies in shape to withstand 6months of 12hours a day rowing, in variable conditions and rowing a 1tonne boat as a pair, where shall I start?’. To my surprise, Al offered his services and links to coaches at Imperial Rowing Club and later London Rowing Club which we were amazing support throughout. Alongside running the GB Rowing S&C programme (which is a full on schedule in itself with lots of travel involved), in the last 3 years of working with us, Al also completed a Masters in Nutrition, wrote a book and a number of articles and then also got promoted to Head of Strength and Conditioning for the whole of EIS (English Institute of Sport). Any precious spare time he had, he devoted to arranging weekends of testing/assessing us, training us on week nights after work, writing our programmes and monitoring our programmes. With the change in team from 4 to 6 in the last few months, Al has continued to liaise with both Lizanne and Meg so whilst we’re out at sea, he has had Skype calls and meetings with them both to set and monitor their progress. We have so much to thank Alex for, in particular I have him to thank for the 12kgs I gained before I started the row and if it wasn’t for that, then I would have been in a much worse state after 10days of sea sickness! I must admit though, after having spent 2 years of hard work gaining that muscle and fat weight, to lose the majority of it within 2 weeks of the expedition, was pretty disappointing!
Photo Credit: Neil Irwin
However I am looking forward to returning to Sophie’s steakhouse with Al post row and repeating the challenge of polishing off a 26oz steak!
Emma recalls thanking Al for his secret adding of weights to the leg press to the near point of failure, he always has a knack of getting that last percent out of you even when you don’t think you’ve got it in you. I’m pretty sure Nats also thanks Al for forcing her to finish every scrap of food on her plate regardless of how full she felt, once again Al optimising every small nutritional gain.
So in a nutshell, Alex Wolf is loved by all the Coxless Crew and we are humbled to have had his support and expertise behind us in our preparations.
On a personal note, we have sadly just learnt that Alex’s dad has passed away suddenly and very unexpected in recent weeks. Our thoughts are with him and his family at this difficult time and whilst out here we will toast an isotonic drink and share a thought to the stars on the 29th August when it would have been his dad’s birthday.
So, I’m Meg, houmous connoisseur and lover of all things sunshiny! I’ve never rowed, never been in the deep ocean, never had proper biceps, and am terrified of sharks – and here I am, beyond excited to get on the boat with the girls for the last leg of our 8446 mile journey from San Francisco to Cairns!
I’m on land, in a relationship with the gym, and in a love triangle with the leg press and the chest press somewhere under the arches of Bethnal Green station. Amongst a combination of grunting sounds and huge bulging muscles, as well as some interesting outfit choices that don’t leave much to the imagination is where you’ll find me – totally beginning to admire other peoples muscles, and the work that goes into creating these magical beauties. I’m currently in a conundrum of what to name my growing biceps, (suggestions welcomed) and the habit of asking anyone I meet if they wish to have a feel of my gluteus maximus has become a daily norm. Further to this, asking for seconds at a dinner party, with the only excuse of ‘my trainer told me too’ (that’s the fabulous Alex Wolf) who is helping us to look like Michelin wo(men), is a necessity in our pound gaining plans.
What I’d do without Lizanne, my weekly Skype partner! From rational to the irrational, we chat about anything that comes to mind – From the ‘what if a jellyfish lands on my head’, to the newest topic of hair management, and the potential embracing of dreadlocks (my dream)! Thanks to Keith for helping us in our mental preparation, we have laughed endlessly at each other whilst we munch on another cream cake.
Running things on land amongst a small team of us, and whilst the girls continue to row onwards, has really made me realise just how important teamwork is. I spent last weekend on The Isle of Wight with Raymarine who have provided us with our navigation equipment and met so many amazing people who were so supportive. On top of that, the inundated amount of emails/tweets/comments via all of our social media outlets is overwhelming, and we can’t thank you all enough. Every little mention gets us ever nearer to raising the 250k for these amazing charities! Please continue to share our story as we get further into our journey – we still have a long way to go in crossing the Pacific and reaching Cairns.
So anyway – here we are on land – Myself and Lizanne, (and our growing bellies and muscles) quite literally rolling with the waves that bring the girls – The Coxless Crew – onwards and closer to Hawaii as we wait for them, support them, and send them positive vibes as we prepare for our time on Doris.