Monday, October 19, 2009

A farewell to oars

I took up rowing in Cambridge at the age of 25. I'm not built for it, (5'10', broad shouldered, but real rowers are very tall and a different shape) but there are lots of little clubs in Cambridge and lots of local competition, so normal people can have fun. It's the sport everyone cares about here, in the same way that people care about football or cricket elsewhere.

I loved it and I got hooked. I'm a decent coach, have been a successful captain of my club three times, and at one point I was rowing for two hours a day, six times a week, plus various weights sessions and ergos. That's about as much training as you can do unless you're a professional athlete.

The thing about rowers is that they can pretty much eat what they like. That's a lot of calories being burnt off, and it needs to come from somewhere. I don't have a sweet tooth, so I never ate much sugar or chocolate, but my idea of a quick snack was a block of cheese. And dinner would be a huge plate of pasta with a spot of tomato sauce for decoration and flavour. I also loved sausages, eggs, chips, steaks, pizzas, and ate as much as I could as often as I could. And drank lots of beer.

Through absolutely heroic feats of eating and drinking I actually managed to be somewhat overweight. Strong and fit, but with a definite spare tyre at 90kg.

And then a couple of years ago, rowing didn't seem so important any more. Just burnt out I guess, but with a feeling that I'd taken my average frame and small club about as far as they could be reasonably taken.

And so, after the Town Bumps (the big local competition) two years ago, my boat disbanded as it always does, but this time I made no attempt to find anyone else to row with. I kept the captaincy of the club, but delegated my powers and responsibilities to a promising beginner who I thought would be able to do a good job as long as his decisions looked like they were mine. But I stopped being actively involved.

And I began to explode. I'd been something like 90kg at the time of the races. Three months later I was horrified to notice that I was 95kg, despite an obvious loss of muscle. Since fat is 20% lighter than muscle, this actually rather understates the catastrophic charge I was making towards obesity. It was pretty clear that in another three months I'd be on the road to becoming one of those poor Americans who can't fit through supermarket checkouts.

I clearly needed to go on a diet.

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