I was rather self-conscious about sharing my weight issues with the world at large in my last blog, but it's elicited some interesting responses which have encouraged me to continue in this vein on an occasional basis. Here are two of the messages I have received:
"I'm trying to motivate my wife and myself to get into a routine of 30 min/5X/week. I would enjoy hearing from you often about your exercise-training program in your blog... more than a few of your fans will find your attitude toward workouts both inspiring and helpful. My lovely wife is a breast cancer survivor and has had no sign of the disease for three years now. She is now ready to begin to rebuild her body back to where she was before treatment."
"I was interested in your blog message about your exercise and motivation... Last March, I picked up an old-fashioned chill, was in bed for 4 days with a temperature and a crashing headache - I then had a real problem motivating myself to exercise again until August... it was getting back into the rhythm of regular exercise which helped me all round. I think much of it is to do with getting back into the habit, at which point your body starts to feel the need and you get that immensely rewarding feeling of having worked hard."
The point about developing good habits really resonated with me. Unlike some people who seem to naturally prefer moving to sitting, my attitude is, as Carrie Fisher once wrote, that I love the feeling of HAVING exercised - I just wish I didn't have to do the exercise first in order to get that feeling.
But I find that the mental obstacles to motivation are much less if I get into a habit of regular exercise. For a long time I used my nomadic and irregular lifestyle as an excuse to skip training, and to eat whatever came to hand. And I paid the price in weight gain and declining self-esteem.
It's more difficult, granted, to train when I wake up in a different place every day, maybe far from the nearest sports facilities - but it is not impossible. Now I take running shoes, skipping rope and resistance cord with me when I travel, so I have a perfect portable gym. If I have early appointments, I just get up earlier.
The great thing about habits is that, once formed, they take away that daily wrestle with my conscience - will I or won't I train today? If training is the default, I get out of bed and get on with it - and spend the rest of the day revelling in that warm, smug glow that comes from a good solid workout. To skip training starts to feel unpleasant, like having forgotten to brush my teeth in the morning.
It's only been a couple of weeks since I became inspired to start eating more healthily and to exercise more. But already I'm starting to see some results, and that feeds the virtuous cycle. I'm starting to perceive myself as a fit person again, and that makes me want to become fitter still. I'm almost - shock, horror - looking forward to my training sessions, because I can see they are working.
Training is now the default, rather than the exception. It's remarkable how quickly the human mind adapts to a new status quo.
Ever since I arrived in Antigua at the end of my Atlantic row, I have struggled to motivate myself to train. I regained the 30 pounds I had lost in double-quick time, largely due to a fearsome sugar addiction engendered by eating sugary snacks every hour, on the hour, during my time on the ocean - OK when I was rowing 12 hours a day, but not OK when I was back on dry land.
I had been about 8 stone (112 pounds) for most of the 5 years leading up to the row, deliberately went up to 9 stone (126 pounds) immediately pre-race in anticipation of weight loss, and duly arrived in Antigua weighing just over 7 stone (102 pounds, to be precise). To my horror, within 6 months I was nearly 10 stone (140 pounds) and feeling awful. None of my clothes fitted, and I was appalled at my lack of discipline.
In the overall scheme of things, I was probably not doing so badly - since my teens I have been nutrition-conscious, and I never go too long without physical exercise - but compared with my usual state of leanness and fitness I felt like a complete slob.
The point of telling you this sorry saga of yo-yo-ocean-dieting is to convey the good news that I feel I have turned the corner. Over the last 2 weeks I have met a number of people who have inspired me (we all need inspiration!) to improve my diet and start training more seriously. Emma Farrell reminded me of the joys of healthy eating, and Jason Mckinlay has helped get me feeling enthusiastic about exercise again.
I think I may even have experienced my first ever runner's high. A few days ago Jason had set me a punishing training session - 3 x 10 minute intervals at maximum, with 4 minutes rest between. My heart rate spent a lot of time at 182 beats per minute - I didn't even know it could go that high.
It hurt like hell, but for the rest of the day I was buzzing, feeling so full of energy and enthusiasm. I can see how this could get addictive...
Last night I had a drink with two very interesting guys. Steve Smith pedalled the Atlantic and the first stage of the Pacific with Jason Lewis, who then went on to complete the first human-powered circumnavigation of the world, arriving back in Greenwich last Saturday.
Steve introduced me to his friend Mark Featherstone, a highly accomplished sailor (see this BBC story) and skipper of Steve Fossett's yacht Cheyenne. It transpires that Mark and I nearly met a few weeks ago, in very different circumstances. When I was on a storm-tossed Pacific, capsizing and generally having a bad time, the Cheyenne was on its way from Hawaii to California. A member of my support team contacted them to ask them if they might be able to retrieve the Brocade en route.
Mark called Steve Fossett (this was 11 days before Steve's disappearance over the Nevada desert) and Steve had generously given the go-ahead for them to divert and pick up my boat. They were only about 50 miles away when they received the message from my team that I still hoped to resume my row, so I did not want them to salvage the Brocade, but to leave her where she was so that I could pick her up myself.
It is strange to think that we could have met 100 miles off the coast of California in the middle of a gale, instead of in a quiet, cozy pub in the pretty seaside town of Salcombe.
P.S. I was due to travel to London on Thursday, but have decided to extend my stay in Devon. I have been training the last couple of days with a fellow ocean rower, Jason McKinlay (Atlantic Rowing Race 2003, doubles class) and am starting a new training programme under his supervision. I also have the use of a lovely house, usually occupied by my friends Julian and Celina, who are in France at the moment but return on Sunday. This is a beautiful part of Britain, and I have good friends here. So what's the hurry?
[photo: Cheyenne - picture by Henri Thibault]
Huge congratulations to Jason Lewis, who yesterday arrived back in Greenwich after completing the first human-powered circumnavigation of the world. Especial admiration because his ambition nearly came unstuck early on in the journey, when he was hit by a car while rollerblading across the US, necessitating a lengthy stay in hospital and a lot of ironmongery to stick his legs back together. To continue a venture after such a major setback - wow, that takes guts.
I have not had the honour of meeting Jason, although I have met two of the people who accompanied him on various stages of his journey. Stevie Smith (who I will be seeing again, in Devon, tomorrow evening) was Jason's original partner - the two of them pedalled (yes, pedalled, not paddled - their boat was propelled by a bicycle-type mechanism) across the Atlantic and the first stage of the Pacific. Stevie wrote a very entertaining and inspiring account of their journey in his book, Pedalling to Hawaii.
And Sher Dhillon, who pedalled the same boat, Moksha, across the Indian Ocean with Jason, now lives in San Francisco and helped me pack my provisions into my boat before my aborted Pacific attempt earlier this year.
So we have only one degree of separation, and hopefully I'll get to meet Jason at some point. It would be surprising if our paths do not cross, as it is one of the perks of my 'job' that I get to meet people who have done all kinds of interesting things.
In the meantime, well done Jason, on a magnificent and epic achievement.
P.S. An update on the bean sprouter... thank you very much to all who were frantically Googling to find the mysterious square sprouter. As luck would have it (and what are the odds on this?!) I went to visit my dear friend Romy who has just moved into a property in the wilds of Wales, near the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. She was showing me around one of her various barns, stacked high with her boxes of possessions, and there, perched on top of one of the boxes, was a seed sprouter - the exact same one I had been looking for. Spooky! That one was the Bergs Bio-Salad Sprouter, made in Germany, but does look very similar to the Being Fare sprouter suggested by a few people. But it was just so surprising and serendipitous to see it sitting there in a barn in Wales...
[photo: Jason Lewis]