Today, on a whim, I dropped in at a hair salon on Madison Avenue. Unlike London ("we might have an appointment for you in 3 weeks") this one fitted me in right away.
The hair stylist viewed my distressed tresses disapprovingly. "It's been a long time since you had your hair cut", she said. I tried to remember when it was. The last time I could recall was the last time I was in New York, which was... err... 18 months ago. Oh dear.
"Yes, it's been a while," I confessed.
"And your colour - look at these roots. It looks like you've just dumped bleach on your hair. Has it been out in the sun?" she asked.
"Yes, it has. Well, all kinds of weather, really."
"Hmmm..." she frowned.
Considerable time and money later, I was considerably better coiffed. But how long will it last?
As she was blow-drying my hair she was suggesting I buy some curlers. "Once you've showered and dried your hair", (I don't possess a hairdryer - far too time-consuming and environmentally unfriendly) "you can put in some curlers to really give some lift and bounce to your hair - just a few minutes, and it will look so much better".
It's easy, as I'm flicking through the glamour mags in the salon, to daydream of an elegant, groomed version of me. But in the real world.... I can scrub up OK when the occasion demands, but only a daily basis, if it takes more than a few minutes, it's just not going to happen. My hair gets washed frequently (except on the boat, where it gets washed once a month if it's lucky), brushed occasionally, and blow-dried never. If my hair was an animal, I'd be convicted of neglect amounting to abuse.
But somehow I always seem to have something more exciting to do than curling my hair.
[And here's a bizarre thought - I wonder how many man-millennia must be expended worldwide every year in hair management - hair being cut, coloured, coiffed, shaved, waxed, plucked, and transplanted. Life would be so much easier if we managed to evolve our hair away altogether. Just think of all the more useful, interesting, life-enhancing things we could do with that time...]
P.S. Today I am off to New Jersey to see Margo Pellegrino, who this summer paddled nearly 2000 miles from Miami to Maine to raise awareness of marine conservation. She and I met up earlier this year, in Washington DC, where she introduced me to David Helvarg of Blue Frontier Campaign - who I now row for. She and I will be going to the Head of the Charles regatta in Boston this weekend - the largest rowing event in North America.
OK, off now to the gym. I've arranged to use the New York Sports Club this week. No excuses!
Yesterday I flew from London to New York. Does the Big Apple count as one of my daily 5 portions of fruit and veg?
As I was driving my rental car back to the airport, I heard a radio item about a study that suggests that individuals are not to blame for their obesity (estimated to afflict 50% of the UK population by 2050). Instead, the scientists concluded we have an 'obesogenic' society, where high-calorie food is cheap and readily available, and labour-saving devices, motorized transport and sedentary jobs reduce our ability to burn off those excess calories.
I was staggered. I imagined countless fatties breathing a sigh of relief and thinking to themselves, "Thank heavens, it's not my fault. Society is to blame, so I can stop feeling guilty about it and give up trying to lose weight."
We seem to increasingly live in a world that allows the individual to abdicate responsibility for their lives. If a person spills hot coffee in their lap, it is not because they were clumsy - it is the fault of the company that supplied the coffee. Smokers sue the tobacco companies. Children sue their parents.
While accountability to the public can be a good thing, there is a point beyond which the individual has to accept responsibility for their own choices. This may (gasp) involve some willpower or self-discipline. There is nobody forcing that cream cake or pint of beer or burger down our throats. Yes, they may be available, cheap, enjoyable and even addictive, but we still have FREE CHOICE.
It is easy to externalize blame for our failings - I should know, I've blamed my weight gain on everything from sugar addiction to 'special circumstances' - but ultimately I had to realize that the only person I was harming, and the only person who could make the change, was myself.
Training update: This morning I was out running around the reservoir in Central Park. My schedule dictated 20 minutes hard run, which with warmup, stretch and cooldown made for a workout of over an hour.
10 minutes into the 20, I was wondering how on earth I would get to the end. I was knackered.
But it helps that Jason asks me to rate my 'Level of Perceived Exertion' as a mark out of 10. Although I thought I was struggling, when I assessed my actual LPE it was still only 9. Not even a 9+. I clearly wasn't going to die in the attempt, and no other excuse would be acceptable... so I made it to the end, beetroot-faced and sweating, but proud of myself.
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...