A NEW DIRECTION
I was deep in the midst of a slow-mo existential crisis. By any measure, my life was desperately dissatisfying. I had lost interest in my career – or whatever it was I was doing that now resembled it, and I'd been mismanaging and prolonging a painful brea
AN OLD FRIEND of mine whom I hadn't seen for some time invited me to an impromptu dinner. We caught up over sushi and several bottles of wine and continued late into the night. Then at three in the morning, in our state of drunkenness, he casually asked me whether I would row across the Atlantic with him and three former Royal Marines. He had set a date for early 2016, which was a full two years away, but they needed a fifth man for an improved ‘power to weight' ratio. In my state of inebriation, I blurted out “Yes”. The following day, with a depressingly familiar hangover, I sheepishly picked up my phone and found a text that read, “Glad you're in. This is going to be great for you.”
What had I done? I couldn't possibly leave my bubble of mediocrity and risk my life on the high seas. Surely it was madness; fifty days at sea, rowing 24 hours a day in two-hour shifts, in the equivalent space of two conjoined bathtubs? I was 6'4” and 17 stone... it couldn't work.
I spent the following weeks researching ocean rowing, and it looked as ugly as I had anticipated. I had never shown any proclivity toward endurance sports. Furthermore, ocean rowing is an endurance sport, set in an extremely claustrophobic environment, on a vast, undulating ocean, which has the potential to swallow up an eightmetre vessel with a mere whiff of low pressure, yet alone a storm system.
This calibre of a challenge wasn't well matched to someone weak in temperament, slightly overweight and low on confidence.
Nevertheless, I consulted several of my friends who had competed in triathlons and ultra-marathons, and they spoke passionately about a challenge of this magnitude. It was evident it would be memorably difficult, but conversely highly rewarding – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – a catalyst for positive change, an inflexion point that might revert my life trajectory. I needed to prepare myself mentally so I purchased some material on behavioural psychology and mind management. Perhaps brain training was the first tentative step toward my reinvention. After mental preparedness, my second concern was how I would cope physically with the back-breaking process of rowing for 12 hours a day. I was of questionable fitness and prone to injury. Over the last decade, my training schedule had involved a combination of resistance and cardio training at a ubiquitous UK health and fitness chain, interspersed with the occasional session with a personal trainer who would attempt to remotivate me. My routine was the very definition of going through the motions. I would always take the path of least resistance – machines over free weights and minimal attention to stretching. My form was poor, my functional fitness non-existent and
I was carrying a chronic lower back injury. Another reason why I was wholly unsuited to ocean rowing.
It was obvious I urgently needed to reappraise my interest and knowledge of exercise as I was coming at the challenge as a subordinate and would need to overcompensate for it. Three of my teammates were ex-special-forces and were in incredibly good condition. I rightly determined myself the weakest link and this attitude turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
For our first promotional opportunity, the team headed to a Crossfit box for a group training session and photo shoot. My teammates had been utilising the system for several years and were fervent about its benefits – functional, usable fitness, involving a combination