Sunday 23 July 2017

Claire Ludlow

Claire Ludlow, 35, is a training manager at Google Ireland and a female rower with Neptune Rowing Club. She and her rowing partner, Elaine Fitzgerald, have just won the elite lightweight pair in Henley Women's Regatta. She lives in Blackrock, Co Dublin, with her husband, Alan

Ciara Dwyer

The alarm goes off at about seven. My husband, Alan, works in Navan, so he has quite a commute in the morning. I met him through rowing. He was the captain of Neptune Rowing Club for a couple of years. An awful lot of rowers are married to rowers simply because all your time outside work tends to revolve around the rowing club, even your social life. You tend to get sucked in. If your other half wasn't a rower you'd drive them mad because they'd never understand what you were doing. At this time of year, it's full-on. I train after work every day except Fridays. I'm not home until half nine every night and in bed by 10. At the weekends, we do two water sessions each day, from early morning until three o'clock.

For breakfast, I have muesli and one big cup of coffee. I have to watch my diet quite strictly because I'm a lightweight rower. In winter, we do a lot of training that builds strength and then in summer we do intense work that helps with speed. We also do some long-distance running to help keep the weight down. Rowing itself burns a huge amount of calories so if you do the weights in winter, then once you change to rowing in summertime you slim down. It makes you very hungry, but as a lightweight rower you're trying to get that balance right. If you eat the right stuff, you can eat quite a lot.

When you come home after two sessions on a Saturday you just want to sit down and eat, but at this time of year I have to watch it. For Henley, Elaine and I had to average 57 kilos, which is nine stone. You literally have to be precisely at that weight or below it. You can't be over. We'd put on gear and go for a run. You'd be hoping that you'd only sweat down a few points of a kilo. We work on having our weight down a month or two before our biggest regatta. Every year we start the diet after Christmas.

I get in to work in Google for half eight. I work with people in the States so it's not that easy for me to get away early. If I don't have any late meetings I tend to come in a bit earlier to allow me go to rowing earlier. I work in learning and development. I don't have a technical background. My degree is a history of art and archaeology degree at Trinity. I started in Google as an in-house recruiter and then I moved into training. It's very intense and demanding but it's a good place to work. There are people of lots of different nationalities here. Also, if you do well you get opportunities to do different things.

I sometimes think of my day in chunks. You have your day in work where you're focusing on that and then you go training. Sometimes I'll leave work and I'll have had a really stressful full-on day here and between here and going to the rowing club you just have to clear your mind and focus on what you have to do.

Elaine is my other other half. We've been rowing together for over five years. She sits behind me, so she's been looking at my back for five years. We row in a coxless pair. She shouts the orders and I steer with my foot. There's only one oar on each side of the boat so it's quite tricky to row. We don't usually have a coach but John Holland helped us for Henley. Often we train in Blessington and it's quite expansive there. If we train in Islandbridge, it's quite a narrow stretch of river so you have to be aware of what's going on around you and make sure that you don't crash into someone else. The swans are always trying to attack us and chase us. They're quite cranky and if they have baby swans, which they've had for the last few months, you are trying to avoid them. We wouldn't be spending much time looking around because you're trying to do your session. You get into a zone. When we were in Henley, it was like we had blinkers on. You can only influence what's happening in your own boat.

I particularly like rowing in a pair. You become in tune with the other person. When you get the boat running really well, it feels very easy and free. It's lovely to get out on the water when it's quiet. You get a little gurgling sound up the side of the boat when you're moving fast.

Rowing is very strenuous because you're using all your muscles. We use our legs a lot and at the end of the stroke you're holding yourself up with your stomach muscles. When you're driving through, your back takes quite a lot of strain too. A lot of rowers have problems with their backs. Also, my hands are always full of welts.

We pretty much row in all weathers, even in the snow. Earlier this year I had a few moments of wondering what I was doing. You can't really wear gloves, so for the first 10 minutes of an outing your hands are in pain with the cold. Heavy wind is the worst for rowing although rain isn't nice either. With the weather being good this summer, we now have matching farmer's tans.

You have your feet in shoes all the time in the boat but the legs are out, so we have really brown legs and Daz-white feet and a vest mark from the rowing one-piece outfits we wear. It looks really weird if you go on a sun holiday after the racing season ends and have to put a bikini on.

It's hard to know why rowers come back year in, year out. Most of my friends from college have stopped rowing. It's a sport that takes years to do properly and you never feel like you have really perfected it. I had planned to give it up last year but I wanted one last shot at Henley. It was brilliant to win it. All our friends and family were delighted for us but they would have been equally delighted if we'd given up rowing last year and had more time for them. You have to make huge sacrifices but Alan was a great support. He knew we had to go back because we felt we had it in us. But when we won I think he was relieved that I wouldn't have to go back next year. When you row, it takes over your life.

L

www.neptunerowingclub.com

Sunday Independent

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