Sunday, 26 December 2010

He's behind you!!!!

My cousin Sarah Baille (stage name) brought a touch of class to the Gala Theatre Panto performance of Cinderella.  She is 13 and destined to stardom on Byker Grove, following a glittering career path set by Ant, Dec and Jane Middlemiss.  Paddy was lucky enough to get his ticket stub signed by the star herself and will be held alongside my Uncle Mitch's autographed Queen LP (first album) as one to put on Ebay when short of cash. 

Before the show I went to a bar with cousin's Mark, Phil and Nicolas to watch Sunderland not turn up against Man Utd (2-0), and bumped into a school mate [Paul] while there - he's doing well and has just started a history PHD on the boring bit between the two World Wars.

Post-theatre, a few friends popped round the house and my little sis took them to town on the Wii Party, showing some good skills on "Ram Run".

My back felt a bit better this morning, so was able to do an ergo and body weights circuit before lunch.  Tomorrow I'm back at the EIS gym in Durham before I meet my girlfriend Louise at the train station.  On Tuesday we are all travelling down to Leeds to see my Granny, Auntie Marie, Uncle Kevin, Uncle Ray and cousins - Grace, Rachael and Eve.  Should be a good laugh.  I will do a profile on my Granny soon; she has a killer sense of fun and true party animal.

p.s. We had another classic Uncle Mitch Christmas Quiz.  Questions included - A train sets off at 100mph from Birmingham to London at 7am.  At 8am another train sets off from London to Birmingham at 120mph. When the trains pass, which one is closer to London?  Of the 1,000 games played by Uncle Mitch's "Allstars" football team, how many games has Uncle Mitch played in?  [516 for those that aren't well acquainted with the team sheet]  And a favourite from last year, What is the only word in the Oxford English dictionary pronounced incorrectly?  Phil and myself came second, Nicolas and Uncle Ian won.  The quiz was followed by giant Jenga, fast becoming a family tradition.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas!!!!!!

I made it home to Durham on the evening of the 23rd and, despite what was being reported on the news, the trains were all fine. 

Yesterday I went training at the EIS gym @ Durham Uni and then had a load of family round to exchange gifts etc.  We cracked out Wii Party and that went down well.  On the Wii you can create your own little character's, making them look like yourself or other members of the family/friends.  I don't know if it's because my brother's are really good at designing them or everyone does it, but our "Mii's" are unbelievably good representations.  My cousin Nicolas was a killer on Ram Run and Pineapple Punch, but my brother Paddy showed good form on the Derby Dash. We then went to Midnight Mass at 5pm - my little sister Emily (aged 9) asked how long will Mass be?, so my brothers told her we wouldn't be out until midnight and that's why it's called "Midnight Mass".   Mass was at our local parish, St Joseph's.  After Mass I went into Durham to meet some mates (Palli and Jon) and saw my cousin Katherine and others about town.

Christmas morning is always exciting in my house.  I'm the eldest of five, with Emily being the youngest; she had us up at 7am (the earliest she was allowed to wake everyone up at).  I get up, throw some clothes on to find Em pumped to the max, wide eyed and securing her space at the top of the stairs.  My sister Charlotte (20) is egging her on, with Ben (19) and Paddy (16) fighting over who can get into the toilet.  My dad goes through the annual performance of checking if Santa has been and shouts up with "he's been, he's been".  Like the Bulls of Pamplona, five Reilly-O'Donnell kids peg it downstairs and into the living room.  Santa has been very kind this year, with myself and my sister Charlotte getting new laptops, Ben getting lots of different things, Paddy receiving a Kindle and Emily adding to her transylvanian families collection.  We had lunch together and will be going to my Auntie Kathleen's this evening (my mum's sister); my Uncle Mitch always does a killer family quiz, so I best finish this soon so I can do a bit of revision of my trivia.  For the past few years I have trained on Christmas Day, sometimes twice - in case someone else trains once a la Daley Thompson.  This year I didn't train; two reasons - 1) Jurgen gave us the day off and 2) my back is still agitated and I want to be able to get a strong run of training into the Sierra Nevada camp in January - training today wouldn't have helped.

On the weather - I don't think it has snowed here today but there is a thick covering of snow everywhere, Old Cassop (or "the OC") looks as good as usual.

I hope you have all had a good day and I will probably be back on here tomorrow (I'm going to see my little cousin Sarah performing in the Pantomime).

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Is it going to be a white Christmas?!

I wasn't sure the car would make it back home so I got the dogs out.

Another massive dump of snow has meant I've been training at UL over the weekend.  My back is feeling a lot better than the last injection.  I'm watching Sports Personality and shocked at the number of drug cheats the BBC has invited, surely we should ostracize these people from sport??!  I hope AP McCoy or Phil "the power" Taylor win overall; but it's all just a warm-up for the main event this evening - The Apprentice Final.

I hope you're enjoying the weather!

P.S.  The blog has been going for a month now and I've had nearly 200 page views but no comments, feel free to leave any notes or questions!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Injections done.

My time with Dr Keith has come to an end.  For the past month I have strolled down Harley Street alongside all shapes and sizes, each paying big bucks getting who knows what done, to get sclerosing injections.  They are injections into my lumbar spine, designed to "tighten the guy ropes" to give stability to an irritated disc.  By the end of the Christmas period I should be dancing like this.

The injection itself was uncomfortable and the whole area is feeling pretty sore right now but it should all be ok by tomorrow evening.

Training today went ok, I've been holding off illness for the past few days so I have had to make sure I have a good recovery strategy for after sessions.  I'll get some good sleep this evening and hopefully wake up feeling stronger in the morning.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Body Composition

I'm a few weeks into the season and things seem to be going reasonably well.  My main focus' at the moment are to bulk up - creating good stability, particularly in my lumbar spine - and create a good aerobic platform.

To estimate body fat and to attempt to quantify muscular gains, at GB rowing we conducted skin fold testing.  This requires Homer to prod, poke and then mark certain anatomical locations.  There are seven different locations, three on the legs and arms and the other four are on the trunk.  Homer then uses highly sensitive calipers (£50 to calibrate them!!!) to then measure the skin fold at that location.  Two to three measurements are taken and an average generated.  Three weeks ago I had this done, it wasn't all that pretty and it seemed to suggest I had put on 2kgs of fat since the previous testing!!  Thankfully other people in the squad were slightly worse.  I wasn't too worried though, as i knew this would come off - and I would need some of it when training in Sierra Nevada (watch this space in January to find out why!).  Today I was re-tested; I have lost an estimated 1.5kg in fat, weighing roughly the same and my girths are generally bigger.  With taking the creatine it is expected for there to be an element of water retension in the muscle tissues, so it is hard to quantify exact muscle gains.  The long and short of it is that I'm bigger, stronger and leaner than I was 3 weeks ago, which has to be a positive.  Some bigger gains can be made and I'm looking forward to the next assessment.

On the slightly negative, I've been feeling really quite tired this week, my back has been a bit sore and I'm just about holding off illness.  To aid my recovery I've been increasing my sleep time and making sure I eat well with plenty of fresh fruit and veg.  I receive the third and final injection tomorrow, I'm expecting it to be a little uncomfortable again - but as Clubber Lang would say, no pain no gain!!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Atos Origin and Harley Street again

Today has been a busy day.  This morning I trained at Bisham Abbey; weights, under the direction of Wolfy and Katie [EIS strength and conditioning coaches] followed by a 70 min static cycle (we use Wattbikes as they have a power readout, which can be plotted against blood lactate [this gives us an ability to measure improvements in fitness and lactate tolerance]) - included in the 70 min cycle was 5 x 4 mins at near peak output.  Some serious thigh burn was felt.  This week has had a fair bit of intensity on the bike, lots of aggression and the odd bark to keep pumping forward.

After training I met Amanda and Penny from Atos Origin.  It was really nice to meet them and they were both full of energy [even after travelling to Cardiff and back earlier in the day!!].  Atos Origin supports me financially towards my goal of 2012.  I have used money from Atos to help me purchase numerous pieces of world class equipment.  There have been many people that have supported me in various ways, I thank each and every one of them - over time I will try and mention them personally but today Atos will be the one I talk about.  Atos are supporting 9 athletes towards the Summer and Winter Olympics in 2012 and 2014.  The scheme is designed to help younger athletes, nominated by a previous Olympic champion in their sport [Tim Foster kindly put me forward for the scheme].  It was great to talk to Amanda and Penny, letting them know what I was upto and discussed how I can let everyone at Atos know how my journey towards the games are going (e.g. this blog).  They told me of some of the new changes to the scheme and showed great interest in what I am doing - I will say my excessive story-telling was to allow them to eat their lunch, but in reality I just enjoy a good chat.  Thanks to Amanda I learnt one important lesson - don't go for the pricey italian lemonade, the other one is way fizzier; fizz is obviously a good indicator of a quality beverage.

At 4:30pm I had an appointment with Dr Keith on Harley street, I thanked the ladies from Atos and joined a walking bus of 50-something women on the way for a nip, tuck and suck.  On the way I chatted to Belinda, 58 from Hampshire, and if it wasn't for the constant "shocked" expression you would never had noticed she'd had some work done.  In all my appointments with Dr Keith I am yet to see any other male in the building where he operates.  I made my way upstairs to receive the second of three sclerosing injections.  I didn't mind the first injection, it was the first time I had every had laughing gas and found the effect a pretty strange experience.  As the needle goes in it's pretty sore, and as he moves it around you hope that the pain you feel doesn't mean he has hit something important.  The second injection was no holiday.  For some reason I was just waiting for the short stab and then the resulting discomfort from the needle moving around; This time I wasn't distracted by the effects of the laughing gas, and was being injected into the same area that was still swollen from the procedure 4 days ago.  I was in and out of his office in less than 15 minutes, shuffling at about a quarter of the speed I entered the building at.

Tomorrow I will have to asses how it all feels and that will dictate if I can crack on with training or whether I need to give it another 24 hours to settle down.

p.s. you can check out my Athlete Bursary profile with Atos Origin by clicking on the link to them on the left.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

SIS Order

The GB Rowing Team uses Science in Sport and Adidas Eyewear as official suppliers to the team for supplements and eye-wear.  Today I put in my order for a two-ish month supply of SIS products.  SIS produces a range of products; from energy drink powders to omega three fish oils.  For this order I have a budget of £155.

My order consists of Creatine, Beta-Alanine, Omega 3 fish oils, Go Bars (apple - the others are disgusting) and I am going to try the Burner gels.

All my sporting life I have resisted and actively stepped away from taking any supplements/ remedies/ powdered substances.  There have been three main reasons for this;

1) I have total responsibility for any product/drug/substance in my body.  If I am drug's tested and a banned substance is found in my system I can no longer compete for GB Rowing in any shape or form.  Unlike UK Athletics where Dwain Chambers still does the circuit and competes internationally, GB Rowing uses the same selection eligibility rules as the British Olympic Association.  It is irrelevant how the substance got there, whether I knew about it or was a mistake, if it is there I am classified as a cheat.  I generally don't take products such as lemsip etc and prefer to up fruit and veg uptake if feeling ill.  When I do need to take anything, UKAD can offer advice on the legality of the product and I will only take it if told to do so by a GB Rowing or EIS doctor.  If in doubt, don't.

2) I am unable to stomach powdered electrolyte/recovery drinks.  I basically start gagging after a couple of mouthfuls of most products.  I am yet to find one that doesn't taste "proper wrank".  If I desperately need electrolytes I either buy a ready made product (Lucozade/Powerade) or [and more far frequently] I just make my own by adding a couple of pinches of salt to some squash.  For recover drinks, you can't beat a glass of milk.

3) Philosophically I don't think something is right or wrong because it is or is not on the banned list.  Every year there are alterations to what is on the list e.g. caffeine was banned but is now complete off.  I feel uneasy about taking products and would prefer to exhaust all traditional natural methods before taking a manufactured product.

Of the products that I have chosen, creatine and beta-alanine are the ones I am most uneasy about.  Both have proven scientific benefits, but neither can be described as a truly natural product.  To take creatine I had to undergo a blood test to assess my renal function, this is due to a slight risk of kidney damage when taking the product.  Weight gain/loss is a significant issue for me; over the last 18 months I have actually lost and estimated 6-7 kgs of lean mass, to challenge the top guys I need to put this weight back on and more.  The sheer volume of Jurgen's programme means huge numbers of calories must be eaten each day and they must be of the right sort and at the right time for maximum benefit.  I guess I just have to wait and see!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Sclerosing Injections

Today I was back to see Dr Keith on Harley Street.  Things went well and I had my first of three sclerosing injections; these are basically sugar water injections in to the ligaments in my lumbar spine.  The aggravate the area to cause a scaring effect - leading to thicker, tighter and stronger ligaments.  This will aid stability over the bulging disc and create a better platform to build core strength around.  As it happens I had good training this morning (this time at UL) and felt really quite strong round my middle, some good increases in the weight lifted with no ill-effects.  My next injection is with Dr Keith on Friday.

I have also received the results of the GB medical screening.  Occasionally through the season, we are tested in a multitude of areas to assess injury risk, health issues etc.  This time the tests were more thorough than previous assessments.  We had a repeat of the standard medical questionnaire (who is your GP? dentist? Inoculations and injections, Family history etc); a psychological test (called a Winning Profile Athlete Inventory - was all very American); a physio assessment (length of bones, flexibility, muscular control); a core strength assessment (supine hold, press-ups, supine pull, left + right plank, double leg lowers, squatting).  I did well on the psychology test - scoring 95% - and will use the break down of my results to approach my training in a more effective manner.  My physio assessment went poorly, mainly in the red, with some interesting observations (my right leg was 2cm shorter than my left - but you give it a sustained pull and it comes level!?) - the poor score is directly related to my current lumbar/thoracic spine issues, some of these scores will shoot up as soon as I stop feeling discomfort in certain positions.  My core strength assessment went reasonably well, I generally scored either really well or fairly poor - this, again, is generally down to current lumbar spine issues.  As a result of all the testing I should receive tailored advice on rectifying weaknesses and imbalances, the results will also be really useful in assessing the development of my back problems.

Currently reading -
The Blind Side - Michael Lewis; amazing film, even better book.

Recently read -
A Journey - Tony Blair; not too bad, but gets very tedious when a third of the book is dedicated to justifying the invasion of Iraq.

The Third Man - Peter Mandelson; I enjoyed this far too much and was worried I was being sucked in by the Prince of Darkness.  When read alongside Blair it is very interesting to view two accounts of the same sequence of events.

Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future - Freidrich Nietzsche

The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli

The Art of War - Sun Tzu

Friday, 3 December 2010

Let it snow!

Snow has hit the UK big time and everyone has had their usual panic.  This morning the roads were a bit icy so instead of going to Caversham we stayed in London.  We ended up doing our weights at Thames RC and I did my bike session at London RC.  I normally would have trained at my own club (University of London Boat Club) but Bill [from the GB quad] wanted to show us round his new club - he had no idea where anything was.

I'm coming towards the end of the second week of training.  Things are going well; scores are improving and back is getting stronger.  I'm generally confined to weights and the static bike at the moment, supplementing with a few other exercises.  My back has twinged a couple of times this week but recovered within 24hrs; this should all settle down as my conditioning develops and my injections (first one on Monday) take effect.

As usual, I will be training tomorrow, but once i'm finished i'm meeting my mum and little sister (Emily) in Central London to do a bit of Christmas Shopping.  My parent's live in Durham, so Emily is having an adventure after being snowed in for a week.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Visit to Dr Keith

Today was my first weights and ergo sessions of the season, both went well and feeling content on how I view my season going forward.
I also went to Harley Street, not for cosmetic surgery - though some say my nose could do with it, but to see Dr Keith (Consultant Orthopaedic and Sports Physician). We talked through some of the back issues I have been having and have decided a good path forward. I had an epidural to help settle down an irritated disc and will have some further injections in the lead-up to Christmas; they will tighten and strengthen the ligaments around my lumber spine, creating a strong platform to build upon. In all my years rowing I have had no significant lumber back issues so I hope that this will settle soon and let me get on with training without distractions. The important thing is to set myself up to be strong, consistent and ready to take the load of the next 618 days. Bring it...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

First day back

Today was the first day back training at Caversham; I trained twice, had physio (Sally and Griff) and saw Dr Ann. I see the back specialist tomorrow on Harley Street, will give an update on how that goes.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Season round-up

So this season is the longest I, and many others, have had to do; this was because the Senior World Champs were held in New Zealand and to prevent bad weather effecting racing, the Championships were moved from the usual end of August slot to the beginning of November.

It has been my first season training full-time with the senior men under Jurgen Grobler. Jurgen sets the hardest programme out there, his coaching track record speaks for itself ( and and alongside him we are supported by some of the best people in their field. I have found the year tough and have struggled at times, but i have achieved success through this summer's racing season.

My international racing season started well with a Gold in the eight in Bled [Slovenia] ( followed up with a disappointing performance in Munich [Germany] where we won a Bronze medal ( - click on World Cup II and then M8+).

At Henley I raced in the Diamond Challenge Sculls, drawing the multiple World Champion Mahe Drysdale (NZ) in the quarter final. Knowing i would be up against it i decided to take it to him, quite literally, and led for the first 1/4 mile, cutting across Mahe's path, trying to force him into a mistake. "Poking the bear" isn't always the best option, but in reality it was my only option; he was rattled enough to get angry and we clashed, eventually he came out on top and i capitulated - knowing that the race was now over. Matt Pinsent CBE was umpiring and should have disqualified me, i pushed it to the limit and only narrowly missed being penalised. The whole escapade was featured as part of a documentary on SKY Sports 1 [NZ], earning myself 5 Min's of "fame" round the other side of the world [sadly no link available at the moment].

As Henley finished I started a two week build-up into the U23 World Championships. This year they were held in Brest [Belarus] and had a definite Soviet flavour. Here is my report for the ULBC website ( -

"On our way to Belarus we approached the edge of the European Schengen zone, i turned my prayer mat to mecca and hoped Churchill's "iron curtain" was not a metaphor but a reality. Polish bureaucracy had us held in sweltering heat for over two hours; the border guards, kitted out with peaked hats larger than their torso's, were getting aggressive whenever we left our coach to get some air. This left us with two options, we either get back on and sweat it out or rush the border football hooligan style - we decided to stay on the bus. Eventually we parked up at the Belarussian border, a FISA translator bordered the bus - giving us instructions on how to fill out our visa forms and that we should turn our watches back 40 years. I felt like i just pulled up in Hartington Road; mullets, savage knitwear and pikey dogs all appeared to be status symbols. Our "hotel" made the cupboard under no. 87's stairs look enticing, and the food made Fil look like Delia in the kitchen. The course was large, well maintained and kitted out with everything we needed [minus clean bogs]. For the first few days we prepared for the racing ahead, getting used to the course and making fine adjustments to our technique. I was sat at bow in the coxless four, ahead of me sat Matt Rossiter, George Nash and Stan Louloudis. We all got on well and spent most of our time either saying "g'day skippy" to any kiwi girls, purchasing filthy soviet watches from "Central Department Store Brest" or rating the local women on a scale of 0 to Dawn French. Our heat went well, we focused on our own plan and executed well. Winning the heat meant we gained a rest day before the semi-finals. In the semi's we drew the weaker half of the field, we knew the other semi was a lot harder and hoped this meant that they would tire each other out. We won our semi, with the Italians (who we beat in the heat) winning the other semi. This meant we were the crew to beat in the final. As we had only been together as a unit for barely more than a week, we knew we had to repeat what had gone well in the earlier rounds and stick to a fairly rehearsed plan. In the final we knew our pace was stronger than many of the other crews and hoped to push them outside of their comfort zone. Unfortunately the greasy wops - sorry Italians - learnt from the heat and turned the tables on us, they led out of the blocks. We did not react, deliberately so, and looked to grind them down through the middle of the race. It became a four horse race; Italy, GB, Czech Republic and Australia. With 750m to go we had to make our move and we started to take it home, we gained on Valentino, Dolmio, Fiat and Casanova - but not enough. We crossed the line 1.7 seconds behind Italy, smoking the Australians by a cool 0.07 seconds. Silver is not the medal we went to pick up, and with each member of the crew being a junior world champion at some point, we had experience of winning internationally and a strong desire to repeat."

I returned from U23s disappointed, knowing the crew was capable of winning but on the day just missed out. I had no time to rest as I joined the senior team on altitude camp in Silveratta [Austria].

Seats in the eight were still up for grabs and I was keen to show I had the skills to make the boat go fast. Unexpectedly I was asked to change sides (from bowside to strokeside), I have won international medals on both sides and so have the flexibility to compete rowing either way. Trials took place over the following weeks and sadly I didn't make the eight but was selected as the strokeside spare for the team competing at the World Champs. I then started to get some back trouble (typical injury in rowers). As a consequence I was sent home early from our camp in Varese [Italy] to be able to have two epidurals - one on my thorasic and one on my lumber spine. Our medical support is phenomenal, they decided I needed a scan while in Italy, within 36 hours I had been flown back, scanned, diagnosed and had my first epidural. With a relatively short re-hab period my back was strong enough for me to be back into full training; immediately I was back filling into the eight as there were numerous people carrying niggles (most likely due to the length season).

Mid-October we left for New Zealand. We had two week to acclimatise (it took me easily 10 days to feel normal, far longer than I had experienced when I raced at the Youth Olympics in Sydney [Australia]). We were training at Lake Karipiro, near Cambridge/Hamilton, as this was where the Championships would be held. In all honesty the water was poor, as soon as there was any hint of a breeze the water would chop up and make it difficult to row. Facilities and the atmosphere were really good, and the standard of the racing was significantly higher than I saw while spare at the Senior Champs the previous year in Poznan [Poland]. Our team did really well, I think the best we have ever done at a Champs. Nearly every boat came back with a medal, showing real depth to the team and demonstrating we have one of the best systems in place to achieve the success we want at the games in 2012.

I am currently on a two week break, letting my body recover and relax; I'm looking forward to starting back at Caversham on the 23rd Nov.