GB rowers battle tan lines & tight jeans
For those first-time readers, I'm in the British rowing team hoping to compete in this summer's Olympic Games - and when I say "summer", it feels a very long way off right now with snow on the ground and ice on the lake.
There will be plenty of updates in the weeks and months to come on how training is going, the battle for selection and the increasing excitement as we get closer and closer to an Olympic Games on home soil.
However, this month I thought I'd give you a more personal insight into what it's really like to row for your country, warts and all. Here are the bits that nobody ever seems to consider.....
Writing your name on your clothes. Remember doing that for your school PE kit? Well, meet the 20-something women who are still doing it. Bear in mind, our PE kit is effectively our work wardrobe, and with all of us having near-identical collections we have to name it to keep hold of our own. The award for Most Obsessed With Naming Her Kit goes to Jo Cook, who gets her mum to sew school name labels into all her kit.
Anna Watkins attempting to get rid of her 'racer back' tan lines
Sense of humour. One of our best coping strategies for the daily process of driving yourself to exhaustion and beyond is humour. There aren't many situations that are beyond a chuckle and I think rowers are excellent at finding the funny side of every event. Rower with the Best Ability To Crack Jokes? That would be Jessica Eddie, whose Geordie irony can make anyone smile.
Music. When it comes to long stints on the rowing machines, or ergos, what's on our MP3 player is absolutely crucial and hence we spend hours compiling playlists, meticulously planned to ensure the best songs come on during the darkest moments of the session. The award for the Most Interesting Choice Of Music goes to Beth Rodford, who believes the best album to see you through a long ergo is the soundtrack to Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
Boyfriends. They must satisfy two non-negotiable criteria. First, they must be tall. Certainly taller than us (including when we're in heels), and that means at least 6ft 4ins. And heavier, obviously. Second, they must be secure enough to cope with their girlfriends being better at sport than they are, and possibly having bigger muscles. Winner of Boyfriend Who Doesn't Mind Being Beaten By A Girl is Lindsey Maguire's partner, who not only has a girlfriend better at sport than he but also a sister - Hannah England, the GB 1500m runner.
Getting clothes to fit. I remember, years ago, that I was a standard size 12. Now, however, it's a different story. The fact that I'm a lot slimmer, which is great, is counter-balanced by the fact I've got muscle definition around my body. Jeans that are long enough and not too tight around the quads are invariably too big round the waist. Tops that can accommodate my shoulders are baggy around the stomach. What is a girl to do? Rower Who Dresses the Best: Vicky Thornley, resident glamour puss.
If you're happy and you know it... The ability to be in a ridiculously good mood first thing in the morning is another defining feature of our lives. Rowing is a sport that requires participants to be up at dawn or beforehand, and having grown up on a farm, that suits me fine. The award for Most Consistently Cheerful In The Morning goes to Captain Heather Stanning, who always has a smile, clearly relishing the mornings before she goes back to her previous career of waking up in a foxhole on Salisbury Plain with the Royal Artillery.
Tan lines. Less of a problem this time of year, but still, spending so much time in the outdoors means that despite being religious in our adherence to suntan lotion, we still end up with some interesting looking lines. Glaringly white feet and bodies contrast to nut brown legs and arms, which look fine until we're on our holidays in bikinis. The award for Biggest Commitment To Skin Tone goes to Anna Watkins, who spent the entire summer of 2009 switching between different strappy tops every day in order to even out the brown shade across her shoulders and back. She did have a good reason though: her own wedding, a fortnight after the World Championships. Rumours she hit the sunbed after getting back from Poznan are unsubstantiated.
There are some fairly odd upsides and downsides of this unique lifestyle but I hope I've managed to throw some light on both sides. I'm back off now to my regular training regime, best summed up by describing it as all day, every day, many thousands of calories and a surfeit of chapped skin on my hands.
It's a month until our national team trials on the Olympic course at Dorney Lake, near Slough, so the focus now is on getting my single scull up and running. I'll let you know how I get on.