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Adjusting to a new routine: GB Rowers give us the inside scoop

Last year we partnered with British Rowing to be their official sleep partner, designing a nifty sleep sanctuary at the national training ground for the athletes to get top-notch rest at their ‘home away from home’. Because if there’s a bunch of people who love mornings just as much as we do, it’s the GB Rowing Team. From early starts to rigorous training sessions, they have no problem grabbing each day by the coffee beans.

Fast forward to March 2020 and training for the athletes has taken an interesting turn. With our new stay at home lives comes a new routine. So how has that affected GB’s top rowers? We spoke to Holly Hill, who won a World Cup bronze medal in 2019, and Melissa Wilson, a two-time World under-23 medallist, to find out.

What did your pre-lockdown routine look like?

Melissa: Normally, Holly and mine’s days and weeks would have a very set routine. Waking around 6.20 am, we’d arrive at the training centre for 7.30 am, stretching for 10-15 minutes before getting on the water for a long steady paddle. Most days we’d have two more sessions, interspersed by 90-minute breaks when we’d catch up on admin, read a book, see our physio or have a nap in the eve bunk-room before finishing most days around 4 pm.

Now, you’re sharing a loft at Holly’s family home. What does your new routine look like?

Melissa: Our routine in isolation has been quite a bit less regimented than normal, which we are both really enjoying. We still wake up around 6.30 am (the loft we’re sleeping in doesn’t have any blinds!), then between 7-7.30am we’ll go downstairs and make bagels and coffee before getting our kit on for a ride on the rowing machine, roughly the same length as a session we’d have at the training centre. If we’ve got three sessions to do, we’ll try to start the second one by 11.30 am and do our second our third session after lunch – we’ve made a Rocky-style weights circuit out of scrap salvaged from Holly’s neighbour!

We’re sure you’re sleeping better than ever now we’ve sent you two eve mattresses to get top-notch rest on. But what challenges are you facing with this new routine?

Melissa: At first we struggled to make much beyond veggie-burgers in the kitchenette we’ve got, especially given that we don’t want to go to the supermarket any more than necessary! But we’re trying to get into more of a routine and I’m looking forward to spending more time cooking as we get more settled here.

Holly: The main struggle is that no one is making the rules for me anymore! As a bit of a night owl, I’m having to work quite hard to turn the light out by 10 pm and get up to start the first session before 8:30 am. The second challenge is fitting in three training sessions if I haven’t got up on time… It takes a huge amount of willpower to get the third session started at 5 pm when all I want to do is sit down with a cup of tea.

How has the change in routine affected you mentally and how are you dealing with that?

Melissa: My biggest challenge was when the Olympics got postponed. It felt like I had poured so much into training for it this summer, and in the immediate aftermath, I couldn’t see how I could maintain or recreate enough momentum for an additional twelve months. But in many ways, having the freedom of training with just Holly has been a huge help, helping me reconnect with training just for the enjoyment of it.

Holly: Clearly all the right decisions have been taken but it’s been tough to handle the roller coaster of emotions around being selected for the Olympics and then have it taken away until I try again next year. But over the years I have often used exercise to help me think so actually it’s been quite helpful attempting to stick to the normal schedule of training in order to help me process the loss of the Olympics.

What gets you going in the morning? Do you have any tips you can share?

Holly: I’m lucky because sport has played a massive role in my life since I was very young. So in that sense, much of my motivation comes simply from the joy of being active. I’d say always make sure you have a goal. It doesn’t have to be a world record but something that you can aim for that has meaning to you; it could be building up to a running distance that is significant to you, chasing a time on the indoor rowing machine.

Melissa: One of the best pieces of advice I received this year was to work out your “why?” and keep it in mind. By identifying your “why?” you have something powerful to return to when you’re struggling with motivation.

How important is a good night’s sleep for your productivity?

Melissa: It makes a massive difference – now that it’s part of my routine, I hate it when I’ve not prioritised sleep and have to get through days feeling groggy and half-awake. I used to feel like I was ‘missing out’ on a part of my day if I tried to go to bed before 10 pm or 11 pm, but now I see it as a worthwhile investment to get the most out of the next day.

Holly: Totally essential. Even when I get to bed late, being able to put an eye mask on and get comfy on my nice eve mattress makes an enormous difference to my happiness the following day. If I don’t sleep properly throughout the week, recovery from training is harder and by Saturday I will be totally exhausted and unable to perform in the important pieces.

Do you have any tips for how we can factor movement into our #stayhome routines?

Melissa: The thing that has helped me the most has been having someone to train with. It helps to feel that someone is doing it ‘with’ you – and it’s nice to catch up afterwards and share how you both found the sessions. Our team has also started having a weekly yoga session via video call.

Holly: The thing that makes the biggest difference to me is having someone to exercise with. It makes it easier to start, makes it less painful in the middle and you can laugh about how hard it was at the end! Secondly, it’s hard in quarantine to get over the doorstep anyway, so you don’t need to make it harder by panicking about how tough it will be. Just enjoy getting outdoors and making the most of this lovely spring weather; seeing the sky, feeling the breeze, hearing the sounds of nature.

Our recent unwind with eve series looks at how to wind down during life at home. How do you unwind?

Melissa: By reading, going for a walk, chatting on the phone or playing a version of ‘Pictionary’ on the app Houseparty with friends or family.

Holly: I often unwind straight after training with some quiet time lying on the sofa watching comedy TV shows, and when I’ve got some energy back I like to play my guitar and write songs about funny things that have happened.

Now, for a quickfire round. We’d love to know…

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Melissa: I am more of a morning person, though by the middle of a holiday I can really enjoy lying-in.

Holly: I am 100%, unquestionably, without doubt, a night owl. Although I did see a thing describing a third option… ‘some sort of permanently exhausted pigeon’ which I think I could also fairly strongly identify with! I find the rowing lifestyle helps me to keep to a consistent sleep rhythm; not too late to bed and up pretty early.

The weirdest dream you had recently?

Melissa: I have a terrible memory for my dreams, but I sleep talk a bit… Holly now takes the opportunity to have ‘conversations’ with me whilst I’m asleep. I’ve been known to shout random words like “Aubergine!”, to start conversations with the characters of TV shows we’re watching, or start cheering on members of the GB Rowing Team with a gentle “Woooohoooo, gooo Becca….”!.

Holly: It wasn’t that recent, but the most embarrassing dream I ever had was on a bus with lots of friends. I fell asleep and started to dream I was in the middle of a Quidditch match… I only woke up when I stretched my arm right out in real life trying to catch the snitch!

Your go-to snack?

Melissa: Holly knows all too well that I have a massive weakness for anything chocolate-y. I’m really, really trying to ration Nutella-consumption whilst in lockdown!

Holly: I’ve a real habit of coming straight in from a session and having a mug of tea with a peanut butter and jam bagel. I often have one to warm my stomach up when prepping dinner..!

Your Netflix show of choice?

Melissa: Outlander (I grew up in Scotland and this provides perfect escapism back to some of my favourite places!), or Borgen.

Holly: Embarrassingly, I recently discovered Gossip Girl on Netflix which has been keeping me busy! But I’m also a huge fan of movies that are based on true stories, so I’ll watch them whenever they appear!

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If life at home has made your routine out of whack, use our trusty routine calculator to help you structure your day and get optimal sleep. Because of all the things to worry about, sleep needn’t be one of them. And for other sleep, relaxation and wind-down tips for life at home, explore the content in our unwind with eve sleep series.

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