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What to do now, article [1]Edit

By Frances Houghton and harvested in October 2008

It is almost as if the life and world I was living in for the past four years has just expired, blown up in a puff of smoke and fireworks. I know it all happened but it almost seems unreal, looking back now.

There are no 6am alarm clocks, the carbon footprint I used to create commuting down the M4 to the GB Rowing training base near Reading, has gone from excessive to almost non-existent; the washing machine is practically dormant, and my food bills must have decreased by about 70%.

I used to spend five or six hours training each day, I am now spending that time slowly working through a four-year long to-do list, and figuring out what I am going to do with my life.

Part of the reason for taking a break from squad training and trialling is that I want to build up a life outside of rowing. I am 28 and have been on the team since the age of 14, so I've got a lot to catch up on.

I've agreed what I'm doing with GB Rowing - it's a "no ties break" - and there will be no concrete decisions made on the future any time soon.

It is a very exciting time; I feel like I'm just leaving university and looking out for the first time at what's out there. It is daunting as well, with my funding and access to support services like physio stopping in a month, but I am resisting the urge to panic, making the most of each day and embracing the time I have been looking forward to for so long.

When I was training I always needed to be in bed by 8.30pm to get enough rest, and meeting friends after work was always a toss-up between having a social life and feeling even more tired the next day.

So going out without having to worry about the time has been one of the greatest pleasures since coming home. I think I have met more people in the last four weeks, than in the previous four years.

The biggest change I've noticed, though, is that I feel like an entirely different person. I feel free, with the control to make my own choices for the first time in a very long time. No one is waiting for me to arrive at training, and no one is chasing me around the lake at 8am.

It is only now that I have the time to think, that I realise what I have done and for how long. When I was training, my sights were always on the next hurdle - the next big training session, trial, World Championships, or Olympics, and usually all at once.

There was never time to sit and reflect over what I had already achieved. Even after winning a world title, within a couple of weeks at most, I was always focused on getting my seat back in the boat the following year.

I braved my local gym for the first time last week, after about six weeks of virtual inactivity. I have had to erase from my mind the scores I used to do on the rowing machine and draw a distinct line between "training" and "exercise".

I definitely think I am missing some sort of "crazy athlete" gene: I have no desire to row the Atlantic, take up triathlon, do an ironman, or climb seven peaks in one day.

The most I have done is 45 minutes on a rowing machine, and my body made it very clear after that that it was an experience still well out of its comfort zone for the time being.

Whilst everything is very exciting and new, there are times when reality kicks me in face.

I don't know what I would have done without the support of the staff at the English Institute of Sport. Being able to talk to people with such perspective and experience, who have seen me every week for the past eight years, and can remember all the downs as well as the ups, has been completely invaluable. Thank you!

Frances Houghton, 28, from Oxford, has won gold in the women's quadruple scull in each of the last three World Rowing Championships, and won Olympic silver medals in 2004 and 2008. Her previous diary entries are on 606. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.

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