Introducing Support through Sport UK's new Patron, Dave Holby ...
Hi Dave. There's so much to talk about but let’s start with your rowing exploits. Is it true that, in 2010, you ‘virtually’ rowed around the world (some 40,000 kilometres) on a Concept2 indoor rowing machine?
Helen, that’s absolutely right - though about twenty minutes into the challenge I think I’d realised I’d bitten off a bit more than I could chew! I was fundraising for a wonderful charity, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, and was based in Basingstoke town centre for the duration of the row - it’s a wonderful place and the people were just brilliant, I know I would never have made it to the end without their support and that of my family.
How long did it take you and are we right in thinking that you claimed a Guinness World Record for rowing it in the quickest-ever time?
The row took a total of 934 days, beginning on 28th May 2008, when it was nice and warm, and finishing on 18th December 2010, when it was a little colder! It was a bit of a boyhood dream to set a Guinness World Record and it was lovely to make it into the 2013 book. To see your name on the same page as Sir Steve Redgrave and Michael Phelps is just indescribable - I suppose that for every two incredible Olympians there’s an odd chap who sits and rows in a Basingstoke shopping centre for two and a half years!
So how did it work? How often did you take breaks to refuel and how much sleep did you get?
The rowing day would start for me at 6.30am with a big bowl of porridge and honey and I’d be in town to start for 7.30am. You're refuelling throughout and I was needing to eat between 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day to keep up with the energy demand. I’ve always loved my food so I have to admit that that was a particular highlight for me! What of course is important is that you’re getting the right kind of fuel into your system and so there was a lot of fluid, fruit (particularly apples and bananas) and vegetables, wholewheat pasta, fish and chicken. Eating whilst rowing was quite tricky (even after two and a half years I was particularly awful at it!) so I had a lot of bitesize snacks throughout the day that were easy to take on whilst keeping your movement going, such as apple slices, raisins, honey flapjacks and small pieces of wholemeal pitta bread with peanut butter.
As this was the first attempt on a rowing machine to try and cover the distance of the equator, Guinness needed to have strict guidelines in place to accept it as a record and stipulated that they expected me to row a minimum of 270km a week for the duration of the challenge. I set a weekly target of 300km a week as a precaution, knowing that I really needed to row for seven to eight hours a day, five days a week to make it happen. There was a small canopy to keep the rain off but unfortunately no roof where I was rowing so you do get pretty exposed to the elements - thick gloves and plenty of layers saved my skin when those icy winds blew round the shopping centre! There was a great desire to keep rowing for the warmth and apart from a good stretch every two hours I could keep going to the 60km daily target without stopping too much (apart from for a frantic loo break!).
At the end of the rowing day the distance I had covered was recorded in a log book by two of the brilliant security officers onsite in the shopping centre and then it was home for a shower and a big bowl of pasta. I did tend to cramp up quite badly throughout the night during those two and half years but was able to get a least six to seven hours worth of sleep before cracking on with that 60km target the following day. At the end of the challenge I had averaged 300.34km (186.62 miles) a week on the rowing machine.
Wow! This isn’t the only extreme challenge that you’ve undertaken, or world record that you’ve claimed, is it? Can you tell us about some of your other exploits?
I’ve been lucky to have rowed with some fantastic guys over the years and have set a total of nine endurance rowing world records, both tandem and individual - the knees have just about held together for each record attempt but it does get a little harder the older I get! I’ve always been a very slow runner but love getting my running shoes on and sporting my Breakthrough Breast Cancer vest at as many road races around the UK as I can. I finished my third London Marathon in 2011 dressed as a gorilla but it was like running in a sauna - I don’t think I’ve sweated so much in my life!
So what got you into endurance rowing?
I’d been rowing on the water since I was 15 but, although land rowing machines were a huge part of our training, I never had a great deal of speed compared to the bigger chaps in the crew and always struggled with them. It wasn’t until my final year of university that I really fell in love with them as I found I had decent endurance and could just keep chipping away through those long distances. My best friend Jim and I would regularly row for 12 hours in a high street to raise money for a number of different, brilliant charities and it was just great fun. I felt then that if I could eat healthily and keep fit then these endurance rowing challenges could help raise money and make a real difference to the people who needed help most.
When embarking on your challenges, how do you keep yourself going?
It’s a brilliant question - I think for me it really comes down to a desire not to let myself and the people I love down. Every challenge you set yourself is something to be tremendously proud of because you’re stepping out of your comfort zone into something quite scary and unknown - it’s such a great feeling when you come out of the other side with a story to tell. The fact that you are there facing the elements when every fibre of your being tells you it’s ridiculous and you should be back in bed is a huge statement of intent. It says to the world that you are up for a fight for a cause that you believe in and I’ve also believed that can make you pretty unstoppable. Friends and family are a wonderful source of inspiration as they can be the lift you when you’re so tired that you may have even forgotten why you’re there in the first place. That’s happened to me more times than I care to remember. I also have to say that a good playlist on your mp3 player is a lifesaver too - as many power ballads as I can squeeze in!
We must also mention your charitable pursuits as we know that you’ve raised an enormous amount of money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. It must be very rewarding to be able to use your sporting exploits as a means to raise money for such a worthwhile cause?
Absolutely! Raising money to support Breakthrough’s amazing work is at the core of any endurance challenge I take on. I lost a wonderful grandmother to breast cancer when I was seven and was just desperate to try and find ways to help fight it. There are so many fantastic fundraisers who raise money for their chosen charities in a number of weird and wonderful ways - I think I knew from an early age that if I could combine my love of sport and the half decent endurance engine I have then that could be my contribution to help raise funds and awareness for Breakthrough. I’m in complete awe of what they do as a charity and will give everything physically that I have to support them.
Why would you encourage people to take up rowing?
Well I suppose I am going to be a little biased when it comes to encouraging everyone to leg it to their nearest boat club! It’s a wonderful way to make friends and the social side of the sport is fantastic. The boat clubs will be incredibly welcoming to beginners of all ages and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to compete in regattas all over the UK. Please don’t worry if you’re not close to a river - boat clubs can be found all over the coast and on canals too! With all the success Team GB had in London this summer, it’s a very exciting time to get involved with the sport. Clubs will often hold open days which are great fun - you can pop into a boat, have a paddle and see if it’s for you. And from personal experience, nothing quite beats a row in the rain when you’re in the club house having a bacon sarnie afterwards!
Thanks for the interview, Dave - we couldn't have hoped for a more inspirational Patron!