The Great Reset

Sometimes the world moves in an unexpected direction. When it does, there isn’t much an individual can do about it. Indeed, 2020 will be remembered as the defining year of the 21st century.

For many, the year started with resolutions, few of which lasted much beyond their pronouncements. However, soon, everything changed. Having heard the distant drums of another flu from China gradually nearing our shores and seen Chinese officials deprive their fellow citizens of their freedom of movement and congregation, much to our surprise, our governments followed suit.

Like millions of my fellow countrymen, I was put on furlough. With four children, one disabled, monthly outgoings that went beyond the undoubted generosity of the furlough scheme and future job uncertainty, there was a great deal on which to ponder.

Atlanta, USA. GBR M8+, .Matthew PARISH, Graham SMITH, Alex STORY, Pete BRIDGE, Ben HUNT-DAVIS, Jim WALKER, Roger BROWN, Richard HAMILTON and cox Garry HERBERT. 1996 Olympic Rowing Regatta Lake Lanier, Georgia [Mandatory Credit Peter Spurrier/ Intersport Images]

A new way of life was emerging

While commuting, socialising and business travel came to a sudden stop, a new way of life was needed to stay sane and productive.

So I reached back into my former days as an Olympic Athlete and remembered that, in order to achieve extraordinary things, you first need to establish a rigorous routine and stick to it. Over the course of the next 8 months, from the first day of furlough to December, I lost over 6.5 stone, or close to a third of my entire body weight.

Being around 6’8’’, I went from being a healthy, record-breaking fit, 16st to over 22st in two decades. My long suffering wife must have rued the day she swore to stay with me over thick and thin.

However, weight gain, it seems, happens stealthily. The mirror, it turns out, is a deceptive friend.

Even though your clothes become gradually more difficult to wear, the blame is apportioned to a change of fashion or wear-and-tear – everything in other words that enables you to keep your eating habits from changing.

In addition, as you grow inch by inch and day by day, so your friends and family get accustomed to your increasing girth. They, kindly, just take you as you are. And just as you were considering turning down the dessert menu, the Muse whispers in your ear: “You’re a big guy, Alex, you hide it well”.

So I reached back into my former days as an Olympic Athlete and remembered that, in order to achieve extraordinary things, you first need to establish a rigorous routine and stick to it...


Of course, the Truth sometimes manifests itself: In a comment from a stranger; in your own reflection in a shop window as you walk past that prompts you to say “gosh, who is that fat bloke looking at me?”; or when you break into a sweat in an refrigerated room as you just stand there, immobile.

These moments do occur but they are fleeting. They are also quickly drowned out by the forces of bad habits.

Besides, even if the Truth shines through the clouds of self-deception, its rays often glow on a mind that no longer feels that much can be done about the weight gain.

Where does one start? How does one start? What is the motivation when indolence and the gradual downhill slide into middle-age are so much more enjoyable? 

For me the answer came with the imposition of the Furlough and the inability to go to work. As I dealt with the many questions that this new status threw my way, I started a routine that would not be changed for the next three quarters of a year. Interestingly, the initial impetus had little to do with weight loss and everything to do with keeping sane.

Alex, his brother and Boris
Alex, alongside his brother Nick and Boris Johnson

My aim was to get up early, go for a very short run to wake up body and soul, and start a daily work routine of reading, writing and staying in touch with my peers, friends and business partners. The runs initially were no more than 15 minutes in duration.

In the routine, and for no particular reason, I also added two days of fasting a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays would be “non-eat” days with coffees, teas and sparkling water as my main staple. Having started in April, I felt I was making good progress. By mid-June, with friends telling me that I was looking better and had already lost a lot of weight, I thought I was beach ready (Pictures attached).

On June 17th, I did something I had not done in over two decades. I decided to weigh myself. Having not done so for so long was not a coincidence. I was petrified. This time, however, with friendly voices echoing in my mind telling me that I was looking better, my vanity grabbed hold of my courage. Expectantly, I stood on the scales. My heart broke. I was still over 21st.

Being interviewed at the 1998 Regatta
Being interviewed at the 1998 Regatta

This, however, turned out to be the missing ingredient. Thereafter, religiously, every Wednesdays and Fridays, I stood on the dreaded “truth telling machine”. The data I compiled enabled me to gauge what impact certain foods, eating habits and timings had on my weight. In other words, I could calibrate my routine to ensure a steady but reliable weight loss. From June 17th to December 11th, I lost ¾ stone per months on average. I am now back to my Olympian days in terms of weight.

Regarding my fitness, I am of course much older, if not much wiser, but my morning runs have lengthened time wise from 15 to 90 minutes, with over 12 miles covered per session. In order to fit all this in, I wake up at 5.15am. By the time, I return, it is around 6.45am, in time to catch the children get out of bed.

One of the joys of having lost this heavy load was made manifest when I was jogging in the park last Thursday. A jogger ran past me by rather quickly.

My old competitive self, however, took over. I accelerated and caught up with him. As I did so, I realised there was much more speed where it came from. As I ran beside him, he quickened his pace. And so did I.

Looking across, with a broad grin, I said: “Do you know how much weight I lost since April?”. Mystified and puffing heavily, he said no. I then said “around 7 stone”. He then said: “what is a stone?” I replied: “A lot. I lost over 45 kilos”.

“F*****g hell”, he said. That curse was the most pleasing thing I had heard in a long time. Soon after, my path took me right, his took him left.

Sometimes, world events intrude in your life and there is little you can do about it. What you can always do, if my experience is anything to go by, is to start working on the things you can control, set up a routine and stick to it – Grab the opportunities as they arise and see them multiply.

In this new world of mine, I am lighter, feel younger and much closer to my large but young family. Sometimes, happiness is really close at hand. And, I look forward to putting the weight back on – just in time for Christmas.

Alex before and after