Pete Reed is one of Great Britain’s true sporting greats and a Mammoth Ambassador to boot. With 3 Olympic and 5 World Championship gold medals to his name, he is among the most decorated individuals in rowing history.
Having recently come back from career-threatening hip surgery, Pete turned to Mammoth for help with his rehabilitation and recovery in his quest for a fourth gold at Tokyo 2020. As he works his way back into full training, we caught up with Pete to find out more about what motivates him to chase yet more sporting success and why he’s paying more attention than ever before to the little details that can make the difference between winning and losing.
Pete, Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into elite sport?
I was a very outdoorsy child, but never really sporty. I love nature, adventure and exploring. As I grew up I was a good cyclist and tried a lot of sports, but not to a very high level. It wasn’t until I joined the Royal Navy at 18 that I first discovered the rowing machine and really got myself fit. After gaining a scholarship to go to Oxford University I started rowing properly on the water and from that point onwards my progression was fast. It was just two years later that I was first picked by the GB team.
Can you tell us a little more about your event and the highlights of your career up to this point?
There are three main rowing events, the pair, four and eight. I have competed in all three internationally winning in all disciplines. My most successful event has to in the Men’s Coxless Four, having achieved a world record, a 27 international race unbeaten run, two World and two Olympic titles.
Despite this I’d have to say that my favourite event has to be in the eight. I have won three World titles and an Olympic Gold in 2016 in this war of an event. I have won Henley Royal Regatta six times, the University Boat Race for Oxford and had great fun along the way.
To have achieved so much, your training regime must be incredibly hard. What is involved in getting in the kind of shape required to perform at the very highest level.
My daily routine is constant training, constant eating and constant fatigue. You need to be fit for rowing, very fit. You power the boat and the more power you have, the better your chance of winning. Training is draining. It is a mental and physical grind. I push myself to max and failure three times a day, seven days a week.
I eat 6000 calories a day to fuel this output and if I can get 10 hours of sleep in any given 24 then I can keep up with the training load. It is a life of pure, selfish sacrifice.
What does it feel like to stand on the start line at an Olympic Games or World Championships? Can you give us an insight into the experience itself?
We sit in a crew, facing the starters with our backs to the crowd and finish line. In one moment, I would rather be anywhere else and there is nowhere else I would rather be. It’s an environment that’s full of pressure but, ultimately, this is eclipsed by excitement.
I am ready for war and ready to die for the men that sit around me – that’s the mentality you have to have. The enemy is alongside – sometimes quiet, sometimes loud – but that doesn’t matter to me. The only thing that matters is the green light and the clock. The first stroke is the most important and the next stroke is even more important. And so it goes.
It is maximum. A sprint. A marathon. Your battery goes from being full to completely empty and nuclear overload in less than six minutes. You have to sit on the start line ready for that.
Can you describe your emotions at winning your first Olympic gold?
More than anything else, I felt relief. To do it – to realise a dream and get over that huge wall that you thought was unscalable . . . to finally know that you are the kind of person that has what it takes under the greatest of pressure – everything else, every emotion, it all fills you in one go. The elation and euphoria comes moments later as you celebrate with your crew.
Only the four of us in that boat really knew what we had to go through to get there. It is a long, painful and dark tunnel that you can’t imagine.
Do your second and third Golds feel different to your first? If so, how?
It is easy to do it once, by comparison. My second was in London and the pressure to win at home was like nothing I have ever felt and will ever feel again. I remember teaching myself to feed off that pressure because I had earned the right to feel it – it is what I wanted. That race against Australia’s best was hard! My third in Rio was a joy in comparison, this time in an 8 – a bigger boat – it is like fighting as a pack of wolves. No one could beat us. We were savage! It was the best time of my life – less pressure, more fun and even more relaxed.
How has life changed since you made your dream of winning gold medals come true? How have you handled the extra limelight?
There is no extra limelight. I truly am the world’s least famous triple Olympic Champion and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Rowing is a team sport and I didn’t do it alone, so why should I stand out? I know what I did, what I have been through, how I handled myself and what I brought to my crews. It doesn’t matter that the public doesn’t. Yes, people treat you differently when they find out, but I am never the one to tell people and I love it when people don’t know about my rowing achievements but we bond anyway. I would hate to be known as or introduced as “The Rower”.
What are your goals now?
People always talk about goals, dreams and ambitions. I want to do what I love, with people I love, for people I love and to enjoy the journey as I go. Right now, I love training and I love improving and I want to test myself.
Representing my country is an honour – I do that for the Royal Navy and for Team GB. Whether or not I am capable of doing that in Tokyo 2020, I don’t know. But I will find out today, tomorrow, the next day . . . for more than the next 1000 days.
Mammoth mattresses are known for their health benefits, particularly for people recovering from injury or looking to make performance gains. How important do you consider rest time and recovery for both the body and mind?
Nutrition, hydration, rest and sleep. This is ALL YOU NEED to recover. The better you recover, the harder you can train and the better you will perform. I am rehabbing from my first major injury at the moment – two hip operations. Recovery is the most important thing in my life.
I put a lot of time into understanding what it takes to fuel my body and mind in the right way. I work with nutritionists, sport scientists and the best group of coaches available to get the right results.
Increasingly, we rely on technology and the very best tools to track progress. I now use sleep-monitoring devices to gauge my progress and see where I can make improvements – and it was this, in part, that led me to exploring the benefits of a new mattress some months ago.
You are currently recovering from major surgery. Could you tell us a bit more about the problems you had and the operation you underwent?
My problems have been chronic for a very long time. My hips weren’t flexing up to my chest properly which led to my lumbar spine having to step in to compensate. Rowing on a flexing lumbar spine is not good for those discs down there! It was sore and inefficient to say the very least and an operation was necessary.
My federal heads on both sides were resized and shaped by a top surgeon. The liberal tears were repaired with my own stem cells and the soft tissue was put back in place. It was a big operation and the recovery has been amazing. I am so lucky – I have had the best medical care and post op recovery team in the world. Surgeons, doctors, physiotherapists, physiologists, nutritionists, psychologists, strength and conditioning coaches, rowing coaches, clinical specialists… and bed experts. My recovery has been astonishing.
How is your recovery coming along? What has been the hardest thing about the rehab process?
The only hard thing about recovery is letting go of what might have been. The rowing team are going to the World Championships without me this year for the first time since 2005. God speed to them. The moment you let go, you can focus all of your positive attitude on what counts at the time.
How many hours of sleep do you aim for a night? How do you feel when you don’t get a full night’s sleep – are you good at handling fatigue?
I aim for 8 hours with 1 hour during the day between 12:30 and 13:30. A total of nine hours is great and I can cope with the enormous training load of weights, rowing, rowing machine work and cross training. If I can get 10 hours then I can do anything. If this drops to 7 or 6 for any reason, it has a knock-on effect.
With occasional sleep loss, I am fine. I can get no sleep for a night and still be at 100% the next day. But if I suffer from sustained sleep loss, things go wrong and I need to catch up. A few days in a row of 6 hours and I rapidly fall down. That is a mental and physical disaster.
As you have travelled to a lot to competitions in your sport, what do you consider to be a must-have to ensure a good night’s sleep away from home, and do you have an optimum environment to sleep in – e.g. warm and cosy, cool and clean?
I must have it clean and fresh. I don’t have the luxury of taking my Mammoth Mammoth with me to every hotel so the bed needs to be cool, big enough and hygienic. Health is crucial. I can’t afford to get ill. If I have a cold, I can’t train and I must isolate myself from the other rowers. That is why the place you spend most time needs to be spotless.
How did you find out about Mammoth mattresses and what attracted you to the brand in the first place?
I first found out about Mammoth from a relationship that they have with the British Athlete’s Commission. One of my team-mates came in swearing by them. I’m not very good at asking for help, but I got in touch with them to see if they could help me with this next enormous chapter and I have never been so happy that they replied favourably.
Can you tell us which mattress model you own and what you think of your Mammoth?
I went for the Mammoth Mammoth. A very deep mattress that doesn’t discriminate between the light or heavy. It supports me however I settle and keeps me fresh and cool all night. I have never slept so well or woken feeling so fresh and ready. I wake up to my alarm at 5:30am and I am alert, active, mobile and ready to get up. I sleep better than ever and don’t have the little morning niggles and twinges.
Another benefit of the depth is swinging my legs down in the morning to a standing position – even the little things are glorious. This has been a game changer for my training and I hope it signals great things for the future.
If you could have a (purely platonic) late night chat with anyone, dead or alive, who’d be worth losing sleep over – and why?
My girlfriend’s parents watched the London Olympics together at home. They watched the British Coxless Four win gold in 2012 and it was a very happy time for them. She very sadly lost her father that autumn, before I met her. I know he was a wonderful man, but I would give anything to sit with him. All night wouldn’t be long enough. I have never been so grateful to have been on TV because knowing that he saw me before he passed is a comfort to us all.