The Spoke January 29, 2010

Past glories and future challenges

Every year I like to set myself a new physical challenge. Nothing particularly unusual about that - I'm sure it's something many people do every January. Last year my main target was to cycle 125 miles for charity, which I did with a friend of mine who is 30 years my senior. 'The Orm' is still very useful on a bike. We completed it and in the process raised about £500 for a local charity. So I get my challenge and in doing so we raised some money for other people. Everyone's happy. 

This year I'm taking a trip down memory lane so to speak. 9 years ago (!), I decided it would be an excellent idea to row the equivalent of a marathon on an ergometer (indoor rowing machine to the uninitiated). I did it, and it took me 2 hours 53 minutes. It was ok, I vaguely recall, until the last 10 km when it got really painful. In April, in about 10 weeks time, l ntend to repeat this exercise. So why bother? Well a few of my friends are running in the first Brighton marathon, and that started me thinking. After some failed attempts, the fact remains I will never be able to run one. A succession of shin related injuries means I cannot run, consistently, at all. A gentle jog now and again is my limit - and that's just not good enough. (This is partly the reason why I have got so into cycling again.) But a marathon (distance) is also a real marker - 42 km - a major achievement - and I just love a challenge.  

So what's all this got to do with cycling? Well nothing specifically. But from what I can remember at that time (as well as being able to take my jeans off without undoing the top button - and that's not because I wore jeans that hang off your arse, it's because there was not much of me!), I was then probably the fittest I've ever been. I was ranked inside the UK top 100 for 2000 meter times - and although my focus was rowing, actually it was cycling around on my MTB - everywhere - that helped build up my core endurance and leg strength. Fast forward to 2010 and it's the other way round (although I have swapped my MTB for my beloved racer). I'm now going to use rowing to help improve my ability to cycle - faster, harder and for longer. So let's see if I still have the legs for it...and perhaps more importantly the mental strength for it. It's quite strange, you tune into the stroke, but try and tune out of being there for such a long time in effectively the same position. However, at least with cycling you get to see a change in countryside. No such distraction in the gym (which is why unless I'm spinning I never use static bikes).

The target is April 18th. The distance is 42.2 km. And I have 11.4 km on the hip now. 15 km before the end of January is the next marker. I reckon it's on.

I'll keep you posted.  

3rd February.

So what I've decided is to keep a running diary on how I am progressing. Had two good sessions in the past couple of days. Didn't manage to complete an hour before the end of January - but I did tonight - and after work as well. 15.1 km to be precise. Felt ok. Shoulders started cramping, but to be honest that's probably because I had not taken on enough fluid. The last 15 minutes was alright - not comfortable - but nor did I expect it to be. The hardest bit so far has been the 25 to 35 minute section - when you've been working for a while but the end is still some way off. So I reckon another session on Friday should do it - maybe 3 x 20 minute intervals with some rest inbetween. Legs need to get used to working for that time/distance. Clocked an average of 1.59.2 per 500 mts - so not fast - at all - but the distance was achieved - which frankly is the goal at the moment. So the next target is 21 km - half marathon distance. Thinking that will be attempted in a couple of weeks. Build up some more strength and endurance and then take it up another level - and hopefully stay under the magic 2 min per 500 mts mark. But all in all....cycling's much more fun! 

8th February

After the achievement of an hour last Wednesday it's been downhill since then. Felt rough on Thursday - I had hoped the hour rowing session was sufficient to burn the upcoming cold off - instead it burned me out! As a consequence of this and generally feeling a bit run down, I have been off sick Friday and today. Not conducive for any type of 'proper' exercise. Hoping to be back on the rower tomorrow - planning on  a gentle session to get me back into the 'flow'. There's still about 10 days to go until I have a crack at 21 km.....

21st February

So a fortnight on - and I should, by now, have 21 km on the hip......It took about  a week to shake off whatever I had. I got back on the bike last weekend - had some reasonable sessions - a 56 and 58 km ride..but no rowing. So this week I knew I really needed to get back into my stride - otherwise all the good work of 10 tens ago would be going to waste. 45 minutes on Monday. An hour on Tuesday - 15,062 mts  - clocking 1.59.5 per 500 mts - so just averaging less than the 500 mts every 2 minute threshold I have set myself....meant I was also back on course for the halfie today. 

Actually it's been quite a good 4 days on the exercise stakes. Rowing on Thursday, and bike rides on Friday and yesterday. Legs felt a bit tired so I just did a 'round the block' but achieved that in just under an hour - 59.23 to be precise, and I usually consider that good going. Woke up this morning though, knowing I was going to have a crack at the halfie. So the stats are; 21.1 km in 1.26.00 at an average of 2.02.2 per 500 mts. 1374 calories burned - and I now have quite a sore pair of buttocks! But I'm quite pleased with that. Half way to target and 2 months to go. The full distance is definitely on. Felt pretty good towards the end. But yet again the 25 to 40 minute section was tough. I don't know what happens at this time - my breathing gets a bit laboured, and it just feels uncomfortable. After then, the next marker is an hour. From here you're on countdown through the last 6 km or so. Very steady stroke rate - 24 per minute for the first 16000 mts, then increasing to 25 thereafter. The stoke rate increased as my wattage decreased - a symptom of getting fatigued. But all in all - I am happy.  Some shorter sessions this week to keep the legs-in-motion - and then start planning the next distance - somewhere along the lines of 25km think. I'll let you know how I do anyway. March is going to be a tough month....

7th March

It's been a funny fortnight. After the success of doing the half marathon distance I went off the boil a bit. I put in one 10km the week afterwards, but I was still feeling pretty jaded. Last weekend was very heavy on the socialising (read 'drinking') so I only managed a couple of lame 'round-the-blocks' on the bike - and nothing at all on the rower. Problem is now I am finding it harder to recover aftre a night out (a sign of getting older apparently) so it wasn't until Wednesday I managed to venture to the gym. When I did finally get there, I sat on the rower, typed in an hour...and got to about 3000 mts and stopped. Absolutely nothing in the tank. And worse still, nothing in the legs. It was like carting round dead-weights. Not very good for the spirit, I decided just to leave it and try again another day. That day was today.

Friday I went for a long(er) ride on the bike - it was lovely on the South Coast and really enjoyed the 40 miles or so cycling round West Sussex. (All the while I've got Sunday on my mind). Yesterday I went for a 'round-the-block' - legs were aching a bit, but thought it would be good to keep them spinning....and then it was Sunday.

 After a bowl of pasta surprise (anything goes as far as I'm concerned for breakfast), I found myself sitting back on the rower at about 11.30. Frankly I was a bit apprehensive. Not a good session at all on Wednesday and only one session of any length since the halfie. Covered the appropriate areas in vaseline, so here goes! 5 sets of 5km which should be about 20 minutes each. So all things being equal we're looking at about 1 hr 40 minimum. It was the usual story. First 5km fine. Practically a warm up really. Second one - awful. I don't know what it is, but after 25 to 30 minutes I just feel really rough. I know I can get over it - but it's just not pleasant. Clocked through an hour at 15.125km and felt reasonably ok. Shoulders started to ache, but nothing too concerning. This was the first time I've taken on water whilst rowing which is an art in itself. Will need more practice I think!  With 3900 mts left I was now into new distance territory. Still felt alright, though the pace had dropped off alittle. Had enough left for a fast last 250 mts and completed in a time of 1 hr 40 mins 19 seconds. Very pleased with that. 24 strokes per minute throughout and an average of 2.00.3 per 500 so pretty consistent. Don't get me wrong, the whole distance will be extremely tough. But for now it's another distance marker achieved. Should sleep well tonight! In a fortnight's time it will 30km on the clock...but I will HAVE to do some more meterage before then. As always, I'll keep you posted.  

20th March

Another fortnight has elapsed. I don't know where the time goes. What I do know is that it's taking me longer to recover after these rows than I had expected. The following Tuesday I went spinning - but prior to that I decided to test how quick I could do 5000 mts. The standard time is 20 minutes - and really it should be around 19 minutes. So clocking 18.31.8 was quite pleasing. A steady 1.51 throughout, higher stroke rate than usual (for me) at 26 per minute.  Spinning immediately - and I mean immediately afterwards nearly killed me though!

Just ticked over in the gym for the following week or so and did'nt really go near the rower.  On the Thursday (it's the 18th by now) I was beginning to get worried. I needed to do at least a long 'warm up' prior to the 30km and time was running out. I went after work and gritted my teeth. Didn't want to do it - but I knew I would be in trouble otherwise. It was murder. Shear grit and determination got me through. The last 10 minutes was  very challenging. I think I was dehydrated - felt fatigued and my shoulders were really aching. went through an hour at 15,180 mts so not a bad effort - but it would never rank as a 'comfortable' session. More worryingly I didn't think it boded very well for Saturday........

So what's becoming a routine for me now, I got up early-ish and ate pasta. Bimbled around with 'The Boy' and at about 10.00 I started to get myself together. 11.30 seems to be my starting time and this day was no exception. 30000 mts entered into the display, staring back at me - and off we go! Surprisingly, my 'grotty zone' of 25 to 40 minutes from the start didn't happen. I felt alright and just plodded my way through to the hour mark. I had 'gained' about 160 mts against my standard time (@ 2 mins per 500) and continued steadily onwards. Shoulders began to kick in at the  1 hr 10 min mark, but again went through the 20km and 25km mark relatively comfortably. By then of course everything is relative. It's a strange feeling when you start rowing into distance you've not travelled before. In a way, I look forward to entering that phase of the row because I know this is new territory and I am making progress. The meters leading up to this have all been done before.

I finished with a flourish, despite the pain in my shoulders getting more intense. I clocked a steady 25 strokes per minute for nearly 2 hours - 1 hr 59 min 44 s which equates to be 3000 strokes at an average rate of 1.59.4 per 500 mts. I cannot remember what my splits were 9 years ago - but I am on course to be within touching distance of the time I set then - 2 hrs 53 mins. I have one more long training row ahead. 35km which will be completed over Easter at some-point. I am off to the gym tonight for another fast 5000 mts and we'll see what happens over the next 10 days or so. The clocks ticking. 4 weeks to go until the big day.......

11th April

It's been 3 week since the last update, and there's been a  wobble in the training. Nothing that will stop me rowing in a weeks time, but a minor 'spanner in the works' nevertheless. I went for a spin on the following Tuesday night and felt really good. Clocked 18.29.5 for 5000 mts, my fastest time for the that distance this year. I then had the rest of the week off from the ergometer and went for a cycle over the weekend - resorting to type I guess you could say. The following week I knew I needed a row of at least an hour in readiness for the crack at 35km...but it never came. Socialising (read drinking) and family commitments took over.

I cycled 50 miles on Easter Saturday (which I found harder than expected, especially at the end.) By then I had set myself the target of 35km on Easter Monday. In-between though I managed to do 2 stupid things. (Just 2 I hear you say!) Firstly, I ate a sausage that was way past it's best. And secondly I ate some cooking Chorizo raw - I didn't bother checking which type it was. Consequently I had mild food poisoning for the following 72 hours. I knew I wasn't right in the guts department, but Monday morning came round and I decided I would attempt it regardless.

Almost immediately I knew this wasn't going to be a good row. A lack of power (possibly dehydration) and just a general feeling of 'being not right' meant every meter was a slog. My splits were the slowest since I've started this training and I felt rough. I told myself if this was the real thing I would have to get over it. Just dig in. 15km came and went, 21km came and went and finally I stopped at 25km. 1.42.25 - about 3 minutes slower than before. That wasn't good for the spirits. I wasn't exhausted, just 'spent' - a strange feeling.

So where are we now? I've had to pull the row forward due to work commitments - so I will be rowing the marathon on the 17th April now - next Saturday. I will be doing my last practice row on Tuesday night for an hour to get one final spin in - and that should set me up for the big one. The way I figure, it's better to have a bad row before the event than during the event. I will work on my hydration this week and eat things that are properly cooked! Get some rest and that will be it. It's too late to do anything else now. It's all down to me. 

I intend to write a brief passage on Friday night and then finish off with an account of how it went next Sunday. Catch you then.

14th April

Well thank goodness for that! A steady hour last night, 15163 mts and a steady half hour today, 7676 mts tonight. No aches, a little fatigue today from yesterday but nothing that's unexpected! Shoulders and knees are ok and my compression socks seem to working quite well.

A woman at work lost her daughter through Meningitis last year - so I will be raising money for a CT scanner for Worthing hospital. (Actually I am combining my fund-raising attempts with a friend from work whose running in Brighton's first marathon on Sunday). If we raise £1000 we will be very happy.

So it's countdown time now. 2 days-ish to go. Got to eat loads and rest aplenty. The day of reckoning is near.

17th April - AM

Morning! It's the day of the row, start time is about 2 hours away. Feel in reasonable shape. Slept well last night, just got my kit ready and my iTunes playlist has had an overhaul! Going to start at 11.30. I ate about an hour ago so that will be well and truly digested by then. I will not miss eating pasta early in the morning. Just chilling out now, I might do a video in a moment and pop that on the website later.  My wife has printed off a few posters so we are going to see if we can raise some money at the gym this morning. A couple of friends are going to come and support me for the last 2km or so - I said not to bother coming any earlier - it will just be distressing! That's all for now. I'll write my final entry either later today or tomorrow, depending on how I feel! 

The Day After

Well I did it! 2 hours 52 minutes and 31 seconds. Nominally, 30 seconds faster than my first attempt. 9 years ago. Suffice to say, whilst this was not the objective, I was very pleased with that. I thought sub 3 hours would be possible but to better my time... I can honestly say I won't be doing that distance for a while though! Or indeed anything to do with the rowing machine!

It was probably the steadiest row I've had since I've started this challenge. Overall, I averaged 2.02.8 per 500 and used up 2850 calories. I went through 1 hr in 15030 mts, so slower than usual and 2 hrs in 29970, so I had dropped off alittle in the second hour. I thought this would probably happen though. My shoulders were ok up until then and then I had to be quite careful I didn't do anything to aggravate them - I could feel I would cramp up otherwise. Funnily enough my left bicep also has a go at cramping - so again had to mindful of that. Not experienced that before.

Psychologically, going through 30000 mts was quite tough as I knew I was entering 'new' territory. However the real task came with 10km to go. I REALLY wanted to stop for the next 2km. I just felt very tired. Fortunately, some moral support had joined me. Denyce offered words of encouragement and general well-being and it counted for alot. I took it 100 mts at a time and worked my way through the pain.  Not that you realise you're through it, but the next few 0000s went ok. I was taking on fluid every 2km now - the last thing I wanted to do was blow up so close. 

I started shouting out the markers with 2000 mts to go. 1500 mts. 1000 mts. The end was now in sight! Another swig of energy drink and then up a gear. And another. And another. Clocked sub 2.00/500 mts the first time for a while. Then into the mid 1.50s. And then upper 1.40s and with 250 mts to go absolutely went for it. Dumped everything I had into the machine. I had been keeping an eye on the clock - I knew I could better my previous time. I hadn't allowed myself to get too carried away with that - it would have acted more as a distraction than anything else - but now it was there for the taking. After 42 km you know you can attack the last few meters.  And so I flew through the last 20 seconds or so to the cheers of my friends. Slammed the bar down.


At last, I can stop now!

Thanks to Denyce, Garry, Woodland Dave, Matt and Kayren who all came into to support me at the end. It really made a big difference and helped the finale finish (got down to 1.40.0) at the last stroke.  So there you have it. My marathon row odyssey is complete. Just got to think what the next challenge should be. Ideas anyone?

PS I'll post how much money we raise once we've collected the funds.

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