I began my indoor rowing marathon at about 7:30 yesterday morning. I didn’t feel well (still!) but I felt quite a bit better than on Saturday. If I hadn’t wanted, so badly, to get this event behind me, I probably would have postponed for another week. To tell the truth, I didn’t feel like I was going to be able to make it!
I use software called rowpro to accompany and enhance my rowing experience. I have my Concept2 rowing machine connected via USB to my computer so that rowpro can receive live data from the Concept2. The Concept2 has a computer that gives the rower feedback that simulates measurements that could be gathered when rowing a real boat. Some of these mearsurements are: a live readout of Strokes Per Minute, distance (in meters) that remain to be rowed, elapsed time, current pace in average per 500 meters, time to complete the row at the current pace, etc.
The measurement that is most important to me is the pace or average time for each 500 meters rowed. During six months of training I determined that I should be able to complete my marathon with a pace of 2:21, i.e. 2 minutes, 21 seconds per 500 meters.
Using Rowpro, I’m able to create custom sessions, which has been great for training. My training program consists of interval training on most days. For example, on a certain day, I had to row intervals of 2k at my best 5k pace followed by 3k at my half marathon pace. There could be three sets of those making a total of 15k. I can program this into Rowpro and save the session. While I’m rowing, there’s a progress indicator showing me a visual indication of just where I am in the current interval. Infact, all the intervals are displayed across the bottom of the screen so I can see how far I am from completing the interval as well as from completing my whole workout. There is also a graph showing my heart rate (I’m wearing a Polar heart monitor receiver) and another graph showing my pace. Above this display is a guy rowing and demonstrating perfect form. If I speed up or slow down my strokes per minute, the rower adjusts his tempo to match mine.
Before I started my marathon I set up a custom session with my target pace and heart rate range. This creates a highlighted area on the graph display so that I can see if I’m within my target range. Another feature that I used yesterday was a pace boat. In the simulation of the rower, there are five lanes and you can populated each lane with a competitor. The competitor can be a replay of a previous row of your own or it can be a pace boat. The previous row gives you a chance to try to better your previous performance and the pace boat gives you incentive to try to match a certain pace. I chose the pace boat because I hadn’t rowed a marathon before so I didn’t have a session to replay.
I was talking with a guy I work with that runs marathons. He said that he doesn’t warm up before the race because a marathon is so long you have time to warm up during the race. While this might be true, I didn’t want to have to be rowing faster than my target pace to have to make up for the time I took to warm up. All the advice that I had read, recommended holding a steady pace. It’s not healthy to immediately start at your race pace so I choose a 2k warmup before starting. This also gives me a chance to make any adjustments necessary before I actually start the race and take a drink of water.
Speaking of water, this is another reason that I want to start right off at race pace, well actually faster than race pace. In practice I try to row at least a one second faster pace than my target. That way I can take a drink of water every 10 minutes and gradually make up the time that I lost drinking the water. You see, you can’t drink while rowing. You have to take your hands off the handle, and in the time it takes for a couple of gulps of water, the virtual boot comes to a stop while the clock ticks on. You can lose a surprising bite of time in this way.
Rowing a second faster than target also give me a little leeway for standing up for a few moments to get the blood flowing in my butt again, and at the half way, swapping my sweaty shorts of a dry pair. The biggest discomfort for me while rowing is pain in my butt (mostly on the left side). So anything I can do to keep the pain down is a great help!
I think doing this marathon is the most difficult physical challenge I’ve ever undertaken. The progress meter in rowpro is marked with quarter, half and three quarter distance marks. When I’m rowing I break the row down mentally into smaller intervals. For any distance over 20K, I’ll break it down into 10K intervals. This helps me deal with the suffering and boredom. For my marathon, even reaching the first quarter (a bit over 10K) seemed interminable. To be honest, I didn’t have a positive attitude before or during the row. Even as it seemed more and more certain that I could make it, I was afraid that I would suddenly hit the wall. But amazingly, despite all my fears and doubts, I found myself maintaining a half to three quarters of a second under my target pace as I continued.
As I progressed my heart rate gradually rose. This is normal, but I wasn’t that sure what to expect since I had rarely kept such a steady pace during a long row. I was actually a bit alarmed at how fast my heart rate rose. I had expected it to stay under 125 for a t least an hour but it rose much faster than that and by the end I was going past 100% of what I had calculated to be my Maximum Heart Rate just to maintain my pace! The amazing thing was that I didn’t hit the wall and I wasn’t even breathing hard. At about the 2K to go mark I started getting pretty excited and had a hard time holding myself back. It was only the fear of suddenly hitting the wall that kept me from accelerating. But at about 1500 meeters to go, I gradually started increasing my pace and by 500 meters to go I was rowing 2:12. I actually finished with something to spare but the pain didn’t make me wish that I had tried harder!