Tag Archive: indoor rowing

  1. Building Training Momentum

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    It has been a while since I have written anything meaningful down in a full blog, and as I look back now it has been a pretty rough 2 or 3 years in terms of rowing performance since I was peaking in 2016. This is of course all relative, but for a good few years I’ve known my performances had been on the decline.

    Whilst it is widely accepted that after a peak our results will eventually start to drop off, the point at which this happens depends on several factors. These include how long we have been rowing and what our fitness levels were at the start point. For example, if you are relatively new to the sport then beginner are easier to come by as opposed to someone who has been rowing 20 years where gains are marginal and require huge effort and sacrifice to see improvements.

    A few years ago I wasn’t ready to start my decline. Everyone has a story to tell, but looking back to the moment I turned 40, things started to head in that direction and most of the reasons seemed unavoidable. I may have been getting older, but I was completely motivated and on the brink of WR age group performances with no reason for that to change. It was seemingly at that point though that my past career (rugby) and lack of any real regard for protecting my body that things started to break down (back and arms primarily). After a period of hope/denial, doing my best to fight the situation and trying to build initial momentum, this eventually resulted in extended durations of doctor enforced rest from rowing, and ultimately surgery. I had reached a point during an interval session that I actually couldn’t row. As strange as it sounds, that was a positive for me at the time as it was a chance to draw a line in the sand to work forwards from. I obviously kept myself fit and in good condition throughout, (cycling, weights and general conditioning) knowing that when I had fully rehabilitated and healed I would have a strong body again to push forward with. 

    Well, that didn’t happen quite as I thought. I got back to 70-80% health fairly well which is a trait I have had most of my competitive life, but things really started to stutter then. My training performances were very up and down with frequent negative reactions to rowing and one injury leading to another, or a reccurrence of a previous one. I did manage to put a short training spell together at the end of last year to give myself a chance of competing, but this turned out to be a false dawn with the outcomes mixed. This proved neither mentally or physically good for me as, despite doing my best at the time, I hadn’t really given a true account of myself. It left me with more questions than answers and given my style of leadership is through actions and results, I became increasingly frustrated as I just couldn’t see a clear path to achieve this. Something had to change.


    Something had to change.

    What did I need to do then?

    I finally accepted that I had to change something. I faced the choice of throwing in the towel or remaining patient and finding a way to approach things differently. I guess there was only ever one outcome here so went with the latter, knowing at some point I’d be faced with the same choice again if I didn’t. 

    Genuinly accepting where I was at was crucial and my starting point. It wasn’t acceptance that I was finished, more that I wasn’t what I used to be and that could be where I ended up. That is the hardest thing for anyone, but I knew it was the only way for me to build some momentum, albeit on a different path. My challenges changed daily and I hoped that trying to row more often, with less volume, intensity and pressure would help me get back my consistency. I know that being fit, active and healthy is the most important thing so putting less pressure on myself to perform could in the end aid my performance. 

    I had to step out of my comfort zone in a different way, leave any ego at the door and employ a different type of mental strength, removing any self-doubt and resentment to where I was at because of what had gone before. In the last few months, I pledged to myself to row at least 5km per day, as part of my overall training. However uncomfortable things were, I figured I could muddle through 5000m. It didn’t have to be fast, nor in one sitting, and I have since found many inventive ways to hit 5 km during a session and rowing wasn’t the main focus very often. They have not all been straight forward, but I have stuck to it and I can feel a little momentum behind me now. I am not symptom-free, but I feel more confident and happy on the machine again. The exact reasons for that I will never quite know as there are many balls in play, but I’m in a better place now and performances are definitely heading in the right direction.

    There are continually aspects of lifestyle and training to work on and only time will tell where this journey leads. Training feels important to me again, but it is more important because other aspects are under control. I have started to make progress and that is a better feeling than continual frustration and resentment. I’m not there yet but are we ever actually there….?

    Whatever your challenges are, never give up. Change, modify or do whatever it is to keep things going and slowly you will start to feel the momentum shifting. You may not know when that shift will happen, but it will happen at some point if you keep going. Giving up, on the other hand, leaves you exactly where you are now.

    Happy Rowing.

  2. Training doesn’t always have to be perfect

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    I’m a huge believer in having a training plan. When we are left to our own devices, we will naturally gravitate towards the sessions that we enjoy most, rather than the areas we need to work on. I have a coach called Eddie Fletcher who has been preparing me for races for a decade now and he sets me a programme that makes sense to me and that I believe in (which is crucial!). I do my best to follow it, but he (and it) allows me enough flexibility to ‘tweak’ it. Sometimes these tweaks are planned due to work or social commitments and I will move sessions around, but sometimes I have to tweak a session on the fly. Last night was a good example.

    The session was supposed to be 3 x 1000m, and ideally I was looking for under 1:29.1 average. I’ve been at a work conference for a couple of days so have been on my feet non-stop and my legs felt tired and I didn’t fancy it. But because we’re so close to BRIC there is less room for flexibility than at other times so I had to give it a go.

    The first one felt surprisingly fine and I thought maybe I was on for a good session. It was nicely under target and felt racey. I had felt tired but I hadn’t actually rowed the previous day so maybe I had more in the tanks than I thought. On the second interval I stopped after 400m for no apparent reason when I was ticking over ok. This is the difficult moment when things don’t go to plan – how do I salvage today’s training? Having stopped, then recovering to finish the session as planned is pretty unlikely. But the plan asked for 3 long intervals so ideally I need to complete something close to that! I worked out a strategy to get me through another km by setting little sub-targets, and off I went. It worked a treat, and it was quicker than the first.

    Now comes another difficult decision – how ambitious should I be from here? Maybe I can actually complete the session under my target? Or maybe I should be conservative on the last one and I can still just hit my target? Indecision never works well for me … another random handle down after just 250m this time. I was caught between 2 targets and hit neither.

    To be honest, I was happy with the 2 decent intervals at this stage but physically I was feeling ok so I thought that a nice little 750m would finish the session almost as intended. Again, I set myself little sub-targets and this interval was never in doubt. Faster than both k’s. The session ended up as:

    1. 1000m @ 1:28.6
    2. About 400m @ 1:27 ish
    3. 1000m @ 1:28.2
    4. About 250m @ 1:28 ish
    5. 750m @ 1:27.7

    Then you have the slight disappointment that you know you could have finished the session exactly as per the programme (and it could have been very fast) with a little bit more application. But this is where you need to be compassionate with yourself. I made the session harder than it needed to be, I did almost the right amount of interval work at comfortably under target average, and I showed a bit of resolve and fight to make sure I produced a session that had meaning and I could take something from. You learn a lot from nights like that and personally I didn’t view it as a failure, and actually took confidence from it.

  3. Getting Your Best Score – 2k Race Words of Wisdom

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    Probably one of the questions I get asked most is the broad topic of how someone can get their best 2k score. Now the hard work really needs to have been done in the previous months, but there are certainly ways to get the best out of yourself on that specific day, given your fitness levels at the time.

    When race day is upon you, it’s a nerve-racking time whether it’s your first 2k, or your 50th. I’ve been racing at British Indoors for something like 14 years now and I’m still a bag of nerves before the race. But I’ve developed an approach over the years that works for me to give me the best opportunity to perform on the day.


    Firstly, make sure you allow yourself plenty of rest in the days before. By race day, you are where you are physically, and you’re not going to improve your score with any last minute tough training. If anything, it is more likely you could make it worse if you’re fatigued for the race. A 2k isn’t an exam, and you can’t do any last minute ‘cramming’. Your last sessions should be short and sharp, with the focus on quality stroking at the required rate and split.

    Ergo tests are stressful enough as it is, so do your best to get everything else about the day ‘right’ so it doesn’t add to the stress. Plan your journey to the venue, and sort out your kit, food and drink the night before. Don’t forget the little things that we all come to rely on like headphones, playlists, heart rate monitor (if you wear one for racing), etc. Think about what you need for the immediate run up to the race – any particular drinks you like, a specific final meal or snack, etc. But ultimately try and stay relaxed as best you can – it’s the same machine that you use all the time in your boat club, garage, gym, etc. Don’t let the change of surroundings phase you – it’s just you and the machine. Master that thought and the universe is yours!

    To get the best erg score on any given day, have a clear simple race plan in your mind and barring disaster, stick to it. You’re not going to pull a miracle score out of nowhere, so look at your training, speak to your coach, and agree your target and keep it at the front of your mind.

    My tips for race plan would be keep it simple. I go off hard for about 7 strokes and then I am looking to find my target split and sit on it until at least 1250m gone. Then depending upon how I am feeling, the race situation, etc., I will build for home 750m out or leave it to 500m out. I’ve done lots of 750m intervals so mentally just put myself in one of those sessions and find the metres really fly by. I’m not a big fan of pushes, or complicated pace or rate changes, pick a split and try to hit it stroke after stroke. Focus on the next stroke and that is all. It’s always useful to have a few mental tactics ready for when the difficult mental questions appear through the middle section. Remember key training sessions you have done, count the seconds down (I count the seconds from 1000m gone … 9 seconds per 50m is 1:30 pace), or if it gets really tough, count strokes. When you feel like stopping, ask yourself, ‘Can I do 10 more strokes?’ … the answer is almost definitely yes. Do it again if you need to. In my experience, there are only a crucial few really tough moments in a 2k and getting through a particularly challenging section can be key. What feels like an impossible task, 50m later can feel like you’re romping home. Trusting in your training is key. The more aggressive your race plan, the more you need to believe in the preparation you’ve put in. If you’re not sure what shape you are then be conservative for the first k then assess it, but your best score will come from committing from stroke 1 to stroke 200-odd, and you need to know what you are really capable of if you’re to deliver on that plan.

    Good Luck!