Each January, the leader board for the Virtual Team Challenge lights up with impressive meters rowed over thirty-one days. Some of these results seem unbelievable: how is it possible to row over two million meters in just one month? We reached out to a few rowers in the challenge who completed over one million meters to find out.
Darlene Brennan, who led the challenge in individual meters rowed (and skied) with 2,651,310 meters for the Ancient Mariners team, explains that these challenges are divided into three parts: physical, emotional, and mental. The physical part is “probably the easiest” Darlene explains, even though a lot of people might disagree. “I row 10K in about an hour—an easy pace that I can keep up for a long time. I'm not a strong rower. I'm not one who can row 2k in sub-7 or -8 or -9 for that matter.” So what does it take to row an average of eight or nine hours a day for the month of January? “A good seat cushion is absolutely necessary! Finding the right seat for anyone is, how shall I say, a personal quest.” Concept2 recommends trying out a variety of seat pads, including sitting on inexpensive plastic bubble wrap, to see what works best over the long haul.
Of course, it also helps to have a lot of time on your hands. As Don Seifert, a fellow teammate on the Ancient Mariners Virtual Team who rowed over 1.8 million meters this challenge, says, “I’m the tortoise, not the hare.” Both Darlene and Don are retired and have the time and motivation to row long distances. Don is on track to reach 100 million meters by his sixty-fifth birthday in December. Joi Bear, however, fits in her workouts around work: “I got up early during the week to row 2.5 hours before work, and rowed for longer periods on the weekends.” She completed over one million meters during the January Virtual Team Challenge for the Age Without Limits team. The emotional support of a team is also very helpful. “Lots of emails from fellow team members and our team captain keep me going,” explains Darlene. As serious as the rowing may seem, Don insists that the Ancient Mariners “don’t take ourselves seriously…but we are tremendously serious about rowing for all we’re worth. Humor assuages the aches and pains. We laugh a lot. As a team, we row—A LOT!” For Darlene, it is also helpful to have the support of a spouse. As Don (who is divorced) jokes, “(team) spouses seem to be very understanding of the needs of the long-distance rower…or they’ve been married so long they’re totally inured to the foibles of the idiot they’ve married!” Jim Yeager, who chased Darlene’s meters throughout the month, once recruited the support of his entire family: “At one time there were three family members rowing in one of the Concept2 challenges, me, my wife and my mother-in-law.” Jim completed 2,607,000 meters for the Ancient Mariners team this challenge.
Darlene feels the mental component is hardest and says, “You have to be a strong meditator to row all day, every day for a month. Good music can help to get into the rhythm of rowing.” To fulfill hours of “mindless rowing,” Don rows whenever there is a football game on TV, and then rows to the ones he recorded on the DVR. While the challenges are “fun,” competition is still a driving factor. Jim told us that this challenge was one of the most difficult things he had ever done. “Not the rowing part, but the constant discipline and repetition, the confinement. I became very competitive and serious about what I was doing.” Greg Trahar, who ranked third in the challenge with 2,001,291 meters, says that the Performance Monitor continues to motivate him. “If you are competitive, you will always have some PB or ranking to improve, no matter what your standard is.” Greg feels his best rowing achievement is when he set a new world record in the marathon for the men’s age 50–59 age group (lightweight) by over 2 minutes.
Perhaps surprisingly, most of the top rowers on the leaderboard do not have competitive on water rowing experience. Darlene’s brother introduced her to the Model A back in the 1990s, and Joi started rowing on the Model B in 1993 after college. Don learned to row in a dinghy while fishing with his uncle, then started rowing on a Concept2 Indoor Rower at the local YMCA in the early 90s. Greg discovered the rowing machine at his local gym, and then decided to buy one instead of paying membership dues. “My gym membership fees have been saved many times over.”
So how do you row millions of meters in one month? Most of the rowers we asked had a similar strategy of rowing for 6k to 10k at a time and taking 15–20 minute breaks, or rowing longer stretches with hour-long breaks. Individuals were rowing up to six or seven times a day. At the age of 74, Jim learned how to row throughout the day and take more rests so his body could recover. Rowing up to 10 hours a day, Jim woke up at 5 a.m. every morning and tried to get to bed by midnight each night. These rowers can continue such high meters by staying hydrated and well fed. When asked what fuels his meters, Jim told us he eats mostly fruit, crackers and cheese, green olives, nuts, and baked potatoes with butter. Greg told us that he kept his heart rate below 110 bpm after an injury scare early in the challenge. “I never sweated at all and only needed a towel to sit on. Ironically I have actually lost fitness, and it will take a bit of time to get my speed back.”
Concept2 continues to be amazed by these efforts and hopes you are also inspired. These athletes show how long-distance rowing requires some physical discomfort, a lot of heart, patience, and determination. Row on!