Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Off season training: amassing kilometers the hard way.

It started on a brevet. Chris N. (from PA) and I discovered that we both have trained on  Concept2 indoor rowing machines or "ergs" as the rowers call them. Chris used his over the winter to cross train. I have had one for over a decade, but since I started Randonneuring it's been off in the corner of "the man room" surrounded by bikes and bike parts - unused.

Chris mentioned the indoor rowing and I replied with my story about competing in the 2010 CRASH B World Indoor Rowing Championships. This may need some explanation. Indoor rowing is a sport. It may be the niche-iest of sports since it involves competing in a rowing distance event on a device that actually doesn't travel an inch or ever touch water; nevertheless, it is a hotly contested sport that has at its core the requirement that all of its athletes inflict intense anaerobic suffering upon themselves. So it that sense, it's kinda like bike racing.  

The event takes place in a stadium. The ergs are on the floor, linked to each other and to a gigantic monitor where each erg is represented by a light that moves across the screen. The packed stadium can watch the race on the monitor and track the progress of the competitors. The competition can be intense. The noise of the crowd deafening. For the competitors, it is 6 -8 minutes of your measured best. If all goes well, the last 500 meters will be at the very limits of your physical capacity -  to do your best you must go deep into the pain cave. (You do know that rowing was once used as torture?) In 2010, I raced in my age group and then discovered randonneuring and let the rowing machine sit in the corner.

Chris used to race bikes and now he is a Randonneur. As proof positive (as if more was needed) of what must be his innate dislike of being comfortable;  he thought the CRASH B sounded like something he wanted to do. So he signed up.

He told me about the Holiday Challenge - row 100K (62 miles) or 200K (125 miles) between Thanksgiving and Christmas and you get a certificate that you print yourself. Row 200K and get a pin. Exercise for trinkets? Sounds perfect. 

How hard would it be? How about some false equivalencies to give you an idea. In my opinion, generally speaking, rowing 2000 meters is roughly comparable to running one mile in terms of effort and time (if you are a well trained regular runner). It's not a perfect comparison, these things never are, but it should give you an idea. Based on that, the challenge was certainly do-able with some consistent rowing.

I pulled the rowing machine out of the corner and dusted it off - almost 4 years later. I figured that  I've been riding a lot. My endurance should be good and rowing is really a lower body sport in disguise. I used to be pretty good at this. I should be able to row 100K in a little less than a month. On Christmas eve, I crossed the 200K mark. 

January offered another rowing challenge. Get a team of friends and compete against other teams for most meters rowed over the month. We formed a team with four members, the Off Season Yankers, - Chris, Seth from Oregon, Nicolle (Seth's wife) and me. Seth races bikes in Oregon. He loves the pain cave. With about 8 days left in the month we are in ninth place for teams of 1-5. I suspect that staying in the top 10 will not be easy. We will likely need to be well over 800,000 meters for the month to stay in the top ten.  Last year a it took about million meters (621 miles) for a team to make the top ten list. This should make for an interesting week.

Regardless of how this competition turns out, it feels like rowing has been great cross training for riding. So far, this has been a unusually cold and snowy winter in the northeast. Having an indoor alternative that works some muscles not involved in cycling while hopefully maintaining my riding fitness has kept me active and fended off the midwinter slump. The rowing challenges have provided good motivation to get back in there and keep it up despite the difficulty of staring at a wall while scooting back and forth on your butt - sometimes for hours (music helps).

February is the CRASHB race. I have not signed up for that. 


(And yes, I did get my January 200K Rando ride in)


  1. Really interested in this; rowing indoors. I've done lots of kayaking on the water. a 100 miles race down a river in less than 32 hrs. Do know a website to steer me on rowers? Thanks, and keep rowing (pedaling).

    1. The website is it an excellent source of information. It's also the rowing machine that most people use for serious training and frankly it's the only one that I'm familiar with. I suggest taking a look at their website and looking through all the information they have available. they even provide locations way you can use on the machines such as gyms and YMCA's without having to purchase one.

  2. Training on an erg truly is torture. Rowed in college in Boston and some of winter training when the Charles river was frozen over was indoor erg sessions. Swore I'd never set butt on an erg again after graduating, and have kept that pledge for for over 30 years now.

    1. while I have Canoed (often) and kayaked (occasionally) on water I haven't rowed. I think that may be part of the reason why the indoor rower works for me - because I never compare to the real thing. Which is also why indoor cycling does not work for me.

  3. Wow. Your post really takes me back. In my heavy business travel days, the treadmill was my first choice, unless a rowing machine was present. I can recall a Boston hotel that was attached to a YMCA had one. Loved every minute of it.

    I'm originally from the Oxford Circle section of Philly, so I can identify with the geography mentioned in your posts. In my teens, I remember biking over to Cedarbrook Mall (near you?); even took a trip to Washington's Crossing Park with a buddy. Long before helmets and water bottles.

    1. Glad to hear it. The rowing machines are still out there you know. And it's one of those sports, like riding, that you can do for a lifetime.

      And yes I know of the areas you are talking about.