"PREPARE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT - BECAUSE IT DOES."
-- Roz Savage
1. What were the key elements of your training on the run up to the row?
For the Atlantic I trained really hard. I was determined that there would be no surprises for my body when I arrived at the start line. So I trained for up to 30 hours a week, in a combination of running, cross-training machines, weight training, and many, many hours on my WaterRower.
My training peaked two months before the start of the Atlantic Rowing Race, when for 5 consecutive Sundays I spent 16 hours on the rowing machine, rowing 4 shifts of 4 hours with a 1 hour break in between. I would start at noon on a Sunday and finish around breakfast time on a Monday. It was as much about training my boredom threshold as anything else. I would pass the time listening to music and visualising what it would be like to row across an ocean.
Was it a successful strategy? Yes – in that it got me to the start line believing that I had the physical stamina to cope with this challenge. No – in that within the first week I had developed tendinitis in my shoulders, and spent most of the crossing relying on painkillers.
Most likely the problem was due to the fact that on the WaterRower the rowing movement was consistent and regular – whereas on the rough waves of the ocean I was lucky if I got both the oars in the water at the same time, and the shockwaves were transmitted up the oars and into my shoulders. I found that while a flat-water rowing stroke derives 80% of its power from the thigh muscles, on the ocean I was using my upper body much more. The rougher the water, the less I was able to use the bigger, stronger thigh muscles, and the more I had to rely on my relatively weak laterals and deltoids.
So since then I have adopted a much more relaxed attitude to training - doing what ocean rowers call "wait training" - you wait until you get in the boat, and then start training. (Definitely works better when said out loud - "weight training" - geddit?!)
2. Were there any things you wished you had done more of which would have helped your row?
For the Atlantic, it would probably have helped if I’d spent less time on the rowing machine and more time in my boat, but the boat was in the boatyard being fitted out so this wasn’t an option at the time. There are also significant logistical challenges with getting the boat in the water on a regular basis – having a vehicle with a towbar, finding a boat ramp, having an escort boat in case of a strong headwind, etc. So it’s not that easy to get out in the boat on a regular basis.
Training in an open water sculling boat - as I did in the Columbia Gorge while preparing for the Pacific - is a decent alternative.
3. What were the main challenges of your training?
Boredom. I’ve run a couple of marathons, and the biggest challenge is your mind – the negative thoughts that come up, like when you’re 10 minutes into a 3-hour training run, and you’re already thinking, “bored, bored, bored.” The psychological aspect is just huge. Self-belief and determination to succeed can overcome many physical shortcomings. If all else fails, podcasts, audiobooks and good music all help distract the mind.
4. How much prep did you do mentally? What kind of things did you do?
Over the years I have spent time with various sports psychologists and life coaches, as well as reading many books on the psychological aspects of adventure. Useful strategies have included:
– having strong motivation – understanding exactly why I am undertaking this challenge, and what rewards it will bring me when I succeed
– reading about people who have had really tough times in the wild (Shackleton, Aaron Ralston, Ranulph Fiennes, Joe Simpson, etc) – it helps to remember there is always someone worse off than yourself!
– probably the most important technique that I now use is to “focus on the process”, i.e. what needs to be done TODAY to bring me closer to my goal? So I have a very vivid image in my mind of the goal itself – how it will feel to arrive at the end of the journey, how this fits into the bigger picture of my life direction, etc – and I know what needs to be done in the here and now to work towards that goal. But I refuse to contemplate tomorrow and all the other days that will pass between where I am now and where I want to be. I find that just too overwhelming. I concentrate on taking it one day, one stroke at a time.
5. What preparation did you do in terms of systems on the boat and general seamanship?
Probably one of the best things that I did during my preparations for the Atlantic was to spend a total of 6 weeks at sea in relatively small sailing boats. For 4 weeks I sailed on a Sigma 38 in the Eastern Atlantic, from Cape Verde to the Azores, and then a loop to the north of the Azores (we were aiming for the UK, but the weather was too hostile and we had to turn back). This gave me invaluable experience of many things, such as:
- use of marine instruments
- navigation skills
- seasickness and how to survive it
- safety procedures
- general familiarity with life on board a small vessel
- keeping watch alone overnight
- the psychological impact of being far out of sight of land
- rough weather sailing
I also took formal training courses in: