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19 December 2012

2012 Greek Indoor Rowing Championship - My road to sub 3 minutes race time

2012          

Video: Mens 30-39 2012 Greek IRC
(Me with white t-shirt, next to me standing my coach, Makis, with red jersey)



If there was just one word I would be allowed to pick up to describe the 2012 Greek indoor rowing national event that would be *exhaustion*. And this description doesn't only apply for the race day, but for the whole training season leading to this event. Below, I expose the training stages that allowed me to break the 3 minutes race time. Hope my story below will motivate all those athletes, new to indoor rowing, expand their ambitions.

Preparation
Indoor rowing requires maximum effort to reach a top level performance. The effort required to achieve even the tiniest improvement is significant. When you watch rowing live on the TV you might have noticed that the whole race lasts only a couple of minutes (less than 7 min for a 2000m race and 3 min for a 1000m race). Believe me, for those athletes who target a medal position, racing those few minutes feels endless until the moment they cross the finish line. Both in physical and mental terms.




If you've never tried indoor rowing before, I can tell you for sure that you can significantly improve your initial rowing time within short period (months perhaps) with a basic training program. But, if you want to reach a competitive level then you should be prepared to invest a lot of time and dedication to climb the results ladder. At that level, every second of improvement will ask you to train for months, if not for years.

For this year's, 2012, national event my main target was one: Break the 3 minutes race time for the 1000m race (currently, indoor rowing events in Greece are organised around this distance only). For the past three years participating into this event, I was pretty close to this achievement, but always just above the 3 minutes barrier. Actually, in 2011 I've missed breaking this limit by just 0.6 (zero point six) of the second. So close in doing it, but it still felt so far away. I decided that it's time to to achieve a sub 3-min race time.

Training for the event
It is never too early to start preparing for an indoor (and outdoor) rowing event in general, but you can easily miss the deadline needed to secure a minimum race performance. So, better start training earlier than later. For the past 3 years (that is, since I got involved into indoor rowing and rowing in general) my training plan was executed instinctively, based on relevant information available on forums (http://concept2.co.uk/forum/) and on internet. This approach might sound enough at first place, but I soon realised that I've reach a flat curve in my performance, i.e. no more improvement despite my training effort.

At the end of 2011, I thought that it was time to join a rowing club and seek accurate advice on training plans. So, last in May 2012, soon after my race at the 2012 European IRC in UK (read my post here), I decided to join M.A.K.K. (Marathon Academy of Rowing and Kayak, M.A.K.K.'s official website ) rowing club, with its base at the Olympic Rowing/Kayak Centre at Schinias, Athens (currently, this is the only rowing/kayak club in Greece that accepts athletes of all of levels regardless of their age and sporting background). The location of M.A.K.K club inspired me to train efficiently, since its gym facilities have direct view on the rowing canal (see photos here), not to consider the excellent range or race boats available for me to practice rowing on the water too.


I started training about 4 months in advance of the national event scheduled for December. The preparation plan was very tight, since it was designed around a 5 times per week training sessions with two days of complete rest. I cannot disclose the full details of my plan (you can request it by email me though if you wish), but except the training at the indoor rower, I combined a free-weights exercise program, too, not included in my previous years. I wish I could go for additional training sessions, but that was already enough considering a full time job on top of everything else.

During those 4 months my mind had to stay focused and concentrated on the target: Going for a sub-3 min race plan. This target was my close 'partner' and courage when I needed to remain consistent with the training plan on a weekly basis and for a period of months for the whole season leading to the race. It was my internal mentor to keep me going when the training was exhausting me. Except from the training program itself, I also had to sort out additional parameters around it, such as nutrition, rest, adequate amount of sleep and staying injury-free. This is too much to consider, you may say, but personally I find rowing the most rewarding sport in terms of body fitness and strength. I better row for an hour, instead of watching for an hour a silly movie on the TV.

My coach at M.A.K.K club was there to guide me throughout the training season. The club's facilities were always available for me to use during weekends, complemented with training sessions on the gym during mid-week. I realised that free-weights endurance sessions (that is, non-stop weight exercises of up to 60 min in duration) were very beneficial to gain strength on the rowing machine. This was something that I hadn't considered on my training sessions on the previous years leading to the race.

I reached the race around this plan hoping that my target could appear on the official race board.

Race Day - 15th Dec. 2012

Race day is always an exciting and fascinating moment, combined with nervousness too! All the hard work and sacrifices are developed during that day, actually within few minutes. One good thing about rowing is that more or less you can predict your race time based on the achievements throughout your training. You can't expect miracles to happen during a race day, but you can be more or less confident that you can approach a finish time based on your training tests. That's how demanding rowing is - it simply does not let you achieve something extraordinary beyond your preparation. On the other hand, long lasting race events such as triathlon, can be difficult to predict in terms of finish time: An Olympic distance race lasts around 2 hours and during that time anything is possible!

With the race time for my division (Mens' 30-39) set at 15:48 I started warming up at about 15:00, I always like to warm up well in advance, it helps me to mentally concentrate on the race and activate my 'race-mode'!


My race plan to break the 3 minutes barrier for the 1000m race was in place, at least within my mind. All I now had to do was to execute it. For this, it means that I had to row on average better than 1:30/500m (standard split time on C2 indoor rowers display monitor). To give an understanding to those of you who read this article and have never rowed,  this corresponds to a power of at least 520 watts or equivalent to an energy expenditure about 1690kcal/hour (or 28 kcal per minute, read article for calories burned on indoor rower). That's how demanding rowing is, coming back to the point I mentioned above.

I hate so much the stand-by moment in front of my monitor during the countdown procedure until the word 'ROW' appears on the monitor. I've been waiting for a year to reach this moment and I have completely run out of patience to wait further!!
 

'Sit ready...Attention...ROW!' and off I'm there! I've started rowing around 38 spm, close to the target pace. I was rowing next to last's year defending champion and world class master's rower Panos Kokkalidis (finished 3rd in 1x Mens 2012 Master's World Championship). We almost stayed close to each other until the middle of the race. From that point I started loosing a few meters of distance, however everything was still within my plan. There is no point in trying to catch someone faster than you, it can simply distract your plan and mess us your race completely. Better stay with your plan than risk a uncertain decision. That's my experience in rowing. Go out hard and you will certainly pay for this at the closing end of the race. Rowing is like walking on a string of rope. The distance between carrying on and falling apart is very tiny. Your body has only certain amount of reserves and you must distribute them carefully evenly across the whole race.

Towards the last quarter of the race the pressure was already there. I was behind at second by about 6-7 meters if I remember well, but my main effort was to go for the sub 3-minutes target. The last 250meters gave me the worst feeling ever as an indoor rower. I felt that I had completely run out of oxygen within me. Basically, any amount of inhaled air did not suffice to make me feel better by any means. My body had simply entered the anaerobic zone, that is, more oxygen was demanded by the muscles compared to the amount that the lungs were able to supply into the blood stream. This was the instance when the training  came into play!

During the last 200m I had probably disintegrated both from the surrounding atmosphere and the competitors. I was simply racing against my exhaustion, a feeling that makes every single stroke perceived like a *huge* effort.


And eventually...the zero meters-remaining mark was reached... at 2:57.7 . Mission completed and target executed! A sub 3minutes was officially written on the finish board. A new personal best for the 1000m with a second place on my division. When I tried to stand up from the machine I felt that my legs were completely in pieces and my oesophagus had a burning feeling as if I drunk an acidic shot. I must have spent something like 20 minutes or so laid down on the floor and sitting on a chair breathing like a balloon.

Below: Final Results, Men 30-39 1000m 2012 Greek IRC (Column Titles from left: Rank/Surname/Name/Club/Time)