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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

Challenge at Birmingham


By Wayne Gallasch

In July 2003, when planning my travel schedule for video taping international bodybuilding events, I noticed that the British Indoor Rowing Championships (BIRC) would take place in Birmingham on November 15, 2 weeks after my last assignment.  Although I'd never competed in an indoor rowing event, having only taken up the sport in March [Editor: See Success Stories (4), Fired Up By Gains After 60.], it seemed like a good opportunity to train for a specific goal.  Little did I know what I was getting into.

I went to the Concept 2 website and downloaded their 2000 meter interactive training program and started serious training on August 4.  I had just 15 weeks to prepare for the big race.

On learning of my rather ambitious plan, Clarence Bass asked me to write about my experience.

I started this report a few days before the event took place at the Birmingham National Indoor Arena.  Although a novice, I wanted to see how well I could perform against the best rowers in the world in my age group (60-64).  Although I’ve never stopped training, I was challenging myself after 22 years of retirement from all forms of sporting competition.

My wife, Tina, and I had been training and pushing each other hard earlier in the year and had achieved personal bests for the 500-meter row.  In August, our focus changed to the Olympic 2000-meter distance, the only distance raced at the BIRC.

Soon it was early October, and time for me to go on the road again.  First, I was off to the UK for taping the NABBA Universe, then over to Las Vegas for the Olympia, and back to UK for the English and Dutch Grand Prix.  During this period, I went to the gym on every free day, primarily training on rowing plus some weights.  By this point, the stress of work, constant travel, jetlag, and trying to train at a high intensity was starting to wear me down.  Not surprisingly I came down with a flu virus in Las Vegas. But I couldn’t let this stop me. I love a challenge and the BIRC was only a few days away.

  Big Event

The BIRC is the biggest indoor rowing event in the world! Rowers compete from many different countries, including USA. This year reigning Olympic on-the-water champions, James Cracknell and Mathew Pinsent joined around 4000 other rowers in Britain’s biggest-ever participatory indoor sports event.

In the open class, the event organizers were hoping for a repeat of the titanic battle of 2001, where Pinsent beat Cracknell by one-tenth of a second. Competition was expected to be fierce in all classes and age groups, men and women, boys and girls. 

The experienced rowers were racing for British titles, gold medals, national, world and event records.  I was simply hoping for a personal best, in one of the world’s toughest and most demanding sports.

The highlight of my pre-competition training in the UK was rowing side by side with Nik “Big Bird” Fleming. Nik’s 6-feet-4-or-5 and weights 220 or more.  In 2002, he won the world championships in the Over-30 heavyweight class.  He was a wonderful inspiration, and gave me a number of tips.  In particular, he emphasized 5 magic words: Stick to your race plan.

Friday afternoon, the day before the race, arrived in a cold and very wet Birmingham.  I went straight from the event hotel to check out the venue and look for a place to weight myself.  No problem, scales were being set up in the downstairs warm-up and weigh-in area.  I breathed a sigh of relief, as I was a pound under the 75Kg or 165 lb lightweight limit.

I counted the number of warm-up machines: 76 Concept 2 Model C rowers, with the new style handle from the Model D.  Next to the warm-up was the massage area.  I also checked out the main race arena where the trade booths were being set up and the race machines were being wired to the computers, TV control center and big screen.

On-hundred-and-twenty of the new Model D rowers were numbered and set up in 6 rows of 20.  The first two rows (40 ergs) were wired back to the control position and TV area, where any 17 could be switched to the big screen display.

Back at the hotel, there were 6 rowing machines set up for practice.  This was the first time I’d seen the new Model D, so I tested the drag on the new monitor (which was simple to operate) and rowed a few strokes to get the feel of the new machine.  Many other rowers were working up quite a sweat, including some from the British Olympic rowing squad.

I had a light evening meal, to be sure to make weight the next morning, while I envied the heavyweight rowers next to me who were dispatching huge plates of food.  In bed at 10 o’clock, I had a reasonably good night’s sleep for the big day.


Up at 6.30, I ate my own muesli breakfast mix, whole grain toast and black coffee, and was all set for the race.  I took the 15 minutes walk to the venue, registered and went straight down to the weigh-in area.  I was only 73.9Kg and wished I had eaten more carbs the night before.  Still, better to be safe than sorry, because the weighing is two hours or less before your race time.  (If I could’ve weighed-in on rising at the event hotel, a much more substantial breakfast could have been enjoyed.  This would have been more sensible in my opinion and I hope it will be a new rule next year.)

The massage table now beckoned. My masseuse not only knew her job well, she also put me through an excellent stretching session. [Editor: Where do I sign up?] Time was flying and now it was time for my warm-up on one of the few vacant machines nearby, followed by my final stretching.  My UK Internet coach, Noel Frost, had instructed me to warm-up at a nice steady pace for 10 minutes, till I raised a sweat.  No speed bursts or practice starts, just a nice easy warm-up, with all energy being conserved for the race.  I was glad I followed this advice, because I felt relaxed, strong and confident when I sat on rower #C2 (third row, second machine), waiting for the starter’s instructions.  

  Wayne, rowing hard. Excellent position. Looks good, doesn’t he?

The final five minutes to race time flew by, no time for nerves. I adjusted the monitor, read my notes on what to remember under pressure, gave my race plan instructions to the cox sitting behind my machine, strapped in, and then it was “5-4-3-2-1-ROW!!”  The race seemed like a blur, until my cox called out “only 300 meters to go.”  I lifted my stroke rate and gave it absolutely everything I had--and prayed for the last 100 meters to count down; then the finish, and a feeling of relief and elation.  

Relaxed and happy after the race.

All went exactly to plan, I rowed faster in each 500 meters of the race, hit my target time of 7-minutes, 30-second on the dot--10 seconds better than my previous best.  Sixth place was also the highest I had hoped to achieve, based on the previous times of the other competitors.

I was very happy with the final sprint, although it just failed to take me under the 7:30 barrier.  That is now the challenge for next time.

  Friendly Aftermath

After receiving confirmation of my sixth-place finish, it was time to call Tina back in Australia with the results and all the news from the event.  I finally had time to relax, watch the other races and chat with some of the various medal winners in the other classes.  It was especially good to meet Roger Bangay, an elite British rower--he placed second by 1.1 seconds in the 65-69 lightweight class--whose help and advice over the last 3 months has been invaluable.


Wayne enjoys a few minutes with Silver Medalist and mentor Roger Bangay.

I was also thrilled to see Cambridge training friend Nik Fleming row twice, first for 14th place in the Open Class, and then first in the age 35-39 group. 

Sadly, the day finally came to an end.  For me, competing in the BIRC was like playing tennis at Wembley, as an amateur.  It was an experience of a lifetime.  Where else can you rub shoulders with Olympic champions such as Pinsent, Cracknell, and Sir Steve Redgrave, gold medal winner in five consecutive Olympics.

I spoke briefly with Rich “Ranger” Cureton of the USA, who won the Noel Frost Millennium Cup as best rower in the competition.  Rich, 52, set a new lightweight world record in his class of 6:28:0.  What an inspiration! The enormous power he generates is nothing short of amazing.

Now back to training for next year’s BIRC.

In closing, there are a number of people I want to thank. First, Clarence Bass for inspiring and encouraging me to take up indoor  rowing.  My wife Tina for coaching, excellent cooking, nutritional advice, and sharing many grueling gym sessions with me; Noel Frost for great coaching advice along with fellow Brits, Nik Fleming, Roger Bangay and John Batten.  Nik Fleming was a wonderful inspiration in training. Lance Robson of The Bradford Leisure Club in Northumberland, and his business partner Robbie Redpath for their support, while I stayed with them for intensive training prior to the event. My thanks also to my supplements sponsor MRM of the UK for their generous support and to the Fitness Warehouse, Adelaide, for our Concept 2 rower.

Finally, my thanks to Dick Rossan and Clive Jaques for getting me to training sessions on the road and working under the greatest pressures. All of you have made my participation in the BIRC not only possible, but  extremely enjoyable. It was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying days of my life.

(For more information on the BIRC, visit www.concept2.co.uk.)

Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108, Phone (505) 266-5858, e-mail:  cncbass@aol.com, FAX:  (505) 266-9123.  Office hours:  Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time.  FAX for international orders:  00l 51 505 2669123

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