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"We are unhappy, not because of things we lack but because we have potentials that have not been realized."                            George Sheehan, M.D.

500m Distance Reignites Rowing Zeal

Iíve been training on the Concept 2 indoor rowing machine for about 15 years, but I havenít submitted a time to their world rankings for about 10 years. As longtime readers may remember, I developed an aversion to the 2500-meter competitive distance. I came to dread the pain and discomfort involved in an all-out competitive effort. The 2500m event has been compared to running a 440-yard dash for two miles. As a coach told The Wall Street Journal, "A normal body shouldnít be put under such strain." (See The Lean Advantage 3 for my experiences in competitive rowing.)

Iíve started to train with an eye to again entering rowing competition several times over the years, but each time think better of it after a few workouts. The standard distance (itís now 2000m) violates George Sheehanís "first principle of fitness," that exercise should be enjoyable. For me, at least, the discomfort involved in rowing 2000 meters or more takes the joy out of exercise; itís a simply not fun.

Iíve never stopped rowing, because I enjoy rowing hard for shorter distances. I usually do intervals with work periods between 30 seconds and two minutes. I keep trying to improve and almost always include rowing in my training cycles.

Iíve continued to follow the world rankings in the Concept 2 Update, the company newsletter, and I was aware that the rankings are now online. But until recently I hadnít taken the time to explore the online system. When I finally got around to visiting the Concept 2 site, I discovered that 90,000 entries -- for men and women of all ages and weights -- were submitted in the first two years; 2002 is the third year of online rankings. I also discovered that 500 meter times are now being ranked according to sex, weight and age group. Thatís when I started to get interested -- because rowing 500 meters takes two minutes more or less, my preferred time. When I queried the system for 500m times for lightweight men (under 165 pounds) in the 60 Ė 69 age category, I really started to get interested.

The best time was posted by Roger Bangay of London, England: 1:37.7. That may be a little out of my current range. But the number four and five times were 1:43.7 and 1:47.6, respectively. Now, thatís more like it. "I believe I can post a time in between those times," I wrote in my training dairy, "which would put me in fifth place." In the course of my interval training, I had recently rowed 558 meters in two minutes, which is roughly equivalent to 1:46 for 500m. It looked like I would be competitive!

To quote George Sheehan again, "Competition is simply each of us seeking our absolute best with the help of each other." I could feel my competitive juices begin to flow. I knew immediately that the ranking system was just what I needed to push myself to a personal record for 500 meters. I was psyched. I decided to go for it in my next scheduled rowing session, which would be the following Sunday.

I wrote in my diary before the workout that I would aim for a time of 1:45, which would put me in fifth place. That means I would need to row at a pace a little under 1:45/500m, to make up for the few seconds, three to five pulls, it takes to get up to speed at the start. 

It is my habit to close my eyes on the first few pulls and concentrate on getting off to a smooth, powerful start. When I opened my eyes, I was hitting a pace of 1:42, a little faster than planned. But it felt good Ė I was rowing smoothly and without straining -- so I continued at 1:42-43 ... for 100 meters, 200 meters, 300 meters, 400 meters, and kicked it up to 1:41 in the last 100 meters. I was going strong right through the finish. I didn't tie up at the end. It felt surprisingly good. 

My final time was 1:43.7, equal to the fourth place time. The other fellow was there first, of course, so I was in fifth place, exactly were I'd hoped to be. Happily, my time was a little better than expected. Needless to say, I was delighted.


Carol snapped this photo during my final kick.

You can probably guess what Iím thinking. If I can do 1.43.7 in my first effort at 500 meters Ė rowing hard every other week -- surely I can do a little better and move into fourth place. Thatís my plan. I intend to use the ranking system to spur me to a better time. Just thinking about it makes my heart beat faster! Itís both scary and exhilarating. (See update below.)

As George Sheehan said, "Becoming the best you can be makes you feel the best you can feel." The corollary, of course, is also true: "We are unhappy not because of things we lack but because we have potentials that have not been realized." I'm happy about my time, but will not be satisfied until I realize my potential Ė which I hope never comes. Because the true joy is in the striving.

(Check out the Concept 2 online ranking system -- at Concept2.com.)

UPDATE: Second Effort Produces New PR

Happily, my plan is already bearing fruit. Iíve moved into fourth place in the Concept 2 rankings for lightweight men in the 60 Ė 69 age category. What's more, I'm less than a second out of third place.

For the second time, I exceeded my expectations in the 500 meter row. Two weeks after my fifth place effort (1:43.7) and three days after the above article was put online, I improved by almost three seconds, recording a time of 1:40.9. This put me solidly in fourth place and only eight-tenths of a second behind the third place time of 1:40.1 posted by Malcolm Fawcett of York, England. I also moved up to 11th place for all men in my age category, both lightweights and heavyweights, and 120th for lightweight men of all ages.


Carolís camera catches me rowing hard in the final 100 meters.

After an easy rowing session the week before, I made another all-out effort. After a three minute warm-up, which felt very good, I set my performance monitor at 500 meters and began rowing. When I opened my eyes after three or four pulls, I was hitting 1:42. Another pull or two took me down to 1:38-39, which I maintained through 400 meters, where the water began to get a little rough. Unlike my previous effort, I began to tie up in the final 100 meters, slowing to 1:44-45 at the end. It was a good effort; I was pleased.

 Hereís my time recorded on the performance monitor.

All I really needed was to break the fourth place tie at 1:43.7. I felt confident I could do that, but coming within a hair of the third place time was a nice surprise.

I believe I can do better in the near future, but for now this was a maximum effort. Iíll have to do some hard intervals before I try again. The 2002 rankings close the end of April, which will give me plenty of time to gear up for another go at 500 meters.

 At the end of the row, spent but satisfied.

I look forward to the training. It should be fun. Iíll continue to row once a week, alternating between hard and comfortable workouts.

Wish me luck. Iíll let you know how it turns out.

See Article #88 for further update

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