Thursday, January 15, 2009


I got it in my head that I can be a competitive indoor rower. This seems to be something of a misnomer to me and that may be part of the appeal.

One of the reasons I have enjoyed indoor rowing is because it is so quantifiable. For those of you who aren't familiar with indoor rowers (or ergometers as they are also known), I'll include a picture. This isn't your old-fashioned hydraulic thing which probably does more harm than good. This is a total body workout using a flywheel for resistance so essentially the faster you row, the more energy you have to generate.

Concept2 (the company who makes my rower) has a computer on each rower that may have been able to operate a space shuttle at one time. It measures all sorts of things. Time, distance, calorie output, wattage generated, strokes per minute, etc. It generates splits and cumulative totals. It tracks weeks of workouts for you. It even has some goofy little games built in. You know everything there is to know about your workout, even while it's going on. When you add my warped keen analytical mind to this, it turns into a bunch of fun calculating different things. Even more fun when I'm fatigued. "I need to row a 1:55 over the next 3000 meters to, wait, I'm down to 2750 now so I need a 1:5...oh, man, I'm just going to keep rowing".

Concept2 also provides online logbooks for their customers which enables them to track their times and compare them to those of others. All this, of course, is broken down by age categories and weight. In rowing there are lightweights and heavyweights. The cutoff for being a lightweight man is 165 pounds, or roughly the weight of my left arm. In theory, weight equates to size and muscle and more muscle should generate more power. So little scrawny guys need to be able to have their own class to which I say you already do, it's called professional bicycling. It would be easy for me to digress into cycling here since until rowing, it was the only sport that I felt I had some natural ability in and I spent years being frustrated at busting my butt to, as Phil Liggett used to put it talking about George Hincapie (a monster-sized bicyclist at 6'3", one hundred seventy pounds) "haul my big carcass" up a hill while the 140 pound whippets floated by effortlessly, but I won't do it other than this already too long, too fractured sentence.

If weight was everything to rowing, though, we wouldn't need Wiis for couch-potato "athletes". At some point extra poundage starts to be a negative because you have to have the cardiovascular system needed to power all that muscle. I am so far past that point, I need binoculars to find it again.

I've been rowing for a few years with long breaks due to my shoulder injury and then shoulder surgery and smaller breaks due to being fat and lazy. Despite the fits of starting and stopping, however, I've really improved. I've improved to the point where my times are approaching those of the faster rowers in my age/weight class.

I don't feel like I'm a competitive person which is why I'm a little taken aback at my sudden desire to want to compete. Part of my desire is to see what an indoor rowing race is like and here's the misnomer part I mentioned early on. Everyone has their own rower so my guess is that technically, if you were watching a race, the winner would be the first one to stop rowing (the individual rower timers are the official deciders of victory, though). I find it humorous to think of a race with no finish line. Just seems wacky.

There is also an appeal to see what top rowers look like when they compete. I have a feeling that from a strokes per minute standpoint, I'm really slow. Much like when I biked, I prefer to "push a big gear", so to speak, and rely on generating a lot of power on each stroke rather than trying to stroke really fast (or spin, in bicycling parlance). I have never had the heart and lungs to maintain that.

My plan is to compete at a satellite event for the World Championships. Nothing like starting off with a challenge. I have about three weeks to prepare and I'm going to do it by strictly following the Crossfit Endurance workout of the day and semi-trying to eat right and maybe drop a few of these extra pounds.

It's been half a lifetime since I raced anybody for anything so this will be a strange experience but one that I think should be fun. Wish me luck.

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