Wednesday, 27 June 2012

My potted Concept2 Indoor Rowing history

Hi, I’m Paul although I also go under the name "Beowulf" which is my Concept2 forum name. It has become an adopted motivation name which I use to gear myself up for the "pain" sessions… and it might have something to do with traditionally fast finishes to races.
I am originally from Yorkshire in the UK although my father's family is from Belfast. I moved to Cork in Ireland in 2005 and have lived and worked there ever since. Before I moved to Ireland I weighed in at about 120kg (18st 12lbs). I played No.6 for my rugby club’s first team every Saturday and trained in the gym five days a week - weights and some indoor rowing for CV.
When I moved to Cork I stopped the rugby and took up an old sporting interest in American Football for four seasons but in 2009 I finished with this. Gym work came to a halt at around the same time. Then the inevitable happened and I gained weight, which somehow worked its way up to about 137kg (21st 8lbs).
I had to do something about it and so in March 2010 at the ripe old age of 35 I started back in a gym and after reasonable amount of CV work I got down to 127kg (20st 0lbs), but I needed more motivation and a goal. I was no longer playing rugby or American football and I needed a reason to go to the gym or I would get bored and start skipping it.
This is when a flash of inspiration appeared in the form of a "Gym Challenge" at my local gym. I only found out about it 24 hours before the competition (1km bike, 1km x-trainer, 1km run, 1km row) but gave it a go anyway. Now the run was not pretty, but I came fourth overall and noticed that my rowing smashed the rest of the guys. It was not long before I found the website and realised that my 1k erg score was a reasonable time for the distance.
It was another short hop to which had a forum of people from around the world discussing indoor rowing, as well as OTW (on the water rowing), cycling and a host of other topics. My interest in the sport was further aroused by the Rowing Ireland Indoor Championships 2010. At the time I was fairly proud of my 3:10.6 1k and 1:25.0 500m… how things have changed. I was introduced to a few of the PaddyPower Indoor Rowing Club members (no affiliation to the bookmakers) whom over time helped me out immensely. Members of PaddyPower IRC are supposed to have some form of association with Ireland, but half of us cannot identify Ireland on a map and “once had a pint of Guinness” seems to be a sufficient connection. I became a member, it being my first indoor rowing club, and I proudly remain a member today.
So after a little work and a bit of encouragement I found myself entering the 2010 RIIC and managed a personal best over 2,000m with 6:20.1 and winning the bronze in the 30-39 heavyweight category. After returning home I realised I was hooked and found myself checking out the records on the C2 UK website I found that the Irish 30-39H record for a 2k was 6:07.1… it seems that I had my new target and set myself the goal of going back to the RIIC in 2011 and taking both the gold and the Irish 2k record. Ambitious? Perhaps. Achievable? Well, it was going to be fun finding out.
I also discovered that the English Indoor Rowing Championships were being held in January 2011 so I entered. At this point I was lucky enough to find my now mentor and coach who has become known simply as "Q" within the Concept 2 UK community (real name James Bailey). He put together a training plan for the run up to the event and mapped out a strategy for my race.
At this point I was still a relatively unknown on the indoor rowing circuit and certainly not fancied for a medal in the 2k so I was pretty much left to myself. After utilising the warm up Q had given me for the first time in a race context, I settled myself on the race erg and racked the drag factor up as high as I could get it (DF192; I used to train at DF220 until Q found out, went berserk, and brought me down to DF145). After the initial panic of the start I settled in and plugged along at just over 1:35.5 pace for the first 1500m, but as I came within sight of the finish Beowulf made his first appearance and within the last few 100 meters I overtook 4th place and then 3rd place to cross the line in 2nd to the sound of a shocked commentator bellowing "Oh look at the finish from Buchanan". The time was a new personal best of 6:16.7, the last 500m split coming in at 1:29.5. Watch the race
I also managed to jointly win the 500m (30-39H) in a dead heat with 1:19.1, and to pick up another gold in the mixed relay team.
After that things started to get rather more serious. Q persuaded me we had hardly started and decided to make a serious go of things. With a broad long term training plan which would run for some 3½ years , Q geared the next tranche of training towards the Irish Championships in November 2011. As an extra incentive along the way, I set myself the target of breaking as many of the Irish 30-39H records as possible and also the overall records if I could.
There were a few training hiccups along the way, something I have now come to appreciate are fairly standard given the training I was doing, but we seemed to be on track. Who said a few years of rugby and American football doesn’t take its toll. With the substantial (although steady) increase in training volume, and a marked sharpening of attitude and approach, I moved my training from the back bedroom of the house to a purpose built shed in the back garden specifically for my training, affectionately named The Temple of Q. After some of the hard sessions where I am out for there for 2 hours and finish up lying on my back too tired to get back into the house, I want to call it something else.
I have to say "Q" is an outstanding coach and has guided me to some huge PB's including a 17k+ 60min row. By the time we got to the Irish Championships in November 2011, I had taken all my age group records apart from the 2k (which the regulations provide can only be broken at a C2 event), so the pressure was on. The race went well and I won gold in a time of 6:11.8 (another PB), but not the Irish record we wanted - more work to be done.
I was entered into the World Championships in Boston, USA (known as the CRASH-B Sprints) in February 2012 - a long way to travel for just over 6 minutes of intense pain and suffering, but I had the opportunity to go and grasped it with both hands. Part of the motivation was the race in itself, part was a reconnaissance effort  for future appearances there, and part was to meet more of the hugely supportive indoor rowing community – a truly global and very friendly group.
I was pretty sure I was outside medal contention when entering, but I trained hard for the event and Q kept me precariously balanced between physiologically beneficial fatigue and total exhaustion. I was knocking out 100,000m or more each week and by February 2012 I was ready for it.
Travelling out to Boston as part of Team GB & Ireland was fantastic and I would love to go again.
It was clear from some of the earlier races in the day that conditions were slow. The air was quite warm and humid, the water vapour replacing some of the much needed oxygen according to Q. All I can say is that it certainly felt like it!
However all said and done, I put in a solid performance and won my first World medal (a bronze) in a time of 6:12.2. It was not the time I had been hoping for, even though I picked up a bonus trophy for being the fastest member of Team GB & Ireland. I believed I was capable of more. Q said he knew I was.
It was only a month to the British and European Indoor Rowing Championship in Nottingham but Q intervened with concerns about the way aspects of my physiology were developing (or not). Q and I talk a great deal and it is very much a team effort. He proposed cutting the speed work went from the schedule, declaring my racing season to be at an end, and returning to the long hard slog of foundation work. The reasoning and argument behind it seemed compelling, so a period of gruelling power endurance began. The concession was that I could go along to BIRC to race if I wanted to, but no training specifically for it. I managed to negotiate a three day taper.
Plainly the power endurance work was doing something since I could no longer get up the stairs after training sessions. I found a great deal of confidence grew out of the training and I could really feel the increase strength in my legs (which to be honest were pretty strong already) during the leg drive.
At BIRC I was lined up to race alongside Graham Benton who I knew was looking to take Steve Redgrave’s 30-39 Championship Record. Graham is out of my league - for now – and the pressure was truly off. I was seeded 4th, so no pressure to win, no pressure to medal. It was all about I wanted to get out of it and I set myself my own “personal” goals: my personal bronze was to break my 6:11.8 PB; my personal silver was to break the 6:10.0 barrier; my personal gold was to break the Irish record of 6:07.1. Q and I had formulated the plan, I had it clearly in my mind, and it was simply a matter of rowing my own race. I got the start and the first 500m I wanted and was able to hold the pace I needed through the middle 1000m.  As I came into the final 500m my average pace (/500m) was showing 1:32.7 but I needed a 1:31.8. It was time for Beowulf to make an appearance and he duly did - my final 500m came in at 1:28.1 and I smashed my own PB by 5.5 seconds, finishing with an official time 6:06.2 and a new Irish Record by 0.8 seconds. I also managed to pick up a bronze in the process - to say I was delighted would be an understatement. Even got a hug from Q.
So what next?
Well, I have only been in the sport for 15 months (a fact Q reminds me of on a weekly basis) and some of the competition have been doing this for 10 years, so there is a long way to go. On the immediate horizon in the 2012/13 season there are three overall Irish records that I have firmly in my sights: the 30 minutes, 10k and 60 minutes.
I had my eye on the 100k record but hopped on the erg in April 2012 and set an Irish Record in a time of 6 hours 46 minutes 7.7 seconds.I need to finish the 2011/12 Concept 2 Challenge Series where my Q-Power team mate Andy and I are fighting over gold and silver. Later on in the season I am hoping to break the magical 6 minute barrier for my 2k. I am now down to 114kg (18st 0lbs)…
 … and all thanks to Concept2, a gym challenge two years ago and Q.