Monday, 26 April 2010

The Rowing Challenge: Rowing Without Oars

Let the challenges begin!

Having set the stage for The Everyman Olympics 10/11 back in February one evening I sat down with a beer and my laptop to search the potential challenges on the official Olympics website and found that there was a plethora of opportunities before me. Unfortunately they all shared one thing in common...they would involve effort.

I thought of buying a ticket to Vancouver, learning how to ski and mimicking the Cross Country Pursuit, then realised that the Winter Olympics is the wrong way to go – any event which features Curling as a ‘sport’ should be dragged in front of a large mirror and told to take a good long look at itself!

That left the Summer Olympics events page as my catalogue of choice. I had a swig of beer and looked on some more...

Then I found it. The perfect sport on which to base my first challenge of the year of challenges that lay ahead. This was perfect. Featuring the very thing that I do a lot of in both my working day and my spare time...sitting.

The sport of choice for this first challenge? Rowing.

Ever since post-prehistoric man turned pissing about on rivers into pissing about on rivers whilst sat on logs and holding sticks, rowing has been a form of fun and er transportation.

The Olympics website goes on to tell you that rowing as a form of travel was first used by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans – so clearly word got around pretty quick once the initial fun had been had and the 3 most advanced civilizations of their times set about hollowing trees and using the vessels they created for war and transportation. Rather than racing and impressing girls...tsch!

Hence rowing first became used for this:

Rather than sparking the initial days out with company like this:

Years later, descendants of British colonials in Canada would turn rowing into this:

(turn the volume up)

As you can see, by now I’d done my homework so I rushed off to buy a canoe...but settled for a rowing machine instead. My instrument of torture would be the York Inspiration Rower, clearly a source of inspiration eh? (see picture)

When I returned from the shops I was un-phased by the fact that I hadn’t yet defined The Rowing Challenge or where I would store this fantastical new device, oh no I simply unpacked the box and made this bad boy up from the assembled parts right there and then in my living room.

Once assembled I hopped on and gave it a go. Only then did I realise that what I'd bought was in fact utterly rubbish - I couldn't get the settings to work properly, notch 1 felt as difficult as notch 10. After a while pissing about without any luck I moved the poxy machine into the hallway and cursed at it from my armchair.

Here I am, going nowhere in my hallway.

I turned my attention to working out the finer details of my first challenge. The machine collected some dust.

Then one morning I awoke and looked at my phone. Shit. It was the 2nd of March. February had scampered away like a month masquerading as a proper month but without the correct amount of days. Bollocks, I was one month in and already I was tracking a month behind on my challenges. To make matters worse I was due in the North West of England that evening for work...Fuck!

The Rowing Challenge.
By the time I arrived at my destination I had worked out a plan, I knew what my first challenge would entail and had brought everything I needed to begin.
Rowing races in the Olympics are each contested over a distance of 2000 metres. There are 8 different events that men can enter in the Olympics rowing category, here's a list of them to prove it:
  1. Single Scull (2 Oars)
  2. Double Sculls
  3. Four with Coxwain
  4. Lightweight Double Sculls
  5. Eight with Coxwain
  6. Coxless Pair
  7. Lightweight Coxless Four
  8. Quadruple Sculls with Coxwain
Using the 2008 Olympic games as my benchmark I ‘d calculated how many heats, repechages, quarter finals, semis and finals an athlete would need to row in in order to complete in every event from start to finish.
Here’s how The Rowing Challenge looked:
  • Total Distance to row = 70,000 metres
  • Total Time to achieve this in = 8 days
I left my hotel room dressed in a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, some socks and pair of casual trainers and headed to the gym.

The cardio equipment was all in use when I first entered so I hung around the water cooler, looking like a man who'd taken the wrong route to the beach but was trying to mingle in anyway.

Once I got my chance on a rowing machine I went for it like only a fat guy can – huffing and puffing like a heart attack victim about to pop it (but remember, I am British though so I did this quietly and hoping no-one would notice).

I rowed 6000 metres with a break at each 2km to note my time on some paper with the pen I’d borrowed from the gym reception. I think the other gym goers were probably thinking I was either a pro or some sort of gym equipment inspector. In total I nailed 10k that evening. Pleased as punch I walked back to my room like a hooker after a busy night.

Three days later I’d racked up enough metres to cover 3 of the rowing events at the Olympics and my hands looked like i was an avid self-pleasurer, the problem with rowing machines is that the very use of them allows the handles to create friction within your hands which results in blisters. I still had 5 days of this to go...

In the midlands I hit a snag. As a resident of the hotel up North I was given free reign of the gym, but now I had need of a rowing machine and mine was still collecting dust at home. There was nothing for it, I had to join a gym in Leicestershire.

Once inducted by a lad almost half my age I plonked myself on one of the 3 machines and racked up another rowing events worth of metres.

I managed to keep the momentum going despite having not ever having been a gym regular let alone a fitness fanatic. On day 8 I was back at home twisting the knob on my own device. No matter what I tried the dam machine would still not yield and all the while time was ticking on. So that evening I joined another gym.

This time my induction went like this: I had my blood pressure checked, told the gym dude that I’d joined another gym just days before, he didn’t even question it, he let me loose to find the rowing machines, the gym dude got to carry on flirting with a female colleague - everyone's a winner!

So there you have it, 11 days into March I managed to achieve my February task: The Rowing Challenge.

I’d rowed 70,000 metres in 8 days – my hands were like a lonely sailors, and it felt great!

As mentioned before, YOU can get involved in The Everyman Olympics.
Here’s what I’m looking for:
  • Suggestions or tips you have on which sports I should base an event on
  • How I can make the challenges realistic to the real thing and where I might find facilities to use
  • Stores where I can get good deals on sports equipment and kit
  • OR even if you’re available to play against me or in some of the team events!
Anyone who helps will be mentioned on the blog.

(Who knows, it may even make a book)

You can contact me at

Or follow me on Twitter:


  1. Notwithstanding the fact that you are
    a) clearly nuts
    b) British so a) does not apply
    c) you did a wonderful crazy thing for indoor rowing
    Thanks for the twit link.
    Rebecca Caroe

  2. Dare you to take on Greco-Roman Wrestling this year as one of your Olympic sports! Boris, Boris Boris!...