But in indoor rowing, not hill running…
Last weekend Anne and I found ourselves in Newquay in Cornwall, nervous imposters amongst a bunch of elderly but fiercely competitive indoor rowers intent on setting world records for their age groups in the 100 km relay.
The rule in this particular contest is that your team must be either “small” (up to ten rowers) or “large” (more than ten). Your team has a single Concept2 ergometer and you take it in turns, sliding onto the machine for your shot and off it again when you’ve finished. Your stint can be as long or as short as you like. It’s an interesting exercise in optimisation: a big team gives you fewer stints and longer rests but at the expense of a decline in overall standard; a short stint means you can go flat out for the duration but waste more time changing over (the clock never stops) and have shorter rests.
My team of men aged 70 and over (“No Surrender”) opted for a stint of 20 strokes (around 155 m), which is about as many as we could manage at full tilt and took us about 30-35 s. There were 17 of us, which meant we each had 38 turns with rests of 9 min. Anne’s women (aged 60-69 and therefore “Diamonds”) went for 200 m and fewer changes at the cost of a pretty gruelling last 50 m. They numbered eleven (it was hard to muster a larger team) so Anne had 46 shots 7 min apart.
We started at 11 a.m. to a lot of shouting (many of us being hard of hearing), the monitor on the ergometer set to a daunting 100000. One person rowed, a second counted his strokes, a third was ready to help him off (as several were trying out their nearly-new hips), a fourth was poised to position the seat under the incoming rower and a fifth stood by the defibrillator. We went through 42.2 km in under 2½ hours and finally stopped the clock at 5:45:08.1, a new world record. (We’d have been under 5¾ hours if two of us hadn’t overcooked things and toppled off the ergometer.) Anne’s women also set a new world mark of 6:39:02.3: see http://www.concept2.com/indoor-rowers/racing/records/ultra-distance/world/100000-meters.
It was a real privilege to row in such exalted company, with records and medals galore between them. One of my team’s octogenarians took up indoor rowing in his mid-seventies, found he was rather good at it, trains for a couple of hours a day four or five days a week and now holds four world age-group records. Another, an internationally-renowned conductor and one of our best performers, started rowing because he’d trashed his knees running down too many hills and has a niece who is an Olympic coach. (You could sense his instinct was to be up in front driving us on with his baton!) And so on.
So what’s next? – well, anything except a Concept2.