If you ever have to do a half marathon row in competition, or if you’re looking to challenge yourself and put yourself through the pain the individual athletes did last summer at the CrossFit Games, here’s some advice from Nathalie Maurer, former Canadian National Team rower, to help you mitigate the pain and maximize your performance.
Maurer competed for Canada at both the 2006 and 2008 World Rowing Championships, and she won two medals – one gold and one silver - at the 2007 Pan American Games.
Nathalie Maurer (far right) with the Canadian National Team
5-Steps to Preparation:
1). UNISUIT: Rowers wear unisuits, a tight one-pieces spandex suit, to avoid any pieces of clothing getting caught anywhere on the boat or on the ergometer. The unisuit fabric is generally a bit thicker than ordinary spandex material (similar to bike shorts), which at least slightly prevents rug burn on the bum.
2). LUBE: “I definitely would have lubed up my butt crack…The most painful thing I experienced when getting really sweaty on the erg is butt cut,” Maurer said.
3). SEAT PAD: Maurer would put a foam seat pad down to make sure her bum is protected as much as possible.
4). SWEAT BANDS: Although she wouldn’t tape her hands if her calluses were feeling taken care of, Maurer would put on wrist sweat bands to stop sweat from greasing up and making the handles slippery.
5). HYDRATION: She would take a Gatorade gel, as well as pound as much water as possible, just before beginning (at least half a liter of fluids).
The First 2 Kilometers:
The half marathon event at the CrossFit Games was uncharacteristic in that the first 2 km was an event all its own, and ultimately worth as much as the half marathon itself. This meant athletes had to take the first two kilometers seriously and push for a good score, but at the same time they had to be careful not to go too hard and burn out early.
Maurer’s best 2 km score was 6:56, which meant holding an average split of 1:44/500m.
Obviously Maurer wouldn’t want to do a 6:56 row before rowing another 19 km. Instead, she would conservative pace that would still be competitive, but wouldn’t kill her for the rest of the event.
Maurer’s advice is to row the first 2 km at a pace that is 20 seconds off your best time.
In Maurer’s case, this would mean holding a 1:49-1:50 average split, giving her a 2 km time of somewhere between 7:16 to 7:20.
She would keep her stroke rate quite high for the 2 km (between a 30 and a 32), but would recommend a less experienced athlete keeping their stroke rate slightly lower than this (between a 26 and a 28).
Finishing in a 7:16, Maurer would be tired, but not exhausted, with enough energy to keep going for another 19 km.
At this time, she’d take a quick swig of water and maybe another Gatorade gel, keeping the handle moving with one hand, and then it would be time to hit the rest of the half marathon.
The next 19 km:
The key for the next 19 km is all about consistency. That being said, it would be really really hard mentally to hit a pace and a stroke rate and keep it there for an entire 19 minutes.
So Maurer would ease things up on her mind with pyramids.
How a pyramid works is as follows:
An 11-minute pyramid would be broken into 3-2-1-2-3. In Maurer’s case, she might hold a 24-stroke rate for 3 minutes, then a 26 for 2 minutes, followed by a 28 for 1 minute. Then she’d got back down to a 26 for 2 minutes, followed by a 24 for 3 minutes.
Focusing on her rate, and making slight rate changes every so often, would help her from losing her mind due to monotony and boredom.
The same kind of pyramid could be applied to pressure, as long as the pressure changes are too drastic. Maurer might hold 3-2-1-2-3 with a 2:02, 2:00 and 1:58 pace, for example.
Maurer would do a few 11-minute pyramids, both pressure and rate pyramids, during the 19 km, which she feels would help her stay on task both physically and mentally.
Back in the day, Maurer’s best 16 km took her about an hour, which meant she could hold a 2:00 split for the entire hour.
Factoring in that a half marathon is significantly longer than 16 km, Maurer’s goal would be to hold a 2:02 average.
Considering most CrossFit athletes don’t know what their best 16 km row is, they would be able to figure out a goal for themselves based off their 5 km pace. Maurer suggests choosing a pace approximately 8 to 10 splits higher than your 5 km pace.
So if you’re best 5 km is 20:00, your average split for a 5 km row is 2:00. When doing a half marathon then, you would aim to be between a 2:08 and a 2:10.
Stroke Rate Recommendations
While a rower might hold a stroke rate of a 28 for a half marathon row, Maurer suggests a CrossFit athlete holding a stroke rate of approximately 24.
If you’re any higher than that, you’re heart rate will likely be too high, and if you’re much lower, it’s going to get really tough to hold your intended pace.
Maurer suggests females set their damper at a 4, while men want to be closer to a 5 or a 6.
Good luck! Enjoy the pain.