One of the Crossfit Games events this year was a half-marathon row on the Concept 2 indoor row machines (sometimes called “ergs”). This is a crazy distance! Everybody knows that sometimes even 1km can feel like an eternity. The farthest distance I had ever gone was 2kk, and a half marathon is over 21km.
A Facebook thread with some women at the gym escalated rather quickly from “A half-marathon row is insane” to “Therefore we must do it” and next thing I knew, the five of us had agreed to do it.
We met last weekend and I showed up with a plan B for any scenario. I had plenty of water, I had snacks of all kinds, I had an extra pair of shoes in case my first pair started to rub and give me a blister, and you know we had A League of Their Own projecting onto the wall in front of us. I wore my favourite headband, the one that keeps both bangs and sweat out of my eyes. I was feeling nervous about my knee, which had been feeling a big wiggling lately, and I promised myself that if it started bothering me, I would take stretch breaks or drop out of the “race” entirely.
And so off we went!
My goal time was set firmly at “under 2.5hrs, actually, whatever, just finish however long it takes” with a whispered, “and maybe if everything goes well I can hit around 2 hours but actually probably not, just aim for 2.5”. I started slowly, holding about a 4:00/500m pace for the first 500m or so as I did some arms only, arms-and-back, arms-back-half-slide warm ups at the start. I wanted to hold around a 2:45 for the first 5k, which I did, hitting “16,097m to go” after about 27.5 minutes (slowing down for water breaks and once to fix the laptop). I did the next 5k a little bit faster and had 10k left to go after almost exactly one hour. At this point I finally started to think it would be possible to finish in 2 hours, and I picked up the pace a little bit.
Around this 5k, I noticed I had stopped sweating entirely (the lack of sweat was making my armpits chafe!) so I made sure to slow for water every 15 minutes or so. I also grabbed a dried mango slice right after every water break to keep my energy up. I find it hard to intake energy while running since almost everything makes me nauseated, but the steadiness of the row really helped and I was able to eat as much dried fruit as I wanted.
At half way you think, “oh, I am halfway done” but NO YOU ARE NOT. IT IS JUST BEGINNING. I started playing mental games to get me through the metres. A few kms in, I realized how weary it made me feel to think about the entire distance still remaining, so I started treating it kilometer-by-kilometer, telling myself that I don’t have to get from 17,000 down to 0, I just have to get from 17,000 down to 16,000. Watching only the final 3 digits made it more manageable, mentally. Our bums also started hurting, and we started to need to take breaks to chalk up our blistering hands.
One stroke pulls me about 10m, so I started playing games like, “just do 100 good strong strokes to get through this kilometer”. That’s how I got from 14,000 down to 13,000, and from 8,000 down to 7,000. It really made the time pass quickly, and my focus on form during these 100 strokes helped pick my pace up to about 2:30/500m. It took me about 26 minutes to get from 10km left down to 5km left.
With 5km left, I decided to try to get in under 1 hour and 55 minutes, keeping my pace around 2:30. I had run out of dried mango but I was starting to get weird cold sweats, so I started eating dried apple rings. I started reciting, “Legs-back-arms, arms-back-legs” as a mantra, remembering to push through my heels, squeeze with my shoulders, and not rush the recovery. Kelsey and I were both rowing about 20 strokes per minute, so we pulled in time with each other every so often as a way to keep pace. Legs-back-arms, arms-back-legs. I could see from Kaila’s display that she was about 800m in front of me, so I picked up my pace to about 2:20/500m to see if I could reduce her lead. Really, just for something to DO, something else to think about. Mentally, it was exhausting. Legs-back-arms, arms-back-legs.
I found a kick somewhere in me and was able to sprint the final half kilometer for a finishing time of 1:51:14, almost 9 minutes faster than my secret dream goal.
We all finished much, much sooner than 2 and a half hours. Amanda’s husband took Before and After shots, but we looked pretty much the same in both photos. I mean, it was difficult to stand for a minute after finishing, but otherwise none of us were very sore at all. It is just so cool to me that we’re all about to up and row a half marathon without any particular prep. We were challenged just by the thought of completing the distance; who would have thought we could do it with near ease?
Something that I have found to be the case again and again and again at Crossfit is that I have spent my entire life underestimating my body’s capabilities, and I think that’s true for a lot of people. We say, “oh, I’m just not that fast” or “oh, I just have a weak upper body” but none of that has to be true. I laughed during Fundamentals when they told us to do a pull-up, because a pull-up seemed like such a comically unachievable feat. Now I can do basically as many as I want, or until my hands start to bleed. Yes, that’s correct, I am able to do pull-ups until my hands start to bleed, and I used to not be able to do a single one!
As I sprinted my final 500m, I thought of this Thomas Edison quote, which pops into my head quite often during challenging workouts: