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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A different type of PB!

Yeees! Done it. Made it quite difficult for myself though….

  For the past couple of weeks I’ve been messing about on one of those Concept2 rowing machine thingies. I hate gyms but my wife and daughter have been going for a while and I’ve been tagging along just lately.  I have to say that Mrs Cosmic has an impressive natural ability to smash out the watts on the cardiovascular machines and I suspect she’d make a handy time triallist.  Watch this space….

  Anyway, I’m not into getting big muscles or anything like that, as a tester it’s all about the old ‘engine’, the heart and lungs for me. Can’t run really – it destroys my knees plus I tend to look like one of the cast from Scooby Doo being chased by a ghost whenever I go jogging, so that’s a non-starter. However, a lot of rowers make the transition to cycling and vice versa quite successfully so I’ve been experimenting on one of the Concept2 machines when I’ve been there.

This isn't me, just some random hairy-legged model

  After just pissing about for the first couple of sessions, the scientist and competitor in me kicked in and I started setting myself a few goals.  The closest equivalent to a 10 mile cycling time trial is a 5000M rowing time trial – I think Matt Pinsent or similar holds the record at something mad like 15 and a bit minutes. 5000M flat-out sessions sounded quite good fun and, from what I could read on the rowing forums, sub 20 on a C2 is a handy benchmark - a bit like a sub 24 min ‘10’ - so I set my first target at that.

  As expected, my legs had no problem at all but everything else struggled a bit, especially my wrists and biceps but they seemed to toughen up after just a few sessions.  Initially I just rowed 2 or 3 x 20 minute sessions once a week at a cycling Z3 pace which felt fine. After about a month, I had my first ‘time trial’ attempt at 5000M.
  Nearly killed myself trying but managed 4780M in 20 minutes which I was slightly disappointed with. Thing is, my arms were the weak link and outright speed in rowing is all about the peak blade speed which you need to hit with the arm part of the stroke, so I was doomed…

  A week later I had another bash and my arms felt much stronger. Absolutely smashed it and was on for a 19:30 for 5000M… then blew up massively after 13 minutes. Arse!!

  Yesterday, at the end of a hard block of training (see later) I decided on another assault on the sub 20 row.  Feeling pretty stuffed generally after a week of smashing it but had a go anyway.
  Wow! After a 10 min warm up, I tightened the toestraps and went for it.  I knocked out the first 10 minutes or so at 1min 54 secs per 500M pace with my heart rate hitting what I’d ride a fast ‘10’ at.  Faded a bit in the last half (pesky arms again…) but crossed the line in 19:42, totally knackered. Yeeees!

Yeees! Pic a bit shaky but not surprising really!!

  When I got home, I downloaded a load of stuff on the C2 machine and had a bit of a nice surprise.  There’s a ‘resistance’ slider on the machine between 1 and 10 – I always set it to ‘10’ as I thought anything less would be a bit wimpy and that, surely, that’d be the setting that all the records were set at. Oh dear…
  Came across a function on the control panel called ‘drag factor’ calibration. Apparently, water rowing is best simulated on a drag factor of around 135. This correlates to a resistance setting on the machine of… 3 or 4! Shit! I’d got it set on 10 which gives a drag factor of about 200!  Power outputs required are the same but I suppose it’s the cycling equivalent of trying to push a 150 inch gear instead of a 90 inch one!! Bloody hell, no wonder my arms couldn’t take it:

  “Higher drag factors are advised only for heavier athletes with a high degree of upper body strength.”

  Er, not me then.

  So, today’s lesson: “Read the instructions first”. Then again, us blokes never do, do we?

  Anyway, now I know how to calibrate the machine for the correct drag factor, my next assault on a rowing PB is Sunday morning. Should be loads easier next time hopefully!

  The thing that fascinates me about this is this whole concept of the human ‘engine’ and the rate at which our bodies adapt to new stuff, even at 43 years of age.  My PB effort was made at an average power output of 240 watts which I suspect is quite a way short of my pure cycling 10 mile TT output.  Then again I’ve only been training my arms and upper body for a few weeks, so there’s more to come hopefully. Even so, I’ve been able to take up a completely new sport at a decent level thanks to the state of tune my heart and lungs are already in.
  At university years ago, I met a guy who was a very talented & successful swimmer nationally but just not quite good enough to make it internationally sadly. Still an amazing athlete though. I persuaded him to come out on a club run with us one Sunday even though he’d hardly ridden a bike properly since he was a kid. Not surprisingly really, he pretty much rode everyone into the ground!  People lucky enough to have been blessed with those ‘big engine’ genes can pretty much excel in whatever sport they want. It makes you sick!!

  Anyway, being a mere mortal, I made a decision to try and give myself an injection of speedwork this last few days and hopefully resurrect some sort of cycling form.

  Rode the 10 on weds and felt okay just a bit ploddy so not sure if resting up again will achieve anything.  On Friday I rode a series of really, really hard 4 minute turbo intervals and completely obliterated myself. Quite enjoyed it in that perverse time trialling sort of way and felt pretty strong considering I’d raced a couple of days previously.
  On the Sunday I was down to marshall the CC Breckland 12 hr so in the morning I rode a couple of hard 20 min TT efforts on the turbo first thing and then attempted a rowing 5000M PB shortly afterwards in the gym (failed!). Felt tired on the turbo and doubly tired on the C2 but a good bit of quality doing both.
  Felt pretty good on Tuesday and finally set my rowing PB, leaving pretty much all my strength in the gym and consequently in the evening I rode a windy 10 in 22:22 feeling absolutely dead! I have to say that it’s sooo much easier to pace a 10 properly when you’re knackered – you can’t possibly overcook the start! When you’re really fresh, keen and feel like you could snap the cranks however, you really have to try hard not to go mad in the first few miles.

Not a bad ride I suppose in that sort of company!

  I’ve got 3 days to recover before the ECCA 10 on the E2 on Saturday. I’ve either totally finished myself off and will go like a slug or have given myself a bit of a shot of speed and will go okay. I suspect the former – I think I need a good week off to recover from a hard few days like that. But we’ll see.


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