Without any doubt, 'how's training going?' has been the most-asked question we have all had throughout our World's Toughest Row campaign. Most of the time we answer, 'it's going…..', with a follow up question of 'how do you train for an event like this?', which is slightly more complex to answer – because how does one train to row an ocean?
The answer is varied. When we've spoken to previous crews or listened to podcasts of those who have rowed an ocean, many say that the only way to prepare to row an ocean is to actually row an ocean. There are key elements to training – physical training, mental training and on the boat training; all of which we do on top of working full time, having families, fundraising, spending time together as a team, eating and sleeping!
The physical preparation required for the row, is preparing our bodies to be as injury-proof as possible. We are fortunate to have the expertise of Laura's brother in assisting us with this, who provided us with a training programme that has made us the strongest we've ever been. We've combined this with long sessions on the rowing machines (ergos), spin and gym classes. Needless to say, we've been on top of our nutrition when training too, ensuring that we are fuelled to complete the hard gym sessions and long sessions on the ergo.
A crucial part of the physical training is getting out on the boat in the tidal waters of the UK to practice rowing, and to try to simulate race conditions. The race rules state that we need to complete a minimum of 120 hours on our boat before we get to the start line. At the beginning of 2023 we confidently planned over 300 hours of training across several weekends, throughout the summer. Thanks to the Great British weather and some very blustery conditions over the summer, we completed approximately 150 hours. During our time on the boat we learnt how to use the GPS and Automatic Identification System (AIS), to trust the auto-tiller, discovered freeze-dried meals we didn't like and practiced a range of drills including using the para-anchor and an emergency man overboard drill! On the weekends we weren't on the water we still journeyed down to Exmouth to spend time on the boat and undertake a variety of maintenance jobs, such as replacing all of the netting for storage, which will allow us to have a more comfortable crossing. Regardless of how many training hours we put in, the conditions on the open ocean are going to be vastly different to those around the coast of the UK.
We can be as physically fit to complete the row as we are ever going to be, but one of the biggest elements of training that is often not thought about is the mental preparation. We have been fortunate enough to enlist the help of Tim Cryar, who spent a significant amount of time in his career in the Navy at sea including being the Captain of HMS York. He has helped prepare us for how we operate as a team in different situations, bringing us even closer. In March this year we undertook a 24-hour row, practicing our shift patterns, and then embarked on a 26-mile hike around the Cheltenham Circular approximately, 2 hours after we'd finished. Following this event, we had a huge debrief and, thanks to Tim's steer, we spent hours talking about things that went well, things that didn't, what we could have done differently and the support we need from each other.
We have also worked with Angus Collins, who has rowed the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. He gave us some examples of scenarios that could occur during our row, got us to discuss how we would tackle them and then worked through the scenarios with us. This has also been incredibly beneficial to us as a team, as there were some scenarios that we certainly hadn’t considered, and we are now much more prepared for a capsize! Without a doubt we would not be in the position we are currently in without the help of both Tim and Angus assisting us in our mental preparations for the row.
In summary, there has been a substantial amount of training to row the Atlantic, not all of which is physical. We are immensely grateful to all those who have coached us to the start line and the wisdom they have imparted on us. It is safe to say that our training journey has been full of highs, lows, and everything in between.
We are primed both mentally and physically to take on the Atlantic.