Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Seldom have so few done so much for so little.

January 31, 2014

The rowing seat slides along the monorail. I pull the chain. The flywheel accelerates and decelerates, its whirring increases, peaks and decreases. 24 strokes a minute, sometimes 26, sometimes 22. Each stroke pulls at the muscles of my overly tired back as my overly tired thighs extend my legs against the resistance of the machine. The minutes accumulate stroke by stroke by stroke.

It is the last day of the month long indoor rowing challenge. Back and forth - I have repeated this action over 50,000 times in the last 31 days. Pull and recover - over 35 hours pulling this chain. Today is the last day.

At the beginning of the week, I thought I could make 500,000 meters. I rowed in the morning and again in the evening. But the growing fatigue grew faster. There is a kind of tired that is truly hard to achieve. It can take days or weeks. You have to work to your limits, then, before you have fully recovered, work to your new lower limit and then repeat the process. It helps to have a machine, like this machine, that allows you to adjust the amount of work to match your weakened condition. If you are a runner, imagine having a device that props you up to run some more after you have already run as far as you can. One that allows you dig even deeper into your reserves than your unsupported body would allow.

Our team of four, The Off Season Yankers, is in contention for a top 10 finish. A last minute challenge accepted on short notice had resulted in our team rowing over one million meters in 31 days. We would not know the final outcome  or the challenge for days after it was over because teams could log their meters after the final day to row them.

Tonight is the final night. Teammate Seth lives on the west coast, typically, he would add a second set of meters after us east coasters were done but he was tired too. He had literally started this challenge with no base - no meters rowed in preparation - and after a month of rowing he had every reason to be truly tired.

I had turned down the lights, because the brightness was too tiring. In the semi dark room, I row. Dyana Nyad comes to mind. How on earth did she manage to swim from Cuba, stung by jellyfish, faces swollen, limbs wooden from effort? How did she breathe a swimmers breath hour after hour all night long all day long? How? What she did was beyond impressive - beyond endurance. This is just indoor rowing. In the semi dark room, I row. I know she sang to herself. I sing to myself. Each stroke pulls at the muscles of my overly tired back as my overly tired thighs extend my legs against the resistance of the machine.
At about 9:00 pm, I approach 475,000 meters. I do the math, getting to 500,000 meters will take about two more hours and the event is over at midnight. But the fatigue has grown to the point that I know that two more hours is just too much to ask. I stop at just over 475,000. We are in the top 10 but just barely. Worse still we are a little less than 5,000 meters out of a much safer 8th place position. 

We are on the bubble.

Our team exchanges emails. Seth, on the west coast, is exhausted but he will give it one more shot to make the 5,000 meters happen.

The next morning, I check the standings. Seth added 20,000 meters to our total. 

The challenge has no awards, no huge recognition - if we stay top ten we might get our name on a list on the website or maybe not. When all is said and done, all we got was the chance to row long and hard, and to give our best effort a go. Whether our final team position would survive in the top 10 when all the numbers were in I had no clue, but I knew that we had given it a go.


  1. An excellent month...and start to the year. Now, how many days in a row can you exercise this year? I haven't missed one yet...

    1. That depends on what qualifies as exercise . . .