Updated: Aug 8
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The marathon distance is the ultimate rowing challenge. Covering 42,129 metres in a single sitting is a serious undertaking. In addition to being a test of extreme physical endurance, completing a marathon requires bags of mental toughness.
Rowers that successfully cover the distance walk away with a sense of pride and personal achievement (as well as fatigue and a sore bum).
However, as hard as it is to row a marathon, with commitment and the right program in place even a complete beginner could cover the distance. In this article, I’ve outlined the training process I followed to prepare for a marathon.
Furthermore, I’ve reproduced a weekly training plan example that you can use to tailor a personalised program. Also, I’ve included an overview of the rowing technique tips I received from a semi-professional rower.
Related: The Concept2 Model D is the world's best-rated rower
Rowing marathon training
To prepare for the marathon row, I devised a daily training regime consisting of two workouts. The first workout, scheduled for the morning (usually around 5 am), consisted of a low-intensity 10k row.
Before starting the row, I usually completed a short two-mile jog followed by a bodyweight exercise complex. This extended warm-up helped to loosen off the legs while preparing the body for a protracted rowing stint.
The second workout, completed over my lunch break, was more involved. For example, the afternoon sessions included higher-intensity rowing bouts and strength and conditioning exercises (deadlifts, squats, and hang cleans – compound exercises that enage the posterio chain muscles).
Also, to break the boredom of rowing long stints, I broke the target distance (say 10,000 metres) into shorter segments and interlaced them with resistance exercises. Below I have included a typical week of rowing marathon training.
Rowing marathon training plan example
Before embarking on rowing marathon training, it’s important to perfect your form first. Incorrect technique will not only impair your performance but, more seriously, can increase your chances of incurring an injury.
Few people know how to row properly. They make all manner of technical mistakes such as pulling straight out the catch, slipping the legs underneath the paddle, and bending the knees before shooting the arms forward.
I routinely made all these mistakes as well. That was until a semi-professional rower made me aware of my awful rowing technique.
Proper rowing machine form
After watching me break every technical rule in the book (as well as inventing a number of unique mistakes of my own), he spent some time showing me how I could improve my technique.
Once I’d adopted the proper techniques, which took a couple of weeks of practice, my rowing performance advanced noticeably. What follows is an outline of the key techniques he taught me.
Rowing machine technique
Always initiate the stroke with your legs.
As the legs start to uncoil engage the back.
The moment the paddle passes the knees complete the drive phase by pulling with the arms.
Of course, the above outline, which is only supposed to act as a simple overview, makes rowing sound like three separate movements: legs, back, and arms. This is not the case. Though each stroke passes through three phases the transitions should be seamless and smooth and the initiation of each muscle group should be barely distinguishable.
Rowing form tips
Do maintain composure and command of your corporality throughout the stroke: no slouching or slumping.
Don’t initiate the stroke by pulling with the arms; this is the most common mistake and by committing it you will nullify the legs.
Do regulate your breathing and use it to improve rhythm and timing.
Don’t slide the seat up to your heels; the seat should remain about a foot from the back of your heels.
Do keep a consistent pace throughout the distance; set yourself the goal of, say, over 5000 metres, maintaining a pace of 2:30/500.
When retrieving the stroke, don't bend the knees before ‘shooting’ the paddle over them. Let me say that another way. In the outstretched position, you should propel the paddle forward and over your knees before bending them.
Watch the video demonstration.
Rowing marathon training tips
Before embarking on this monumental challenge, first, produce a training program. Using either a calendar or the training tracker below, plot your workouts and exercise schedule. Then, when the tracker is complete, follow it faithfully.
Mix up the intensity levels. One of the. Fitness expert Matt Fitzgerald, author of 80/20 Running, maintains that the best way to build aerobic stamina is by applying the 80/20 training principle. That is, ‘you do 80 per cent of [your training] at a lower intensity and just 20 per cent at a higher intensity.’
Strength and conditioning training
Rowing training is not all about, well, rowing. Professional rowers dedicated a considerable portion of their regime to strength and conditioning exercises. The exercises they focus on include deadlifting – which, from a biomechanical standpoint, is basically vertical rowing – squats, bent-over rows, seated leg presses and hang cleans.
Related: Build full-body strength for the marathon row with this Strength Training Program
As well as putting in a lot of time ‘plying the oars,’ professional rowers also work on core stability. It’s long been recognised that a solid core can improve physical performance – which accounts for why so many top-level coaches are utilising it in the training of their athletes.
Rest, recover, refuel
In any training program, rest and nutrition are just as important as physical exercise. Without sufficient rest and a healthy balanced diet, your body’s capacity to repair damaged tissue may become impaired. Thus, ensure factor rest days into your program. Also, use these healthy vegetarian recipes to refuel.
Rowing marathon training FAQs
To conclude this overview of rowing marathon training, I’ve answered four frequently asked questions. The questions support key aspects of the central concern of this article.
In addition, they also expand on areas that were (out of necessity) lacking in detail. If after reading the FAQ you have a question that wasn’t answered, don’t hesitate to drop it in the comments box below.
how long to row a marathon
According to Concept2, producers of the world’s best-selling indoor rowing machine, ‘marathons generally take three to four hours to complete.’ But that’s not an accurate average time to work off. (For example, Verywell Fit state that the average marathon run time in 2019 was 4:30:46 (10:19 minutes per mile).)
However, if you maintain an average pace of 2:05 (per 500 metres), you’ll complete the 42,195 metres in just shy of three hours. Anywhere around the three-hour mark would be a very respectable time.
As of this writing, the best marathon row time in 2024 is held by Keith Darby. At age 47, Darby managed to complete the distance in 2:34:06.7.
rowing marathon distance
The marathon distance is 42,195 metres or 42 kilometres or 26.6 miles. Whichever system of measurement you use, it’s a long way.
Who’s Mahe Drysdale
Mahe Drysdale is widely regarded as the best rower in the world. He has won two Olympic gold medals and five World Championships in the Men’s Single Skulls. And at the advanced age of 40, when most rowers have well and truly hung up their oars, Drysdale competed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The Olympic and World Championship golds are the medals that probably stand pride of place in Drysdale’s display cabinet. But also scattered amongst this Kiwi’s treasure trove includes the seven gold medals he won at the New Zealand national championships, a silver medal and numerous sporting awards and accolades.
What other rowing competitions are there?
Most committed rowers aspire to set a PB time for the following five distances:
21,190 (half marathon)
Other distances include 100,000m and 1 million metres – these are classed as ultra-distance events, for obvious reasons. (If you fancy having a bash at it, the best 1 million metre time is currently held by an Australian, Andrew Abrahams, who completed the distance in 4 days 23 hours 50 minutes 6 seconds – presumably not in one stint.)
Related: How to Row A Marathon | 0 to 12,195 metres
About Adam Priest –
A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or email@example.com.