The marathon distance is the White Whale among rowing enthusiasts and fitness sadists. To complete a marathon row is a significant undertaking. But the bragging rights it bequeaths makes the effort well worth the effort.
After all, how many people can say that they’ve rowed a marathon?
Before attempting this gruelling challenge, you will need to invest in preparatory training. As the saying goes, prior preparation prevents poor performance. But how much training you do will largely be dictated by your objective going into the marathon – are you happy to complete the distance or are you desirous of a specific time?
For example, if your ambition is to cover the distance, then a month or two might be enough to prepare you for this modest outcome. However, this does depend on your current level of fitness and how much rowing experience you have. If you are untrained or have recently started training regularly, you may need to spend upwards of 6-months preparing.
If you are well trained and you regularly row, then you may well be ready for the challenge after a week or two of preparatory training. But if you have set your sights on a specific time, say under 3-hours (2:05/500m), you would be wise to implement a training programme. See below example of a 4-month training programme.
But why row a marathon?
Besides the fact that completing such a monumental physical challenge is a significant achievement, and one to be proud of, preparing for the marathon will provide you with months of training focus. Having worked as an exercise professional for many years, I’ve noticed that one of the most common hurdles people struggle to overcome is ‘training motivation’.
For some people, if there is no end objective to their training, if they’re not working towards a specific goal, they quickly lose motivation. A lack of motivation leads to inconsistent training and, in far too many cases, the person quitting on exercise altogether.
Resolving to complete a marathon will provide you with training purpose while also bringing structure to your exercise routine. In addition, rowing is arguably one of the best single exercises for developing fitness.
As well as improving cardio-respiratory performance regular rowing also builds stamina and strength in the two major muscle groups – the muscles of the back and legs. Few other cardiovascular exercises develop whole-body fitness like rowing does. By undertaking this challenge you will doing a whole lot of a good thing.
It's for these reasons why, when building a home gym, you should always start with an indoor rower.
Best marathon row time
The current world indoor record for the marathon row is held by Ben de Wit, a Canadian elite-level athlete. de Wit achieved a time of 2:21:07 – which translates to an average pace of 1:40/500 (1-minute 40-seconds per 500-metres).
It would be hard to overstate what an immense physical achievement it was to sustain an average pace of 1:40/500. Few rowers could hold that pace for 2000-metres, let a lone a full marathon.
How I prepared for the marathon row
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t implement or undertake anything that would even remotely qualify as a programme. I’d been hankering after the marathon for months (ever since I saw CrossFit athletes complete the distance in 2018 games). Problem is I’m very unscientific in my training approach.
However, I happened upon an idea. As part of Hungry4Fitness’ ‘Week in The Life’ series, where I attempt to survive the training regime of a professional athlete, I decided to have a bash at the training programme of an Olympic rower.
So, a week prior to attempting the marathon, I implemented the training programme of an Olympic rower, which saw me cover 170,000 metres in 6 days. This provided the preparatory groundwork for the gruelling challenge.
I’m not suggesting that you try this strategy. As it is a bad strategy. But what it’s supposed to illustrate is that, even with just a week of solid training (I was averaging 25,000m per day), it is possible to prepare the requisite physicality to complete the marathon distance.
Going in to the marathon I set my sights on an average pace of 1:59/500. However, after 30,000-metres, my cardio deserted me and I limped to the finish line having sustained a pace of 2:03/500. That was annoying because, if I’d prepared properly, as I’m advising you to do, I may well have achieved my goal. Learn from my mistake, make sure you prepare.
Though the marathon row is, by anyone's standards, an imposing test of fitness and mental toughness, you could complete the distance with the correct training commitment. Below you'll find a list of tips and links to articles that contain training plans.
How to prepare for a marathon row
Below you will discover a blueprint of a 4-month training programme. The programme is supposed to provide you with an outline of how you might prepare to row 42.195-consecutive metres – aka a marathon.
Because the programme is generalised it would be unadvisable to follow it exactly. Use it as a framework around which to construct a more comprehensive and tailored programme.
Three-four months out – Preparing the fitness groundwork
Over a 2-month period prior to embarking on the marathon challenge aim to complete ten 10,000-metre rows, which will see you cover 10,000m every week for two months. By following this simple training method, you will progressively develop the physical capacity to sustain substantial row stints.
Of course, in addition to the weekly 10,000m mini marathons, you will also be completing shorter distances.
Two months out – Build up
At t-minus two months you will start to increase the intensity of your pre-marathon rowing training. Over a four-week period, aim to complete four one-hour and two 20,000-metre rows.
It is best to space these rows sessions across the month as evenly as possible. You might decide to complete the one-hour rows midweek and the big 20,000m distances on the weekend. By following a logical methodology, you will have more time to rest and recover after each row.
Remember, the objective for these lengthy stints is to maintain a methodical pace at or near the pace you plan to sustain for the marathon. In addition to developing fitness, you are also developing self-confidence. If you start too fast and tire – or worse over exhaust yourself – this could result in poor performance or failure to finish. These outcomes will adversely impact on your psychology going into the competition.
10–12 days out – Trial run
At the 10- to 12-day point attempt a 30,000-metre row. Completing a distance close to that of the competition will afford you the opportunity to assess how your body and mind respond. If they (you) respond well, and you conclude the 30,000m feeling as though you could have gone on for a further 12,195, this is telling you that you are ready.
Furthermore, the 30,000m will also provide you with an insight into any issues that need addressing prior to undertaking the marathon. For example, it will enable you to answer the following questions:
Is your position on the rower comfortable and do you need extra seat padding?
Is one water bottle enough or will I need two?
Were those energy snacks beneficial?
Day zero! – Marathon row
On the day all you can do is prepare. Perhaps consider putting together a checklist of items you think you might need to see you through the distance. Procure the items and, prior to undertaking the marathon, prepare your environment.
If you are completing the distance on a gym rower, it is very wise to check that the batteries in the Pm monitor have plenty of charge. Also, you might want to move kit around to create a bit more space.
Before disembarking make sure that all your provisions – water, nutrition, towel – are within reach. When everything is in place, psych yourself up and go for it. Remember this last point, it’s a marathon not a sprint – so don’t start off too fast. Take your time and ease in to the rhythm.
Timing and Pace
Typically, marathons take around three to four hours to complete. By maintaining an average pace of 2:05/500m, you’ll achieve a time of just less than three hours.
On the day of the challenge nerves will be high and you’ll be anxious to get stuck in. This is completely natural. However, resist starting out too hard and stick to your pace plan. In fact, it’s best to start off under pace and build up over the first 5,000-metres.
Tips for Success
Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!
Rest when your body needs it.
On the build up to the challenge increase the amount of rest between training sessions by varying when you work out each day.
Consider monitoring your heart rate at rest during your pre-marathon training.
Know how to be comfortable on the indoor rower.
Work on improving – nay perfecting – your rowing technique:
Make sure you have fresh batteries in your Pm monitor because the last thing you want is it cutting out on metre 42,194!
Gloves can reduce blisters and sore spots; however, you should test them out before attempting the marathon: bulky training gloves can induce fatigue in the forearms. For best training gloves follow the link: https://www.hungry4fitness.co.uk/post/best-training-gloves
It is advisable to have water, snacks, towels and tissues to hand during your attempt.
There’s no shame in taking short breaks throughout the distance. Every 10,000-metres, say, you could dismount the rower, take a short walk and carry on (remember, though, the Performance Monitor shuts down after a couple of minutes of inactivity). Alternatively, you could periodically reduce the pace for a 1000-metres. Once you’ve recovered work back to pace until the next rest. So, keep your breaks short or keep pressing Change Display or Display to keep the monitor on.
Finally, good luck!
This 30-Day Row Challenge will whip you in shape for the marathon.
For more rowing training advice follow see the British Rowing website.
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.