Celtic Challenge 2019

So... I have finally gotten around to writing a post about the Celtic Challenge... sorry for the delay Rob!

The Celtic Challenge is a rowing race which takes place every 2 years. It starts in Arklow, Ireland and finishes in Aberystwyth, Wales. This year 2019, there were 19 teams in total, hailing from Ireland, Wales and England. Rob and I rowed as part of a mixed crew with our home club, St. Michael's Dun Laoghaire. There were 12 crew members in our team, We rotated in teams of four, rowing one hour on, two hours off. In our off time, we focused on eating, drinking water and helping incoming and outgoing crews from the support yacht.

It took us 20 hrs and 34 mins before we crossed the finish line in Wales. We had the support of a Yacht and support rib which assisted with the transfers and down time.

Our team were one of two clubs to row in a 'traditional wooden east coast skiff'. The other 17 teams rowed in fiberglass 'Celtic long boats'. The east coast skiff is a far heavier boat although arguably safer in bad weather. Thankfully the weather was pleasant throughout the duration of the row.

I really enjoyed the whole experience of the Celtic Challenge. I like everyone was exhausted by the time we got to Wales. Our club chairman greeted us at the finish line with bacon butties and bottles of cold beer. A very welcomed surprise which gave us enough of a lift to pack away our boat and equipment!

We trained for 7 months throughout the winter for this race. We trained in a boxing gym and on the water between 3-4 days per week. The consistency of the training with the race crew helped with my technique and consistency. I now know I am better suited to longer distance endurance rowing. This experience has given me a great template for training and fitness base in preparation for rowing across the Atlantic.

I'll add some pictures over the coming days to this blog. Thank you again to St Michael's rowing club for the experience!


The Erg

The rowing machine or erg is the place to be for training to row an ocean. We’ll row roughly a million and a half strokes over the roughly 50 days of our race. Our bodies will need to be primed for that sort of punishment.

In the gym you see people jump onto the erg and pull out of them with great effort for short periods of time. The machine seems intutitive enough to use, pull the handles, pushing back with your legs, relax in and repeat. How hard can it be?

Not wanting to hurt myself, I looked around on Youtube for some instructional material. I found a super series of videos by the British Rowing Association. I started with their basic 20 minute workout. From there I really focused on trying to build up the time I spent on it.

In practice, the rowing machine is a trickerier machine then it first lets on. Balancing stroke rate, effort in the legs, body and arms combined with breathing takes some coordination. As you go and muscles start to tire and your heart rate goes up the balance changes. You find yourself having to keep focused on the motion. Sliding out of the careful balance you had at the start is easy. It takes mental strength to keep you focused on the motion.

I have found the mental conditioning of the gym as important as the physical. Setting a goal of 10km for a session and then sticking to it is hard. After 3km, a little voice starts to suggest changes to the goal.  "...you really only meant to do 8km today" or "why don't we try intervals and then we can be done in 10 minutes". Setting larger goals like 100km in the month definitely helps. I knew there were mileage goals to meet, so if I didn't do it in one session I would have to do it another.

Set yourself goals. Don’t listen to the little voices. Don’t beat yourself up about failure. Celebrate your successful finishes.


Signed Up

Last week we submitted our application form. Thursday morning we were confirmed as entrants in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Having refreshed the 2020 Race Entrants page over and over - there's our photo. There's no backing out now.

After Kev let me know the application had been submitted a little flutter of hesitation hit me. All the reasons I'd heard not to do this: are you mad, what about ..., how will you pay for it?! These thoughts quickly faded. There will always be reasons to back out. This is an adventure that deserves persistence. I can't imagine not rowing it now.

The signup reminded me of the "armchair sailor". A nearly infinite number of passages have been taken by boat owners from the comfort of their couch. I've taken my fair share. This feels very different. The departure point of the race isn't San Sebastian on La Gomera. The departure point for us was Kev's laptop in his office on the 21st of January 2019.

The waypoints to La Gomera are still unclear. There's a boat to find and sponsors to get on board. Like all great journeys, the first couple of miles will be filled with uncertainty and fear. Still, there's a destination in mind and I'm sure we'll find our way.