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Archive for October 25th, 2013

A breakthrough and looking back

Posted by thepeteplan on October 25, 2013

On Saturday 22nd May 2010 the Farnborough 5k competition took place. I was in pretty good form coming up to the race, and even as the race organiser and all of the set up that involved on the morning of the race I was able to row a solid 16:58 in my 5k race. I was holding a little something back though, as the following day I was attempting to break the mixed tandem 100km world record with Jen Howse. I wrote about my experiences of setting that ultra distance world record a couple of days later in my blog:

So we set the record, that still stands today, at 6 hours 24mins 38.3 seconds, or an average pace of 1:55.3 between the two of us. I hadn’t prepped specifically for such a duration, and the 52km or so that I rowed at around 1:50 pace really took its toll on my body. I was suffering pretty badly with cramp over the last hour or so of the row, and having to compensate in terms of technique to keep the flywheel spinning.

Why am a discussing an event that was nearly 3 and a half years ago? It was during that 100km row that in the final 25km Jen’s husband Ian asked me if my left ankle was ok. I was doing some strange movement with my left ankle during the second half of every leg drive, probably due to muscle fatigue, cramp, and anything else that might happen to your body with such extreme duration exercise that you’re not used to. I hadn’t given this another thought until 2 days ago.

I had noticed on occasion this odd movement of my ankle over the proceeding 3 years and not really thought anything about it, or considered the relation to the 100k row. I only started thinking about it after the Bristol races last weekend when someone commented to me after the race that “you do something odd with your left foot during the stroke, and you must be losing power because of it“. That’s the bit I’d never thought about before, but was the catalyst to actually analyse what I’m doing, what is causing it, and how I can fix it during the past few days.

During my steady distance row yesterday I spent the first few minutes watching my left foot, and seeing what was happening. Around half way through the leg drive my foot would roll outwards and almost completely lose contact with the foot plate. Not a gradual row, more of a sudden flick during the drive. For the next 10 minutes I concentrated hard on trying to find the right movement pattern to minimise this ankle movement, and keep the power I was generating going into the footplate. Afterall, if my foot isn’t in contact with the footplate then I get no power generation from that leg at all, and that is not a good thing! If I consciously made sure to keep my left foot in contact with the footplate throughout the drive I went quicker for the same perceived effort level. But the ankle flick had become an ingrained movement over the past 3+ years, so it took energy to concentrate on trying to remove it.

It was only after that steady distance row yesterday that I thought back to the first time I’d ever noticed myself doing this, that 100km row back in May 2010. Today was the first hard session that I had to try to maintain this technique improvement and see what effect it could have. The session was to be a 10 x 1k / 1min rest. I had done a very similar session in Week 2 of this training plan with an 8 x 1250m / 1min rest session. That was 5 weeks ago, and I had been unable to keep all reps under 1:45.0, but just managed to get the average there with a 1:44.8 with the majority of the reps at 30spm. So the target today was to get all 10 reps under 1:45 pace, and therefore give me a good feeling that I was moving in the right direction. I concentrated hard on my left ankle during every rep making sure to eliminate the twist as much as possible and keep my foot planted on the footplate throughout the drive. The session went better than I could have hoped.

10x1k 25Oct13

The first 2 reps were at 1:44.0 and 1:43.9 pace. A second improvement in pace at a rate of 1 to 2 spm lower. I would take that improvement in 5 weeks if it was just due to an increase in fitness. But I really believe that a fair portion of the improvement is due to the technical discovery and improvement, and that this could be a big breakthrough in my erging times. I have felt like I have under-performed compared to the effort I seemed to be putting in to my training during periods over the past few years. Yes I have had a lot more constraints on my training during that time, but I have had long periods of good solid training without reaching levels that I could get to previously. It will take some concentration over the next few weeks to make sure this technical change becomes sub-conscious routine, but I think it will be worth it.

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