What does it take to row for 24 hours straight? We sat down with Simon Johns to find out after he set an astonishing new world record for distance completed during a 24-hour solo indoor row, completing 302.5km and smashing a 15-year record by 22km...
Simon, congratulations on setting a new world record! Hopefully the DOMS aren't too severe. How did you prepare for this gruelling challenge?
I was averaging around 120km, which equates to around 8 hours, of rowing per week during the second lockdown here in the UK and I was also doing 2-3 hours of strength training on top.
My training stats started hitting historical highs which, given I’m in my mid-40s, was a surprise. I decided that as long as my body felt good after the competitive offshore rowing season finished, I would have two months specifically preparing for the 24-hour challenge and then I’d attempt it.
So, for the 2 months prior to the record attempt I increased my weekly distance volumes to anything between 160 and 210km per week. Finding additional training time is very hard when balancing work and social commitments, so I removed big weights sessions and replaced them with very light weights sessions in front of the TV in the evenings.
And I adopted the “cumulative fatigue model”: I’d do as much as I could every day - often multi-training - during weekdays, and then started doing longer single rows on the weekends.
This way I still had time to be with my family and dogs, as well as work. This meant on some days throughout the week, a typical training day may have looked like this:
- 10km at 6:30am
- 23km at noon
- 10km at 8pm
This would give a daily total of 43km.
On the weekends, my longer rows increased up to 2 to 4 hours. That doesn’t seem like enough when training for a 24-hour rowing challenge, but after rowing 130-150km over the previous 5 days, it was like doing a much longer row. Sundays would be a light recovery or total rest day.
I understand you started using Precision Fuel & Hydration electrolytes earlier this year, so how did you plan your hydration and fueling for the challenge?
In the last two months of training, especially when multi-training each day, I found it hard to get my hydration on point. A triathlete friend of mine recommended Precision Fuel & Hydration and I saw huge improvements in training; I started finishing my training weeks with reduced overall fatigue and far more eager to move things on to another level the following week.
I was having to eat approximately 4,500-5000 calories a day to prevent significant weight loss, which wasn’t pleasant because I wasn’t overly hungry.
The fueling and hydration event plans were pre-set, with the caveat that I had a selection of fuel products to cover all bases as I’ve learnt I never know what types of food I’m going to want when I do these types of challenges.
My hydration plan was easy as I had tested the products during training and knew what worked for me.
I preloaded with PH 1500 the evening before and on the morning of the event. I then used PH 1000 and another more carb-based drink during the event itself. Every half an hour, I would pause, stand, and drink up to a pint.
Over the event it was approximately a split of 70% Precision Fuel & Hydration electrolytes and 30% carb-based drinks.
In total, I consumed between 21 and 23 litres of fluid throughout the 24 hours, the majority of which was PH 1000. As a result, my hydration level throughout the event felt good; I was urinating clear every break for the last 10 hours.
Food-wise, I relied on bananas, peanut butter and jam sandwich squares, and chocolate milkshake just to change the tastes on my palette. According to the data, I burned 14,000 calories, whilst I consumed 250-300 calories per hour.
So, we've covered the physical training, fueling and hydration, but I imagine a huge part of a challenge like this will come down to your mind. How did you maintain motivation?
I’ve done several endurance challenges in the past, albeit none as demanding as a 24-hour non-stop event. Pausing every 30 minutes, as part the hydration plan, meant I broke everything down into 30-minute segments.
I had a detailed race strategy, which had hour by hour distance targets so it was very easy to compartmentalise things rather than just looking at the 24 hours in total, which would have been very daunting.
In general, especially when it comes to rowing, I’m extremely focussed and data driven, so by being immersed in the actual data rather than race plan projections, it provided a great mental outlet for me.
Doing it in a public venue, with a trusted support team, meant the atmosphere was great throughout. I was never on my own as people were turning up around the clock to cheer me on. I even had volunteers rowing on another machine next to me just to keep me company.
I work for PraxisIFM, who were also the main corporate sponsor of the Row24Solo and they've been great in helping me prepare physically and in promoting the event, which helped me surpass my fundraising target of £24,000 as well.
The PraxisIFM CEO, Robert Fearis, turned up at 2am to row alongside me for an hour, which was a much-needed boost at that time in the early hours.
You mentioned that you've done several endurance challenges in the past, but how did this one compare?
It was very tough, certainly the toughest one yet, but I think I was more scientific with my approach to the training - although I had to trust that the “cumulative fatigue model” would work.
I clearly saw the benefits of this. For instance, I was given pre-event advice from long distance triathletes, ultra-distance swimmers, personal trainers, and doctors, all of which was factored into my hydration, nutrition, and race plans.
It was very tough to stay motivated in the last few hours of the event, having broken the previous record with just over 2 hours to go and suffering from significant fatigue.
But, I felt like I nailed my plans and this enabled me to continue to grind out more kilometres and, even more so, at a speed above my pre-event expectations. I was shocked I rowed 302.5km, as even my ambitious race plan only had a target of 290km. To quantify that in time, that put me about 70 to 75 minutes ahead of my own race plan.
And can you give us an insight into what motivated you to take on this challenge?
I wanted to raise money for Bright Tights and Priaulx Premature Baby Foundation because the families of two very close friends, who I took up rowing with back in 2006, have benefited from the great work these organisations do. So, I’ve seen first-hand how our local community relies on the work and support that these charities provide.
I’ve done a tandem 24-hour rowing challenge before and am one half of the current world record and British record holding team for the 24-hour tandem men’s 30-39 years, lightweight category. I wanted to do something like that again but wanted to see how I could challenge myself in a solo effort.