Nearly five years ago I set a rowing personal best for 5,016 meters in 20 minutes. Twice after, I rowed over 5,000 meters in 20 minutes. I posted then:
I can’t tell you how good the accomplishment feels. I didn’t plan on doing it today. I started rowing faster and harder than usual, felt good, and kept the pace.
Not long ago, I struggled to keep up 900 calories per hour for a few minutes at the end. Now I maintained over 1,000 calories per hour for twenty minutes. My body and mind kept telling me to stop. I felt nauseated for part of it.
But “I felt nauseated for part of it” didn’t capture how brutal it felt. After rowing more than 5k in 20 minutes once, I wanted to repeat it to know it wasn’t a fluke, not that I could see how it could be. Then I felt like I’d never submit myself to the punishment again. Since rowing works so much of the body, reaching my limit feels like existential dread. It takes mental effort not to give in. To push myself that hard for twenty minutes without respite hurts.
A few years ago, a friend helped improve my form. Then last year I rowed a 7:39 2k, a significantly faster pace than the 20-minute row. I started wondering if I’d ever do over 5,000 meters in 20 minutes. I’ve been rowing 5ks at 2:07 or 2:06, meaning about 21 minutes for a while. Then a few weeks ago, I rowed a 5k in about 20:30, so started thinking about repeating my old feat with better form.
The record for guys my age is under 19 minutes for 5k, so I’m not setting any records, just exploring my potential.
Anyway, I decided I’d row today to test the water. I planned to aim for 2:03 per 500 meters. I hit 2:01.6, for 4,036 meters in 20 minutes. It may have been my best time for 20 minutes since 2016. I didn’t feel nauseated but did feel oppressed. I also felt I could repeat over 5k in 20 minutes.
As brutalized as I felt while rowing, I felt great at the accomplishment nearly five years older. I think the increased familiarity with rowing helped from the extra five years practice. I’ll feel great if I pass 5k for 20 minutes again with the extra age. I’m not sure when I’ll work up the nerve. It’s hard to start. On the other hand, the pain goes away as soon as I stop rowing and once I finish, the result can never be taken away.
I can say that now, but by about 4 minutes in, calm, rational thought goes away, in favor of my body saying to stop, my mind saying to stop, and some little part of me saying to keep going.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees