Into the unknown...

pulling across an ocean

“Everything that has ever happened in your life, is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.” Anonymous.

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Facing the unknown

This week I asked the Atlantic Discovery team to tell me about their mental, physical and emotional preparation for the race. But before I share this, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the known factors they will face on their journey.

Four men on an open deck 17 foot long. Two tiny cabins, home to all four of the crew during stormy weather. Round-the-clock shifts of two hours on, two hours off. At best, 90 minute sleep cycles. Compromised immune systems, chaffing sores and blisters, exposure to the unrelenting sun and elements for at least 12 hours a day, for a month and a half, maybe two. Barely palatable food. Physical extremes. Boredom. Home sickness. Motion sickness. Hallucinations. Exhaustion… Jack-bot’s singing… and, then there’s the unknown.

So how do you prepare yourself for a challenge on the extreme edge of possible? True to form, the boys are all going about it differently.

Preparation is personal

Methodical, steady, thorough

Ben has been preparing himself for the longest time - around two years. To try and make sense of what to expect on the row, he has read every book known to man on the subject of ocean rowing, rowing and water. He’s undressed Ellida down to her bare shell and studied every element of this vast subject truly, madly, deeply. His objective? To be able to share these learnings with the team.

 Ben making sure he knows how  Ellida  is wired.

Ben making sure he knows how Ellida is wired.

Physical preparation for Ben means strength. He is the strongest person on the team (I know this because he has picked me up in the deadlift position, squatted and stood up again, and the only damage he did himself was split his trousers. Hilarious!). And wow.

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“The muscle I’m packing is going to protect me from injury on the row,” he explained to me. “I’m fortunate my aunt used to be a professional athlete - she competed in discus - and has taken on the task of making sure I’m race ready. She is coaching and mentoring me, and guides me through my training every week. I’ve learned so much - there is a lot of technique and subtlety to weight lifting.”

Thinking and planning ahead

Cameron joined the team in May, and at the time was on course to lose 10% of his normal bodyweight to demonstrate to his girlfriend (GF) that he had a six pack. (Yes, he is the most mature member of the team…). If the six pack didn’t emerge by the deadline, I understand GF would be the recipient of some much coveted earrings she had her eye on. This little interlude delayed the start of Cam’s bulking up process - but he’s now on track to achieve his target - and GF is sporting a gorgeous pair of sparkly accessories. (Did he achieve his goal, or didn’t he? I’ll leave you to ask him!).

 Cameron bought a rowing boat two years ago - to prepare for the crossing - which he keeps on Lake Zurich.

Cameron bought a rowing boat two years ago - to prepare for the crossing - which he keeps on Lake Zurich.

Cam is a multi-disciplinary sportsman - he has always been exceptionally active - and demands a lot from his body. But nothing that comes even close to the Atlantic row. He is focusing on strength and endurance training.

Race organisers Atlantic Campaigns say in their training guide: “There is no prescribed mental training programme that can adequately prepare you for what you will experience other than training together as a team.”

 Skateboarding in front of Zurich Opera House.

Skateboarding in front of Zurich Opera House.

Mentally Cam’s the one who is thinking three steps ahead. He visualises potential problems that the team may encounter on the row and works out solutions in discussion with the team. Then they do drills to practice and perfect these responses. The team has also spent a more than the recommended time on the water, developing their seamanship skills, and learning about each other.

“Knowing each other’s strengths and limits will go some way in preparing us for whatever we will face on the crossing. We’ve got to be prepared for everything going wrong and make plans on how we’re going to deal with each scenario.”

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Dedicated to team and self

Isaac has a more rounded approach to his preparation. I’ve got to admit to bursting out laughing when he told me massage was a key part of his training programme. And, before I get into serious trouble with the sports massage community, it was only because I saw the funny side! (The rest of the team training at top speed and Isaac lying prone while being pummelled into a state of euphoria.) His regime includes daily yoga and regular osteopathic support.

 Isaac has cleaned up his diet in preparation for the row, reducing sugars, caffeine and alcohol.

Isaac has cleaned up his diet in preparation for the row, reducing sugars, caffeine and alcohol.

Mentally, Isaac believes his focus on team unity is paramount. “When we’re at the wire, it is the team dynamics that are going to make or break us. I’m working hard to dissolve some of the blocks that are preventing us from functioning as a high performing team.”

He and Ben also did a lot of endurance training for their world record rows at the start of the year.

 Ben and Isaac during their successful world record attempts.

Ben and Isaac during their successful world record attempts.

“We stayed awake for four days to earn our world records and we know how we cope when sleep deprived and have to row for a long duration. This kind of stress test is invaluable in preparing for the crossing.”

long and steady for jack

Jack-bot is the most experienced rower on the team - with the most powerful pull - and he is concentrating on building fitness through long steady-state sessions on the rowing machine. His target is four hours, which is twice the length of time he will need to row every shift on the crossing. He is combining this with hypertrophic exercise to build up his lean muscle mass (or, as he says not-as-lean-as-it-could-be!).

 Jack is happiest on the water.

Jack is happiest on the water.

Mentally Jack is keenly focused on understanding the psychological changes that will take place as a result of the change in environment and high levels of stress. “I am reading accounts of previous crossings, paying particular attention to the emotional change states we are likely to experience. For example, James Cracknell and Ben Fogle say in“The Crossing,” that they found their first four days at sea the hardest. They were in shock, realising the enormity of the challenge facing them, getting to grips with the loneliness they felt, and trying to find the strength to get through the demands of their new regime. It was only on the fifth day that they started to feel a little more positive.

“Just knowing what to expect at various phases of the journey is going to help me understand and adapt to the emotional and behavioural changes in myself, as well as my team mates. I think that this is vital to the wellbeing of our team.”

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towards the best possible row

So in summary, the team are not following the same training regime. Or diet. Or even doing similar mental or emotional preparation. (I can’t even get them to wear the same kit at the same time.)

Doing your best to get ready for the race is personal. It’s about kick-ass attitude. It’s about wanting to make our amazing group of supporters proud. Atlantic Discovery is going to do #thebestpossiblerow.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.