A "24hour Row!" Those four words uttered as a throw away comment as we brainstormed some fundraising ideas last November. I never thought I would actually be sitting on a rowing machine/"erg" in a small wooden pre-school building at 3 am in the morning feeling like I was going to throw up.
We were 12 hours in and so far we had completed 165km, well on our way to our original target of 300km but still it felt like we were a long way short. I had just completed my 9th or maybe 10th 15 minute stint and my competitive side had got the better of me, trying to beat guys who had either just arrived or were about 8 inches taller than me was, in hindsight, a bit daft.
We were trying to raise money to begin to improve the facilities at my eldest son's pre-school. The school is great and the teachers are fantastic but in order to take things to the next level and improve the care for the children, the building needs extending and updating.
A lot of people had got involved, with teachers, parents, grandparents and friends all taking part and plenty of people willing to sponsor the madness of it all and to see me suffer.
I had done a little bit of training in the weeks leading up to the event, I found this little exert from my training diary on the first day I started to train....
"Thought I better jump on a rowing machine, uh oh, long way to go. Although aerobically I'm reasonably fit, nothing quite prepares you for the rowing machine. Hips ache, butt aches and quads are burning....and that's after 4 minutes......."
Things did improve however and I think I came in to the event in reasonable shape.
We started at 3pm on Friday and planned to do 15 minute stints rotating on and off the machine. I was planning to stay up for the full 24 hours and was timetabled to do about 12-15 stints. Others were coming and going throughout, donating their time as and when they could. At any one time we would have roughly 4 or 5 people rotating.
We had managed to get hold of some energy drinks and recovery shakes donated by our friends up at Northampton Saints (thanks Chris) and this kept us going. Before long it was 9pm and I was feeling quite good, although the bulk of my work was still to come. Gav Fisher and Chris Hart really pushed the pace here and we were progressing nicely.
Disaster struck in the hours before midnight. A couple of our key rowers had just departed and were heading for a well-earned rest, but it was ok fresh legs had arrived. Eddie had assured me he was the man for the job in the early hours, a night owl anyway and an endurance machine (he had once cycled from Bury to Newmarket!). Pumped up and eager to impress Eddie set off at a frantic pace, unfortunately after 2 minutes of Olympic standard effort, events conspired against him and his finely tuned body started to break down. A combination of historical injury, 'an individual' rowing technique and a gross miscalculation of the gravity of the challenge meant we lost one of our key men. However Kim and Devonia were happy to pick up some of the slack and extra efforts from Gav and myself also filled the void before our next set of fresh legs arrived.
By 1am we were flying, 3 of us were rowing in a 15 minutes on 30 minutes off relay and the pace was high, John and Matt were really going for it. I was on the erg just starting a stint and in walked Malcolm, Kim's Dad. He'd been one of our early rowers but a valentines dinner reservation had taken him away from us. "I've had steak, I've had beer, I've had wine and chocolate pudding, how about you?" not the best motivation but a welcome distraction none the less. For the next hour or so we pushed on, Malc even had a 5 minute blast in his dinner suit, before the effect of the 2 bottles of Italian wine caused an ungainly and painful looking dismount.
The next few hours went by in a blur, by 5am it was getting hard, I'd been awake nearly 24 hours and it was starting to show. I tried to keep the pace the same but I couldn't keep it going for as long, 15 minute stints turned to 10 minute stints and sometimes to 5 minute stints. This was the hard bit, no fresh legs for another 2 hours just us pushing through, the promise of bacon sandwiches arriving at 8am, the only thing keeping us going.
At last, breakfast, I was starving but too tired to eat properly, people were popping in now after a good nights sleep, apparently I didn't look to bad. Really?? I felt terrible. I had a text conversation with Chris who had rowed the evening section, words of encouragement gave me back my focus and we cracked on. Keeping the stints shorter and more often seemed to be better for me and the pace stayed high. Our pit stop style changes were really working.
At about 12:50 we hit 300km, this was massive for us, this was our target. We pushed on after that milestone, new legs had arrived and we decided to see what we could do. The total distance covered was 333km and by the end we were doing 90 seconds on then changing over. At 3pm we were done. Relieved, exhausted and proud.
To fully appreciate and understand how much effort some people had put in here are a few facts and figures. Gav Fisher did 35km at a consistently good pace, John Hall 38km and was moving the machine he was pushing that hard, Kim was awake through the night for 22 hours and pushed herself to exhaustion, Mel and Michelle came back 4 if not 5 times to do more rowing, Chris drove 2 hours to do nearly 20km of rowing and then drove 2 hours back in the middle of the night. Others had pushed themselves hard too, I can't name them all but thank you.
The next time we have a fundraising brainstorm, I might just keep my mouth shut!