“Endurance is not just about having the capacity to endure pain. Endurance is about turning pain into glory. It is about using everything you’ve learned, every battle you’ve fought, every obstacle, every loss, every victory no matter how small and applying it to one single race. That single race can win gold for your Country. It’s the last 500m that you need the endurance for. You specifically train for those meters, it’s a street to eternity. That last minute you slip into your subconscious and routine takes over. You are hurting but it is not about being tough, it is about being clever. Your mind is brainwashed not to feel the pain and it goes into another gear in tune with your body. The last 500 you focus on technique, your peripheral vision narrows, your heart rate increases to its maximum capacity, and your entire body fells like it’s about to explode. In the final 500 your stroke rate increases as does the boat speed and all the rowers sprint towards the line. To the one who endures the final victory comes. And It’s this victory that inspires. Through their pain, their practice, their commitment they turned endurance to inspiration.” – Rob Waddell
The 2000M is arguably the most prestigious distance in rowing. It has been raced as an Olympic distance on the water since 1912 and at the World Indoor Rowing Championships since 1996. This distance will test your body and mind equally, spanning over all dominant energy systems no matter who you are. You may race against other athletes and the clock, but ultimately during this distance your main challenger is yourself. Especially on the Concept2 erg there is nowhere to hide. Compared to rowing on the water there are no environmental challenges, no technical nuances, and instead of staring down a beautiful landscape you have a small screen to look at that gives feedback on every stroke, every mistake you may make during the 2000m. To become a Champion, you need to go beyond what you thought you are capable of, and to become a World Record Holder you need to go beyond what most think is humanely possible.
Let that sink in for a second. It’s a 1:24.1 average 500m split or 587 ave. watts. Since 2008, Rob Waddell holds the fastest time on the erg for this prestigious distance. He also still holds the 19-29 category World Record he rowed in 1999. Maybe he is the only one who rowed sub 5:40 at least 4 times and definitely one of the select few who did it in a race (alongside with Martin Siejkowski and Pavel Shurmei)
To understand how crazy fast Rob’s time is, we did some comparing with the fastest registered times on Concept2’s website since the record setting year of 2008 to see how they can be compared to this record. Although the average of top 10 times regarding power output in the past 10 seasons is slowly getting faster, it is still seeming really far off to beat the record. The past 2 years was the first time we saw performances getting under 5% away from Waddell’s 5:36.6 (587 Ave. Watts), and the average of the top 10 times dip below 10%.
The average of the top 10 rowers at the 2017 Indoor Rowing Championship was the fastest of all time, by far, averaging 5:52.7, which is almost 3% faster than any of the average in the past 10 years. With this pace of the performances we can expect to see the record broken within the next 5 years, simply speaking by the data. But we all know there’s a lot more to it than that.
What makes Rob Waddell so special? He grew up on a farm and inherited an exceptional work ethic, which drove him to excel in everything he did. He got involved with rowing at 14 years old. Beside his physical abilities, he also focused on the mental side of things throughout his career. After his 7th place finish in 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he changed his attitude and his main focus became being as fast as possible in the boat. He eliminated everything that would break his concentration, even if that was the media leading up to important events. He was so determined that even his heart condition couldn’t stop his preparation to get to Sydney in 2000 and eventually stand at the top of the podium. He is a 3 time Indoor Rowing World Champion (98-2000), Olympic Gold medalist in Single Scull (Sydney 2000) and 2-Time World Champion in the same event (98-99). His exceptional technique and positions on the rower and the erg are still legendary and talked about in the rowing community.
“I believe that you know we spend hours training our bodies to do something physical and I suggest that the mind responds exactly the same way, and if you train your mind you’ll get the same standard of excellence” – Rob Waddell
There are only 5 rowers who achieved an erg score faster than 5:40.0. It all started in 1997 with Matthias Siejkowski (5:39.7), who is the second faster rower on the erg of all time with a time later set at 5:37.0 in 2001. Followed by Rob Waddell (5:38.3) in 1999. Then came Pavel Shurmei (5:39.6) in 2004 who is still at the top, placing 2nd at the 2017 IRC (Indoor Racing Championship) at age 40 , than Rob Waddell’s current World Record in 2008, and then for 7 years nothing happened. The two new contenders are Conlin McCabe (5:39.4) and Josh Dunkley-Smith (5:39.6) who came in under the magic number in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Looking at the physical characteristics of these rowers it is clear that you cannot be an ordinary man to join this extraordinary list. All of them are between 6’4” – 6’9” (198cm-205cm), usually paired with extreme wingspan, and weighed between 216 and 235 lbs (98-107kg) at the time of their record. They were between 25-35 years old when they achieved their feat of rowing below 5:40.0.
But that is just the beginning. Their VO2max were above 70ml/kg/min so their endurance is extremely impressive and they can obviously endure pain really well. Sijekowski, Waddell and Shurmei were Indoor Rowing World Champions, but all of them were also National Rowing Team members in their career. Many of them stood at the podium on World events such as World Cups or Olympics proving that these gentlemen are not just the king of the Erg but they are also a master of On the Water rowing, too.
How do you beat something, or someone, that is thought unbeatable? Besides having the physical attributes of the elite rowers mentioned previously, you have to work really hard. Elite collegiate and national team members put quality volume into their training and it’s normal to row up to 200k a week during their rowing career. Their focus is not only about volume; they are working on technique, endurance and strength on the regular and being tested seasonally. For them, these tests become normal and they understand what they need to do to beat their past scores. They understand and know how to conquer the pain both physically and mentally and know which strategy suits them and are able to execute it any time they need. Without sport-specific training it is nearly impossible to achieve necessary improvements, and athletes without great coaches find it really hard to bring out the best in themselves. The average age of the rowers who own the fastest time on the erg is 28, which means they have at least 10 years of experience, improvement, and extremely hard work behind them.
Watching the attempt of McCabe and Dunkley-Smith I can tell that the future is here and I expect to close that 3% difference (power output) in the next few years. After their attempt they got off the rower with composure like they have left some in the tank.
Although I think beating the current World record is possible, closing in and passing on the illustrious time of 5:30 is absolutely not. Maybe 1.6 seconds in 500m ave. split that separates the World Record and this crazy fast time seems small, but it means almost 6.5% more in power output. Which means the athlete would have to increase 6.5% between variables such as power, drive length, stroke rate and V02 max. Basically, you get the fastest time in the world and then you need to increase your performance by 6.5%. So I think we can agree that a time of 5:30 is out of the realm of possibility to achieve.
“Nothing Build success like success” – Rob Waddell
Although owning the fastest erg time is not the ultimate goal of a rower, it is a privilege and right now at age 42 only Rob Waddell can say he is still owns the fastest time in the World at 2000m on the Erg.
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