The marathon row. The Big Kahuna of endurance rowing events.
How many meters in a marathon? 42,195 to be exact.
That’s A LOT of meters.
Sitting on a rowing machine for that length of time definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
For some though, it’s a crowning-glory moment that’s worth all the literal blood, sweat, and tears it might take to get there.
Should you attempt it? How to go about it if you do?
We turned to our resident experts for their marathon row tips: Our master instructors!
Specifically, those masters who specialize in this kind of endurance rowing workout, or who have them in their rowing or coaching background:
Master Instructor Heather Alschuler, who rowed many a long workout – marathons included – in her training as a Canadian Olympian.
Master Instructor Katie Rosso Recker, a competitive runner and rower who loves marathons AND ultramarathons.
Master Instructor Nell Aiello, who for years trained marathoners and ran a marathon event at the CrossFit / rowing gym she owned in Chicago.
Top Marathon Row Tips From Our Rowing Experts
Should you attempt a marathon?
Almost anyone CAN row a marathon, with appropriate training.
But should you?
Here are marathon row tips from our masters to help you weigh your options and to have your best performance if you do go for it.
1. Decide whether this is an appropriate distance for you
This is not a beginner distance! Even if you can do similar events in other sports, rowing is a repetitive motion and a total-body exercise. The combination can be wearing if you’re not used to it.
“You certainly can’t just jump into it if the mileage on the erg hasn’t been there for some time,” says Master Instructor Heather Alschuler. You have to put in the time on the erg to be ready for this type of distance.”
2. Make sure you’re used to rowing long distances regularly
At a bare minimum, you should be able to row 15-20,000 meters at a time easily, without batting an eye.
You should already be rowing for at least an hour, a couple of times a week (Hopefully logging 40k meters or more).
Bottom line: Unless you have more than a month to train, the marathon distance should already feel doable. It should not be a big deviation from what you’re already used to.
3. Set a realistic goal
If you’ve never rowed a marathon before, your goal should be to finish, and that’s it.
Use your first marathon as a benchmark. You can train to beat it the next time you do it, but your goal the first time is simply to see how you do and how it feels.
Hopefully, you will come away from it still liking the rowing machine.
“Rowing that distance indoors can be a much bigger mental challenge than it would be on the water,” says marathon veteran Katie Rosso Recker.
“An outcome you wouldn’t want is, ‘That sucked, that was so painful, I am never doing that again!'”
4. Consider doing it as a team
If you’re not prepared to take on the full distance, consider doing it on a team with one or more people.
“When we would host the annual marathon at my gym,” says Nell Aiello, “we had an 8-week training plan that was for experienced rowers.
“Anyone who was fairly new would be encouraged to split the distance with another person, or people,” she says.
Marathon Row Training Considerations
There is A LOT more that goes into a 42,195-meter row than just the rowing. Keep these aspects in mind too:
5. Have a plan for proper hydration …
Marathon day isn’t the time to be experimenting with what and how much you eat and drink. That should be part of your training.
Experiment ahead of time with what works. Sports drink diluted with water is a great starting point, but do your own research in advance. Full strength? Plain water? Something else?
6. And for nutrition
As with any other endurance event, quick-digesting carbohydrates are likely to be the best fuel. Use your training workouts to find what will be best for you, and how often you need to eat. Bananas, bagels, sports fuel packets, etc., can all work well.
7. Be mindful of chafing
Consider planning breaks and even changing clothes partway through. You can have someone help you keep the Concept2 monitor on by pressing “change units” or “change display” if needed.
“The environment of the room is important for limiting how much sweating is happening,” says Heather, who rowed marathons often when she was training with Team Canada for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Don’t set out to do this type of work in a hot and humid room. You will run into problems.”
8. PREVENT overuse injuries – CHECK YOUR TECHNIQUE!
High on the list of our marathon row tips is preventing injury. No distance is worth getting hurt over!
Rowing is a repetitive motion. The number of strokes you’ll take between training and the actual event is mind-boggling.
Make it a point to dial in your technique. Errors repeated over and over can easily turn into injuries, or at least cause unnecessary pain.
If you’re unsure whether your technique is up to snuff, watch the technique videos on our YouTube channel.
Or contact us to get your form reviewed by an expert.
9. Test your equipment in advance
Your Concept2 monitor should stay on for a minute or more if you stop rowing during your marathon.
But monitors are variable and can be finicky at the worst times sometimes. We HIGHLY recommend testing yours ahead of time and not the day of, or at least before you start.
Don’t forget fresh batteries! If you’re using a rowing machine whose monitor takes batteries, use new ones. There’s nothing worse than a monitor that dies when you’re almost done with your row. Especially if it’s one this long!
And for goodness sake be sure you have working chargers handy for any other devices you might be using like your phone, tablet, etc.
10. Have a plan for the row
How do you want to accomplish the distance?
Just keep rowing until you get it done, maybe watching some movies or bingeing Netflix?
Headphones and music or an audiobook?
Or do you want to be more strategic?
There are no right or wrong answers here, it’s whatever works for you. You’re probably tired of hearing this at this point, but don’t leave this one up to chance either.
That includes testing out your playlist! Those jams you love in the car can get way annoying over the course of multiple hours of rowing!
If you’re looking for a way to build to a strong finish, this is a good marathon row strategy:
0-10,000m 18-20 strokes per minute
10-20,000m 20-22 spm
20-30,000m 22-24 spm
30-40,000m 24-26 spm
40-42,195m Row as fast as possible, trying to ramp up just a bit every 500 meters
Speaking from experience, you may find that this is too much once you get started, and that faster speeds aren’t happening as you get deeper into it. That’s ok! Some mental tricks for long rows may be all you need to make it through.
It bears repeating though, this is a BIG effort and nothing you should attempt if you’re not already used to bigger distances on the machine.
As always, check with your healthcare provider first to be sure this is appropriate for you.
So how about it? You in??
Marathon veterans, what tips did we miss? Share them in the comments!
Thanks for this I’m rowing my second marathon on 20th November for The Brain Tumour Charity ( let’s say I owe them one )I’m aiming for around 185 minutes . I’m doing about 40k a week at present with a couple of HiiT sessions thrown in plus I’ve done a half marathon every couple of weeks . I’m 60 still work full time . One thing I would suggest to people my age is to get yourself fuelled properly get plenty of jelly babies and pint glasses of fluids ready and buy a soft seat for your rower if you haven’t yet got used to long distances.
This is such great advice, Neil! And I love that you’re doing it for charity. I gather your motivations are very specific and clear, but this is a good idea for anyone – Doing something with a focus larger than you can sometimes be the thing that gets through in the dark moments. Well done and best of luck. Keep us posted!
This is some great advice your first row should be just to get it done then build on that…Once you do it you will know what your body needs to finish plus do a better time.
YES! It seems like people are always in such a rush to make progress that they forget that the right place to start is simply seeing where they are. And that that’s actually part of the process!
So. I’m actually one of *those* people that rowed the marathon with very little preparation and/or real experience on an erg and zero experience in a boat. It showed in my time: 3:51.
It’s an absurd amount of time to sit and row. From an novice perspective the key for me to even accomplish this was a lot of prior hip hinge work with kettlebells along with preloading carbs and staying hydrated.
All in all, a terrible experience I will attempt again this summer.
Honestly, I’d say anything under 4 hours for a first outing – and definitely with no real training or experience – is quite respectable! I can’t wait to see what you do when you’ve had more time to work on it. And YES, carbs and hydration are ESSENTIAL, just as they would be if you were running it. Bananas and Gatorade (I like it mixed 1/2 and 1/2 with water for this kind of endurance event) are your friends!