Obstacle course racer turned endurance athlete, Laura Try, was part of a team of four who rowed 1800 miles around Great Britain in June. Here, the 35-year-old talks about her rowing experience, her training, and the logistics of living on a boat measuring 8.6m x 1.6m for 56 days.
You finished your GB row two months ago – congratulations! How was it?
It was the most incredible thing I have ever done in my whole life! I knew it would be fantastic but never anticipated it would be so life changing.
Where did the idea to row around Britain come from?
I originally saw the challenge advertised on Facebook. I’d been training to row across the Atlantic with my previous team but they had to pull out due to work commitments. This left me with nearly 12 months of physical training in the bank, so when I saw this I jumped at the chance. I signed up in May 2016 and left in June 2017. It was a pretty tight schedule to raise the funds to do it, but I did it.
You hold British indoor rowing records, but you weren’t a rower before you signed up to this challenge, is that right?
You are correct. I was not a rower before this. I started training on a rowing machine in October 2015 ready for my Atlantic crossing. When that fell through and I saw this [challenge], I carried on training. I had been on an ocean rowing boat about five times before leaving to row around Great Britain. The indoor rowing records* were achieved in my training last year. I used them as motivation to get really strong and fit and viewed them as something that would build my mental resilience.
*In 2016 Laura rowed a total of 195,658m in 24 hours and set two British Records: 24 Hour Row & Longest Continual Row for a female aged 30-39 in the heavyweight category.
Can you tell us what your row around GB entailed?
There were four of us on the boat most of the time, sometimes five. The boat was 8.6m long by 1.5m and most of the people I barely knew. It was a social experiment as much as it was a physical and mental challenge.
The total distance around Great Britain is 1,800 miles and it took us 56 days to complete the challenge. Most of the time we rowed for 2 hours on and 2 hours off, with two people rowing at any one time. There were times where we had to drop the anchor or go ashore as the weather and/or tide was too bad to row.
What was life like on the boat?
It’s strange, despite being on a tiny boat with 3 other people I barely knew, it never felt small. I think [that’s] because on deck we had the whole world right there; the sea, the sky and Mother Nature. We were often so tired that we’d fall straight to sleep in our tiny cabin.
The first week was pretty tough. Most of us suffered from seasickness which really affected our ability to row. That, teamed with the shock to our system that we were living on a tiny boat, made the first 7 days a real challenge. The body and mind are fascinating though; we soon got used to it and thrived in our environment.
Walking – if you can call it that – around on the boat was tricky. It was more of a shuffle as we clung onto the safety lines at the side of the boat to move anywhere. One day we counted our steps and we took only 25 in one day! A few of us had some embarrassing moments when using ‘the bucket’ (otherwise known as the toilet) in choppy weather. But that’s a story for another day.
The wind was against you for much of the challenge. How hard did this make it to stick to your schedule?
Out of 56 days of rowing, we only had wind in our favour for four of those. The rest of the time it was either coming from the side or against us. This was our biggest battle onboard the boat. It meant we had to stop rowing sometimes and wait for it to die down. Fortunately, we were a strong team so were able to make up the distance to get to our destinations. Sometimes we even arrived early and were able to check out the local sites – otherwise known as pubs.
Can you tell us about the highs and the lows of your adventure?
Before getting on the boat, I thought there would be plenty of lows. Rowing for 12 hours a day, living on a tiny boat with people I didn’t know and being at the mercy of the ocean was surely enough to break me? The answer is no. I loved most of my time on the boat because my team was so incredible and the views and experiences were some of the best of my life. The worst bit, though, was crossing the Irish Sea. It was a boiling hot day and I had to wear two layers of clothes to stop my skin from burning, despite wearing SPF50 sunscreen. It was roasting! Then, to top it off, by accident, one of my teammates spilt boiling hot water on the side of my body. It felt like a day from hell.
Most of the time, when me and the team faced challenging days, Mother Nature rewarded us. There were days where pods of dolphins would swim next to our boat. The sunsets and sunrises were some of the best I think I will ever see and most of all, the laughter between our team was what made our adventure so very special.
How many calories did you have to consume each day and was it a struggle?
I anticipated burning 8,000 calories per day, so therefore took that amount of food for 56 days. I found it very difficult to eat that amount of though. My food packs consisted of freeze-dried meals which we rehydrated with hot water, healthy energy bars, coconut oil off the spoon, nuts, dried fruit and peanut butter bars. I’ve got a confession…. I must be the only ocean rower in the world that put on weight during an ocean rowing challenge. In my usually daily life, I rarely eat high carb meals and definitely do not eat sugary snacks, so I believe it was my change in diet that made me gain the additional 4kg! Don’t tell anyone. They might think I didn’t work hard enough!
Were there many moments when you couldn’t face the thought of rowing again?
When the alarm went off at 3am in the morning and I was snuggled in my sleeping bag, warm and toasty, those were the moments when I didn’t want to go rowing. The look on my face as I exited the cabin would say it all. The thing that got me out of bed, though, was that I couldn’t let my teammates down. They were also always on time and experienced similar thoughts as me, so I often just gave myself a talking to and got out of ‘bed.’
I rarely got bored of rowing as I found the experience very meditative. I did, however, sometimes fall asleep at the oars, so we often played games such as ‘jellyfish cricket’ – sweep the jellyfish with our oars; don’t worry no jellyfish were harmed in the process – or the ‘Interview’ game where we asked deep and meaningful questions to our fellow teammates.
What did you find the most challenging about your GB rowing experience?
The fundraising was by far the toughest part of my challenge. Far harder than any day on the boat by a million times. I was determined to make it happen though, and fought so hard that there were days where I made myself ill. I am so pleased I persisted though as the reward far outweighed the pain.
What was a typical day on the boat like?
A typical day consisted of: Alarm going off. 10 minutes to get ready for my 2-hour rowing shift. Row for 2 hours. After rowing shift, have a wee. Rehydrate food and eat. Take care of body, whether that be clean, repair or apply creams for aches and pains. Sleep. Repeat.
Tell us about your training prior to the challenge – what did you do to prepare?
Most mornings I would row on my rowing machine in my shed for between 30-60 minutes. This was mostly done in the dark so I could mentally prepare for the boredom of rowing for 2 hours at a time. In the evening I alternated HIIT training for my cardiovascular fitness with strength training. That meant lifting heavy weights in order to increase my strength and muscle mass. I found these methods to be very effective in preparation for my challenge as I felt strong throughout and remained injury-free.
What did a typical week of training look like for you prior to the GB row?
Monday – AM: Row 10k. PM: Weight training – squats, bench press, bent over row
Tuesday – AM: Row 5k. PM: Metafit interval training and yoga
Wednesday – AM: Row 10k. PM: Weight training – squats, overhead press, deadlift
Thursday – AM: Row 5k. PM: Weight training – squats, bench press, bent over row
Friday – AM: Row 10k. PM: Metafit interval training and yoga
Saturday – Take my rowing machine to a parkrun and do a 5k row
Sunday – Rest
How did the physical effort of such a long row affect your body?
The intensity of rowing was fairly low compared to my usual training due to the distance and time we spent rowing, so I rarely got achy. I did, however, get very sore wrists. This started in week two and continued until the end. I think because my legs are strong and my wrists are small, the force going through my arms caused the joint to pull apart and caused a little nerve damage. I still had some numbness in my finger 5 weeks after returning.
What are your favourite pieces of kit for training and for the GB row – was there anything you couldn’t live without?
My rowing machine was essential, not only for physical training but also mental. It was so boring training on the rowing machine but this was fantastic preparation for dong such long shifts on the boat. If I could train in the shed in the dark, in the winter at 5am, then I could row on a beautiful ocean rowing boat in the middle of the night.
You’re teaming up with Kiko Matthews to row the Atlantic. Can you tell us a bit about this momentous challenge and how you’re feeling about it?
I am desperate to row across the Atlantic and I want to achieve a world record. Kiko is a really good friend of mine and is incredible strong. She’s rowing solo across the Atlantic in January 2018, so her experience combined with mine means we’ll hopefully form a great team to break a record! We plan to do this in January 2019.
What will the Atlantic rowing conditions be like and what will be your biggest challenge?
The swells across the Atlantic will be bigger than those around Great Britain. I expect the biggest challenge will be not seeing land for 30 days, and pushing hard for a world record. Around Great Britain there were times where we put the anchor down due to bad weather, which meant we were able to rest, but that won’t be the case across the Atlantic. The rowing will be constant and we will be tired!
Have you managed to stay motivated since you finished the GB row?
Since coming back from the GB rowing challenge, I’m even more determined to get stronger, fitter and faster. Rowing for 12 hours a day on the boat has left me feeling really motivated for the Atlantic crossing. I’m currently doing lots of interval and strength training and plan to step it up a gear next year.
Who are the sponsors that supported you on your GB row?
eMoov were my main sponsor for my round Great Britain row. I really hit the jackpot with them as they gave me so much support on social media and with my video diaries. We have yet to speak about my Atlantic crossing. I do have a creative plan in how I’m going to raise the funds to do the challenge so please make sure to stay tuned to my social media channels for updates!
You wrote that the stress and intensity of raising the £21,000 required for the GB row nearly broke you. Would you say that fundraising is one of the hardest parts of planning an adventure?
100 per cent! I was completely outside of my comfort zone with this and there were times where I thought I might not make it. At one stage I nearly ended up at the doctors due to physical and mental exhaustion. I kept pushing though and eventually made it and it was the best feeling in the world!