New Marathon Record for David Gillard


“Sisu” is a central concept in Finnish culture. There is no direct English language equivalent, and it roughly translates as strength of will and determination. Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. Sisu “entails an element of grim stress management” according to one description.

It’s perhaps therefore not surprising that the only annual marathon ergo race (42,195m) in the world is held in Finland. As well as marathons the organisers will host 100km and 24-hour challenges.

Whilst marathon ergs have moved a little more mainstream with CrossFit, when it was incorporated as an event at the 2018 CrossFit games, it’s fair to say – at least in most of the world – that it remains niche.

Attending the Finnish Open Ergo marathon I was asked how many ergo marathons I’d completed. I said this will be my second, how about you? The reply from the local participants was often 30 or 40…

However, looking at the Concept2 logbook there is sisu being demonstrated in rowing clubs, gyms, and garages around the world. In just the men’s 50-59 heavyweight category there are 210 ranked marathon ergs in the 2022 season. Maybe it’s quite a big niche?

Matt Jackson, President of the Royal Navy Amateur Rowing Association, and I headed to Tuusula, Finland, to put our sisu to the test. 42,195m of physical and psychological sustained grim stress management.

We wanted to add the challenge of competing at a given time in an unfamiliar location, but also to benefit from the camaraderie of collective suffering. We were hoping for seasonal weather – low temperature and humidity, with a light breeze – but would have to cope with whatever the sky delivered.

We were lucky. The lake, overlooked by the hotel terrace where the competition was staged, was still largely frozen but thawing quickly. Race day was cloudy and breezy, with a temperature high of 12 degrees Celsius.

The event is organised by the local rowing club, Keravan Urheilijat, and has a welcoming family atmosphere. We arrived in time to help with the set-up and were handed brooms to help brush down the terrace. The gentle humour of our hosts pushing aside the nervousness of what lay ahead.

Matt and I had pursued our own specific preparation plans focused on this event for the last 8 weeks or so, sometimes modified for business travel or another near-term goal.

My programme was again set by training guru Eddie Fletcher, who remotely guides the sessions and incorporates flexibility as required. Sessions were bifurcated and focused on developing sustained power and, simply, mileage. The maximum session beforehand at target marathon pace was 90 minutes, with full preparation. For me this meant there were several practice attempts (learning experiences) to finalise a nutrition and hydration strategy, as well as chances to try different seat, cushion, and clothing combinations.

On my one previous marathon the searing glute pain made the final 30 minutes tortuous. Cramp in Matt’s most recent marathon meant he rowed the last 10km at quarter slide.

There’s the kicker with the marathon – the big challenge comes at the end, and you spend the piece dreading the cracks (dry mouth, aching butt, twinging muscles) turning into a chasm.

We were off at 11:30am local time. Flapjack from Oatopia for breakfast, hydration, set-up of the feeding station next to the machine, support the half-marathoners that started at 9am, playlist primed, warm-up… and we’re off.

It feels too easy to start with – the adrenaline of a race start makes it hard to find the rhythm for a marathon piece, but gradually it settles. I mentally broke the piece into 10-minute segments, taking a (partial) gel and drink on the move (the drinks in camelbacks suspended to one side).

During the feeding my split would worsen by 2 or 3 seconds, but it’s far more efficient than rowing one-armed and glugging from a bottle or cups. Gradually squeezing on to test where the limits are and backing off a little when needed, riding out the long (but fortunately low amplitude) waves of higher/lower energy.

During this piece “fuel” seemed to be my limiting factor – if I tried to bring the split down, I would gradually feel slightly faint, an almost out-of-body experience.

Looking up to see the great views of the frozen lake was a welcome distraction, as was the cooling breeze. I was happy hovering between 1:49s and 1:50s, with the average gradually converging to the middle of my planned range.

Stroke counting in each 10-minute segment, along with a good music playlist, was my main stress management tool (i.e., distraction). Matt turning to me with a smile and thumbs-up every 15 minutes or so was also a great boost – sisu shared is sisu doubled.

Perhaps it was conditions, or more likely our thorough preparation, but the chasms didn’t appear this time. We paced ourselves well, I was perhaps even too conservative, meaning we were both able to push on in the last 5-10km. Matt took 3 minutes off his Personal Best, a huge chunk, finishing in 2 hours 43 minutes and 39.1 seconds.

I managed my main objective, with a new British age group record by a bit over a minute, with a time of 2 hours 34 minutes and 2.8 seconds.

After the race we had the unusual pleasure of sharing a recovery sauna with other competitors, followed by the much more usual and welcome cold beer together. What a wonderful weekend.

David Gillard


100km tandem records by David Gillard

First, why does anyone do this to themselves? Take their mind and body voluntarily into a commitment so long and gruelling that mind-games and physical lows are inevitable.

The stop-start exertion, with each round grinding you down a little more. Sitting in your corner waiting to be called again and again.

Like crew rowing, carrying the responsibility of knowing that your potential failure would not be a contained personal event but dooms the team.

You need a catalyst, in this case Ian McNuff, whose determination knows no limits and who practically and emotionally drags you into the ring.

Deep down though there needs to be a desire to know – can I do it? And you must find someone else, preferably as strong as an ox – physically and mentally – that will share the burden with you. Step forward David Dix, man mountain and, handily, indoor GB and World indoor rowing championship medallist.

So, Dixie and I agree to have a crack at the 50-59 100km tandem world record, alongside Ian and Clive Roberts (rowing legends) who will simultaneously go for the 60-69 record. The attempts will be held in the gym at Molesey Boat Club, as part of an open day of activities including boat naming honouring the club’s recently returned Olympic and Paralympic heroes.

So, we had a date… but how do you prepare? This is where it really helps to have a coach like Eddie, who understands that the training is not just a physiological exercise but also psychological. Preparation is needed for the mind-numbing repetition. As a group of athletes, along with our official timekeeper and organiser, Tony Ward, we shared tips and debated practicalities.

How best to fuel and hydrate, what were the optimum interval times and how to manage changeovers. It was Eddie’s seven-week programme that formed the base of Dixie’s and my confidence. The programme is maybe best described as extreme bifurcation.

The biggest sessions were weekend intervals, gradually increasing in volume to peak at 60x 2mins on and 2mins off, close to WR pace (sub 1:43/500m). With a warm-up and wind-down these sessions were chewing up big chunks of time, but ultimately giving us the belief that the challenge was achievable.

We finessed our approach and agreed to start with 1.5 minute intervals.

Inevitably the day finally arrived, along with that pit-of-the-stomach dread. Perhaps naively I believed that we were physiologically and psychologically well prepared, but we still had execution risk.

We had never even attempted a handover. Fortunately, Dixie, along with his (extremely patient) family, had practised and had a plan. One large snag – getting Dixie’s size 14s in and out of the foot straps efficiently – solved with a flash of inspiration.

A few low-pressure practice handovers were all we managed. The 60s had already started – we were trying to chase them down… and then we were off. Learn on the job.

The first hour goes past quickly. Off too fast of course, getting used to sending messages to each other via our helpers – to be passed on during the next recovery. Gradually calming and finding something sustainable.

Our plan to be a few tenths ahead of the record pace for the first half, building in likely fade. Each piece off high for 10, gradually lengthening, then cruising slightly into the handover. And repeat.

Somewhere in the second hour the negative thoughts arrived in my head. The slight labouring in the piece, the voice telling you just to walk out. But you don’t. You look up, see the support, tell yourself that the only way you leave is if they carry you out.

Hopefully, like me, you also see your tandem partner smashing it along – carrying you physically through your low, giving you another reason to push on. Looking back now the middle 2 or 3 hours were in a trance – the low had been passed but it wasn’t safe to think about how far was left. Both of us continually haunted by mental demons, but not wanting to let each other down, knowing that we had endured Eddie’s programme to be here and the gradual realisation that we could and would prevail.

Then the strangest, most wonderful, thing happened. I started to feel stronger and almost joyous. It was a completely new experience – something you don’t expect after competing for the best part of 4 decades.

Now it was my turn to lift Dixie and help hold the splits. Remarkably we had only let our average split slip by 0.1s over the preceding 3 hours. Banging out those final turns with the gym full of cheering support was magical, with the experience undoubtedly amplified by our physical state.

As a wise man once said, life is about meaningful textured moments. Dixie, Ian, Clive, and I certainly lived that day.

Results: David and David set a new 50-59 heavyweight men’s 100km tandem World Record of 5 hours 41 minutes and 24.0 seconds on 12th September 2021. This is an average split of 1:42.4/500m

Ian and Clive set a new 60-69 heavyweight men’s 100km tandem World Record of 6 hours 2 minutes and 2.1 seconds on 12th September 2021. This is an average split of 1:48.6/500m

Photo credits: Vicky Gillard

David Gillard, October 2021

Watt did you do during lockdown?

A great Blog by Jon Tilt about Jon’s and his brother Matt Fitness journey over the last year

A year of virtual training

By Jon Tilt

March 2020, my partner Julie, and I were walking in the New Forest when my phone pinged to tell us Boris had announced the first COVID lockdown. My first thought was to call my brother Matt, a chef in Kenton (near Exeter, Devon). He was already on it, transforming his fine dining restaurant into a take-away in time for Mother’s Day.

A few days later it was Matt’s turn to call me saying we needed to find a way to keep healthy. We had both been keen rugby players, but our last games were more than a few years ago. Recently Matt had been doing some rowing on his Concept 2 and I enjoy athletics, coaching at Southampton AC and competing at Masters level in the 400m and 400m hurdles.

Matt’s ankles are shot thanks to Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, a genetic condition that damages peripheral nerves, and I was recently diagnosed with Osteoarthritis in the knee, so regular running was out of the question for both of us.

Fortunately, I had invested in a Wattbike Atom when I retired from IBM in 2019, so we both had enough home equipment to get going.

First day, Wednesday 1st April, 8am we set out on our first session together. FaceTime, on our iPad and the Wattbike app on my phone.

To start, I would choose a session of the app (randomly!) and I would ride whilst Matt rowed, with me shouting instructions on when to change pace or power.

The training was not particularly sophisticated, but we were establishing a routine and experimenting with what worked and what did not. My biggest lesson (and something I should already know!) was the importance of recovery.

After a month I found I was shattered and checking my training logs I realised I had not taken a single day off in April. I now have at least one day a week for regeneration’.


Structure, consistency, and progression, including recovery is the backbone of a fitness plan.  Adaptation and improvement occur during rest and recovery

After a week of ‘playing’ we decided to take on one of the Wattbike plans. We thought the Health Intermediate Training plan would be a good start. Four days a week on the plan, then another doing something different on the Saturday. The plan was ideal as it gave us a mixture of speed and endurance work in sessions of 30-40 minutes. Great sense of satisfaction when we completed it without missing a session 13 weeks later.


I designed the Wattbike Health Training Plans to give the best balance of dose-response. I’m so pleased it worked.

When the first lockdown eased, I was able to get back to running one day a week, but Matt and I decided to keep going with the morning training. We had done the rugby match simulation sessions a few times and really enjoyed them (although the game has changed a lot since we played – nowhere in the session did it involve waiting half an hour for the forwards to wallow around in the mud and then being expected to run the length of the pitch with frozen legs!).

The next obvious step was to try the Rugby General Conditioning plan. 9 weeks of 4 sessions a week. Slightly longer work outs, but with a great variety of endurance and intensity.

I committed a schoolboy error in about week 3 of the plan when I decided to do an FTP test and used the sub max test to measure it. I will be honest; I have no idea what an RPE of 7 is and I ended up doing it as a max test which meant my FTP was set ridiculously high. The next few rugby sessions were hell, so I retested using a Max ramp test and that sorted it.

We enjoyed the rugby plan so much we did it again for another 9 weeks before attempting the Health Advanced Training plan.


The Rugby General Conditioning Plan was based on real sessions I designed for several rugby union/league clubs and national teams.  Setting your training parameters is important – for trained individuals assessing maximum power and heart with a full ramp test is the way forward.   For less fit individuals a submax test can be effective and then starting with one of the Health Beginners Plan to ease into training

Periodically we put ourselves through a test session to see where we were. Matt entered the British and Canadian indoor rowing champs and the Somerset 525 Virtual rowing competition. He set a new lifetime best of 6.57.7 for the 2000m!

Not bad for a 56-year-old with dodgy ankles.

I was able to squeeze in two 400m races on the track in September 2020, running 56.6 to top the UK rankings for my age group. Pleased with that considering I did not do a single-track training session.

What we learned on the way

The Wattbike has two main metrics, Power (Watts) and Cadence (RPM). The plans help you train at the right power and cadence and you start to develop a ‘feel’ for balancing the two.

Whilst the Concept 2 has a power measure, Matt found that time/500m was the most useful metric for him to use. His 2k pace is around 1.45, and flat out about 1.28, so when I am recovering at 144w he drops to about 2.00 pace.

Over time he developed a good understanding of what pace was required to equal the power I was working at.

Interestingly we found that at the end of the session I covered almost exactly twice the distance on the bike. We assume this is because the bike delivers constant power, whereas the rower only on the pull.


The Concept 2 rower works on power, but rowers prefer to use pace per 500 m – there is a nonlinear relationship between power and pace so working out power first and then the pace is important. The distance covered is coincidental.

Max power metric is slightly different when testing on a Rower and Wattbike. Due to the different nature of cycling max power tend to be 25-50 W higher on a bike.

We both improved our form over the year, I am no rowing expert, but watching Matt over FaceTime I was able to spot a couple of things like stroke length and relaxing the neck that gave him some marginal gains.

The Wattbike shows pedal efficiency as a wacky figure of eight or sausage shape as well as an overall PES (pedal efficiency score). I found that at slow speeds my PES is atrocious, dropping down into the low 40s. I also have a marked difference in legs, my damaged side several points worse than my good side.

However, when I upped the speed, my efficiency improved significantly. Usually in the mid-60s and occasionally over 70. The difference in legs also disappeared.

My hypothesis is that because I am a sprinter, my body knows how to generate ‘good enough’ form when it needs to (you cannot run fast with poor form!) and that at slow speeds it just gets lazy. Something I will investigate more.


Getting your pedal technique right is the significant gain you can achieve. It starts at the ‘slow’ speeds – for me more about leg speed of 90 rpm minimum even at recovery zone so resistance/gear selection also key.

I will not pretend we set out with any sort of process or plan. Afterall we were told it would all be over by the summer! However, looking back the following steps describe how we approached it:

  1. Establish a routine

Initially it does not matter what you do, just do something regularly. Having a set time and someone to work with really helps.

2. Follow a plan

Once the routine is in place start to think more about what you want to achieve. Set some goals, plan. We found the Wattbike plans very well structured and provided the variety we needed.

3. Regeneration!
When things are going well it is easy to get excited and overtrain. Remember to schedule in recovery. The body only regenerates when you stop beating it up!

4. Test
Make sure you have some tests periodically, a race, a time trial or one of the Wattbike challenges can provide great motivation and help you see how far your training is taking you.

5. Iterate
Never stop learning, do not be afraid to go back to the start and do it all again in a different way.

Here we are a whole year on, hundreds of thousands of metres pulled and pedalled and hopefully a little wiser, even at our age. We have just had another test week and are about to embark on the Rugby plan for a third time.

Thank you Wattbike and Concept 2 for getting us through the year!

Jon Tilt is a UK Athletics Performance coach at Southampton AC

He is a World Masters Champion at 400m and 400m hurdles and holds the British M55 400m hurdles record.


Andrew Page

Have you ever thought whether you can train differently, or cross train for events to both improve performance or protect against injury?

The Rottnest Channel Swim is a 19.7km open water swim from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island.  Andrew has completed this swim 35 times and holds the record for the greatest number of solo crossings.

Having an interest in rowing he has been using the indoor rower and ski erg to help with his preparation.

Andrew takes up the story:

‘I bought the Marathon/100k Plan from Fletcher Sport science and have been working through this with the view of doing a 100,000m on the rower.

I have had some competing interests that have made me insert some other cross training into the plan as I have also been training for a 19.7km open water swim that is held annually here in Perth Western Australia (Rottnest Channel Swim).

In previous years I have trained conventionally for a swimming event …  by swimming. This year I was looking for something different for the variety and as well as injury management and attained this through using the Fletcher Sport Science rowing guide with the Concept2 equipment. I found the guide good as it gave me what I needed to do instead of going out to my training room and floundering around not achieving anything.

I also found the guide a sensible way to train as it was building endurance without excessive pressure on joints. The volume of training I was able to do, working through the program was much higher than I could have done if I had purely done swimming training and I will certainly train the same way again next year.

I only trained in a pool 10 times and the rest of my training was on the Concept2 Rower and more recently included the Ski Erg. I believed that the 100k plan was a comparable in terms of duration to the swim.

The swim took place on the 20th of February 2021 and I completed it in 7h49m42s. I approached it remarkably like the same discipline that is used for my stroke rate 18-20 at 100KP pace, which for me is 2.22/500m.

It was quite choppy, and many swimmers had to withdraw as conditions deteriorated. In the past I have found these conditions very fatiguing through my core but this time I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I felt in the water for the duration of the swim focussing on the swimming equivalent of the 100KP pace.

There really was a correlation in feeling/result between the two sports which pleased me as I did have some mild feelings of apprehension in the days before as I hadn’t done a lot of training in the water.

I am not fast on the rower, but I certainly believe that through training I can be quicker and will also become quicker in the water. I did complete some of the marathon training sessions in between the 100k training. Perhaps some more of these might make me a bit faster? I really noticed the difference in my heart rate and performance up to 75% of maximum heart rate.

This was my 35th Rottnest Channel Swim Solo Crossing and I was just looking for a different way to train that also reduced wear and tear on the shoulders.’

Andrew is hoping to complete his 100k row in the coming weeks after he has recovered from the swim.

Cycling Training Plans

Now in the shop under Cycling Training Plans are 4 new 12 week plans – the first three are one extra workout a week to incorporate into a structured training plan using your Wattbike/Turbo. The fourth is a fully developed 10 mile TT plan for experienced riders incorporating road rides and Wattbike/Turbo specific workouts.

The first one is to develop leg speed (cadence) at the right gear and rpm – the Leg Speed Revolution Plan is suitable for all riders – priced at £35.

The next 2 plans are one specific Wattbike/Turbo based Hill climb development plans. Hill Climb Revolution 1 is for experienced riders and Hill Climb Revolution 2 is for very experienced riders – each plan is priced at £35 each.

The final plan is a fully developed 12 week, 5 workouts per week plan for the serious 10 mile time trialist – priced at £135.

Each plan contains instructions about the ratio of maximum minute power (MMP) or functional threshold power (FTP), rpm and heart rate to use with each workout and has charts to assist in setting the workout metrics.

Two new pages have been created

Heart Rate Variability – 3 free papers to download , written by Eddie Fletcher explaining what it is all about and how it works.

POWERbreathe – Two  free papers to download, one by Eddie Fletcher, and a second by Professor Alison McConnell. Heavily oriented to rowing but applicable to any sport.

We’ve also put the POWERbreathe Guide for Indoor Rowers in the e-book section of the shop, priced at £25. As with the POWERbreathe papers, the Guide can be applied to any sport.

New Indoor Rowing Long-Distance Guide – Marathon and 100k

It is finally here, many years in the writing and based on sound scientific principles and data collected from multiple athletes, who have completed the plans.

The marathon plan is a significant update on my previous plan, and the 100k is the first time I have published it in full.

This is more than just the plans, which in themselves are extensive and incredibly detailed. All together over 140 workouts over the two plans. Each workout specified by duration, stroke rate, heart rate and pace.

There are detailed heart rate/pacing/stroke rate charts and, for the first time I have published my Fletcher Rowing Power Max test (RPmax), which can be used to find individual heart rate percentages and pacing for the plans.

In addition, there is a section on the physiological demands of marathon and 100k rowing, a section with general guidelines and a section on the long-distance row itself.

Dr Mark Bellamy has written a section on mental preparation and Rachel Armstrong has written a powerful nutrition section, which all rowers should read carefully.

This guide is packed with information over 83 pages – it is an e-book but priced for the value of the training plans.

 £135 and now available in the Shop Indoor Rowing Training Plans section.

More Indoor Rowing Records

Two more indoor rowing records to update – first Victoria Starr on a rich vein of form to set a new British half marathon record for 40-49 hwt women in a great time of 1:25:59.9.

Next up was an incredible row by Rod Chinn to break the long-standing World record for 100K in the 60-69 lwt category – an amazing time of 7:14:42.7. Can you imagine rowing for over 7 hours!

As always, in awe of these athletes.

If you are thinking of rowing a half marathon, marathon or 100k, get in touch using our contact form.

Indoor Rowing Plans

We are delighted to announce the launch of 6 standard indoor rowing plans, now available in the Shop (Indoor Rowing Plans section). These Plans are the culmination of over 20 years’ experience designing and delivering one on one coaching for our clients.

The bespoke service is still available, but we recognise that affordability and the time needed for one to one coaching is not for everyone.  The Plans are designed to be self-supporting and will deliver a structured, consistent, and progressive approach to training, for an improved 2000 m performance or race.

Each plan is built around an estimated 2000 m goal ranging form 9’ 45” down to 6’ 56”.   Each Plan is known by its 2000 m target:

  1. Beginners Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Stroke rate (SR) Plan
  2. Beginners 9:45-9:10 – a RPE, SR, and Pace (per 500 m) Plan
  3. Beginners 8:40-8:20 – a RPE, Heart rate (HR), SR, and Pace Plan
  4. Intermediate 8:00-7:48 – a HR, SR, and Pace Plan – THE SUB 8-MINUTE PLAN
  5. Intermediate 7:28-7:16 – a HR, SR, and Pace Plan
  6. Advanced 7:06-6:56 – a HR, SR and Pace Plan – THE SUB 7-MINUTE PLAN

If you have an in between 2000 m time chose the plan closest to your 2000 m time – for instance if your 2000 m time is 8:50 chose the 8:40-8:20 plan.

Each Plan is 12 weeks duration and can be repeated.  The workouts can also be spread out over longer periods if other complimentary training is involved – the key is to do the workouts in sequence, for best results.

Each workout has a specific warmup, work to be completed and cool down. In addition, where appropriate the RPE, HR, SR and Pace are shown.

NOTE – Pace per 500 m is built from power in Watts and not 2000 m pace +/- X seconds, as the relationship between power and pace is nonlinear.

Each plan is £135.

We recognise that you may need more than one plan, as you progress so we are discounting any second plan to £115 and if you need a third to £100.

Finally, you can also buy a remote test to get a fix on your maximum HR (experienced rowers only) – available in the shop ‘Remote Services’.

Whilst the Plans are self-supporting, we are happy to answer reasonable questions before a purchase decision is made – use our Contact page to do so.

Rod and James set new British Marathon records

It’s been quite a weekend, two marathon records, first up was the amazing Rod Chinn still on a rich vein of record breaking. Broke a long standing 60-69 lwt record held since 2007 by Malcom Fawcett. Malcom was a Fletcher squad athlete so keeping the record in the family – fabulous row Rod in a new record time of 2:47:22

Then the incredible James Cracknell still rocking it at 48, a superb 2:30:37 to knock over 2 minutes off the old 40-49 hwt record.

This makes James the second fastest British rower behind Graham Benton (another Fletcher squad athlete) who set his time in the 30-39 hwt category back in 2012.

In awe of these athletes

If you are thinking of rowing a marathon get in touch using our contact form.