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Actually racing in virtual times

Graham Spittle tells the amazing story of his record-breaking indoor rowing achievements, including beating his own his British erg record during lockdown

So what did I do during Lockdown? Not too much really, other than help coach the juniors and break one of my own British records! It’s been a strange few months.

Last weekend, in the last in a string of races over lockdown, I became the first winner of two British Rowing Virtual Championship (BRVC) titles for both for the 2k and 500m in my 70-74 year heavyweight category. As it was raining, my race for this inaugural event took place in my kitchen!!

My winning streak started when I won British Rowing Indoor Championships (BRIC; pictured below), last December. Then in February this year, just before the lockdown started, I won at the World Rowing Indoor Championships in Paris, and narrowly avoided having to quarantine there!

British and World champion! Me! Who’d have thought!?!

The transition to indoor rowing

When Lockdown actually kicked in, everyone was thinking “what do we do now?”

Once our junior rowers had ergs and zoom organised, the training sessions began. Back in February, I was assessed as fit-for-purpose as a Level 2 Club Coach, and started helping with the weekly coaching of our J16/17 squads.

We had some home club regattas: the Scratch 8s, Family Pairs, they were great fun and gave the juniors something to focus on and generate some excitement. Then the wider online racing started, against national clubs, to begin with, including Tideway Scullers, Globe and Aberdeen Schools. Again, these were good fun events in which the Lea did really well!

Then some us adults thought we’d have a go at the online regattas that started popping up. I entered, and won my category in British Rowing’s 1 Minute Challenge, which was actually a four nations event involving GB, USA, Canada and Australia. I unwittingly set a new 1 minute British record in the process! I also won the men’s heavyweight H category in the Tees Virtual Regatta over 850 metres. What a strange distance to figure out a target time!

Then a bigger competition appeared – the Rowers Choice Global Challenge – with actual prize money!!!

This was a weekly series of different distance challenges that started with a 1k qualifier.

Myself and four of our juniors qualified for the top 64 in our groups. Then the knock-out rounds started:

• Round of 64 - 2112m - the Henley Course

• Round of 32 - 1500m - the US schools Stotesbury Cup

• Round of 16 - 1 minute sprint for max metres

• Quarter Finals - 6 mins 8 secs for max metres

• Semi-Final - 750 metre sprint

• Final - 5mins 54secs (US W8 World Record) for max metres

In the quarter final, I was KO’d by the likely winner Graham Benton. Lea Junior, Arianna, was also KO’d by just 4m!!

But three of our juniors made it to the final races: Tamara has won through to the Junior Girls final, whilst Abby and Sam are in races for Bronze in the Junior Girls and the Junior Boys U19, respectively, so good luck to all of them next week!!

Myself and our juniors being interviewed by the US organisers only added to the excitement.

New British record

I’m a member of an erg league called the Fitness Matters Monthly Challenge. The week after BRVC, I saw Justine Reston posted a great 6k time of 23 minutes improving on existing 50-59 lightweight World Record Time. I thought I could have as a target.

I was happy when I clocked 22:57.1, but it wasn’t until a few days later, that I noticed I’d set a new British Record for 6k 70-79 heavyweight Men!! It’s since been verified by Concept2, which makes it my 6th current record. I don’t remember planning to set any of them!!

But as I said earlier: who’d have thought?!!!

Graham Spittle


Graham's Interview during the Rowers Choice Global Challenge is available here

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