Paleo rowing

July 24, 2012

Today I wanted to talk about rowing. And for a couple of reasons: (1) that I am able to regularly row and (2) hitting new levels of progression in training.

I love to row on my Concept2. I started rowing in college after I saw a painted sheet advertising a call for Crew team tryouts while pinging across Central Area. I decided to check it out. The tryouts were basically set up to see how much willingness you had to suffer, and if (or when) you would quit at a certain threshold. Being a person who can put up with suffering quite well, I was on the team. I really enjoyed rowing in college. It was quite a steep learning curve to row on the water, but I’m proud to say I was only ever in one boat that flipped, and that was in a four right off the dock. Long before I was tearing holes in my hands at CrossFit I was doing it on the crew team. (I am just older & wiser now and can better appreciate the healing effects of Neosporin!)

Photo break! All the “relevant” photos are later in the post. So, I thought this was pretty, from an early morning walk on Tybee.

During the winter we rowed on ergs that were housed in places like on the top floor of Eisenhower Hall and eventually the horrid racquetball courts of Arvin in later years. I enjoyed rowing on the ergs because it SUCKED. I could do especially well on a piece if I had a coxswain screaming in my face. I was a glutton! I also made all of my best friends through rowing, and we had fun in training, racing, and just riding the bus. Those were the days!

In any case, as an adult I bought a Concept2 rower on a day when the boy left for an overseas tour of 60 days. I had decided I wanted one in the house and didn’t want to have a discussion about it (and I have never once regretted that decision!). In addition to producing a solid erg, the folks at Concept2 have set up a fantastic website that gives you a place to log and track all of your workouts, rank your workouts, and in fact GIVES you workout ideas every day in three different categories: short, medium & long. There are also online challenges that Concept2 hosts to motivate you in your training – in fact there’s one coming up this week with the start of the Olympics I am going to take part in.

Photo break No. 2! This is kale, which I bought for the first time this week. Pretty good in chip form! Prepping to be put in the oven here.

So, rowing is great, yeah I’ve established that. However, in the mix with my CrossFit (and assorted CrossFit-related injuries primarily stemming from inflammation and over-use because I’m a glutton…) I often found myself in a position where rowing could potentially further aggravate things like my elbow tendonitis, bicep strain, etc. etc.

Enter a new diet that helps reduce overall systemic inflammation. This year, I hadn’t rowed very much because I flared up a bicep strain pretty bad while ice climbing in January and rowing only aggravated it further. I would get a row in here and there when it really felt good, but in general I had not been rowing on a regular basis.

What changed?

June 1: start eating paleo.

June 19: Log my first rowing workout of the 2013 season (Concept2 season runs from May 1-April 30, 2013), a 2K from a CrossFit workout. Definitely not a PR for me, but I’m pleased to discover that none of my inflammation issues were bothered by this.

June 24-beyond: start rowing 3-4x/week. By July 19 I had already logged more than 100,000 meters in 30 days. Pretty surprising considering I had not been rowing for MONTHS as I struggled with all my overuse injuries and here I am now, not just logging meters but logging meters that are showing significant improvement in performance gains.

Last night I rowed a 6K time trial. I used to love head races in the fall – they were generally 6K in length – because it was such a longer race that were not side-by-side with other crews, you really had to trust in your teammates giving it 100% for the length of the course. However, a 6K on an erg can be a torturous event. Especially by yourself. I knew I was going to do it and so I looked up my last 5K time a few weeks ago, figured my 500m split may be a bit slower, so I gave myself a goal of beating a 2:05/500m split.

I started rowing and realized I was holding a much faster than 2:05/500m split. I was consistent at a 2:03 for the majority of the piece and when I realized I was winding down with less than 1500m to go I let it rip, ended up with a 2:02.5/500m split at a total time of 24:31.1. I was thrilled. I had beat my 5K pace on a longer piece! And, when I entered my score I came out on top of the leader board for my age group (30-39 year-old heavyweight women). It is still really early in the ranking season so there’s no doubt that my time won’t hold, but that doesn’t mean I too can’t re-test a 6K piece and also score a faster time. If I am able to continue training – i.e. by eating clean and keeping my inflammation in the elbows and biceps down – I think I have the potential for a 24:00 flat within a few months.

My 6K ranking! It’s not a PR by any means, but I’m only a month into regular rowing workouts again, so I’m not exactly “in shape” – but I’m definitely making progress that I’m very pleased with!

So, the moral of the story is, doing the Whole30 helped so much with my persistent overuse injuries, that I was able to start rowing again on a regular basis – something I really enjoy doing. Continuing to eat clean has helped me keep those issues at bay, and I think really helped me to improve my performance. Just the pace difference alone from the 5K a few weeks ago makes me believe that my body simply responds better to this kind of dietary lifestyle.

In the week leading up to the official challenge hosted by my gym CrossFit Hyperformance, I was still in denial that I would EVER try to eat paleo. How could I live without my chocolate milk “recovery” drink? What about cheeeeese? And those chocolate-covered pretzels that I seemed to snack on 5x/day?

As my coach Jen was explaining the challenge, she said she and Drew had set a lofty goal: 100% gym participation in the challenge. At the time I thought, ‘well that’s stupid!’ until milk is paleo I won’t do it.’ But she explained, if they can get each person in the gym to just eat paleo for one day – that was what they were looking for. Now Jen & Drew are two of my favorite people in the world just because they DO have an attitude like this. Why NOT set the bar at 100%? Where does it get you if you aim for 80%? Hearing Jen say that, with a follow-up prod by Drew the next day of “you can do anything for 30 days…” was enough to get me inspired to try, and I’m so thankful I did. It’s not only changed my life, but that of the boy, my mom and my sister, and counting…

OK so, recipe wins! I had a couple this week. Without the boy here eating up half my food one cook session seems to go a long way!

Here is a photo of my lunch yesterday: leftover Pork Avocado Cream Enchiladas and salsa with some farmer’s market cucumber. Yum!

Pork Avocado Cream Enchiladas from PaleOMG. Yes, it’s a bit labor-intensive, but soooo worth it! I was concerned that the cream sauce would get brown and yucky but I’m going on day 3 of leftovers and it’s still totally fine. I made some home-made salsa to go along with these and just one enchilada with a heaping of salsa keeps me full for a really surprisingly long time.
Fudge babies – I love to NOT follow recipes but use them as a starting-off point, which is how I made mine with the dates, unsweetened cocoa, some walnuts, some cashews & some coconut. They are seriously delicious. I have to be strict with myself on when I’m allowed to eat them, and how many I can have because obviously I’ve been working hard on not letting food (like chocolate!) control me, and also, dates can cause some emergency bathroom situations if you’re not careful.

My “fudge babies” – they are really, really good. I was thinking I might try making them next time with: dates, unsweetened cocoa, Justin’s almond butter. Does anyone else think that would be AMAZING?!?!

As far as future eats go, I’m really looking forward to trying out this breakfast lasagna recipe. In fact, I finished off my turkey hash leftovers this morning, so this may be on tap for tomorrow (and the next six days since leftovers are a girl’s best friend).

Have you made any good paleo dishes this week? I’d love to hear about them! But actually, what I’m most interested in is whether you have noticed a reduction in inflammation while eating paleo. I recently started taking fish oil again, which seems to help in that area too.



  1. awesome performance! I am still like you were not long ago, not enthused about paleo diet but I do like your results! Keep it up

    • Thanks, Annie! I have been really pleasantly surprised with how much my body likes the diet. I would have never believed it if I hadn’t tried it for myself, so I’m very thankful I did. Performance gains on the C2 in addition to the gym? Nagging injuries no longer a problem? I simply can’t deny the positive effects it’s having, even if it means no chocolate milk or cheese 😉

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