Leg 2, Day 58 – Let’s get more physical

Lizanne Van Vuuren By

Day 58 – Let’s get more physical

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us anymore that nothing is quite as we’d imagined it would be on the Pacific. The equator was cold and wet (?!!), the wildlife has been mainly birds vs. sea life and recently every time we plan to have a team social to celebrate crossing the equator the heavens open up which causes us to postpone.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt though it’s that communication makes all the difference, and in true female form as you can imagine there’s a LOT of chatting that happens on Doris. It amazes me that there is always still something to talk about! A hot topic of conversation that gets raised daily is what we are experiencing physically. Very often it’s prompted by a groan heard as someone exits the cabin and stands up straight; a rare occurrence. Or “You alright?” as another does a little stretch before going into the cabin after their 2 hour row shift. “It’s just such hard work!” No, they’re not referring to their row shift, but about making their way from one end of the boat to the other!… A mere 4 steps. The short distance we have to walk/crawl is now a physical strain as we haven’t walked properly for 2 months (longer for the other 3 girls)

Seriously?? Perhaps ignorantly I didn’t give it enough thought, but I expected our bodies to be toned, tanned and muscly, perhaps in the best physical shape we’ve ever been??… The answer is a big, fat NO!! Instead our muscles have withered away and have become so weak I’m not sure I’d even be able to jump onto my bed when I get home… but at least we have the tan.

So what are we experiencing physically?

Legs: our legs have become good at doing one thing only; to push ourselves back and forth on the rowing seats. The weight of this might be 30kg – 50kg in a leg press equivalent depending on the sea state. Considering that this isn’t even our body weight you can start to see the issue. Since we’re hardly standing we have minimal resting tone in our muscles, taking it from hero to zero. Muscle groups particularly affected are our calves, quads and gluts. All the junk in our trunk has pretty much disappeared! This means that there is more pressure on our seat bones when we row as we lost our “padding au natural”. Our foam seat cushions have flattened a bit with someone constantly sitting on it, but our saving grace has been without a doubt our individual sheep skin. I’ve become very attached to mine…. (We have enough sheep skin for about one each per week)

Hip flexors: it’s a little unfair, but these guys are doing most of the work. Since one of the quad muscles are also a hip flexor, most of the push and pull comes from here. (Hip flexors located front, top thigh). Functionally, due to its attachments when these muscles are tight they pull the pelvis forward and unfortunately this in turn also puts strain on the lower back.

The low back: as mentioned above, the hips pulled forward pulls the back into extension. The “Bucking Bronco” side-to-side and rotation movements that happens during stormy conditions and with one arm rowing also cause the joints to become irritated. Combine this with the strain placed on the vertebral discs and you have a three ingredient recipe for low back pain. Due to its inflammatory nature the pain will mainly be felt during a static sleep shift, but thankfully it will ease off again when you get up and move.

Forearms: rock solid. The forearm muscles are the ones that contract when we grip the oars. Since we are gripping for 12 hrs a day, our wrist flexors are working overtime and causes what we call ‘The Claw’. Claw hand is exactly what it describes; the muscles, tendons and skin becoming so tight it pulls our hands into a claw position, requiring some stretching to alleviate it. The gripping muscles are overstrained and when particularly weak it makes it very difficult to click fingers or open bottles.

Hands: we may look like four female Pacific voyagers, but that’s until you see our hands…! Man hands! Thankfully no blisters, but calluses have transformed our lovely female hands into street cat paws. Well… Whatever needs to happen to get the job done. Our hands also take a slight beating when we are fighting currents or winds (most of the time) causing the joints and tendons to be aggravated which leads to inflammation. The first few minutes on the oars are usually needed to warm up and loosen up. It does feel like you’ve aged about 50 years…
Due to the oar gripping I have also completely lost the fingerprints on my index and middle fingers!

Skin: another truth about ocean rowing is that our skin is constantly covered either in sweat, salt water or suntan lotion. It’s finally taken its toll in the last week when everyone’s skin got really itchy. Making sure we wash the salt off daily is important to stop it from getting worse.

Bums: it’s been mentioned before and it will be mentioned again, we spend a lot of time caring for our derrières. If we don’t, the outcome is pretty uncomfortable, so we either cover in baby powder or lather in sudocreme every 2 hours. The lanolin in our sheepskin also acts as a soothing agent.

Sun Tan: we all love a bit of a sun kissed glow, but I fear some of us may return with a different ethnicity altogether! We tend to cover up in the mid day heat, but otherwise have constant sun cream at the ready. Miraculously, none of us have been sunburnt. Funniest of all, if immigration authorities question ethnicity on arrival into Samoa we only need to show them the back of our thighs for identification. It’s the funniest tan line I’ve ever seen.

I’m told that in comparison between leg 1 and 2, physically there have been a few differences. For Ems, our Cambridge rowing queen she’s been fairly lucky to have minimal problems, just the calluses on her hands. Nats has been much better during this leg and her only complaint is also callused hands. LP unfortunately suffers with hip impingement, ankle stiffness and upper back stiffness. The two of us have luckily been able to give each other some treatments, so keeping niggles at bay.

Thankfully none of our ailments are causing much disruption to our rowing, and during the minimal time we have to do “life” we are making time to look after our bodies.

UPDATE: we’ve had another North West current today. One thing I love is singing in the rain and making up words to existing songs, so with my trusty composer Natalia Cohen, we wrote the following lyrics during a torrential downpour to the song we all love, “I want to break free” by Queen.

We want to break free
We want to break free from this current It’s taking us North West
We want to break free
God knows, God knows we want to break free

We’re rowing hard
We’re rowing so hard that our hands hurt Can’t even click to the beat
Oh, we’re rowing so hard
God knows, God knows we’re rowing so hard

Is it gonna rain? Is that a squall I see coming?
Battle stations at the ready
It is gonna rain
God knows, we’ve got to save the Oreos

Ems and I had a very special morning visit by about 50 dolphins yesterday. I’ve not caught a fish yet. I’ve realised it’s possibly because the hook is too shallow in the water as it gets pulled along with the boat. Going to try make a make-shift weight tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Also just wanted to say a huge congrats to Izz and Meg for the roaring success of their 24hr row fundraiser. Great work girls, and thanks to Megs family who have been superstars in helping and supporting!

LV xx



  1. Jim Andrews says:

    That was very interesting, in that I had not really considered the limitations on your body movements and therefore muscle wastage. I can’t begin to imagine the regime you are enduring, rowing 12 hours per day. You must have arms like Arnie? Claw hand must be a problem, All the more reason for my total admiration of your amazing achievement. What amazing memories you are creating for yourselves, can you even begin to imagine what your emotions will be on arrival in Oz? Stay safe. XX

  2. JG says:

    Another great blogpost. Fascinating – and wonderful that you all have the expertise and knowledge to address your physical state. Just think how valuable this all is going to be for people when the books are written. It is a shame that sharks abound because I am sure swimming would be helpful. El Nino seems to be playing havoc with everything. I am off to Cornwall tomorrow for a couple of weeks and looking forward to the pasties and the rugged coastline. I think there is HiFi where we are staying so I can still follow the Crew. Keep safe – not much longer now.

  3. Babs says:

    Wow, we cannot imagine what you girls are going through, emotionally and also what you are putting your bodies through. We must remember why you are all doing this, to achieve your goals and raise money for your 2 charities. Everyday will get you nearer to Samoa and the average speed has improved over the last few days. So keep smiling and remember you have so much support from all your followers. Keep safe we are so proud of you all. xx

  4. Simon TY says:

    Sharks. Tell us about them. Tell us about the advice you have. I had always assume that one of the pleasures ( sic) of your row would be swims, nay skinny dipping, a million miles from prying eyes. I had assumed that tired muscles would benefit, the soul would benefit, the spirits would benefit from frequent ( but so not linger long, there are countries to be visited) swims. But I have picked up a swim here, and swim there, maybe five in 100+ days at sea.

    So,tell us, why so few ? Obviously bad weather days do,not count. Freezing cold San Francisco days do not count. Neptunes stroppy days do not count. But, those blissful, millpond days ? To get old muscles doing something different ? Or is it just Fernando and his mates ? If so, how incredibly frustrating. Water, water, everywhere, and ne’er a drop to swim in.

    A slower day on the knotometer, but Samoa looms a bit closer.

    Be good, be careful, be safe


  5. Robert says:

    “our muscles have withered away and have become so weak I’m not sure I’d even be able to jump onto my bed when I get home…”
    You’re suffering from sleep deprivation. Over such a long period you have probably permanently damaged your immune systems.
    For G-d’s sake dump your asinine 2 hour watches and go to 8 hour watches. That doesn’t mean you have to row continuously for 8 hours when you are on watch!
    In spite of the so called medical “experts” that are advising you, your body does need time to repair & rebuild itself as you are finding out the hard way. Also 2 hour watches play havoc with your digestive system, so your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs. 2 hour marches & rests may be ok for a few days forced hike in the Cairngorms National Park, but NOT for months of strenuous physical exercise at sea!!!
    Shalom, Robert.

    • Robert says:

      Another reason you need 8 or 12 hour watches is that you need time to do exercises other than rowing when you’re off & on watch.
      On 2 hour watches, in 4 hours you get 1 hour sleep (1/2 hour wind down 1/2 hour wind up in your 2 hours off watch).
      The equivalent of only getting 6 hours rest & sleep in 24 for weeks on end of hard physical exertion (Working in a 3rd World sweatshop making joggers would be less damaging to your bodies?). Stop blindly following your shore team & use you brains … Shalom, Robert.

      • Robert says:

        Solo rower John Beeden does not seem to be suffering your problems & he passed within 5nm of Doris doing twice your speed … by the time Doris is leaving Pago Pago John will probably be passing Noumea?

        • Robert says:

          Oh! & don’t catch fish or attract small fish by throwing food scraps overboard as that attracts sharks so it will be more scary to clean the bottom of Doris when you have to? The bottom of Doris should be silky smooth or you will lose a knot easy!

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