About a year or so ago, I wrote a post about a race being put on by Chris Martin, a fearless and surprisingly humble man who'd rowed (yes, rowed) from Japan to San Francisco. The race, called the Great Pacific Race, entails the same brand of craziness—this time a 2400-mile row from California to Hawaii.
Don't think I wasn't tempted. I was. But fortunately for me, I have friends who are doing it so I get to live vicariously.
Meet Sami Inkinen and Meredith Loring. Sami contacted me last winter and told me that he'd read the blog and wanted to talk about open water rowing. Sami had never rowed before but he and Meredith were considering entering the Great Pacific Race. Could we just meet and talk? Absolutely.
From the outset I knew Sami would enter into this challenge with his eyes wide open. He's intelligent (the guy is a physicist and a highly successful tech entrepreneur) and he's an accomplished athlete (ranked Ironman competitor). But he'd never rowed, nor had Meredith, his wife. (who, by the way, is nothing short of amazing—bright, highly athletic—more on that later).
Over coffee Sami and I discussed the race, big waves, blisters, tanker wave technique, and what I think are the two biggest limiting factors in a long-distance row—one's hands and seat (that's polite language).
Sami was undeterred. He faithfully attended my indoor rowing class and got coaching on the water at Open Water Rowing. He gave it his all and even competed in the 2014 Open Ocean Regatta, probably the most daunting of races on the San Francisco Bay.
Sami and Meredith launched from Monterey yesterday, June 18, 2014, to row—unsupported—to Hawaii.
They are extraordinary, not just because they're taking this on but also because they are doing it to raise awareness about the ways in which sugar is wreaking havoc in our health. Sami and Meredith are calling their row "Fat Chance" and you can follow their progress on their site and on the official race site.
And they're not just talking the talk, Sami and Meredith are taking the Paleo approach to this row and among the million calories they've packed on board, there's not a carb, a sports bar or gel, or one bit of overly-processed sugary sweets to be found. I've been (mostly) following this way of eating for about a year and it's worked for me so I'm a believer.
Sami and Meredith were nice enough to take some time and answer a few questions for me. Have a look. Send them messages via their site and the official race site. It's a long way to Hawaii and messages of support will help them along the way.
Eileen: Sami, you said you were the first of you two to get the idea to do the race. Meredith, what was the first word out of your mouth when Sami suggested that you two row to Hawaii?
Meredith: "No" was definitely the first word out of my mouth when Sami asked me to do the adventure with him, but I really hadn't thought about it. I didn't take him seriously until he asked another friend of ours to join him. At that point I knew he was serious. Then I had to think carefully, I came to the conclusion that, though I'm not interested in rowing, journeys like this should be done together when possible so that we have more shared growing experiences.
Eileen: You guys took on this challenge never having rowed before. How did it feel when you first got into a rowing shell and started training?
Sami: Disbelief about how slippery and unstable it was. Way more complicated and sensitive than an ocean kayak
Eileen: How long have you both been following a no-carb, high (good) fat diet? Was it hard to adjust to at first? What changes/benefits did you notice right away? What has been the lasting benefit?
Sami: For the last 12 months we've been following this diet religiously and we're working our way into for the prior year. It's pretty easy to adjust if you start by throwing sugar and processed carbs out and start exercising without gels an bars. Gradually you can drop all visible starches and grains too.
The benefits are you eat when hungry without food cravings all the time. You can exercise 4+ hours non stop with only water, and no crashes or bonking. And you have steady energy and mental focus. Anecdotally, I also notice much less inflammation (I used to have sore throat, sinus issues and inflamed achilles etc. quite frequently).
Meredith: I started eating only non-starchy whole foods back in 2004 when I became a raw foodist. I saw several health benefits from my diet of veggies, fruits, nuts & seeds, however, I was unable to really add any weight (muscle) to my frame. After I met Sami, he was able to convince me that I absolutely needed carbs (like oatmeal, gels and bars) if I was going to be able to keep up with him on long rides and runs, and to perform well at races. I always felt terrible after loading up though. Now we're really on the same page. Sami also convinced me to add some protein to my diet (I eat fish) and since I've added this I'm quite easily able to lift more weight and have more muscle mass.
Eileen: Meredith, you just had an impressive finish at the Everest Marathon. Tell me about it.
Meredith: It was a crazy trip. It takes about 10 days just to get close to Base Camp (where the race usually starts) because all of the foreigners need to acclimatize (Base Camp is at 17,400+ft), then the runners usually stay two nights at Base Camp in tents in order to rest prior to the race.
Our race was a bit different, it started snowing heavily four days before the run and by the day before the race the snow was more than three-feet deep at the starting point of the race, so there was talk of canceling it altogether. People come from all over the world to run this race and invest weeks of time in just getting to the start, so the organizers decided that Base Camp was far too dangerous for us to stay at and moved us down to the next 'village' (at 16,900ft altitude) for the start and rerouted the race so that it would be safer for us to run.
We ended up running the first 9 or 10 miles on snow, which was quite an experience. I fell several times, but thankfully there was deep snow covering the sharp rocks below! My lungs really felt like they had been turned inside out, I coughed for days after the race. I'm still recovering in other parts of my body.
All in all, I'd say that because of the altitude and terrain that the race was the hardest I've done, and I'm fairly certain that I won't be doing it again!
Eileen: Were you channeling thoughts or visualizing the row while doing the marathon? If so, when, where, and what thoughts were going through your mind?
Meredith: One of the reasons I was so keen to do the marathon (besides a group of my friends doing it) was so that I would have a really interesting mountainous experience to think about while on the row. I love the mountains, and trail running is my favorite thing to do. I know I'll be missing both land and running while we're on the boat, but now I have fresh memories to look back on when the monotony of the row is getting to me.
Eileen: What are both of you most looking forward to on this row? What are you most concerned about?
Sami: Experiencing the amazing wilderness of the Pacific Ocean. Worried about boredom and muscle/skin pain...
Meredith: I've never done this before, so I'm really just open to the unexpected. I can't wait to see what an adventure this turns out to be!
Eileen: Can you list all the experts you’ve turned to for help/knowledge/consultancy for this race?
Sami: So many. Numerous previous ocean rowers, numerous ACTUAL rowers, sleep experts, exercise/mobility physiologists, marine electricians, skippers, ocean rowboat builders, doctors, scientists, friends (for mental sanity check!), and many others.
Eileen: So, what’s your theme song?
Sami: Finlandia, classic music.
Eileen: What's the first thing you think you'll want when you finish the row?
Sami: Cold, sparkling water!