DIY attempt at a SkiErg

If you’ve ever been to a gym you’ll have seen the rowing machines, typically by Concept 2 and had a play.

They’re perfect cardio and the basic design is uncharged for years. All credit to Concept 2 as they still do aftersales support for every model, right back to 1981. My own rower is a second hand Model C from made between 1993 and 2003 and still going strong, they even do upgrade kits to the newer style performance monitors. There’s very few companies that give you reasons to keep your old kit rather than replace it entirely. Even the very early models are worth at least £300 second hand. Try selling a 20 or 30 year old treadmill for that.

There’s very little in life as well built as a Concept 2 rower.

Concept 2 have more recently branched out and make a BikeErg, which is by all accounts an insanely hard workout and closer to an Assault Bike than a normal exercise bike:

Looks nice, but £980 is pretty steep. Like the rowers it will probably outlast the owner.

Their other offering is the SkiErg. These are £700 if you mount to a wall or another £180 for the stand. Again not cheap but you get what you pay for. I looked around for a while but nothing cheap came up second hand.

The selling point of a SkiErg is it “helps you build strength & endurance, working the entire body in an efficient, rhythmic motion. Skiing is a low impact, high calorie burning exercise suitable for all ages and abilities.” Or in basic terms, stand on the spots, yanking and bend until you see your lunch. They are beloved of crossfitters and lifters.

As you’ll have seen all their products are basically variations of the air resistance rower mechanism that is their speciality. There are some unbranded copies from China that you can find online but still expensive and given the likely issues with a warranty claim from a dodgy third party I wouldn’t risk it.

The Plan

What I did find on the internet when looking around is several people have simply strapped their concept 2 to the wall or a weight frame and used it as a basic SkiErg.

So I looked around for a cheap Concept 2 and failed. Figuring this was going to be an experiment I widened my search and found a Marcy rower for £15. The monitor wasn’t working but I could live with that. It was also magnetic when I’d rather air resistance but beggars can’t be choosers.

A Marcy RM413 not realising it’s fate

A quick check in battery compartment and some battery corrosion had ruined one of the terminals. Quick clean up and new solder and the screen was working. Gave it a test and all worked well. Plan eventually is take the runner off and mount the whole unit in the roof of the garage with just the handles hanging down so I have a SkiErg that takes up no floor space.

As luck would have it I found someone had already designed and modelled some SkiErg handles and uploaded on THINGIVERSE – I printed out a set on the 3D printer, took about 10 hours. These have a hole through them to use cord or similar. I didn’t have any cord but did have a lot of heavy duty hooks and chains leftover from the kids climbing frame that sadly rotted away. I drilled out the handles to allow me to tap them and screw in a hook each. Then with some lightweight chain I tested the idea just looped around the rower handle to see if it worked.

Once I knew it worked in theory I raided the climbing frame pile and found two suitable lengths of chain that were coated for safety and avoid finger traps for kids. In their new use they would stop annoying clanking.

PAY ATTENTION HERE – When you take the old handle off the rower, whether belt or chain, the machine will try and pull it back in. Normally not an issue as the massive handle stops this. You’ve just removed that so if you let go of the chain/strap it will disappear into the machine and be a pain to fish back out, you’ll probably need to strip it all down. For this reason either have someone help or tie a knot in the strap/stick a screwdriver through the chain or something!

In my case the strap has a loop that goes around the handle. Undo the two screws as per photo earlier and slide this off then stick a carabineer through the loop. This was big enough to stop it dissappearing into the machine.

I attached the two lengths of chain to the carabineer and each of them to a handle. The ones on the handles are a little light duty so will look to get something a little sturdier.

Rail stripped off ready to mount

Does it work? Yep. I needed an assistant to help me get it mounted in the ceiling and positioning and fixing is a bit temporary at present but seems good! As you’re only using arms and not legs (as you would on a normal rower) the effort is a bit higher so a rower that seems a bit easy would be ideal converted.

Temporary mounting
Yep it works

Cost –

  • Rower: £15
  • SkiErg Handles: Maybe £2 of filament and power. You could use handles from garden tool suppliers or similar
  • Threaded rings for handles: Free
  • Chain: Free (you can use cord instead)
  • Large Carabineer for main pulley: Free
  • Two small carabiner for the handles: £2 for both
  • Fixing the display: Free
  • Total Cost: £19

If you don’t have as much junk laying around as me I’d expect to pay £20 for the chain and other bits. If you use cord instead of chain it would be cheaper as could loop through the rower pulley, run through the hole down the centre of each handle and tie off.

All mods are reversible so no issue if you change your mind!

Run Through – Bedford Autodrome Marathon with a hangover……

Saturday night was spent dancing to the The Killers at the wedding of two good mates. Sunday morning was spent wishing The Killers would make good on their name.

If you’re planning your race calendar it’s a good idea to check your whole diary, not just the day of the race otherwise you might be flushed from comparative success at London marathon, book another marathon in for an empty Sunday two weeks later and then realise you’ve got a wedding the night before. Clearly the wedding was going to happen, the marathon was looking a bit unlikely.

I’ve not done a Run Through event before but heard good things. The Bedford Autodrome event was local, promised to be fast and flat (if a little exposed) and had a range of distances from 5k to marathon. I’ve only ever been around it before on a track day going considerably quicker than 7 minute miles even in our lethargic track car.

The slow way around Bedford
A much quicker way to lap Bedford

Waking up Sunday morning I felt a little tender. Stopping for my usual pre-race McDonalds I found myself unable to eat it so made it to the venue having had just a coffee. If you’ve not been to Bedford Autodrome before it’s a massive complex so there’s probably a five minute drive between arriving at the entrance gate to actually making it to the car park. I had about half an hour spare once parked up which was plenty to collect the bib from the very organised team in the pit garage that was being used as the race HQ and then go and attend to the essential issues in the portaloo. Kerry and Paul were also running so it would have been nice to chat but I was mostly concerned with trying not to make a scene as my body decided which end was going to let me down. I was hanging.

Photo stolen from Kerry. At least one person in the photo is worried about unintended fluid leakage.

My plan had been to push on from the 3h25 at London and go for something faster. On the morning of the race finishing without vomiting seemed a better goal. Stood nervously in the portaloo queue for a final wee I took the chance to check out what other runners were wearing on their feet. The usual mix of Nike and Adidas carbon plated shoes all replete with timing tags. I didn’t have a timing tag which caused some panic as I tried to recall which bin I’d thrown my race envelope in and went to retrieve it. This was all going well.

A nice feature of the event is there’s space on the start/finish straight for runners to place their own stuff for fuelling in the race. Some runners even had family or friends waiting to pass them drinks so would be ideal for a proper PB hard effort tailored to your needs. I had a few bottles of sports drink in the car but couldn’t even face the thought of drinking them so planned to stick to water and the small race pouch with Gu Gels (the only gels I’ve found I can keep down) and Caffeine Bullets (chewy caffeine) that I’d sorted out the day before.

As we set off I felt queasy so stuck some podcasts on and vowed to get on with it. Plan when sober the week before had been around 7:40mile pace for something around 3h20, but picking up the pace at 20 miles if I felt good. Naturally I ran under 7:20mile for the first six miles as I can’t pace properly and was trying to escape the cloud of my own beer farts.

For much of the first 10 miles I was in a nice pack of similar paced runners and could turn off my brain and just run. Gradually the pack split and some pulled ahead or fell behind. The hangover was clearing but the lack of breakfast was making itself felt.

The course at Bedford is very fast but as noted above exposed and the changeable weather made itself felt as some sections seemed into a strong headwind. The various race distances worked well as broke up the monotony of following the same runners around as you mixed up with others. Some of them were properly quick and whipped past like professionals whilst the flat nature of the course meant others were pushing running buggies and aiming less for elite status. I saw a few clubmates from Redway Runners and Lakeside Runners which was good, as well as runner juggling balls the whole way.

Halfway came around 1h35 but I was definitely fading. There were a few food options at the aid stations but nothing looked like it would sit well for me so stuck to gels and caffeine chews, switched from podcasts to music and tried to reinvigorate my legs. The fade continued but with a fast course and optimistic early pacing I was still doing OK and passed the ‘2 mile to go’ banner under 3hrs. With my sensible and not hungover head on I should have trusted my Garmin that was only on 23.5 miles but I really wanted to believe the banner. Even with a slow last couple of miles that would have been a guaranteed sub 3h20. Closer to three miles after the ‘2 mile’ banner I cross the line on 3h21m08s to secure my 6th fastest marathon of 124 attempts, and 150th event of marathon or longer.

Hangover gone, aching marathon legs arrived!

The event was certainly a quick course and I’ve not gone quicker since 2019 so slowly getting back towards my PB shape. With a bit less headwind, proper pacing, some breakfast and not having spent the night before drinking and dancing I could certainly have done even better.

I’m looking to head back in March for a fast spring event after some proper training and see what I can do. I shall make sure it isn’t the day after a wedding though. I would definitely recommend Run Through for efficient and professional events. Mileage markers aside it was perfect.

All done and not covered in sick. Success!

London Marathon 2021 – running on the memory of being fit!

The race I hoped to run in April 2020 finally happened in October 2021 and it was even better than expected!

The Preparation

You can read the detailed preparation and issues on THIS BLOG. In summary I trained properly for a race that never happened, with a coach and sports massages and even trying to have a healthy(ish) diet then the race was postponed and I bounced about in the intervening 18 months in a mixture of races, ultras, stupid virtual runs, injuries, sickness and then tried to squeeze some training in for London when it looked like it might finally happen. What had been a sub 3h10 plan (hopefully sub 3h05) race was now far more focused on enjoyment. Based on fitness and my only other marathon this year being 3h45 I had a fall-back plan of sub4, and a target of sub3h30 that looked a bit of a stretch.

Eventually I’d like to do all the majors and ideally have respectable times on the finish certificate (for me that currently means 3h30, if it takes me another 20 years to do all them all it might well be sub6) but despite three attempts at London a sub 3h30 had eluded me and I typically have a disappointing finish time. Against all evidence to the contrary I really wanted to go sub3h30 to add to my Chicago time. In my unconventional training I did a 40 miler 2 weeks out and a hard effort 5k race the Monday of the marathon. Mentally these really helped as I proved to myself I could go further and faster than the marathon, so set an envelope I could try to work in and hoped the speed and endurance would meet in the middle like long lost friends and get along well.

The Expo

More to read HERE but worth noting some people on the Saturday queued for up to 4hrs to do bib collection and bag drop and the ban on under 18s was a surprise to many causing issues with toddlers and youngers kids. Go earlier in the week if at all possible. If it’s a race you’ve trained 16 weeks for and spend £1000s on sports massages, recovery shakes, magic shoes and coaching then maybe a half day off work is a wise investment to avoid 4 hour queues.

Race Day

I boarded the coach organised by Redway Runners to the start line, dressed in finest clothes borrowed from the charity pile and was whisked to the start line.

Start Waves

For 2021 they had organised more start waves than usual to aid social distancing. I was Blue 3 and we assembled from 9:22 in the pen ready to set off at 9:40, so 10 minutes after the elite men, a gap I didn’t expect to close. The elite women were even further ahead.

I’m genuinely not sure how the start pens were organised this year. There was some grouping for the Abbots Marathon Age Group World Champs that I’m not sure was entirely successful. Seemed a large portion of the entrants had bibs on their rear denoting them as being in the champs and their respective age groups but most seemed to have been given start pens far too close to the front as they were passed by streams of people. Not sure how pleasurable it would have been for them to be jostled and tutted at for 26 miles whilst they fought for their own PB.

I was still down as a finish time of 3h05 from my original application so also expected to be passed a lot aiming for nearly a minute per mile slower that the pace group I presumed I would be set off in, but in the event found most runners around me the same or significantly slower. This continued throughout the race as I was generally weaving through. Had I actually been in shape for 3h05 and running at that pace I think it would have been a very frustrating experience. Train for a 3h05, put your finish time as a 3h05 and get stuck with a load of 3h30 or slower runners ahead?

In an ideal world if you want to run close to 3 hours at London I think you need to run it elsewhere first, get the Good For Age or championship start and then have a chance of achieving it on the day otherwise be prepared for a lot of weaving and bunching at the turns where pace drops considerably.

Still cold

Start Area

If you’ve not been to London before it’s really worth noting how cold and open the start area is. Despite a week of rain the day was fortunately dry and bright but I was still covering my shorts and vest under full length fleece pyjama trousers, two hoodies, a rain poncho and woolly hat and wasn’t too warm. Had it been raining I’d have wanted more, but was surprised how many runners were trying to wait the hour or more with no disposable clothes at all. Also worth considering carrier bags for your shoes as the start is all grass so can be very wet and it would be good to start the race with dry shoes. For anyone reading this in future years, 2021 was unique in that your drop bag was collected at the expo so anything you wore to the start was either carried for the whole race (lots of runner has full ultra race vests on) or thrown in the charity recycling bins. Hopefully this is a one off as it wasn’t ideal either environmentally or with the added Expo queues.

After the usual queues for toilets and urinals (worth taking some spare tissues as the toilets were running low even at 8:20am) I wandered into the start pen. As expected the mobile phone network was struggling with 50,000 runners plus family, volunteers etc in one place so it was largely impossible to contact friends. If you’re planning to meet someone in the assembly areas have a clear agreed point and use texts as they tend to get through quicker. After dropping off the clothes into the charity bins I stretched as much as able in the pen and got ready to run. My plan was to try and run 8 minute miles and decide sometime in later half if I felt able to hold it, fall apart or maybe even push. I had Aftershock headphones with me for motivation but they weren’t on as I hoped the crowd and bands would provide the soundtrack which inevitably they did.

Four of these for the race worked a treat!

Nutrition

For once I’d planned a little on this. Having heard a lot of runners complain about cramp at Brighton on a reasonably warm day I sorted four small bags with salt tablets (from ultra running) and a Caffeine Bullet for the boost. These can be hard to unwrap mid-race so I took the wrappers off and loosely rewrapped. I also had four gels and two as spares. I’m never a fan of gels but found on a recent Centurion event I can stomach the Salted Caramel Gu so had these.

Start

As we crossed the line I settled in and made a conscious effort to enjoy it and not focus on the time. This was made much easier when Julius popped up on my shoulder. I’d not seen him since we ran the reverse London in 2019 so was great to meet up and we ran and chatted, the constant conversation should have ensured we went steady but we were still clocking miles well under the 8 minutes we’d both had as targets. Mentally it felt good to have company and not clock watch and after the first couple of miles came up ahead of pace but felt good I resolved to ignore the watch and check at halfway, and make a decision then whether to part company and slow or carry on.

On the out and back section we saw the infamous Richard McDowell running back the other way at a pace few could sustain for a single mile. He finished in 2h23m06s. That’s officially nippy.

Such was the easy nature of the run that I missed halfway and only at 14 miles did I realise by which time I couldn’t even be bothered to check on time and try and work out what I’d gone through halfway in. Now I check results it was 1h40 which would have probably alarmed me on the day as I’ve not been in 3h20 shape for some time. It was good to just run and enjoy it and I didn’t want to mentally deter myself from carrying on. This is far removed from the expected metronomic “every mile within 2 seconds of the target” that my original London in 2020 would have been. Essentially I‘d left my legs to do the work whilst I chatted. They’ve done loads of these I don’t really need to check on them just keep on top of gels and fluids.

Somewhere around mile 6 or 7 we’d caught up with Rudi, clubmate and my sports masseuse. He’d been training properly and was looking very steady and comfortable. Having chatted on the coach down I knew he was targeting a faster time than I so there were some doubts on my pacing but again I was having too much fun to dial it back so we slowly edged ahead.

Genuinely one of my best marathons ever due to these two gents and the chatting.

At around mile 15 he caught us back up (because he knows how to pace) just as Julius began to fade so I stuck with Rudi as was feeling good.

The 35k sign popped up and I could mentally pretend there were only three parkruns and a warmdown to go. It’s a measure of just how mixed up the start pens were that despite steady pace we were still having to fight through the runners ahead. It was only in the final few miles that I felt I was finally in amongst similar paced runners. Anyone running 3h05 pace from my pen might never have felt that. Also noticeable was how many runners were struggling, leaning up against barriers and fighting cramped muscles. I made a conscious effort to take the salt tablets for fear of joining them.

All too suddenly mile 20 popped up. In the 20 mile race a month previously I’d struggled to even finish and had fought for a time of 2h46. On marathon day the official clock hadn’t yet reached 2h46 and I knew I had more than 10 minutes less than that on chip time but still didn’t want to check my watch and start doing the mental maths on possible finish times.

I was feeling well enough to push the pace but knew it was too early so resolved to stay steady and enjoy the race as you never know how often you’ll get to run London and after a couple of years of race cancellations running any event is something to appreciate. I got a bit emotional after the 22 mile marker knowing that despite a lot of issues I was on for a decent time. Rudi had commented earlier in the race we were looking around 3h25 and I was happy to believe him.

The first time I checked my watch was coming up to 23 miles and I was a smidge over 3 hours in. This would have been a disaster in 2020 when I’d hoped to be on Birdcage Walk or at least past the tower of Big Ben by then but this time it was a massive boost. In fifteen minutes more than that 20 mile race I’d covered a further 3 miles and I can assure you I do not run 5 minute miles. This was all done to consistent but steady faster miles. It was a massive improvement in 4 weeks. Crucially I knew I could carry on whereas at the previous race the 20 left me hobbling.

Rudi had gradually dropped back a little over the previous mile and I decided it was time to see if I could push. Just a parkrun to go. My legs had done all the work and it was time to check back in and see if they could ‘drop the hammer’ ‘enter the pain cave’ ‘change up a gear’ or whatever silly phrase you’d like to use. They came back with a resounding ‘no’ pointed out they’d done 23 miles at a decent lick very undertrained and were happy to cruise it in. I was now checking the watch and seeing that sub3h25 might be achievable. Several times I tried to break into a (relatively) fast finish but lack of training, lack of fitness and a still congested course meant I eventually was happy to wave at the palace at 3h25 and cross the line at 3h25m39s. A finish time I would have bitten your hand off for earlier in September when I wondered if sub4 was out of the question.

Oddly Facebook popped up the next day with a post from Bournemouth where I’d set a marathon PB only a few seconds faster five years ago. I’m happy to be back able to accidentally run times that would have been a PB before.

As is tradition I went off to find some beer and some friends. And a man from Cuba who wanted to buy my medal and top – you can read more about that HERE.

Photo stolen from Helen.

London has definitely re-awoken my desire to get back to proper marathon training and I’m starting to look for a race to target. Much of the running with Julius we discussed various running friends and the massive improvements they’d made with determination and focus. I honestly believe GFA is possible for anyone if they really want it enough and I’m beginning to think I do. It won’t happen overnight and I’ve missed the GFA cutoff for London 2022 anyway so it would be 2023 at the earliest. Watch this space!

Selling London Marathon Medal 2021 edition!

If you’ve read the post last year you’d see that largely out of boredom and a curious desire to see if I could, I listed my Virtual London Marathon 2020 medal and tee on eBay.

Some were listed as much as £400 but I went for what I thought was an excessive but just about achievable price of £80 and sold it in minutes for more than double the entry fee.

This year at the London Marathon expo during the bag drop queue I saw just how nasty the finishers tops were. Nothing about it relates to the iconic course, the history of the race or anything. The same design was on the medal. It’s just a poor play on 2021 looking a bit like 26.2 (if you squint) and looks largely like a misprint. In a horrible colour. Many people needed help to understand the concept or joked that it was a medal for 2621.

Looks like it’s made of chocolate?

I checked eBay on Thursday night and there were still listings for 2020 medals and tees but none yet for the 2021 so I stuck a listing up for something I didn’t yet have, priced at £150 Buy It Now and wondered if anyone would take me up on it. The decision was made a little easier knowing I wasn’t in great shape so wasn’t about to sell the medal from my all time PB race but rather a (hopefully) enjoyable run around one of the best marathon courses looking for pubs.

I promised both would be unworn and offered postage first thing Monday if paid before.

I received an offer of £90, very tempting.

Also a full price offer from a man called Angel who wanted to meet me after we’d both run the event and pay cash. Full asking price and no need to go to the Post Office? Result. After a confusing series of messages we both managed to meet outside the Salsa club on the embankment and he checked the medal and happily passed over the cash.

I didn’t ask him why as by that point I was desperate for a wee and three beers in. He was from Cuba I believe so possibly just wanted an extra medal and top to show off when home. Worth noting that when New York and other majors are £250+ entry fee then £150 for a second finishers set is possibly a more reasonable price in comparison.

As a side point, below is a photo (not mine and can’t remember where from, so sorry if yours) of the 2021 marathon medal and the Abbotts age group championship medal. One is a beautifully made representation of the iconic course. One looks like the result of a school design competition with insufficient entries.