Benton's devoted indoor rowing drive
The British Indoor Rowing Championships, the Dutch Indoor Rowing Championships and the German Indoor Rowing Cup are all on the cards as the indoor rowing season starts to kick into action and who better to start the season off with than Great Britain's indoor rowing star, Graham Benton.
Benton has been a leading light at the British Indoor Rowing Championships for a number of years with a string of medals and records to prove it. Since 2004 Benton has won the championships' men's open event six times and last year he set a new British record in the 35 - 39 heavyweight men's category of 5:50.1.
Although Benton started out solely as an indoor rower, he has since embraced rowing on the water and in 2005 as a 31-year-old he became part of Great Britain's rowing talent identification programme. Benton did not make the British team but he continues to compete in indoor rowing and on the water racing. This year he raced in the Henley Royal Regatta.
Benton talked to World Rowing about his indoor rowing journey.
World Rowing: Tell us about your sporting background?
Graham Benton: I have always been reasonably sporty and active and can turn my hands to most sports without being particularly amazing at any. From the age of about 11, right through to my early 30’s, my main sport was cricket. Besides that, I have always gone to the gym and trained regularly since about my mid-teens. Until I started on the rowing machine I didn’t do any cardio work at the gym, purely weights.
WR: How did you first become acquainted with the erg?
GB: I was about 21, there was a 500m ergo competition at my gym and I did a 1:19. At the time I knew it was quick for my gym but I had no idea how quick it was in the bigger scheme of things. It wasn’t until I was 29 that my gym had a 2000m competition. I used to have a go at a 2k after my weights sessions and gradually whittled my time down from 6:35 to 6:09 without really knowing what I was doing. I used to row on drag 10 and had no real idea about pacing.
WR: Your improvement continued to clocking a 5:42.3. Describe this journey.
GB: I think I did 6:03 in late 2002 and my 5:42 was in 2007 so it took five years to get there. I seemed to progress in fairly big jumps. Then I would stall for a while and then take about five seconds off. I had to keep resetting my goals as I had no idea 5:42 would ever be within my reach. I stalled around 5:55 for a while, and then leapt to 5:51. I remember thinking at the time that I would never go faster, but then leapt to 5:46, then 5:43 and finally 5:42 at the British Indoors which felt great.
I think the row I am proudest of is when I won the CRASH-B’s (Indoor Rowing Championships in Boston, USA) in 2006. I was up against some big Olympic guys, and the race was really tight. I think three seconds separated the top four. It was definitely my gutsiest row.
WR: You work with famous erg coach, Eddie Fletcher. What makes him so successful as a coach?
GB: His programme is very pragmatic. He tries to get his athletes to train smarter not harder. He doesn’t advocate ‘junk’ metres and has a tried and tested approach to preparing his athletes. I think the main thing is that I trust him 100 per cent. He is very good at giving you the confidence that you are capable of a certain score. He has always been able to predict what time I would get to within a couple of seconds. And because I trust him and his methods, it gives me confidence in my training and that I am capable of the targets we have agreed.
I think confidence and belief is key to hitting your targets on the ergo as there are always tough mental questions to answer in the middle of the piece. I also still get very nervous before 2k’s, but Eddie is a really calming influence on me.
WR: Tell us about the indoor rowing community.
GB: The Indoor rowing community is a crazy bunch. There are guys and girls, training seriously hard, day in day out and posting scores or racing each other online. There is a lot of banter and rivalry, but above all enthusiasm and encouragement. I’ve made a lot of friends through the indoor rowing community who will be friends for life. In the last few years, the emergence of a number of indoor rowing teams has also helped to develop the community further. There are also some incredible athletes who don’t get the recognition they truly deserve.
WR: What is next for you?
GB: I have just turned 40 which opens up a whole new array of ergo world records for me to target so my aim is to break as many of them as possible. I have pulled 2k and 5k scores quicker than the existing records already this year so need to maintain my speed and I should be in a strong position. One of the few joys of getting older! Ideally, I’d like to set a new 2k record sub 5:50 to make it difficult to beat.