How to Become a Better Rower and Row Across the Atlantic Ocean

Atlantic Endeavour, all-female crew of four, at the finish line of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge L-R Sarah Hornby, Charlotte Myant-Best, Becky Charlton and Kate Hallam. Photo Credit: Ben Duffy

For Charlotte Best, rowing has given her the power to push herself harder than most people and spent 55 days rowing across the Atlantic Ocean with three of her friends.

Here she shares all her best tips for getting into rowing, becoming a better rower, training, handling injuries and much more.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Charlotte Myant-Best. I’m from the UK and I grew up in Surrey and Warwickshire. Currently enjoying countryside life in Dorset (south-west UK), with frequent trips back to the Middle East.

Work-wise, I am a marine environmental consultant, based in the UK, but working in and around the Middle East. Outside of work time, I’m a sports enthusiast, particularly for endurance sports such as ultra-running, multi-day events and long distance triathlons. Alternatively, I can probably be found in my kitchen, baking cake.

I love to be active – whether that’s training with the local triathlon club, out trail running on my own, or out exploring with my hubby. I also love to bake (it’s one of the reasons I exercise so much) and really enjoy doing a bit of photography and art when I have the time.

How and why did you get into rowing?

I grew up being active; from a young age my dad would take us out on our bikes at the weekend, or we’d go for countryside walks as a family. Throughout my school years I played sports on the school teams, danced with a local dance school, and was part of the local athletics club. When we moved house when I was about 12, I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere of the new local junior athletics club, so I wanted a new sport to do instead.

When I was about 13, my older sister joined our local town rowing club, and I started going along to winter circuit training with her as something to do in the evenings. The following summer, I joined the junior squad, learnt to row and happily discovered that I was quite good at it.

When I first started rowing, I was still reliant on being taken to training by my parents, so once I’d decided to start rowing, they were as much a part of getting me out of the door as I was! As I grew up and became more independent, I would get myself to rowing quite happily; you become part of a close knit group training together, and if you don’t turn up, you are letting other people down.

When I moved to university, there was no question of me not rowing; that was the sport I knew and loved! After I left university and moved overseas, I stopped rowing for a few years, until I was approached by a friend of mine who was part of an all-female team planning to row the Atlantic. They were looking for a fourth team-member, and I just had to say yes. That’s just not the kind of opportunity that comes around very often, so not too much encouragement was needed for me to say yes and to join the team!

From there on, it was a long 2-year campaign for the team, of trying to get the funding and support we needed to reach the start line of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in December 2016.

For me, I’ve been rowing since I was 14, so I have a lot of good muscle memory for the basic movements that have been drilled in over the years. With the training for the Atlantic row, a lot of the training was focused on injury prevention, and conditioning our bodies to long periods of repetitive movement; a lot of weights, functional movement training, and long, slow sessions on the rowing machines.

We worked with a strength and conditioning coach Andy Bruce from ACB Coaching, who helped us out with training programmes in the lead up to the row. I also joined a local rowing club so that I could do some of my long sessions in a boat out on the water as opposed to being stuck inside. As much as I love running and cycling, I tried to minimize the amount of running or cycling I was doing, and concentrated solely on row-specific training, to ensure that I was giving my body the best shot at not getting injured during the row.

Rowing into the sunset. Photo credit: Atlantic Endeavour. L-R Charlotte Myant-Best, Sarah Hornby, Kate Hallam, Becky Charlton

Why is rowing important for you?

I have been lucky to be part of some incredible racing crews over the years, winning medals at National Championship, British University Championship and European University Championship level in addition to the very different crew scenario of an endurance event like the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (TWAC).

Training and competing as part of a team has been the biggest eye-opener for me; I find it easier to push myself harder when I have a team to support. Over the years, rowing has given me an ability to push myself to my physical limits when training, then get back up afterwards and strive to improve on that limit. A lot of my old team mates and rowing friends share this mentality, with several of them having gone on to become very successful triathletes, road cyclists and mountain bikers.

Coming back home after the Atlantic row (after 55 days, 13 hours and 29 minutes at sea), I honestly don’t feel like much has changed; my other half is keen for me to stay in the country for a while, and I’m keen to get back to triathlons and long-distance running. I went back to work almost immediately, have moved house and got married since arriving back in February, so I haven’t really had time to stop and think too much about it!

I think it is so easy these days to totally underestimate the importance of getting a daily dose of fresh air, seeing the sky and hearing the sounds of nature. I’ve never much been one for the city, so I love living in the countryside; we have so many footpaths and narrow winding country lanes to explore, as well as being not far from the sea. For those people with office jobs that keep them inside all day (myself included for the majority of time), even just a small walk around outside at lunchtime can be a literal breath of fresh air, and for me, never fails to cheer me up and give me a bit of energy.

Rower Charlotte Best
Henley Women’s Regatta. Photo credit: Mary Best. L-R Charlotte Thomas, Charlotte Myant-Best, Sophie Leonard.

What has been the best parts of your rowing?

The sheer number and variety of people I have met through rowing over the years. I’ve met incredible coaches who give their time so willingly (and often unpaid) to help others achieve their goals, talented sportsmen and women who have had the ability and dedication to pursue their dreams. I’ve met people from totally different backgrounds, brought together by a shared interest in rowing, and most recently for the TWAC, people from all over the world, some with no rowing background whatsoever.

The best part of the Atlantic row I think has to be either the sunrises at sea, or the welcome we received as we arrived into English Harbour, Antigua. No matter how long, wet, cold or exhausting a night had been, the sunrise always heralded the beginning of a new day, and being one day closer to land. Arriving in Antigua was very special; after 55 days at sea, with nothing but the sea to see, and no-one but the four of us around, to be welcomed in by so many people, and so much noise (think superyachts sounding their foghorns about 40m away from you!) was really quite overwhelming.

What has been the most difficult parts?

It took us two years as a team to get to the start line of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, primarily due to the time it took us to secure the necessary funding and equipment we needed. For the first 18 months or so of the campaign, all four of us were also working full time, so trying to fit in the planning meetings (thank goodness for weekly Skype calls) and sorting out logistics was a bit of a nightmare.

We made the decision early on in the campaign to proceed with trying to get the whole campaign funded – we simply weren’t in the position to put in those kinds of money in order to get to the start line. Even for those teams that did have the finances saved up, the planning was still a major component; we all had mandatory kit lists, so our equipment had to meet certain specifications, we all had to meet a minimum calorie count on food rations etc.

All the teams in this year’s race were also fundraising for charities, so a lot of behind-the-scenes work also goes in to the planning of fund-raising events, raising awareness for your chosen charities, and trying to spread the word about the work they are doing.

Quite literally the biggest dangers for us were probably the passing cargo ships crossing the Atlantic whilst we were rowing. As a very small ocean rowing boat, we were almost invisible to the large ships, so we ran our AIS (Automatic Identification System) 24 hours a day; this transmits information about our boat such as size, speed and direction of travel to passing ships within the area.

We had proximity alarms that would sound if another ship came within 2 nautical miles of us, and we would call them up on the VHF radio just to make sure they were aware of our presence and could avoid us. Whilst this was worrying at times, it was also quite fun; as well as a number of cargo ships, we spoke to a cruise liner heading from the Caribbean back to Greece, and a Kiwi crew who were taking a second hand deep-sea fishing trawler from Denmark, across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal and all the way on to New Zealand for a refit.

How do you manage to keep going when you are tired and everything is a mess?

You have to have an achievable goal; or, at times when that goal doesn’t seem achievable, you break it down into smaller goals. Whilst our overall goal was to reach Antigua, there were days when that seemed like it was light years away. On those days it became about covering the next ten miles, or how many days until the next hundred miles etc.

Routine is also very important; almost as soon as we left the dock in La Gomera for the race start in the Canary Islands, we settled into our race routine of 2 people rowing, 2 people resting, with a constant 2 hours on, 2 hours off rotation. Once your mind gets used to the idea of this routine, you are more likely to be able to deal with it, almost on autopilot. Having said that, there is a level of fatigue that you never quite get used to, and towards the end of the trip there were quite a lot of hallucinations and people falling asleep whilst rowing!

Rower Charlotte Best
Atlantic Endeavour, all-female crew of four, at the finish line of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. L-R Kate Hallam, Becky Charlton, Charlotte Best and Sarah Hornby. Photo Credit: Ben Duffy

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

Again for me, I came through the training and the Atlantic row relatively unscathed; the rowing movement is one that is very familiar to my body, and having trained competitively since I was 14, I’m well in tune with listening to my body and being sensible about niggles and potential injuries. The only lasting issues were some slight problems with tendons in my hands, which have thankfully just about recovered now.

On a day-to-day basis on land, I try and rest and do rehab exercises if needed. On the boat for the Atlantic row, we didn’t have the luxury of resting. We were fortunate to have the wonderful Amy Gasson from Mint Wellbeing as our team physio, always on email, or even on the end of the satellite phone if we needed her advice. Sarah needed some physio advice about hamstring tendinopathy she developed during the row, and Amy was fantastic about giving Sarah the right advice about how to deal with it given our situation (lack of space, and inability to ‘rest’).

Listen to your body, and if necessary, go and see a physio. I think a lot of people think “oh it will go away on it’s own”, or don’t want to bother a physio, but if you are a very active person, it can make a real difference getting professional advice early on, and starting an injury rehab promptly.

Training greatly depends on the injury. Nowadays, I’m much better at working out whether a pain is as a result of slight overuse (and therefore I need to back off on my training, or modify it slightly; for instance going for a swim rather than a run), or if I have done something more severe that needs attention from a physio. Regular sports massages are a must in my view, particularly if you have a heavy training load.

Rower Charlotte Best
Daytime rowing. Photo Credit: Charlotte Myant-Best

What are your best advice for new rowers?

Look after your back (engage your core), and remember that your legs are where the majority of the drive comes from – use them first!

Start with something simple, and find yourself an adventure buddy. It’s a lot harder to say “not today, maybe tomorrow” when you have someone by your side to share your adventures. Telling people about your plans also helps to encourage you to get out of the door and make them a reality too.

How do you prepare for big races?

Whatever sport I am training in (rowing, triathlon, running, etc.), I try and keep a good balance of yoga and weights incorporated into my training, to keep my body in good shape, and mainly to try and minimise the risk of injury, either from training or from a race.

When training for big races, I try and eat well; making sure I am getting the right balances of carbohydrates, protein, good fats and the vitamins and minerals my body needs. Where possible I try and avoid processed foods, although for me there has to be a bit of flexibility, for the occasional meal out, or baking cakes!

Before the Atlantic row, it was also a little different; we needed to make sure we were carrying a little extra weight to counteract the huge calorie deficit we would face whilst at sea. When doing long distance runs, I’m all about the “little and often” approach for nutrition, and prefer to keep it simple when I can, with dates, dried fruit and nuts.

When I was training for my first Ironman, I used the Joe Friel Triathlete’s Training Bible to get some ideas for sessions to do on my own. I was lucky to be part of an active triathlon club though, with coaches who had set training pieces for particular sessions.

How do you finance your rowing?

For the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, we spent the previous two years to the race fundraising and getting sponsors ‘on board’ with our campaign. It was a long process, but a route that we decided early on in the campaign was worth pursuing. Ocean rowing is not a cheap sport, but finding people who are interested in what you are doing, have some link to your story or ties to your chosen charity is the key point for raising sponsorship. It takes a lot of hard work, and when people say the hardest part is getting to the start line, they are not exaggerating.

I have a ‘normal’ desk job, working as a marine environmental consultant for a company based in the Middle East, so my normal desk-based hours are often punctuated by trips to the Middle East for several weeks at a time, with long days spent out in the field, sampling and collecting data.

I haven’t rowed since I came back from the Atlantic Row; I’ve moved to an area with no rowing clubs! However, there are a lot of rowing clubs in the UK (see here for a list of clubs), with memberships that are not outrageously expensive, and often come with the use of a club gym and the advantage of teammates.

Charlotte Best, British female ocean rower, before and after the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Photo Credit: Ben Duffy

How do you balance normal life with rowing?

Fortunately, we were all based in the UK, so aside from doing a residential course for our sea survival, radio, navigation and first aid certifications, we weren’t away from home for extended periods of time until the actual row.

We spent 2 weeks in La Gomera (Canary Islands) prior to the race start, then arrived in Antigua after 55 days, 13 hours and 29 minutes.

During the preparation for the Atlantic crossing, balancing normal life with the prep was difficult. I was luckier than some of the other girls in my team for this; as I work from home, I didn’t have to deal with time spent commuting, so I was able to spend a little more time with my now husband in between finishing work, doing row admin, and getting a training session in.

Once we had our boat, we spent most weekends over the summer either out training, or doing work on the boat, either sourcing equipment that we needed, or doing any adjustments to make sure we met race regulations etc., so we were away from home for the majority of weekends over the summer.

Having an other half who is just as much of an adventure lover as me was definitely key; I can’t imagine going through the process if your family didn’t understand your desire for the campaign, or for your dedication to training for a sport. My husband is a sports-lover, and has competed in sport at a high level in his own right, so he totally understands my need to exercise and spend time dedicated to training.

I worked up until the day before we left the UK for the Canary Islands; I pulled a lot of late nights, either finishing up row admin, or finishing work that I’d had to do around row-related meetings etc. I made sure that even though I was at my desk every day, I tried to keep the row admin until I was finished work for the day.

For a lot of the Atlantic campaign, we spent a lot more time planning than actually training! As we got closer to the event, and the pieces started falling into place, we were able to dedicate more time to physical training (either in the gym or on the boat). Within the campaign itself, we spent about 2 years planning, versus 55 days of actual rowing!

I missed out on a huge amount of social life, catching up with friends, seeing my friends’ children grow during the 18 months I was back in the UK before the row, but equally they all understood what I was doing, and supported me in it. All throughout university and school there were things I couldn’t do because I was rowing, but that’s the choice I made when I joined a sports team. There simply isn’t time to do everything you want to do, so sometimes you have to prioritize. That’s not to say that those priorities will remain the same throughout the entirety of life, but it’s ok to be dedicated to something, as long as it’s not at the constant expense of other things.

Rower Charlotte Best
Christmas at sea. Photo Credit: Becky Charlton. L-R Kate Hallam, Becky Charlton, Charlotte Myant-Best, Sarah Hornby.

What was it like to be in the sea for a long period of time?

Weirdly relaxing. It was really nice to be away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life – having to wonder what day to put the bins out, or if you’ve done the online food shopping in time, or do you have enough food in the fridge for dinner, have you paid your bills, etc.

There was something nice and straightforward about knowing that every 4 hour cycle was going to be the same; row for two hours, rest for two hours.

What favorite rowing gear do you have?

During the training, my Concept 2 Model C rowing machine was an absolute life-saver, as I didn’t live close to any gyms, so it meant that I could train at home. It’s not a new model, but was one that was the right price at the right time!

The same goes for my TRX suspension trainer and my set of weights that I have at home. During the row, my favourite bits of gear were our customized seat pads! Layers of yoga matting stuck together and then cut into a bum shape to give us a bit of extra cushioning.

I was also a huge fan of my pair of TreeTribe bamboo sunglasses – lightweight, polarized and (as an added bonus) they float! We were really fortunate to have kit donated to us by so many companies for the row; there were too many to name them all, but they included Lifeventure, Lifeproof, Musto, Buff, TreeTribe, Gill, Jotron, Mars, Sudocrem and many others!

Sunset at sea. Photo Credit: Charlotte Myant-Best

What will the future bring?

I have a 100km ultramarathon coming up in a few weeks time, with several trail marathons planned during the summer months. Hopefully, in September we will be overlanding, camping, hiking and running in Scandinavia, and in October, I will be going back out to the Middle East to take part in The Wadi Rum Ultramarathon; a multi-day ultra-marathon that takes place in Southern Jordan. I’m sure I’ll be adding some small adventures to the calendar as the year progresses too!

Sometimes, my husband and I jokingly walk each other through our imaginary dream garages filled with all the gear we’d buy if we won the lottery — there’s a lot of sports kit in those lists! My most immediate things are a mountain bike or cyclocross bike, and a new running hydration pack.

Anything else you wish to add?

Set yourself a goal, no matter how small or insignificant you think it might be, and get out there and try to achieve it. Just trying to achieve it will still be a step ahead of those who don’t ever act on their dreams. You can come from a totally “normal” background, and still do something extraordinary, as long as you have the desire, determination and willpower to make it happen.

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