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Interview with World Record Holder, Josh Dunkley-Smith

The gold standard of performance on the rowing machine is the 2,000-meter for time. Coming from the on water world championship and Olympic race distance, the 2,000 meter is considered the best all round fitness test ever created using both endurance and strength.

Current world record holder for the 2,000m 19 – 29 year age is Australian Josh Dunkley-Smith. Coming from an on water background, Josh a dual Olympic silver medallist and set the world record while testing as part of the Rowing Australia Senior team in March 2018.

We caught up with Josh and asked him a few questions about indoor rowing and the 2,000-meter for time.

Q1. Being primarily an on-water rower, training on the rowing machine (erg) is part of your overall training and testing regime. Do you like erg training?
A. Yes and No. As they generally hurt then no, however yes because of the benefits and how you adapt to the level of training.

Q2. More around the 2000m distance. Walk us through your preparation and execution of the 2000 distance for time.
How do you mentally prepare for a 2000m?
As part of the Australian Rowing team, there are a number of scheduled benchmarking and testing set out in advance each year so you know when they are coming up and can plan for them. As you do more of them, it is more business like; it is going to hurt but you aren’t going to die. Rather than look at the 2000m distance as something that is going to happen to me, I try to get something out of it. A lot of things in life and sport are about perspective, and this is something you need to do.

How do you prepare physically?
Depending on how much time there is in the lead up, it is good to come off a good base of strength and endurance training, then in the days/ weeks leading up to it, mix this with speed work and specific pieces on the erg. Knowing you can get on the split you need to hold and having the confidence in your body.
The 2000m where I set a new world record was a post Olympic year where I had done a lot more weight training, power and sprint work. I was confident I had carried some of this muscle mass through to the test.
With food I have been pretty lucky in that I can eat pretty much anything. Generally the night before I make sure I have a good dinner, decent breakfast and lunch; depending on the time of day the testing is. I want to sit on the erg confident I have enough energy on board, and not hungry. Of course hydration is essential and a good nights sleep.

What warm up do you do before the 2000m?
I try to avoid having anything set in stone and prefer to keep it pretty relaxed. About an hour before I spend some time on the bike, then 8 – 10mins on the erg just turning things over, then add in some short sharp pieces. I have seen athletes have a set warm up, and when conditions or circumstances haven’t allowed this to happen it has affected them mentally.

What drag factor do you use for the 2000m and how does it change for other distances?
As part of the Australian Rowing team we have the drag factor prescribed at 130 for heavy weight men, which on most machines that are clean would be a damper setting of about 6.  Left to my own devices, I am pretty sure that is around where my ideal drag factor would be. For different distances I would play around with the drag factor a little more and adapt it more for each one.

Do you have a race plan, and do you always stick to it?
I always have an intent of what I want to get out of the 2000m, first 500m, 250m and where I want the numbers to be at different stages. I had always looked to even split, and the record attempt I had done previously was more about power with pretty low rate and pulling on it. One of the things we changed was the plan, and felt giving it a little more over the first 200 – 300m was a better approach, then getting on the split then bringing it home with whatever I had left; and keeping the rate up a bit more.

What tactics do you use to push through the bits of doubt and dark places that come up through the distance?
I am quite lucky in that physiologically I don’t produce as much lactate as some. The doubt generally comes in the third 500m so I focus on what I want to get out of the exercise; the intent. If you can tell yourself to hang on, that is where you get the prize. It would be a shame if you do all the hard work and don’t get the result.

While there is always pain, what goes through your head when you know you are in front of your personal best time?
I am always aware of times and splits, so it is almost workman like; doing a job and getting it done. There was a moment at the 1200m where I realised I had the energy to get home and break the record. That was pretty exciting when that realisation came and to have that knowledge.

Q3. Why no shoes? There are a lot of theories out there like ‘it take too much power off the footplate”
I was a bit of a daydreamer growing up, so forgot my shoes more than remembered them for rowing. I like the idea of just turning up and ready to go. Over time it is just what I got used to. I have tried to use shoes on the erg, however I have big feet and find now that it changes the footplate setting to accommodate the shoe.

Q4. With 6 months until the 2019 Australian Indoor Rowing Championships, we anticipate a number of people will enter the 2000m distance for time; to set a new personal best, set a new Championship record, or win the title of Australian Champion. What advice would you give them, and anyone looking to enter for the first time?
Do a couple of 2000m as practice, then come up with a goal; it doesn’t have to be brilliant. Plan on how you are going to do it, talk to people, ask questions to set the plan, then push yourself to do the training. Focus on technique, and find your ideal drag factor. The best training for the AIRC is time on the erg.