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Two people, the Atlantic Ocean and a rowing boat. In what has been deemed the “World’s toughest race”, this ordinary extraordinary duo take on the seas in a mentally and physically demanding leap into the unknown. They will row 3,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic from La Gomera to Antigua over 40-90 days nonstop. With nothing but their oars and their rations, this pair will endure extreme fatigue, up to 40ft ocean waves, salt sores and blisters.

“More people have reached the summit of Mount Everest. More people have experienced the weightlessness of outer space. We are rowing unassisted across the Atlantic Ocean in the ‘World’s toughest race.”


Max Thorpe and Chris Williams are two young British athletes who are training to race across the Atlantic in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge in order to raise awareness for “Cardiac Risk in the Young” and Ocean Pollution. We caught up with them to hear their story.

Just to bring everyone up to date, is this the first time you are entering this event?

Yes,  first, time.

Have you done any endurance races quite like this before?

Not particularly!

My teammate, Chris has taken part in a couple of marathons but we are fully throwing ourselves into the deep-end with this one.
Howeverwe are both very accustomed to pushing ourselves mentally and physically in sport, fitness as well as everyday situations. We both love that feeling of breaking through mental and physical barriers because it is only then that we feel we can grow and develop as people. And so while we are going straight into one of the hardest events the world has to offer, we are confident that this is the right challenge for us.

 

With just two of you on the boat in the middle of the Atlantic it’s fairly crucial you 100% trust your teammate. So how do you know Chris?

 
In short, we met at secondary school and have been best mates ever since. We both played a lot of sport when we younger and we have always pushed each other in every discipline. Since a young age we have had a very similar ambitious outlook and mentality. The difference now is that we aren’t just playing these games; we are more challenging ourselves with new tasks and goals.

Why the row?

We love the uniqueness of the challenge; there is nothing else out there that compares to this one. It is not just a simple A-->B race; it is a life changing experience that can only be learned by doing. With 3 months alone on the boat in the middle of the Atlantic with nothing but your own supplies and your oars, this adventure will be a mental and physical grind, as well as a technical journey where fundamental decisions will have to be made under extreme conditions and fatigue.

  


Hence we appreciate the enormity of the challenge since there are a number of different aspects from which we will learn, grow and develop. Of course we are attending courses and base learning, but ultimately you can’t fully prepare for something like this, as there are elements and conditions that cannot be imitated.
 
So the fact that you have to be so adaptable and aware along this journey is something that has definitely drawn us towards this event.

How do you train for an event of this scale mentally?

Without sounding too cliché we were mentally ready to undergo this challenge the day we signed up. We were not forced into entering and we did it on our own accord; it was almost like an innate feeling to take part in this event. We know we have the base mental capacity and the drive required; it is now just a case of really finalising this aspect before we start in December. At the moment we are achieving this by really pushing our physical limits everyday. By doing this we are getting used to being uncomfortable and even getting to a point now where we are comfortable being uncomfortable. We want to push our “normal state” to this uncomfortable zone so that we can function and make critical decisions during the row.

And physically?

For the past 6 months we have been training religiously everyday. In this time we have been integrating strength work into the posterior chain because we feel that this is the largest factor. We know we are going to deteriorate during the 3 months of rowing but we want to be at a point where we deteriorate less.

We aren’t professional athletes and we don’t get paid full time to train so the biggest challenge is trying to fit the training programs into our daily work routines. We also always aim to mix up our training so that we cover all aspects as well as keeping it fresh. This will include alternating between long and short interval training and strength and conditioning programs.

In August we are planning on really mixing up the training in order to get accustomed to being out in the wild, sleep deprived and having to make tough navigation decisions. We will be doing this by hiking and running in high altitude conditions in the French Alps.

Are you a waterman and have you taken part in any Rowing competitions before?

My parents are from Devon and I spent my early years growing up in the water around Exmouth so I’m more than comfortable in the water. However we are definitely not rowers! In fact neither of us had rowed before signing up to the event. The first time we rowed was in Bewl Water in the ocean rowing boat we had bought a month after signing up. 

We both got the hang of the boat pretty quick and will be spending a lot of time in the boat out at sea in the lead-up to the event in December.


  


We are fully aware of the dangers and struggles that lie ahead of us and we are not ignorant of them. Yet we want to prove to people that you don’t need to be professional athletes to take on life changing events like this; and we are aiming to inspire people to follow in our footsteps because a lot of people can but not enough people do.

How does a little boat contend with 40ft waves – presumably you will be taking part in some surfing lessons?

Whilst spending around 3 months in the Atlantic we are undoubtedly going to be hit by freak storms and waves, which will feel even bigger in our little boat. We are attending navigational courses as well as being helped by the ocean rowing community. The community is very tight-knit and has been very good in passing down experience to people like us. Once we signed up to the event we immediately came into contact with numerous experienced ocean rowers who are more than keen to help out with tips, ocean knowledge, what to do during storms and how to best manoeuvre the boat in these conditions.
 


Although rowing the Atlantic is very daunting first time, we feel prepared in the experience of others. In fact the people from who we bought the boat have also crossed the Atlantic and are now helping us now. And so we feel very welcomed into a community of rowers
who are keen to help us because we have the same common goal and similar characteristics.
 
Already this adventure has taught us that when you are willing and enthusiastic, people will help you out. This is what we love about sport and has driven our careers to this point.