Rowing the Atlantic Ocean: Q+A with MISSION'S Founder Tom Whittle
Next December, our Founder will join three childhood friends in attempting an unassisted row across the Atlantic Ocean. The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge will begin in La Gomera in Spain, and end in English Harbour, Antigua — a distance of 3,000 miles, and an ambitious goal of 40 days. The team will face 40+ foot waves and freezing conditions while rowing twelve hours per day, seven days a week. You can check out the comp details via the @allornothing.
We spoke with Tom this week about how he’s preparing for the challenge — and why he’s taking it on in the first place. Cozy up with a cuppa and read all about what it takes to prepare for one of the world’s most challenging endurance competitions.
What does a typical day look for you like right now, both physically and nutritionally?
Everyday can be slightly different, but I essentially have to fit in a two to three-hour workout, one to two hours of book writing and then as much work as possible on Mission. Per week there are seven one-hour stretching sessions, three strength sessions and two rowing sessions.
Nutrition wise, I'll aim to take in about 3,000 calories per day and monitor weight to ensure I’m maintaining. As far as my energy level goes, I'm taking a lot of Endure at the moment — using yerba mate to start the day for some steady focus on work and then a matcha during a workout to see me through. Sleep always signals the end of the day and some downtime with friends. I've learnt this is essential, not optional.
What does a typical day on the boat look like?
A typical day would be six sets of four-hour slots, which break down like this: Two hours of rowing, one hour of cleaning, eating and navigating and one hour of rest. I'm not quite sure how we're going to deal with sleep deprivation and have heard reports of hallucinations. We will have to cross that bridge when we come to it. Fingers crossed we adapt well!
What food and drink will you take on the boat?
As we could be on the water for 100 days, we can't carry anything fresh. Freeze-dried meals will be the way to go. While nothing has been finalised yet, we will consume up to 10,000 calories per day, much of it high in carbs. Obviously, I'm going to be packing a tonne of tea too. Yerba will be great for stuff like this where we’ll need some gentle energy for a couple of hours, but not like that of coffee, which would keep us up. Since we have to sleep every four hours, this will be perfect.
What habits or routines are you changing to prep yourself — sleep, diet or otherwise?
Working on the four-hour schedule we would on the boat in normal life is pretty impossible right now. So I think we're just going to have to fly into that fresh when starting. For now, I'm eating and exercising quite a lot more to gain mass and strength. In the couple of months before the race, we'll be eating even more, as we’re expecting to lose around 10kg on the trip. We’ll also be building up a good sleep surplus.
What is your longest row so far?
In May of this year, the team rowed for 24 hours, totaling 887km. Charlie deserves a special mention for falling short of a world record by around 15km — very impressive and glad he's on the team! I needed a three week rest after this, so it’s safe to say that we have a lot of fitness to build.
How much of a rest will you take prior to the start date?
I imagine not much, as you really need to keep fitness levels up. Perhaps tapering with a month or so out, but then only maybe a one or two day break before. We're travelling out to Spain two weeks early to prep the boat and work out logistics, etc.
What kind of emotions are you currently feeling?
For now, pure excitement, but that may change closer to the start date. Another one might be guilt for what I'm putting my mother through. I'm also really looking forward to only having one thing on my to do list: row to Antigua!
What do you predict will be the biggest challenge?
I definitely think it will be the mental side of things. Hopefully the body can adapt, but the mental test of being stuck in a confined space, days away from help, with three sleep-deprived people having to row all day...will be extremely tough. If we can get through that, I think we'll be significantly tougher mentally.
What wanted to make you take on this particular endurance challenge?
It's a good question and one people ask a lot: “Why the hell are you doing this?!” After lots of thinking, I’ve narrowed it down to four things:
1) Mental and physical growth — The challenges we'll face and hopefully overcome will make life's everyday problems seem minuscule in comparison. I've found I've grown a lot as a person on previous expeditions and this should be no different.
2) Memories — I don't want to lie on my deathbed and think I just sat in an office all my life. I want to look back and think I made the most of it.
3) Charity — We're rowing for four amazing charities. My charity is Kidney Cancer UK who have supported my Dad for a long time. I'd like to help him and make him proud too.
4) Potential — Finally, unashamedly, I want to know I've pushed myself to the absolute limit and reached everything that I was truly capable of achieving.
At the time of this article’s publishing, Tom and his team are just over a year away from the big day. You can support and follow this incredible journey and its build up at www.alloarnothing.co.uk
We wish them all the best and will be rooting along, every stroke of the way!