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Great Pacific Race: EIS’ Caroline Lander on rowing the Pacific and breaking two world records

By Lucy Lomax | 19/09/2018

The achievements of EIS Athlete Health Intelligence Consultant Caroline Lander were already very impressive before she attempted to row across the Pacific Ocean on a boat with no engine, sail or mechanical propulsion, with two other women, for 62 days.

Prior to taking on the Great Pacific Race, Caroline had already completed numerous ultra-marathons and a relay swim of the English Channel, not once but twice.

Caroline, 28, explains why she decided to take a break from her day job at the English Institute of Sport and why the challenge appealed to her.

“The Great Pacific Race (GPR) took 62 days and involved rowing 2,400 miles from Monterey, in California to Honolulu in Hawaii. I wanted to push myself and my limits and thought what better way than completing the ultimate endurance race?” said Caroline.

“We were in an ocean rowing boat which was seven metres long and is only moved by human propulsion. The race was part of a rowing series called the Great Pacific Race and there were six other boats in the race; three didn’t make it to Hawaii and three did. My crew and myself came second in the race behind a team of four men.”

On completing the race, Caroline and her two crew members broke two world records, the first was to be the first crew of three, male or female to row the Pacific Ocean and the second was to be the youngest crew of three to row any of the world’s oceans.

“If we had used the safety boat carrying spare equipment it would have invalidated our world record attempts as they were both for non-supported crossings,” explained Caroline.

“Therefore, we had to carry everything we needed on the boat. We had dehydrated food packs which we ate three times a day and snack packs as well which included things like cereal bars, Oreos, Nutella and nuts. Water wise we had a watermaker which desalinates sea water.”

Caroline explained how her role with the Athlete Health team at the EIS, had helped her acquire best practice about staying healthy and illness free on the boat.

“We were very strict in our routines in terms of using hand gel and trying to reduce the risk of illness. I took quite a lot of learnings from a hygiene perspective from my role as reducing athlete illness has been an Athlete Health team project for the last few years. None of us were ill on the boat which shows how valuable it was.

“We also had to make sure we used water wipes to keep the salt off our skin because if salt sits on your skin for too long it starts causing salt sores; we were really good with keeping on top of this and made sure after every shift we wiped down and got rid of as much of the salt as we could.”

Caroline recalled what the hardest part of the trip was: “During week one we had really bad weather and rowed straight into a storm. This meant we had to sit on anchor for three days. There were 30-40-foot waves and 40 knot winds so that week was the hardest. It was also really cold for that time of year in California. Everything was constantly wet; our clothes, the cabin, you couldn’t dry off or get warm and it was hard to make hot water because the waves were so big and crashing over the boat, so it was hard to get the stove lit. Things only really started to get better after that first week.”

However, Caroline admitted this was a small sacrifice for what the trip gave to her: “We saw all kinds of wildlife- we had an encounter with a shark which we think was chasing a shoal of tuna fish, I also saw whales, dolphins, turtles and lots of tropical fish. Along with this was the 360-degree sunrises and sunsets, seeing thousands of stars in the sky and the knowledge of being 12,200 1200 miles from the nearest land. I think at one point the nearest people to us were the astronauts in the space station. It was amazing and an experience you wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

With Caroline needing to take just over three months off to complete the race and the preparations beforehand, she praised the flexibility of the EIS.

“The EIS were so helpful and my line manager was very supportive. I’ve been at the EIS since 2013 and was given three months’ sabbatical. I am so grateful for how accommodating they were.”

After rowing without a break for over two months, Caroline described how she felt at the end of the race.

“When we got to Hawaii and dry land I thought I’d be in all kinds of pain but I wasn’t. However, I found it was really hard to stabilise yourself, it’s known as sea legs, as your body has become so used to the rocking motion of the boat that you feel like land is swaying.
“I lost 17kg on the row! We put on a lot of weight prior to the race starting because you’re in such a calorie deficit rowing 12-16 hours a day for 62 days in the same routine and that meant we couldn’t eat as many calories as we were burning.”

Unsurprisingly, the experience has changed Caroline as a person.

“I feel like it’s proven to me that anything is possible, and that people put up a lot of barriers as to why things aren’t achievable, but actually if you want something enough and are prepared to work for it enough then anything is possible, and this experience has proven that to me.”

Caroline completed the GPR in support of two charities; raising money for the mental health charity MIND and raising awareness of Plastic Pollution Solutions. To support Caroline’s charities, please click here.

To view the hygiene video the EIS Athlete Health team produced, please click here.