77 year-old rows 500 meters in 1:46.3

by Dr. Ed Berry, Break from politics


Win or lose, I love competition. On May 24, 2013, I rowed 500 meters in 1:46.3 on a Concept 2 at Tracy’s FITEX24 in Bigfork, Montana, recorded on my C2 card.

How does 1:46.3 compare to my good competitors?

The Concept 2 website allows you to register and enter your rowing time and your age and weight category and then compare your time with the best rowers in the world.

Concept 2 began its 2014 fiscal year on May 1. Since new competitors will beat my 2014 time, we also compare my 1:46.3 time with the 2013 competitor times.


For Concept’s 2014 year, as of May 31, 2013, my time is:

  • 1st in world for ages 75 to 79, all weight categories.
  • 4th in world for ages 70 to 79, lightweight division.
    • 72-year-old David Harralson of Hollywood, CA, USA, beat me with his 1:43.2. Good row, David.
    • Wayne Gallasch has yet to enter his 2014 time to push me back a notch.
  • 6th in world for ages 70 to 79, all weight categories.

For Concept’s 2013 year, my 2014 time of 1:46.3 would be:

  • 2nd in world for ages 75 to 79, lightweight division.
    • 76-year-old Roger Bangay of Surrey, Great Britain, beat me by 3 seconds with his record of 1:43.4. Good row, Roger.
  • 7th in world for ages 70 to 79, lightweight division.
    • 70-year-old Wayne Gallasch of Belair, South Australia, rowed a 1:34.2. Wayne is an “animal.” I envision him chasing down ‘roos in his bare feet and strangling them with his bare hands. He is also an inspiration.

My best 2013 time (on Feb 16) was 1:50.5. How did I improve? Technique and practice.

See copies of the Concept 2 rankings at the end of this post.

Concept uses 2 weight categories, heavy and light with the split at 165 pounds for men. The idea of weight categories is a heavier person with more muscle mass should be able to beat a lighter person on a Concept 2. However, a heavier boat goes slower than a lighter boat. So a good lightweight time on a Concept 2 may translate to being faster on the water than a stronger heavyweight.

Why age categories?

Hey, if you are older than 20, you know what happens as we get older … we get slower. However, if we stay in shape, we get slower … slower. My point is, if you are 20 years younger than I am, you should easily beat my 500 meter time on a Concept 2. Twenty years ago, when I was also running 5K’s, I rowed 5000 meters on a Concept 2 in 20 minutes, or 2:00.0 for each 500 meters, without trying for a personal record.

What’s it like rowing for a personal record on a Concept 2?

On the morning I went for my record, I began by warming up by rowing 2 easy 500’s, one at 2:30 and the second at 2:08. Between each set, I walked around and lightly stretched my arms and back by twisting left and right. When I was warm and ready, I prepared for my record attempt:

I set the Concept 2 monitor to its 500 meter countdown mode. I lock my feet in tight, grab the handle, lean forward, take some big breaths, concentrate on my task and block everything else out of my mind.

I use 2 long pulls to get the wheel up to speed. The monitor shows my rowing speed is 1:50 per 500 meters. Then I pull harder to keep the rate below 1:45. I can go faster but I need to endure 500 meters. I settle my pace near 1:44. This is about 98 percent of my max. I hold 1:44 pace for the first 400 meters. My stroke rate is about 35 strokes per minute. The Concept 2 monitor shows all this data in large numbers.

As I enter my final 100 meters, this means “balls out.” I pull as hard and as fast as I can. Maybe I exceed 35 strokes per minute, I am not watching that number now. I am maxed out but my speed slows to 1:46, which means I paced my first 400 well.

My body tells me to quit. Ignore my body. My heart is pounding. My legs are burning red hot. I am sucking air as hard as I can at 2 breaths per stroke. I am making a lot of noise … like trying to kill someone in a Karate match. My mind tells my body to forget the pain and keep driving. I tell myself if I die, I died having fun … better than rotting in an old-age home. Must think this way or I am not a competitor.


50 meters to go. The pain increases. Ignore it and keep driving. I don’t care if I die and maybe I will. My thighs are exploding. Quitting is not an option. Single digits left. The meter hits zero and locks my time at 1:46.3. My best previous time was 1:50.4.

I rest on the rowing seat, maxed out, trying to catch my breath. I can’t move. After about 10 seconds, I unstrap my feet and force myself to stand up and walk. Never sit down after a race. Two minutes later, I row an easy 500 just to keep my blood flowing for my cool down. Then I stand up and walk around. In a few minutes, my breathing and heart rate are back to normal but my muscles are exhausted. This ends my workout for the day. I’m outta here.

How to use a Concept 2 rower

The Concept 2 rower is the best exercise machine in a gym. It uses all your major muscles. It lets you max out in speed, strength and endurance. It’s safe, it gives you a numerical measure of your fitness, and it’s fun.

If you haven’t rowed a Concept 2 rower, you should find one and try it. If you are new to it, take a few sessions to get used to it and read my tips below. Then (if your health allows) go max for 500 meters and record your time.

The best way to record your 500 meter time is to go to the menu “Select Workout” then “Standard List” then “500 m“. This puts the C2 in countdown mode where it begins with 500 meters and freezes your elapsed time when the distance reaches zero. It gives you 60 seconds to write down or photograph your time before it erases it. You can also record your time with a Concept 2 data card that slips into the monitor.

The Concept 2 lets you set the resistance by moving a black lever on the right side of the wheel. Each person will have a preferred setting. I found my best setting is about 8.

Set your toe positions so the balls of your feet press on the raised foot rest. My foot setting has four empty holes above the footrest. Pull the foot straps tight to eliminate slop.

Why do sprint intervals on a Concept 2?

The most in-shape runners in track are the 100 m, 200 m, and 400 m sprinters. Health experts learned in the past decade that marathon racing is not especially healthy, but short interval sprinting is. Our bodies are more like cheetahs than antelopes.

Doing sprint intervals on a Concept 2 is better than doing long, slow workouts. Doing 500 meter sprints on a Concept 2 is like running 400 meters. No one can run 400 meters at their absolute top speed but 400 meters is the ultimate race in track because it takes you beyond your max and forces you to keep going.

When you pull your max for 500 meters on a Concept 2, your legs will burn and you will be breathing at your maximum rate … which is good for your fitness. If you don’t force yourself to breath hard and deep, you will lose this ability as you age. You are a human engine and you need lots of air to perform your best.

To best use the Concept 2 for fitness, do sprint intervals, even though you may occasionally row an easy 2000 or 5000 meters for a change of pace. The recognized sprint distance on the Concept 2 is 500 meters and it is the perfect race for the gym.

How should you workout for fitness? 

We all have personal time limits. I don’t hang out all day being a Jack LaLanne. I do athletics for fun and fitness. I work at my desk too much and sit too much to be in top shape. But I workout about 30 minutes 3 to 5 times per week. It’s how I use my exercise time that’s important.

The first rule of exercise is don’t watch TV while working out. Focus on your workout. The second rule is to go for your max about once per week, or less. Train like an athlete does in weekly cycles of easy days and max days. If you want to be as fit as you can for your age, you must focus on your workout. And when you are bored or maxed out, quit. Never push your exercising to boredom.

Same for eating. Don’t eat junk food. Eat quality food 6 days a week and allow yourself a “pig” day when you can eat all the goodies you crave. Having a “pig” day once per week makes it a lot easier to keep a good diet the other 6 days. Even then, your “pig” day can include reasonably good food. There is never a need to consume high fructose corn syrup, or excessive alcohol or sugar. But get your ice cream and pizza if you wish.

Never take anything seriously 100 percent of the time. If you can eat good food 85% of the time and get a good workout 85% of the time you plan, then you will do OK. If you try to stick to anything 100% of the time, you will stress out your emotions. Stressed emotions will reduce your ability to keep fit.

There is a method to being fit and it is not complicated. You don’t need to memorize 100’s of exercises. But you need to follow some general principles in exercise and eating. I will write a small book that may help you. To get my announcement and a discount, please be sure you are on my email list.

What’s my fitness background?

I learned fitness by doing as well as reading about it. Here are a few examples.

When I finished high school, I had the opportunity to go pro baseball but I went to Caltech instead. The summer after I finished Caltech, I was one of Ed Parker’s original 8 students in his first Kenpo Karate class in Pasadena.

When I was a PhD graduate student at the University of Nevada, the gymnastics coach let me workout with his gymnastics team. I became proficient in some events, like double somersaults and back layouts on the trampoline. I was also an avid and too crazy skier.

At the same time, I earned membership in the Sigma Delta Psi national athletic honorary. This required passing athletic tests in track, gymnastics, and swimming. While many athletes can pass some of the tests, few have passed all the tests for Sigma Delta Psi membership. Notable Sigma Delta Psi members include Astronaut Ed White, Dr. Hatfield, super-athlete Norm HoffmanHarvey Wray, Dr. Robert Gordon, Scott HurleyBill Ruschel, and Thomas Cureton.

In the 1990’s, I placed in the Top 10 in America in my age group in a Duathlon series consisting of four weekends of a 5K run + 25K bike +5K run. I ran a lot of 5 K runs in the Sacramento area and usually got first in my age group.

In the 2002 Pan Pacific Masters Games in Sacramento, I ran the 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m and 5K and won a top three medal in all events. In the 2005 US Masters Nationals in Hawaii, I ran the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m and won a top three medal in all events.

Read about my timed 400 meter race in Berkeley in March 2007 under Coach Mike, here.

I will be 78 next month and I am still in good shape. Two weeks ago, I visited a specialist MD regarding my Dupuytrens in my left hand. My blood pressure measured 120 / 76. I have never taken any medication but I do take supplements. When the doctor entered the room he said,

Wow, you sure don’t look 77. What’s your secret?

I said,

Well, it’s both mental and physical, and it’s a long story.”

Health and fitness is a science.

As a physicist, I know how to determine what data is valid and how to evaluate hypotheses. I have applied what I have learned to my own life and, by all accounts, I have been successful in achieving excellent health and fitness for my age.

My goal is to live an active, productive life until the lights go out. I would be happy to help you do the same.

Here is a copy of the Concept 2 Rankings as of May 24, 2014:


Here’s an update from the Concept 2 site on June 17, 2013. I am now in 4th place for age group 70-79, lightweight but still in 1st place for 75-79:


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