Fergus Mainland 

Graham Benton: Two Decades of Dominance in Indoor Rowing

Graham Benton started on the indoor rowing machine at his local gym in 2002. Since then he has won the British Championships 16 times (including the Open six times), World Championships five times (Open once) and European Championships twice. He rows for the indoor rowing team called Mad Team IRC. They are one of the longest running and top performing indoor rowing teams with medallists across all categories, including big Olli Zeidler, the German Olympic rower. 

What is your key to having sustained success at such a high level?

"I think the key is consistency. In the past 20+ years since I started, I have never really let my condition drop significantly. I think as you get older, I think it is easier to maintain fitness than try to get it in the first place. That said, there are other key factors as you get older that I hadn't necessarily considered when I was younger and indestructible.

"Life gets in the way a lot more as you get older. Work and family commitments become more significant, and also your health has a few more ups and downs. I had to take a year out with a heart condition where I was only really able to train for fitness rather than performance. You have to learn to listen to your body more and be prepared to adapt your training.

"My motivation has waned at times but I have tried to shift my focus to something like cycling to enable me to continue to push myself on even when my rowing mojo had disappeared. It meant when the appetite for rowing returned, I was starting from a good position."

What was your 'I've made it' moment during your racing career?

"When I won the Open at the World Champs in 2006. I was only the second Brit to win it and the first 'non-rower' (gym rower). I'd performed well at the British Indoors for a couple of years but that was a big moment for me. It was a quality field with 4 of us within a couple of seconds. I had a faster start and apart from that, the 4 of us went stroke for stroke for the whole race which was brutal. I'm immensely proud how I stuck to my plan.

"The other time would be the British Champs in 2007 when I PB'd with 5:42.5. It was a really well executed performance. the crowd thought I'd broken the British record but I knew I hadn't, although the then British record (5:42.3) had been done on a standalone machine whereas I was on the race system so I always felt without reaction time, mine would have been the quicker time."

How do you put together your race strategy and has it changed over the years?

"I've got a great coach, Eddie Fletcher, and we have a very established approach to races and racing now. I'm not a fan of complicated plans. I have a hard start, then settle into my base split and then look to knock out that split again and again, 1 stroke at a time. Then the end will be what it needs to be depending upon the situation."

From all of your wins and races do you have a standout memory?

"The World Champs in 2016 stands out. It was my first World Champs for a few years. I was really busy with a new job so my training volume was low but the quality was really high and my mindset was spot on. One of the other guys in the race who I didn't know a lot about went off like a train but I stuck to my plan (helped by my cox, Sam Blythe), rowed through him and went on to break the then 40-49 world record with a score of 5:48.3. I was very pleased that I was still capable of sub 5:50. It was a very committed row; I was absolutely spent across the line and went to a fairly dark place."

How long do you think until someone cracks the 5:35 barrier on a Concept 2 and what's the limit in your opinion ?

"Times have really stepped on over the past few years. Sub 5:50 feels like the new sub 6. Low 5:40's and sub 5:40's are a lot more common than they used to be and I think 5:35 can't be far off, potentially in this cycle given some of the beasts that are about these days."

What do you enjoy most about the indoor rowing community?

"There is a good spirit in the community and I also like the way that as you get older, you can compete with other people of the same age. I've just turned 50 so I'm in a new category which makes things more interesting for a little while. And it's also very accessible. The creation of virtual races has really opened things up to a new audience and made participation much easier."

What's your best piece of advice for someone who wants to get involved with indoor rowing?

"Give it a go. I found out I was quick by accident.

"It was just another piece of kit in the gym but I checked online and my times seemed quite competitive so I got more and more into it. Get yourself the right support as bedding the basics in properly can give you the right foundation. I went to Southsea Coastal Rowing Club and someone there helped me with basic technique. I've had various people help with setting programmes as I thrive on being accountable to someone, and then since I started working with Eddie about 15 or so years ago, he helped me step to another level.

"But whatever your level, it's you vs you on the machine. You can always look to make improvements over time, and there will always be someone close to your level to measure yourself against. Rowing is a brilliant overall exercise and a very good way of developing overall strength and fitness."

What three songs are straight onto the erg playlist?

  • Omen
  • Invaders Must Die
  • Voodoo People

All by The Prodigy.

"I think at one stage, my end of year summary from Spotify had me in the top 0.1% of Prodigy fans!"

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