British Rowing 

The GRID in review: A new Online Indoor Rowing Competition

John Steventon looks back on what was a hugely successful event back in September.

If I’d known while standing in the queue for the Tron ride at Disneyland that it would partly inspire me to create a new rowing competition which would raise over £1000 for Cancer Research, I think I would have been a bit more stressed about running it!

Standing in the rather long queue, Jaime, my eldest daughter, was telling me about her swimming club’s championships. They had short, medium and long distance races, and the competitors had to pick one race in each category out of a list of different strokes, IM’s, and varied distances to earn points towards a final total. Whether it was the 35 degree heat, or the 90 minute wait for the ride (totally worth it), my brain mushed together where I was and what I was hearing, and I started to formulate a plan for a new indoor rowing competition.

Taking the Concept2 ranking distances as inspiration, I’d offer up a competition similar to what Jaime was facing at her swimming club. Not including the Marathon row, there are 12 events which neatly split into groups of 3. Sprint (100m, 1 minute and 500m) Short (1000m, 4 minutes, 2000m) Medium, 5000m, 6000m, 30 minutes) and long (10Km, 60 minutes, Half Marathon). Each of these ‘groups’ became a “GRID” in my competition.

Rowers would then pick one event on each GRID, and their placing in the standings for the events they rowed would give them points – which add up to a final total. It was an idea which I’d hoped would gather interest, not just to make it worth my time running and would raise money for charity, but also because this idea only works if lots of people row!

I opened it up to as many people as I could. Concept2 Rowers, SkiErg and BikeErg all had their own categories. But I also created categories for Water Rowers, and as many other makes and models of rowing machine I could think of – all in the hopes that I could stir up some competition outside the normal Concept2 community. It’s fair to say that in that regard, The GRID didn’t quite hit the heights I wanted it to.

Even with (almost) 20,000 YouTube subscribers for RowAlong, and over 7000 Facebook members, on top of all of the members of the Concept2 Indoor Rowing Hub, the Water Rower Owners, Users and Fans group, and the Indoor Rowing Community group – only 165 people entered. Not that I’m disappointed, more pondering how to reach more people. 165 is, after all, a lot more than 0! Out of that 165, 139 were Concept2 Rowers, 4 were BikeErgs, 5 SkiErgs, and apart from a couple of Life Fitness machines, the rest were Water Rowers.

Not the reach I’d hoped for. Maybe the racing scene is primarily Concept2 – and that all other machines are mostly based on fitness, rather than racing? Or maybe I just haven’t been able to crack the markets for other machines.

Disappointing diversity aside, I was really pleased that the concept of The GRID worked. Rowers were picking events that they thought they could do best in – either because they would beat their opposition, or because they chose a row that other rowers would avoid (I know I’d rather do 4 minutes than a 2K!) and finished further up the leaderboard as a result.

The scoring system took a while to explain, and it didn’t help that the online software I used confused matters by assigning scores for events they DIDN’T do. But, when the final scores were filtered and tallied up, revealing some surprise changes to the erroneous leaderboard, I think people got how, and why the idea worked.

Reports on social media of the rows all sounded like they weren’t taking it easy either. Lots of PB’s (and it being the start of the indoor season, lots of Season Bests set for them to try to tackle again over the coming months).

The first outing of “The GRID” ran surprisingly smoothly, with a lot of learning points – ready for it to return at the end of the season, with a few changes. Some adaptations address a couple of the more problematic areas (like the scoring problem) but others are to keep it fresh and exciting, including a team option.

Looking back on the 30 days in September it ran for, from a rowing point of view, the GRID seemed to have been really successful, and anything that can raise £1000 for Cancer Research while giving people a reason to put in as good a row as they can, can only be a good thing.

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