Boat training.

My pedal powered boat is now a good form of training as an alternative to mountain biking. It’s powered by a paddle wheel which only wants to turn around 30 times per minute at cruising speed, which is walking pace, and I have geared it down with a chain and sprockets so that the pedals turn at twice that rate. A cadence of 60 rpm is still slow compared to 90 or more that I’d use whilst cycling, which takes a strain on the muscles but doesn’t promote hard breathing. It’s therefore more muscular than aerobic but this is surely useful to build muscle strength. For my next bike ride I intend to spin the pedals on a flatter surface like the canal bank for an aerobic workout so in 2 sessions I’ll hopefully have built some fitness. I’ve been a little lax recently, taking a 12 day holiday with no hard exercise and only getting out twice a week since. I still have a target to beat this year so realise that I need to make sure I’m fit enough for it. With possibly another 10 dry, sunny days to come there’ll be no better opportunity this year to lap the circuit in question at a fast speed, which will hopefully take me just under 14 minutes. I set this target in January to motivate me to keep my fitness on track.

Yesterday was a very different training experience. I wanted to use the boat for a longer trip so I had to keep the pace down. Because I wasn’t breathing hard I felt like I should be forcing the pedals round but I knew that if I did this I’d strain the leg muscles and start to cramp. 30 years ago my legs never cramped but now I get problems after a bike ride and sometimes on days between rides. Drinking plenty of water seems to help but I’ve been advised to try electrolyte supplements (thanks Crustytuna! which I will do soon. I looked at an article on the web which started with “Electrolytes are not helpful and can even be harmful”. Only when I skimmed down the rather lengthy article did I reach a section detailing when electrolytes would be helpful. “When exercising for 40-60 minutes or more”. So every time I go out then? I’ll get some tablets and report back.

On still water the effort required to power the boat never varies, it’s just down to the pilot how hard you go. After a fairly short distance I noticed some tightness in my left calf so tried to adjust my pedaling to relieve things. The “pedals” consist of metal rods of 12mm in diameter so I can try to push with my toes or raise my foot position so I’m pressing with the heels. I think that, in a recumbent pedaling position, the temptation is to try to tighten the calves and push the pedals forwards then down. I concentrated on just pushing forwards with relaxed calves and soldiered onward. I passed a boatyard, which was as far as I’ve previously gone, but started to worry that the tightness, which had transferred to my right calf, might become crippling, so spun the boat around after one and a half miles in 35 minutes.

I’d waved to a few boats, rented from the boatyard, with people taking my photograph. Anyone would think they’d never seen a pedal powered, homemade dinghy before! I also spoke to someone walking his dog who had seen my boat previously. He has a stern looking Staffordshire bull terrier which looks like it could eat my little dog, Freddie, as an hors d’oeuvre and he said he was impressed by how much better the boat was moving than it had done last year. I sailed onwards, shuffling occasionally in the less than comfortable seat and was intrigued by a new boat mooring which is at odds with the usual, neat and tidy narrow boats.

Well presented steel hulled narrow boats, though some are being restored.
A strange ghetto of fibreglass hulled cruisers. The cabins are constructed of pallet wood in most cases.

On the return leg I knew exactly where I was and how far I had left and had to concentrate hard on keeping my pace relaxed. I didn’t want to completely waste my leg muscles because I still needed to pull the boat out of the water, which requires most of my strength. I got back to my start point in around the same time as my outbound leg. I’d drunk half a litre of water to try to relieve the cramping and rested for a moment before returning to dry land, to give my legs a chance to relax. I think 3 miles is probably my longest trip so far. I was happy that the boat had been completely reliable. I’d shipped a few litres of water into the hull but I think that this is just due to splashes from the paddle wheel, rather that from leaking. I’m also much happier now that I’ve bought new wheels, including a spare, for the trolley I use to get the boat to and from the canal. It had been a very enjoyable experience and certainly good exercise.

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