Support through Sport UK's Ed Uff spoke to Jo Moseley about her Million Metre Rowing Challenge ...
Hi Jo, thanks for talking with us today. Can you start off by telling us a bit about your incredible challenge?
Yes. My goal is to row a million metres on an indoor rowing machine, finishing with a rowing marathon (42,195 metres) in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. My father has been diagnosed with three types of cancer, and my mother died from lymphoma on 21st December 2013. During this time, Macmillan have been such a great support for us.
I started the challenge on 5th May, my parents' wedding anniversary, and will finish with the marathon on 21st December, the anniversary of mum’s death. When mum became poorly I knew I wanted to do something for Macmillan - and so I came up with the idea of rowing a million metres.
Any why choose rowing?
I started rowing about a year ago. I wasn’t sleeping well and ended up having a bit of a meltdown in the supermarket with my kids.
My son and I had both been very inspired by London 2012 and rowers such as Katherine Grainger, Anna Watkins, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, amongst others. It sowed a seed of interest in us both and we were very lucky to meet Katherine at Sports Personality of the Year in 2012. She was very encouraging to my son, who's since entered the English Indoor Rowing Championships, where he did very well.
So when a friend suggested that rowing might help me to sleep better, I remembered what Katherine had said, and how much my son enjoyed rowing, and it was an easy decision to make. Almost as soon as I started rowing I started to sleep better, and just absolutely loved it. In addtion, rowing works out every part of your body, it gives you time to think and helps you to breathe properly. It's also really low impact, so someone who hasn’t done a lot of sport can easily take it up - so far I've not had any injuries.
Were you always sporty growing up?
I don’t know if I’m sporty or not! I think I probably am but I lost it for about 20 years! When I was a child, I was very much a tomboy. I was the sort of girl who was always out on her bike or throwing herself into the sea; I was very active. Then, just as probably happens with lots of girls nowadays, when I became a teenager I suddenly started thinking ‘I’m not good enough' and 'what will the boys think?’
I didn’t particularly like the sports I did at school. I wasn’t a great hockey, or netball, player, and I hated the hurdles and running. A lot of girls give up sports at that age. I just started thinking that I wasn’t sporty I think. This was a shame as, not only had I enjoyed riding my bike, I’d done lots of gymnastics and had enjoyed trampolining - but I hit my teenage years and just sort of stopped participating in sport.
Then, in my 20s, I went to college in America for a year and did lots of outdoor things - but I wasn’t very good at them! I got stuck in some caves - literally wedged - and I tried hang-gliding but fell in the sand! It was an all women’s college, so it didn’t seem to matter so much if you failed; you just got back up again.
But then, like a lot of women, I got married and had a family and put myself at the bottom of the pile. I didn’t have to - but I thought that everyone else was more important, so sport just sort of dropped off my radar for a long time.
The only thing I did enjoy was walking. I did the Moonwalk (where you walk a marathon at midnight) in 2007 and I absolutely loved it. The idea of making time to do something active, and saying to the family ‘this is important’ was great. When I look back, I think that that was really important to me. At the time I didn’t realise it was, but it made me think that maybe I am sporty but had lost my confidence.
When my marriage fell apart and my dad got breast cancer, my main activity was walking. Until recently that is ... when I took up rowing! I think my story is very typical of what happens to many women. We forget about sport for a while, which is a shame.
You have to average around 4k a day to complete the challenge - how do you fit it in?
I've found the time so far by making my rowing sessions a priority and by working as a team with my children. They're 17 and 13 and so they support me by doing things like putting the tea on when I need to get my protein etc.
In the mornings, I motivate myself with a quote of the day on Twitter. My quotes aren't about being the strongest or the fittest or the best. They're about being the best you can be. I don't have to do time trials or bust a gut to get under a certain time - I just have to keep going. It’s never too late and you’re never too old to find something you love. I would have never thought it would be the rowing machine for me, but I absolutely love it!
Can you talk us through a typical week on your challenge?
I like rowing in big chunks. I'm naturally a ‘slow but steady’ kind of a person. Endurance is my thing.
A typical week might see me rowing 10k on Monday and Wednesday after work, which takes about 55 minutes a session. Then, on Friday, I might do a half marathon - and on Sunday I might do another 10k. Then the next week I won’t do the half marathon. I generally do seven session every 14 days and I never row less than 10k a session.
When I come back from holiday, I’ll be starting my marathon training. This will involve interval training - so some harder, faster sessions. I'll mix up the pace and intensity a lot.

I also do free weight work to build up my strength a little bit.

Is there a community of indoor rowing enthusiasts?
Yes! When I joined the gym, I set up a profile on the Concept2 website (as very few people at my gym seemed to use the rowing machines). There’s a big community on the website. I joined a virtual team called 'Empty the Tank' and we do different challenges, including team challenges across the world. It’s great to be able to share ideas and pose and answer questions with other rowers.
I've also made lots of rowing friends on Twitter. Some just row on machines, some row on water, some think I’m crazy! It’s a really lovely community of people and everyone's been incredibly supportive. They know I’m just an ordinary person trying to do something hard.
I’m very willing to listen to new ideas on how to improve. I post a picture of my monitor on Twitter after every row. People will say ‘crumbs, your stroke rate is just stupid - you need to do this’. It’s amazing. I think they realise that I’m not trying to impress; I’m just trying to learn how to improve in order to hit my goal.
The more involved in these communities I'm getting, the more I'm realising that lots of other women also gave up sport at a young age. I love hearing about the various projects that are trying to encourage people to lead an active life.
I’m physically stronger as a result of all my rowing - but there's no denying that I'm also emotionally and mentally stronger (for example, rowing helped me to keep my chin up - literally and metaphorically - when my mum died). A friend of mine recently commented that I now walk with my head held higher. I didn’t think I looked any different - I’m not a massively confident person and I think I have more self-doubt than most - but I now know that I can row a half marathon ... and that feels great!
Have lots of people noticed a change in you?
I recently had lunch with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a few months and he said ‘you look like you’ve lost loads of weight’. I’m actually the same weight as I always was - but I've probably built up more muscle. So my party trick now is to as people if they want to feel my abs! Nobody would have ever expected me to be that sort of person. It’s such a confidence builder.
I have these dreams about getting a group of ladies together and us all rowing half marathons. There could be a whole line of us rowing together; it could be a real community effort.
One woman said to me ‘I need to get fit, can I come and row with you?’ It’s amazing that she contacted me and said that - she just found me on Twitter.
You’ve already rowed over 400k. Have there been any points during the challenge when you’ve struggled to stay motivated?
No as I just know I'll feel better afterwards! Some days are 'dig deep days', when I’m not on top form. The other day I wasn’t feeling great but I thought 'a bit of Dolly Parton and a bit of rowing and I’ll be just fine!'. I don’t doubt that I will do the million metres. And, as long as I make sure I do the training, I should also be able to complete the marathon.
There was one time when I was getting very tired and so I took a couple of extra days off and had a bit of a whinge! I wasn’t hydrating properly and wasn't going to bed early enough. I also didn't have a very good technique. Therefore, last week, I went to see Eddie Fletcher, a sports scientist. He’s a really great guy and within five minutes he got my stroke rate down from 34/35 to 16/17. This means that I'm now much more efficient.
So no, I don’t ever not want to do it. I don’t have a life - but I absolutely love it! And when I do the marathon it will be five days before my 50th birthday, so it will be exciting turning 50 knowing that I can row a marathon!
And you say that your marathon and the final leg of your challenge will be on 21st December?
Yes. We want to be together for mum’s anniversary (the 21st), to celebrate her life, and so it seemed like a fitting day to do it on. There will be cake and tea and we'll invite people over. I’ll do it somewhere where people can enjoy the afternoon and where there can be a raffle. We'll make the day a celebration of me finishing the challenge, a celebration of mum's life and we'll raise awareness of the fantastic work what Macmillan do. Everyone is welcome!
Your fundraising target is £4,219.50 (as a marathon is 42,195 metres) and you're raising money for Macmillan. Tell us more.
They have an office in Shipley, near Bradford, which I got to go round. They have a floor which is dedicated to helpers who speak to people who call to say that they've just been told, or have recently been told, that they have cancer. The helpers furnish the callers with understanting and advice on a range of things. For example, the mother of a friend of mine is currently having chemo and was getting very stressed when trying to find a car parking space at the hospital. So a Macmillan Nurse arranged for her to have a parking spot at the hospital. Knowing that she now has somewhere to park has helped to relieve some of her stress. Macmillan can help with all sorts of things like that. For us, we found that the Macmillan Nurses were always there to guide us through a maze of situations.
You're currently almost at 50% of your fundraising target.
Yes, I’m about 44% through the challenge and have raised approx 44% of my sponsorsip target!
I've raised money in a variety of ways. For example, my son’s school is organising a coffee morning (Macmillan are well-known for their 'World’s Biggest Coffee Morning'), I’ll do some bag packing and I also have some other ideas.
During the marathon, I’ll be rowing for four hours and hence will be listening to a lot of music! I have a text donate number set up, where you text a code, an amount and a message and can request a song for me to listen to. My sons want me to listen to Eminem and Skrillex and stuff that I would never normally listen to! I might also say that for £10 I’ll row a kilometer in someone’s name, and have a poster up with all the names on.
How else has finding your sporting groove helped you?
Even if I wasn’t doing the challenge, just the rowing itself helps to keep my head straight really. I never really used to understand that about sport. I’d read about people who would say that running made them feel better and I just I didn't get it. I now really get what they were saying! If, as a result of my challenge, it inspires just a couple of people to get on a rower and reap the benefits, I'd be so chuffed!
The Support for Sport UK message is so important. As I mentioned earlier, girls and women tend to stop doing sport at quite a young age. But if they were to exercise during their teenage years, or after they'd just had a baby, they would really benefit from the confidence that sport brings.
Thanks for your time Jo, and good luck with the rest of your brilliant challenge!
If you want to donate to Jo’s Million Metre Challenge and raise dome vital funds for for Macmillan Cancer Research, click here or text: #HAPY80 to 70070.
You can also find out more about Macmillan here.