Just over three years ago Duncan Roy was serving as a Royal Engineer in the British Army. After a career-ending injury, he was medically discharged. A tough time for this Yorkshire man who loved the military. With the support of friends and family and a positive attitude, Duncan’s turned things around. In fact, he’s clocked up one epic adventure after another.
The World Record
It was whilst in rehabilitation that Duncan discovered indoor rowing. Indoor rowing led to river rowing and ultimately that led to ocean rowing. Today he runs a successful coaching business helping rowers to build resilience and achieve their goals. He’s rowed the Atlantic twice and circumnavigated 82% of Britain’s coastline. More recently, along with his teammates, Duncan broke a World Record. He can now say he was a member of the fastest team to row 2,400 nautical miles from San Francisco to Hawaii in the Great Pacific Race. Not bad considering the whole journey started three years ago on an indoor rowing machine. The race took them 30 days, seven hours, and 30 minutes. Between them, they rowed two hours on and two hours off 24/7. Conditions were extreme including 74mph wind and 30-foot waves.
“My Elliot Brown Bloxworth has been with me for all of my ocean rows to date and I wouldn’t go to sea without it!”
Rowing has indeed delivered more than a World Record for Duncan, it’s been a lifesaver. He says, “It allows me to train and compete as if I am not injured. When I row I don’t feel injured and can push myself to my limits. Rowing has slowly become my life. I even met my partner Yeen through rowing. Now, rowing gives me a huge sense of purpose and identity, as well as access to the awesome community that surrounds it … all of the things I missed when I left the military“.
Here, we catch up with Duncan to find out more about what drives him and what’s next.
When training on your Concept2, rowing for hours on your own, what do you think about? Do you have a playlist you listen to? If so, what favourite tunes help you through?
I do listen to music. I’ve gradually built up my playlist over the past few years of rowing, full of songs that get me fired up. It’s an eclectic mix, everything from Elton John to ACDC.
How do you mentally prepare for such tough challenges? Do you meditate?
My mental preparation goes hand-in-hand with my physical preparation. I do long sessions on the indoor rowing machine, often early in the morning. This gives me some adversity to overcome, putting myself outside of my comfort zone. I don’t meditate in the traditional sense but during my longer sessions, it is very meditative. There’s a lot of visualisation when I row.”
Well, you were clearly prepared for this latest challenge, smashing the previous world record, however was there a moment on the boat when you’d wished you’d focused on something more?
There is always room for improvement and, as a coach, I am looking for those valuable lessons so I can take them forward with me. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting and journaling. Since returning I’ve looked at what we could have improved upon and what I would do differently next time.
Taking part in such epic challenges requires resilience. How have you built up this skill or have you always been resilient?
Resilience is built when you are out of your comfort zone. At the start of my first ocean row, I was very inexperienced in the realms of ocean rowing/sailing/open ocean expeditions. Clearly, I was out of my comfort zone but I was very driven, motivated, and committed to my goal which was to row across that particular ocean. Over the years I have had my fair share of adverse situations, crew dynamics, weather, technical issues. That definitely helps to build resilience, as well as experience. I try to utilise my experience so that I don’t have to exercise as much resilience on the next challenge. Inevitably different challenges present themselves so I have found it to be a constant process of learning and growing.
You spent over 30 days with your teammates, Angus Collins, Jordan Shuttleworth and Jason Caldwell. How did you cope with each other’s idiosyncrasies?
Having a clear Mission Statement and values helped us to be aligned from day one. We also worked with Tom and Ollie from Fortitude Four. They supported us as a team, helped us to understand our individual strengths and how we work together as a team. Their support had a positive impact on us as a team and enabled us to work effectively and perform to the best of our ability.
During the race did you become obsessed with the distance and time covered each day and did you get disappointed if you didn’t hit your target?
Naturally, you always get sucked into the numbers game and morale does tend to fluctuate with your daily mileage. We would try and be realistic with our expectations and look at the bigger picture. Some days, where we experienced headwinds, we had very low mileage but in the face of the conditions, it was a huge achievement. In those situations we had to remind ourselves of that and manage our expectations on those days. Our average daily mileage was 75 nautical miles which equals just over a 3-knot average.
Whilst crossing the Pacific Ocean was there a specific breath-taking moment?
Seeing a ‘moonbow’ … essentially a rainbow that was created by the moonlight. It happened on one of the nights where we were experiencing heavy rain showers.
Were there any embarrassing moments on the boat that you can disclose?
Mistaking the rising moon for a ship!
What home comfort did you miss the most on the challenge?
A full night’s sleep!
What did you do for downtime during the race, apart from sleep?
We watched a few movies through the crossing. We watched Legends Of The Fall, Gladiator, and Rudy as well as some of the Peaky Blinders series. Apart from that it was pretty much just rest and sleep for the majority of the downtime we had.
How did you keep your energy levels up during a race of that magnitude? What’s your ‘go to’ energy snack?
Keeping on top of your nutrition is obviously important to maintain your performance on the oars. I tried to avoid anything with masses of sugar in. This helped me to keep constant, within my energy levels, rather than experience spikes and troughs. My go-to energy snack was a Belvita biscuit.
After the race how did you ‘kick back and relax’?
Lots of good food and rest! Fortunately, Hawaii is a good place to relax. We went surfing a couple of days after finishing. Our loved ones couldn’t come out to the finish due to the travel restrictions so it was really nice to have some time with Yeen when I got back to the UK.
On top of your career as a rowing coach you must train for hours for challenges like this. Yeen must be very patient. Does she join you on the water and enjoy rowing too?
Yeen is extremely supportive and has been there for me during all of my expeditions over the years. Ocean rowing is a huge commitment. As you have highlighted there’s not only the time spent on the water but there’s the preparation and training time too. Without her support, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She has a lot of current commitments with her career but I think she’ll tackle her own ocean row when the time is right. She will be a phenomenal ocean rower, I have no doubt.
What key advice would you give to others planning an endurance row?
Leave no stone unturned in your preparation. Give yourself every chance of success and remember to enjoy the process. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
Your chosen charity for this challenge was Sport In Mind that helps people with mental health challenges through the medium of sport. Leaving your career in the military through injury was tough – life-changing even – did Sport In Mind help you on your road to recovery? How much did you raise?
I didn’t know about Sport In Mind when I transitioned from the military. It was actually my former teammate, Gus Barton from our GB Row, that introduced me to the Charity. They really are incredible and play such a vital role in today’s society. Charities like Sport In Mind are especially important after the year we have just experienced. The lockdowns, closed gyms and sports facilities and the lack of face-to-face social engagement take their toll. Through the last two rowing challenges, we have raised just over £8,000 for Sport In Mind.
And finally, you’ve rowed the Atlantic twice, circumnavigated 82% of Britain’s coastline and you’ve been part of a team that has broken a world record, becoming the fastest to complete the Great Pacific Race. What’s next?
For now, I am straight back into coaching. I’m focused on ensuring my teams are prepared and raring to go this December for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2021. In the future … who knows? I’ve got lots of ideas, energy, and enthusiasm for the sport so I’m sure it won’t be my last ocean row.