The Rhine Rowing Marathon: A Race for Masochists?

Photo: Ruderclub Germania Düsseldorf 1904 e. V.

9 October 2018

By Göran R Buckhorn

Every year, around 900 rowers race 42.8 km on the busy Rhine River in Germany. HTBS’s Göran R Buckhorn tries to find an answer for why they go through the pain.

Why would anyone race 42,800 metres on a busy river with commercial vessels, under bridges while trying to navigate past other rowing competitors? Good questions. Approximately 900 rowers are doing it annually competing in the Rhine Rowing Marathon in Germany.

On 6 October, for the 47th year, rowers, from juniors to masters (age over 70), from France, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and clubs from around Germany raced in a wide type of coxed quadruple sculls between the rowing clubs Bayer RTHC Leverkusen and  Ruderclub Germania Düsseldorf. It takes anything between two hours to, well, when you pass the finish line after having rowed 42.8 km, but the average time is 2.5 hours.

‘This was my third marathon row on the Rhine,’ Kenneth Alfelt told HTBS. Alfelt, a Swede who is a member of Jönköpings Roddsällskap, came directly to the competition from the World Rowing Masters Regatta in Sarasota, USA, which ended on 30 September. This time, the marathon race was held on a sunny, warm day. But racing 42.8 km sounds like torture, a race for masochists?

‘Of course, sitting at the start, you always wonder what you have signed up for and why: at least 2.5 hours of non-stop rowing, your hands and back will be aching, the frustration over all the #*^&# barges, which are creating swells,’ Alfelt said. He added, ‘But there is a thrill of rowing the 42,800 metres on the Rhine along with 900 other crazy people. The feeling of crossing the finish line, getting a locally brewed beer and laying down on the grass at edge of the Rhine is indescribable.’

Photo: Ruderclub Germania Düsseldorf 1904 e. V.

Even the organising club, Ruderclub Germania Düsseldorf 1904 e. V. wonder on their website why anyone would like to row in their race. ‘Warum’, they ask?

Alfelt continued: ‘This year, there was unusually less water in the river, which made the flow slower along the whole course adding at least 15 minutes to the time. Nevertheless, Germania Düsseldorf Rowing Club had organised an incredible event.’

Here is a 10-minute video from the 2017 race.

At this year’s marathon race, the rowing club from Jönköping competed in six boats with 24 people: a women’s junior crew from Gränna School, a women’s crew, three men’s crews and a men’s masters crew (55+). The best Swedish boat was Alfelt’s. In the crew was also Mats Jangefors, Lars Lidén and Rimvydas Sulinskas.

‘This is truly a “must-race” that every rower should do once in their lifetime,’ Alfelt said.

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