In early August, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and endurance athlete Sami Inkinen, 38, and his wife, Meredith Loring, 34, finished the Great Pacific Race by rowing from California to Hawaii. It took them 45 days to complete the journey, making them the fastest pair to ever row across the Pacific, the first couple to row from Monterey, California, to Honolulu, and Inkinen, who is originally from Finland, the first Finnish person to row across any ocean.
Although Inkinen and Loring had limited rowing experience, they were able to complete a journey that proved a miserable failure for many other racers, and in doing so they were able to raise more than $200,000 for a cause close to them: bringing awareness to the dangers people face by eating diets high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, which has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
“We are using this as a platform to raise awareness and raise funds against sugar and for whole-foods-based nutrition,” Inkinen, whose charity partner for the expedition was the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, which is run by Dr. Robert Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco, told GrindTV before he set out across the Pacific.
Indeed, as part of this mission to raise awareness, Inkinen and Loring decided to fuel themselves with a high-fat diet during the journey, obtaining a majority of their calories from fat, some protein, and limited carbohydrates, as new research is suggesting that high fat, low carbohydrate diets may actually be the healthiest way to eat after all.
We caught up with Inkinen after he landed in Honolulu to see how he was holding up. (Incidentally, while Inkinen and Loring were nearing Hawaii, news broke that real estate website trulia.com, which Inkinen cofounded, is being acquired by Zillow for $3.5 billion in stock.) Here’s what he had to say:
The Great Pacific Race proved extremely difficult for many teams, with some even having to be rescued by the Coast Guard. Given you and your wife had so little experience rowing, why do you think you were able to succeed—on your first try—when so many others failed?
To our knowledge, only 12 people have rowed the Pacific Ocean before. Now I know there’s a good reason why so few people have succeeded in it. There’s only a 90-day window each year to even consider rowing from California to Hawaii due to winds and hurricanes. Although we chose our launch date carefully, we were immediately hit with strong winds of 25+ knots and what looked like house-sized waves when we left from Monterey. While we had no prior rowing experience, we paid a lot of attention to details in our preparation: We got the best boat we could, equipped every detail well, and spent countless hours training our bodies for the expedition. I think when you combine a little bit of luck, meticulous preparation, and very hard work, you can succeed in anything.
Was there ever a time during the journey where you guys thought you wouldn’t make it? If so, how did you get through this?
Although we had plenty of scary moments, we never felt that our lives were at risk. However, the first two weeks were very tough, because the strong winds were pushing us back to California shore. We weren’t sure if we could get off the California coast at all and thought that we might need to land in Mexico. We created a plan B and decided to row significantly off-course towards south to get around the weather system and wait for lesser winds, if needed. Once we had a new plan, we just put our heads down and rowed. After three weeks, we knew that we were off the coastal weather system and then it would be just a matter of hard work to eventually get to Hawaii.
Given you guys fueled mostly on fat, was there ever a time during the journey when you would have killed for a nice carb-loaded pizza or piece of chocolate cake? (Also, just want to confirm that you guys did indeed eat lard, nuts, coconut butter, and dehydrated salmon, grass-fed beef, and some fruits and vegetables?)
The diet is correct. Although the beef was not grass-fed, unfortunately. I ate about 9 percent carb calories, 70 percent fat calories and 21 percent protein calories.
The interesting and somewhat surprising thing to me was that all our food cravings went away with a real-food-based diet that is low in carbs. Typically after just a couple of hours of exercising, for example on a bike, you start fantasizing about food and different treats you should have next. I thought we’d be dreaming about foods, especially high-carb treats, all the time on the boat. But it was just the opposite. We had none of that thanks to the diet we followed. And once we finished 45 days later, the only thing we craved was a huge glass of icy sparkling water. We only had dinner 6 hours after arrival!
What was it like going through such a strenuous physical event using mostly fat for fuel? How did your body feel?
I think the biggest benefits for me were steady energy all day and no food cravings at all. I ate when I was hungry, which was two to four times a day, and I really didn’t crave anything while on the boat. And we rowed up to 21 hours per day each, with an average of 12 to 14 hours per day. It’s tough to evaluate recovery under different diets, but given we were able to continue this day in, day out for 45 days without getting slower at the end, I think we got something right. I also didn’t touch any pain killers, not even ibuprofen, which I’ve heard is the daily medicine for almost all past ocean rowers.
What was your routine like on a day-to-day basis, and how did you feel mentally and physically on a day-to-day basis?
I found that it was very helpful to have a routine, a daily set of things you look forward to: brushing teeth, starting row shift, lunch, reading email, shower, etc. That routine made the day interesting and helped to break it into small chunks. Meredith and I rowed at slightly different shifts, but my last week’s routine was roughly this: 10 a.m. wake up, breakfast, and start rowing. Then row until 4 a.m. or 18 hours close to non-stop without leaving my rowing seat. Then sleep 6 hours and repeat again. I took a “shower” just before going to sleep, as well as brushed my teeth. I typically had a 30- to 40-minute lunch break mid-afternoon and a couple shorter eating breaks in the afternoon, while sitting at my rowing position. If I was very tired, I took a nap.
You had mentioned to me before you left that such an event could wreak havoc on a marriage, but judging by your photos and blog, it looks like your guys had a great time together. How was the journey for you guys relationship-wise?
Although we had a solid relationship to begin with, we thought there was a serious possibility that our marriage would fall apart during the expedition. Yes, we are very pragmatic, even when it comes to marriage! Or, at least we thought a break-up was much more likely than it would be in regular life. Well, luckily we were wrong and the 45-day crossing turned out to be an amazing shared life experience. We learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship and came out loving each other even more than when going in. I’m glad we got to experience everything together.
You are now the fastest pair and mixed pair to ever row across the Pacific, the first couple to row from California to Hawaii, the first Finnish person to row across any ocean, and Trulia is in an ongoing acquisition by Zillow for $3.5 billion in stock. You must feel on top of the world. So what’s next for you?
I try not to cling on to any accomplishments or results, whether they are good or bad. I like moving forward, staying active, and building new things. After catching up on sleep a bit, my life will hopefully include more of all those things. But probably no more rowing for a while!
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