It’s not every day that you talk to someone who just finished a 16-hour rowing session with his wife—but Sami Inkinen, 38, isn’t your everyday guy.
In addition to being a highly successful serial entrepreneur—he cofounded the real estate website trulia.com and sold his first company before he immigrated to the U.S. from Finland in 2002—Inkinen is a top-notch triathlete and endurance athlete. In fact, he’s won an age-group world title in triathlon and countless races.
But these days Inkinen is focusing on an endurance feat that is decidedly bigger than any triathlon: He and his wife, Meredith Loring, 34, are looking to row across the Pacific from San Francisco to Hawaii as part of the Great Pacific Race that begins in June and will ideally take about two months to complete—if Inkinen and Loring row day and night.
“We’ve done all types of multi-day endurance events, and we were looking for something that would push our limits beyond what we've experienced before,” says Inkinen, who hopes to complete the race completely unsupported, with all of the food they will need on board their 20-foot boat, as well as solar panels to power their safety, navigation, and water-filtration systems.
But Inkinen and his wife are also looking to row across the Pacific for another reason: They’d like to bring awareness to the dangers people face by eating diets high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, which has been linked to diseases like 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,” says Inkinen, whose charity partner for the expedition is the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, which is run by Dr. Robert Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco.
Inkinen is so committed to the idea of a no-sugar diet that he and his wife have vowed to complete the journey across the Pacific by fueling themselves mostly on fat—and they are even calling themselves team “Fat Chance.” That is, they plan to use a high-fat, moderate-protein, whole-foods-based diet consisting of no sugar and limited carbohydrates, including salmon, grass-fed beef, lard, nuts, coconut butter, and some fruits and vegetables. (The food will be dehydrated so it can withstand the journey’s hot temperatures.)
If you have ever trained for any type of endurance event, this idea of fueling your body during any endurance race with mostly fat may seem a bit out there—even foolhardy. After all, many of the fastest marathoners and triathletes in the world swear by the effectiveness of Coke during a long race, saying the simple sugars available in this soft drink give their bodies the immediate energy they need.
But Inkinen says that over the last couple of years he has switched to a high-fat, moderate-protein, limited-carbohydrate diet—one where he eats lots of eggs, grass-fed beef, butter, nuts, fish, coconut oil and butter, leafy vegetables, and some fruits and dark chocolate—and in doing so he has transformed his body into a fat-burning machine.
“You can produce an amazing athletic performance with a very low carbohydrate diet,” says Inkinen.
Indeed, in switching his diet, Inkinen has “doubled if not tripled the maximum amount of fat I can burn for energy,” he says, which means his fuel tank—body fat—is virtually indefatigable.
This switch has given Inkinen an almost unfair advantage, he says, because he is now able to maintain a reasonably high intensity almost indefinitely during an endurance event. (During races, Inkinen says he still needs to consume limited long-chain carbohydrates, of which he usually eats about 100 calories per hour.)
Of course, fueling isn’t the only challenge Inkinen and his wife will face, and Inkinen says he and his wife have spent the last eight months figuring out what gear they’ll need, training their bodies for the specific physical challenges they’ll face, and, most important, training themselves in ocean survival, including by taking ocean survival courses.
“We're trying to row across as fast as we can, but we don't want to put ourselves in a risk that would be unjustified,” says Inkinen.
They’ve also attempted to prepare themselves psychologically for the emotional toll the journey could take on their relationship.
“We are realists—it's going to be a big test on our relationship and marriage,” says Inkinen.
If all goes to plan, Inkinen hopes that he and Loring will become the fastest pair and mixed pair to ever row across the Pacific, the first couple to row from California to Hawaii, and that he will become the first Finnish person to row across any ocean.
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