June 28, 2015 was my most recent race and it was also the longest race I’ve ever attempted. The James River Rundown in Central Virginia was in its second year this past summer and in addition to a repeat of the inaugural 100-mile race begun in 2014, they added a 20-mile and a 40-mile race this year.
Since I had not trained for or ever attempted a 100-mile race before, I thought it more sensible to enter one of the shorter races to see how it would go. Since I’ve raced half marathons before and the 20-miler was not all that much more, I figured the 40-miler would be a good test to see how a longer race is and then size-up the situation to maybe enter the 100-miler next year. It was long enough to push the limits beyond anything I had attempted before yet short enough that if I couldn’t make a race out of it I could at least paddle it casually and not be stuck on the river for an entire day (or night!)
Now there is an interesting dilemma. How do you choose a boat for a section of river you’ve never paddled before?
Lots of time on Google Earth, of course.
After my virtual scouting of the river and reading some of the discussion on the race’s website forum, I decided against taking my 21′ Kevlar marathon racing kayak in favor of a plastic racing/training boat that would provide a good combination of speed, stability and durability in the chance of confrontations with rocks. The Cobra Viper kayak was the selected boat.
The morning was beautiful and the paddling was great. The river was at a high level due to rain the day before and the 7am start at Cartersville, VA allowed me to paddle in the shade from shoreline trees for the first couple hours to avoid heat and direct sunlight. Paddling in the heat of sunshine saps energy quickly and can also pose physical dangers when pushing your physical limits for hours.
I hung back for a few seconds when the starting gun fired and then quickly broke into a brisk paddling cadence. It was faster than I knew I could sustain, but I thought I might be able to bait a few of the other racers into get off to a quick sprint with me so I could size them up and figure out what my strategy would be for the rest of the race.
It didn’t take more than a quarter mile or so to work my way to the front of the pack and then I had a choice to make. Settle into a sustainable marathon pace or push it hard for a little while longer to send a message and put everyone on notice.
I decided to put everyone on notice.
Maybe a little demoralization was what they needed to not attempt to catch me.
By mile #3 I could not see anyone behind me so I knew I had put a sizable gap between myself and the rest of the pack. Now I settled into a sustainable pace not knowing if it was fast enough to maintain the gap or if I burned too much energy too soon and would hit the wall later in the race.
A little bit about nutrition here, and I will go into in this in much more detail in further posts.
I have been experimenting with various different type of diets (that means what I eat, not restricting calories) for the past couple years and put myself into a state of dietary ketosis prior to the race. Dietary ketosis is when you switch your body over from burning carbohydrates to burning fats for energy. Again, much more about this way of eating in future posts, but the nutrition I took with me for this race was beef jerky and almonds along with plenty of water and Nuun tablets. No sugar. No grains. No goos. No sports drinks. My body felt like a well-oiled machine for the entire race and I was able to keep up a fairly brisk pace. I never did hit the wall.
One of the more interesting aspects of this particular race is that at one point, the river splits into several different channels going around several islands. These islands are long enough that you don’t really know if you chose the fastest route and you don’t know if a different paddler chose a different channel that was faster and he or she got ahead of you.
I emerged from the islands and saw some paddlers ahead of me. Shoot! At least one or two boats got ahead of me somehow. The weird thing was, I was able to pick up my pace and close in on these other boats very quickly. It turns out, they just happened to be recreational paddlers out there that day and were not participating in the race.
Toward the end of the race near Richmond, VA, I spotted one of the safety boaters in a power boat going upstream. He then circled back and was coming past me from behind. I yelled out to him and asked if there were close paddlers behind me and he informed me that the nearest competitor was at least two miles behind. I got a giant smile on my face and knew I just had to stay upright and not do anything stupid for the remaining few miles.
Alas, I glided across the finish line and onto the boat ramp and was informed that I was the first 40-miler in. Wow! Success in my first big race. My lower back was very sore but otherwise I felt fine and actually a bit energized.
Official time: 5 hrs, 2min, 15 minutes ahead of the second place paddler. My GPS clocked me at 4hrs, 54 min moving time, which did not include a short bio break and an inadvertent landing and disembarkment on the wrong dock before the actual finish line.
100-miler, I’m looking at you next year.
Watch my race video: