Training for the James River Rundown

I had the day off today for Good Friday and after waiting a bit to see if it was going to rain (it was very overcast with some sprinkles this morning,) I decided to head out to get in some base miles in preparation for the James River Rundown 100 mile race.

I got up and ate about 4 strips of bacon and 3 eggs and by the time I hit the water it was noon.

I skipped lunch.

I should also point out that I got myself into a state of dietary ketosis this past week.  (I’m never more than 2 or 3 days away from being in ketosis.)

I hit the water with my Thunderbolt-X kayak (my go-to flat water training boat) and new custom wing paddle and made the conscious decision to paddle for 20 or so miles rather than my typical workout which is geared toward maintaining relatively high speeds for 10 or 12 miles, with an all-out sprint for the first 5.

This was a huge mental shift.

It was very windy and the water was choppy.  I had to force myself to start out at a much slower pace than what I’m used to on my training runs.  I normally like to start out sprinting for 5 miles but today I wanted to paddle more miles to build calluses and log some base miles for my ultra-marathon in June.

I logged more miles on my local reservoir today than I ever have in one day before, and the wind was definitely a factor.  At one point when I was paddling directly into a brisk wind I remembered the words of one of my paddling heroes, Oscar Chulupsky, in a interview in some article when he stated, “You have to shift gears.”  He was talking about adjusting his wing paddle due to changing or different conditions on the water.

So with Oscar’s words reverberating in my head, I started playing with my paddle.

I normally paddle with a 30 degree offset but I tried different settings and found that a 50 degree offset seems to work well for me in windy conditions and seemed to favor a better stroke for a marathon pace.

I ended up paddling 20.7 miles and averaged 5.5mph. That was slower than I thought it would be, but not unexpected given the windy conditions.

The only nutrition I had with me on the outing was a 25 ounce water bottle with water and BCAA’s.

I was fine.

In fact, I didn’t need to eat again until a few hours after I got home at around 7pm.  That’s a full day with 21 miles of paddling on 3 eggs and 4 strips of bacon.

Being fat adapted is great!

I learned a few things as take-aways for my upcoming James River Rundown adventure.

  1. I need to paddle a boat with a bit more stability that will allow me to lean back, twist my torso, and stretch my back without fear of overturning.  My back isn’t going to be able to handle a tippy kayak for 100 miles.  I’ll need to move around and fidget more.
  2. I’m going to have to remind myself to start out at a steady, slower, marathon pace which is counter to all the training I’ve ever done.  Marathon not a sprint…marathon not a sprint.  I’ll be repeating this mantra for 90-95 miles.
  3. I need to continue to experiment with different offsets and lengths with my wing paddle to figure out what might be the best starting settings for race day.  I’m so used to the same settings that it is going to take me a while to play around and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
  4. Loose hand grip on the paddle shaft will be essential
  5. I need to be in dietary ketosis on race day.

It was a great day on the water and I have an early season sunburn on my arms and shoulders now.

Let the training continue.

3-25-16bFeeling a little grizzled after 21 miles


First day of Spring in Charlottesville

So this past Sunday, 3/20, at the last minute, I decided to hit my local river, The Rivanna, for some late afternoon paddling.  It was a bit chilly with low water temperatures so I wore a wet suit, but I simply needed a bit of a change from flat water training.

I had my wife run shuttle for me and I hit the water in my Necky Looksha IV at ~5pm and hoped for a fast run so I could be off the water before it got dark.

I decided to run the race route for the Rivanna River Regatta Canoe & Kayak Races in order to do a little pre-scouting of the river and see if any trees or other obstacles will need to be cleared prior to race day.

I put in just below the reservoir dam and ran to Riverview Park and made the trip in ~84 minutes.  That was an average of ~5.8mph for the 8.12 miles.

I turned my camera on just upstream of the railroad trestle rapids and kept it rolling until just past the fallen Sycamore tree that obstructed the river last May on race day (You can see the tree at 5:00 of the video.)

I had a pleasant run and was the only one on the river.

It was a great way to welcome Spring.


2015 was an odd year and my outdoor training took a huge hit.

We made a local move to a new home in the Spring of 2015 and between getting the old house ready for market and settling into the new home and all that goes with it, my free time for kayaking and cycling was limited.

The upside in terms of fitness, however, was that we moved from the country into a neighborhood with a fully equipped fitness center so I started spending a lot of evening hours in the gym.  If I couldn’t be outdoors training during the day then I’d at least be training hard in the gym in the evenings to build some muscle and drop some fat to enhance my skills on the water.

On the first Saturday in May I took time out from unpacking boxes and maintaining two properties to race once again in the Nelson Downriver Race on the Tye River.  I wanted to race this race in my Phoenix again to make it past Rockpile rapids without incident.

NelsonDownriver2015RockpileMaking it through Rockpile Rapids with ease, although a tree branch stole my favorite paddling hat

I did not get a great start as another paddler went perpendicular in the first rapid and I wound up tangled with his boat for a while, but I soon recovered and had a fairly good run downriver in my Phoenix Match II kayak.  I thought I would place well because I passed a lot of people on the river during the race and when I came across the finish line I did not see anyone in front of me.

As it turned out, two paddlers finished well ahead of me and one more started behind me in a different heat but would end up posting a time more than a minute faster than me so I took forth place overall.  It was a finish that was not at all unsurprising since I had only been on the water two times that year prior to the race and wasn’t in any sort of condition.

Crossing the finish line at the 2015 Nelson Downriver Race in my Phoenix Match II kayak

As has become tradition, the very next Saturday I was back at my local race, the Rivanna River Regatta Canoes & Kayak Races.

I was unsure of the water levels that day so I loaded up two boats on my vehicle the night before and would decide at race time which was the better choice.  That is to say, I knew what the river gauges were telling me the day before but I held out hope for some rain overnight.

The rain did not come.

I checked out the finish line first thing and saw that the water was low and I also heard reports that there was a fallen Sycamore tree across the river that left only a narrow passage, river-left that most likely would require a portage during the race.

So I decided one again on the Phoenix Match II because it was shorter and lighter than the other boat on top of my vehicle and it would skim off rocks more easily in low water.

The starting horn blew and I got off to…the absolute worst start ever.

I still don’t know what exactly happened to me at the starting line that morning, but somehow I started river-left and my boat started drifting into the center of the river within the first few paddle strokes.  Rather than kill my speed and make the proper correction early, I decided to try to power through a gradual correction and that, combined with the waves from others’ boats, only made matters worse and pushed me more to the right, right across the river in front of almost all the other racers.

My embarrassing start at the 2015 Rivanna River Race

I was very embarrassed and felt I had already blown the race but I kept my eye on the leader and decided to sprint to try to catch up to him.  He was paddling a Perception Wavehopper kayak and I knew he would be tough to catch.

I spent a lot of energy catching up to him but I did, and then passed him.  I did not know if I had enough energy and endurance left to hold him off for the rest of the race but I was able to and never lost the lead after I got in front.

It was close, though.

I would put some distance between us in the flat water and he would narrow the gap through the rapids.  This cycle repeated several times.

We both made it through the narrow, shallow section around the fallen Sycamore tree without getting out of our boats, though.

I came across the finish line in first place and found myself in a position I did not expect to be in. A three-peat winner of the local race.

Chillaxing after the 2015 Rivanna River Race

I competed in one more race that year, and that was the 40-mile James River Rundown that I described when I started this blog back in November.

And that, my friends, is where I started revealing this journey to you.

I created this blog to tell you my story and to document my journey not only for my children to read at some point but for others who might just be getting into fitness mid-life.

From this point forward I’ll be essentially “live blogging,” but will also fill you in on more of my diet and exercise routine along the way.

Before I started taking things seriously a few years ago  I weighed ~180 pounds and was ~20% body fat.  At my lightest weight immediately after the 2014 Storming of Thunder Ridge 100-mile bike ride I weighed in at 159 pounds and was ~13% body fat.  That was way too light and unhealthy for me considering I got there in ~16 months.

I’ve under-eaten to the point where my metabolism and hormones crashed, I’ve suffered brain fog, tendonitis, twitching eye lids, sleeplessness, night sweats, and irritability under the guise of losing fat and getting healthy and there is one thing for sure I can tell you.

Eating at a significant caloric deficit for any length of time is not healthy and is not sustainable.

After figuring out how to eat and train to add muscle and lose fat, I’m now at ~176 pounds at ~16% body fat.  I’m just about where I want to be, but am currently in a cutting phase for Spring.  I think I’m safe to lose 3-4 pounds.

I’ve been eating at a slight caloric surplus for months (by design) and I know I’ve added muscle mass by lifting heavy and then high volume in the gym over the winter months and am looking forward to shedding a few pounds to strip off a bit of the fat to see what is left underneath.

It is time to maintain my muscle for kayaking season but to also lighten up to float higher on the water.

I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to weight lifting, training, dieting, and supplements and would like to share one pearl of wisdom with you at this point if you are trying to lose weight and get in shape.

Figure out how many calories you need to maintain your current weight and do not go over or under that caloric intake by a drastic amount whether you are trying to add muscle or lose weight.

Do not do a drastic bulking phase and do not do a drastic cut/crash-diet phase.

Proper diet (i.e. What you eat) and patience are 95% of the game.  Aside from that, be active, keep moving, and lift heavy things regularly to maintain or add muscle mass at any age.

It can be done.

No sugar, no grains, lift heavy things, don’t eat significantly over or under maintenance calories, and keep moving!  Use it or lose it.



2014 was a different sort of year for me in terms of paddling.  I paddled 378 miles in 2013 but only 136 in 2014.  I didn’t enter two of my staple races because a) The Nelson Downriver Race was cancelled that year due to heavy rain and high water and b) The Wye Island Regatta organizers decided to raise the entry fee and I felt $80 was far too much for a kayaker and for a race with no swag bag and limited safety support so I stayed home that year.

I logged many miles on the bike, however, in 2014 and also paddled lots of miles indoors on my kayak ergometer.

I was also hitting it pretty hard in the gym.

I gained some clarity and amassed some knowledge on how to work out to gain strength so I became a gym rat while I continued on my No Sugars, No Grains (NSNG) journey and upped my caloric intake to support my training.  Very low carbs, but lots of natural protein and good fats.

When the second Saturday in May rolled around I was stronger and lighter than I had been in at least 15 years and once again won my local downriver race on the Rivanna River in Charlottesville by more than 2 minutes.  It felt really good to win two years in a row.

That’s me at the starting line in the picture below, right in the center in the orange and yellow boat


Rivanna River Race 2014 

The following Sunday, May 18, 2014 I was back in Lynchburg, VA with my bike to once again peddle the 100 miles of The Storming of Thunder Ridge.  The weather was much better than the year before and I actually got to take in lots of breathtaking scenery rather then just see fog and rain most of the time.

The Storming of Thunder Ridge, 2014

And when Wye Island Regatta weekend rolled around in September, I attempted another, local Century ride in Crozet, VA, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Virginia, Cycling Challenge.


From mile 75 to mile 80 I had a SAG vehicle following me the whole way so I chatted up the driver and asked if I was the last one out on the Century ride and he informed me that I was but that I should take my time that he was in no hurry and had the utmost respect for what I was doing.

I didn’t like the idea of having people waiting on me and certainly didn’t want the SAG driver leapfrogging with me for the last twenty miles and I found myself becoming the opposite of relaxed–which was the whole point of riding.

So I SAGged (SAG stands for Support And Gear, by the way) it back to the finish line and then hopped on my bike for another 20 miles so I could still ride my 100 miles that day.  This was the first ride or race I ever entered where I posted a DNF.

The Boys and Girls Club of Central Virginia Cycling Challenge, 2014

That year I started logging my workouts in the gym and kept track of my progress.  I was progressively lifting heavier and heavier weights and established weight training as a habit.  If I missed a session I was unhappy and when I was on the road, I found a way to get to a gym on gym nights.  I even started carrying kettlebells in my car with me so if I could not find a decent hotel fitness center or local gym I could still do some weighted exercises.

It was the year I transitioned from uninformed, chronic cardio kook to measured fitness enthusiast.

October 2013 and my introduction to Vinnie Tortorich

I travel a lot for my job and spend countless hours in cars and airplanes.  For years I’ve been making use of this time by listening to audio books and podcasts.

By October 2013 I had invested months into weight training, kayaking, and bike riding on my quest for fitness.

I had not yet figured out, however, how to really eat and train properly.  My program was a mess of caloric deficits, random weight lifting routines, and questionable nutrition.

I thought protein powder should be a staple of everyone’s diet.

In October I found myself driving to Atlanta for a coworker’s wedding so I added a couple new audio books from Audible onto my mp3 player (yes, I’m old school and still use an mp3 player as opposed to a mobile phone.)

One of the books that Audible suggested was Fitness Confidential by Vinnie Tortorich.

The book changed my life.

Vinnie’s story is truly inspirational and he introduced me to the world of no sugars, no grains (NSNG.)  In the book, Vinnie tells you how to eat, how to lift weights to build mass and strength, and he also tells you so much more. The book will inspire you, maybe make you cry from Vinnie’s touching story, maybe even help you put your life in perspective, and make you wonder how you keep coming up with so many excuses to keep from getting fit.  The book is part autobiography, part fitness book, part diet book, part self-improvement book but 100% entertaining and inspiring.

I can say that Fitness Confidential was a turning point in my life and it made me take weight training more seriously and more importantly, taught me how to eat properly.

So many people try to eat right but are misled by labels promising to be “heart healthy” or somehow better for you.  Most of these claims are based on faulty science, plain ignorance, or marketing manipulation.

Avoid eating sugars and avoid eating grains and the rest falls into place.