This year’s James River Rundown had 4 different variants, a 120-mile race, a 50-miler, a 25-miler and a 5 mile fun float. I paddled in the 120-miler, beginning at 6am (yikes!) across the river from downtown Lynchburg, VA.
I cashed in some loyalty points and stayed at the Holiday Inn directly across the river from the starting line the night before and walked to dinner at The Depot Grille and had an amazing dinner consisting of a huge rack of ribs, broccoli, salad, and two or three chicken wings. When I was finished gorging myself I put in an odd request since I knew I wouldn’t be able to find food at 4:30am the next morning.
I asked for an order of bacon and eggs to go so I could pop it in the refrigerator in the room and just microwave it in the morning. The kitchen staff kindly accommodated my request so I had a To Go box with breakfast in hand as I walked back to the hotel the long way so I could see a little more of the city. I will definitely be back to the Depot Grille and highly recommend it.
The alarm went off at 4am Saturday and I was a bit concerned right away when I bent over to pack up my duffle bag and stood back up and felt some pain in my lower back. I didn’t think too much of it, though, as I filled my CamelBak bladders with water and headed out to the front of the hotel where Paddling Buddy Dave and his wife were to pick me up at 5am.
We got to the boat ramp, unloaded boats and gear and I noticed another paddler pull in with what looked like an identical boat. I walked over to meet him and helped him carry his boat to the starting line and we placed it right next to my Pyranha Octane at the starting line. His name was Bill and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him at that point, but he seemed like a nice enough guy.
We all got onto the water and lined up at the starting line waiting for the start and then we were off and racing.
The 120-mile starting line with downtown Lynchburg, VA in the background
I was using my Fenn 3 wing paddle and did a bit of a sprint at the start of the race and jumped to an early, fleeting lead before Paddling Buddy Dave passed me in his Epic V7 followed shortly by Ethan in another Epic V7. This was the showdown I was waiting for to see which of these boats was faster.
I got a clear answer rather quickly.
They created separation between us in the first mile and I was amazed at what a fast start they got off to and thought they would either kill themselves slugging it out on the river all day or one or both of them would crash and burn at some point.
They chose Option A.
I was separating myself from the rest of the pack and thought I was going to be in familiar territory early yet again this year. No Man’s Land. Well behind the leaders but well ahead of the main pack. And that was pretty much the way it was for many of the first 70 miles.
Somewhere around James River State Park, my shoulders were getting sore and I was starting to tire as the sun heated up. The river was shallow and many, many times when I plunged my paddle blade into the water to take a good stroke the end of the blade hit a rock just an inch or two under the water and violently bounced back at me which cause stress on my shoulders and a brief moment of imbalance. This happened too many times to count.
So somewhere after James River State Park I found a rock on the river and stopped and swapped out my Fenn 3 paddle for my custom-made wing paddle I was carrying as a spare in the hatch which had smaller blade surface area and was a less expensive paddle in the event the rocks did real damage to my paddle. I didn’t want to continue to beat my paddle blades into rocks and since I wasn’t running with the Big Dogs I wanted to give my shoulders something with much less resistance to paddle the remainder of the way.
The smaller blades (equivalent now to the Epic mid-wing) were much easier to paddle but I soon resumed really feeling the heat of the day. My lower back was screaming by this point.
I hugged the right shoreline to find shade and took many breaks to stretch my back.
Then I saw Bill in his Think Nitro coming up from behind.
I wasn’t too worried because I knew there was still a lot of river ahead of us, but he caused me to stop taking breaks and paddle with some purpose once again.
Soon we were paddling next to each other and started talking. Bill got a little ahead when we approached Dog Island, just upstream of Howardsville. Bill went left, I went right.
Soon I was paddling past some people on the shoreline with saws and ropes removing a sweeper that extended into the river. Entangled in the tree were the remnants of a canoe. We had been told about a woman who had died on the river earlier in the week because she became entangled with a tree and this was a spot where the main flow went directly into that tree. I knew immediately this was the place where that poor woman lost her life just days before. I bowed my head and stopped paddling as I passed the tree and prayed for her family and friends.
It was a somber moment.
I emerged at the bottom of the island and found Bill was a little behind me at that point. Now I don’t honestly remember if I waited for Bill to catch up to me or if he just caught me, but we resumed chatting as we pulled into the boat ramp at Howardsville for a pit stop. I did a quick refill with water without getting out of the boat and pushed back out quickly but Bill got out of his boat and took a few minutes rest on land.
Not too long later I looked back and saw him behind me on the water again. My back was in great pain and I had just about had it so when he caught up to me again a new dynamic took over. I found out this was to be the longest distance he had ever paddled (in fact, I think 50 miles was more than he ever paddled in one shot) and he learned how much pain I was in and offered me a pain killer.
We then started encouraging each other.
I told him how much nicer it was to paddle with somebody than paddle for hours on end alone and we agreed to paddle together and briefly mentioned something about fighting it out for third place the next day.
But then shortly after that we also talked about how there was really no fame, reward or glory in taking 3rd place in this race and how unlikely it was that anyone in the main pack behind us would catch up to us.
At some point it was discussed that we would each come back in the morning if the other one did and resume paddling together and that it was starting to sound silly to paddle together for so many miles and then try to sprint at the end to beat the other one for no particular reason other than a few seconds difference on some time sheet.
We observed each others’ boats and for the first time truly understood how much rocker these boats have and noticed both the front of the bow and the stern were both out of the water. When you are paddling the boat you don’t see this, but when you are paddling next to one you do.
The bows and sterns both out of the water makes for a shorter waterline and slower boat
This amount of rocker makes for a much shorter waterline and with the flat hull, we truly understood that the Pyranha Octane/Think Nitro (same boat, different badge) was fundamentally a much slower design than the Epic V7.
What is discussed on the river stays on the river, but two people at some point in time might have discussed starting an online flame war between the Pyranha Octane and the Think Nitro, each arguing why his boat is far superior to the other.
As we approached Hatton Ferry I was describing the best line on the river but then opted to just lead the way and show him the best line since I was more familiar with that section of the river.
We pulled into the mandatory overnight stop in Scottsville (Mile #70) together and I honestly didn’t know if I was going to return the next day. I figured I would give myself a few hours and a good meal to see how I felt and then make the call. After a fat filet mignon I bounced back and felt an obligation to Bill. I knew he would be back. He is a strong paddler and I could sense how important this accomplishment was to him.
So we resumed in the morning.
Once again I jumped out with The Big Dogs but knew my boat was no match so I fell back and waited for Bill.
We then paddled the rest of the way together and really enjoyed the day. The rapids at Seven Islands were awesome with some good drops and rock gardens and we made it through with solid lines and just a few bumps.
We caught up to and passed a few of the 25-mile paddlers. We made every pit stop together and waited for each other at each pit stop.
Although at the time the last 50 miles on Day #2 seemed like a slow and boring part of the river, the time passed rather quickly and again I commented how much better I felt mentally paddling with somebody and engaging in pleasant conversation. I explained how paddling for so many hours alone last year did strange things mentally. Last year my mind wandered into ‘the zone’ and when I had a minute or two of human contact at pit stops my crew man sensed I wasn’t quite right mentally and I knew I was struggling to put a coherent sentence together.
There was none of that this year. Bill and I enjoyed each others’ company and the conversation kept our minds occupied and in a much better place.
We were not paddling leisurely either, regardless of what it might have looked like at the pit stops. We maintained a pretty good pace together.
So we got to the finish line in a dead even tie for third place. We found out that Paddling Buddy Dave came in second place behind Ethan and those two did indeed push each other all-out for two days.
I grinned and almost felt guilty knowing I had a significantly more enjoyable 120-mile journey, made a friend along the way, and still managed to come in third place.
The number of minutes or hours between 2nd and 3rd place was meaningless.
Turning off the GPS at the finish line. 117 miles in 19hrs, 55 minutes moving time. Official race time will be more because pit stops will be included.
My race video:
# # #
PS – I recovered quite quickly and was back in the gym Monday training opposite muscle groups and then again on Tuesday training legs with squats and leg presses.
During the race I had snack-sized baggies with beef jerky, Epic chicken jerky, salted almonds and shelled pistachios. I ate less than one baggie each day and on Day #2 hit the river without breakfast or coffee. A true testament to being fat-adapted and #NSNG.
But Wednesday came and when our local paddling group got together, I cut loose and enjoyed some cold brew and a fine, Dominican cigar.
And for historical purposes, I updated the historic chart of river levels on the James River during the James River Rundown.
PPS – I stayed at the finish line after the ceremonies ended and after most people had left to help finishers get their boats up onto land and help them find their land legs and it was there and then I witnessed some of the best this race had to offer with the “back of the packers.”
A male duo in a canoe that weighed roughly the same as the USS Yorktown finished the 120-miler still in good spirits. The female tandem kayak team, The Sirens, completing the 120-mile journey telling tales of their interpersonal mayhem during the race but obviously getting out of their boat with a tighter bond than ever.
And the most touching, the female 50-mile solo paddler who got to the finish line and began shaking and became emotional due to the sense of accomplishment. This was her first finish in three attempts. I even got choked up watching her reaction and joy.
Some of the best stuff this race had to offer was with the folks who got off the river last with little fanfare or recognition.
Here’s to you!
# # #
I completed 120-mile race during the James River Rundown.
A full write-up will follow, but it was an enjoyable trip with great people.
Coming also will be my final verdict on the Epic V7 vs. The Pyranha Octane/Think Nitro surf skis. I was able to collect lots of data and perspective on these boats and am ready to render my final verdict.
Getting to the finish line at the 2017 James River Rundown. 117 miles.
“The discovery a few years ago that inflammation in the artery wall is the real cause of heart disease is slowly leading to a paradigm shift in how heart disease and other chronic ailments will be treated…
Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. It is inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped…
Let me repeat that: The injury and inflammation in our blood vessels is caused by the low fat diet recommended for years by mainstream medicine…
What are the biggest culprits of chronic inflammation? Quite simply, they are the overload of simple, highly processed carbohydrates (sugar, flour and all the products made from them) and the excess consumption of omega-6 vegetable oils like soybean, corn and sunflower that are found in many processed foods.”
While I’m doing my top-secret, final preparations for the James River Rundown, I leave you with a recipe for grain-free pizza from my buddy, Vinnie. #WithoutTheWimpieY
PS – Most of my top-secret preparations this week leading up to the race include avoiding the gym, doing no paddling, drinking lots of water, sleeping and napping liberally, and strictly avoiding all sugars and all grains to ensure I am firmly in dietary ketosis come Saturday morning.
No problem, though. I’ll be there by Wednesday.
And there you have it.
A recovery week is in store for me this week, ultra marathon paddle next weekend, and maybe 10 days from now I’ll be back in the gym.
Am I the only one more heavily drawn to the gym after work on a Friday night?
I did more volume than intended but it was a rainy night kicking off what appears to be a rainy weekend and it felt so good to rattle around the gym while the family was home watching a movie.
I just love the data and gym tracking I get from the Atlas Wristband
I’m encouraged that rain is in the forecast for most of the upcoming week so hopefully river levels will be up for the James River Rundown.
I might quit paddling and take up rowing.
I found my Zone II training at Gold’s Gym after work on the Concept2 rowing ergometer quite relaxing and pleasing.
I would have been on a long bike ride if not for the 5:45pm thunderstorms.
If Vinnie Tortorich is reading, please cue the Indian relaxation music.
As I give my body time to recover from my recent months of training in the gym and on the water, my mind is busy thinking about the James River Rundown coming up in less than two weeks.
Race organizers have not been very active in communicating details about the event or responding to questions on the race website. Several people have reached out to me directly for advice. In fact, one person called me because he called the JRA race organizers to ask some questions and they gave him my name and phone number. Imagine that!
So I thought I’d summarize my thoughts and advice on this event in what have been the top questions asked of me.
You might think this is a kind act on my part, but honestly, if the race organizers are going to direct folks to me, I don’t want to answer the same questions over and over again on their behalf so I prefer people read this first.
Think of this as the James River Rundown FAQ’s.
If you still have questions please reach out because I am truly happy to help any fellow paddler, but just know I am not associated with the James River Association or the James River Rundown in any formal way.
I’m just a paddling enthusiast trying to support a local race and always happy to promote paddling as part of a healthy lifetstyle.
Q: Do you think [insert any boat make and model here] would be a good boat for the race?
A: The best boat for the race is the longest, skinniest, lightest boat you can comfortably keep upright for the number of miles you intend to paddle.
Q: Will I be OK paddling a composite kayak or surfski?
A: Very difficult to answer as this depends on the skill level of the paddler (including the ability to read a river,) the water level on race day, and your tolerance to damaging your boat.
The composite boats that ran the 100- and 140-mile race in 2016 held up well and most looked like they only incurred a few scratches. That said, the water was up and the people paddling those crafts are elite paddlers.
As for me? I don’t want to run the risk of putting my Kevlar boat on the water and possibly bashing it into or over the top of rocks, even though I know I would probably be alright if the water levels are the same as or higher than last year.
So yes it is doable but you’ll need to decide what level of damage to your boat you are willing to tolerate. Maybe a few scratches, maybe worse.
Water level on race day is such a huge factor and that simply cannot be predicted more than a day or two ahead of race time. Heck, the river levels even change on race day (see the charts at the bottom of this post.)
I personally think potentially the most challenging section is just above Hatton Ferry, downstream of Howardsville. If there is low water you will bump and scrape rocks. This Google image was taken at very low water levels.
The section just above Hatton Ferry is rocky, but very short. Stay river left where you see the “flame” in the water.
The above photo makes this section look bony and scary, right?
Now here is my actual video from running that section last year during the race. The first rapid in the video was shot just a little further upstream.
Running Hatton Ferry during the James River Rundown 2016
Easy, peasy, right? At higher water levels there was nothing to it.
My point is that I could tell you it might be fine to paddle your very expensive composite boat, but if the water is low and you smash it against rocks, break it, punch a hole in it, or otherwise scrape the hell out of it, I don’t want you to blame me.
Low water will expose rocks all up and down the river. High water with a skilled paddler should make it fine for composite boats.
Just don’t ask me where the line is between low water and high water because that is subjective.
Yes, the long, skinny, composite boats have a large advantage over anything plastic, even the newer plastic surf skis, when it comes to efficiency and speed. Yes, the paddlers in those longer and skinnier crafts will be required to spend more energy merely balancing those crafts and may take a few swims and have to remount them. Yes, the plastic boats will not be as susceptible to rock damage and will generally be easier to balance.
These are all variables, folks, and all factors you need to decide for yourself. That’s part of racing.
Q: [After a brief description of your boat, the amount of paddling you do, your age and a short laundry list of your physical ailments] “…Do you think I can do this race?”
A: I have no idea. I’m not a telephone or email physician, personal trainer or paddling coach. I don’t really know you, your physical condition or your skill level as a paddler. What I do know is there isn’t anything on this section of the river that is greater than Class II+ and maybe one or two very short Class III’s and is mostly flat, flowing water. The only way to know is give it a shot. There is no shame in dropping out if you must, but it would be a shame to not try.
Q: What about shuttling?
A: I have no idea and it appears as though paddlers are on their own to figure it out. Hopefully organizers will announce something. I’m hoping to find a way back to Lynchburg after the race to retrieve my vehicle. If by some chance I can find somebody to drive my car to the finish line for me, then I’ll be able to haul a few paddlers back to Scottsville after the race, but as of right now, I don’t know how I’m going to work out my own shuttle.
Q: How will the water level compare to previous years?
A: I have no idea. It will all depend upon how much rain we get the few days leading up to race day as the river level can change rapidly.
What I can do is share some data I’ve compiled from previous years measured at 4pm the day before the start of the 100-mile+ race, 4pm Day #1 of the race and 7am Day #2 of the race.
Combine this data with results post at the James River Rundown website and you can start drawing your own conclusions.
After a brief phone call with Joel Guyer at the USGS after I asked him whether we should be looking at discharge data or gauge height readings, he explained, “In most cases, gauge height data are considered to be operational data as they are only used to calculate discharge, which is the primary product at a streamflow station. Due to ongoing changes in river channel dynamics, adjustments are continuously applied to the gauge height data in order to compute discharges that reflect current conditions. While there is continuity in discharge data from year to year, corresponding gauge heights may vary significantly over time. For this reason, only the previous 120 days of gauge height data are served to the web.”
In general, the water levels have been higher each year of this race.
In 2015 it rained and the water levels were rising and in 2016 they were dropping. In my humble opinion, it probably is a bigger advantage to have higher water on the lower parts of the river which are wider and slower. I ran the 40-miler in 2015 and the 100-miler in 2016 and that last 40 miles was much faster and easier in 2015, but the 40-mile race in 2015 was actually run on Day #2 of the 100-mile race, the morning after the big rain. 2016 had an advantage in the earlier parts of the race because the water was higher at the start that year.
So how much of an advantage was it in 2015 to have such a high volume of water later in the race? How much of an advantage was it in 2016 to have higher levels to start with?
Impossible to know, especially if it rains during the race and there is a significant jump in water levels.
Bottom line: It is simply impossible to compare race results from year to year. But more water is obviously better.
Cartersville is the most downstream gauge and Bent Creek is the most upstream gauge on the charts below. The lower section(s) are wider and slower than the upper sections, given the same water level.
I hope this helps.
Top-left 2014, top-right 2015, bottom 2016
Weather information and forecast for Scottsville, VA:
Lastly, be sure to scout the river using the Terrain 360 interactive map.
Terrain 360 image
See you on the water!
# # #
I had my last big workout in the gym this morning (and it wasn’t even all that big,) so now I start two weeks of de-loading prior to the big race.
I also had a deep tissue message this afternoon and the borderline pain felt so good.
The muscles needed it.
I’ll still hit the gym next week but I will go light and not risk any chance of injury or agitation whatsoever and then the week of June 18 I think I will not do much other than bike rides and drink plenty of water.
I plan on paddling 20 or so miles tomorrow and will try to get in 10-14 miles at least 4 times in the next two weeks to lay down some more base miles.
Oh, and a big vacation in July so I feel like I’m a bodybuilder in contest preparation mode, except I’m trying to cut and look good for wifey for our 20th anniversary.
I might just let loose at the end of July.