Guest blog: First-time racer on the Chattajack 31

This is a guest post by my friend and fellow paddler, John McCue, who completed the Chattajack 31 mile race this past Saturday on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga Tennessee.  I was hoping race it this year but was unable to attend due to other obligations.

John finished 15th place in the Men’s Kayak division, 16th place overall.

Here are his impressions from the race…


 

johnmccueFirst-time Chattajack 31 paddler and guest blogger, John McCue

I just got back from paddling Chattajack 31, the big paddleboard/kayak/surfski race in Chattanooga.  We raced 31 miles down the Tennessee river gorge.

Waiting on the water for the race to start, it was not hard to realize this was quite different from other kayak races I have done.  None of the couple hundred paddlers lining up in the cold rain made a last minute decision to race.  Entry opened and closed months earlier, this indeed was a serious collection of SUP and kayak paddlers.

Two hours earlier before sitting in the rain waiting for the start, I chose to get out of my warm dry car and trudge into the rain.   Dozens of cars parked near the finish all doing the same thing; Discharging dry paddlers into the cold dark rain, to climb onto one of the school busses lined up to shuttle us to the start.

“Basecamp” is what they call the start area and it is alive with action.

 
chattaBasecamp at the Chattajack31
 

Everybody has stored their boats and boards overnight at the start.  Now the sea of multi colored fiberglass, carbon and Kevlar is buzzing with paddlers readying their crafts.

The clothing choices were as varied as the fancy boards and boats.   Water temp of 70, but headwind and 48 degree rain.  What to wear?

Nobody here was a causal paddler, this was not the, “ I hope I can paddle 31 miles” crowd.

Most race starts are choppy, as paddlers surge forward and a dozen blades churn the water.   It smooths out after paddlers settle in to a pace.

Chattajack, however,  has hundreds of paddles churning at the start, and unlike the smaller races I have been to, the churning continues for a while.   Experienced racers know the importance of a good start,  but if everybody is experienced, and is dong the same thing…..washing machine!   For almost 3 miles the Tennessee river was more like the stormy ocean.

My start was poor and I spent 3 miles focusing on not dumping it in the river as I was caught in a sea of SUP’s.

Drafting and draft trains are allowed but only by similar type of craft.   Kayaks can pace behind kayaks but not behind SUP’s etc.   When things cleared out I was able to make good time working with another kayak.   We traded off leading each other while drafting close behind.  It was nice to see 6.8 and 7 mph on the Garmin.

Even while making good time, by mile 4 the race for the lead was already ahead down the river.   We were able to catch and pass plenty of other kayaks and SUP’s.  But the leaders were surely working together further ahead.

My drafting partner backed off the pace around mile 18 and for the next 7 miles I continued on my own at a furious pace.  I knew the top finishers were out of sight but I still thought my time goal of 5 hours was possible.  My average speed was still 6.4 mph at the 25 mile mark despite the headwind.  It is interesting how much mental math goes on paddling a kayak!

Then I got cold.

Of course it was a cold wet day but it had not bothered me until then.   I was turning towards a power boat wake (even on a cold day they are out there) and while the hull of my epic 18x was slapping the water I felt the cold in my arms and hands.  When I am paddling in my “zone” I can block out the wind and rain….. however, choppy water, whether it is from hundreds of paddles, wind waves or power boat wakes requires a different kind of focus.   My brain was ready for more hammering down the river not capsize avoidance i.e.; turning into waves or wakes.   My hands were cold and my judgement impaired.   I did not fall in but my speed did.

Only 6 miles to go but I was now paddling fast rather than racing.   My finish time of 5hr 16min was surprising since miles 25 26 and 27 were only 5mph.

Dreaming of a warm dry car does not push a boat faster into the cold wind.

The last 4 miles I was able to pick it back up again, getting done and getting dry was the driving force, not race performance.

The winning kayaks were all surf skis that were 20 inches wide or less.

Chattajack has a simple rule for boat classification, no consideration for length but only width.   Boats narrower than 20 inches start with the surf skis (second heat) 20 inches or wider is considered a kayak.

My Epic 18X is 22 inches wide and within the normal category of “kayak” it is amongst the fastest.  However, with a rule of 20 inches one can only expect folks to take full advantage and go narrower (faster) and be included in the under 20″ category.

With the choppiness of the water (start, wind waves, boat wakes) a traditional kayak has a psychological disadvantage.  If you dump your surfski you remount and carry on.   In a kayak you may carry on but you are no longer really racing after stopping to empty out the boat.   My Epic V7 is slower than the 18X but may have better for me because of it’s (relative) raft-like stability.

I’ll be back next year for sure.  Under 5 hours in 2018!
-John McCue

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One of my favorite kayaking videos

From my race at the Wye Island Regatta, 2011.  My first win at that race and my first experimentation with “pop up video” style video editing.

The Prijon Interceptor restoration…

Mithril2

Is the next project on the list over the next couple weekends.

If we aren’t going to have enough water to paddle on then I may as well restore an old boat.

Pictures and video to follow.

Next generation fitness trackers

fitnesstrackers

We’re having a drought here in Central Virginia so I have not done much paddling during a time of year where I typically love being on the water and logging many of my annual kayaking miles.

So in the absence of much to talk about in terms of my kayaking and on-water adventures, let me  explain several of my recent posts involving fitness tracking technology.

I started searching for a fitness and gym tracker a few years ago in order to log and track my training both in the gym and on the water.  Being able to track paddle cadence on the water and progress in the gym would be very useful.

I started out with the Amiigo device, then moved to the Xiaomi Amazfit Arc followed shortly thereafter by the Atlas Wearables Wristband 2.

As a result of reviewing those units in YouTube videos and on this blog, two other companies reached out to me and sent me devices to evaluate in exchange for fair and honest reviews.  Those devices were the Actofit Wearables tracker and the MBHB Sport Smart Bracelet.

I have also researched countless other devices to find the right one.

So far not a single device meets all my needs.

Many of them do not count paddle strokes as “steps”, some are not reliably waterproof, and some do not have the battery life to last for an all-day outing or ultra-marathon kayak trip or race.   Some let you train new movements or exercises while others do not.

The one device I am truly in love with is the Atlas Wearables wristband for in the gym.  It recognizes my exercises, lets me train new ones and allows me to enter the amount of weight on the bar or edit the number of reps right on the wristband during my workouts.  It has completely replaced my clipboard with paper exercise log in the gym and the online dashboard lets me review my training progress and areas of focus over time.  It is a great training tool for the gym, but is not intended for all-day wear.

I am looking forward to seeing what Atlas Wearables comes out with next.  This is the one company that seems to be truly innovating and delivering on their promises and their customer service and support is awesome.

Aside from the Atlas device, there are many, many other fitness trackers out there that all do the same basic things and maybe have one or two unique features such as blood pressure measurements that set them apart.  There is no lack of affordable trackers with basic functionality if that is what you are looking for.

But, again, I have not yet found one device that meets all my needs.

I have also been approached by a few companies doing market research asking me what I’m looking for in a fitness tracker so I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in a next generation device.

My ideal next-generation fitness tracker would be/have:

  • Waterproof
  • Comfortable and stylish enough for all-day wear even in professional settings
  • 5+ day battery life before the need to recharge
  • Good tracking exercises in the gym and allow you to train new, custom motions/exercises (such as kettlebell sumo squats and the kayaking wing paddle stroke)
  • An online dashboard that allows you to track progress over time
  • Export capabilities of all data so data can be imported into a spreadsheet for long-term tracking and analysis
  • A display on the device that allows you to edit exercises and change functions during exercises and activities without access to the paired phone (my phone is either in a kayak hatch inside a dry bag or in a gym locker people!)
  • Automatic sleep tracking
  • Ability to measure blood pressure on-demand
  • Heart Rate (HR) capabilities both on-demand and automatically at pre-set time intervals
  • Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurements to better understand recovery
  • Basic functions such as steps, calorie burn, distance, etc.

I just don’t understand why this device is so elusive.  There are trackers already that do all of these things, but not one single one that does them all.

If you find it or know of this elusive beast, please let me know.

 

 

Fitness tracker review: MBHB Sport Smart Bracelet

The company sent me a free unit for review so I reviewed it.

I love the large display and blood pressure measurement.

It has become the device that has taken up residence on my wrist.

The only problem I have with it is it seems the calorie burn calculation is waaaaay off, but the sleep tracking, blood pressure, heart rate, and large screen size outweigh that issue in my mind.

MBHB Stylish Waterproof Fitness Tracker, Superior Heart Rate / Blood Pressure / Sleep Monitor, Anti-Scratch Smart Wristband for iOS Android Smartphones, Black

Good sleep, good workout

I finally got a good night’s sleep and then had the gym all to myself this evening after work.

Great bookends to the day, heart rate from 50 to 168.

And by the way, the Actofit Wearables fitness tracker that died when it got condensation inside dried out and came back to life.

I like it.

Odds and ends

I am not making any announcements, but my friendly UPS delivery man dropped off a new book from Amazon so I can now begin some “research.”  I’m looking forward to reading it and when I’m done I’ll post a review.

MR340bookMissouri River 340 by the Jacksons

I also happened across an interesting article, “Technique: Does Wash-riding Help?” that discusses drafting or wash riding behind another kayaker.

We seem to instinctively know this is a more efficient way to paddle, but Brett McDonald found a way to quantify the gains in efficiency by monitoring his heart rate at two different positions behind the lead boat and while he himself was the lead boat.

It is a short yet interesting read, but this one figure from the article summarizes it perfectly.

washride

 

 

 

My most massive workout ever

It was a long week with lots of travel and I hit the gym immediately after work to release some steam.

And, wow, it turned out to be an epic workout.

I had the gym all to myself, was cranking some Mastodon in the earbuds, and got lost in the zone.

I also experimented with my breathing and will have more to report on this topic in a future post, but for now I’m astonished I lifted more than 66K lbs. in volume.

A year ago I would not have thought that possible.

10-6-17

Rockin’ the Rivanna

rockingdtk

This past Saturday I participated in Rockin’ The Rivanna, part of a larger, full-day festival on my local Rivanna River that included a 5K running event, a river safety demonstration, river parade, and an arts festival all along the river banks from Darden Towe Park to Riverview Park.

I participated in the paddling portion as I saw it a way to get on the water and log a few miles, even though the water levels have been very low for weeks now.

My initial plan was to paddle slowly and bring up the rear of the 15 or so boats that had assembled at the launch site and I had brought my slowest boat (my Necky Jive whitewater boat.)  Soon after we started I realized I am not hard-wired to paddle slowly or even just float and I also realized if I stayed at the back of the pack I might be on the water all day, so I soon started paddling at a brisk pace to get in a workout.

I stopped at a couple art exhibits along the way and also stopped at the one or two remaining play spots to surf a little bit, although at such low water levels there wasn’t much to surf.

Upon arrival at Riverview Park I found several exhibits and painters painting along the river.

It was a very enjoyable morning and I hope the event continues next year.

Soon after that I headed to the mountains and hiked up to Humpback Rocks at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

A complete upper and lower body workout in the great outdoors on a perfect day!

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