Absolutely fascinating interview combining several of my passions, diet, exercise and kayaking.
Friday afternoon I drove up to Pennsylvania to paddle in the inaugural running of the Youghness Monster 25, a 25-mile paddle race on the Youghiogheny River between Connellsville and West Newton, PA.
I got to the check-in to pick up my race packet and immediately recognized some old friends and started making new ones.
First I bumped into Brian Ammon, whom you may recall I first met at the Lehigh Classic race in 2016 and then again at the Little D On The Monocacy race in 2017. Brian hasn’t changed a bit and is never shy to share stories of paddling adventures which is part of what makes him so charming. He is a wealth of paddling information and history.
Me and Brian Ammon
I soon then met Hansel Lucas, owner of Performance kayaks who, along with Stellar Kayaks and others, sponsored the race.
Hansel Lucas, Owner of Performance Kayaks
I then also soon met Steve Bruner, who graciously agreed to an interview with me.
Shortly thereafter I headed to Uniontown where I was staying at the Holiday Inn Express. The rain starting coming down and questions started coming to mind.
How cold would it be in the morning?
Would it rain all day for the race?
How high will the river be?
How shall I dress?
What happens if continuous Class II rapids are above my skills level in this boat?
I took one last look at my boat and then headed into the hotel for some sleep.
I had some trepidation about this race because it was the first time I was taking my Thunderbolt-X kayak onto any moving water and I was not sure how skilled I would be with her in rapids. I’ve only used her as a flat water training boat and the thought of rapids bigger than advertised or possibly smashing her into rocks worried me greatly.
Flipping and filling her full of water would equate to “game over” for the race as it would take long time for me to empty her out and recover.
Hansel Lucas assured me the water was at a good level and that the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to release some more water from the upstream dam so the water would come up at least 8″ overnight. He said he and friends run carbon/Kevlar boats on that section of river regularly and that anything above 4 ft. at the Sutersville, PA gauge was fine for any construction of boat.
I looked at the gauge on my RiverFlows app one last time and saw the river was well above 4K and was already starting to rise, so I felt better about the situation.
The water came up to a great level overnight
The alarm when off 6:30am on race morning and I quickly got ready and ate a breakfast of some scrambled eggs with 2 sausage patties and black coffee before heading back up to the starting line at Connellsville.
I grabbed another black coffee for the road for the 20 minute drive.
It should be noted I had no other food until ~7pm when I stopped for dinner on the drive home. During the race I only had water in a CamelBak bladder and was not again hungry until well after the race.
Being fat-adapted is great. #NSNG #LCHF
People were starting to gather at the starting line and dropping boats at the ramp. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of high-end surf skis to me, especially for this land-locked area of the country.
The weather was warming up fast so I realized minimal clothing would indeed be appropriate (even though I brought a wet suit just in case.) I had safety clothing stowed in my dry bag, but I was not going to start with too much clothing because a body generates a lot of heat when exerting sustained energy. It is better to get to the side of the river to add layers than it is to try to remove layers due to overheating while trying to paddle and balance a boat. Just my opinion.
I chatted with several people before the race began and it wasn’t until I was driving home after the race I realized why one particular guy seemed very familiar. He was Joe White, or JoeDirt22222 on YouTube.
He designed a kayak ergometer which served as the inspiration for my own do-it-yourself, DIY, kayak ergometer design. Please, purchase one of Joe’s ergometers! Dude is amazing and is an awesome paddler.
There were skis everywhere. Primarily Stellar but Epic skis were also well represented.
We had a pre-race briefing and then the race began.
We were given ankle bracelets with timing chips and walked across a mat to start our time and then went to the water to get into our kayaks and begin paddling.
I allowed the first big wave of paddlers to start first as I hung back a while since I knew I was racing against the clock and didn’t want to be in the first giant cluster of paddlers. Plus I thought I might get better video if many of the racers were in front of me.
I got in my boat and pushed out and quickly realized something was wrong.
I worked my rudder tiller and realized I had very little control over my kayak. Not a good thing in a 21′ craft.
I soon surmised my rudder cable fell off my rudder so I paddled back to shore, got out of the boat, slipped the rudder cable back into its track, and then got back in and started paddling.
Already a loss of two or three minutes which didn’t sit well with me.
Oh well, you can’t change it, you just deal with it and move forward.
So I took off downstream and quickly hit the first set of Class II rapids.
The real test.
I took short, choppy, bracing strokes and essentially “floated” through the rapids trying to remain upright to get a feel for how the boat behaved, That worked well so I decided that would be my strategy for the day.
Short bracing strokes and conservative through the rapids and give it all I have on the flats.
The strategy worked well and I found myself in 1st place amongst all kayaks at the finish, 5th overall amongst solo paddlers. With nothing but 4 fast surf skis with elite paddlers ahead of me I felt satisfied with my performance.
Crossing the finish line at Youghness Monster 2018
It felt good to pass so many surf skis!
This section of river is mostly flat water with numerous sections of Class I and Class II rapids. The flats aren’t so long as to get boring and the rapids are not threatening and they are plentiful enough to keep you on alert the whole time.
I ran a pretty good race and took some risks in term of lines chosen and guessed right most of the time as I was often able to gain on the paddlers in front of me by taking a different path around a few islands or taking a different line through the rapids. I paddled alongside and chatted with a few other paddlers throughout the race and it just reinforced my opinion that fellow paddlers are some of the nicest, most interesting people in the world.
What really kept me going, though, was the fact that my sister was bringing my parents to the finish line to greet me and I couldn’t wait to see them all.
Mom and dad meeting me at the end of the race, the first kayak race of mine they’ve ever experienced. Astute readers may recall them posing with the boat when it was brand new in 2011.
I neared the finish and my eyes welled as I spotted my parents at the top of the ramp.
We got in a great visit for the next few hours and then I headed back home to Central Virginia through heavy thunderstorms.
It was a long day but a wonderful day. Physically I felt fine and felt as though I could have easily paddled another 25 miles.
The organizers of this race did an amazing job for a first time race. The awards ceremony was a bit of a letdown since there were technically no awards, but that did not diminish a wonderful experience on a very scenic river and a very well organized event.
I look forward to paddling this race in future years.
In the meantime, come paddle our local race in Charlottesville this Saturday, May 12 with me!
Here is the entire race from the bow of my boat, reduced down to ~43 minutes. Happy viewing and happy scouting to those who race in future years!
I finally made it back out on the water today during a well-earned day off.
I managed to paddle 10 miles in the Thunderbolt-X kayak and took it easy so I only averaged 5.7mph. It was a cold, breezy day so I had to wear a full wet suit which definitely constrains the natural paddling motion.
Nonetheless, it was an extremely enjoyable paddle and the water was clear as crystal. I also spotted a flock of turkeys on shore which was a bonus.
Taking the Thunderbolt-X out for a spin with full wet suit
Then after attacking an item or two on the “honey do” list, I dropped off my son and his friend for basketball practice this evening and hit the gym while they were at practice. It wasn’t my typical #MFN (massive Friday night) workout, but I managed some good volume in a somewhat crowded gym for a Friday night. Usually I can have the place to myself on a Friday night but not tonight.
I focused on bent over rows and flies and worked in some squats.
It was a good training day.
Oh, and I’ve gotten myself into dietary ketosis and I hope to stay here for a good, long while.
And in the interest of transparency, here is my starting point for this current “cut,” according to the Skulp Aim.
Compared to Jan., 2016. They obviously re-scaled the index since then as it now appears as though Muscle Quality is on a scale from 1-100. It’s a shame I don’t have a direct comparison.
It is nice to a see more and more research supporting what many of us have come to believe for a while now. This one from the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
“A landmark systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies showed no association between saturated fat consumption and (1) all-cause mortality, (2) coronary heart disease (CHD), (3) CHD mortality, (4) ischaemic stroke or (5) type 2 diabetes in healthy adults.”
“[T]he conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”
Examine the figure above and you’ll see the authors point to fructose and refined carbohydrates as the problem.
“LDL cholesterol is not associated with cardiovascular disease and is inversely associated with all-cause mortality. A high TC [total cholesterol] to HDL ratio drops rapidly with dietary changes such as replacing refined carbohydrates with healthy high fat foods.”
I was out of the country this past week and due to jet lag with disrupted sleep patterns, long work hours, and my own stupidity, I was only able to hit a gym twice last week. Last Sunday and last Tuesday.
I flew back from overseas yesterday so today my typical Massive Friday Night Workout (#MFNW) had to become a Massive Sunday Night Workout (MSNW.)
Massive Sunday Night Workout recorded on the Atlas Wristband
Dinner was a grain-free “Fat Head” pizza featuring bacon and provolone cheese
I did a lot of total volume so I had a lot of time to clear my head and reflect on my life and my upcoming training over the next few months.
Typically I undulate between lifting heavy at low volume and then lighter but higher volume over the winter months and then try to back down and cut some fat and go into dietary ketosis in time for kayak racing season in April.
I’ve decided to do things differently this year.
I’m going No Beer No Wine (NBNW) effective immediately along with going very strict on my No Sugars, No Grains (#NSNG) lifestyle. I will stay as strict as I can through most of kayak racing season, my 100-miler with Vinnie Tortorich down the Bayou LaFourche in Louisiana at a date yet to be determined, probably late April or early May, and the James River Rundown some time in June.
Bayou Lafourche, LA
I know there will be some weeks where this will be difficult if not impossible over the holidays and with some scheduled business meetings, so I’ll allow for these brief setbacks but get right back on the horse immediately afterward.
I’ll get in as much paddling time on the water and on my indoor trainer as possible and let my gym time fill in the gaps rather than making gym time the centerpiece. I also want to get back on the bike and work in some more cardio training. I’ll let my body judge what my gym training will look like, but I anticipate fewer workouts with moderate weights and reps with a focus on legs and core. In short, this is going to be an extended period of leaning out and cardio conditioning.
I also want to get back in touch with my guitar as it has taken a back seat for the past year or so and has collected too much dust. That had always been an important part of my mental health and I need to bring it back into my life for some balance.
I also hope to get back in the gym later this week to record a new episode of “Exercises for Kayakers” for my YouTube channel. The next exercise will be a modified bench press.
I’ll keep you informed as I try this new style of training and living.
Changes are in order.
I’d like to take a moment to direct your attention to an article in today’s Washington Examiner, “Moving on from ‘Let’s Move,’” penned by my fitness trainer, Vinnie Tortorich.
I congratulate Vinnie on this accomplishment.
You see, in my real life, I am a marketing and branding guy with many outside interests which include kayaking and fitness.
When I began my exploration into fitness just a few short years ago, I found Vinnie and found his message to be compelling, simple to communicate in a way that cuts through the clutter and most importantly, truthful. As a communicator and marketer, Vinnie nailed it.
He was the one who summarized proper diet and eating habits in the simple terms, “No sugars, No grains.” He wasn’t trying to sell his own line of diet food or diet plan. No, he was simply trying to get out a message to help people improve their health and their lives.
I’m happy to help him get that message out because I believe it is critically important.
And so I begin.
The kids’ Spring Break is over and after returning home from out-of-town visiting family last week and after two weeks on the road, one of them out of the country, I had to mow my overgrown yard after work today and skipped the gym for a rest/recovery day. Even being on the road last week I managed to hit the gym 4 times so a rest day was not unreasonable.
My last big workout last night after driving 6 hours home
Tomorrow I start my no beer, no wine (#NBNW) regimen in support of my mostly #NSNG (no sugars, no grains) lifestyle.
I started the NBNW tradition last year to try to drop a few pounds to lighten up for kayak racing season.
So this year I’m going to do it again and I’m also going to eat at a slight caloric deficit most of the time as I try to put myself into dietary ketosis to even further boost my fat loss while I’ll still hit the gym to try to maintain as much muscle as I can.
I won’t lift the way I have been, though. The weights will be lighter and the sets will be fewer. I’ll also start cycling more.
Wow, I really miss my road bike.
If I know my body the way I think I do, dietary ketosis should set in by this Friday, April 14 and I will try to stay in that state at least until my major race, The James River Rundown on June 24-25. That means from April 29 to June 25 I will will paddle more than 160 miles in 4 different kayak races, not to mention the many training miles I will also lay down between now and then.
I want my body running on fat for fuel and I want to have the best muscle-to-fat ratio I possibly can.
If bodybuilders have final contest preparation in terms of dieting then this is kayaker’s contest prep.
So that’s where I am in my journey.
I started to take fitness seriously in early 2013 when I weighed 180lbs at ~22-23% body fat (“skinny fat”) and am now at 177 lbs at ~16-17% body fat. I was at my lightest–and most unhealthy state–in May of 2014 at 158 lb. Far, far too skinny and unhealthy.
In retrospect you can see things you couldn’t at the time.
I don’t miss those dark days of eyelids twitching, crashed metabolism, sleepless sweaty nights, endless cardio, brain fog, and sore joints.
It has been an up-and-down transformation and I can’t thank my fitness trainer, Vinnie Tortorich, enough for putting me on the right track and pulling me out of my tailspin. I also thank Anna Vocino for her wonderful recipes and cookbook that make a low-carb lifestyle easy, enjoyable and healthy.
I’ve managed to add muscle mass in my late 40’s and now 50 while also losing body fat.
It hasn’t been fast or easy, but I feel good about what I’ve worked for and can’t wait to see where I am in mid-June.
Last week’s summary
Tracking my weight. Imagine starting at 180 on the left.
#JamesRiverRundown #DaveTheKayaker #James River Rundown
Konrad and I got a late start out of town on Friday, June 10, headed to James River State Park. We were hoping for a 3:30pm departure, but it was closer to 6pm.
We rolled into our cabin slightly before 8pm to find ourselves 2 doors away from Dave S. and his family and in between us was the cabin where several of the James River Riverkeepers were staying.
The State Park had become a village of paddlers that night.
The setting was beautiful and I managed to snap a few photos of the lovely sunset before we unpacked and headed on to the boat ramp to check out the situation.
Sunset on the porch of the cabin the night before the race
I had packed most all of my gear into a plastic storage bin during the week so I would have everything in place and ready to go come race day. Steadily I started unpacking my gear and soon it was strewn over the furniture in the cabin; the kitchen table, the coffee table, one of the sofas in the living room, and the table on the cabin deck. And it wasn’t even really all that much stuff. It just spread easily.
I then started to prepare my boat for the next day’s race.
First I placed two CamelBak water bladders into the rear hatch of my kayak. I had installed two sections of Vinyl tubing from the rear hatch, through the bulkhead, and into the cockpit area during the week, so now I simply pulled the drinking valves off the CamelBak water bladder hoses, installed them on the cockpit end of the Vinyl tubing, and then connected the ends of the CamelBak hoses to my the stern ends of the tubing using plumbing connectors.
This hydration system would allow me to have two full bladders of water in the rear hatch of my kayak and have them plumbed all the way to the cockpit where I could drink from them quickly and easily without having to reach for anything, which would save time and effort during the race. Placing the bladders as far back in the stern hatch as they would go would also help distribute the weight in the kayak to make it float and handle better.
Next I attached the lights onto my boat to be legal for night paddling. A white RoadID all-weather, waterproof bicycle light on the stern and then red and green ones on the port and starboard bow along with a waterproof diving flashlight that I could easily reach to turn on when night fell.
With the rigging of the boat complete, I turned my attention to everything I would take with me in the boat and what I would supply with Konrad, as he had volunteered to crew for me and meet me at boat ramps along the way.
Mandatory to carry onboard was a small first aid kit, 1 gallon of water, mobile phone with emergency number programmed in, and a spare paddle. I also threw in some duct tape just in case. I took my carbon fiber Fenn III wing paddle as a backup paddle and soon realized I paid more for my backup paddle than I paid for my boat. And my main paddle was another 100% carbon fiber wing paddle made to my own specifications. My paddles were light but everything else—including the boat—was heavy.
I had three pre-prepared zipper lock bags of food ready to go. One would start with me in the boat and the two others were to be carried by Konrad in a cooler and given to me at the two checkpoints along the way if I needed them. Konrad and I had arranged for him to meet me at Scottsville and Cartersville, approximately 1/3 and 2/3 of the way into the race, to replenish my water & electrolytes and hand me my food bags if I needed them.
All three bags had identical contents: raw almonds, beef jerky, one Epic bar, and a MusclePharm Combat Crunch bar. This last item was to be a decadent treat to myself for reaching milestones along the race. Being a baked protein bar with 20grams of protein and 5g of sugar each, I found these bars to be some of the “cleanest” protein bars on the market even though I avoid almost all sugars and grains as I adhere ~95% to an NSNG lifestyle (NSNG=no sugars, no grains.) My personal trainer, Vinnie Tortorich, taught me this healthy way of living and it works especially well for endurance sports. The almonds and beef jerky were to be my main fuel source. Protein and good fat.
I had experimented with Combat Crunch and Epic bars for a few weeks leading up to the race to make sure they didn’t upset my stomach. The Epic bars contain 6 or less grams of sugar each. Again, I do not normally eat anything with sugar, but I had experimented with these so I knew they would provide me plenty of protein and a bit of a glycogen replenishment without throwing my stomach out of whack. When paddling more than 12 hours on a hot day, the relatively small amount of sugar did not concern me. Plus my plan was to space each of these bars out by at least two hours of constant paddling. I would try to save these and reward myself with a Combat Crunch bar each at Scottsville and Cartersville and consume the Epic bars only when and if I needed them.
I also carried a 28-ounce water squeeze bottle with me in the cockpit with a dissolved Nuun electrolyte tablet containing zero sugar. My plan was to drink mostly water through my hydration system but sip on the electrolyte solution in the squeeze bottle sporadically.
I live my life in a fat-adapted state most of the time and the week leading up to the race I clamped down on the diet even more and restricted carbohydrates to put myself into a state of dietary ketosis. This was exactly the physiological state I wanted to be in for the race. My body got into ketosis on Wednesday before the race. I could literally taste it without the need for any fancy blood monitors or ketone test strips. I know the taste and I recognize it immediately.
I’m never more than two or three days away from being able to get into dietary ketosis. This is a state where the body stops using glycogen (from sugars) for fuel and creates ketone bodies and metabolizes fat (either ingested or stored) for energy. In my experience, this is a much better fuel source for long paddling trips or long bike rides as it removes the need for constant fueling with sugars and greatly reduces the odds of bonking. Further, I believe that sugars and grains have many other detrimental effects on the body, especially insulin spikes and resultant fat storage.
But that’s just me and I’m not a doctor.
After checking out the boats already dropped off and waiting at the starting line boat ramp, including a couple of Epic V7 surf skis and a Stellar surf ski, I knew there was serious competition in town and resigned myself to the fact that I would not be one of the lead paddlers the next day. With those boats already there at the starting line the night before, who knew what additional fast boats would show up in the morning?
Boats at the starting line
We headed back to the cabin, played our guitars for a short while, and then off to bed I went.
I did not sleep very well that night. Too much excitement and anticipation for my first 100-mile paddling experience.
Race morning came and I was up at 5am. Just like most mornings, I went straight to the coffee maker to make myself a cup of black coffee. Then I prepared bacon and eggs and my pre-race meal was three eggs and three strips of bacon. A tried and proven endurance meal for me.
I then performed final preparations at the boat ramp and launched slightly before 7am for the 7 o’clock start at James River State Park.
Launching from the boat ramp at James River State Park before the start of the 100-mile raceKonrad helping me while Paddling Buddy Dave and I launch
My strategy was to start off moderately slow and then work up to a moderately fast pace that I could maintain over many hours. My only goal was to complete the race in my Prijon Beluga kayak, a fast, short plastic kayak but a joke when compared to lightweight composite materials and/or surf skis designed for speed. I was there simply to complete my first 100-miler and I was in the Elite division which meant I was going to paddle through the night without stopping to camp or sleep so I bought a boat that was nice and stable yet still somewhat fast.
Some other guy enjoying his Prijon Beluga kayak
I bought this boat used just a few weeks prior and it did not take long to become comfortable with it as it is much more stable than my other racing boats. The Beluga is somewhat fast, but very comfortable and forgiving. I hoped that I would have enough comfort to complete the whole race but also enough speed so I would not have to paddle all through the night in a slug. I also bought the boat because I did not want to burn the energy it would take to balance a tippy, racing boat for 100 miles nor did I think my back could handle the upright, rigid posture it takes to keep a skinny boat upright for so long. I also didn’t want to beat up an expensive boat on rocks.
If surf skis are Lamborghinis (generally 18-23′ long and 17-18″ wide,) ocean kayaks are muscle cars (17-19′ long and 20-24″ wide,) and recreational kayaks are full-sized, heavy-duty pickup trucks (9-16′ long and 24″ wide or wider,) then the Prijon Beluga I was paddling was a Dodge Dart at 14’3″ long and 23.6″ wide. Small, not terribly fast, but somewhat sporty and comfortable.
The start of the 100-mile race
The race began and two racers on surf skis, my training partner Dave S. (Epic V7) and Mike M. (Stellar SR surf ski,) jumped out to a fast start and they soon put distance between them and the rest of the racers.
Trying to separate myself from the main pack very early in the race
In fact, all of the other boats were ahead of me at the start as I hung back a bit as an intentional reminder to myself that this was a marathon, not a sprint. I wanted to embed thought that in my mind so I wouldn’t paddle too fast too soon and not make the entire distance. I was forcing myself to deal with a new paradigm for me: conserve energy for the long haul, don’t make this an all-out sprint. At the distances I’d paddled before, the thought was always all-out speed with only a few strategic periods of marathon pace to catch my breath.
This race was very different.
So I started out at the rear of the pack.
I soon passed most of the boats immediately in front of me and then found myself paddling with Joe F. and Rod P. for most of the first 14 miles. These are great guys. Rod, a veteran of canoe adventure racing in his custom, 8-layer Kevlar racing canoe, and Joe, a 70-year-old relative newbie to kayak racing who was paddling his Epic V7 surf ski.
Joe, me, and Rod leading the main pack, well behind the two leaders who
jumped out to an early, big lead.
Joe and Rod got out in front of me a bit somewhere around mile 11 and created some distance between us and I made the decision to catch up to them, so I pushed hard a little bit earlier in the race than I originally wanted to. I caught up with them and we chatted for a while and had pleasant conversation as we paddled a couple miles together.
I remember calling out mile #13.1 to them since I was the only one with a GPS and mile 13.1 was significant because it marked a half-marathon length.
By mile 15 I had pulled out in front of them and created some distance between us. They slowly faded out of sight behind me and I was not to see them again on the river that day, but at the time I did not know that. They were both strong paddlers and I fully expected to see them both again.
So then I knew I was in third place and I kept looking over my shoulder to see if Rod and Joe were catching up but I could not see them. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be wild if I actually placed in the top three paddlers?!”
An arrogant, crazy thought so early in the race I quickly told myself.
I paddled by myself with no other racers in sight for most of the rest of the day.
The lingering thought in my head for many, many miles was, “Could I actually steal a top three placing in this race?”
I figured by this point in the race the boats separated themselves according to universal boat design and construction laws and resulting pecking order, now it was up to the paddlers to determine the outcome. Who was in the best physical condition? Who had the best strategy? Who had the best land support? Who had the mental toughness to prevail?
Although I was only expecting to see Konrad at the Scottsville and Cartersville check points, he managed to be at just about every boat ramp along the way to keep tabs on me and see if I needed water or food. For this level of support I will be eternally grateful.
The first time I spotted him was well before checkpoint #1 and I felt as though I had an angel watching over me.
I now can’t help but think about how boring a day that must have been for Konrad. Driving to a boat ramp to wait hours for me just to drive to the next one and do it again. Rinse and repeat.
Several times I just paddled close to shore and chatted with him for a minute as I paddled by and told him what my average speed was and that I wasn’t going to stop and that I didn’t need anything.
I knew I had the best land support crewing for me, so all the other variables…physical conditioning, strategy, and mental toughness…fell solely on me.
It was a very hot day in the middle 90-degrees F. Late morning, I started dunking my bandana in the river to soak it and then placed it on my head under my hat to try to keep cool and cover my ears and the back of my neck to protect against the sun. I think I had to repeat the process every 20 minutes or so because I was generating so much heat and the sun was so hot the bandana dried quickly. This went on for hours. This little bandana dance, however, kept me cool and prevented sunburn.
It wasn’t fashionable, but the wet bandana method was effective
Other strategies implemented throughout the duration of the race varied:
- My wife gave me a sun stick which I kept in my PDF pocket and applied it to my nose, ears, shoulders, arms, cheeks, and neck several times. Think of a sun stick as a glue stick made out of sunscreen. It allowed me to protect against the sun without making my hands slippery when I applied it.
- Although I knew my hands were blistering, I never removed my paddling gloves to inspect the damage. I didn’t want to know and I didn’t want to dwell on blisters. I also didn’t want to waste time struggling to put wet gloves back on.
- When I started feeling fatigue and knew my cadence was slowing and paddle angle dropping, I concentrated on ensuring I used a higher paddling angle and focused on torso rotation to get the maximum efficiency out of each and every stroke.
- At numerous points, when the water sped up I slowed down and when the water slowed down, I sped up.
- At other points when the water sped up I put out near-maximum effort just to switch things up and at least feel like I was created more distance between me and the next person behind me even if I wasn’t. I had no way of knowing.
- I constantly did math problems in my head, looking at my GPS readings and calculating how long it would take me to get to the next boat ramp and how long it would take to complete the race.
- I also skirted the shore line during the mid-day hours as much as I could to try to find some shade to stay out of the heat regardless of where the best channel on the river was.
I know my body and when I get overheated, my brain doesn’t work very well and I become irritable. It is as if heat shuts down some of my brain cells so I’m only functioning with half my computing power.
So I slowed down a bit during the heat of mid-day to stay a little bit cooler and conserve some brain power for later. I also figured if there is such a thing as mental toughness then it must come from the brain and that must be preserved for the late stages of the race. Brilliant reasoning, don’t you think?
At one point this “seek the shade” strategy paid unexpected dividends.
I was paddling under some trees on the right side of the river and not too far ahead I spotted an American Bald Eagle on a protruding tree branch. I slowed my paddling and then just glided toward the majestic bird to see how close I could get. I ended up closer than I had ever been to an eagle in the wild and was able to capture the moment on my action cam. That incident refreshed me and got my juices going again.
I stopped at the Scottsville checkpoint and got out of the boat to stretch my legs and refill my water as planned. Konrad helped fill my water bladders and squeeze bottle but I did not need any more food so I did not grab one of the food baggies I had pre-prepared. I had munched on some almonds and beef jerky but didn’t touch either of the protein bars. I was back in the boat and paddling again within two or three minutes of landing. Shortly thereafter I rewarded myself with one of the Combat Crunch bars. It was like a party in my mouth. River decadence.
Me, Rod and Joe at Check point #1, Scottsville
The thought of a 3rd place finish kept me highly motivated for most of the race, but as I pulled into the second mandatory checkpoint at Cartersville (mile #62,) I noticed #2 paddler, Mike, on shore in a lawn chair taking a break. At first I thought he was a hallucination until he started talking to me.
He mentioned that he was very tired and fatigued both from the heat and from balancing his new surf ski for so many miles and that he now was thinking that my plan of choosing a slower but more comfortable and stable boat might have been a good idea. He also mentioned that he might write an article about the trade-off between speed and stability when it comes to kayaks and surf skis. I commiserated with him that you truly can’t have it all in one boat and that I was hoping to be the proverbial tortoise in this race.
It was also at that moment I realized that at least one person reads this blog because that was the only way he could have known my pre-race strategy and the rationale behind my boat selection. This blog now has a documented audience of one.
I felt terrible for Mike because he had paddled such a strong race but did not look like he was in good shape. I left the boat ramp within a minute or two while Mike stayed on shore trying to recover.
I kept looking for Mike over my shoulder from that point on, fully expecting him to pass me once he was rested and back on the water. I was just hoping that others would not catch up and pass me also. I was growing tired and was not able to keep up a solid, fast pace.
I found out after the race that Mike suffered heat stroke and DNF’ed at mile 93. Heartbreaking.
The day got dark and I paddled into the night.
I was thankful for my stable boat as I dealt with some riffles and small rapids in the darkness.
The sound of rapids up ahead in the darkness is quite intimidating, but I knew the river and was at one with my boat at this point so my mind was mostly at ease.
There was some kind of bug hatch on the river that night—I think Stoneflies—and they seemed attracted to the green light on the right side of my bow and they flew up and hit me in the face repeatedly as they swarmed the light. Every time I took a stroke on the left side, I could hear my right paddle blade striking these bugs in mid-air. The first time a fish jumped to eat one, the fish hit the side of my boat which both startled me and brought me back to full attention, a state I hadn’t been in for at least an hour or two. The water got wide and slow and I just kept paddling until I got to the finish line at midnight.
The last two miles felt like they……..consumed……..eternity.
When I crossed the finish line I had covered the 100 miles in 16 hours and 52 minutes. A very respectable time, I thought, although I was shocked to learn it was midnight. For some reason, I thought it was somewhere between 10:30 and 11pm, but that was only a guess since I could not see my GPS screen in the darkness so I couldn’t do any more math after nightfall.
Not looking the greatest as I got to the finish line at midnight
Konrad was waiting for me at the finish line and so was my friend and training partner, Paddling Buddy Dave, who had won the race in record time. I thought he would have been in bed for an hour or two by then, but he and his wife stayed at the boat ramp waiting for me to finish. More good friends, I thought.
Paddling Buddy Dave
When I was informed that nobody got ahead of me and that I was the #2 finisher, I was so excited to take second place, but I was even more excited that my training partner and I finished #1 and #2 in this 100-mile race.
My time was 30 minutes faster than last year’s solo winner.
These things tend to get very competitive over time.
Me and Paddling Buddy Dave at the end of a long race
It should be noted that after the race, I washed off as best I could using an outdoor hose and then an indoor sink and then crawled into the back of my truck to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up way too early the next morning, I drove the the nearest restaurant I could find open that early and ate bacon and eggs with black coffee and plenty of water. That was it. No food binge, no “refeeding,” nothing out of the usual. Just a regular breakfast and I was on track with my nutrition. Eating #NSNG and being fat adapted is actually quite remarkable.
With some more rest, time, and reflection…and some thought about a new boat…I’ll make a decision at some point as to whether to come back to the James River Rundown next year and maybe even take it up to the next level and paddle the 140.
If you’ve got a good, fast kayak (preferably used) that can survive some rocks in a downriver marathon, then I’m all ears. Contact me. I’m especially interested in a used SRS Laser, Stellar SR, WSBS TRex or Marauder, Vajda Hawx 46 or new Pyranha Octane 175 or similar.
There. Now you know my wish list. Sponsorships welcomed.
My race video from the James River Rundown 2016. I’m in the red kayak toward the back of the pack across the starting line telling myself, “marathon, not a sprint!”
Other paddlers finishing Sunday morning
#PaddlingBuddyDave and I on our last training run prior to the #JamesRiverRundown.
Paddling buddy Dave and I got up early and met at the boat ramp in Palmyra, VA at 6:30am this morning, threw both boats on top of his car and then headed back toward Charlottesville to begin our training run in our kayaks.
We launched our boats just below the S. Rivanna Reservoir dam, upstream of the Rt. 29 bridge at ~7:50am.
The weather was overcast and drizzly at times and also windy at times. And a few times the sun even popped out.
Our purpose was to get some base miles in in preparation for the James River Rundown. I also wanted to test my eating/fueling for a longer paddle and get some blisters/calluses on my hands that will serve as natural protection later in the paddling season.
We spotted a bald eagle at the confluence with the North Rivanna and then spotted two more bald eagles later in the trip downstream of Shadwell. We spotted turtles in large quantities on many protruding logs and numerous Osprey.
I ate a breakfast of two strips of bacon with two scrambled eggs and coffee on my drive to Palmyra and only had ~17oz. of water the entire trip. I felt good and never felt hungry. The other Dave had some Gatorade before we left and then I gave him a 1.5oz bag of roasted and salted almonds that I brought in case of emergency. He needed them more than I did so I was happy to give the bag to him.
The trip was relatively uneventful and we did not see any other paddlers the entire trip.
We GPS’ed the trip at ~29.8 miles, but before we got to the boat ramp at Palmyra we both decided it would be a shame to get that close and not hit 30 miles, so before we reached the ramp, we turned around and paddled upstream a bit and then came back down to make sure we could log a full 30 miles. We finished in 5 hours and 14 minutes.
It was a good trip and it was nice to have company.
At ~mile 17 we both realized that the mental aspects of the trip started to come into play. In other words, our bodies felt good but we were beginning to feel the physical effects of paddling and we found ourselves going silent as we each tried to convince our brains that it would be OK if we just keep paddling, trying to reconcile that with the number of miles behind us and the number of miles ahead of us. It was nice to actually be able to discuss that with somebody else. Usually I’ve been paddling alone when that has happened in the past.
Our lower backs were both in pain at the end of the trip, but other than two blisters on my left hand (the hand I anchor my paddling with,) I felt fine. Just a bit tied and some of that was from getting up at 5am.
This was the longest paddle on the Rivanna I had ever done and the longest trip Dave had ever paddled. It was also my first time on the river between Crofton and Palmyra.
A brief video trip report is below.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Loose hand grip on the paddle shaft will be essential
- 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.
Feeling a little grizzled after 21 miles