Race report: Richmond Paddle Cup 2018

2018 8-11 Paddle Cup-492-bhdr

rpc

Yesterday I paddled in the 17-mile canoe & kayak race during the Richmond Paddle Cup event.  The sponsor, Crosswind Paddle Co., added a longer, 17-mile race this year after they were approached by the James River Association (JRA) and asked if they would consider adding a longer race in lieu of JRA hosting the James River Rundown this year.

I’m very happy that Crosswind Paddle Co. added this longer race and encourage them to hold it again next year and think about expanding the distance.  I’ll do my part to help promote the event and encourage more participants.

The race began at 8am at the Maidens boat ramp and the weather was perfect paddling weather, which is to say it was mostly overcast for the duration of the race.

I had only paddled this section of river twice before.  Once during the 40-mile James River Rundown in 2015 and then again in the 100-mile James River Rundown in 2016, however, in the 2016 race I paddled this section at night and didn’t really get to see it, but I did recall scraping a few rocks both times.

So I knew from experience there were some rapids early in the race but the last few miles were wide and deep with the possibility of wakes from recreational boats.

I chose to paddle my Nelo 510 due to the possibility of hitting rocks and knew Paddling Buddy Dave was taking his 19’2″ X 18.9″ carbon/Kevlar Stellar SR, so I fully understood I would not be any real competition to him so I hoped to compete well against other similar boats that showed up, especially any Epic V7’s, of which there were two of them in this race.

We got off to a good, clean start and Ryan jumped out to an early lead in his racing canoe followed by Salli & Mike in their tandem Stellar ski and then Paddling Buddy Dave.

I managed to work my way up through the main pack to stay in 4th place behind them and I was able to keep Dave at least in sight for the duration of the race.

I found myself in the ever-so-familiar no-man’s land again: well behind the leaders and well ahead of the main pack, so once again I paddled alone for the whole race.

I managed to average 7.2mph for the first 14 miles and then when the river got wide and flat with a slight headwind, my overall pace dropped to a 7.1mph average, but I was happy to maintain a steady, brisk pace throughout the race with no signs of fatigue.

Screenshot_20180811-210822_Mi FitScreenshot_20180811-210920_Mi FitScreenshot_20180811-211017_Mi FitScreenshot_20180812-180953_Mi FitGPS tracks from  my Amazfit Bip wristband along with pace data

I don’t recall my official time and I overshot the finish line a little bit before I turned off my GPS, but I think I finished at ~2:25:00 which was good enough for 2nd place, about 4 minutes behind Paddling Buddy Dave.  {Official time was 2:23:44 which was more than 12 minutes faster than every other kayak/ski that was not a carbon/Kevlar ski longer than 19′.  I believe there was also a fiberglass Prijon Expedition in that mix.}

I was quite happy with that.

And this is a real testament to the Nelo 510 since we know the paddlers are about even and the Stellar SR is far superior in terms of weight and speed, so kudos to Nelo for designing a plastic ski that smokes the V7 and any plastic competition!

jrr2018medal2nd place, Men’s Solo Kayak

FB_IMG_1534380559130Me and Paddling Buddy Dave

The best part about this race, though, was the fact that it seemed like a homecoming for former participants of the James River Rundown.  It was great to see and visit with Mike, Salli and Joe from 10th Life Kayaking and also Justin from JRA.

We finished at the same pavilion we had two years ago when I crossed the finish line pretty tired at midnight and Mike was in ill health and had to drop out that year, so we had a much more pleasant experience at the finish line this year and I felt like I was part of a very cool fraternity.  It was great to hang out with friends.

 

 

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My video from the Richmond Paddle Cup 2018

Salli also agreed to an interview so I could ask her about her very recent completion of the Yukon 1000 race.   She is a true paddling rock star!

My interview with Salli O’Donnell

My nutrition for the race was typical.  2 side orders of eggs and 2 side orders of bacon from Burger King along with ample black coffee.

Before the race I also took 3 Cellucor NO3 Chrome capsules.  This is a nitric oxide/vasodilator product that I find helps open up my nasal passages due to chronic allergies and sinus congestion.

I did, however, try something new in my water bladder this time.  I added 1/2 scoop of BodyLogix BCAA’s powder with salts, which has about the cleanest (i.e. no sugar, but it does have Sucralose listed as an ingredient, which is probably just as bad, hence only 1/2 scoop in more than 40 ounces of water) profile I’ve been able to find in a BCAA product.  I’ve used this product for other, strenuous workouts but never for a kayak race.  It seemed to work well.

 

 

My experiment with BCAA’s and electrolytes

I was feeling good today and got in a workout with fairly heavy volume this afternoon at Planet Fitness.

Screenshot_20180812-203912_AtlasToday’s workout, tracked with my Atlas Wearables 2 workout tracker

As I was working out, I thought about my next boat and it is probably going to be a high-end surfski.  If you’ve been paying any attention at all then you know I typically buy a boat that hasn’t been done yet in my paddling circles.  I like to try something a little different and/or unusual.

So I’m open to talking with any surfski companies who think they have something for me to consider, but I’ll have to sell off some of my existing boat inventory first to make room both with the finances and in the garage.

Boats that will probably soon be up for sale include:

  1. Phoenix Match II downriver racer
  2. Prijon Interceptor downriver racer
  3. Wenonah Orion, K1 flatwater sprint boat
  4. Prijon Beluga
  5. Phoenix Mini Slipper

Let me know if you have an interest in any of these boats.

PS – I know I dropped several brand names in this post so I therefore want to remind you:  I am not sponsored by anyone and don’t have any incentive to promote or mention any of the brands I just talked about.  I merely share those products and brands I use and like.  People often write me to ask about the details of the gear and gadgets I use so I thought I’d share the details in advance this time.

If you choose to check out these products I encourage you to do so via my affiliate links below:

What I use and recommend:
Amazfit Bip Fitness Tracker by Huami
Cellucor NO3 Chrome Nitric Oxide Pump Amplifier, 90 Capsules
Bodylogix Ultra BCAA Powder
Atlas Wristband 2: Digital Trainer + Heart Rate Band

Products mentioned by Mike and Salli (I have no experience with either product):
TUF-FOOT Liquid Foot, Hoof and Paw Protection – 7 oz
Infinit Nutrition GO FAR Nutritional Drink

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Update on the Prijon Interceptor project

You may recall me bringing home an old-school, Hyperform Prijon Interceptor last summer. https://davethekayaker.com/2017/08/10/a-vintage-downriver-racer/

I finally finished her restoration in between the thunderstorms and decided to make her pretty rough and ugly.

Here’s the back story.

Since the James River Rundown (JRR) is no longer, a new outfit, The Crosswind Paddle Co., is hosting a new race in August, The Richmond Paddle Cup. Rumor has it they added a 17-mile race to try to attract the JRR long-distance crowd.

Well, I have news for them.

It is going to work.

In fact, it is going to work so well that the elite JRR paddlers have agreed to enter the race but we will all compete with kayaks and canoes we purchase from Craigslist for $200 or less. It is known as the Craigslist Challenge and will be a race within the race.

I finished the restoring the old Prijon Interceptor (purchased for $90 from Craigslist) and took her out for a paddle this evening.

She is the most uncomfortable boat I’ve ever paddled and the cockpit opening is so small it is hard for me to get in and out of.

Nonetheless, she will be my boat and I painted her up nice and ugly so nobody in their right mind would ever think of stealing her.

The boat is now a cross between a Swiss Army knife and a candy cane.

I hope her integrity and my lower back will be able to survive those 17 miles on August 11 on the James River.

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New river race in Central Virginia?

I’ve been pondering a new race on my local river for a few years now and have made the first steps toward making it a reality.

First, I asked East Coast paddlers if they’d have an interest in a 44-mile race and they overwhelmingly replied, “yes!”

Second, I went ahead and reserved a domain name this evening.

What are your thoughts?

Are you interested in a 44-mile race–the full length of the Rivanna River–in Central Virginia?

If so head on over to www.RunOfTheRivanna.org and fill out the form so we can determine if there is enough interest.

RR44_b

The end of the James River Rundown

jrr-end

We just found out this week that the James River Association is no longer going to host the annual James River Rundown, which was becoming a popular ultra-marathon kayaking event on the East Coast of the U.S. This is sad news because many of us looked forward to this event each year and its popularity was growing.

Years ago there was a different race to benefit a day camp, The Camp Kum-ba-yah Race, in Lynchburg on the James and that was a great event, but they, too, stopped hosting that race.

So we are left with no kayak/canoe race on the James River in Virginia.

I’m hopeful that somebody else will pick up and run with the idea of an organized marathon kayak race on the James. When they do they can count on me for support.

Paddling Buddy Dave and I have talked about hosting a 44 mile race on our local river, The Rivanna, or possibly making the race longer by extending it onto the James where we could easily turn it into a 55, 66, or 85 mile race. Dave and I might have to talk more seriously about this for 2019. If you represent a charity and would like to take on this fundraising project, just let me know.

In the meantime in 2018, the closest thing we get is a new race called The Richmond Paddle Cup hosted by Crosswind Paddle Company with the longest race being a mere 17 miles. A huge letdown for those of us looking forward to another ultra this year close to home.

To make it more interesting, a couple of us have hatched a plan. In order to make this 17 mile race more interesting and as a reminder that we don’t always need to be looking for the next fast boat or better gear, we are having an event within the event.

We will adhere to all the regular rules of the Richmond Paddle Cup but we will have our own division within the 17 mile race in which we will all have to use a boat we found on Craigslist for $200 or less. It has been dubbed, “The First Annual Craigslist Challenge.”

Let the games begin.

beatupcanoe

James River Rundown 2017

2017 James River Rundown_Dave Dolak Paddling_Mark East

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.

start

We all got onto the water and lined up at the starting line waiting for the start and then we were off and racing.

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lynchburgstartThe 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.

bowsternThe 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.

JRA-8JRA-9

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.

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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.

IMG_2362Turning 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:

 

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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.

wednesaday

And for historical purposes, I updated the historic chart of river levels on the James River during the James River Rundown.

table1jrrlevelstable2jrrlevels

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!

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Run-up to the James River Rundown

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.

hattonThe 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.

JRRhistoricallevels1

JRRHistoricallevels2

Top-left 2014, top-right 2015, bottom 2016

Current readings:
James River at Bent Creek
James River at Scottsville
James River at Cartersville

Weather information and forecast for Scottsville, VA:
https://darksky.net/forecast/37.7986,-78.4914/us12/en

Lastly, be sure to scout the river using the Terrain 360 interactive map.

terrain360-aTerrain 360 image

See you on the water!

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James River Rundown practice run

If you would have told me a few years ago that I would paddle an ultra-marathon in a kayak I would have told you you were crazy.

If you would have told me that I’d paddle an ultra as a training run I would have just laughed uncontrollably.

Yet here we are.

Paddling Buddy Dave and I got on the river at 7am this morning to paddle the full length of the Rivanna River and then 10 miles of the James River from Columbia, VA to Cartersville.

We’ve gotten a lot of rain in the past couple days and the rivers were very high, so we kept our eye on the gauges and visually inspected the rivers to make sure we would be paddling within our skill level and not putting ourselves in any danger.  The levels dropped overnight on Friday, just as expected, so we had a “green light” for a day of paddling.

As we shuttled vehicles Friday night I guestimated it would take us between 8 and 9 hours based on our projected river flows.

55 miles, 8 hours and 8 minutes of paddling with ~30 minutes of rest/eating/water-replenishing later, and we completed our mission.

We are tired and sore.

At one point on the river the only thought that came into my mind were the song lyrics, “I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.”

The last 7 miles of the Rivanna seemed slow and boring and my back was shot by the time we hit the James so I just did what I had to do to get it over with.

Paddling Buddy Dave showed no signs of fatigue on the water and I continue to hold him in highest regard as an absolute paddling beast.

The Pyranha Octane and Epic V7 seemed very evenly matched and any advantage of one over the other seemed purely attributable to the paddler.

Nutrition for me was water with BCAA’s, almonds, Pistachios, beef jerkey, and two Epic bars.

Starting to review my year in paddling

The kayak races that immediately pop into my mind as the most memorable in 2016 were two completely new ones to me, and the James River Rundown 100-miler (I did the 40-mile version last year.)

I enjoyed and amazing year kayaking on some great waters and look forward to expanding my paddling horizons even more in 2017.

If you know of a kayak race or event on the East Coast you think I should hit, let me know.

  1. The James River Rundown 100-miler
  2. The Cumberland River Challenge
  3. The Lehigh Classic Whitewater Race

James River Rundown: My experience at the 2016 James River Rundown 100-mile race

#JamesRiverRundown #DaveTheKayaker #James River Rundown

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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.

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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?

 

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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.

160611-0701A - CopyLaunching from the boat ramp at James River State Park before the start of the 100-mile race160611-0705AKonrad 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.

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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.

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160611-0916AJoe, 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.

rodbookPaddling with Rod Price and subsequently getting an autographed copy of his excellent book available at http://rodpriceadventure.com.

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.

13392171_10208406552953960_1094918637761201897_oIt 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.
160611-4569ANot 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.

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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.

160611-4576AMe and Paddling Buddy Dave at the end of a long race

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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.

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Paddling the Rivanna River –the whole thing

I hate the phrase “bucket list,” but yesterday I was able to check off an item that has been on my bucket list for a couple years.

Paddling buddy Dave and I jumped in our kayaks and paddled the entire length of the Rivanna River from just below the dam at the South Rivanna Reservoir in Charlottesville to the James River at Columbia, VA.  This was a training run for our upcoming 100-mile James River Rundown.

I paddled my new-to-me Prion Beluga and Dave paddled his Epic V7 surf ski.  He definitely, once again, had the boat advantage and I probably pushed myself a little too hard trying to keep up.

We started at 6am but paddled through the heat of the day on a very hot day and it has taken me most of today to recover.  Maybe a little heat stroke or maybe a little sinus infection, I remember rolling on my side in my sleep last night and waking up and feeling dizzy.  And again this morning, when I bent over I felt dizzy.  So I took it easy all morning and early afternoon and am back on track this evening.

Nutrition yesterday consisted of bacon and eggs with coffee for breakfast, a couple of Epic bars and water along the way, a “cheat” snack of a MusclePharm Combat Crunch bar at one point when the heat was getting to me and I felt weak, and 1 Nuun tablet in water.

Now I’m feeling good and I have a sense of accomplishment.  It took us 7-3/4 hours of paddling at 5.8mph over the 44.1 miles and we saw countless turtles, Herons, heard a few beaver tail slaps, and were even treated to two American Bald Eagle sightings.