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!
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.
Feel free to skip to 26:42 where he starts talking about our trip and the indoor kayak training ergometer I built for him, but I encourage you to watch the whole video.
Vinnie is The Man for the No Sugars, No Grains (NSNG) lifestyle and has inspired me as a trainer more than he’ll ever know.
Celebrity fitness trainer and best selling author of Fitness Confidential, Vinnie Tortorich, has asked me to coach him through his first 100-mile kayak trip. He is coming from very little kayaking experience.
I’m confident I’ll be able to get him prepared even though we live on opposite coasts.
I’m building him an indoor training device, a kayak ergometer, which will help him with his indoor training. Along with other guidance I’m sure I’ll be able to get him down the 100 miles of the Bayou Lafourche in Louisiana in the Spring.
Oh, did I not mention I’ll be joining him for this journey?
I would not miss it for the world!
It is going to be epic!!
This year’s James River Rundown had 4 different variants, a 120-mile race, a 50-miler, a 25-miler and a 5 mile fun float. I paddled in the 120-miler, beginning at 6am (yikes!) across the river from downtown Lynchburg, VA.
I cashed in some loyalty points and stayed at the Holiday Inn directly across the river from the starting line the night before and walked to dinner at The Depot Grille and had an amazing dinner consisting of a huge rack of ribs, broccoli, salad, and two or three chicken wings. When I was finished gorging myself I put in an odd request since I knew I wouldn’t be able to find food at 4:30am the next morning.
I asked for an order of bacon and eggs to go so I could pop it in the refrigerator in the room and just microwave it in the morning. The kitchen staff kindly accommodated my request so I had a To Go box with breakfast in hand as I walked back to the hotel the long way so I could see a little more of the city. I will definitely be back to the Depot Grille and highly recommend it.
The alarm went off at 4am Saturday and I was a bit concerned right away when I bent over to pack up my duffle bag and stood back up and felt some pain in my lower back. I didn’t think too much of it, though, as I filled my CamelBak bladders with water and headed out to the front of the hotel where Paddling Buddy Dave and his wife were to pick me up at 5am.
We got to the boat ramp, unloaded boats and gear and I noticed another paddler pull in with what looked like an identical boat. I walked over to meet him and helped him carry his boat to the starting line and we placed it right next to my Pyranha Octane at the starting line. His name was Bill and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him at that point, but he seemed like a nice enough guy.
We all got onto the water and lined up at the starting line waiting for the start and then we were off and racing.
The 120-mile starting line with downtown Lynchburg, VA in the background
I was using my Fenn 3 wing paddle and did a bit of a sprint at the start of the race and jumped to an early, fleeting lead before Paddling Buddy Dave passed me in his Epic V7 followed shortly by Ethan in another Epic V7. This was the showdown I was waiting for to see which of these boats was faster.
I got a clear answer rather quickly.
They created separation between us in the first mile and I was amazed at what a fast start they got off to and thought they would either kill themselves slugging it out on the river all day or one or both of them would crash and burn at some point.
They chose Option A.
I was separating myself from the rest of the pack and thought I was going to be in familiar territory early yet again this year. No Man’s Land. Well behind the leaders but well ahead of the main pack. And that was pretty much the way it was for many of the first 70 miles.
Somewhere around James River State Park, my shoulders were getting sore and I was starting to tire as the sun heated up. The river was shallow and many, many times when I plunged my paddle blade into the water to take a good stroke the end of the blade hit a rock just an inch or two under the water and violently bounced back at me which cause stress on my shoulders and a brief moment of imbalance. This happened too many times to count.
So somewhere after James River State Park I found a rock on the river and stopped and swapped out my Fenn 3 paddle for my custom-made wing paddle I was carrying as a spare in the hatch which had smaller blade surface area and was a less expensive paddle in the event the rocks did real damage to my paddle. I didn’t want to continue to beat my paddle blades into rocks and since I wasn’t running with the Big Dogs I wanted to give my shoulders something with much less resistance to paddle the remainder of the way.
The smaller blades (equivalent now to the Epic mid-wing) were much easier to paddle but I soon resumed really feeling the heat of the day. My lower back was screaming by this point.
I hugged the right shoreline to find shade and took many breaks to stretch my back.
Then I saw Bill in his Think Nitro coming up from behind.
I wasn’t too worried because I knew there was still a lot of river ahead of us, but he caused me to stop taking breaks and paddle with some purpose once again.
Soon we were paddling next to each other and started talking. Bill got a little ahead when we approached Dog Island, just upstream of Howardsville. Bill went left, I went right.
Soon I was paddling past some people on the shoreline with saws and ropes removing a sweeper that extended into the river. Entangled in the tree were the remnants of a canoe. We had been told about a woman who had died on the river earlier in the week because she became entangled with a tree and this was a spot where the main flow went directly into that tree. I knew immediately this was the place where that poor woman lost her life just days before. I bowed my head and stopped paddling as I passed the tree and prayed for her family and friends.
It was a somber moment.
I emerged at the bottom of the island and found Bill was a little behind me at that point. Now I don’t honestly remember if I waited for Bill to catch up to me or if he just caught me, but we resumed chatting as we pulled into the boat ramp at Howardsville for a pit stop. I did a quick refill with water without getting out of the boat and pushed back out quickly but Bill got out of his boat and took a few minutes rest on land.
Not too long later I looked back and saw him behind me on the water again. My back was in great pain and I had just about had it so when he caught up to me again a new dynamic took over. I found out this was to be the longest distance he had ever paddled (in fact, I think 50 miles was more than he ever paddled in one shot) and he learned how much pain I was in and offered me a pain killer.
We then started encouraging each other.
I told him how much nicer it was to paddle with somebody than paddle for hours on end alone and we agreed to paddle together and briefly mentioned something about fighting it out for third place the next day.
But then shortly after that we also talked about how there was really no fame, reward or glory in taking 3rd place in this race and how unlikely it was that anyone in the main pack behind us would catch up to us.
At some point it was discussed that we would each come back in the morning if the other one did and resume paddling together and that it was starting to sound silly to paddle together for so many miles and then try to sprint at the end to beat the other one for no particular reason other than a few seconds difference on some time sheet.
We observed each others’ boats and for the first time truly understood how much rocker these boats have and noticed both the front of the bow and the stern were both out of the water. When you are paddling the boat you don’t see this, but when you are paddling next to one you do.
The bows and sterns both out of the water makes for a shorter waterline and slower boat
This amount of rocker makes for a much shorter waterline and with the flat hull, we truly understood that the Pyranha Octane/Think Nitro (same boat, different badge) was fundamentally a much slower design than the Epic V7.
What is discussed on the river stays on the river, but two people at some point in time might have discussed starting an online flame war between the Pyranha Octane and the Think Nitro, each arguing why his boat is far superior to the other.
As we approached Hatton Ferry I was describing the best line on the river but then opted to just lead the way and show him the best line since I was more familiar with that section of the river.
We pulled into the mandatory overnight stop in Scottsville (Mile #70) together and I honestly didn’t know if I was going to return the next day. I figured I would give myself a few hours and a good meal to see how I felt and then make the call. After a fat filet mignon I bounced back and felt an obligation to Bill. I knew he would be back. He is a strong paddler and I could sense how important this accomplishment was to him.
So we resumed in the morning.
Once again I jumped out with The Big Dogs but knew my boat was no match so I fell back and waited for Bill.
We then paddled the rest of the way together and really enjoyed the day. The rapids at Seven Islands were awesome with some good drops and rock gardens and we made it through with solid lines and just a few bumps.
We caught up to and passed a few of the 25-mile paddlers. We made every pit stop together and waited for each other at each pit stop.
Although at the time the last 50 miles on Day #2 seemed like a slow and boring part of the river, the time passed rather quickly and again I commented how much better I felt mentally paddling with somebody and engaging in pleasant conversation. I explained how paddling for so many hours alone last year did strange things mentally. Last year my mind wandered into ‘the zone’ and when I had a minute or two of human contact at pit stops my crew man sensed I wasn’t quite right mentally and I knew I was struggling to put a coherent sentence together.
There was none of that this year. Bill and I enjoyed each others’ company and the conversation kept our minds occupied and in a much better place.
We were not paddling leisurely either, regardless of what it might have looked like at the pit stops. We maintained a pretty good pace together.
So we got to the finish line in a dead even tie for third place. We found out that Paddling Buddy Dave came in second place behind Ethan and those two did indeed push each other all-out for two days.
I grinned and almost felt guilty knowing I had a significantly more enjoyable 120-mile journey, made a friend along the way, and still managed to come in third place.
The number of minutes or hours between 2nd and 3rd place was meaningless.
Turning off the GPS at the finish line. 117 miles in 19hrs, 55 minutes moving time. Official race time will be more because pit stops will be included.
My race video:
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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.
And for historical purposes, I updated the historic chart of river levels on the James River during the James River Rundown.
PPS – I stayed at the finish line after the ceremonies ended and after most people had left to help finishers get their boats up onto land and help them find their land legs and it was there and then I witnessed some of the best this race had to offer with the “back of the packers.”
A male duo in a canoe that weighed roughly the same as the USS Yorktown finished the 120-miler still in good spirits. The female tandem kayak team, The Sirens, completing the 120-mile journey telling tales of their interpersonal mayhem during the race but obviously getting out of their boat with a tighter bond than ever.
And the most touching, the female 50-mile solo paddler who got to the finish line and began shaking and became emotional due to the sense of accomplishment. This was her first finish in three attempts. I even got choked up watching her reaction and joy.
Some of the best stuff this race had to offer was with the folks who got off the river last with little fanfare or recognition.
Here’s to you!
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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