— Brinestorm

Reflections Upon My First Race

A tired me, crossing the finish line…but I finished! (Photo by Bill Rostenberg)

I just participated in the SeaTrek Regatta and ETC Paddle-A-Thon, a charity race for Environmental Traveling Companions. Those who pledged to my participation raised over $500 for this excellent charity, and I got to paddle my first race ever, a 9.5-mile course around Angel Islandin the San Francisco Bay.

And somehow I won first place in my age and boat category. How could that possibly happen?!?

  • I told myself that I was only racing myself. This helped me not totally burn out by a too-fast start. My greatest personal triumph was shaving 20% off of my previous time doing this course during training. It was a marked improvement, and just enough to squeeze me into first place.
  • I improved my torso rotation. Thanks to the help of some local ex-racers and forward-stroke fascists (trust me, that’s a compliment!), I got a lot better with my torso rotation very quickly. Anyone who paddles knows (or should know) that one must exert paddling effort from one’s torso, and not one’s arms, for maximum power, efficiency, and endurance. That doesn’t mean my elbows didn’t drop from time to time, or that I didn’t feel it in my shoulders later, or that my form came and went with my focus and energy. But it helped a great deal, especially because…
  • I used a wing paddle. This was a real revelation, and I have to credit the staff at California Canoe and Kayak for their tips, hints, and recommendations, as well as other members of BASK. Having developed an outward stroke style when using Greenland-style paddles, I found the wing paddle not only easy to learn, but it’s a paddle type that requires torso rotation to use effectively. Sure, it provides significant efficiency boosts, but it really keeps you honest about torso vs. arm paddling.
  • My field was small. There were only a handful of people were in my age range, and was a markedly uncrowded field compared to the young ‘uns and the olders “masters” class. That definitely helped, since my finishing time wasn’t going to set any records. Interestingly enough, I bested all of the younger class’ times, and didn’t get close to the older class’ times. Just goes to show that old age and treachery overcomes youth and skill…ahem, fine, what it really shows is that experience and efficiency can win the day over strength.

I was also left with a pretty hefty set of learnings and revelations.

  • This is fun! If you’re an active paddler but have never raced, it’s really a good time! Set your expectations properly and just focus on finishing, not winning, and it’s an enjoyable test of one’s abilities.
  • I slacked on cross-training. I definitely got lazy around weight training and aerobic cross-training on my bicycle. Not only might my time have improved, but my muscles and joints would’ve ached a lot less afterwards.
  • Not enough fuel. I was worried about the effect of racing a full stomach, so I ate too early. I carried my energy goo of choice on the race, but the need to stop paddling in order to consume it was a huge mistake. I got pretty hungry in the last third of the race, and stopping to refuel cost me time.
  • I recovered after race day by…paddling another ten miles. I think that keeping my joints lubed and muscles warm after a big race by doing a long, lazy paddle the following day really helped my recovery. Besides, it justified copious amounts of meat and beer.
  • The event, not my performance, was the most important thing. ETC raised over $40,000 to fuel their scholarship fund to help pay for the differently-abled and disadvantaged to have premium outdoor experiences and to build a sense of group camaraderie and outdoor leadership. Even if I hadn’t placed or even improved my time, my participation and the thoughtful donations of my donors and sponsors helped keep this 40-year-old institution cranking along.

Not only will I be doing this again next year, it’s got me looking for other racing opportunities in the Bay Area. I can see how competitive kayaking can be habit forming! Now, can I fit a surf ski into my garage..?

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