Wednesday 17 July 2013

Midwest Standup Paddle Festival – 2013

I would have missed this event had I not agreed to run a clinic for Jimmy and Quickblade paddles and, as it turns out; it was a great decision to attend. It was a really fun event and a very enjoyable weekend. I’ve written up a report on the event for Distressed Mullet which you can find here: (click here), so I won’t bother to go over all the details of the weekend in this blog entry. Instead I’ll talk a bit more about the race itself.

Lake Mendota isn’t a huge lake by any means.  For someone who does most of his paddling on the Great Lakes it feels kind of confining.  For someone coming from the ocean it must feel like a swimming pool, but the fact is it isn’t really that small.  It’s probably 5 miles across one way and 7 the other.  It’s certainly sizeable enough to get some decent wind chop and attract lots of motorboats.  The result?  Lots of chop and bumps to either use, or wallow in, depending on your skill.

Race morning dawned with a 15 mph wind running up the course from the start line to the first turn.   This wind was churning up small wind waves about a foot to 18 inches tall that were certainly usable and made for a  little downwind component to the race.  The course itself was 6 miles long, consisting of 3 two mile laps of a sort of ‘M” shaped course.  There were three right shoulder turns and one left shoulder turn each lap and two straight away sections (one upwind and one downwind) just over one kilometer long.
Approximately 50 racers were on the line for the 8:30 a.m. on water start.  The field was mostly racers from the Midwest with the notable addition of John Becker (racing 14’ over 50) and Brian Szymanski on one of his latest 12’6” Starboard prototypes.  Unfortunately Dan Gavere had to bail on the race a few days before and his absence was notable.

I got a good start and immediately caught a couple of waves which helped me have a good lead by the first turn which was approximately 300m downwind.  Turn two was another 300m upwind away and sort of level with the start/finish line and represented the bottom of the middle part of the ‘M”.   Turn 3 was back up wind and another 300m away and level with turn 1.  Then there was a long upwind leg a little over a kilometer long to turn 4.  After turn 4 it was back to the start/finish line and onto lap two.

While there were definite bumps to use downwind I found there was something to use going upwind as well.  I love paddling upwind when you find that little bulge in the surface of the water that is moving away from you just in front of your board.  It’s never enough to allow you to put your paddle down and rest but if you park your nose on it, it sure helps give you some speed and definitely makes paddling easier.  It sort of feels like you’re being pulled along on a conveyor belt.

On top of those bumps there were countless random motorboat wakes crisscrossing the course.  These can provide great rides when you find yourself in the right place at the right time.  I caught a few of these bumps in each of the first two laps, but it wasn’t until the last upwind leg on lap three that I hit the jackpot.  As soon as I got around turn 3 there I found a large, rolling boat wake about 2 ½ feet high just ahead of me and moving in the same direction I was.  I hammered into the wind and caught the first roller.  The pace on my GPS dropped dramatically from about 6:40/km to as low as 4:40/km for a short time.  It’s a great feeling when suddenly, out of nothing, you find something to ride that is fast and substantially more than anything you thought you were going to get.   I was able to ride these waves upwind for most of the last leg, probably about 800m of the probably 1200m long section.  I was almost able to get around turn 4 before anyone else had got around turn 3.  I think my finish time was 58:50 which is pretty good for a course that is supposed to be 6 miles (I suspect it was slightly under but I forgot to look at my GPS).

One of the cool details that Gary Stone and his crew thought of when putting the race together was a big digital clock like you see at running races mounted on the dock at the start/finish line so paddlers could not only see their times when they finished but also their lap times for each lap.   It’s something I definitely found useful in this race.

I’ve always respected those athletes that have the combination of drive and fitness to maintain a high level pace no matter whether they are pushed or not.  It’s hard to do, but it’s a sign of the internal drive needed to succeed at the highest level when an athlete can do it.  It’s something I’ve been working on all season and as I do a lot of paddling alone, my GPS has become a very tough training partner.  I use it constantly to try to keep my pace fast.   For some reason though, having the race clock on the dock provided even more motivation than my GPS provides.  I think it’s because I’m much more used to using the speed/pace information my GPS provides rather than the elapsed time.  In this race I got a good look at my split after lap 1 and made it a mission to try to run even splits.  By my calculations my second lap was only 14 seconds slower and my last lap, undoubtedly because of the big ride I got, was the fastest by about 10 seconds.  Given the focus I’ve made in training to maintaining pace I was very pleased with this.

Another big focus I’ve had in training so far this summer is course skills, namely turns.  Being a natural right side paddler and standing regular on the board my left shoulder turns are quite good.  My right shoulder turns however are a work in progress.  They weren’t great here but they were the best they’ve been in a race yet, and that is despite the chop and random bumps.  This is another indication that my training has been effective to date.

In the end my buddy from Michigan and sometimes training partner, Tony Paul, was second and Darien Hildreth from Florida was third.  We all enjoyed sitting around the finish line on our boards with our feet in the water watching all the other racers finish.I’ve commented in the Distressed Mullet article on the atmosphere and stoke at the event and it was fun to hangout the rest of the day and soak all that in.  There was a nice (and sizeable) lunch provided and some pretty cool trophies with the paddler on them looking incredibly similar to a C1 paddler.

Thanks to Gary Stone and his crew at Paddleboard Specialists, and all their volunteers, for putting on a great event.  I enjoyed this event immensely and the race was definitely worthwhile preparation for some of the big races still to come this year.