Friday, July 3, 2015

Got a new GPS gadget - SpeedCoach SUP 2

This afternoon the UPS delivery person dropped off my new geeky toy - a SpeedCoach SUP 2. It's a GPS with a high refresh rate designed to give accurate, by-the-second speedometer readings, and it has an internal accelerometer that can sense every paddle stroke you take. (It can display your strokes per minute and your distance traveled per stroke, the product of which is, of course, your speed.) Also, it uses bluetooth wireless communication to talk to a heart rate sensor that you wear around your chest. The bluetooth lets you extract the data from the unit to your PC for analysis, which I think is super cool. You can also use the wireless to download timed interval "workouts" to the SpeedCoach, which will then tell you when to go fast, when to rest, etc. There are five workout programs already in the machine when it comes out of the box, and you can tweak them and save them if you want to.

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I had to rush to get on the water to try the toy today because the radar showed a thunderstorm coming in from the east. I did a 1.61 km (1 mile) paddle downstream in the Imperial River, then took a rest and did the same thing coming back upstream. Going downstream I didn't start the SpeedCoach data recording properly, so I didn't get any data for that section. Going upstream and upwind after I was already a little tired I didn't get the most impressive times, but the data was still useful. Here's what it looked like when I graphed it in Microsoft Excel:

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Speed- It took me 20 seconds or so to get up to speed. Quicker acceleration is something I need to work on, since this could really hurt me in a race with lots of buoy turns where you have to stop and then accelerate again. I also notice that there are lots of little ups and downs in the speed, which might have to do with wind, current, and water depths changes as I was going up the bends of the river. I definitely noticed just by looking at the screen on the SpeedCoach that I was a lot slower in shallow water, and a lot faster when I could find an eddy in the downstream current. I'm sure there's a "human element" to the ups and downs, too, with my wavering will and focus. Strokes per minute- I take about 56 strokes per minute on average, but when I take more strokes per minute I'm faster. There are times that my stroke rate seems to suddenly dip really low, which may be when I'm switching paddling sides or may be when the accelerometer fails to pick up strokes. Heart rate- My resting heart rate (not shown) is 65-70 bpm. My "warmed up" heart rate (after paddling hard for a mile then taking a couple minutes to rest) is about 120. It took about a minute of paddling hard for my heart to go from 120 to 170ish, then it gradually got up to 180ish after about 10 minutes. I think around 180 is my hard-workout max.

Hopefully the data this gizmo delivers will give me some better insight into what works and what doesn't work for going faster. :)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards Summer Race Series; 1 down, 4 to go

Last Sunday 16 people did the first race in CGT Summer Time Trials' paddle race series on the Imperial River in Bonita Springs, Florida. I love the races that CGT puts on because they're right in my backyard, they're with my SUP teammates and other nice folks, and they have a relaxed atmosphere that nevertheless encourages you to push yourself to improve your paddling.

Murray Hunkin the South African kayaker and CGT sup race team stud.

Although I didn't place first in this race, it was one of my favorites. The fastest paddler in town, Mark Athanacio, used a 14' board in contrast with his usual 12'6, which put him in the same division as me and most of the other guys on the CGT race team. Nevermind that Mark had done a huge ocean race in Pompano Beach the day before- he was still fast. I started in the first group of four with Mark, Matt Kearney, and Murray Hunkin. There was good "draft train" action in the first part of the race with Mark pulling Matt pulling me pulling Murray. After a few minutes, though, Mark started to pull ahead of Matt so I sprinted around to take his place. I drafted Mark for a bit, then I took a turn pulling, and we switched back and forth like that for most of the race. Mark was helpful asking me when I was getting really tired and offering to lead at those times. I tried to help him by telling him what shallow spots and high current areas to watch out for in the river, but I kept mixing up right and left so I wasn't actually much help. After we did the last turn of the race, upriver under the "bat bridge," Mark got a gap on me that I didn't have the energy to close, but I stayed not too far behind. The times were as follows:

Name, Time, Class, Course
Kim Kelsey, 0:42:14, Surf Ski, 4.5 Mile
Mark Athanacio, 0:45:34, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile
James Douglass, 0:45:45, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile
Jodi Ziajka, 0:46:43, 12'6" SUP, 2 Mile
Matt Kearney, 0:49:36, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile
Justin DiGiorgio, 0:50:04, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile
Murry Hunkin, 0:50:47, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile
Mark Hourigan, 0:52:31, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile
Meg Bosi, 0:53:43, 12'6" SUP, 4.5 Mile
Alan Navarro, 0:54:17, 12'6" SUP, 4.5 Mile
Jared Hamilton, 0:56:42, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile
John Weinberg, 0:58:29, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile
Mike Clough, 1:00:32, Rec Kayak, 4.5 Mile
Bryan Herrick, 1:03:16, 12'6" SUP, 4.5 Mile
Igor Krasnov, 1:03:16, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile
Dave Santee, 1:13:39, 14' SUP, 4.5 Mile

The course is actually ~4.3 miles, not 4.5 miles, so our speeds are not *quite* as impressive as they look. Mine works out to 9.14 kph (5.68 mph) which is really good for me- near my fastest all-time speed on this course, which was set in cooler weather. Close competition and drafting definitely helps. My goal is to get a few tenths of a kph faster over this distance so I can have a chance of hanging with the faster draft trains at the big Florida races.

After the race there was a glorious buffet spread in the CGT shop, which included amazing pulled pork slider sandwiches on potato rolls. Come on out and join us at the next one on July 12th! See the full schedule of CGT races in my sidebar.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sloppy Squares - 8 km grid workout SUP in the ocean

It's common sense that you should rest (not workout) the day before a tough athletic event like a SUP race. But it's less clear what you should do two days before. I asked on the "standupzone" forum what kind of SUP training is recommended for the day before the pre-race rest day and got some interesting replies. (See thread.)

The consensus was to do the same distance or maybe a longer distance than the race, but not at 100% race pace. Since the CGT Summer Race #1 on Sunday will be 6.9 km I figured 8 km would be good to do for the practice. Also, even though the race is going to be in a glassy river, I figured it would be more fun to do the practice in the Gulf of Mexico, which is cleaner with nice swimming and sunset views, plus the added interest of less than perfectly flat water.

The only problem with doing a set distance in the ocean is that there are few landmarks and no paths to follow. If you have a GPS you can meander around randomly until you hit your mileage goal, but I like to be more organized than that. So during lunch at work I sketched out a route on my notepad that looked something like this.

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I was planning to sketch it out on the sand for my training buddies, but I was a couple minutes late to the beach in the evening and they were already on the water. I explained it as best I could on the water and we started off. My goal was to paddle at 8.5 kph, which is a little less than the 9+ kph I'm going to be shooting for in the race. I told the other guys that if I got ahead they should cut corners to keep up. (Usually I'm fastest in this group.) The wind was light but there were some ankle- to knee-high chops coming in from when it was windier earlier in the day. That made it a little trickier to balance and find the right rhythm, but I like those conditions, and my Fanatic Falcon board handles them well. Anyway, I did the whole workout as planned, although most of the rest of the guys got bored or confused or tired and went back to the beach before the end. My own squares weren't all that square, either. (See below.)

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Nevertheless, I thought it was a successful workout challenge. I'm particularly pleased with how the route gives you a chance to navigate at nearly every orientation with respect to whatever the wind and chop might be doing. Riding the bumps on the way back in was the best. :) Hopefully this workout hit the nail on the head and I'll be ready for the race on Sunday.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sarasota SUP Championships 2015

I went up to Siesta Key this morning for the Sarasota SUP Championships. Siesta Key is famous for being voted the USA's #1 Beach. I found it to be quite nice indeed, with clear water, fine white sand, and free parking. The SUP event was big and well-organized, with lots of sponsor tents, a stage for the MC and a band, fancy lunch, etc. It was also well-attended, with lots of participants in a 10k "Elite" race, 5k "Open" race, relay race, kids race, etc. (Pic is start of the 10k race. Map shows the race course. 2 laps was 5k, 4 laps was 10k. You had to get off at the beach in the middle of each lap and run around some flags, but that's not shown on the gps because board caddies kept your board in the shallow water ready for you to jump back on it.)

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Fastest paddler in the world Danny Ching was there, lending his celebrity and kicking everyone's ass in the 10k race.

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Lots of the top riders at the state level were there, too, (see Brad Ward, Connor Bonham, and Garret Fletcher in first pic below) along with some tough amateurs around my own pace (see second pic below with me in white rashguard behind David Dean and John Sekas who both beat me despite being in the 50+ age division).

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Competitively speaking, I didn't do very well in this race, even compared with my other races this spring. My time was 1:14:28 over 10.43 km (6.48 miles) for a pace of 8.4 kph (5.22 mph). One HUGE and embarassing mistake I made was forgetting to attach my GPS to the board until the last minute when we were standing on the starting line, then having the start whistle blow while I was messing with it and my camelback was off. For 15 or 20 seconds after everyone else had started I was stuck fiddling around on the beach like an idiot. That probably cost me more time than just the 15 or 20 seconds because it put me in the rough water of the crowd of slower people and blew my chance to save some energy early by linking with a draft train of similar speed riders. Also I fell off once during the early part of the race, which didn't help any with my catching up. A couple times later in the race I drafted the guy ahead of me for a bit, but I just didn't have the energy to stay on him. Although I think my fitness level is at least as high it has been for most of my recent SUP races, I found this race super duper exhausting. For one thing, it was very hot and humid- already over 30C when the race started. Although I took some sips from a camelback full of dilute gatorade during the race, I think I may not have been hydrated enough before the race started. I was wearing a visor, sunglasses, dark boardshorts, and a longsleeve rashguard, and I think I might have been cooler if I'd just gone bareback or with a tanktop. I'll also do icewater in the camelback next time. Another thing that might have worn me out and made me slower than usual was my technique. Since watching the video of myself paddling I've been trying to correct some problems with my stroke, but the changes haven't become natural enough yet to actually make me faster- or my fixing some things has created other technique problems. On the last of the four laps of the race I kind of reverted to my old, bad stroke just to use some muscles that weren't worn out yet. A final thing that made this race tough was all the buoy turns and the short beach-runs that you had to do at the completion of each lap. I found out after the first lap that if I did the beach run fast I'd be so exhausted when I hopped back on the board that I could barely paddle at a cruising pace, let alone a race pace. I think practicing some beach runs alternating with SUP sprints would be a killer workout for the future that would help me prepare for more races like this.

The CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards race team made a great showing at this race, and we got our pictures taken with Danny Ching! From left to right there is Matt Kearney who was right behind me in the 10k, Justin DiGiorgio who got first in the 5k, Kevin Hill who got 3rd in 12'6 class in the 10k, Kate Pagan who got 3rd in the 12'6 women class in 10k, Danny Ching who did the whole race at a pace over 6 mph even though he was stopping to talk to the people he lapped, Meg Bosi who was 2nd 12'6 woman in the 5k. Not pictured is Mark Payne who signed up for the 10k but judiciously bowed out after 5k in the torturous heat.
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Florida legend Mark Athanacio won the 50+ age class and overall 12'6 category in the 10k.
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Next races are next weekend. I'm definitely going to the CGT summer race on the Imperial River on Sunday, and I might go to a race in Pompano Beach on Saturday, too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

East Coast Windsurfing Festival 2015 - You're Doing it Right

Check out this great video by Mike Burns, the organizer of the annual East Coast Windsurfing Festival in Long Island, NY. A couple years ago I went to this with Josh Angulo. Super glad to see they're still doing it and having fun.

2015 ECWF - LI - HD 1080p from Mike Burns on Vimeo.

This makes me want to do some more windsurfing regatta type things. It's nice that SUP is hugely popular now and there's a big SUP race in Florida practically every weekend. It would be so cool if it was like that for windsurfing. Maybe Ace Performer in Fort Myers will host a little event sometime.

Monday, June 8, 2015

SUP stroke- More graceful in my imagination than on camera

Standup paddleboarding (SUP) is an inherently awkward-looking sport. Even compared to other types of rowing, SUP is more hurky-jerky, bent-over, and asymmetrically weird. It's about as graceful as moving furniture. Yet, some of the really talented and fit SUPers still manage to make it look good. I've watched a lot of videos of the professionals at work, hoping to pick up at least a vague semblance of their style for myself. The most textbook-perfect technique example I've ever seen is the video below, of former Canadian Olympic canoeing champion Larry Cain. I think he's doing a fast cruising pace, like you'd do most of the time in a medium or long distance race.

A good example of how to go fast in a sprint race is probably Danny Ching, in his record-setting 47.6 second 200 m run at a Bavarian Lake in 2014. In contrast with Larry Cain's cruising technique, Danny's sprint technique involves shorter but much more frequent strokes- perhaps less graceful looking, but undeniably effective. To emphasize how incredibly fast Danny Ching went, most of the other pros at this 200 m sprint event did it in 55-60 seconds.

Danny Ching Fastest Paddler on Earth 2014, Brombachsee, Lake Brombach, Germany from Stephan Gölnitz on Vimeo.

My own recent attempts to sprint 200 m (imperfectly measured with GPS) have, of course, been much slower; around 73 seconds if I average the upriver and downriver times. Even accounting for the slight handicap of starting and stopping my own watch and not having a rolling start, that's much slower than even the "slow" pros. I know that as a 36 year old full time scientist with no special athletic gifts and no intention of training super hard every day I shouldn't expect to SUP at pro speed. But as someone who enjoys the process of fine-tuning, or "min-maxing" as my wife Rhonda says, I'd like to make sure I'm getting as close as possible to my own personal potential.

Towards that end I did some fin testing and GoPro camera selfie filming in conjunction with 200 m sprint practices on Saturday in the Imperial River near CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards. For the fin testing I compared my go-to fin (MFC weed-wave fin, second from left) to two BlkBox race fins that CGT was letting me try out (blue 8" and orange 6.25" fin).

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The orange 6.25" fin looked really small in the board, and as expected I had to switch sides more often when using it. My 200 m times were around 1:16. The blue 8" fin looked and felt great. I got 1:15 paddling against the wind and current and 1:11 paddling with the wind and current. I didn't have to switch sides too often, but I could still do a pivot turn nicely when I needed to. For better or worse, though, my go-to striped MFC fin was exactly the same- 1:15 against the flow, 1:11 with the flow. So no new fin purchases for me yet.

As a side note, SUP fin testing involves much more guesswork than windsurfing fin testing. In windsurfing it's obvious whether or not a fin is working because of the lift it gives as you press against it when sailing at high speed. With SUP, you're going much slower and less steadily and you're never really in a position to feel what the fin is doing. The only differences in SUP fins that I think I can detect on the water are if the fin is hugely oversized and draggy, pitifully undersized and slippy, or catching weeds. Catching weeds makes a fin draggy and slippy at the same time. The old green windsurfing fin on the left in the picture is draggy, based on my times. The yellow fin on the right is good for going in a straight line and is indistinguishable in speed from my good MFC fin, but it has less rake and doesn't shed weeds 100% of the time so I'm sometimes nervous to use it in a race.

Enough of the boring stuff about fins- on to the boring video of me SUPing back and forth. Some possible problems I've identified from watching myself on the video and comparing with better paddlers are:

1. Hunching my back too much; not bending at the waist enough
2. Poor reach / catch phase of stroke
3. Deep, power part of stroke coming too late; paddling past my feet

If anyone would like to add their own critiques or suggestions on fixes, please be my guest. Thanks!

SUP Stroke analysis, take 1 - 6 June 2015 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Battle on the Blueway sup race report

Yesterday I went to a fun SUP race in Fort Myers Beach- the "Battle on the Blueway." (Pictures mostly taken by Jen Hayes.)

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This was a race that the rest of the CGT race team and I were really looking forward to because:

A) It was a big WPA-sanctioned race with sponsors and prize money attracting good athletes from around Florida.
B) It was practically in our backyard at Fort Myers Beach.
C) It was tied in with local organizations doing good things: It was organized by the SW FL sup club and the "Calusa Blueway" and it raised money to benefit the Special Olympics.

The course started with a beach launch, then had a rectangular circuit up and down the north end of Fort Myers Beach. There was a short race with just one lap around the circuit, and a longer "Ron Jon Pro" race with three laps around the circuit. I did the longer race, which was 6.24 miles on my GPS. The course wasn't too complicated, but all those buoy turns put a premium on being able to make quick, efficient turns without slowing down or falling off. I didn't fall off but my turns were "meh" - definitely something to work on.

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Here's a play-by-play of what I can remember about how the race went:

1) I used my 14' x 24.75" Fanatic Falcon with a MFC weed-wave fin and a Riviera Vantage 8.0 paddle.

2) We lined up on the beach for a running beach start. The fast, sponsored riders flung their boards down, leaped on and blasted off like missiles. I was slow on the draw but sprinted pretty well once onboard and arrived at the first buoy somewhere in the front third of the pack.

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3) My turn at the crowded first buoy was awkward, bumping some other guys' boards and stuff. But I kept a sprint going and passed some of the fast-starting 12'6 boards on my way around the pier to the "circuit" part of the race course. I think that practicing 2 minute sprint intervals last week with a new training buddy, South African kayaker & sup'er Murray Hunkin, helped me a lot with this part of the race.

4) Starting the first leg of the circuit I was about 200 feet behind the young, fast 14' riders: Matt Arensman, Kieran Grant, and Brad Ward. My sprint energy was wearing out, but I saw an opportunity to catch them when they made the strategic error of paddling in the shallow water too close to shore. Deeper water is faster, plus the favorable flood tide current was stronger in the deeper water where I stayed. Also, the large breaking wake from the Ft. Myers - Key West Ferry roared through the shallows at about 8:45 am and the fast guys had to negotiate that while I was deep enough to get over the swells. After the ferry wake I was close enough behind the leaders to sneak and start drafting Brad Ward who was in third place at the time.

5) I focused on spending the minimum effort necessary to catch my breath while drafting Brad Ward. It was working pretty well, but somewhere on the return leg of the first circuit Brad got a little slower and disconnected from the two leaders. I decided I should take a turn in front of him so I passed, but I didn't think I had the speed and energy to catch up with either Matt Arensman or Kieran Grant, who were now separated from each other and 100-200 feet ahead of me.

Matt Arensman being a badass.
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Kieran Grant being a badass.
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I was thinking it would be a battle for third place between me and Brad Ward, but something happened to Brad and he dropped out of the race instead of getting in my draft. Later I asked him what happened and he explained that had a chronic forearm injury that he was hoping to control with two compression sleeves on it, but it flared up real bad and he wisely ended the race before making it worse. There have been tons of long, tough races in Florida this spring, and I'm sure it puts brutal wear and tear on the competitive riders like Brad that push it 100% in all of them.

6) My goal for the rest of the race was to stay in third place in the 14' division and not get passed by the top 12'6 riders. I knew the 12'6 guys weren't too far behind me because I could periodically hear Mark Athanacio yelling things while mixing it up in the draft train of 12'6'ers (see guy in red shorts in picture).

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I had some friendly company in the middle part of the race from a guy on an orange 17' Unlimited class sup.

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He was keeping up with me without even having to push it, using the race as just a warm up for the kayak race he was going to do later! I was working hard but staying within the bounds of what I knew (or at least hoped) I could maintain. Sips of watered-down gatorade from my camelback helped.

7) The last lap was toughest, as the temperature was rising and the wind had picked up and shifted more sideshore from offshore. The leaders continued to get way ahead (4-5 minutes ahead) of me, and I didn't put any more distance between myself and the 12'6 guys behind me. But I dutifully spent all the energy I had left in the final shot to the beach and through the flags to finish in 1:10:16. Matt Arensman won it in 1:05:01 and Kieran Grant was second in 1:06:13. Assuming my GPS odometer was accurate at 6.24 miles, my pace was 5.33 mph, which is not impressive compared to my 5.55 mph pace in the longer Orange Bowl sup race earlier this month, or Mr. Arensman's 5.76 mph pace in this race. Having 13 buoy turns and slightly bumpier water is probably part of what made me slower. It's also possible that I just didn't push myself as hard during the middle endurance part of the race, or that my energy systems were a bit down from having two beers and only getting 5 1/2 hours of sleep after playing Dungeons and Dragons the night before. For future pre-race training I'm going to make sure to frequently practice buoy turns, focus on maintaining efficient form and pace when I'm tired, and make sure I'm well rested and hydrated with water only.

The other CGT team folks all finished strong, and kayak veteran / sup rookie Murray Hunkin did super well, coming in first in the 40-49 year old 14' division despite barely being able to do a buoy turn. I need to keep training with that guy.

The race had cool BIG trophies made by local artist and craftsman Steve Nagy. There were also money awards for the top 5 finishers in mens' 14' and 12'6, and womens' 12'6 class. I got $500 for third in the 14' class, which I am super stoked about. I think it's the first time I've ever won money for doing something athletic.

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There will be a bit of a break before the next SUP race I'm signed up for, which is nice because I'll be busy with real life work and some trips and stuff with Rhonda.