Race: The first in the CGT Summer Time Trial series.
Date it happened: 29 May 2016.
Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.
Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.
Distance: 5.96 km / 3.7 miles. The CGT course has changed since the winter series. We now do two laps of the downriver half of the course and we no longer do the twisty/turny upriver part of the course. There's now a buoy just behind the starting line that we have to hook around when we complete our first lap- A good spectacle for those watching.
Conditions: Sunny, hot and humid. Light wind. Fairly high water with about 0.4 kph downriver current.
Participants: It was a great turnout with most of the CGT Race Team and Tribe, minus Murray Hunkin and Saralane Harrer who are in South Africa, and minus Kate Pagan who had a sore muscle. There were also several new racers, including a fast father-son pair, and a dude with a school-bus yellow older model Hoviesup. Skilled racer and fitness trainer Robert Norman made a long trip down from Inverness, FL to race with us and make some other stops on a long vacation weekend. Robert is riding an awesome 14x21 MHL custom sup with a deeply dugout deck and a cool Superman logo design. However, the coolest board of all was CGT Team Coach Mark Athanacio's brand new ultra-lightweight ultra-badass 14x21.something Hovie Comet GT, which replaces a similar but less customized 14x23 Comet GT that he rode earlier in the season.
Results: Top three 14' SUP guys were Mark Athanacio with 37:46, me with 38:12, and Robert Norman with 39:57. I would have preferred to get first place, but I was happy with my 9.39 kph pace. Mark Hourigan was close with 40:01. Matt Kearney got 41:42, edging out Justin DiGiorgio who overheated and had to take swim breaks but still got 43:19. John Weinberg was up there, too, with 44:58 on his big wide Yolo paddleboard. In the 12'6 SUP class Mr. Devin Turetzkin killed it with 45:04 on a 25" wide Hovie Comet GT. Next fastest 12'6s were ladies Meg Bosi 46:31, Beth Schadd 47:22, and Jen Hayes 47:57. Full results will be posted on the CGT time trials page.
Gear: Robert Norman and Mark Athanacio weren't the only ones with cool new boards. I rode a 14x22 Riviera RP production demo obtained vis a vis my new designation as a Riviera ambassador. I've written some detailed geeky technical thoughts on the board in this thread on the standupzone forum. I won't go into so much detail here, but I will say that the board has stability that belies its width, due to its wide and voluminous nose and tail. It also seems to have just the right amount of "rocker" to make light contact with the water from nose to tail, and it feels like it kind of skims on top of the water when you get it into high gear. Underneath the board I used my usual 6" Fins Unlimited keel fin, and for a paddle my usual Riviera Vantage R8.
Play by play: I started in a group with the young hotshots Matt Kearney, Justin DiGiorgio, and Robert Norman. Mark Athanacio still hadn't showed up to the race at that point. The starting sprint was pretty hot. I wasn't sure if I would try to get in the lead or try to get behind Robert Norman, but I ended up a bit ahead and took the lead. I felt kind of funky, like maybe I should have warmed up more, but I went hard and averaged 10 kph going downstream. Everybody drafted me for a couple hundred meters, then Justin and Matt got "gapped" and it was just Robert on my tail. As I approached the downriver "frankenbuoy" turn-around, I had two alternative strategies in mind: 1) Leave Robert in the dust and don't look back. 2) Let Robert get ahead and draft him going upstream to save energy, then pass him later. My buoy turn and re-acceleration went well, giving me a couple board lengths gap on Robert, so I decided to go with strategy #1.
On the first upriver leg my speed was about 9.2 kph, and my heartrate climbed over 180 as I tried to stay fast and steady enough to extend the gap on Robert. I tried to give my teammates some encouraging shouts as we passed going opposite directions, but mostly they came out as grunts. (If you can produce coherent speech you're not paddling hard enough.) I made the buoy turn without incident and headed downriver. The second downriver was a lot slower for me than the first- 9.4 kph average versus 10.0 the first time. My effort was pretty high (average HR 184), but I might have been getting sloppy with my technique, or losing my competitive focus or something with Robert now securely behind me. The final upriver leg of the course was just a little bit slower for me than the first one, at 9.1 kph. I put some extra steam on in the last few hundred meters at hit my highest HR of 190 in that part of the course.
Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to go into Strava to see the details like HR and stuff.
I was happy to have finished with a good time, but I knew I was in trouble when Mark Athanacio, who had arrived fashionably late, asked me what my time was *before* he started his race. That gave him a goal to shoot for, and he destroyed it with his amazing 37:46, a 9.5 kph / 5.9 mph pace. Though I can reach those speeds in sprints, I've never done faster than today's 9.39 kph pace in a race longer than 5k. Obviously I'm going to have to step it up to another level if I want to get some wins over Athanacio in this series. I think that will mean more strength training, some running in the heat to acclimate and build endurance, and some technique work to make sure I'm getting the most out of my effort on the water. I'm also going to try a smaller paddle with a more flexible shaft- a Riviera R7.5 "bump" grip paddle. If my technique is good I should be able to maintain fast speed with a little less effort with that paddle.
Other race intrigues: Though I often focus on the drama at the front of the pack, the "back" of the back seems to be catching up. I.e., our times are not so spread out as they used to be. Lots of people did the race in 50 minutes or less, which is no mean feat for a nearly four mile paddle race in the searing heat. Alan Navarro, Jared Hamilton, Steve Fleming, and David Eisenberg did it. Also, two ladies over 50 did it in 50 or under- Donna Catron in 50:30, and Damien Lin in 48:31. Nice work, y'all.
What's Next: June 11th is the Battle on the Blueway in Fort Myers Beach- the biggest paddle race in SW Florida. I'll definitely be there. There's also one next weekend that I MIGHT go to, but it's a pretty far drive- The Florida State Paddleboard Championships in Cocoa Beach.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Race: The SRQ SUP&RUN 5k
Date it happened: 21 May 2016
Host: The Sarasota Athletic Association, led by Felicia Cox. The event was a benefit for Operation Second Chance, which is an organization supporting wounded military veterans.
Location: Nathan Benderson Park, Sarasota, FL. The park is built around a big artificial lake, which is set up with buoys, breakwaters, bleachers etc. to facilitate various rowing events. There are also paved running / biking paths around the perimeter of the lake. The only thing missing is shade trees.
Distance: The main event was a 5 km run leading into a 5 km SUP race. They also offered the run and the sup "a la carte" for those who just wanted to do one or the other. I did the combo.
Conditions: The weather was sunny, hot and humid with light wind. The race started at 8 am when it was relatively cool, but it was pretty darn hot by the time we finished.
Participants: I don't know how many people were there, but it was a lot. The event was sold out. I think most of the participants were avid runners who merely dabbled in SUP, because the race was advertised more within running circles than paddling ones. I.e., it wasn't listed on paddleguru, and a lot of the people who paddled did it on rented boards. A big sup race happening concurrently in Tampa may also have siphoned away some of the sup specialists. Nevertheless, there were more than a handful of experienced sup racers in the mix, including Hoviesup riders Brad Ward, Katherine Pyne, and Travis Kindt, owner of Zeke's Surf Shop across the state in Stuart.
Travis after having totally swept the sup-only event.
Surfer/kiteboarder Jason Casuga was also there, riding a 12'6 FOne sup. There was a tall guy named Brandon wearing the same Riviera SUP jersey as me and riding a new 14' RP raceboard. (BY THE WAY, I recently became an ambassador for Riviera and they sent me a care package with the jersey and some other cool stuff. Ask me anything about Riviera boards.) My hometown team, the CGT Tribe, groupies of CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards in Bonita Springs, represented well. We had Matt Kearney on his 14'x24 404 v3, Beth Schadd on a new 12'6x24 Riviera RP, Amber Crowley on a 12'6 Hovie, and Matt's spouse Ali Kearney in running shoes because she did just the run.
From left: Beth, me, Ali, Matt, Amber.
Results: Katherine Pyne and Brad Ward won the women's and men's sup+run events, respectively, with times of 1:02:44 and 0:55:58.
I was second in men's with 0:57:12 and Beth Schadd was second in women's with 1:03:05. Amber Crowley was first in 50+ women's with very strong performances in both the run and the sup portions. Matt Kearney had a great run and solid sup portion and got second in his age division with 1:01:30. Ali Kearney ran her fastest 5k ever and got 3rd in her age division. Travis Kindt won first in the sup-only division, WAY ahead of the other sup-only competitors. Full results are posted here.
Gear: I used my usual 14'x23.75" custom carbon Riviera RP raceboard with a 6" Fins Unlimited Keel fin. I love this board. With my Riviera ambassadorship you'll also see me riding some other Riviera models in the future... CGT has a sleek 14'x22 on order that could be wicked fast if I can balance on it.
Play by play: The race organization was high tech and efficient, with numbers and electronic timing, etc. They lined us up like cattle behind the inflatable startline archway. I started out fast when the gun went off, like I would do in a SUP race. It wasn't a sustainable pace for me, though, and a lot of the more experienced runners passed me in the first few minutes. Matt Kearney caught up to me and I settled into a good pace next to him. We were close to Beth Schadd for the first 1600 meters, but she pulled away from us after that. I don't know how to describe the rest of the running race- I was tired but I tried to keep running as fast as possible. It surprised me that Matt was still right beside me, because I'm used to paddling with him and leaving him in the dust after the first few minutes. When Matt and I first practiced running together for this race I thought I was a bit faster than him on foot, too. But it seems he's a naturally quick runner who caught up with me and then some in just a few practice sessions. While Matt and I did "positive splits" (meaning each mile we ran was a little slower than the last), Katherine Pyne stayed fast and passed us in the last third of the race. I knew she'd be tough to pass on the sup, which motivated me to try to keep up with her on the last part of the run. There were some mini-hills (bridges) at the end of the run, and I used the downhill gravity assist to give myself a little sprint boost to get a few paces ahead of Matt.
Transitioning from run to sup went fairly smoothly. I ripped my shoes and socks off, put on my belt-style inflatable life vest, swigged from the water bottle I'd put next to my board, then ran my board into the water and jumped on. It felt great to have a little water splashing on me and to be using different, fresher muscles. I was too winded to fire into high gear, but I tried to at least use good form and a quick cadence. On the first leg I was able to catch my breath and get around some of the fast-runner-not-so-fast-sup'er people. One guy who was rippling with muscles and had kicked ass on the run seemed to be totally defeated by the sup and ended up going down to paddling on his knees. About halfway through the SUP course there were just three guys still in front of me- Brad Ward, Jason Casuga, and Brandon the Riviera jersey guy. I wasn't getting any closer to Brad, but I was gaining a bit on the other two guys, which kept me motivated to push hard. When I passed them the Riviera guy got in my draft for a while but eventually dropped off. I was happy to finish in second place, still within sight of Brad Ward.
After the race I was really hot and thirsty. It felt great to get a cold gatorade and dunk myself into the dirty but relatively cool lake water.
Other race intrigues: Some wounded combat veterans representing the Operation Second Chance organization impressively finished the races despite missing limbs. That has to take some serious mental and emotional strength. I was moved and impressed.
The MC and DJ for the awards ceremony were really good. They kept things moving and energized. There was lots of free food and drink around, including a libations tent that would have been fantastic if I was still an alcohol drinker. I had my share of cookies, fruit, and bbq sandwich.
What's Next: The CGT Race Series is starting another round Sunday May 29th, and I'll be looking to defend my hometown champion status against my well-equipped and tougher than ever peers on the CGT race team. Next big race is also relatively local, the Battle on the Blueway June 11th-12th at Fort Myers Beach.
Saturday, May 7, 2016
Race: The Orange Bowl Paddle Championship 2016
Date it happened: 7 May 2016
Location: Miami Marine Stadium Flexpark, Virginia Key, Miami, Florida.
Distance: The main event was a counterclockwise race around Virginia Key, starting and finishing in the artificial embayment associated with the now-defunct Marine Stadium. I had 12.6 km on my GPS at the end, which is 7.83 miles. The course was 1 km shorter than it was last year (thankfully) because they didn't make us lap around the embayment at the end. However, we did have to go wider around the north side of the island this time- More on that in the play-by-play.
Conditions: It was unusually cool for May in South Florida (only warm, not hot), with a moderate breeze from the northwest. The tide was high and incoming for most of the race. There was some opposing current on the south side of the island, and opposing wind and chop on the north side of the island.
Participants: For the long race there were 35 people in the 14' class and 25 people in 12'6 class. For the shorter recreational race there were similar numbers. There was also a Special Olympics race, a "corporate challenge" fundraiser relay race, and sprint races on inflatable sups. I think there were about 230 paddlers overall, which is great. The CGT Race Team was well represented by coach Mark Athanacio (12'6), and (from left in picture below) Kate Pagan (12'6), Mark Hourigan (14'), Justin DiGiorgio (14'), and Matt Kearney (14'). Also, me (14').
Results: [Where I think I know the paddler's board type and width I'm listing that after their name. Correct me if I'm wrong.] Top men 14' men were Kieran Grant (Hoviesup Comet GT 23", 1:22:52), Brad Ward (Hoviesup Comet ZXC 24", 1:24:00), and Steve Miller (Starboard Sprint 23", 1:25:00).
Mens 14' winners- Kieran (white shirt), Brad (H on his shirt), Steven (red shorts).
I missed the podium but was happy to get 4th in 1:25:50 on my Riviera RP 23.75". Top 12'6 men were Jake Portwood (Hoviesup Comet ZXC, 1:28:04), Joey Huemphner (Bote/Darkroom, 1:28:50), and Mark Athanacio (Hoviesup Comet GT 23", 1:29:18). Top 12'6 women were Seychelle Hattingh (Mistral Vortex 23.4", 1:30:24), Victoria Burgess (Coreban Sonic 25", 1:33:44), and Steve Miller's 15 year old daugher Maddie (JP, 1:34:17). Top 14' women were Kim Barnes (Riviera RP 22", 1:32:51), Mary Ann Boyer (MHL Custom, 1:39:15), Mini Cunha Margareth Lagace (Indigo Custom, 1:39:15). MAB and Mini are buddies who crossed the line together on purpose. Full results are posted here.
The CGT racers performed solidly. Matt Kearney had an especially good day, showing his rough water long distance skills by finishing ahead of Mark Hourigan and Justin DiGiorgio. Hourigan completed the race on a new 14x23" Riviera RP and got a boost of confidence that he COULD handle the narrow board in open water competition, notwithstanding a few splashdowns. Kate Pagan finished in 5th in womens' 12'6 in 1:41:46, a few seconds faster than her teammate Justin. We don't take battle of the sexes competition TOO seriously in the CGT race team, but watch for Justin to be putting in some extra practice before the next round.
Gear: I used my usual 14'x23.75" custom carbon Riviera RP raceboard with a 6" Fins Unlimited Keel fin. The short fin seemed to work fine in both the flat and the bumpy water, although sometimes when drafting I wondered if a deeper fin might have made it easier to stay on the right spot without switching paddling sides as much.
Play by play: The start was from the water, behind some buoys, facing upwind. They started the 12'6 and the 14' classes separately to reduce crowding, but it was still tight on the line. The race director gave a good long countdown with warnings at 1 minute, 30 seconds, etc. When people started creeping over the line early the director called them back, which I appreciated.
I started in the middle of the line and had some trouble dealing with choppy water and the paddlers around me as I sprinted to get into the lead draft train. In retrospect it might have been wiser to start at one or the other end of the line to edge around the pack. I was far back in the train as we exited the starting embayment, but I seemed to be the only one who realized we could cut the corner tight when turning left out of the embayment, and I left the draft train to do so. That shortcut allowed me to get closer to the faster starters- Kieran, Brad, and Josh Smart (the bodybuilder guy sponsored by NSP boards). I couldn't catch them, but I was making pretty good time on my own heading down the west side the island towards the Miami Seaquarium. Ahead of me I saw Kieran "break" Brad and pull ahead on his own- a confident move so early the race. Perhaps Kieran knew he had the speed to win it ironman style without a drafting partner.
While that was going on, Steven Miller came up alongside me with great speed. I got in his draft so I could "rest." Ha! Mr. Miller was so fast on his Starboard Sprint 14x23 that I got little relief from drafting him, and my heart rate continued to rise. The upside was that we were catching up to Josh Smart. I can't remember exactly where we got Josh, or what happened next, but I remember being in front of Josh at some point on the east side of the island, and both of us having to duck under fishing lines. In that part of the course we gained on Brad Ward by sticking in the weaker current close to shore while Brad was out in the channel. Around the eastern end of the island we all linked up in a train led by Steven Miller. That was a good drafting situation for me because Steven had been pulling for a long time and wasn't going excessively fast anymore, and I was at the end of the chain on Brad's wake which was easier to ride than Steven's had been. As we started to go into the wind, though, Brad wasn't satisfied with the speed we were going, and he pulled out to lead. He's a beast in all wind and water conditions, but ESPECIALLY going upwind, and with him at the front of the train I started to fall behind. In retrospect I should have tried as hard as I could to hang onto it for as long as I could, but I was plum tuckered.
After the previous week's Key West race I knew that I was vulnerable to slowing down and getting demoralized when going upwind in the chop all by myself. I tried to keep up a good paddling rhythm and not let those ahead of me get too far out of my sights. I got confused because I saw the big blue speedboat that was helping guide the race parked far to the north along Fisher Island. At the racers' meeting they'd said the blue boat would be parked around the northern turn around buoy, but Kieran and the others were heading more west, away from the blue boat. I split the difference. Eventually the boat moved northwest and parked by a big red buoy. Kieran, and to a lesser extent Brad, Josh, and Steven, were too far west and had to course-correct to make for the buoy. They still got there before me, but I thought I might be getting closer to Josh Smart, who was wobbling a bit on a narrower board than he usually uses (14x23 NSP DC race).
At the buoy some park rangers in a boat told us to stay outside of the Virginia Key park boundary buoys while paddling across the NW wind on the penultimate leg of the race. Josh Smart had to do a course correction to get outside the park buoys, which let me catch up to him a bit. I had the advantage of already being on the upwind side of the buoys, and I was able to almost ride some bumps and make good progress. Meanwhile the choppy water balancing act caused one of Josh's huge leg muscles to cramp up, and he fell in a few more times. I was feeling pleased with myself for passing him, just cruising along and taking some sips of gatorade from my camelback, when I noticed a faint splashing sound behind me. Yikes! It was Sam English creeping up on his 14x24" Lahui Kai board. I picked up the pace a little and sort of wove around to try to make it harder for Sam to pass, but eventually he did pass me. However, that was right before we made the turn into the start/finish embayment, and Sam didn't realize he was allowed to cut the turn tight. I cut it tight and paddled hard, trying to ride bumps and do whatever else I could to get to the finish before Sam. I made it to the beach in 4th place, and Sam was just 10 seconds behind. This picture shows me staggering towards the finish line.
Here's my speedcoach track and data from the race: You have to click into it to see the details like heartrate and stuff.
I felt pretty good after the race, in contrast with how I felt after the previous year's Orange Bowl race, which was totally overheated/exhausted and incredibly sore in the back and shoulders. I think the cooler weather made a difference, and maybe my new training and improved technique helped, too. I averaged 8.94 kph last year on a 14x24" 404 v3, and only 8.83 kph this year on my Riviera, but I don't think the two years are directly comparable, because of the wind and course differences this year.
Other race intrigues: Seychelle Hattingh and Kim Barnes usually finish neck and neck in the womens' 12'6 class. However, since separate prizes were awarded for women in the 14' class at this race, the two top female racers went in different classes; Seychelle on 12'6 and Kim on 14'. Interestingly, Kim finished a bit slower despite her longer board. Kim said that her paddle technique is adapted to 12'6 and may be less efficient on 14'. It may also be that the blocky, high-volume 14' that Kim was riding, which was a custom Riviera board designed for a large male pro rider, was not the "right" 14' board for a strong but petite woman. Kim described another 14' Riviera custom that she had tried that had less volume and a different shape and seemed to match her a lot better. This was all very interesting to me, because CGT is ordering some one-off boards from the Riviera warehouse that I may be racing per my informal shop-sponsorship deal. I actually tried out and really liked the 14' that Kim raced today, which seemed amazingly stable for a 22" wide board. I think the very wide nose and tail help with that.
Someone at the race said, "Hey, are you the guy with the blog?" I think I'd given him some board choice advice in the comments section and he was on a pretty slick looking 14x27 Riviera. I saw him trying out every other board that every vendor at the race site had available for demo, though, so I imagine he'll be looking to upgrade or add to his stable of boards soon.
Besides Kim's 14x22' Riviera, I didn't demo any other SUP boards at the race. But I did try out two inflatable windsurf boards- one offered by JP Australia and one by Fanatic. Both were delightfully lightweight and easy to carry. They were fun to stand on and I liked the way you could kind of bounce on them. I think for beginner windsurfers an inflatable would be a good way to reduce the intimidation factor and avoid injuries to body or equipment. The JP board was their smallest inflatable windsurf model and it didn't have a daggerboard or a center fin. Though it was very stable it didn't stay upwind well in the light wind I tested it in. The Fanatic inflatable had both a tail fin and a center fin, but not a true daggerboard. It was ultra stable (I think you could have an adult actually sit on it while you sailed it) and it went upwind well enough. I don't think inflatable windsurfs (or SUPs) are going away.
An army special forces veteran named Josh Collins made an appearance at the race, paddling up on a BOTE paddleboard. He's in the middle of a LONG paddle from Texas to New York City to help raise awareness and funds for better physical and mental health care for soldiers returning from war.
After the race I met with a Miami-based science colleague, Dr. Justin Campbell, to get some supplies for a seagrass experiment I'm going to do in the Caloosahatchee Estuary this summer. Hopefully no alarms were sounded when they saw me in the parking lot loading boxes and bags of white powder, fertilizer, and poison from Dr. Campbell's car into my van.
What's Next: I'm feeling pretty darn good about where I'm at with my sup racing and training. I still need to build some strength for paddling upwind, and some skills and endurance for catching and hanging onto fast draft trains. I'm going to keep training like I've been doing, both on the water and with Mark Athanacio's strength coaching. My next race is in two weeks and it's a combination 5k sup / 5k run, so I'm going to try to do some more running. Hopefully the running practice will help me get adapted to racing in the heat of Florida summer. It's coming.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Race: The Key West Paddle Classic, organized by the Lazy Dog and sanctioned by the WPA.
Date it happened: 30 April 2016
Location: Higgs Beach, Key West, Florida.
Distance: The main event was a race around the entire perimeter of Key West, approximately 12 miles. I had 18.82 km on my GPS at the end, which is 11.7 miles. There was also a 4 mile race, which was two miles into the wind from Higgs Beach, then two miles back.
Conditions: It was sunny, hot, and humid with a significant ESE wind around 10-15 knots. We started and finished by going downwind, but much of the race was into the wind or sort-of into the wind. There were also strong currents flowing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic because the tide was ebbing. The currents were against us going through a bottleneck at Fleming Key Cut and were weakly in our favor later when going through Cow Key Channel. There were a variety of shoreline obstacles, shallow water hazards, boat wakes, etc. In a few areas there were dangerous metal pipes, spikes, and pilings half submerged in the path of the race, which could shish-kabab a person who fell on them. I saw at least one guy (Jake Portwood) had some bloody scrapes after the race, but I'm not sure exactly how he got them.
Participants: There was a huge turnout for this race, which is perhaps the highest profile SUP race in Florida. It even attracted some international pros including Kelly Margetts from Australia (Lahui Kai boards), Vinnicius Martins from Brazil (JP Boards), Belar Diaz from Spain (ECS boards), and Larry Cain from Canada (Starboard). The usual best-in-Florida hotshots were there, including Kieran Grant (Hoviesup) and Garrett Fletcher (Yolo Boards), who got 4th and 5th in the mens' 14' class. Young Joey Huemphner (BOTE/Darkroom boards) got 1st in mens' 12'6, followed closely by Steve Miller (Starboard) and Jake Portwood (Hoviesup). Seychelle Hattingh (Mistral) and Kimberley Barnes (Riviera) were 2nd and 3rd in womens' 12'6, after North Carolina's amazing April Zilg (Hobie SUP). I traveled to the race and split a room at the Sheraton with my CGT Race Team buddies Matt Kearney and Devin Turetzkin. Also representing CGT we had the South African Riverbeest Murray Hunkin and his sweetheart Saralane Harrer.
Results: 116 sup racers finished the around-the-island race; 83 men and 33 women. There were also a lot of people who did it on Kayaks, Outrigger Canoes, and various other paddlecraft. Of the sup racers, Vinnicius Martins, Kelly Margetts, and Larry Cain were the top three 14' sups, in 2:04:46, 2:05:06, and 2:07:34, respectively. I finished 10th in the 14' class, with a time of 2:23:00. I was just behind the first place 12'6 (Joey Huemphner) who had 2:22:05, and just ahead of first place woman (April Zilg on a 12'6) who had 2:23:32. My race wasn't perfect (see play by play), but I was pleased to be in the top 10 for my class. My buddy Devin Turetzkin, who just got a new 12'6 x 25" Hovie Comet GT, got first place in the over-50 12'6 class with 3:04:43. Skinny Matt Kearney battled the wind (which is worse for lightweight guys) to an admirable 2:51:09, just behind exercise physiologist Dr. Jose Antonio (the protein doctor guy who we did the study with at Nova Southweastern University). Full results are posted on the SUP Racer website.
Vinnicius Martins winning.
Kelly Margetts second.
Larry Cain third.
Seychelle Hattingh and Kimberly Barnes 2nd and 3rd
Me at the finish.
Gear: I used my usual 14'x23.75" custom carbon Riviera RP raceboard. I tested it out first with a short 6" Fins Unlimited fin, but I felt like I needed more stability in the rough water, so I switched to a 9" windsurfing weed fin, which helped. (Amazingly, I never fell during the race.) I used the Riviera Vantage R8 paddle that I recently cut down to 77". I felt weak in the upwind/sidewind sections of the course and had trouble maintaining a strong/fast/dynamic stroke. It seems like a lot of good racers, even big strong ones like Larry Cain, are now using smaller paddle blades than me, and I think I ought to experiment with that. Also, I need to practice more in upwind/choppy conditions to find the right rhythm and pacing.
Play by play: The race had a very spread-out start, from the water, along an imaginary line perpendicular to the beach. I chose to be pretty far from shore so that I'd have a more directly-downwind shot to the first turn. There was supposed to be a 1 minute warning from a jetski before the start, but I didn't see or hear the warning and I was about 60 meters behind the front of the pack when they blew the starting horn. Doh! Lesson learned- always be at the front of the group ready to go, because you never know exactly when the start is coming.
The first leg of the race was a "downwinder," which I can do, but not skillfully. I can stay upright and intermittently catch bumps that accelerate me to 10-50% over my normal flatwater paddling speed. But I spend a lot of energy balancing, and between the fast "glides" I often drop below normal flatwater speed or get knocked off course. Therefore my average speed in a downwind section is only a bit faster than I would go with the same effort in neutral conditions. In contrast, the pros like Kelly and Vinnicius are really effective at catching every possible glide and maintaining a rocketing average speed downwind. A few minutes after the start they were just specs in the distance to me. At least I didn't fall down, and I worked through the slower part of the pack up to the riders who were about my speed.
The end of the downwind was a rock jetty at Fort Zachary Taylor, where we turned North into the Key West shipping channel. I did ok there by staying close to shore where there was less current, which allowed me to get past Sam English, who was charging hard but too far offshore. I gradually started creeping up on another strong paddler, who I realized was April Zilg on a 12'6. Neither of us could draft the other because it's not allowed, but I passed her (with difficulty) and focused on a couple of male riders who were ahead but still within possible catch-and-draft distance. The sharp right turn into the strong current of Fleming Key cut was tricky and caused Bill Swezey to fall about 50 meters in front of me. In retrospect I should have given it my absolute everything to catch him at that point but I felt too tired at the time to pull off something like that, and I had my own troubles negotiating the current around the bend.
Fighting that current in Fleming Key Cut sucked big time, even when doing the trick of paddling just an arms' length from the seawall. I wasn't getting any closer to Bill Swezey, and I wasn't get any further from April Zilg. I decided to gamble and cross the channel early to try to escape the treadmill. It could have gone horribly wrong, but it didn't. After squeaking through the nasty current under the Fleming Key bridge, I saw that I had sort of gotten in front of Bill Swezey, Robert Hess, and Belar Diaz. But I was tired, still in a substantial current, and now fighting side-wind and chop coming across a wide open bay. I was also a bit downwind of those three fast guys, and when they crept up on the upwind side I couldn't muster the strength to get over and join their train. I felt very weak and demoralized at this point. My left side paddling muscles hurt from only being able to paddle on that side, my cadence slowed down, and psychologically it felt like every stroke was weighed down with the pain of knowing how much more of the race was still to come, and how much of that would be fighting the wind.
It was a huge relief to get into the smooth water in the lee of Dredgers Key, where I could resume paddling on both sides and regain some kind of rhythm. I was still feeling kind of sorry for myself and in survivor mindset more than killer racer mindset, though. I think this was where Jake Portwood and some other of the fast 12'6 riders got ahead of me, and April Zilg was pulling up next to me, too. The next section was straight into the wind and chop across another open bay into Cow Key Channel. The going was slow, but I started to get a minor second wind. Focusing on counting strokes in my mind helped me find some semblance of a rhythm that adequately advanced me into the wind. It was good seeing the speed go up on my gps as the water smoothed out I got into the tidal current pull of Cow Key Channel. Picking which way to go in the channel was hard, but because the assistance from the tidal current seemed relatively weak I decided to take the shortest path, hugging the west side of the channel. I knew there was a shallow water hazard at the end of that path, but it turned out to be not too bad. That move didn't quite catch me up with the three 12'6 guys who had passed me earlier, but it did get me in front of April Zilg, who had gotten ahead of me in the channel just before I forked off.
The final stretch was about 45 degrees downwind, which is tough. It's hard to properly ride the waves when they're coming at you from that angle. And when you do catch them they tend to carry you off track. Ahead of me I saw the top three 12'6 guys battling hard. Joey Huemphner put on the afterburners and left Steve Miller behind. Jake Portwood fell down several times and lost his lead. My body was worn out and I was focused more on staying upright and pointing in the right direction than on speeding, but I did get some glides, and I managed to pass Jake and Steve near the finish line pier. I put whatever energy I had left into the last 100 meters to the beach, took off my leash at the last second, jumped off and ran through the whatchamacallit finish line thing like I meant it. Woo hoo!
Here's my speedcoach track and data from the race: You have to click into it to see the details like heartrate and stuff.
Other race intrigues: Some weird paddlecraft finished the race, including a giant canoe-catamaran thing with several people in each hull. That thing actually finished in 2:03, before the fastest paddleboard. A much slower multi-paddler inflatable paddleboard called a supsquatch got around the island in 4:16, which I think included a beer break. Individual paddlers continued to the finish the race all afternoon, the last few taking more than 7 hours to complete it on non-race sups. That's determination. Given the distance and the conditions, I'd say this was a race where simply finishing, regardless of how long it took, was a darn good achievement.
It was fun meeting new people at the race, including some friendly paddle celebrities like Olympic canoeists Jim Terrell (owner of Quickblade Paddles) and Larry Cain. The sport of standup paddleboarding is lucky to have both of these guys involved. Terrell has really put a lot into the paddle design and stroke technique analysis side of things with his Quickblade business, and he has also shaped some crazy raceboards that have pushed the limits of the sport. The board he used in the Key West race was his own design and looked pretty cool. Larry Cain is also into the technical side of paddling and has lots of detailed technique tutorials and equipment commentaries on his blog. He's also known for having kept himself in ultra-fit shape even decades after his Olympic canoeing days, and he gives some really interesting athletic training advice on his website. Murray from the CGT team knew Larry because they had trained at the same canoe club in Canada, so he introduced us. Though he's intimidating looking, with arms like oak trees and a torso as broad as a manta ray, he was relaxed and friendly when we talked with him. He was even patient with me while I picked his brain about some gear and training questions that had been on my mind.
What's Next: This race made me realize I need to work on both physical and mental aspects of my upwind power and long-race endurance. Lately my training has been almost all short-distance high intensity stuff in flat water, alternated with a couple days per week of strength training with weights. This approach has definitely improved my short-to-medium-distance race speed, and I think the strength training (which I'm still in the early phases of) will ultimately also help my muscular endurance for upwind and long races. I don't feel out of breath when going upwind or in the second hour of a long race. It's more that I feel enervated, like my strength is drained and I'm paddling through molasses. I need to toughen up and get my mind and body used to maintaining race pace for a long time and in bad conditions. I'll have to experiment to see what the best way to do that is. On this matter Mark Athanacio and Larry Cain have different opinions. Athanacio advocates intense, relatively short workouts that quickly produce exhaustion and train you to maintain speed through that exhaustion. An example would be paddle sprints in the ocean interspersed with beach runs in the soft sand. I'm less familiar with how Larry trains himself and his athletes- I think there are some similarities with what the two experts do, but a big difference is that Larry includes lots of "volume," with long time, long distance paddles. Larry's reason for doing the volume is to build a "base" so that the distance part of long distance races becomes easy for you, and Athanacio's reason for avoiding it is to prevent injuries and overtraining symptoms. I suspect it's one of those things where there's some truth to both views, and the most effective type of training may vary by the individual and what kind of mind and body they have. One thing that Athanacio and Larry agree on, though, is that people who ONLY train with steady long distance paddling never get faster, so the high intensity intervals have to be part of what you do.