Sunday, October 22, 2017

Race Report: CGT Imperial River Challenge

Robert Norman and Matt Kearney celebrating their win in the doubles canoe class.

Race: The Imperial River Challenge

Date it happened: 21 Oct, 2017

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page. The event was also supported by the Imperial River Conservancy, the Bonita Springs Lions Club, and other local businesses, civic, and environmental organizations. More about the impetus for the event, and some cool video, is included in the local TV news and newspaper coverage-

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Course / Distance: Normally, the annual Imperial River Challenge starts far up the Imperial River, on the East side of I-75, and winds down through the twisting jungle of cypress trees and vines towards the finish line at Riverside Park in downtown Bonita Springs. This year, however, due to Hurricane Irma, the upriver section of the course was blocked by debris in many places. Therefore an alternative course had to be set up, starting at Riverside Park, going downriver a short distance, around a buoy, then back upriver to the finish (2.9 km total distance). This course was familiar to most of us as the "short course" in the regular CGT race series.

Conditions: The floodwaters of Hurricane Irma have subsided now, so the river level was normal, if not a bit lower than normal, due to low tide and a strong East wind pushing water away from the coast. The river current was still strong, though- 1.7 kph according to my paddling in current calculator. The combined effects of the current and a headwind made the second half of the course a lot slower than the first. The weather was warm but partly cloudy and not too hot.

Participants, Results and gear: Money prizes and conch shell trophies were offered for the the first through third place finishers in several classes: SUP, single kayak, surfski kayak, doubles kayak, and doubles canoe. There were also prizes for a costume contest. The usual local SUP racers were there, along with some ringers from out of town such as Packet Casey from Ft. Lauderdale (JP boards) and Brad Ward from Sarasota (Sunova boards). There were also some hotshot kayakers from Miami on fancy "K1" kayaks like they use in the Olympics. Some who usually race SUPs, like CGT team members Matt Kearney and Robert Norman, slummed it in the doubles kayak and doubles canoe classes to increase their chances of money prizes. That worked out well for them, although they couldn't wrest first in doubles kayak from Patrick Scheele and his beau. I haven't obtained the list of full results and times yet, but I'm posting the ones I remember.

Racer ** Class ** Board Width and Model ** Time
Packet Casey ** 14' SUP ** 23 JP Flatwater ** ~18:50
Mark Athanacio ** 14' SUP ** 21.5 Hovie GT ** ~18:55
Brad Ward ** 14' SUP ** 23.5 Sunova Flatwater Faast ** ~19:05
James Douglass ** 14' SUP ** 23 Riviera RP ** 19:24
Bryan Herrick ** 14' SUP ** 23.75 Riviera custom ** ??
John Weinberg ** 14' SUP ** 25 Riviera RP ** ??
Cindy Gibson ** 12'6 SUP ** 25 Hovie Comet ZXC ** ??
Meg Bosi ** 12'6 SUP ** 25 Bark Contender ** ??
Beth Schadd ** 12'6 SUP ** 24 Riviera RP ** ??
Donna Catron ** 12'6 SUP ** 26 Bark Vapor ** ??

Play by play: Prior to the race I had worse nervousness than usual, thinking about the tough out-of-town competitors like Brad Ward and Packet Casey. I was also feeling uncertain about my level of health and fitness, since this was my first race after a combination poison-ivy + antibiotic resistant infection required me to be on strong antibiotics and steroids for two weeks.

Lesson learned- do not go in the water if you have a wound or weeping rash. It can easily get horribly infected.

I also felt over-caffeinated and under-hydrated pacing around the park before the race, wishing I'd brought some water. And my right eye was itchy from where I got a bug in it while jogging earlier in the week. All told, I entered the race with less than full confidence and commitment, and that mental state probably affected how I paddled.

The race starts were staggered in groups of a few paddlers, and I started in the tough guys group with Mark Athanacio, Packet Casey, and Brad Ward. Athanacio had tried to suggest that we start in different groups so as to not confound each others' performance with drafting and blocking moves in the narrow river, but somehow we all clustered together anyway. Our start was fairly even. I didn't go all-out because I had a tentative plan to get in somebody's draft to save energy. Packet ended up being the one to take the front position, and I probably could have gotten in his draft, but I didn't fight Athanacio hard enough for it, so Athanacio got it instead and I ended up struggling with their wakes and barely making it into the 4th place of a sloppy draft train, behind Brad. Sometimes I felt like I was in a good spot in the draft and managed to catch a breath between strokes, while other times I fought against overlapping wakes and had to spend a lot of energy just to stay attached. About 800 m down the river Brad made a move to pass Athanacio, but Athanacio blocked him. After another move or two like that Brad slipped back by a board length or two, then I slipped back a few board lengths from Brad. Packet had the fastest buoy turn, which detached Athanacio from his wake. Brad broke the rules by rounding the buoy on his right side instead of his left side, which made me have to go wider around the buoy and put me a little further back. Going upriver I tried to keep a solid pace, and managed to hold but not close my distance behind Brad. Ahead of us Packet and Athanacio were in a serious duel, with Athanacio making frequent passing attempts, but always being thwarted by the strong currents of the river or other paddlers on their way downriver. I tried to hug the edges of the river and look for the most efficient path at all times, and occasionally I was able to get a boost from the residual wakes of the three guys ahead of me. But I was physically tired, and mentally resigned to 4th place so I never advanced my position. I was close enough at the finish to see Packet win it, with Athanacio right behind, Brad a bit further back, and me about the same distance behind Brad as Brad was behind Packet and Athanacio.

Here's my GPS track from the course:

Us SUP dudes had only barely made it across the line when the first place single kayaker finished. I don't know what his time was but it must have been FAST. Others who came across the line soon after us were Cindy Gibson, Meg Bosi, Bryan Herrick, and John Weinberg, who had started a bit later. It was a nice, lively scene at the finish line with so many different crafts and competitors crossing. Robert Norman and Matt Kearney definitely looked like they were having a good time in their kayak, first, and then the canoe later. Although my own performance in this race wasn't stellar, it was definitely a good workout and a good race experience, and it was cool having so many really good paddlers on our own little Imperial River. For the future I want to keep my paddling skills and fitness at a good level, and work some more on the mindset and mental toughness to do well in a competitive race. The next big race coming up is the Englewood Beach Paddlefest race on November 11th.

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