Sunday, March 27, 2016

SUP Race Report: CGT Winter Race #7

Here's how the series is going so far in terms of folks' times- Times generally got longer in January because the river current was strong then, and they've been getting shorter this spring because of less current plus improving skills and fitness.

Race: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards Winter Race #7

Date it happened: Easter morning 27 March 2016

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in Bonita Springs, FL

Distance: 5.1 km on my Speedcoach SUP GPS (cut some corners this time)

Conditions: Warm, humid weather. High water with leafy floating debris. Moderate downriver current. A bit of wind in certain sections.

Participants: The hard-training CGT race team was there- Matt Kearney, Meg Bosi, Justin DiGiorgio, Kate Pagan, Murray Hunkin, Devin Turetzkin, Mark Hourigan, and me. We were amped up to see if two weeks of formal training with Mark Athanacio had improved our speeds. There were also lots of members of the broader "CGT Tribe" of avid paddlers. Great turnout.

Results: I got first place in the men's 14' class with a personal best time of 33:14. Second was Mark Hourigan, 20 years older than me but less than a minute behind in 34:09. Incredible PB performance for him, too. Third overall and first in the 12'6 class was coach Mark Athanacio in 34:40. (Amazing that he did that on a 12'6.) Third 14' guy was 50-year old Devin Turetzkin, who had his best race by far with 35:44. Millenials Justin DiGiorgio and Matt Kearney also had great times (36:00 and 36:45, respectively), but they'll need to step it up to match their increasingly fast elders- Matt was just two seconds ahead of "freight train" Murray Hunkin (36:47). First place woman was Kate Pagan in 38:24, followed by Meg Bosi in 39:02, and Beth Schadd in a personal-best 41:17. Beth is fast enough now that with a little more training or a little narrower board she could be a real threat to Kate and Meg. Watch out! Jen Hayes also got around the course pretty darn quick (42:44) without seeming to even break a sweat. If she decides to get competitive it could be real interesting. Bryan Herrick rode a big wide fishing-oriented paddleboard because his raceboard was down for repairs... but he still managed to finish in 41:20. He has been training hard in some windy condition in Matlacha Pass, and it's obviously making him strong. Complete results will be posted on the CGT TIME TRIALS page.

Gear: I used my 14'x23.75" Riviera, "Fletchy" with a 6" Fins Unlimited Keel fin. Weed fins were the call for today- Some unfortunate people like Joseph Gladieaux and Jodi Ziajka had to work twice as hard to go half as fast because their non-weed fins were dragging sticks and leaves the whole time.

Play by play: On Athanacio's suggestion we staggered the start differently than usual this time. Instead of putting the fastest race team members in the first wave of starters, we did the opposite. That way the folks in front would be the "rabbits" motivated to not get caught by the "wolves" creeping up behind them. And if they did get caught, they could practice getting into the draft of those passing them. It was great to do it that way, because it resulted in a lot of good drafting and passing action, and it probably contributed to the slew of personal best times recorded.

First wave was Matt Kearney, Justin DiGiorgio, and Devin Turetzkin. Second wave was Murray Hunkin and Mark Hourigan. Third wave was Mark Athanacio and me. I sprinted like hell off the starting line- A lot harder than I usually sprint. It was a strategy I'd been thinking of using if Athanacio had decided to use a 14'- outsprint him in the first 200 meters (hopefully) and never let him catch me. It might not have worked were we both on 14s, but with him on the slower 12'6 and probably not taking the race as seriously because of that, I did end up putting a gap on him. Then it was just a matter of chasing down the guys ahead of me. Hourigan had dropped Murray from his draft, so I came up on Murray first. I tried to approach him from wide out rather than coming straight up the center of his wake. Doing that I could sort of ride his side-wake in as I approached him. I was lucky to get around him just as we approached the downriver buoy turn.

Heading upriver I felt tired but tried to keep up the tempo and close the distance on Hourigan and the Matt-Justin-Devin train. I paddled OK except for one strategic error where I lost some speed crossing shallow water around a bend. I caught the train a little after Hourigan did. The train was rearranging a bit, with Devin making a strong move to get ahead and Matt dropping back. I squeaked around Justin with a bit of paddle clashing, and I think I then got behind Devin or Hourigan. My memory is a little fuzzy there. But at some point Hourigan and I got away from the rest and I stuck behind Hourigan while trying to recover my breath. On the upper section of course Hourigan let me by and followed me for a bit before I lost him at a sharp bend near the upriver turn-around. I was more exhausted than usual on the final, downriver leg of the course, and I made some poor decisions to go under low branches that forced me to stop paddling and coast for a bit. At the very end I picked up the pace as much as I could, and I was pleased to have beaten my PB time. It was a great race.

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: Athanacio made an interesting point after the race, asking us, "Who got a personal best this time? Raise your hands. Uh huh. Who was slower?" Most of us did get personal bests, or close to it. But interestingly the person who has been putting in the most miles of practice, Murray Hunkin, was a fair bit slower than his best time of the series. Murray has been grinding out long mileage paddles in between our high intensity interval training days, which might not be leaving enough time for recovery and "consolidation" of the fitness gains made by the high intensity intervals training.

What's Next: Next race is a big one- the Sharkbite Challenge April 9th in the Tampa area. Hopefully I can keep my wits about me and apply the hard training to a speedy result in this 8 miler.

Pictures: Pending.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Paddling and Pumping Iron with Mark Athanacio

For those who haven't been reading my blog lately, Mark Athanacio is the tough, 50ish guy who has been my constant competitor and often mentor in standup paddleboard racing in Southwest Florida.

Mark is strict and strident regarding the philosophies of personal health, athletic training and fair competition that he has developed and followed over a long career in physical education. In other words, and even by his own admission, he is kind of an a--hole. So when the CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards race team recently entered into a formal training arrangement with him it was like this...

Anyway, we've been training with Athanacio for two weeks now, and so far, so good. Despite his high standards and ferocious competitiveness, Mark is quite positive and encouraging as a coach. He has us doing two types of training:

1. 3x per week group sessions on the water after work. The workouts are generally short, about 30 minutes / 3 km, and broken up into intervals of varying intensity, including a lot of full-on sprint intensity work. Athanacio hovers around and gives us tips before, after, and during the workouts. He's pretty creative about designing courses and staggering the start times of faster/slower team members, which challenges us all to deal with "race traffic," obstacles, and passing situations. One of his themes has been teaching us how to push through feelings of exhaustion to faster than normal speeds, with confidence that we can recover at normal speed once the push is over. Another of his themes is maintaining form and intensity throughout the workout, and ending the workout earlier rather than going to the point where you're just practicing sloppy half-hearted paddling.

2. Strength training on non-paddle days. Mark says there are a lot of little ways to improve your paddle performance, e.g., technique, equipment, nutrition, etc. But the one SURE THING that will improve anyone's paddle performance is proper strength training, because the standup paddleboarding motion is so strength-dependent. Most of the team members are doing strength training independently on off days, but Mark has been extra nice to me and one other guy on the team by giving us strength training lessons in his home gym. Mark's gym is actually the entire lower level of his tiny river house.

(It's a unique house that has been featured on HGTV. The living quarters is a tiny cabin-like thing sitting atop one corner of a normal sized garage. The house is a good fit with Mark and his yogi girlfriend Jen's healthy, minimalist life philosophies.)

Anyway, pumping iron with Mark has been challenging, but not in the energetically exhausting way that I'm used to from my normal gym mode of going around the YMCA doing lots of moderate-weight reps on every machine. Mark's gym workouts are mainly challenging because they involve meticulous attention to posture and movement patterns in lifts that require the whole body. There are three main things that we do- squats, deadlifts, and standing military press. All involve a single, big barbell. We also do some pushups, pullups, and various hanging/stretching activities, but those are mainly just to get us warmed up for the big barbell things. I've been feeling good types of sore after the workouts, and I think they're going to help a lot with the ability to maintain a strong, sturdy posture and a dynamic paddle stroke during races. We'll see.

Next race is a local one, Easter morning, where I'm going to have to face Athanacio again. Aaack!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

SUP Race Report: CGT Winter Race Series #6

Picture: Local HovieSUP riders pose with brand owner Brian Hovnanian from Sarasota. Race winner Mark Athanacio is in the front row with his black and grey Hovie Comet GT 14x23.

Race: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards Winter Race #6

Date it happened: 6 March 2016

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in Bonita Springs, FL

Distance: 5.12 km

Conditions: Pleasant sunny weather, moderate current and breeze, very low water levels.

Participants: The usual CGT race team, the HovieSUP business owners, plus some new people.

Results: First place in the men's 14' class was Mark Athanacio, in 33:32. I was two seconds behind. Yep- I got BEAT this time. Third man was Mark Hourigan in 35:28. Women's 12'6 class winner was out-of-town Hovie rider Francesca Morrow, in 39:28, followed by Kate Pagan in 39:47 and Meg Bosi in 39:52. Kate and Meg were also on Hovie sups. Full results will be posted on the CGT TIME TRIALS page.

Gear: I used my 14'x23.75" Riviera, "Fletchy." Athanacio was on a 14'x23" Hovie Comet GT. Both of us used Fins Unlimited 6" Keel fins.

Play by play: The first group to start was Murray Hunkin, Mark Hourigan, Devin Turetzkin, and Bryan Herrick, the man with the dragon tattoo. Bryan usually rides a 12'6x27 404 v3, but he'd recently bruised it surfing so he rode the shop's 14x26.25 BlkBox UNO. I started in the second group with Athanacio, and Matt Kearney. Justin DiGiorgio went behind us in his own group, intent on breaking his personal best time without the aid of drafting.

The starting sprint for my group was pretty even. I decided to slip behind Athanacio since he seemed fired up to go really fast. I'm not sure how long Matt stayed in our draft train because all my concentration was focused on staying in Athanacio's wake. Athanacio is really fast and also has these surges of acceleration coupled with slight direction changes that are hard to anticipate. He's not easy to draft. I can tell because my heartrate and speed don't change much when we trade drafting positions.

I took my first turn "pulling" the train about 1km into the race, and continued pulling after the first turn-around and up to the 2.5 km mark. Then I slowed down to let Athanacio around and he ended up holding the lead for the rest of the race, not counting when we caught up to Mark Hourigan and both drafted him for a while. In the upper part of the course we both left Mark Hourigan's wake to pass him at the same time, and I thought about trying to pass Athanacio at that time, too. In retrospect I should maybe have made my move right after Athanacio passed Hourigan, since passing drains a person's energy.

Anyway, although I was able to stay on Athanacio's tail through the upriver buoy turn and for the remainder of the race, I just couldn't muster the strength to get around him. When I did try to get around him I actually found myself falling back, as I struggled to push my board over his wake. It helped me relate to the frustration he must have felt when I stuck him in the same position a few times in previous races. To pass someone who is very similar to you in speed, and who doesn't want you to pass, is extremely difficult, especially in a narrow channel where you can't get out to the side of the person. Even though I didn't win first place, I was still happy to get a fast time, and I reckon I got a good workout and learned a lot.

Here's my speedcoach track and data from the race:

Other race intrigues: There were a lot of great performances in this race. Joseph Gladieux looked dialed-in on his 14x24.75 Fanatic Falcon (my old board) and shaved 3 minutes off his previous best time to get a very respectable 43:56. Donna Catron got 44:10, beating her best time by almost a minute and nearly catching her rival Damien Lin, who amazingly got 43:39 despite falling three times from running aground. Devin Turetzkin also fell but still salvaged a personal best 37:44. Matt Kearney had a very solid race with 36:41 on his 14x24 404 v3, but he was edged out by on-fire Justin DiGiorgio, who smashed his personal best with 36:25, riding a 14x24 Hovie Comet ZXC. That's going to put Justin ahead in the series. Dragon Bryan went something like 6 minutes faster on the 14' BlkBox than he'd gone previously on his 12'6 board- Maybe he'll be looking at buying one. Alan Navarro had a great comeback from a long time off the water with one of the faster 12'6 times.

One of the best things about these CGT races is, of course, the lunch social afterwards in the shop. CGT co-owner Aaron Thomas always puts out a good spread.

Racers Lunch @ CGT... Go Tribe Go!!!!

Posted by Aaron Thomas on Sunday, March 6, 2016

What's Next: The CGT race team is about to begin an exciting new chapter in our quest for speed. We are beginning a group training program with Mark Athanacio as our coach. It's obvious from Mark's bodybuilder physique and age-defying sup racing dominance that he knows how to train effectively. We'll do 2-3 sessions with him on the water each week, and some of us will also add some strength training. I'll let you know how it goes.

Pictures: Pending.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Everglades & Estuary Crises in South Florida

Lately there has been an unprecedented level of public concern about the declining health of South Florida's coasts and waterways. These concerns are valid. They stem from a trio of ongoing environmental disasters, which are caused by humans and have worsened recently due to unusual precipitation patterns.

1. High volume freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary, leading to reduced salinity, murky water, and harm to seagrasses, oysters, fish, and tourism.
2. High volume freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie Estuary, leading to reduced salinity, murky water, and harm to seagrasses, oysters, nearshore reefs, fish, and tourism.
3. Death of seagrasses and reefs in the Florida Bay / Florida Keys region, related to disruption of normal freshwater flow from the Everglades wetland system.

Concurrently, harmful algal blooms, including red tide, brown tide, blue-green algae, and seaweed blooms, have increased throughout Florida estuaries and coastal oceans. These "HAB"s have negative effects ranging from simply creating unsightly murky water, to killing seagrasses, corals, fish and marine mammals, to creating oxygen-depleted "dead zones", to even sickening humans who walk on the beach.

All of these problems are strongly related to the "altered hydrology" of South Florida. Hydrology is how freshwater makes its way from the land to the ocean. Historically, the hydrology of South Florida was a slow flow through forests, swamps, lazy rivers, groundwater springs, and wetlands like the Everglades.

Historic, diffuse pattern of freshwater flow across South Florida. Note that there was no link between Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries on the West and East Coasts of the State. The flow just went overland to the Everglades in the South. photo flowmap1-historic_zps91365afd.jpg

The land was covered in vegetation, which filtered out the dirt from the water and sucked up most of the water-borne nutrients (chemicals like Nitrogen and Phosphorus) before they could reach the coasts. (Though nutrients occur naturally and are essential for plant life, excessive flux of nutrients into waterways, due to man-made sources like fertilizer and sewage, and due to loss of natural filters like wetlands, causes HABs and all their nasty effects.) So the coastal waters were cleaner and clearer than they are now.

In addition to the dirt- and nutrient-removal benefits of a diffuse, slow-flowing hydrology, the old Florida flow pattern also evened out the effects of droughts and heavy rains on the amount of water flowing into estuaries. (An estuary is a bay where freshwater flowing off the land mixes with saltwater from the ocean.) The freshwater flows levels were evened out because wetlands like the Everglades would naturally store water during wet times and leach out water during dry times. A relatively consistent, moderate amount of freshwater entering an estuary allows abundant and diverse life to flourish, whereas "all or nothing" freshwater flows create extreme too-fresh/too-salty conditions that most life cannot tolerate.

You might be asking, "If the natural hydrology of South Florida was so wonderful, why did people alter it?" Well, the alterations began a long time ago (in the 1800s and early 1900s) before many people realized how important the natural pattern was. At the time we thought wetlands like the everglades were just useless land, too wet to farm or build on. So various private and government groups dug deep, straight canals to hasten the flow of water off the land. This effectively turned the wetlands into dry lands, but it eliminated the land's ability to store and filter water. So the estuaries were subjected to extreme high and low flows of freshwater, and the water was also dirtier than before.

Additional hydrologic changes were made when it was realized that the drainage canals actually worked too well, and farming was being disrupted by dry peaty soils blowing away or even catching on fire. So expensive dams, locks, and pumps were added to the canals to retain water for agriculture sometimes, and drain water off the land at other times. That further increased the variability in how much freshwater made it into the estuaries, so the environmental conditions in the estuaries got really weird and bad. The most famous/infamous man-made hydrologic change was the interruption of the southward flow of the Everglades. The everglades, aka the "river of grass," historically flowed from the soggy south banks of Lake Okeechobee through endless kilometers of sawgrass, down to the "10,000 islands" region where it blended into "Florida Bay," the vast expanse of shallow water between mainland South Florida and the islands and reefs of the Florida Keys. Along the way, the everglades flow recharged groundwater sources really important for the growing human population of Southeast Florida (Palm Beach to Miami).

Anyway, in order to control flooding and expand farming in the everglades-origin area on the south shores of Lake Okeechobee, a big dike was built to prevent the lake from overflowing to the South, and lots of drainage canals, locks, and pumping stations were built to dry out the land there and create a massive "Everglades Agricultural Area" (EAA) where un-farmable wetlands used to be. The main crop in the EAA now is sugarcane. To deal with the excess water buildup in Lake Okeechobee, since it could no longer flow southward without flooding sugarcane fields, giant canals were built on the east and west sides of Lake Okeechobee to drain its water into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, respectively. The receiving estuary for the westward Okeechobee purges is the Caloosahatchee Estuary. The receiving estuary for the eastward Okeechobee purges is the St. Lucie Estuary. Hence, disasters #1 and #2, above. Disaster #3 in Florida Bay is caused by insufficient freshwater delivery to Florida Bay, which creates super salty conditions fatal to seagrass and coral.

This video explains the problem pretty well.

So, what's the solution? The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a joint effort of state government (the South Florida Water Management District) and federal government (the US Army Corps of Engineers) aims to restore more natural patterns of flow, somewhat ironically, by more digging, damming, and pumping. There are many different CERP projects scattered all over South Florida, ranging widely in size, cost, and stage of planning/completion. CERP has had some successes, notably the restoration of natural river bends and wetlands around the Kissimmee River on the north side of Lake Okeechobee. Another interesting CERP project, the "C43 Reservoir," is underway along the shore of the Caloosahatchee River. For that project, low-lying farm fields are being dug up and turned into a water storage area that will be filled when water flows are high and gradually drained when water flows are low, to reduce the extremes of high and low flows reaching the Caloosahatchee Estuary. Some CERP funding also goes to support environmental monitoring and research in the areas where habitats, water quality, and wildlife are affected by the altered hydrology. For example, I have received funding from CERP to support my studies of the effects of Lake Okeechobee releases on seagrasses in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. You can read my 2014 report by clicking here, then clicking "Caloosahatchee Estuary," then clicking the "SAV" tab.

Unfortunately, the CERP projects completed or underway so far won't do enough to stop the big 3 problems. The centerpiece of the CERP plan, which has yet to be enacted, would do a lot more. The centerpiece would be the buyout of a huge swath of the EAA (the sugar land) south of Lake Okeechobee. The buyout would allow the South Florida Water Management District and the US Army Corps of Engineers to create a giant semi-natural wetland that would convey a significant volume of Lake Okeechobee water into the Everglades, filtering out some of the pollution in the water along the way. The Florida public, and the SFWMD and USACOE scientists with whom I regularly interact, are overwhelmingly in support of the buyout plan. It just makes sense. So far, the elected officials who have the power to enact the buyout have neglected to do so. Perhaps that will change as the increasingly obvious signs of environmental degradation spur public activism. Some of the activist groups already vocal on these issues are:

Captains for Clean Water
Save our Estuaries
Caloosahatchee River Watch
Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation
Conservancy of South West Florida

Though the motivations of the different activist groups are varied, from protecting nature to enhancing fishing to increasing tourism, it's interesting that they all seem to be coalescing around one central message: "Buy the land, send the water south."