Extreme Distance Endurance Paddling

In 2012 I racked up a little over 900 race miles on a SUP. That doesn’t include all the training miles on rivers or time spent on my home-made SUP ergometer in my basement. A typical race for me will last days not hours and consists of paddling day and night while sleeping less than an hour a night. Starting off 2013 I am at 480 race miles in 2 races. This past weekend was an 80 mile race in Tennessee while the remaining mileage was earned one month prior from a 300 mile race in Florida that I decided to add an extra 100 miles post-race to promote organ donation.

I get asked a host of questions in regards to endurance racing with “How” usually being top of the list. The “How” question doesn’t hold an easy answer to it, but I can offer some components that make understanding endurance paddling a little easier.

The #1 element of endurance is the obvious, training. You have to prepare yourself physically to endure long periods of pushing your body. There are a number of ways to train dependent the magnitude of the race. I’m a firm believer that you have to cross train more than you train specific to your sport. But that’s just my opinion and method used. You have to find a system of training that works for you.

Endurance paddling via stand up is a complicated matter yet, it can be simplified into one concept, the body/mind concept. When you start a long race it is highly physical. Your mind tells your body to push hard and just go. Your endorphins kick in, adrenaline is pumping, and the mind is happy with what the body is doing. They work together harmoniously. This portion of racing is where all the training prior to the event is harnessed. All your hard work comes to fruition as your well trained muscles pull your paddle relentlessly through water.

In endurance paddling the physical aspect is the easy part of the race. Your heart rate screams, Muscles engage, the lactic acid builds up in your body, and you feel like you want to puke. This all passes after an hour or so and your body falls into line. Then comes the fun stuff like numb toes, cramps, and blisters.

Again, everyone has their methodology that works for them, as I’ve crafted my own. The numb toes is easily preventable. I pump music in my ears that I toe tap and heal tap to which allows for better circulation. To prevent cramping you have to have a sound diet and show up hydrated. I almost always carry a clump of bananas on my board for the potassium boost. Blisters, well you have to learn to minimize them because they’re going to happen. I alternate between bare hands and fingerless gloves. When you get em’, don’t pop them! If you have to, go to the med kit and pull out the gorilla tape and tape em’ up.

All the above is the easy part. Just paddle for endless hours. The real race begins after sundown when your body is usually getting ready to sleep at it’s normal time. 12+ hours of paddling has taken a toll on your body and the body/mind concept begins to shift. In your mind you want to tell your body to push it and your body says it can’t. This is where an endurance paddler has to have that iron will to move beyond what the body knows it’s is capable of. You either have the will or you don’t. It’s not something taught. I’m not sure it’s even something you can learn. The mind must take over and command the body at this point. The race becomes very mentally challenging.

There are many tactics used to accomplish this. The easiest and most used is varying your normal pattern. Stroke variances are great. Switch things up from short quick bursts where you make 5 strokes per side for 5 sets. Then switch into long deep strokes of 8 strokes per side for 10 sets. The key element is counting each stroke either in your head or out loud. By doing so it forces your mind to think about counting and not think about how you can’t paddle on. It sounds silly but it works.

Tap into your emotions. A person that paddles with emotion is a force. I tape a picture of my family onto my deck bag in front of me feet. When paddling gets tough, I look at that picture and have conversations in my mind. I recall great moments with my family and harness that energy and use that emotion to push harder. That reason is the faster I can finish a race or expedition, the faster I get to go home to my family and have that next great moment with them.

Music goes along way. Many paddlers use it as a distraction, as do I. Heck, singing while racing is one of my favorite past times. Yet sometimes you need something more to really get your mind away from the paddling, soreness, and monotony. Solution? Podcasts! To each their own but I load my mp3 with podcasts from my church. Good old Pastor Greg can get me through 45 minutes of tough paddling any day. I’ve found that many times while listening I’ll be looking ahead at where I’m paddling but not taking in much of anything. My focus is the good words coming into my ears.

There are a few more tactics I employ while distance paddling, but I can’t give away all my secrets now. Just remember this one tip if you take away anything form reading this, listen to your body when it’s important. Meaning that soreness and tiredness are things you need to push beyond. However, if your body has something important going on you need to make time to stop, rest, and assess the situation. Don’t try to be a hero and paddle on when it could mean an injury that will prevent you from paddling for 4 months once you’re done with the event you’re in. Paddle smart.

Obviously there’s much more to very long distance paddling. Things like nutrition, hydration, clothing, gear, and the list goes. There’s just too much to cover. The concept of body/mind is the key to it all. Once you figure out how to harness it, you become a powerful long distance paddler.

Written By Shane Perrin
Website: Shane Perrin
St Louis Paddlers visit supstlouis.com for local information.

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