Monday 29 October 2012

Emptying the Tank

I had a rare moment of realisation while discussing a strategy with various people for the Hawkesbury Classic, how to work the tides, when to try & push a bit harder, when to conserve energy, tactics around wash riding etc.
I realised that as sea paddlers, we have an ingrained sense of keeping something in reserve on a challenging paddle. We recognise that the most dangerous part of any committing day on the water invariably comes at the end, the surf landing, the tough rescue of a fatigued paddler, the early arrival of an adverse wind that doubles your effort at the moment you are most tired.
I also know that in a race or competitive endeavour, anything left in reserve is something you could have thrown at your objective or opponent in pursuit of victory. Footy coach Wayne Bennett famously tells his players, 'don't die with the music in you'...
I took this as something of a theme for my attempt at the Hawkesbury Classic, and spent the race trying to identify just how hard I could go and when, in order to reach my target time of 11 hours. The competition was me of course, and the stopwatch.
My training told me that I could manage 9kmh for an extended period over varying tidal flows without blowing out. I was in a boat that, while not the specialised flat water speed machine I could see lining the banks at the start, was still capable of a maintaining a good clip. I had a good idea from some long expedition days in loaded boats of how to fuel myself & prevent dehydration. What I didn't know was just how hard and how far I could push myself over such an extended period when I didn't have to keep a physical margin of safety.
Suffice to say I can now say I reckon I know where that point is!
The Classic itself is a wonderful event. The atmosphere from the time you pull into Macquarie Park at Windsor is supremely optimistic, everyone seems to be helping everyone else with a smile. No sooner had I pulled up in the car park with my Mum & now four-time land crew, Suzanne, then Owen Walton & Col Sheringham appeared and offered to run me through scrutineering.
The briefing outlined the hazards and protocols to observe over the 111km course, and then the competitors in all their colour advanced on the marshalling gates for the staggered start.
First off are the Brooklyn or Busters, the non-competitive assortment of craft that goes away first to take full advantage of the favourable tides running out for the next three hours. In many ways this is the jewel of the Classic, with everything from Canadian canoes to slalom boats to polo bats to skin-on-frame kayaks. I spotted Batman & Robin in full kit on a double ski, a proud Englishman resplendent in dual Union Jack flagged headwear, mingled among the more serious and the other wacky racers.
The thing about this race though is that it's not possible to have a laugh all the way down, it's just too bloody far. At some point on the journey you'll have a bad hour (or four). At some point in the race you're going to be hurting. 
My own start was at 16:45 with the SREC and MREC boats, and we had about two hours thereabouts to try to make ground with a favourable tide.
The start....
I planned to hold 10kmh through this initial period, but managed to go a bit better than that as I weaved through the serpentine river course. It nearly came undone at the first checkpoint where I thought I could keep paddling while taking a suck on a goo, and had to throw in a high brace to prevent a dunking. Two hands right...?
My strategy proved a bit hopeful, crank through the first 30km before the tide turned, then hook in behind a slightly faster boat and try and minimise the wear & tear by wash riding through the opposing tide. That was a complete failure, I blew through the slower crews from the first round of paddlers, the quicker guys in front of me were too far in front to catch, and when the likes of Bob Turner & Kristy Benjamin whistled past in their SLR2 I could only stay with them long enough to complain!
At one stage an OC7 loomed up beside me with a wake like the QE2, and I gleefully saw my ticket through the tide, but they were going about 0.2kmh slower than I was going on my own so I had a short rest in behind them and had to mournfully get back to breaking trail. They were a bunch of characters, but guys, a little less conversation, a little more action and I could have listened to your banter for another hour!
The welcoming lights of Wiseman's Ferry loomed after 6:45, which was about 10 minutes slower than I had planned. I stopped to change my drink bladder, slip on my light paddling jacket, pop a couple of Ibuprofens and then set off again after a total of 5 minutes (Thanks Bill!) If there was an Ayrton Senna award for pit stops I'd have to have been in the mix.
I had 42km thereabouts to the finish and four hours flat to get there, but importantly the tide had turned and I was starting to get above 10kmh. I clawed back from an average of 8.6kmh at Wiseman's to 8.7, 8.8, 8.9, 9.0, then 9.1 and had half a chance of breaking 11 hours with 10km to go. I also had some of the speedy dudes starting to appear from behind in skis and one by one I'd drift in behind them and foot it for two or three minutes in their wash before they shot off into the darkness.
I knew the tide had turned for the second time but hadn't felt it's influence when I turned the corner at Spencer and entered the last wide expanse of the river. That was the point my luck ran out as the brutal final tide started to run and I dropped from running a kilometre every five & a half minutes, to one every 8 minutes. Bugger.
The last 10km were pretty rugged, ripping and tearing at my catch trying to keep the average speed above the magic 9kmh, but eventually to no avail. I crawled the last two K's at 7kmh and crossed the line. 
Mum had wangled into the 'officials only' zone and was singing out as I rounded the last mark, and it was over. My evil bastard GPS read 8.97kmh average speed, crueler than the Don! Final time was 11:08.
I'm pleased to say that for the first time on a long paddle I didn't have anything left at the end. The music had definitely died! Thirty of the last forty kilometres felt fast and exhilarating, and I was operating there or thereabouts to my interval levels in training, so that must have some benefit! The sting in the tail was rather character building.
There were plenty of cheery friends faces at the finish, both Rae Duffy and Annie Moore had smashed the previous women's MREC50 mark with Rae turning on a blistering 10:58. After some dedicated training her husband Neil had done a tough 11:46. My Hacking mate Steve Dawson & his better half Kate carried on a successful marathon series with 10:15. Mark Hempel, a Tuesday night regular and paddler for less than a year did an amazing 10.40. I tried in vain to hang onto Mark's wash as he shot past in the last 10km but couldn't foot it, really a brilliant achievement.
My heroic Mum
A sincere thanks to everyone that sponsored my race. My mum Suzanne went a sleepless night to give me a quick hug at Wiseman's and drive me home at the end, always with her big smile and optimism. And congratulations to everyone who gave the race a crack. It's a long, long way and something you always look back on with some small degree of pride. My flat water sojourn is over, time to head back into the sea....!
The end...
There are a few more pics on our Facebook page HERE

Friday 26 October 2012

Set for the Long Haul

The Hawkesbury Classic has arrived. Tomorrow I'll take to the water with just on 500 paddlers and attempt to paddle the 111km course from Windsor to Brooklyn.

If you're looking for some wallpaper-like entertainment through the night on Saturday, you can follow my trace through my Spot track which which be live on THIS URL from about 1630 on Saturday arvo. It updates my position every 10 minutes, so should give you some idea of how fast (or slow) I'm going.

I feel like my training in the Pace 18 has prepared me well for the event, and look forward to having a good go at recording a good time, hopefully considerably faster than I've done it in the past. I have mapped out the course on my GPS, devised a plan for the tides and my own hydration & nutrition and can't think of much else I could have done to get into shape. I reckon preparing for these big goals is way more than half the fun of actually going in themThere is a nice fellowship among paddlers in this event, and I've had many conversations with aspirants over the past month or so swapping tactics, strategies and advice. As a non-racer and only occasional flat water paddler I've appreciated some of these gems. 

Thanks so much to the generous souls who have sponsored my paddle, I'm a little humbled that the total amount to be contributed to the Arrow Foundation will exceed $1000. Thanks to Ricky, Pete, Simon, Birger, Toni, Greg, Robyn, Mary-Jane, the Tiderace guys, Dave, Simon, Dunny, Dianne, Claire, Merril, Danielle, Dino, David, Steve, Chris, my own guys at Talisman and of course my celebrity All Black Buncey. It's not too late to sponsor me, think of it as a small investment in my pain & suffering. You can do so though THIS LINK

Thanks also to my Mum Suzanne who will be crewing for me. If you see her out during the night say G'day, she's a character, my Mum.

Best of luck to all the hardy folks giving the Classic a crack tomorrow.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Hawkesbury Shakedown – Lessons Learned

    Launching at Wally's (photo Rob Mercer)
There are now less than 2 weeks until the Hawkesbury Classic, so I figured last night was the best chance to get out for a decent shake down paddle & cover some distance. Far enough from the race to identify big problems, and also to allow a decent recovery.
For the past 3 months I’ve limited my training paddles to 60-90 minute higher intensity work outs, as I believe these types of sessions are inherently more useful in building aerobic fitness. I find they also get my body used to working at a level most likely in excess of the output required for a long, long race like the Hawkesbury Classic.
But, and it’s a big butt, there remains the all important mind games of enduring 12 hours sat on your backside. It’s essential to reacquaint yourself with the pain beforehand, to ensure you don’t turn your race into one long painful slog.
I have had some seating and comfort problems with the Pace 18. I think spending so much time on a ski makes me a little less tolerant of the lower leg position essential for boat control in a sea kayak, so I have been frigging around with the seat & foot pegs trying to alleviate numb feet, legs & basically a sore bum.
After shifting things around both radically & in smaller increments I arrived back at a position that seemed pain free over 90 minutes. Guess what, it was about 97% of where the Tiderace factory had set everything. Don’t talk to me about seats….
Rob deigned to join me for my first genuinely flat water paddle so far in preparation, and we got a pleasant surprise when Steve Dawson, fresh from a great showing in the NSW Marathon Series partnering his wife Kate showed up in his V10L. Steve’s presence meant we not only had a guide to the Hacking on a seriously dark night, but also a pace car who would operate at a higher speed than I was comfortable at, to chase around the river.
Rob paddled his Taran, which isn’t really designed for dead flat water like this, & the three of us set off on a two-lap course from Dolans Bay to Audley in the National Park & back, about 40km.
40km course
My plan for the distance was to hold a heart rate of about 125 and keep the boat running at 9kmh, but variances in the tidal flow & the excitement of trying to hold onto Steve’s wash meant that the speed fluctuated wildly over the next 4 hours.
As shakedown for the Classic it was a great exercise, as the tide is a bit more brutal on the Hacking & you can’t hug the banks when paddling into the flow like you can on the Hawkesbury.
Why not? Well Rob demonstrated that perfectly when he tried to sneak a little eddy flow to the RIGHT of a port channel marker (remember, NO RED PORT LEFT) and succeeded in launching his Taran, Evel Knievel-style onto a spectacular crop of Sydney Rock Oysters. He saved his dignity with a graceful sculling draw to float the keel free. I reminded him of a sea skills exam I sat many years ago that tested my knowledge on channel markers. Something like ‘ on what side of a red channel marker should the boater pass, when heading into port?” The examiner? R.Mercer.
We had a nice run back with the tide from Audley, then a very tough slog back up river with the opposing tide at full flow. The tough times were offset by the most amazing display of bio-luminescence in the water. At times our bows were lit up bright green and our paddles looked as if they were turning on underwater lights and spraying hundreds of glowing droplets into the water, just stunning. Now I know how those famous paddlers on Lake Chernobyl must have felt.
Speed Trace
I must admit to being a little weary as we did the final 10km back to the launch spot, but learnt several lessons.
First, I dressed wrong. It was a lovely clear warm night so I layered a wool t-shirt under a Hydrosilk, and I got cold towards the end. Looks like I’ll have to go a heavier layer for the Classic where it does get very cold mid-race.
Second, 99km is a bloody long way. Despite paddling distances near enough to it a few times in the past year, you don’t ‘get used’ to distances like that. Any hubris I may have had in breezing through is now back in the hubris box.
Third, drafting a slightly faster boat saves you a tremendous amount of energy. When Steve slowed down to a catchable speed & I hooked into his wake & could slip along behind him at about half the output levels required to ‘break trail’. Any Mirage Doubles out there in Brooklyn or Bust beware, I’ll be looking for you!
HR Trace
And finally, flat-water paddling is bloody hard work. It’s not as dynamic and technical as paddling on the sea, you’re not afforded the micro rests you get at sea when you hook into a runner, and it really is about putting your head down and grinding it out. I can safely say after 40km last night you’re not likely to see Mr Mercer on the Hawkesbury any time soon!
The final trace showed 39.9km at an average speed of 9.1kmh, with an average heart rate of 125bpm, so I was near enough to my targets despite feeling at times like I was pushing a fraction harder than I would on Classic night.
Thanks to Rob & Steve for coming along on a most enjoyable cruise.

Monday 15 October 2012

Next Valley Shipment about to land!

The next Valley shipment is about to land, and the radical new Gemini SP is among the consignment. There are numerous reviews and write ups on this boat around the web already, and we will have the first four models available at the intro price of just $2990. Who will like the Gemini? At the pointy end, sea kayakers who love performance in the surf & at close quarters. At the other end of the spectrum, the Gemini is short, nimble, light, easy to store in a limited storage space and built with all the care & attention to detail we come to expect from the Valley brand. To remind those who have been waiting for a crack in this boat, here's the review put out by Ocean Paddler a month or so back.
We also have new colours of the Etain series, including a lone Etain 17'3 not yet sold, there are Nordkapps back in stock in composite and finally some more stock of the RM versions of both the Avocet & Aquanaut LV, both of which have been in high demand.
Check out the Valley Page on the EK site for specifics on the boats we have both on the shelf & landing on November 3, and the colours & prices on our STOCK page.

A reminder also about the quality ex-demo kayaks we have on sale. At present we have the following boats at greatly discounted prices, as we clear space for new arrivals:

Thursday 4 October 2012

Adventure Kayak Reviews the Xplore S

Adventure Kayak magazine have done a nice review of the Tiderace Xplore S, a smaller person's expedition boat that we are now stocking. You can read the review HERE

The Velocimiser Sea Kayak Foil Rudder

After two solid years of R&D, we can finally announce a series of successful sea trials of our new foiling sea kayak rudder, The Velocim...