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.


  1. Mark I always carry in my day hatch a spray coat with a full length zip that is large enough to wear over my PFD, this makes it easy to pull on if it gets a little cool or remove if it gets too warm on the water without having to remove PFD etc. Very quick and easy way to control the temperature. The brand is Team, designed in Australia and has a waterproof zip. I have the large and its big enough to wear over the PFD, sometimes even when I have my regular spray coat on under my PFD and it gets real cool and wet I'll pull it on. That extra layer of nylon outside the PFD traps a pocket of warm air around you better than something that is compressed and wet against the skin. And of course a hat helps regulate the heat as well.

  2. Yep, we sell a similar garment, the NRS Endurance Jacket. I had mine in the hatch but was keen to see if I would actually warm up again. I won't let that happen on race night, my Endurance jacket will be packed in a small deck bag. It's also designed to go over everything, excellent piece of kit.


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