I’ve traveled around a fair bit for paddling and wherever I go I’m always stoked when I find a group that does a lot of their on water workouts together as a training group. I honestly believe whether you're training on land or on the water, you get far more out of your training if you're part of a group than you do if you always train alone.
While training for the Olympics I almost always had a training partner. Whether it was Brian Bliss, Peter Koschanow or Jack Chubaty, most of the workouts I did I had someone there to push me and keep me honest. When they weren't there I admit I actually enjoyed the change of pace that came with it and the solitude of being alone on the water. I could still train effectively (even without the advantage of today's modern technology like a GPS and heart rate monitor) and had some refreshing time to myself. But when I was doing really intense stuff, or when the training program was really tough and I was feeling really rundown, it was great to have others there to push me, motivate me and to share the experience with.
Unlike a sport like swimming, which seems to me like such a solitary sport, paddling is a social sport. It’s possible to have a conversation while you're paddling. Granted, if you're paddling hard that conversation gets difficult to maintain, but in the rest between pieces or when you're loading your board on your car afterward, you've got time to chat and share the experience of what you've just been through. It’s usually so beautiful out on the water it's really nice to be able share that with someone else. It's a part of the workout I always look forward to. The end of a long downwinder when we're all just sitting on our boards talking about the great rides we got, the paddle back to the dock after a killer flat water interval workout and shared stories of pain or trash talking about who won what piece - it's all part of the awesome experience of sharing what you love to do with others who are equally into it. Though I have always been fully capable of training effectively alone, these are the moments in paddling that I live for. These are the moments I love. Having a training partner or training group certainly makes the sport more fun.
When I was getting ready to race my C1 500m final in 1984 I wanted to do a very intense warm up. I wanted to be ready to go harder and faster than I ever had when it mattered most, and I knew I needed a push to get me to that spot before I pulled into the starting blocks. Peter Koschanow, who,was sent to the Olympics as a reserve to cover all the races should someone on the team get sick or injured was essentially my training partner during the training camp in Sacramento, and once we got to the venue at Lake Casitas north of Los Angeles. He dutifully went out for my warm up with me and pushed me through three all out one-minute pieces. He helped get me to the place I needed to be to feel shot out of a cannon on the start of my final. In 1989 at the World Championships in Plovdiv, Tamas Buday Sr. did the same type of thing, which undeniably helped me have a great race and win a silver medal in the C1 1000m. A part of the medals I won in those races belongs to them, because their part in the whole preparation process was enormous.
It's really cool when you go to a competition as part of a group in which everyone has trained hard and feels confident in their preparation. Being surrounded by these confident people instills even more confidence in you. You feed off each other's confidence and it is no surprise when almost everyone in the group races really well. That’s happened numerous times to me in SUP, most recently at last year’s Pacific Paddle Games as part of Team Starboard. Everybody had fun and everyone did well. It was a supportive, collegial environment that brought the best out of everyone. It was awesome. The same thing happens every year with the canoe club I paddle for (the Burloak Canoe Club) at the Nationals. Everyone is well prepared and the club has a real rich history of success. Everyone feeds off each other and that usually translates into personal bests and athletes exceeding expectations.
While paddling is almost always fun, training sometimes isn't. You're tired, run down or maybe the weather is just so crappy you'd really rather not train even though you know you should. This is where your training partner or training group helps you get out there and do your workout. You don't want to pick just anyone as your training partner or invite just anyone into your training group. Look for that person who is positive, who looks at life with optimism, and who enjoys paddling and training as much as you. They don't have to be the same speed as you. If they're faster then they represent someone you can aspire to beat and everyday they set a standard that you can work towards. If they're slower than you then they'll give a push when they can, they'll keep you honest and won't let you slack off, and they should inspire you every day as they try to hunt you down in workouts.
A training partner or training group keeps you accountable. They make you show up to train when you don’t feel like it, they help you push yourself when you’d rather not. They give you options in training you wouldn’t otherwise have, for example how could you do a wash ride workout, which is such an important part of preparation for a race like Chattajack, if you were alone? They make the whole paddling experience more enjoyable, and if you’re having fun you train better.
If you're already part of a similar dynamic with a training group or training partners of your own, you'll have been nodding your head in agreement the whole time as you've read this post. If you aren't, then I strongly suggest you try to find a group or at least a reliable training partner. It will help your training enormously and make your paddling experience even more enjoyable. If you don’t have any luck doing that then try the next best thing – join a virtual training group like the 100 Paddle Challenge or Paddle Monster. Become part of a paddling community that is supportive, inspiring and always there. They can hold you accountable just as easily as a real training group can. And while they can’t actually do the work stroke for stroke with you, you’ll feel like you’ve gone through the entire training process with them and have made new friends in the process, and that after all is what it is all about.