Chattajack Race Strategy
Having just recently completed the 40 km SEA Paddle race around Manhattan and with Chattajack only 10 weeks away, it seems an appropriate time to begin discussing race strategy for long, five hour plus, races.
Whether it’s any of the three previous Chattajacks I’ve done or this year’s SEA Paddle, when I talk to people at the finish I usually hear one of two different stories – they either worked in a draft train for all or a significant part of the race or they did it completely alone. Though in either case they’ve paddled the same course, it’s safe to say that the experience in each has been entirely different.
In my opinion there is really only one way to do a long race like this – work with somebody else and draft, sharing the load and eating up distance while doing so. It’s far more interesting and far easier. It makes the whole experience more enjoyable and the race seem shorter. Of course if you don’t have good drafting skills or just get unlucky and miss the draft train you’ll have to go it alone. You’ll have no choice. But if you can work with others for even part of the race it’s going to make a big difference.
Obviously, if you’re going to draft effectively in a race like this you need to have some competence at doing it, and that isn’t something you develop without practice. So do yourself a favor and start spending some time practicing drafting now in training, even if you have to go out of your way to seek out drafting partners. Drafting is so important that in coming weeks I’ll discuss it in more detail.
How do I find a draft train?
Finding a draft train is generally easier if you go a little harder early in the race. If you’re too cautious and conservative in the first 10 minutes of the race (and lots of people are), you’re likely to let the people your own speed get ahead of you. In this case you’ll be chasing them down during the middle of the race and you may not catch them, especially if they’re in a train and you’re left on your own. This means you’re running the risk of either doing the entire race alone or slowing down and waiting for a group of slower paddlers to join up with. In both cases it is going to affect your result. The take away here is that you should be prepared to go quite hard, probably harder than you’re used to, for at least the first 10 minutes of the race.
I actually generally like to go hard for the first 15 minutes at Chattajack. This tends to get me clear from most of the pack, yet I always try to bring one or two other paddlers with me on my wash. In the last two years that has been Bart de Zwart and Mike Tavares. After the first 15 minutes I can drop back onto the wash and begin to rest while one of the others takes the lead. For the rest of the race we’ve generally divided it up into 10-minute leads, which means that each of us ends up working really hard for 10 minutes and resting for 20 on the wash. As you can imagine that makes the race a lot easier than doing it all alone.
Going hard for the first 10 to 15 minutes means you’re more likely to end up with others your own speed. The faster paddlers will be ahead of you and in all likelihood slowly pulling away. The slower paddlers will be behind you or redlining trying to keep up. Those around you should be your peers – those of approximately equal speed that you should be able to travel with for much of the race.
So how can you go “hard” for 10 to 15 minutes with confidence that it isn’t going to be too hard? The answer is practice.
One of the most important workouts I give the paddlers training with Paddle Monster is 2 km “time controls”. These involve doing anywhere from one to three (or sometimes even four) 2000m pieces as fast as you can cover the distance. Each one takes anywhere from 11 to 15 minutes depending on how fast you are. While they help develop your high level aerobic fitness, they also help teach you a lot about your pacing. You learn what kind of pace you can sustain for that distance and gain an understanding of what is too hard and what isn’t hard enough. It almost exactly replicates the pacing you’ll need for the first 10 minutes or so of a race.
If the program calls for multiple 2 km pieces in the workout, the rest between each is 10 minutes. This rather large rest allows the second and third efforts to be done at a pace similar to the first. It also replicates the rest you might get on a wash after you’ve done your hard first 10 minutes in your race.
Again, I want to emphasize that if you’re not prepared to go hard early you’re more likely to miss the draft train that forms up with people your speed. You’re then left with one of two undesirable options – doing the race alone or joining in with a draft train of slower paddlers.
At Paddle Monster our specific preparation for Chattajack began August 7th with a 12 week training block, periodized to maximize results on October 28th. There’s never a bad time to join Paddle Monster. Paddle training is something you can do all year around. For more information, go to paddlemonster.com
Next Article: Part 2: Pacing in the first 10 minutes of the race