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  • Paddle Monster coach, Larry Cain

What Type of Training Should I do to Prepare for Chattajack?

Obviously if you’ve made the commitment to do a long race like Chattajack this year, you know you’re in for a lot of paddling. The race alone is 31 miles long which is going to take anywhere from 5 to 8 ½ hours to complete on a SUP. That’s a lot of time on your board. But that’s just the last little bit of paddling you’ll be doing because there’s no way you’ll be finishing if you aren’t prepared to paddle A LOT between now and race day.

The big questions that people seem to have center around how long each of their training sessions should be. People seem to understand that simply going out for short 30 minute paddles each day isn’t going to be enough, but there seems to be a lot of confusion about whether or not they should be preparing for Chattajack by doing paddles as long as their target time for the actual race. I’m here to put your mind at ease. You don’t need to do seven-hour paddles regularly in training if your target time for the race is seven hours.

Day-to-day consistency is most important

First of all, the key to training for a race like Chattajack isn’t doing periodic long paddles. Instead, it’s training consistently for 60 to 90 minutes, day in and day out, month after month. Think back to your days as a student because it’s kind of like prepping for an exam. Cramming isn’t advisable and rarely results in you writing a great exam. The key to success is doing your homework day after day and staying on top of things. While you still need to log some long study sessions, those sessions are more effective and meaningful because your day-to-day commitment to learning the material has put you in a position where you can really benefit from them.

In paddling, or any other sport for that matter, it works the same way. You can’t fake things by trying to pull everything together at the end. The type of fitness required for endurance events like Chattajack takes a considerable period of time to develop. Doing a few long training sessions isn’t going to do much in this regard. Similarly the sport specific skills you need, like drafting or handling rough water while paddling, take time to develop as well. The truth is we never stop developing them. The more you paddle and use them in training, the better you get at them. Again, you can’t pull them together at the end or in a few ultra long training sessions.

The best thing you can do to prepare is get on a well-planned and organized periodized program and stick to it. It is consistency day in and day out that should be the foundation of your preparation for a long race like this.

It’s not enough to be consistent day-to-day if you aren’t adding volume

Once you’re on a well-planned periodized program and doing your daily homework, you need to start thinking about adding some volume. After all, Chattajack is a long race and you’ll need to log some extra mileage to be able to finish it strong.

Before we even consider doing long paddles let’s also remember that it’s very useful to add volume to your daily training. If your program is well designed it should see a gradual build up of volume over time as part of the “progressive overload” typical of proper periodization. Workouts become a little longer over time so that the work you’re doing in August, for example, is a little longer than what you might have been doing in April or May.

A trick that I like to use to add even more day-to-day volume on top of slightly longer workouts is to extend my warm ups and cool downs slightly. An extra kilometer in both the warm up and cool down is an extra 2 km per training session. And if you’re training 5 times/week that is an extra 10 km or 6 miles added to your weekly total. Every little bit makes a difference.

Of course even the carefully planned addition of volume to the training program isn’t enough. You’ll still need to do some longer paddles.

Long paddles – how much, how often?

While day-to-day consistency is the foundation to success for any endurance athlete, you’re unlikely to meet one that hasn’t also done lots of extra long training sessions. The key is finding the right balance and doing sessions that are long enough to prepare you sufficiently for the race you’ll be doing without being so long that they compromise the day-to-day consistency that is the backbone of your training.

For me, Chattajack takes about 5 hours. It takes a lot out of me. I’m really tired for about 10 days afterward. I generally take a few days off without doing much of anything before getting back on my board and paddling easy for a the better part of a week. Then I need a few days to get back into the regular routine of the training program, so that it can be up to 10 days in total before I’m training normally again.

When I’m training for Chattajack I rarely do sessions longer than 3 to 3½ hours and I only do those sessions once per week, usually on Saturday before my day off on Sunday. I find that with my day off I generally feel fresh and rested on Monday and ready to do really high quality work in the new week of training. I’ve found through experience that doing more than approximately 3½ hours crosses some kind of line and leaves me much more fatigued. I don’t recover as quickly and find that, even after my day off, I’m still not ready to paddle with the type of quality I’m looking for to start the next week’s training. What I’m doing in this case is compromising the effectiveness of the day-to-day training that is the backbone of my preparation.

Over the years I’ve realized, for me at least, that it’s self-defeating to do regular paddles of 4 hours or longer. What I might gain from the long paddles is more than offset by what I’m losing in reduced day-to-day quality. For me it results in a net negative. It’s not worth it.

I find that the best way to approach long paddles is to do one each week on the day before my day off. I recommend starting at about 2 hours and then each week (recovery weeks excepted) adding another 15 minutes until you’re into the 3½-hour range. This “slow-build up” approach minimizes the chance of injury and helps you adapt to the load these long paddles put on your body so you can recover fully each week on your day off, with the quality of training in the following week unaffected.

This approach isn’t just based on my experience as an athlete but has been validated in my experience as a coach as well, as I’ve seen lots of paddlers training with Paddle Monster do really well in long races by following programs based on this philosophy.

While limiting your weekly long paddles to approximately 3½ hours is the best way to train for long races without affecting the quality of your day-to-day training, it’s not going to do much to inspire confidence or self-belief that you can finish the race strong if your target time is 8 hours. For those that expect to be on the course for a long time, there is one more missing ingredient to your training plan for a race like Chattajack.

Do a long race or “race simulation”

One of the most important things you can do to prepare for a race like Chattajack is find a race or races that are similar in distance or time. Use these as training events. You can test your pacing, your pre- and in-race nutrition and hydration, and prove to yourself that you can complete the distance. You can meet and overcome all the demons that only appear after 6 or 7 hours of paddling. The learning you’ll get from these long training events is essential to a strong performance in the race you really care about, and it really bolsters your confidence.

The reality is races of this length can be hard to find, so if you can’t find a test event or two to do there’s always a “race-simulation” to fall back on. Simply identify a weekend to go and do a 5, 6 or even a 7-hour paddle. It doesn’t need to be at race pace. Instead, aim to do it at a steady pace at about 60% to maybe 70% of your maximal effort. You should find this pretty much approximates your sustainable pace for a long race.

You can add in some changing tempo work where you take it up to 80% effort or more for 5 to 10 minutes then bring it back down to 60% for another 20 minutes or so. This is a useful way to simulate drafting, which you’ll hopefully be able to do in the actual race where it will be extremely beneficial. The harder 80% stretches simulate leading the draft train while the easier, 60% stretches simulate the effort you’ll be giving while drafting. Better yet, find a couple of training partners close to your speed to do your simulation with. It will be a lot more fun and you’ll actually be able to practice drafting while doing it.

The point is, you don’t have to go all out for 6 hours or more in your simulation. From a training perspective your body is making all the physiological adaptations at 60% effort that are required to increase the aerobic fitness you need. You don’t need to go harder. This will leave you even better prepared for a long race like Chattajack.

Doing your simulation will not only give you the confidence that you can complete the actual race, but it will give you a great opportunity to test out your pre-race and in-race nutrition and hydration systems. They are going to be crucial in your actual race.

I would strongly recommend doing at least one of these simulations or an actual race of the same approximate length. If you’re going to do more than one, space them out by at least 6 full weeks and make sure your last one is at least 6 weeks before Chattajack in late October.

Clearly you’re going to have to take at least a few days off or easy to recover after doing your simulation or long race. There is no way around it. The 5 to 7 hour paddle you do is going to affect your training the following week. That is precisely why, if you’re doing more than one, you want to spread these events out – you need time to get some really solid, uninterrupted training done between them. Taking at least 6 weeks between provides that time. However if you start doing these simulations too often you’ll find that your daily training is too frequently being disrupted by fatigue or the need for recovery and you’ll lose the day-to-day consistency that should be the foundation of your training.

I am a firm believer that you don’t need to do your exact race distance to be prepared for your race. If you’re racing the 31 miles of Chattajack and the furthest you’ve ever paddled in one session is 28 miles it shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve consistently done your daily homework. You’ll find a way to finish and finish strong. It’s far more important to be consistent day-to-day and week-to-week than it is to do the entire race distance in training.

Fitting everything together can be challenging yet very rewarding for those inclined to design their own program, building everything I’ve discussed here into it. It’s actually not that hard to do if you take some time and actually map everything out. However for those that aren’t inclined to design their own program, we’re happy to do that for you at Paddle Monster, with a Chattajack specific program that can be personalized for every paddler.

Have fun and happy paddling!



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