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  • Paddle Monster coach, Larry Cain

Chattajack Race Strategy Part 3: How to Form a Draft Train

I like to think of draft trains as either being cooperative or competitive. Cooperative trains are made up of paddlers that recognize that working together can help chew up distance, make the race go faster, and allow everyone to save energy to use in later stages of the race. Paddlers in the train share the lead pretty equally, don’t make people work to take their turn leading and will even wait for others, especially for drink and food breaks with the understanding that they need everyone in the train to help them cover the distance more quickly and easily. These trains generally form up easily and are usually made up of a smaller group of 2 to 4 paddlers.

Competitive trains are usually bigger with 6 or more paddlers. There’s much less cooperation as those in the train don’t really care if a few paddlers drop off. What does it matter if you lose a few people from the train if you still have 2 or 3 left that can take their turn leading and allow you to rest?

I’d suggest that if you find you’re with one or two other paddlers you’re likely to find the paddlers will be agreeable to forming a cooperative train. Without slowing down too much slide over to where they are and, if you can, drop onto the wash. Remember you’ve been going hard for 10 minutes or so and ideally would like to take a rest. I usually like to head over for the side wash first and then, if I think I’d prefer riding tail wash, drop back onto it from there. Using this method means you’re less likely to end up taking strokes paddling uphill as you might have to do if you try to go straight for the tail wash. Once you’re on the wash you should be able to relax, particularly if you’ve practiced drafting and are proficient at it. See if you can get 5 to 10 minutes of rest sitting on the wash, but let the others in the train know you’re into working together and, most importantly, doing your share of the work.

If you’re lucky, you won’t even have to work your way over to someone else’s wash to form up your train because there will have been someone, or maybe a couple of paddlers, riding you for part of your opening 10 to 15 minutes. If they’ve been there for a while let them know you need a rest and slow down, letting one of them take the lead. Be careful not to slow down too much and then slip in behind them and start resting on their wash.

In either case, don’t be shy. Try to add some structure to the train. Suggest that you work together, taking turns doing equal leads of anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. You’ll find out pretty quickly if you’re in a cooperative or competitive train.

If it turns out there’s a larger group that you’re joining up with it is more likely that it will be competitive. You’re going to find that some people will be willing to do their share of work and some won’t. It’s likely that some actually can’t lead and are just hanging on for dear life. In this case try to get on the train and get as much rest as you can but recognize that you’re going to have to really stay on your toes. If you fall off nobody is going to wait for you. Try to watch the others in the train without losing your focus on staying in the sweet spot on the wash you’re riding. If you can identify those in the group that look strongest and those that look weaker you’ll know whom you want to ideally be drafting. Making sure you’re as close as possible to the faster paddlers means you’re less likely to find yourself separated from the train because of someone else’s mistake or inability to maintain the pace.

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

Next Article: Part 4: Tips for Drafting

(a couple 2017 Chattajack racers showing off their drafting skills at the recent Rock Island Rampage 14 miler. Photo cred: Phil Meyer)

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