Round the Mountain 2015 video

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Round the Mountain 2015

Today was the Round the Mountain race. There are two reasons it’s a big milestone each year – it’s usually my first race of the year, and it’s usually the last time I paddle my Thunderbolt for the year. After this, it’s all surfski all the time.

We arrived at the start at Ampersand Bay, and found the first disaster of the day: the bungee that holds my rudder down had broken on the drive up here. I managed to beg a small bungee from Todd and borrow a knife to cut the ends off, but it was thicker than the one I’d had so I had to arrange a different route for the cord. It worked, so disaster averted.

I had two video cameras on the boat, one just in front of the GPS pointing forward, and one just behind my PFD pointing backwards.

The weather was warmer than last year, and the wind was lighter. I almost wish I’d dressed lighter. I might even have been able to manage the V12 in these conditions. But it was just about perfect. There were a bunch of guys in sprint boats here, including a large guy in a beautiful top of the top Nelo and a young guy in a red Plastex boat. I think we got a lot of Canadians because it’s Victoria Day weekend.

I’d been worried before the race that in my training all spring I hadn’t had my heart rate up over 152, and even then for less than 8 minutes at a time but I knew that I normally raced with my heart rate over 160. So I wasn’t sure I could even get my heart rate that high. But as I was warming up, I was so nervous my heart rate was up over 150 even when I wasn’t doing anything.

At the start, as expected, Jim and Todd took off with some guy in a V14. The Plastex guy and the Nelo guy weren’t too far behind them, then I was behind Roger Gocking. But that didn’t last for long – I passed Roger almost immediately, but he glommed onto my side wake. It looked to me like I was catching the Nelo guy and the Nelo guy was catching the Plastex guy. I put in some speed to come up behind the Nelo guy and just latched onto his stern wake and was able to rest a bit. Roger didn’t follow me when I moved right to catch this wake, so he was still hanging out alone beside us. As we were catching the Plastex guy, Roger came steaming up alone. I blasted past the Nelo guy (although for some reason I went the wrong way around him instead of swing off in the direction of Roger) and latched onto Roger’s stern wake just as he was coming up to the Plastex guy. Plastex guy got onto Roger’s side wake and we made a nice little group. I risked a glance back and Nelo guy hadn’t managed to hold onto any wake and was well behind.

As we got near the gap between the island and the shore, the Plastex guy was starting to fall back off Roger’s wake and he tried to catch my right side wake. I didn’t want to let him catch it, so I pulled up on Roger’s left side and blasted past them both. I ended up leading both of them up the river. If you look at the rear camera, it appears Roger was about a boat length or two behind me rather than right on my stern wake, and Plastex guy was well behind. I lead them through every narrow and shallow little sneak I could find and I hit my paddle a few times, and felt my rudder hit at least once, but I could hear them hitting things as well. Having an overstern rudder and polarized sunglasses was a real plus.

At the portage, I had trouble getting out of the boat, and Roger was up and trotting before I got out. Then I picked up my boat and started trotting, but the PFD fell out of the bungees so I had to put the boat down and go back and pick it up. By then Plastex guy was up and running – in bare feet no less. By the time I hit the water and got mounted up, both of them had about two minutes on me.

It did not look like I was catching Roger at all, but I was definitely catching Plastex guy. Every time he passed a landmark, I’d check the time he passed against the time I passed and I could see I was making up time all the time. And then he followed Roger through a sneak but ran aground, and had to come to a full stop. I figure I made up nearly a minute of the two minute gap for that. As I came through that same sneak without trouble, I knew I was going to catch him.

After a few more minutes, I caught his stern wake. I contemplated staying on his stern wake all the way to the finish and trying to outsprint him, but he looked like a sprinter. So I pulled around him and swung out far enough that he couldn’t catch my wake. He sped up and stayed with me. We were neck and neck for the last three kilometers. I put in more speed and he sped up. I put in some more and he sped up some more. I had nothing left, but we were a kilometer from the finish and Jim was out warming down and he yelled at me to drop the hammer, and I barely gasped out “I don’t have a hammer”. I didn’t hear him say it, but he said afterwards that he was telling me to try to scrape the guy off on the buoy. I actually managed to increase my speed again with about 500 meters to go, but the guy had more in the gas tank than me, and he managed to beat me by a boat length or so.

As far as I can tell, the Unlimited Kayak class results were Jim, then the guy in the V14, then Todd, then me. So no wood plaque for me. Touring class was won by Roger and Unlimited under 50 was won by Plastex guy. I think somebody else ended up ahead of the Nelo guy.


Racer Class Time Diff from Last Year
Jim Mallory Unlimited +50 1:22:57  
Steve Rankinen (V14) Unlimited +50 1:23:42  
Todd Furstoss Unlimited +50 1:23:44 -3:25
Roger Gocking Touring +50 1:32:51 -2:48
Mike Archembault (Plastex guy) Unlimited -50 1:33:48  
Paul Tomblin Unlimited +50 1:33:50 -3:09
Pete Gugel Unlimited -50 1:36:01 -3:00
Rich and Angela Guide Boat 1:50:27  
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I’m worried

The first race of the season is in two days, and I have to admit I’m worried. On the surface, I probably shouldn’t be – I’ve put in a ton of training this season. According to Garmin Connect, I’ve done 335.3km in my Thunderbolt, 75.3km in the V12, and 16.7km in my favourite boat, the V10 Sport Ultra.

But one of the things that worries me is that I’ve done most of that training cruising along with a heart rate around 120 or so. Even in interval training, I’ve almost never exceeded 150 bpm. In races in the past, I’ve *averaged* over 150 bpm. How will I be able to keep my heart rate over 160bpm for 90+ minutes if I’ve never had it that high for even 8 minutes? Does that mean I should shoot for a lower heart rate this time? What heart rate should I shoot for?

Another thing that worries me is that my shoulder started to hurt a week or two ago, and it hasn’t been getting any better. And yes, it’s the same shoulder that’s had two surgeries, each of which cost me a year off paddling and then another year of trying to recover my form (basically no races between Sept 2010 and Sept 2013). I’ve been trying to take it a bit easier this week and stretch more and take something for the pain, and it’s a little better, but what if I completely blow it at this race? What if I blow it so bad I have to stop racing? What if I don’t blow it, but it never recovers completely? Will I have incentive to keep fit and paddle with my friends if I can’t race?

Another thing that worries me is that I never sleep well before a race, and due to scheduling problems we’re probably not even going to get to the place we’re sleeping that night until after my usual bed time. Knowing me, the slight shortening of my sleep time will be minuscule compared to how much sleep I’ll lose obsessing over my lack of sleep. One of the first books I read about competitive cross country skiing said that lack of sleep before a race is normal, and the trick is to make sure your muscles aren’t tired by holding very still when you can’t sleep, so you’ll show up at the start with a fried brain but rested muscles with is better than fried muscles and fried brain. I’m not sure if that is really what the author intended, or if making you hold still instead of tossing and turning is just a good strategy to make you fall asleep. But I’ve tried to practice it whenever I race.

I’m going to race my Thunderbolt this weekend. The Thunderbolt is old, it’s beat up to shit, and I just had to put a big strip of fiberglass under the seat because the seat was wearing through the outer skin. And it looks like this is the second time it’s been patched there. The foam “beams” that are supposed to keep the back from flexing too much are broken. Also one of the screws that holds in the seat wears a hole in my hip. I’m much rather use my V10 Sport for this race, but it has some shallow water so an overstern rudder is a bit of a plus, and it has a portage – last year I slipped on the muddy hillside and dropped my boat. If I’d been carrying my V10 Sport instead of the Thunderbolt, I probably would have put a hole in it. That Thunderbolt is a tank. I’d love to buy a new one (and Roger Gocking has a new one for sale that he’s barely paddled) but since I basically stop paddling it after this race every year, I can’t really justify it to myself. Actually I’m kind of hoping that I’ll get good enough at paddling the V12 that I can use it next year, because it’s got an overstern rudder and it’s Performance layup so it’s more robust than the V10 Sport’s Ultra layup.

I guess my strategy this race will be to go out at a more moderate pace than usual, monitor both my heart rate and the condition of my shoulder, and if I feel up to it, increase the pace after a while. And hope that nothing horrible happens.

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An ideal fitness device for kayak racing

I recently remarked to @GarminFitness that I wish they’d stop shrinking the displays of their Forerunners with each generation. Kayak racers are different from their main target audiences of runners, bikers and swimmers in that we don’t put the device on our wrists, we mount it on the boat. And therefore, smallness is a negative rather than a positive, especially for surf-skiers who usually stick it on our footstrap. A tiny display over a meter away from your face is really hard to read, especially for us older racers.

Garmin invited me to use their feedback form to suggest improvements. But before I do that, I want to figure out exactly what I want. And basically, it comes down to something the size of my old Forerunner 301, but with most of the guts of my Forerunner 310XT/910XT, and maybe some features borrowed from the 920XT.

In no particular order:

  • As big a display as feasible. When you configure the 310XT to display 3 data fields, the top one is just about the size I’d like everything to be. Ideally I’d like to have 4 data fields that size on the screen at a time. Some of the Edge GPSes are that size, but they appear to be only for cycling and I don’t know if they’re waterproof to IPX7 standards.
  • Make sure it’s compatible with polarized sunglasses! My iPhone is not. Neither are half the displays in my car. Is there something about making color displays that requires them to have a polarizing sheet? If so, I don’t want color!
  • When it flips between displays, don’t scroll the fields that aren’t changing. I currently have my 910XT set to have two 3-field displays, and my heart rate is the big top one in both. It would be nice if it stayed on the screen while the other two fields are flipping to the next.
  • Add support for multiple profiles that are tied to the activity list on Garmin Connect. I use the “Other” profile on my 910XT, but when I upload to Garmin Connect I need to change that to “Paddling”. Why can’t I make a “Paddling” profile on my Forerunner that will be “Paddling” when it uploads to Garmin Connect? Even better, allow a “Paddling Training” and “Paddling Racing” profile so I can get rid of the screens I don’t need during a race (like lap times and previous lap average speed).
  • The best feature of the 310XT/910XT over the 301 is that it charges and uploads without making a hole in the case. My second 301 succumbed to salt water when the USB port oxidized like crazy. So we definitely don’t want holes in the case.
  • Continue to support industry standard ANT+ heart rate monitors, even 3rd party ones. Perhaps add Bluetooth Low Energy support as well – my current heart rate monitor is a Wahoo TIKR, which does both.
  • And if you’re going to add Bluetooth Low Energy, tie it to my phone so it can upload live tracking the way the 920XT does. And then we don’t need that little dongle thingy tying up a USB port on our computers.
  • Keep the great battery life. I’ve tried using my iPhone instead of the Forerunner for workout tracking, and it sucks the battery down to nothing in a few hours. The Forerunner is still reporting 80% charged after that same amount of time. Because my Forerunner is mounted rather than on my wrist, I don’t care if you have to make it fat to give it better battery life.
  • If I load a course up, I’d like to have the course map added to the automatic cycling between screens. As a paddler, I can’t use my hands to do that the way a runner or cyclist can.
  • If I load a course up, I’d like to do a virtual “race” against the previous best time I’ve done that course. I suspect that’s there, but I’ve never figured out how to make it happen.
  • Can the current one be set up to start the timer as soon as you move without also making it stop timing if I stop for any reason? I don’t want to be pressing the start button when I should be paddling for all my worth, but there are legitimate reasons to stop moving in a paddling race that still count towards your time, like transitioning to portages or turning around a buoy. I’ve only found a feature to stop the timer whenever you stop, and that’s not what I want. If that’s not a feature yet, I’d like it.
  • Make the countdown beeps louder! I can barely hear the 5 second count downs at the end of a interval when doing a workout. That might be due to the foam block I mount it on, but it would be nice if it were louder.
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Why do I do it?

I’m in the process of planning my trip out to British Columbia to participate in the Canadian Surfski Championships. And to see family. But as I’m trying to organize seeing family around my need to train and prepare for the race, I’m hit by the absurdity of it all. Why do I care so much about being properly trained and prepared for this race? It’s not like I’m going to win it. Based on my few experiences paddling against Canadians, I’m not even going to be in the top 50%. So why bother? Logic would indicate that I should forget about preparing, spend the entire week visiting family and accept whatever pathetic place I end up in the race and just enjoy being on the same race course as Sean Rice and other top level elite racers. But screw logic. I want to finish this race knowing that whether I come 30th or 300th that I did my very best.

There is very little logic to being an amateur non-elite athlete. I’m not going to win any money or fame or be recognized by people outside the sport. I’m not going to be the best paddler in the country – heck, I’m not even the best paddler in Rochester NY, and it’s likely I never will be. There are guys ahead of me I’ll never catch, and guys behind me who will never catch me. But there are also a few guys behind me who could catch me, and maybe one or two ahead I could still catch. And let’s just try not to think about how I’ve reached the point of my life where I’m going to have to work harder and harder to not slow down, a red queen’s race that everybody eventually loses. Not a lot to justify the hours and hours a week I spend training, the damage I’ve done to my body, or the resulting pain.

I’m not sure the elite guys would agree with me, but I feel like relative to our relative abilities, I train just as hard as them. I can put in a two hour paddle and be so wiped that I come home and fall asleep for a few hours. Tell me that isn’t as good as some elite guy who paddles more hours at faster speed, but is then able to function normally for the rest of the day? If I had the innate ability, youth, years of experience and a body not prone to chronic pain, wouldn’t I have been as fast as them? There’s no way to really answer that.

So if you want an answer to the question in the title, you’re not going to get it. And if you excuse me, I’m going to go upstairs and spend 70 minutes paddling to nowhere on my Speedstroke erg.

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