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What my son said about last years race. “Gee Dad all you did was float down the river on an air mattress, sipping lemonade and eating snacks all day. How hard is that?”
Sub Title - Gear and Preparation Advice for James River Rundown
(Note: I wrote this in summer 2016 so the race distances and details have changed in 2017 and future years.)
A fellow paddler from the James River Rundown event asked me to share what I did in preparing for this event. I thought I would share it with this group. I paddled the event on a standup and some of the content is SUP specific.
For the James River Rundown paddler, you had 3 distances you can enter this year. 140, 100 or 20 miles. I entered the 100-mile event and did the option of stopping at mile 65 and camping for the night and restarting race time at 7 am the next morning. You can enter an Elite category where you continue on without a scheduled stop. I was wary of being thrown from the board during the night if the fin hit shallow water or rocks. So I played it safe and paddled during daylight hours. Day one was 64 miles on my GPS with elapsed time of 11 hours 8 minutes and 5.7 mph average speed. Day two was just over 34 miles and my time was a few minutes under 6 hours and again the speed was 5.7 mph average. Plenty of current this year to keep you moving. This grass roots event cares about participation and helping you complete the challenge safely than an emphasis on racing. If strict boat class awards and lots of age groups categories is your ruler for a well-run race you will be disappointed. That said the music, food and cold beer at the finish was awesome. Nice shirt too. Want to learn more about this event click
The James River Association (http://www.jrava.org) puts on this event. These folks do a great job! Keep doing it! I think the emphasis is just right. Focus on the event as a challenge and keeping folks aware and safe. Then hold a great party at the finish. I met the Rundown founder Kevin at the race who also was in the 100. Great guy and his passion for the James river and river community showed. Volunteers were great. Nothing but praise for the event.
The James river is an incredible 340-mile-long recreation resource. Headwaters form at the Blue Ridge mountains and ends at Hampton Roads near the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay. It has only a few dams on it and has remained mostly a free flowing river. River rapids in this event are more frequent at the upper half and they are class 1 and 2 on American Canoe Association scale. Having a lot of whitewater paddling experienced helped with dealing with some bumpy water and rock.. If you choose the longer race options be wary of the added hazards. For inexperienced river paddler moving water and rocks can be troublesome so if you tackle a race like this so get some class 1 and 2 moving water experience. If you’re on a SUP and you’re not comfortable on bumpy water go to your knees and learn to brace. I played it safe and did this a few times as water was a bit turbid and judging depth on some of the rocky shoal sections was tough. There was plenty of fin wear to verify I was smart to knee paddle these sections.
Race day preparation is key. Being ready for the complex set of things that you need to go right to reduce your stress and increase your chances of success. Physical training is something I leave to you to plan except for a few comments. I will say cross training really helped me. For example, on a Saturday I would start early with a 10-mile paddle followed by a long mountain bike ride, followed by yardwork in the heat of the day and then tackle another task or go for a paddle or bike ride with my spouse to make a full day of activity. Combined this make for a huge training day. This helped manage my stress of meeting the needs of family, job and my training.
Logistics of a point to point race can get complex and take a lot of time. Travel time can eat into your sleep and the race start won’t wait for you. Make a chronological plan with details of when, where and how for the entire race. Then make a follow up list of gear and supplies (what) you need. Have that list with you and review as you go forward in preparing up to race time. If you forget gear in a vehicle 100 miles away your race may come to an end. Plan for contingencies, have extra gear and a lifeline if possible. I staged camping gear at our overnight stop so it was ready for me when I got there. I staged water at take outs along the route as we ran the shuttle to refill my hydration pack and on board bag. Stopping to get out and retrieve water jugs stashed in the weeds was time consuming but necessary for this race in the heat of summer. Race volunteers had water at check points but I chose not to rely on that and also I wanted to dose my water with electrolytes. If you can arrange a support crew that is a great help but you need to plan and communicate everything you need when you need it plus how to get there and find you.
For gear prep again the list again is your tool to manage stress/success. I made a list two weeks before the event and organized everything and packed it days ahead of the event. I trialed my full pack and gear selection on two 20 mile paddles to gain confidence I had all I needed and not too much. Specific Sup gear included, coil leash with tag line on the top Velcro ankle strap to make releasing faster and easier. I choose not to use quick release belt with a leash that is typical for whitewater SUP because it interferes with the belt PFD I wanted to wear. For a fin I used a mid-sized glass fiber reinforced plastic click in fin. The plastic fin is dome shaped and less likely to catch on rocks and logs. During my race I lost a quarter inch of fin on bottom edge due to rock rubs. I thought I was being careful but water turbidity was high and spotting rocks was tough. I carried a spare click in fin as insurance. These fins can release if you move backwards and they contact an obstruction. Extra paddle was recommended in case of damage or loss but I choose to not have a backup. I also left the light weight performance paddle home and brought out the heavier old reliable paddle I thought would handle the rock impacts from bracing etc. I feel I could have used the light weight paddle like others did but that is a decision you need to make. A roll of duct tape was my contingency plan for blade damage, isup leak, first aid and managing blister issues. My arms and hands were the contingency for a lost paddle. Misc. gear included deck pack, zip ties, paddle wax, whistle, knife, chest hydration pack to hold what I need to access quickly and a camera. There were choices made like no spare air pump or patch kit.
SUP choice I specifically searched out for this event was a Uli inflatable. Uli reputation for stiffness was my primary reason. My board was a custom board made for the original owner who used it for downwind runs on the Hood river. Dimensions are 16 feet long, 28 inches wide and 6 inches thick. Weight is around 40 lbs. Great board, tough, durable and has the capacity for my 240 lbs plus gear. Speed comparison with my 14-foot-long by 28-inch wide composite board is they are about the same. I inflated to 17 psi and the board stiffness is great for an inflatable. The slight sponginess compared to rigid board leads me to higher incident of feet discomfort. I describe it as arch strain from the slight flex. I didn’t train on this board enough before the event to condition my feet. My solution was to wear shoes with some arch support. This board is perfect for a long distance race with rocks and whitewater rapids like the James River Rundown.
Clothing choice is obvious as I chose comfortable and what normally paddling in. However, I wish I had chosen lighter color shirt and shorts to help with heat. I did use calf compression sleeves due to the length of the event and thought they helped immensely. Legs felt good. Actually the surf ski, kayak and canoe participants seemed much more uncomfortable than I was during and after the event. Foot pain was my top concern for this event and I am so happy it was minor.
Food and water intake during the event went very well for me. I drank every 2 miles during the first 10 miles. After that I drank every mile and took in 100 calories roughly every 2 miles. At 30 miles I had pasta with a little red sauce. Pasta was loaded in a plastic bag like cake icing. I could squeeze it out of the plastic bag to save time. Probably about 1000 calories. Rest of the day it was gummy energy blocks and a few gels. I enjoyed a jumbo payday candy bar when I felt the need for something more solid towards the end of day 1. What works for you is important. I went through 19 liters of water (~42 lbs. of water) with electrolytes and no sugar in it over the 100 miles. This was about right for me as both days reached 97 degrees with high humidity.
I hope this is helpful to someone considering an ultra-distance paddle event like the James River Rundown. I hope to see more paddlers and especially someone else on a SUP to join me and my river friends in the 2017 James River Rundown. My son summarized it well “Gee Dad all you did was float down the river on an air mattress, sipping lemonade and eating snacks all day. How hard is that?”. Yeah it was that easy!
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