I messed up.
When people ask me about preparing for the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, I preach long runs. No, they aren’t going to make you faster like intervals. They won’t make you as technically proficient as paddling up river. They will give you an opportunity to shake out the bugs in your equipment though. You’ll find out the little kinds and quirks. How your back feels. Your hips. Your legs. Your butt. For those of us learning the sport, getting the finish is more important. And it’s a long ways to Oscoda if you’re miserable.
I learned this lesson back in 2015. As you can guess, the hard way. My seat risers were set exactly how I like them. Paddling stern with a larger bow paddler, I liked riding on top of the gunwales. Core stability has never been an issue for me, and my partner was incredibly stable. Plus we were in a V1 pro, which has to be one of, if not the most stable racing canoes ever made. I literally sat flush with the gunwales on the boat. It’s great up there.
June 6th, 2015. I still remember the date. It was painfully memorable. We ended up getting out of the boat at Townline Road, cutting holes in bottle caps, and using them as crude spacers. Then driving to Parmalee and finishing our run. It was awful. Somewhere between Stephan and Wakeley, I was in trouble. Yep. My partner had the boat worked on, and we never checked to see if the spacers were put back in or not.
Lesson learned. This is why you do your long runs and get very comfortable with your equipment. So things like this don’t happen on race night.
For more experienced paddlers, the game plan is simple. Find the configuration that you’re most comfortable with in the boat, and replicate it best as possible in any boat that you’re going to spend a lot of time in. At one point, I actually wrote down the exact length from the front of my stern seat to the footbrace. When I’d hop in a boat with someone different, I’d try to set the distance the same.
Then I got away from that. Just hop in the boat and paddle. Who cares.
For the 2017 Marathon, I was going to do something I had never did before. I was going to bow paddle it. I can C1 paddle and hold my own, bow paddling is about the same basic thing. Screw it. Plus, it was the opportunity of a lifetime to paddle a Marathon with Iron Chris. A decision was made to lower my seat, which increases stability. The risers were taken out, and the seat rails were hung under the mounts instead of on top. I don’t regret the decision. I do regret not getting some extensive seat time in this configuration.
My first warning sign that something wasn’t right happened in the Harry Curley Memorial Race. In the last couple miles we dropped off the pace and the boats we were with finished over 90 seconds ahead. I didn’t feel great, but I didn’t feel awful either. Just a weird discomfort that I had never felt before.
Fast Forward to the Marathon Sprints. Someone made the comment that I had my knees awful high. I didn’t think anything of it. Other paddlers sit low in the boat. I can too.
It wasn’t just sitting low in the boat that got me in trouble. It was sitting low in the boat, while keeping my feet elevated higher then my hips on the makeshift bow foot brace. The combination of the two together made for an epic fail. If I had did a few long runs, this would have been figured out in the works.
Yeah. I done screwed up.
Paid for it somewhere between McMasters and Parmalee. From there on out, it was simply damage control and getting the boat to the end. Grand visions of running teams down and continuing to climb went out the window. There was no way I would ever take a DNF. I tried to figure out what “what” or “why” for a long time. And dealt with the lingering after affects as well.
Bought a ton of race grade skate skis. Didn’t hardly race (or ski for that matter) as it hurt and I was significantly slower than I should have been. I’m just under two weeks away from my first ever half marathon, but am questioning what the end outcome will be. As for paddling, it’s been a big nope. I’m way behind on hours.
The puzzle pieces started to come together for me at the Klondike. I talked to a veteran paddler that I trust about pain in the boat. His advice was to take the setup that I was most comfortable with, and then replicate it in all my boats. The C1 that I’ve been paddling since Labor Day last year felt almost identical to the seat arrangement in the bow of my Gillies, so I never adjusted it. It’s also miserable to paddle. Even after multiple experienced paddlers pointed out the obvious “hey your knees are really jammed up” I never took the time to really figure it out. Even after I did, I didn’t realize the impact it was having until a few days ago.
The previous owner of the C1 was very inexperienced and never actually raced the boat after buying it second hand. When I bought it off him, he mentioned that he could never get comfortable, and that his back and hips bothered him constantly.
The foot brace in the boat is mounted HIGHER than the seat. It was also very tight to the seat, a result of the common new paddler desire to sit with their knees bent that Rebecca mentioned in the article.
If you look closely, you can see where I had enough and couldn’t take it anymore, somewhere down by Conner’s Flats a week or so ago on a paddle to McMaster’s. I just started kicking and driving the foot brace out. I’ve now got it adjusted correctly (it may even need to come back towards the seat an inch or so).
I also put a nice set of risers in the back (and will add a slightly smaller set to the front) changing the leg/hip angle and lifting the seat up.
It’s amazing the difference that this made. Paddling is enjoyable again. I’ve told the story this winter as “I’m keeping my hours down and tapering things in by design”. Which was only half the story. The other half is “it freaking hurt like hell to get in my racing canoes (both the Gillies and the D2x) and I didn’t know why”.
Which was just as if not more mentally painful then physical. As I love this sport more than anyone can ever understand.
I highly recommend that newer paddlers read the article Why is paddling such a pain in the butt by Rebecca Davis. It will allow you to hopefully skip the pains that I went through. And do your long runs. Figure out what works at hour 3, hour 4, hour 5. Then stick with it.
As Paul Harvey would say…There you have it…The rest of the story.
Maybe next time I’ll post about the epic fail on pre-race electrolyte loading from this year.