Monday, March 1, 2010

paddling: ...I'm not sad, I'm just....

(edit: updated with official results at the bottom)

This weekend I did the PNW-ORCA "winter series" outrigger race in Silverdale. My over-all feeling about it is disappointment.

There are a lot of factors that go into that reaction, but ultimately the biggest disappointment is that I felt I couldn't manage to finish in a way that reflected my conditioning and my ability. I did finish, which is good. I would have hated not to finish. But I ran out of steam towards the end, and was passed by at least 2 people I'd passed earlier.

It was a 6.5 mile course, with the first leg running almost directly south and into a headwind of maybe 5-10kt. At the halfway point we rounded a buoy and ran back north to the start (or almost the start).

I started strongly, and was solidly in the middle of the pack when I hulied after 15 minutes. In some respects it was a positive thing -- other paddlers coming by me all called out to make sure I was ok (I was). And I managed to get back on the canoe fairly quickly, though not as quickly as I would have liked. My fingers were cold enough that I couldn't find the release tab of the leg leash by feel. Ultimately I had to lift my leg up out of the water so I could see what I was doing. That probably added an extra 10 seconds or so (which, when you're in this water, seems significant!). It made me feel good that everyone was so responsive when I went over. And it was good to know I could recover from a huli.

After the huli, I paddled conservatively, over-correcting by leaning left to prevent another huli. That meant that I wasn't able to paddle in a balanced way, and wasn't able to really get the pull I would have liked. Which meant that I was slower than I wanted to be, and that my back and arm muscles got used in ways I haven't been training them for. Which meant that by about 3/4 of the race, I was beat. And mentally I let it get to me. I might have been able to catch at least one of the people who passed me, but I didn't do it.

Here's what I think I may have learned:

  1. know the boat. I'd only ever been in this OC1 2x before, and I haven't spent enough time paddling it (or any OC1) to be really comfortable. I could tell paddling out from the beach that the ama was "light" (it wanted to lift off the water). I didn't recognize that in the conditions we had, this would prove a key factor.

  2. know the conditions. I don't have much experience at all in wind/bumpy conditions. This means that any down wind run (which experienced paddlers tend to like because you can catch lifts from waves and get extra speed for not much extra effort) makes me nervous and conservative. In the New Year's Day Challenge race, we had a long and bumpy down wind leg, but the final mile or so was in flat, and I caught a couple of folks then, after losing a lot of ground during the down wind section. In this most recent race, the down wind leg was the final leg, so there was no opportunity to catch up after it.

  3. know how to rig the boat. I think I may have unintentionally rigged the canoe too light. You can control this by how much of the iako (the connecting arm) you push into the ama and the canoe. I have to go back and figure out if I was doing the opposite of what I should have done.

My track
(the little zig on the right about 1/3 of the way down,
that's my huli)

The race started well, and I felt good as I paddled into the wind. I was passing some people, while the strong paddlers were out front and pulling ahead. The wind chop was coming from slightly off the port bow, so just a hair on the ama side. I worked at my technique, at pulling strong up front and having a good twist as I reached forward with the paddle.

At several points little waves would pop my ama out of the water and I'd have to lean left to get it back down. It felt a little dicey, but not too bad. Then I was reaching forward on the right, and a wave popped the ama, and it came up. I think if I'd had more experience I might have been able to recover (it hung there just above my head for at least a second or more), but instead I did a slow flip over to the right and into the water.

We're all wearing PFDs, and I had neoprene pants and 2 layers of polypro up top, so I was doing fine. My sunglasses and hat didn't even come off. And the water, while cold, wasn't *that* cold.

I got the boat flipped back over, and got the leash off my right leg (finally!) and then swam around the stern of the canoe and to the ama side, where I slithered back up onto the seat, turned over, reattached the leash, and started paddling again. All the while other paddlers were coming past, making sure I was ok, and ... passing me! The chase boat came by too, after I was already up and paddling again, and asked if I was ok. I yelled out "It's all good!"

Detail from huli
(zoomed in: apparently I drifted about a tad!)

I was cold, but more than that, I was pissed at myself. So I dug in and paddled hard and managed to catch a bunch of the folks who'd been behind me and had then passed by while I was in the water.

I paddled ~20 on the left and 15 on the right, overdoing the left side, leaning in that direction the whole time. But I kept going and gained on some folks, including an OC6 from the host club that I think was just pacing folks and doing the course. I felt the awkwardness in my stroke due to my poor posture/positioning, but didn't feel there was any way to address it without risk of another huli. And there were a couple of times when it felt imminent.

The wind came in gusts, and so did the chop. I focused on moving forward (at what felt like a really slow speed!) and not flipping again. As I passed a woman in a very narrow yellow OC1, I saw a big seal off to the right. It didn't seem to care about us.

Approaching the southern turn (a raft with a pink flamingo on it), I came up on a guy named Russ, who paddles for Kikaha and apparently used to coach their women. He's one that Zachary and I bumped at a turn in the Ruston Way race last year. I don't really know him, but Melissa tells me he's a good guy, and we exchanged "sorry about that" and "it's cool" comments during Ruston Way, so I have no issues with him. I backed off and let him have the turn, rather than racing him to it. No sense in pushing it. I felt like I would be able to keep up with him and pass him.

He turned, I turned after him, and then I caught and passed him. I caught and passed the OC6. And I caught and passed a woman named Minnie. And then it was a matter of paddling down wind for 3+ miles to the finish.

Occasionally the wind swells would come up and I could feel them trying to give me a lift, and at first I paddled hard to catch what I could of them. I think it made a difference in my speed at times. But it wore me out (it, and my odd paddling position and stroke). Each time a swell came, the boat would lift slightly and I'd steer right to keep from swinging left where the ama could get lifted up.

One issue I have in both the OC1 and OC2 canoes -- my feet go numb. I lost feeling in my left foot and leg in the New Years Challenge, and I lost my left foot again this time. That makes it hard to steer. I don't like it and I don't know if it's an issue with the seat or.... but it's something I'd like to address. I know that paddling unbalanced contributes to my leg/hip issues, so that's probably part of it.

Nearing the end of the course, Russ came by me. He'd been right behind me a good part of the way since the turn, and now he passed me. I felt like I could keep up with him, but then I lost my energy and mentally was beaten. He moved on past and ahead (and finished more than a few seconds ahead of me).

Very close to the end, Minnie came up and we fought it out for the last 100 yards or so. It was still down wind, so I was paddling almost exclusively on the left. And she was taking advantage of the chop in ways I was not able to. So she passed me and finished maybe a second or two ahead of me. She nearly hulied right at the end, but she managed to recover and get across before me.

Minnie ahead of me (I'm the canoe to the right)
finish line is the piling with the sign (I think)
image stolen from FB

I was glad to be finished, and disappointed to have not kept up with her, but I looked over after we were done and said "good race" and she smiled and said "I almost hulied right there, at the end!" I'd heard the slap of her ama coming back down.

So, that was it. Disappointing, but more experience for me. Next time I'll do more like what I expected of myself. It's all good. Experience is good. And there were no permanent injuries (though I definitely noticed the muscles in my back the next morning -- muscles I've not been using during practice!).

Next time:
  • I'd like to do more practicing in the boat I'm going to race in. (I was originally going to do the race in an OC2, but my partner got sick the night before. Not that I'd done a ton of practicing in the OC2 either, but it was a mental shift for me.)

  • I'd like to have more experience in rigging the boat. I want to know that I've rigged it the way I intend to rig it.
    Note: I just did a quick web search and 2 things apparently factor in: 1) the farther out the iakos are from the hull (the farther out the ama is), the heavier the boat, and 2) the farther into the ama the rear iako is, the heavier the boat.

  • I want to get more experience in down wind runs. Everyone else seems to like them. I find them stressful because I don't know what to expect or how to take advantage of what they can offer.

    Quote from an OC1 paddling site: "The point of learning this (flying the ama out of the water) before you do a run is so that you feel comfortable with your ama coming up. Now, when a wave hits your ama and pops it up, instead of panicking and flipping over, you will casually, no matter where you are in your stroke, put your blade out and catch yourself."

    That's where I want to be!

Some details from the race:

0 to 5 to 0 to...
(that sudden drop around 16 minutes -- that's my huli)

Things I notice:
  • the avg speed is probably low b/c I turned the gps on before the start, and then sat for a bit. That's the low stuff on the left
  • I started strong, going 5mph initially.
  • the near-6mph bit around 32 minutes was a lull in the wind, I believe
  • the jump from 4-something to 6+mph just before 50min is where I made the turn and started back north (down wind)
  • I kept it up over 6mph for a chunk of time. I think this was when I was doing my passing and the bay was relatively calm/sheltered
  • then things drop back to 5mph with spikes over 6, but it gets messy there near the end when I was tired and blah blah blah
  • It looks like when I was pushing to keep up w/ Mini, I was managing 6+mph.
3/3 - update:

my official time (and Minnie's):
39 Minnie Fontenelle 1h 12.29.90m
40 Paul Van Zwalengurg 1h 12.31.87m

So that's almost 3 seconds gap you're seeing in that photo.
And I was the 40th boat in.
Of 52.
The first to finish came in at 55m 19s.
That was a surfski.
The 2nd boat in was an OC1, with a time of 55m 42s (Alan Goto).


Anonymous said...

I think you are entirely too hard on yourself. You did a great job! To huli and then go back and pass all those people is impressive and you need to recognize that. Russ is a strong paddler and to pass him is great, that he passed you towards the finish means you need to work on your OC1 endurance. It's really different than paddling with a crew, it's all you and that's part of what makes it mentally challenging.

For that canoe you want the rear iako all the way in until you are really comfortable with it. Just as you found online. Rigging heavier is smart in rougher conditions or if you are not really familiar with a particular canoe. I have tried rigging my canoe lighter and I don't spend enough time practicing on it to get comfy with it rigged that way so I keep it pretty middle of the road/heavier.


pvz said...

I definitely didn't know how good Russ was. I only had the Ruston Way race to compare with, and in that Zachary and I were able to take him. Of course, that was an OC2 vs OC1, so not really fair comparison. Plus, there was no wind or swell.

I'm determined to get better on the downwind stuff so I don't lose (as much) ground there.

And yeah, I'm realizing how different the OC1 is from the OC6 in terms of paddling it. I thought I knew but it's only now really sinking in.

I appreciate your positive encouragement!


Doug said...

Hey Paul, I have been there and know your experience - although I have never been able to describe it as well.

One of the best (or challenging) things about paddling is it is a life long learning experience - each race is different and has something to offer in the way of a zen moment - that is why you can get better as you get older. The flip side of that is takes long for most people do well.

I suggest you talk with the Anderson brothers sometime. They have been paddling much longer than I have and they are still learning.

Once you are comfortable with all the basic mechanics, you then have the water, current, the shore, the wind to learn about. Once you have that all down, you will go back and adjust all of your basics again and ....

You can see why there are many books written about paddling, technique and the zen thing.

By the way: all of the people that passed you have been paddling longer than you and as of late have been putting time in the boat. I suspect by summers end you will easily forget about these people and start focusing on others like me.

Doug said...

Just another comment about rigging. There is much talk about this and the proper weight ratio. The fact is that most people rely on the ama way too much. Thus all the people complaining about their sore butts.

I own a Stingray and the ama is almost infinitely adjustable. But the fact is I always put the ama as close into the boat as possible.

So the only adjustment I make is how high the the ama sits. The only adjustments I make for this are based on weight - how heavy are the people in the boat and how experienced are they.

Many people are inclined, as they get more stable, to lower the ama, so the boat sits more flat, but I am not completely sure this is the best setting. Since you actually do not want to rely on the ama, the best way is to raise it slightly. So that you are forced to sit on the boat and not lean on the ama.

Practical speaking this is not clear as each boat is different. For my Hurricane for instance, you cannot do this because you are sitting too much on top of the boat.

But for a boat like Melissa's or DougM's, you have a little more hp control so you can and should do this - IMHO.