Distance Race Preparation: Avoiding the Freak Out

  1. I’m not a doctor.
  2. I’m not a personal trainer.
  3. I’m not a certified anything except professional clown. (I am actually a certified professional clown.)
  4. I’m not a nutritionist.
  5. I’ve only done one super long distance race.

So you can listen to this info or not. It’s what worked for me, so it might not work for you. But if you want to know what I took away from my experience training for and doing the 32.5 mile Chattajack race, here it is, and maybe it will help some of you wondering what to do right now that you’re three months out.

Setting the Scene

To clue you in on how my mind works and what I was worried about or not worried about or capable of, here are some of the things I was dealing with while training last summer:

Working against me:

  • Failing at the Carolina Cup due to lack of proper training.
  • Never having paddled more than 13 miles.
  • Not being on a regular strength training program or cross training program before starting to train for Chattajack.
  • Not being a strong ocean paddler while actually standing up. (I’m a butt-paddling CHAMP!) (More on why this is relevant later.)
  • Trying to finish writing six books at one time while balancing a full freelance client load.

Working for me:


So that’s the scene. When I opened the plan to page one around the end of June or so, that’s where I was.

Here’s what I found after preparing for and successfully finishing the race.

Nutrition is Important

You are not going to want to eat what you think you want to eat during the race. If you are out there for 6-8 hours at a relatively high heart rate, choking a peanut butter sandwich down might or might not actually happen. I had a SupPocket with all KINDS of stuff. Everything was individually baggied in sandwich bags so I could easily grab around 100 calories of food at a time. Example of what I took with me:


  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Fruit leather (unpackaged and put in baggies–it was too hard to open the packages during my long test paddle, so I prepped them for CJ day)
  • Mini Snickers bars
  • Nut butters of various kinds
  • Bananas
  • Chocolate chip blueberry Skratch Labs rice bars
  • Gu chomps

It is possible I had a peanut butter sandwich. I don’t remember.

The blueberries were kind of hard to eat. I didn’t want to have to spent a lot of time on stuffing food down. The grapes were better. They gave me some water, too. The snickers worked REALLY well I always ALWAYS felt better after eating one. During the last 1/3 of the paddle I think that’s all I ate or could eat. I really liked the rice bars, too, and I never got tired of them. (Here is the cookbook they’re in: http://www.skratchlabs.com/collections/food/products/feed-zone-portables)

I had Skratch labs hydration mix in my Camelbaks and I took two 70 oz bladders. I wish I had taken a third. I’m a heavy drinker and I was always scared of running out. I should have consumed more fluids, but that’s me.

There are boats on course, but you might or might not see them at the right time, so it is REALLY REALLY important to be largely self-supported.

You don’t want to bonk out there. Let me repeat. DO NOT BONK DURING THE CHATTAJACK. You’re paddling through the middle of nowhere and you can’t wing it.

Be Careful about Overtraining

I think I was well-trained by the time I got to the race for the conditions we had. If we had had less current at the beginning or harder headwinds or rougher chop (there was some rough chop), I might have had more problems. I consider myself exceedingly lucky with the conditions. If I were able to do it this year (and I am not sure what’s going to happen yet), I would be taking my board out into the ocean and doing a lot of ocean paddles to get myself used to worse water conditions. I would be paddling into 20 mph headwinds for hours at a time and consciously subjecting myself to side chop. I would get all of the practice you can in conditions. If race day is fine and flat, great. If it is not, you’ll be prepared.

Midway through my training I was overdoing it and I was grouchy and crazy. Coach Roch from Riding Bumps actually called me and told me to cool it. Take a day off and rest. YOU MUST REST. If you get to the race exhausted, you won’t be able to do it.


Don’t Skip Interval Days and Long Paddles

Get your intervals in. If you don’t do Riding Bumps, do some other sort of interval training. More than anything else, that seemed to build my endurance and train my heart. I was at a pretty high heart race for the whole 7.5 hours and the interval training helped me be able to do that.

Even though I don’t want you to overtrain, it is really important that you DO TRAIN.

Figure out your Clothing

Depending on where you live, you could go from summer to winter in a snap of fingers when you get to Chattanooga. We went from paddling in swimsuits to paddling in pants, booties, and winter layers. The air temperature could be cold but the water will still be relatively warm. If you wear a full wetsuit you are pretty likely to fry.

I would wear layers. Thinner pants, wetsuit booties, short sleeved shirts, long sleeved hydrophobic shirts, paddle jackets, a knit beanie hat, etc. Then you can shed layers. Whatever you wear needs to breathe.

Bring a Recovery Drink

When you are finished, you’re going to need a recovery drink. Make sure you have a cold one waiting for you at the finish. Then you’re going to need to eat and eat and eat and you’ll probably need to to eat and eat and eat for days.

Identify your BIG FEAR

My big fear was a number of miles. I decided, against the advice of the trainers, to do a 20 mile paddle so that I knew that I could do it. That was this huge thing in my mind: can I do the distance. About 6 weeks before Chattajack I did a 20 mile paddle, by myself, and tried out different foods and such.

If you can identify your big fear and do something about it–try to. But do it once–not fifty times. I could do ONE 20 mile paddle, not six. You could do ONE 7 hour paddle, not six. And you would need to do it with enough time to recover. (The coaches will be made at me for saying that, but if you have some giant thing that is holding you back and making you crazy, I think you should try to put it to bed, but that is just me.)

If All Else Fails

Drink Beer.

The month before the Chattajack was a little crazy and I didn’t get a lot of training in. Patty and I drank a lot of beer. I was pretty well rested by the time the race came around and it was all ok.


What are your questions and concerns?

And other non-professional tips