16 Weeks to Your Perfect Paddle Race

The Keys to Your PR


by Kyle Daniels

I’ve been asked numerous times to help friends create a training program for the upcoming endurance paddling season. While my background is traditional paddleboard racing, the basic principles are the same when it comes to preparing for any endurance race season. By borrowing from running and triathlon training programs and working closely with my doctor to see the metabolic effects of the training schedule on my body, especially in terms of recovery, I developed a plan that focuses on three specific training phases: Phase 1, Base Building; Phase 2, Building Speed; Phase 3, Taper. Phase 1, Base Building, is the idea that this is the time to put in the work needed to build strength, efficiency, and your endurance. Phase 2, Building Speed, is where you will fine tune your race skills and focus on building your speed. Lastly, Phase 3, the Taper, is really better described metaphorically as when you will be sharpening your knife before you enjoy your feast. Before we dig into the details, there are a couple factors that need to be considered before you start really burning the calories. First, how long is the race that you are training for? If you will be doing multiple races during the training season, you will need to figure out which race will be the most important and tailor your program towards that one. Second, how much time do you have to train each week? When I was single and working 40 hours a week, the sky was the limit. I used work as a time to recover. However, once I got married and had a little boy to chase after, training has become more of a luxury and usually just means that I’m going to sleep less if I want a solid workout. Finally, do you need to consider recovering from an injury as your plan your training schedule? Once you’ve considered the above, you should have an idea of what race you want to train for, how many hours per week you can devote to training, and if you need to factor in specific training time to rehab an injury. Now, let’s get started.

The program I’m going to lay out for you is based on a 16 week training window and it assumes that you have a least a solid base of fitness (you should be able to run 3-5 miles, bike 20 miles, or swim or paddle for an hour without needing to take a day off to recover). I should also point out that this may be a little over the top if you are new to a training schedule. (If you prefer, you can use the same model on a 7 day schedule by adding extra days of rest between the harder workouts). If you haven’t already, now is the time to ask yourself, what is my goal that I’m training for? Are you looking to try a longer race and finish? Are you going to try for a PR on a familiar course (personal record for those new to this)? Or do you want to stand atop the podium and kiss the podium babes as you wave to the crowd? For those of you that are just getting started, you’ll do better by devoting most of your training to Phase 1. For experienced racers with a steady fitness program or high base mileage, you can be aggressive and work in more speed work. To make the most of the training program, I recommend building your program on a 4 day training block and have 4 blocks in each training section (you can also work on a weekly block but allow more time to reach your goal). By doing this, each section will last 3 weeks with 4 days on, 1 day off; 4 on, 1 off; 4 on, 1 off; 4 on, 2 off. Each 4 day block will build on the previous in each training section, and each section will build on the previous. When considering how much to build, keep in mind this key concept - each block (or weekly) increase should not be greater than 10% of the previous block. For example, if you have a 10 hour block, the next block should not be greater than 11 hours. Also, since we’re talking about building, it’s even more important to understand the concept of rest, namely, YOU NEED TO REST. In order to physiologically develop in order to reach your goal, you need to rest. Rest allows your body to recover and build on the hard work during your blocks. Also important is getting enough sleep. There is nothing worse than having a hard day and then blowing off a good night of sleep. I often learned the hard way - your body will get it’s rest one way or another. For me that rest sometimes came in the form of a bad head cold and then all I wanted to do was rest. So take my advice, follow the block schedule and get your rest!

Now that the the basic format and key concepts have been laid out, let’s take a closer look at each phase. I’m going to assume the race you’re training for is a 3 hour race. I like to build a program based more on training time as opposed to training distance. In open ocean paddleboard racing, it is hard to predict how long a certain distance is going to take because on any given day, the current, wind, or swells, or all at once, can be working against you. And there is nothing worse than starting a workout saying “I’m going to do a 12 miler” and assuming that it is going to take you 2 hours and finding out, usually as you’re driving like a maniac because you’re late for work, that the wind and current had a different plan for you and it instead took 3 hours. So I’m going to do you a favor and walk you through a schedule based on time and let you figure out what you need to adjust in terms of distance. If you’re a runner or cyclist that wants to use this schedule, you probably can safely change the terms to distance, but the same principles apply.

Phase 1: Base Building
The focus of this Phase is going to be building the base you’ll need in terms of strength and efficiency as it relates to endurance. You’ll need the strength to use your muscles in the most efficient manner to complete the endurance goal you have set for yourself. This means that you are going to have to put in the hard work and discipline to stay focused on your program. Friends have often asked, “what if I miss a workout?” This is definitely a real possibility and part of real life so it’s simple, “keep going and follow your plan.” It usually means that if you miss a long workout, the next one is going to be a little harder than before, but you’ll live. Just keep in mind that this is not where you are trying to focus on speed, but instead, this is where you put in the mileage. The 9 weeks of this program consists of 12 blocks, again following the 4 on, 1 off routine with 2 days off after the 4th block. Your focus as you build your base in each block is to get the time on the board and making it count. In this phase you should be teaching your body how to burn your existing calories and how to incorporate eating while training. I will share my detailed tips on this in another segment, but try and stay hydrated and consume roughly 200-300 calories per hour to avoid “bonking.” The idea isn’t necessarily to replace all the calories you are burning - do this and you’ll likely puke - but to stay ahead of hitting zero and start talking in tongues. As far as effort is concerned, you won’t be redlining in this phase at all. Each block will consist of two easy efforts, a moderate pace or a tempo workout (tempo is a pace just below race pace and one that can be sustained consistently during the workout - somewhere in the 80-90% effort range), and a distance workout at a conversational pace. You will go through three training sections consisting of 4 blocks, each section building on the previous. At the start of the phase, you will be doing an hour paddle for your long workout at the end of the first block, and by the end of this phase, you should be able to do a 3 hour paddle. Again, if you have more of a base going into this training program, then feel free to start out with a longer distance in the beginning and mix in a speed workout or two in the last few blocks. Each block will start with an easy workout, followed by a moderate effort, another easy day, and then a distance day, followed by a rest day. You'll do this block 4 times and then instead of one rest day, you'll take two. Then repeat the 4 block cycle again.

Phase 2: Building Speed
As with Phase 1, Phase 2 will have a theme to each block, this time the focus will be on building your speed. Because you are adding harder efforts to each block, the distance is greatly reduced. In an ideal scenario with a longer training window like 20-24 weeks, you will mix the speed and distance workouts towards the end of the speed phase. However, because this program is slightly condensed, phase 2 consists of only 4 blocks focused on making you faster on race day (with a 20 week program, add another 6 blocks to the speed phase). Once again, each block will consist of 2 easy workouts, one tempo workout, and this time a speed workout ranging from 4 to 10 efforts. Each effort should be at race speed and will last from 2-3 minutes, with an equal amount of active recovery to allow your heart rate to drop to your easy training level (about 65% of your max heart rate). Make sure each effort is kept constantly at your race speed. If you notice that you cannot maintain the pace, adjust the time of each effort so that you can sustain your speed at a constant rate. (If you have more than 16 weeks to train, Phase 2 is a good place to add additional blocks of work, with the extra blocks devoted to more speed repeats). If you are a heart rate monitor person, this is the time to really be aware of your heart rate. Make sure your heart rate has recovered before starting your next effort.

Phase 3: Sharpening the Knife (aka Taper)
Do not underestimate your need to recover. This is true for each block, each section, and most importantly for your entire training program. A friend of mine, an Olympic Silver medalist, once misjudged his taper and missed out making the US Olympic swim team by 2/100ths of a second. However, a week later he went on to set a new US record for his event. Talk about missing a taper! So how do you calculate your taper? The best way to do it scientifically is to take a blood test at the beginning of your training program, take one at the end of Phase 1, and then take another near the end of Phase 2 and figure out if you need a 2 or 3 week taper. Since this may not be economically feasible for all of you, here is a basic outline of a taper phase for your training program. I like to try and stay consistent with the 4 day block, but this gets a little tricky and less important during the taper. The focus of this phase is to get rest and recovery. This is NOT the time to cross train. Instead, I like to make the analogy of sharpening your knife for the feast. You will likely feel a certain amount of anxiety by not training prior to your race. This is a great time to turn that energy into focus on your event. Spend time visualizing your race. When the butterflies start, imagine yourself on the start line and start taking slow, deliberate deep breaths to calm your nerves. Just like getting ready to carve some meat for your dinner party, you want to make sure your knife is clean, sharp, and ready to use. I also like to adjust my time clock to get used to the start of the race. Since many races start early in the morning, start by getting to bed early and going through your prerace rituals. For example, my target race starts at 6 am. During the training season, the sun is up at this time and being in the water at 6 is no problem. However, by the time the race comes around, it’s still pretty dark at 6. So, in the weeks leading up to the race, I started waking up earlier each day and by race week I was up at 4:30 and started each morning as I planned to on race day (minus the race garb and loads of Vertra sunblock). How much work should you do? I've had many experts explain to me that you will not be able to get stronger or faster within the two weeks prior to your race; however, you can make yourself more tired and not as fresh as you should be for race day. This is not the time to discover you need to do more work! Besides, if you need more work, it doesn't matter, you won't have time to improve before your race. Keeping with the schedule in phase 1 and 2, start your first block with an easy day, followed by a moderate 30-60 minute effort, a day off, then an easy distance day, no more than 1/2 of your target race distance. It is important to remember that if you aren't feeling it on any of these workouts, it is perfectly fine to bag the workout in order to get more rest. It's also common to feel like poop during the taper. I used to get all moody and mental during my tapers- probably because I had all this extra energy and couldn't expel it in the water. This is normal. Don't get crazy and decide to start your spin class workouts - you'll have plenty of time for that after your race! Finally, the week before race day should be a minimal week. Clear your schedule if you can. Get lots of rest 2 nights before your race. Finally, the day before my race, I like to start with an easy rehearsal of race day beginning with a light breakfast, an easy warm-up routine, a stretch-out paddle, and then I spend the rest of the day with my legs up relaxing.

Review this program and customize it to your needs. Each athlete has different areas we need to work on and have things that work for our individual skills. Remember, the goal is to have a great race - being stressed out during your training is a surefire way to miss your mark, so enjoy the process, and let it fly on Race Day!


Phase 1 (9 weeks) - Base Building (KEY: easy: 30-60 mins; moderate: 45-60 at 70-80% effort; distance: 65-75% effort)
Block 1: easy, moderate, easy, 1:00 hour, rest
Block 2: easy, moderate, easy, 1:15 hours, rest
Block 3: easy, moderate, easy, 1:30 hours, rest
Block 4: easy, moderate, easy, 1:45 hours, 2 days rest
Block 5: easy, moderate, easy, 1:30 hours, rest
Block 6: easy, moderate, easy, 1:45 hours, rest
Block 7: easy, moderate, easy, 2:00 hours, rest
Block 8, easy, moderate, easy, 2:15 hours, 2 days rest
Block 9: easy, moderate, easy, 2:00 hours, rest
Block 10: easy, moderate, easy, 2:15 hours, rest
Block 11: easy, moderate, easy, 2:30 hours, rest
Block 12: easy, moderate, easy, 2:30-3:00 hours, 2 days rest

Phase 2 (4-6 weeks) - Building Speed (KEY: easy: 45-90 mins; moderate/tempo: 45-90 at 70-80% effort; speed: 80-90% effort 2-3 minute efforts with equal recovery)
Block 1: easy, tempo, easy, speed (4 efforts), rest
Block 2: easy, tempo, easy, speed (6 efforts), rest
Block 3: easy, tempo, easy, speed (8 efforts), rest
Block 4: easy, tempo, easy, speed (10 efforts), 2 days rest
Block 5: easy, tempo, easy, speed (6-8 efforts), rest
Block 6: easy, tempo, easy, speed (8-10 efforts), rest

Phase 3 (2-3 weeks) - Taper 
Block 1: easy, moderate (30-60 mins), easy/off, easy 1/2 distance of race, rest
Block 2: easy, moderate (<60 mins), easy/off, easy 1/4 distance of race, rest
Block 3: easy, rest, easy/stretch, RACE DAY
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