RM Paddle: 5 Keys to the Catalina Classic

Your Guide to the Race of Your Life

RM Paddle: 5 Keys to the Catalina Classic

by Kyle Daniels photo: Nick Steers

So you’ve put in the miles, you’ve secured an escort boat, all you need to do is race, right?  Unlike your average weekend race, getting ready for the Catalina Classic 32 Mile Paddleboard Marathon is a process.  It takes time, a commitment, and a little bit of crazy to complete one of the toughest paddleboard races in the world.  Ask anyone who’s done it and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is “It’s mental.”  I’ll never forget my first race in 1996 and it was victory at sea.  I had this idea that I would knee paddle every 5 minutes for a 1 minute interval.  I also decided on the Friday evening before the race that the Waterman stock board I was borrowing from Cindy Cleveland needed a new deck pad.  Bad ideas all around.  It was so choppy I only got to my knees 3 times the entire 7 hours and 22 minutes I was in the water.  By some stroke of luck it all worked out in the end, but I learned a valuable lesson in the process - never underestimate a 32 mile open ocean paddleboard race.  You need a well executed plan of attack to be competitive and to enjoy your race.  Anything less and you could be looking at not only a day of some serious hurt, but also the potential for a visit to your local orthopedic surgeon.  Here are 5 tips that if you follow, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have a much better race than if you just decide to wing it.

1. Have a plan.

As the great John Wooden puts it, “failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Unless you like suffering for 9 hours in the hot sun with salt caked eyelashes, rashes all over your body, and enough sore muscles to make even sleeping painful, you better plan for this race.  Assuming you at least put in some decent training miles before you decided to sign up for the race, you’ll need a plan beyond your training program.  First and foremost, confirm your boat, and talk to your skipper.  Make sure the boat is running and seaworthy.  Next, set a schedule for the weekend.  I like to get over to the island on Friday.  In the worst case scenario it gives you another day in case you have boat issues or something falls through; best case scenario, you can get a night of rest before the Isthmus swarms with activity.  Third, know where you’ll be sleeping.  The Isthmus has limited sleeping accommodations, so sleeping on your boat maybe the best option.  Oh, by the way, make sure your boat can get a mooring.  There is nothing worse than having to figure out how you are going to get to your boat every time you need to go to land and visa versa.  Plan your meals.  If you have a prerace meal routine, write it out and stick to it.  I usually bring my own food to the island so I can control what I eat.  You never know when the island is going to run out of the food you were planning on eating the day before the race.  Finally, make a list of everything you’ll need to bring with you double check it before you head over to the island.

2. Rehearse.

Make the week before your race a practice of your race day routine if you can.  I always liked to get up 2 hours before the race started (as if I ever really slept the night before the race) and have a bite to eat, take a warm shower (it helps your muscles warm up), do some dynamic stretches, get my Vertra on, and pack up my gear for the boat.  In order to get my sleep patterns on target, I would incrementally wake up earlier each day leading up to the race beginning the Monday of race week.  By Wednesday and Thursday of race week, I was up early, stretching in the dark, enjoying my bagel, and getting mentally prepared for Sunday.  If you listen to music as you get ready on race day, have your playlist ready to go so you can make it part of the rehearsal.  I skipped the Vertra and packing my bags so as not to make myself totally insane, but you get the picture.

3. Visualize your success.

This took some time and maturity to figure out.  After reading a few books, I decided that with all the time and preparation that I put into eating right, dialing in my training program, and staying limber, that stretching my mind wasn’t such a bad idea.  I found that those early mornings I was up early but not heading out the door for a paddle was a great time to enjoy a cup of tea, stretch out, and lie on my back and mentally walk through the steps of the race.  To get into the frame of mind, I would start with a series of deep breaths (yoga breathing works great) and try to clear my mind of any needless clutter.  Then I would start to picture the race weekend.  I thought of the clear water at the moorings in Two Harbors, the dry brush on the hillsides, the walk down the pier into the village, the view from the Banning Lodge looking at Cat Harbor.  All images that numerous visits to the Island stoked the memories in my head.  Once I was calm and “on the Island,” I started to think about the night before the race.  I walked through preparing all my gear, a warm shower before bed, and most importantly, I imagined a nice night of sleep (more wishful thinking than reality).  Finally, it was my mental race day.  I visualized waking up fresh and warm.  I went through my pre-race morning ritual of a shower, breakfast, tea, sunscreen, and some warm-up stretches.  Then I pictured myself walking down to sign-in for the race, putting my board in the water for a warm-up, and the start of the race.  I pictured myself gliding past all the boats tied to their moorings, passing Ship Rock, seeing the sun peak over the horizon.  I felt myself taking long strokes in the calm water.  Flying over the water as I passed through the shipping lanes, I imagined what it would look like to finally see the point and the R-10 Buoy.  I saw myself being the first to pass the R-10, the familiar sight of the Cove, of the Whale Wall, the oil slick over the Redondo Canyon.  I could hear my boat crew telling me I was 4 miles from the finish and that I was looking good.  Finally, I saw the Manhattan Pier, and I could feel that imaginary line reeling me into the pier and to the red finish flag.  I imagined the smiles on familiar faces on the beach as I finally left my board, feeling strong, accomplished, and relieved that I just paddled 32 miles. Whatever your race plan is, take time to play it out in your head if you can steal some quiet time the days leading up to the race.  

4. Get your rest.

You’ll be tempted to try and squeeze in one last workout before the race.  Nope, don’t do it.  You’ll won’t gain anything but sore muscles and fatigue if you put in a moderate to hard workout the week before the race.  Instead, find a good book and read it when you feel the desire to get your speed on.  Find some inspirational movies to watch in the days leading up to the race.  I used to have a movie routine including Braveheart, a Bruce Lee flick, and some Michael Jordan clips that always got me in the mindset for the race.  I always planned on getting my best nights of sleep the Thursday and Friday of race week.  Once you get to the island, figure out a good place to stay out of the sun and hide.  For night, bring some earplugs, you’ll need them to drown out the Macarena blasting from the speakers at Doug’s Reef.  I don’t care how long ago that friggin’ song was popular, they will play that until the island sinks into the sea.

5. Let it flow.

If you follow your plan, run through your rehearsal, do some visualization exercises, and get plenty of rest the week of the race, you should be able to let it all flow out on race day.  All of your months of training and hard work will be maximized if your mind is free from distracting situations like your boat guy bailing on you, not eating lunch the day before the race, or realizing you forgot your favorite trunks at home.  Race day is your day to put it all out there.  In wisdom gained from the master, Bruce Lee, just let it flow like water runs down a hill and I’ll promise you’ll be smiling when you get to the Manhattan Beach Pier.  GOOD LUCK!

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