June 12; Somewhere around 3- 3-ish in the morning:
Me: “This was a terrible f%$&ing idea.”
Also me: “Yes.”
Me again: “Are you talking to yourself?”
Other me: “Dude, it’s dark.”
First (?) me: “Dawn twilight is in like an hour or less, huh?”
Me: “You should stop to pee.”
Me (maybe?): “Next year your team name should be ‘F### it, I’m camping this time’ “
— Throws another handful of chocolate-covered espresso beans into mouth –
Another me: “Shut up all of you. Keep paddling.”
After deciding to pull out all the stops and apply for the Seventy48, I realized that I’d have to set some specific goals for myself and develop a training/ race preparation plan. From the beginning I knew I wasn’t going to “win” the race in terms of finishing first, so a successful race would be to simply finish, and the entire 70 miles would be an internal competition between 5% of my brain going “DO IT!” and the other 95% of it saying “Dude, take a freakin’ nap.” A bonus goal to completing the 70 miles in 48 hours would be finishing the race in one go with minimal stops… And in January these seemed like reasonable (if not slightly crazy) goals.
And up next were 6 months of planning and training for the race.
(1) Race training
Admittedly, over the last decade or so I developed this habit of doing somewhat questionable things “off-the-couch”, or attempting different physical/ athletic activities with little to no training. Deciding to get back into competitive gymnastics at the age of 30 (after ~10 years off) was a great and terrible idea, entering triathlons with < 2 weeks to train leads to lots of time on the couch with ice packs, random “Hey, let’s go hike up and ski down Mt. Shasta!” weekends, and so on. But the Seventy48 is different- 70 miles is not a short distance, and I’d want to be in pretty good shape to complete the race in one go and minimize risk of injury. I’m not 21 anymore. So training was a must.
Deciding to attempt this race in some form of kayak was a no-brainer, I’ve been paddling whitewater/ sea kayaks/ surfskis for over 20 years. But never trained specifically for a distance race. Sure, I’ve paddled/ trained/ practiced lots of gates preparing for slalom races… however these races are generally completely anaerobic and over in less than 2 minutes. Now for 12+ hours of paddling with few breaks, I broke my training plan into a few different parts:
– GYM: Yes, I joined a gym. At least it’s on the way to/ from work. I also set up a “home gym” in the half of the garage that’s not filled with kayaks. My main goal was to work the main muscle groups involved with paddling (legs, core, back, shoulders, pretty much everything) with lighter weight/ high repetition sets to focus on the slow-twitch muscle fibers needed for distance and endurance. My other main goal was to strengthen the smaller, less thought of stabilizing muscles used in the shoulders and core, so there was also a lot of elastic band work (similar to all the PT I’ve gone through for various shoulder injuries from gymnastics). Overall, 3-5 days per week were gym or home gym sessions between January and mid-May.
– AEROBIC: Yeah, I started running again. Not long distances, but enough to get my heart rate up to 130- 160 (70- 85% of my max HR) or so and maintain for 20- 30 minutes. I also re-assembled the kayak erg I built a couple years ago and did aerobic workouts on that when running got boring. About 3-5 sessions per week were running or on the kayak erg in addition to gym time.
– YOGA: For balance, core strength, and flexibility. Plus it’s really fun and relaxing. Did this as often as possible.
– PADDLING: Duh. I set up a plan where I’d do shorter paddles during the week, longer paddles on weekends, and gradually increase the distance/ time I was on the water for during the long paddles. Started in January with a “long” paddle of 11 km/ around 1 hour 15 minutes, and finished the long paddles in May with a circumnavigation of Vashon Island starting in downtown Tacoma. That last one was ~70 km and took 8 hours including stops to eat and pee. I wanted to figure out a good pace I could keep up for 12+ hours, and increasing the long paddles helped me figure that out.
Don’t worry; I didn’t forget to paddle at least some whitewater. Just not a whole lot to reduce risk of injury. In all I logged over 700 km paddling between January and a couple days before the start of the Seventy48.
– REST: Hardest part was taking actual rest days. Though on these I did get to eat a lot, much to the dismay of Lydia who I think became jealous of my black-hole/ hummingbird-like metabolism that only got worse the more the Seventy48 training progressed.
(2) Route planning
My favorite comment on the internets when the Seventy48 was first announced sometime in late 2017 was in reference to the race route- the comment simply stated “That’s not a race map, that’s a satellite image!” The Puget Sound is a pretty vast expanse of water, with complex bathymetry and island topography that can mess with the daily tidal fluctuations. I spent a lot of time analyzing tidal current animations (check out deepzoom.com) and memorizing the layout of the western shoreline and potential obstacles via Google Earth. Rob Casey of Salmon Bay Paddle says it best- The Puget Sound is like a big class 1-2 river, with eddies and rip currents and lots of funky water.
The race itself only had two mandatory checkpoints- a boat near Owen Beach about 10 km from the start, and the Port Townsend canal around 10-15 km from the finish. In between, I planned on heading north through Colvos Passage west of Vashon Island, then crossing to Blake Island and up the east side of Bainbridge Island and along the Kitsap Peninsula to Point No Point. From there, it’s pretty much a straight shot across funky water and currents to the Port Townsend canal.
However, this while plan was contingent on favorable wind and tidal current conditions… And we’d only find out on June 11th what those would be!
(3) Race preparation
– FUEL: For a race this duration, you really can’t overlook what sort of nutrition and hydration you’ll need. During my longer training paddles I was also experimenting with different foods that I could stomach mid- workout and about how much water I’d need to take with. Here’s what I came up with:
(Note: I’m not sponsored by any of these companies, but including links in case anyone is interested!)
– I’d consume about 0.5L of water per 10 km, so for about 120 km I’d need 6L total
– NUUN hydration/ electrolyte tablets are awesome
– CLIF Bloks are a good quick calorie and energy boost
– Various types of Gu
– Larabars and BelVita bars for something a little more solid
– Chocolate-covered espresso beans for the win
– And the best classic: Peanut butter, banana, and nutella sandwiches.
I decided to keep stashes of the Clif blocks, Larabars, and Gu in my PFD for quick access during the race, and would eat more solid food when I’d hop out to stretch and take care of other stuff. That’s a lot of water to go through….
– BOAT: Something that was light and fast- surfski. I started paddling surfski a couple years ago while living in California during a few drought years. Without much whitewater, lakes and big rivers still seemed to have water in them and paddling a slow whitewater boat in open water isn’t that much fun. I have a Huki S1-R surfski that is just about perfect, ~20 ft long, 18.75” wide, and right about 25 lbs unloaded. Fast, and quite stable for a surfski. Stability over a distance race is pretty important, I’m not sure how well my balance is going to be after 12+ hours of paddling…
– GEAR: No doubt, racing over a period of 12+ hours the temperature and weather conditions are bound to change. Probably the most important bit to figure out is how to dress for changing conditions, paddling at night, and mainly staying warm without overheating.
Water temperatures in the Puget Sound are right around 50- 55 F all year, certainly not glacial-fed streams but not something you’d want to be immersed in for long periods of time without some sort of gear. Just my personal opinion, but I think that Northwest River Supply (NRS) makes some of the best cold-water paddling gear out there, aside from the Kokatat dry wear. Paddling during the winter I went with a 3 mm farmer john-style wetsuit and 0.5 mm Hydroskin long-sleeve top. That plus a beanie and pogies on the really cold days seemed to be plenty for aerobic paddling workouts. For most of the spring, I was wearing 0.5mm Hydroskin pants and short-or long sleeve tops. Plenty warm, but that was during the day. I did a couple paddles in the winter with the drysuit, but it was a bit too restrictive in terms of motion and the neck gasket was causing a bit of rash.
On top of the gear I went with my Astral Green Jacket- normally my whitewater PFD but since it has a ton of flotation and a big pocket capable of holding snacks, phone in a waterproof case (ProShotCase) and a VHF radio it was a no-brainer choice.
For the race itself, I decided to start in the wetsuit with a high-vis t-shirt and then bring a couple extra layers for after sunset if needed.
Also, Vaseline. You can figure that one out.
(4) Race recap
After hours of off-water training, hundreds of kilometers paddled, and countless hours mulling over the race in my head, June 11th rolled around right as Spring Quarter and the 3 classes I was teaching were coming to an end. Following my circumnavigation of Vashon Island (and then some), I tapered my training paddles to make sure I didn’t over-work anything before the Seventy48.
June 11: I slept in as late as possible, and combined a huge breakfast and lunch a couple hours before heading to Thea Foss waterway in Tacoma. Anticipation in the air amongst the 100+ other teams was palpable, especially in the line for everyone waiting to take their last pre-race pee. With that taken care of, I loaded up the ski and got on the water around 4:45pm to warm up, relax, and chat with the other crazy folks who decided this race would be a good idea.
5:30pm and the start horn blows, and it’s not exactly a drag race. 100+ craft all trying to fit through a narrow harbor, and everyone was trying to avoid getting clubbed by the boats with oars.
The race line had spread out a bit by the time we reached the open water of Commencement Bay, stoke was high, winds were light, and the air was a clear 75 degrees. Passed the checkpoint at Owen Beach around 6:30, then turned north through Colvos Passage where a bunch of us were leap-frogging each other about 10 boats back from Team Epic’s lead.
Out of Colvos the teams headed across to the east side of Blake Island as the sun was setting, and I made a quick stop to pee and put on a couple more layers and light myself up for the evening. Good call, as during the crossing to Bainbridge Island the north winds started to pick up a bit and the paddling got a little wetter. Came around Restoration Point and Blakely Rock, did a little dance with the Bainbridge Island ferry, and continued paddling north. Somewhere around this time, between Blakely Rock and Fay Bainbridge Park my left leg decided to be an asshole and start going to sleep. Hundreds of km paddling before the race, and no problems. During the race, I think my leg decided that it was going to sleep even if I wasn’t. This led to a few extra stops overnight to get the blood flow back, but every time I’d stop moving/ paddling my core temperature dropped. A hot coffee would have been amazing, but at 2 am I’m pretty sure nothing in Kingston was open… Chocolate covered espresso beans it was.
I made my last stop around 4:30am at Point No Point for a sandwich and 500 jumping jacks to warm up, not knowing at that point Team Epic had finished in Port Townsend almost an hour and a half earlier. I got back in the water about 5am and got a quick glance at the sun rising over Mt. Baker as I continued paddling north to the Port Townsend Canal. Turns out that the expanse of water between Hansville and the canal has some pretty funky currents.
Arriving to the canal with the ebb tide was great- nice boost of speed and morale for the final push to Port Townsend. Paddling across Port Townsend Bay was wonderful, glassy smooth and virtually no wind so the smell from the pulp mill wasn’t drifting towards us racers. Thank the weather gods.
At 8:34 am on June 12, just over 15 hours after leaving Tacoma, I finished to a little bit of cheering, ringing of the finish bell, and a little slip of paper from the “Take-A-Number” machine borrowed from the DMV. 17. I’ll take it.
Met Lydia and the dogs on the beach, and slowly carried the boat up to the grass… Talked with some other finishers, and we all had the same thing to say:
“How’d the race go for ya?”
“It went.” (everybody laughs)
The Seventy48 organizers did have coffee and donuts going at the finish, think the extra caffeine helped me keep going until reaching the hotel room and collapsing on the bed for a few hours.
Will I do this race again? Absolutely. Think that next time I’ll figure out the leg sleep issue and want to use a decked boat to stay a bit warmer overnight. Probably going to do a lot of night-time training as well… May 31, 2019, here we go!