As an athlete, there are many points in our lives where things just don’t seem to work out. There are also an exceeding number of times when things not only work out but go better than planned. I’d like to discuss when they don’t go as planned.
For the last month or two, I have had a focus on being in a long boat to compete in the Russell Fork race. I am not a racer, however, last year I decided I wanted to give the concept a go and race the Russell Fork. I had so much fun that I tried to recruit about every kayaker I knew to race it this year.
Last year I didn’t have a clue what racing a kayak meant. Fast forward to this year having a slight clue, I put focus on my technique in a long boat and wanted to build up my endurance so that I could attempt to go a bit faster in the flats to improve my time from last year. I also wanted to take the traditional race lines and not be as conservative as I had been last year.
With the Southeast having virtually no water, focusing on the long boat meant I went out to the lake more than once to focus on my technique and keep my heart rate in check. I even experimented with the idea of intervals out on the lake where I would go all out for 30 seconds and then back off for 1 minute and then rinse and repeat. This style absolutely gassed me.
It kind of feels funny to say “training” but yeah, I guess I was training. I really enjoy setting a personal goal, making a plan, and executing that plan. Due to this mindset, I get out even when I have no motivation to get out. I like this rigidity.
On the first Russell Fork release weekend this year, I did not take my long boat. I learned from last year that it feels a fair amount different at the higher release flows that the race showcases so my focus was just on the lines I knew I wanted. I stayed conservative and only practiced the lines I took last year. I was not trying to go race speed by any means but when I was trying to link the first rapid into the next (maze into triple drop) and my heart rate was through the roof, I knew I needed to adjust my training.
In fairness to myself, I couldn’t adjust my training much to what I wanted. I wanted to be able to go race speed through a series of rapids. With no water where I live, this was difficult. To somewhat accomplish this, I ran a series of rapids and then hiked my long boat back up and ran it again. I learned this also crushed my cardiovascular system and left my legs sore for days to follow. I am not complaining, I love this style of humbling.
Things were going about as well as they could have for me in regard to my “training.” And then the uncontrollable happened: I came down with the flu one week before race day (one of the many joys of being a teacher). Not only did I test positive for the flu, but I was told by the doctor that I also had a bacterial infection. I was coughing so hard I was throwing up thanks to this bacterial infection. What this meant was I suffered through the flu for about 4 days without meds and then upon seeing a doctor, I was put on strong antibiotics for the infection. Without going into much detail, this made things better but it also didn’t sit well with my stomach. This made wanting to eat a difficult and uncomfortable task.
So here I was, determined to race, taking off that Friday still coughing like crazy, being zapped of energy, and having little to no motivation to actually be active let alone the desire to crawl back into the long boat for my first practice lap.
I’ll cut it short. When I was backward and spinning my way through maze (the first rapid in the race), I knew I did not have the energy to control the long boat in the manner that I wanted. Was my lap awful? No. Did I have fun? No. This is when I made the decision to grab my newly acquired small gnarvana and see if I felt any better. For reference, I had paddled it once and it was a fast lap on a very low section 4 Chattooga lap.
I felt a fair amount better on my second lap and decided that in order for me to feel safe about racing, the best decision would be to race the gnarvana. This crushed me while at the same time providing me some relief.
Let me explain. I spent energy “training” in the long boat. I was purely competing against myself. I truly pushed myself and wanted to see if the adjustments were effective and worthwhile. Deciding not to race the Karma Unlimited meant I couldn’t see any of this pan out. This was disappointing. At least to me.
However, I was relieved because I was still deciding to race. For me, the hardest thing is showing up to that start line. I, like so many others, am a nervous competitor. While the non-racers are out there getting in a fun lap, I spent that time with my nerves firing wondering if I made the right decision.
My name was called and I paddled up to the start with my heart pounding. I had the idea to adjust my seat position because in my one practice lap in the gnarvana, I thought the boat was getting away from me a bit. I honestly had no idea if this was going to be a good decision or a horrible life choice. So here I was, sitting in a brand new boat about to race the Russell Fork. Heart rate through the roof.
The countdown began and I took my first few strokes and quickly realized that I was actually trying to paddle fast as opposed to just kayaking. I headed toward the right line of maze, which I had only taken twice before, with the entire goal to not get thrown left into the rock and instead steer just right and through the next channel. Mission accomplished.
Next was successfully coming through maze, not being thrown right, and taking on triple drop. For me, the 2nd drop is pivotal. Every single lap of the season I hit the race line but know race day can be far different. I came through exactly how I wanted and it lined me up for the traditional race line at the third drop. A line I had not taken. Not ever doing that line, I shot out further right than I was used to and got caught on the boils and I had to dig to get away from the undercut rock that was just to my right. This meant being slow and giving up precious energy.
Next up is my absolute favorite rapid out there. All went well to then see El Horendo next on the horizon. As I approached, I knew my angle wasn’t exactly what I wanted and that meant my bow exited to the left and required a full spin-out for me. “Well crap,” I thought. More time, more precious energy.
You have a few little bits before you hit the flat leading into the final rapid. Climax. It is long with many lines. It is incredibly easy to get lost in there. I was not 100% confident of my lines I was going to take in there. I had watched so much of Dane’s head cam footage from last year’s race that I was hoping my memory would pay off. And it did. Thank you Dane! I felt good with my lines through this rapid. A sense of accomplishment came over me when I looked up at the finish line and saw a friend of mine that I was not expecting to see with a big smile on her face. I had successfully completed my 2nd Russell Fork race.
The vibe for me this year was far different and it was only because I was battling with my own mindset. I am still disappointed that I didn’t race in my long boat. I 100% believe I made the right decision not to race the long boat. I can now compete against myself in whatever class I want, long or short boat. I put in the time, I showed up at the start line and I came across the finish line.
To me, being an athlete means you face adversity with as much integrity as possible and just roll with it when uncontrollable circumstances take you off course. These are moments that allow you to grow and learn for the future. I give credit to every single racer out there, that showed up and did something that they love. At the end of the day, that is all that matters. Having fun and enjoying the love of the sport!