The Paddle Bender race at Dreher Island State Park, South Carolina, happens to be one of the best organized races on the Southeast Paddlesports Championship Series. The two lap, circuit style course totals 8 miles on Lake Murray as you circumnavigate the state park. Lake Murray offers a challenging race course with windy sections, choppy water, lots of boat wakes and intense heat in some sections. I have gutted myself at this race before and getting it right takes preparation and experience and having failed miserably here before, I had that in spades.
I changed a few things this year to minimize the risk of another meltdown and maximize my chance of earning value series points. First, I used a cooling vest during my warm up and cool down. I also did my pre-race warmup earlier than normal at about an hour from the start. Finally, I decided to take liquid on board which I generally don’t do for races less than one hour, choosing a beverage higher in electrolytes.
The start is so critical in mass start paddlesport races. When the horn went off I quickly built into my sprint to establish myself in the lead group. The first turn was just a few minutes in and I had scouted a clean line between two dead trees that I knew most of the other competitors would be reluctant to take to avoid any boat damage. The move worked to disrupt the leading paddlers and give me the lead going into the first rough leg. Lots of boat wakes and wind chop now challenged balance in our 18 inch wide racing surfskis. But you can actually use the rough water to gain speed if things lined up and by working the water hard, I was able to significantly peak my boat speed and establish a significant gap on the chasing paddlers.
But all good things come to an end and just a few miles later we turned into the backside of Dreher and the heat climbed quickly into oppressive levels. It was painful to race at these intensity levels in this heat and I know my body doesn’t like it. All I can do is lengthen your stroke and try to bring my heart rate down and move quickly thru the troubled area.
But before too long, lap one was over. Time for lap two! Overall the race went very well and I was pumped to have had a dominant win at a race that has beaten me before. The Winter training and the early season racing had paid off, as had the extra little attention to detail in my race preparation. The race day retribution felt good.