Road to recovery – Paddle Battle

Paddle Battle start

Injuries suck! But bouncing back feels great!

I’d mixed my winter plans up this year to include more wildwater racing and add a real focus on general conditioning by adding Crossfit. The winter plan appeared to be working well with a strong set of results in the Winter Wildwater Series and significant strength improvements. But then a little over exuberance in early April resulted in a significant lower back injury. In pain simply standing or walking, I felt my winter gains slipping thru my fingers. In situations like this I focus on recovery and moving forwards and that’s exactly what most of April was spent doing. The month slipped by in a blur of massages, chiropractor visits, stretching, strengthening, relaxing and managing the pain and inflammation. But every day saw progress towards the goal of recovery.

On the last day of April, I met a good friend for a 30 km paddle down the French Broad River in our K1’s. This would be the first test of my rehabilitated back and a good bench mark to gauge how much further I had to go. For an hour and a quarter I felt good and the pace remained high as we flew downstream averaging over 14kph but then suddenly my back started to revolt and the remaining 45 minutes was a frustrating one as I limped home, annoyed and disappointed that I still wasn’t where I wanted or needed to be.

The very next weekend, my wife and I headed down to Beaufort, SC for the Paddle Battle race which was part of a larger Beaufort Water Festival. We love this part of the World and the incredible early summer weather just added to its magnificence. This race was new to me and covered 7 miles near Paris Island in an area that would be heavily influenced by the changing tide immediately following the start. More importantly, the race included several competitors with whom I have a long standing rivalry, so I could quantify just how far my rehabilitation had come.

Paddle Battle

After a lengthy warmup, the race started in its usual break neck pace as competitors vie for position and wakes to use to their advantage. I found myself immediately in the lead with one of my strongest competitors right on my heals, exactly as I’d hoped things would unravel. A close encounter with a large pod of dolphins soon after the start, just added to the excitement. With the tide now turned, the loop course would feature some upstream and upwind miles to the turn around when things would line up to push us home. Things felt great and I focused on my forward stroke technique and staying comfortable in the boat. By the halfway mark I was clear of my closest competitors and he would no longer be able to use my wake to his advantage. My back was stiff on the first loop, but by the second it felt great and as a result I felt more comfortable pushing the speed in my Epic V14. The final mile felt incredible with sustained speeds of 15-16kph with a little help from the tide and wind, as I took my first win of the surfski season. It was amazing what a difference a week had made to my recovery and my attitude. While not perfect, I had played the race well and taken the win, but more importantly, my back had held up. There is still a ways to go before I’m 100% but the path is now clear, so I’m confident I can now salvage the racing season ahead.