CHATTAJACK 2020 – TRAINING
It goes without saying, but Chattajack is a paddling race, therefore, paddling should be your primary form of training. If you’re new to paddling endurance events, then the best thing you can do is simply paddle more! But even if you’re a mildly seasoned paddler, you soon realize there is only so much time in your week you can devote to your training. So getting the most out of your valuable time is paramount to Chattajack success.
LONG – We’ve got 31 miles to prepare for, so it’s no surprise that at least one long paddle a week is necessary to increase our endurance and is our single most important paddle of the week. Two per week is even better if you have the time, but make sure to give yourself time to recover between sessions. If you have a busy life, you can event split a long paddle in to two paddles in one day, but make sure the longer session is done first. Long paddles teach our bodies to use fats as a fuel source, increase time to muscular fatigue and as slow twitch muscle fibers exhaust towards the end of a long paddle, your fast twitch fibers are forced into action, which they don’t like to do. These paddles should be done at a pace that is completely aerobic at a perceived level of exertion of about 3 out of 10 or simply at a conversational pace. You may also want to research more about the Maffetone training method (MAF) championed by surfski World Champion Oscar Chalupsky, as this is best done here. A periodized build up of these long paddles should see the long paddles get progressively longer as we move closer to the event, from maybe 90 minutes up to 3+ hours, although I wouldn’t be paddling much more than this very often as the accumulated stress associated with this type of paddling can result in injury or burn out. Save it for race day and maintain your training quality. To maintain quality during these long paddles, you can also break them up into intervals of long on and short easier offs. These long paddles also teach our bodies to get comfortable in the boat for a 4-5 hour effort come race day.
TEMPO – If you just paddle long and slow, then you are practicing to be slow for the long haul of Chattajack. So this may sound counter intuitive when preparing for a 31 mile, 4+ hour race, but high intensity work is still critically important, as it raises your functional threshold pace (FTP), or in layman’s terms, how hard you can work in a sustained aerobic state. If all things are equal between two paddlers traveling at 7mph, (including identical water conditions, boat choice, forward stroke technique, etc.) then the paddler with the higher FTP will win an endurance event every time as they are working the least to maintain that pace. These high intensity threshold or “tempo” sessions should be scheduled on days when you are the most recovered, like after a rest day, so you get the most out of what will be a challenging session. Tempo workouts might start around just 15 minutes of accumulated time at a pace you could maintain for maybe an hour at best; about 7-8 out of 10 perceived level of exertion; about 80% of your maximum heart rate or simply “comfortably hard.” You might only do one or two of these sessions a week as they are so taxing. That 15-20 minutes of accumulated hard work can be broken up into intervals and examples could be 2 x 8 mins on/2 mins off, as a starting point and the amount of load time should increase progressively as we move towards Chattajack. Participating in more commonly found 3 or 6 mile races are a great way of achieving the same thing, while also working on other aspects of your race plan. Both high intensity / low duration training like the threshold training above, and low intensity / high volume training are important components of any endurance plan. A good blend of both will prevent performance stagnation.
SPEED – Done just once a week on its own or as part of another training paddle, the speed session builds efficiency, also breaks up the monotony of all these long low intensity paddles and wakes up the nervous system to high speed work. These are done at an uncomfortable pace of 9 out of 10, but not flat out so we maintain quality paddling technique. Examples of speed sessions could be 4 x 1 min on/1 min off or a harder 4 x 250m repeats with 100% on time for recovery. Think of these sessions as the icing on the cake to fine tune your race performance.
So putting this all together, if you only had time to do three paddling workouts a week, I would prioritize my long paddle over the weekend, a high intensity threshold specific workout early in the week after a day or two off and then a third speed session later in the week. If you are training 6 days a week, I’d adopt a hard day, easier day philosophy throughout the week by integrating two long paddles with a focus on one of those as your weekly long paddle benchmark, two threshold sessions well distanced apart, one speed session and one shorter low intensity session with a solid technique focus and additional base aerobic development.
Also somewhat counter intuitively, is weight lifting as part of a Chattajack program. Lifting helps as it increases the fatigue resistance of muscles. But if you have to chop something from your time constrained life, chop the weight lifting and focus on the paddling.
Finally, periodizing you’re training is critical. As I write this piece, we have approximately 5 months before Chattajack. I’ll be adopting a traditional periodized model of three weeks of progressive build followed by an easier 4th week for recovery for the first 4 months. During the final 5th month, volumes will ramp down but intensity will not, as we peak for a great race.
If you need more ideas or structure, check out many of the free marathon running training plans online and adapt it for paddling or find a coach. There are several great coaches offering Chattajack specific training plans.