Brandon’s 5 Not-So-Ninja Speed Tips to Racing Faster
Wherever you’ve been finishing in the pack at the latest races, if you’re not right up in front then there are a handful of pretty traditional but too-often ignored tips, tricks and techniques you can use to race faster and finish higher in the rankings. We’ve undoubtedly written about each of these Not-So-Ninja Speed Tips before, but a refresher is always useful.
1) Fuel. Whatever distance you’re racing, your fuel before and during the race matters in a big, big way. Is it a short race, like a 3.5 mile Wednesday nighter? Try eating your last substantial snack about 3 hours before race time, stay hydrated (ideally with Heed or something similar), then right before you head out to warm up pound a packet of Goo, ClifShot, Hammer Gel, or whatever high-maltodextrin, Goo-like product you prefer. Use one with caffeine, too. Wash it down with a little water or Heed, and see if you don’t feel downright bionic during the race. For longer races, I still like the pre-race, caffeinated Goo. But during the race I’m sipping on some Perpetuem or Spiz – more of a performance-oriented meal replacement. It’s rigged through a tube that stays put right in front of my lips, so I can sip without missing a beat. Now let’s be clear: I’m not talking about a floppy Camelback tube that I have to grope around for and grab, missing strokes while I’m doing it. And I’m not talking about a Goo-pack that’s strategically taped to the boat and will tear open when I grab it. I’m talking about NOT MISSING A SINGLE STROKE. I recommend you rig your fuel-delivery device so it’s 100% hands free.
2) Drafting. If you’ve still got some obstinate, Freudian aversion to drafting for increased speed and/or energy conservation, my friend you’re truly missing out on one of the greatest (and fastest) joys of racing. I will openly admit to rolling my eyes at racers who draft 99% of a race then boogey by their host at the finish line. But working with another boat, or a pack of boats, giving each other periods of rest mixed with high-output speed-work to inch closer to the lead group… that IS the very definition of racing! And it starts when you line up for the start. Who will you position next to? Which side of them will you be on, and will that allow you to migrate to host #2 if they go zipping by? Will you be on the inside or outside of the turns? Think these questions through and have a plan, then measure the results and look to learn for the next race.
3) Dress. Comfortable is fast. Chafe, hypothermia, and over-heating are all slow. You can figure out the rest, and you SHOULD figure it out BEFORE race day. Have a race wardrobe in your car, but know exactly how you should feel during warm-ups and layer up or down based on experience, and for speed. My rule of thumb is, “If I’m not close to shivering at the start, I’m going to roast while I race.”
4) Rudder. The smaller the rudder, the less drag, the faster the THEORETICAL boat speed. But smaller rudders also mean tippier boats, and tippy is slow for a lot of paddlers. Error on the too-big side, though, and you’ve got unnecessary drag and a potential weed-vacuum. The main thing is that you don’t try a rudder for the first time on race day, or on new conditions for that rudder even if you’ve used it before race day. I’ve done that. I paid for it. (Heck, one time I lost a rudder mid-race, limped to shore, ran to my van for another rudder, swapped it out, and finished the race. And I wasn’t last! (Because I had some Goo-packs! ). If I could only have one rudder, it’d be about a 6-inch, swept, with a little weed guard bullet right in front of it. Wouldn’t be great for bigger-than-2-foot surf, but for most races in the PNW it’d be perfect.
5) Steady. It’s not written anywhere that starting like a freaking fighter jet off an aircraft carrier is mandatory, but almost every racer does it. That early-on, anaerobic burn consumes a TON of energy, especially if you carry it for too long before settling in to your cruising pace, and can leave you on “E” before the home stretch if you’re not careful. As an alternative, try calculating our your desired average speed for entire race, and holding that speed from the starting gun all the way to the start of the final kick. Be forewarned: It’s going to feel really, REALLY easy for the first 5 to 10 minutes, and you’ll be asking yourself why you’re not throwing down harder to keep up with the rabbits. Give it a shot, though, at an upcoming race. Let the rabbits go, and see if you don’t real them back on with your steady state approach. I’ve done this many times, especially on our weekly Wednesday nighters, and it almost always works in my favor.
Try each of these not-so-ninja strategies over your next handful of training sessions and races. Measure the results, and keep what’s working for you, and try some variations. The top guys and gals out there don’t keep getting faster and faster through osmosis. They’re always looking for the next trick to get an edge, and you can do the same thing with your racing!
POSTED BY: Brandon
See you on the water!
Heather, Brandon and Hayden