Race day came with a torrential morning downpour. Though everything cleared up well in time for the start of the long course, the race organizers decided to remove the ocean section of the course and reroute the race completely in the protected flatwater, just in case.

Due to an extended shoulder warm-up in the locker room, I got on the water a little later than I intended. I did my best to get in a full warm up, but my biggest priority was lining up next to Tim Burdiak. He was the athlete I had backed to win the long course and I had planned to mark him from the word go. When the start horn blew, however, it was Jesse Lishchuk, the sprint specialist, who turned on the gas and easily shot out ahead of Tim and me.

Tim Austin Jesse
I scrambled onto Tim’s wash and hoped the pace would settle. Jesse, however, kept at it and started to slowly pull away. As the gap began to grow to an uncomfortable distance, Tim was forced to put in a kick of his own to avoid losing Jesse completely. I scratched to keep up and it was only thanks to the assistance from Tim’s wave that I was able to pull up directly behind Jesse and pull onto his back wave slotting into the half diamond daft. Gathering myself mentally, utilizing both of their washes to recover, I had two revelations. First, I realized that after that show of speed I might not have the goods required to win this race and second, I love racing. I know it’s a strange thought after an ugly start, but there is something truly special about putting your fitness, cunning, and guile to the test against athletes who have you on the back foot from the first stroke. I couldn’t help grinning.

A quick look around confirmed that we had shot well clear of the rest of the field and it was now a three horse race. It time for the tactics to begin in earnest. Almost on cue, Tim took the lead dropping Jesse back to his left wave as I shifted over to draft behind the new leader. I was certainly enjoying the respite provided two waves, but I realized I couldn’t hang back much longer. The position is very beneficial to recover, but it’s also a place of weakness. First, any comfortable athlete would be on Tim’s open side wash, so I was showing my competitors a weakness I would rather they forgot. And second, if Tim was to kick again, there would be nowhere for me to drop back to. I would simply be out of touch and out of the race. Knowing I needed to make this happen sooner rather than later, I conserved as much as I could in the next minute before pushing up beside Tim.

At about the ten-minute mark, I knew it was time for me to take a pull. It felt like a mistake (I could easily cook my race or expose further weakness to Tim and Jesse), but from a sportsmanship standpoint, I didn’t feel like I could contest a finish sprint without taking at least one pull in the race and after Jesse pulled the first kilometer and Tim the second, it was my turn. I moved up beside Tim and then slowly I pulled ahead to take the lead. I was careful not to make my turn of speed not too taxing, just enough to show that I was moving up and capable of going faster. Tim dropped back to my side wash and Jesse remained on Tim’s. I opened up my stroke, focusing on long, powerful, efficient strokes. I tried to think about technique and not how bad I was feeling, but as I finally checked in with my body, I realized that I was feeling strong. I pulled for the standard kilometer and then I dropped back to let Jesse take back the lead. To my surprise, it was Tim who surged ahead after a moments pause. I slid onto his wash and looked over at Jesse. I could hear his breath coming quick and ragged. He was hurting and not in a place to comfortably pull. I checked in with my own breathing. It was slow and relaxed. At that moment, the dynamics shifted and I realized the race was now between Tim and me.

When next Tim slowed, I moved up to take the next pull. As the race lengthened, I became more and more comfortable, regardless if I was pulling or riding. As we rounded the first sharp turn marking a third of the race finished, I decided to test my competitors (I was curious to see if Jesse could hang on and I wanted to gauge how strong Tim was feeling). As we came up on the turn, I held the lead longer than usual and forced Tim (on the outside of the turn) to take a wider, longer line around me and the turn marker. Jesse took advantage of the opening and snuck in for a tight turn. As we completed the turn, Tim was slightly behind on my left and Jesse tight on my right. There were tiny little bumps rolling in from the harbor mouth and picked up the pace just slightly, riding bumps when I could, curious to how my competitors would react. Tim diverted to the side in an attempt to find his own line and Jesse hung on tight. I didn’t let off the pace and Tim dropped back slightly. Jesse stayed with me but his breath became even more labored. I knew all I needed to know. I backed the pace down just slightly and at the same time, Tim realized it was a mistake to strike out on his own. He put in an effort and bridged the gap back to my tail.

Now it was a game of patience. I knew now that I was probably the fittest over the distance. And while I was itching to put in an attack to break them, I couldn’t risk Tim hanging on and passing me after I redlined. I had to stick to my initial strategy: keep playing the game until the last few kilometers and then try to neutralize their speed with a longer sustained push to the finish line. And so the tactical game continued. Tim completely regained his composure and we traded wash leads with Jesse drafting. Jesse took a short pull around the 50-minute mark, but Tim quickly took back over and it seemed that Jesse’s efforts could not change it back to a three horse race.

After a few more lead changes, we finally came to the spot that marked 2 kilometers to the finish. It was time to make my move. It was a maneuver I had watched Hank execute in the 2017 World Marathon Champs (though I would be attempting it at a much slower speed). My plan was to take the lead with 2km to go and crank up the speed. I would keep the pace hot and contest/block Jesse or Tim from taking over the lead. The thing about wash riding is that while an athlete conserves a good deal riding the wave of a competitor, to pass someone you are drafting you have to climb up and over their bow wave (and to successfully jump the bow wave you have to be going significantly faster than the leader).

So I settled in for some pain and I went to work cranking up the pace and keeping an eye out for Tim or Jesse to make a move. As I expected, it was Tim who came for the lead and he tried three times. The first was subtle, perhaps just to see if I was purposefully taking the lead 2km out. I contested his move with a surge and he dropped back, not wanting to truly put down the hammer so far from the finish. His second move came with about 750 meters to go and it was much more forceful. I was able to again deny him with a surge, but our change in speed was enough to drop Jesse off the wash. Tim’s final move came with about 300 meters to go when he realized that I was trying to finish it now and not let it come down to a final sprint. As he surged, I was able to deny him one last time and though he wasn’t in jeopardy of falling off my wash, my final 100-meter sprint to the finish was uncontested.

The race was an absolute blast and I was so honored to battle it out with friends and fierce competitors. What a start to the season! In the next blog post, I will break down my strengths and weaknesses from the race and discuss how it will guide my training for the next few months. Thanks for following!

2/9/19

Hal Rosoff Classic

This year the 23rd Annual NAC Hal Rosoff Classic on February 9, 2019!

The Hal Rosoff Classic is a paddling race in Newport Harbor consisting of a short and long course for Outriggers, Kayaks, Prone, K1’s, C1’s and Stand Up Paddle Boards. The annual race is in the second week of February and attracts between 300-400 participants from Southern California. Proceeds benefit the NAC Outrigger program

Race day came with a torrential morning downpour. Though everything cleared up well in time for the start of the long course, the race organizers decided to remove the ocean section of the course and reroute the race completely in the protected flatwater, just in case.

Due to an extended shoulder warm-up in the locker room, I got on the water a little later than I intended. I did my best to get in a full warm up, but my biggest priority was lining up next to Tim Burdiak. He was the athlete I had backed to win the long course and I had planned to mark him from the word go. When the start horn blew, however, it was Jesse Lishchuk, the sprint specialist, who turned on the gas and easily shot out ahead of Tim and me.

I scrambled onto Tim’s wash and hoped the pace would settle. Jesse, however, kept at it and started to slowly pull away. As the gap began to grow to an uncomfortable distance, Tim was forced to put in a kick of his own to avoid losing Jesse completely. I scratched to keep up and it was only thanks to the assistance from Tim’s wave that I was able to pull up directly behind Jesse and pull onto his back wave slotting into the half diamond daft. Gathering myself mentally, utilizing both of their washes to recover, I had two revelations. First, I realized that after that show of speed I might not have the goods required to win this race and second, I love racing. I know it’s a strange thought after an ugly start, but there is something truly special about putting your fitness, cunning, and guile to the test against athletes who have you on the back foot from the first stroke. I couldn’t help grinning.

A quick look around confirmed that we had shot well clear of the rest of the field and it was now a three horse race. It time for the tactics to begin in earnest. Almost on cue, Tim took the lead dropping Jesse back to his left wave as I shifted over to draft behind the new leader. I was certainly enjoying the respite provided two waves, but I realized I couldn’t hang back much longer. The position is very beneficial to recover, but it’s also a place of weakness. First, any comfortable athlete would be on Tim’s open side wash, so I was showing my competitors a weakness I would rather they forgot. And second, if Tim was to kick again, there would be nowhere for me to drop back to. I would simply be out of touch and out of the race. Knowing I needed to make this happen sooner rather than later, I conserved as much as I could in the next minute before pushing up beside Tim.

Tim Austin JesseAt about the ten-minute mark, I knew it was time for me to take a pull. It felt like a mistake (I could easily cook my race or expose further weakness to Tim and Jesse), but from a sportsmanship standpoint, I didn’t feel like I could contest a finish sprint without taking at least one pull in the race and after Jesse pulled the first kilometer and Tim the second, it was my turn. I moved up beside Tim and then slowly I pulled ahead to take the lead. I was careful not to make my turn of speed not too taxing, just enough to show that I was moving up and capable of going faster. Tim dropped back to my side wash and Jesse remained on Tim’s. I opened up my stroke, focusing on long, powerful, efficient strokes. I tried to think about technique and not how bad I was feeling, but as I finally checked in with my body, I realized that I was feeling strong. I pulled for the standard kilometer and then I dropped back to let Jesse take back the lead. To my surprise, it was Tim who surged ahead after a moments pause. I slid onto his wash and looked over at Jesse. I could hear his breath coming quick and ragged. He was hurting and not in a place to comfortably pull. I checked in with my own breathing. It was slow and relaxed. At that moment, the dynamics shifted and I realized the race was now between Tim and me.

When next Tim slowed, I moved up to take the next pull. As the race lengthened, I became more and more comfortable, regardless if I was pulling or riding. As we rounded the first sharp turn marking a third of the race finished, I decided to test my competitors (I was curious to see if Jesse could hang on and I wanted to gauge how strong Tim was feeling). As we came up on the turn, I held the lead longer than usual and forced Tim (on the outside of the turn) to take a wider, longer line around me and the turn marker. Jesse took advantage of the opening and snuck in for a tight turn. As we completed the turn, Tim was slightly behind on my left and Jesse tight on my right. There were tiny little bumps rolling in from the harbor mouth and picked up the pace just slightly, riding bumps when I could, curious to how my competitors would react. Tim diverted to the side in an attempt to find his own line and Jesse hung on tight. I didn’t let off the pace and Tim dropped back slightly. Jesse stayed with me but his breath became even more labored. I knew all I needed to know. I backed the pace down just slightly and at the same time, Tim realized it was a mistake to strike out on his own. He put in an effort and bridged the gap back to my tail.

Now it was a game of patience. I knew now that I was probably the fittest over the distance. And while I was itching to put in an attack to break them, I couldn’t risk Tim hanging on and passing me after I redlined. I had to stick to my initial strategy: keep playing the game until the last few kilometers and then try to neutralize their speed with a longer sustained push to the finish line. And so the tactical game continued. Tim completely regained his composure and we traded wash leads with Jesse drafting. Jesse took a short pull around the 50-minute mark, but Tim quickly took back over and it seemed that Jesse’s efforts could not change it back to a three horse race.

After a few more lead changes, we finally came to the spot that marked 2 kilometers to the finish. It was time to make my move. It was a maneuver I had watched Hank execute in the 2017 World Marathon Champs (though I would be attempting it at a much slower speed). My plan was to take the lead with 2km to go and crank up the speed. I would keep the pace hot and contest/block Jesse or Tim from taking over the lead. The thing about wash riding is that while an athlete conserves a good deal riding the wave of a competitor, to pass someone you are drafting you have to climb up and over their bow wave (and to successfully jump the bow wave you have to be going significantly faster than the leader).

So I settled in for some pain and I went to work cranking up the pace and keeping an eye out for Tim or Jesse to make a move. As I expected, it was Tim who came for the lead and he tried three times. The first was subtle, perhaps just to see if I was purposefully taking the lead 2km out. I contested his move with a surge and he dropped back, not wanting to truly put down the hammer so far from the finish. His second move came with about 750 meters to go and it was much more forceful. I was able to again deny him with a surge, but our change in speed was enough to drop Jesse off the wash. Tim’s final move came with about 300 meters to go when he realized that I was trying to finish it now and not let it come down to a final sprint. As he surged, I was able to deny him one last time and though he wasn’t in jeopardy of falling off my wash, my final 100-meter sprint to the finish was uncontested.

The race was an absolute blast and I was so honored to battle it out with friends and fierce competitors. What a start to the season! In the next blog post, I will break down my strengths and weaknesses from the race and discuss how it will guide my training for the next few months. Thanks for following!

2/9/19

Hal Rosoff Classic

This year the 23rd Annual NAC Hal Rosoff Classic on February 9, 2019!

The Hal Rosoff Classic is a paddling race in Newport Harbor consisting of a short and long course for Outriggers, Kayaks, Prone, K1’s, C1’s and Stand Up Paddle Boards. The annual race is in the second week of February and attracts between 300-400 participants from Southern California. Proceeds benefit the NAC Outrigger program