1) Training with Others for Speed Sessions

For me, the speed oriented lactic sessions have always been challenging. I love to grind and I will happily punish myself through longer threshold or tempo intervals, but when things get shorter and enter into the realm of lactic pain, I just struggle.

The best example of this personal struggle is my 30/30s workout (3 sets of 10x30sec on/30 sec off with 10min recovery between sets). I have used this workout as a training tool since my days as a whitewater athlete and if done properly these sets become really brutal around 6-8 reps in. In set one, despite the pain, I am usually able to complete all ten and feel proud of my effort, but after that I typically stumble. Even after the 10min recovery, I usually only get 5-7 reps into set two before the excuses overwhelm me. Something like, “your first set was so fast, you deserve to call the session here” or “you pushed too hard on set one and you might actually hurt something if you continue.” Whatever the excuse, I usually find a way out of completing the session and will spend the rest of the day beating myself up about it.

Since moving to San Diego and training a few times a week with the local sprint team, I have almost solved this problem completely. I plan my training week so I can join them for their hard lactic sessions and am always pleasantly surprised by how much deeper I am able to dig in a competitive setting. To drive the point home even further, my 30/30s workout actually came up in the training program for three weeks and for three weeks in a row, I finished all three sets with the quality and speed I can usually only muster for one and a half sets. Everyone is different, but for me, I have come to realize that I need someone else to push me in the lactic sessions and this year, I have been lucky enough to have company for nearly all of them!

2) Making Long Sessions a Priority

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised by how easy they are to deprioritize. As the biggest time commitment, the most logistically challenging, the least fun (unless you magically have a downwind and a driver), and the one session that I don’t include in any other part of the year (since all my other races are 90 min), it’s easy to get to Saturday and shorten the session or drop it completely. The hardest part is that many times dropping the session was even the smart choice, not just the easy one, since adding a 4 hour paddle to an already brutal training week could easily tip the balance into overtraining. As a result, in 2018, I only finished 4 out of my intended 10 long sessions leading into Molokai.

This year, I vowed things would be different. I structured my week around my long session, making sure I was rested enough to hit it hard and not push myself into overtraining. I prioritized the session and didn’t count a week successful without a long session in the books. The result of the shift was extremely notable and not only did I complete all 10 of my long sessions leading up to Molokai, but they were some of the sessions I was most proud of this year.

3) Heat Adaptation

Racing in the heat has always been a challenge for me. My body tends to be quick to overheat, sweats profusely and enjoys colder climates for exercise. That, combined with living in the colder weather of Bellingham, Seattle and San Fran for the last three years has made sure that I wasn’t going to adapt to the heat organically. Despite this glaring weakness, my strategy before 2019 has always been to hope that I got lucky with the weather or simply tell myself “I am actually good in the heat.” This year, I wasn’t going to leave it to hope and self-talk.

The first prong of my strategy was to start overdressing for sessions. I have never been able to do this before, because if you start this out of the blue, your quality will take a real hit for the first few weeks and it was always hard for me to watch my speeds take a prolonged step back. This year, however, I started in my first session and it helped blur the line between what was caused by the heat and what was caused by weeks of inactivity and shoulder rehab. Over time, it became easy and I now reach for at least one more layer than I normally would out of habit and comfort.

The second prong of my heat adaptation was Sauna sessions. I did a bit of research and I learned that Sauna sessions can be strategically to adapt to hot environments as well as provide host of other benefits for endurance athletes. I started with 3 times a week for 20 minutes and over the course of 5 weeks I have built up to 4 times a week at 45 minutes. This year, I already feel ahead of the game. It might be hot and it might not be, but the temperature will be the last thing I need to worry about come race day.

4) Cutting Out the “Easy” Miles

For the last two years, I have been a believer in the 80/20 philosophy of endurance training. This essentially boils down to a theory that the most effective training for endurance athletes is a result a large volume of training with 80% of that training done at an moderate/easy aerobic pace and 20% of training performed at extremely fast near maximal paces. This philosophy is championed by many elite runners, cyclists, triathletes and cross country skiers.

Last year, I structured my training around weekly volume and a typical training week would put me somewhere around 200km. The problem was that even though I patiently waited for the superior benefits of my training program, I always felt like it never translated on race day. I don’t know if I did it wrong, surfing/paddling in the ocean is technically different at fast speed versus an aerobic speed, or if there is something physiologically different occurring in surfski when compared with other endurance sports. Regardless, it never worked the way I wanted it to and this year I made a pretty dramatic change.

In 2019, I dropped my overall volume dramatically, finishing weeks somewhere between 130-150km. At the core, I dropped all but about 30km of my easy aerobic miles, instead focusing on tempo or “sweet spot training” (an intensity just below my sustainable race pace). I can’t really say if the effects are going to pay off (as I will probably need the cumulative effect of a season of training to truly judge my shift), but I can definitely say that I am having more fun and feeling extremely strong at a pace quite close to my race pace.

5) Seeking Opportunities to Mentally Prepare

When finishing the Molokai last year, the final 5 km of the race were agonizing. Yes, it was partially to do with a lack of preparation, but at the end of the day, if you are planning to give a 3-4 hour race your absolute all, you are going to hurt. My philosophy in the past has always been, “train as hard as you possibly can so the pain is a little less for you to accomplish more.” But ultimately, this is a flawed approach. Racing will always be painful and any attempt to change that is either a form of denial or a failure to give your best effort. This year, I sought out the pain and changed my relationship with those pivotal/painful moments.

Whenever I got to a point in a session or a training week where I just didn’t want to go any further, hit a wall or felt either too tired or in too much pain to continue, that was when my training truly began. I decided that every time I arrived at one of these moments I would smile and say, “this is where I earn it.” I relished these moments and used them as opportunities to plumb deeper into my mental reserves than I ever had before. Am I saying they became easy and I always rose to the occasion? No. They still sucked and despite seeking them out, there were times when I gave up and wasn’t able to push through. But I rose to the occasion a heck of a lot more than I ever had fearing those moments. I am excited to come face to face with that feeling crossing the channel and I am excited to see if I will be able to rise to the challenge on race day.

  • NAC Classic 2019

    Newport Beach, CA
    February 9th, 2019
    Austin's Blog

  • Maui to Molokai

    April 13, 2019  - 26 miles.

  • Molokai Challenge

    May 26, 2019

  • Canadian Downwind Champs

    Squamish, BC, Canada
    July 13, 2019

  • Gorge Downwind Champs

    Colombia River Gorge, Oregon
    July 15-20, 2019

  • Lighthouse To Lighthouse 2019

    Sept. 14 & 15, 2019
    Norwalk, CT

  • Irish Coast Paddling Champs

    Saturday 28, Sept. 2019

1) Training with Others for Speed Sessions

For me, the speed oriented lactic sessions have always been challenging. I love to grind and I will happily punish myself through longer threshold or tempo intervals, but when things get shorter and enter into the realm of lactic pain, I just struggle.

The best example of this personal struggle is my 30/30s workout (3 sets of 10x30sec on/30 sec off with 10min recovery between sets). I have used this workout as a training tool since my days as a whitewater athlete and if done properly these sets become really brutal around 6-8 reps in. In set one, despite the pain, I am usually able to complete all ten and feel proud of my effort, but after that I typically stumble. Even after the 10min recovery, I usually only get 5-7 reps into set two before the excuses overwhelm me. Something like, “your first set was so fast, you deserve to call the session here” or “you pushed too hard on set one and you might actually hurt something if you continue.” Whatever the excuse, I usually find a way out of completing the session and will spend the rest of the day beating myself up about it.

Since moving to San Diego and training a few times a week with the local sprint team, I have almost solved this problem completely. I plan my training week so I can join them for their hard lactic sessions and am always pleasantly surprised by how much deeper I am able to dig in a competitive setting. To drive the point home even further, my 30/30s workout actually came up in the training program for three weeks and for three weeks in a row, I finished all three sets with the quality and speed I can usually only muster for one and a half sets. Everyone is different, but for me, I have come to realize that I need someone else to push me in the lactic sessions and this year, I have been lucky enough to have company for nearly all of them!

2) Making Long Sessions a Priority

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised by how easy they are to deprioritize. As the biggest time commitment, the most logistically challenging, the least fun (unless you magically have a downwind and a driver), and the one session that I don’t include in any other part of the year (since all my other races are 90 min), it’s easy to get to Saturday and shorten the session or drop it completely. The hardest part is that many times dropping the session was even the smart choice, not just the easy one, since adding a 4 hour paddle to an already brutal training week could easily tip the balance into overtraining. As a result, in 2018, I only finished 4 out of my intended 10 long sessions leading into Molokai.

This year, I vowed things would be different. I structured my week around my long session, making sure I was rested enough to hit it hard and not push myself into overtraining. I prioritized the session and didn’t count a week successful without a long session in the books. The result of the shift was extremely notable and not only did I complete all 10 of my long sessions leading up to Molokai, but they were some of the sessions I was most proud of this year.

3) Heat Adaptation

Racing in the heat has always been a challenge for me. My body tends to be quick to overheat, sweats profusely and enjoys colder climates for exercise. That, combined with living in the colder weather of Bellingham, Seattle and San Fran for the last three years has made sure that I wasn’t going to adapt to the heat organically. Despite this glaring weakness, my strategy before 2019 has always been to hope that I got lucky with the weather or simply tell myself “I am actually good in the heat.” This year, I wasn’t going to leave it to hope and self-talk.

The first prong of my strategy was to start overdressing for sessions. I have never been able to do this before, because if you start this out of the blue, your quality will take a real hit for the first few weeks and it was always hard for me to watch my speeds take a prolonged step back. This year, however, I started in my first session and it helped blur the line between what was caused by the heat and what was caused by weeks of inactivity and shoulder rehab. Over time, it became easy and I now reach for at least one more layer than I normally would out of habit and comfort.

The second prong of my heat adaptation was Sauna sessions. I did a bit of research and I learned that Sauna sessions can be strategically to adapt to hot environments as well as provide host of other benefits for endurance athletes. I started with 3 times a week for 20 minutes and over the course of 5 weeks I have built up to 4 times a week at 45 minutes. This year, I already feel ahead of the game. It might be hot and it might not be, but the temperature will be the last thing I need to worry about come race day.

4) Cutting Out the “Easy” Miles

For the last two years, I have been a believer in the 80/20 philosophy of endurance training. This essentially boils down to a theory that the most effective training for endurance athletes is a result a large volume of training with 80% of that training done at an moderate/easy aerobic pace and 20% of training performed at extremely fast near maximal paces. This philosophy is championed by many elite runners, cyclists, triathletes and cross country skiers.

Last year, I structured my training around weekly volume and a typical training week would put me somewhere around 200km. The problem was that even though I patiently waited for the superior benefits of my training program, I always felt like it never translated on race day. I don’t know if I did it wrong, surfing/paddling in the ocean is technically different at fast speed versus an aerobic speed, or if there is something physiologically different occurring in surfski when compared with other endurance sports. Regardless, it never worked the way I wanted it to and this year I made a pretty dramatic change.

In 2019, I dropped my overall volume dramatically, finishing weeks somewhere between 130-150km. At the core, I dropped all but about 30km of my easy aerobic miles, instead focusing on tempo or “sweet spot training” (an intensity just below my sustainable race pace). I can’t really say if the effects are going to pay off (as I will probably need the cumulative effect of a season of training to truly judge my shift), but I can definitely say that I am having more fun and feeling extremely strong at a pace quite close to my race pace.

5) Seeking Opportunities to Mentally Prepare

When finishing the Molokai last year, the final 5 km of the race were agonizing. Yes, it was partially to do with a lack of preparation, but at the end of the day, if you are planning to give a 3-4 hour race your absolute all, you are going to hurt. My philosophy in the past has always been, “train as hard as you possibly can so the pain is a little less for you to accomplish more.” But ultimately, this is a flawed approach. Racing will always be painful and any attempt to change that is either a form of denial or a failure to give your best effort. This year, I sought out the pain and changed my relationship with those pivotal/painful moments.

Whenever I got to a point in a session or a training week where I just didn’t want to go any further, hit a wall or felt either too tired or in too much pain to continue, that was when my training truly began. I decided that every time I arrived at one of these moments I would smile and say, “this is where I earn it.” I relished these moments and used them as opportunities to plumb deeper into my mental reserves than I ever had before. Am I saying they became easy and I always rose to the occasion? No. They still sucked and despite seeking them out, there were times when I gave up and wasn’t able to push through. But I rose to the occasion a heck of a lot more than I ever had fearing those moments. I am excited to come face to face with that feeling crossing the channel and I am excited to see if I will be able to rise to the challenge on race day.

  • NAC Classic 2019

    Newport Beach, CA
    February 9th, 2019

  • Maui to Molokai

    April 13, 2019  - 26 miles.

  • Molokai Challenge

    May 26, 2019

  • Canadian Downwind Champs

    Squamish, BC, Canada
    July 13th

  • Gorge Downwind Champs

    Colombia River Gorge, Oregon
    July 15-20, 2019

  • Lighthouse To Lighthouse 2019

    Sept. 14 & 15
    Norwalk, CT

  • Irish Coast Paddling Champs

    TBD Fall 2019