The Inland Paddler: Learning Away the Fear

Lisa Schell Columns, The Inland Paddler Leave a Comment

Paddle race season will be ending sooner than we might wish. At least for me, October more or less signals the end of a training season that began in earnest back in December and a race season that got under way in April.

Wow, what a wild and fun six months!

But it came with some moments.

Like flipping or huli’ing four times at the start of the Carolina Cup in the surf, with April Zilg, my coach, yelling encouragement as hard as she could and Larry Cain trying to will me over the crashing and carnage-producing shore break. Then it took me 45 minutes to slowly pick my way through Mason’s Inlet, only to never really get the full benefit of the tide and current in the Intercoastal Waterway because my leash was wrapped around my hull.

image

Or, not being able to find my legs on the SIC Bullet V1 and knee paddling more of the Olukai race on Maui than I care to admit.

Or fighting against un-Maui like conditions for the Paddle Imua that included no visibility, cross wind and cross swells.

Or DNF’ing at the bay race in Virginia Beach.

Yet, as I have written in other blog posts, there were good take-aways from each one of those experiences. Teachable moments that I know have made me a better paddler. Maybe not faster, necessarily, but definitely mentally tougher.

If I had not had the experience in this year’s Graveyard, I might not have handled the conditions at the Paddle Imua as well as I did. Even though the swells were much bigger than what I encountered off the coast of Wrightsville, the baseline experience was similar. I kept telling myself that the conditions were just like the Graveyard, I could do it. I could do it. And I did.

The huli issue forced me to get proficient in self-rescue in the OC, and to learn not to be afraid of capsizing. The huli is just part of paddling OC. It will happen and it’s okay. The sooner I made peace with that, the more relaxed I have become in the boat. And, ironically, the less I actually flip. Taking a huli or two and getting back in is now a part of ever single paddle. I practice it relentlessly so I can do it seamlessly and with the least amount of energy expenditure possible when it really counts. Without fear.

Remember the Imua

image

Paddle Imua gave me huge confidence.

To be able to finish strong in one of the toughest races on Maui in sometime became a touchstone. Something I could come back to and draw upon when I needed to. A mantra. Β Like when I quit at Virginia Beach.

The rebound from that was a great downwind race in the Columbia River Gorge, and getting back in the OC and taking what I learned and using that expanded toolkit so as not to freak out when conditions got weedy and complicated at the Colonial Race in New Bern. I scouted the race course the day before, came up with a three part plan to deal with the course conditions, then put the plan into place when I need to. I remained calm, I made up time and I exceeded my goal for that competition.

Inland Paddler Learning Away the Fear

I plan to do the same thing next weekend when I paddle the Ehukai out into the squirrelly waters of Charleston Harbor in the ChuckTown Showdown.

I am a much better paddler because of that experience in the Commonwealth. And I am grateful that it happened. Even though it really did suck at the time.

All of this is the prelude to Chattajack.

Now is the time in the training when the aches and pains start, when it’s easy to let what started as just a twinge go to the point where it becomes more than just an annoyance – or at least a potential freak out point. This year, I am addressing those early warning signs and am ramping up the self-care that includes more massage, seeing the chiro and even exploring some acupuncture options as a way to keep something from being a race stopper. That is an investment, yes. But funds spent on preventing an injury that could require surgery is more cost effective than the alternative.

It’s like buying an insurance policy.

I am calm about it. I am listening to my body and I am acting accordingly. No freak outs here. Experience pays off.

Now, that’s not to say that if I get a cold I won’t go ballistic. But, I am doing everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen, either. Getting more sleep, eating cleaner, all the things.

That also means trusting the training plan and the coach behind it. I know it works. It has worked two years prior and it has worked all year long.

Trust all the Jedis and do all the intervals.

And maybe allow yourself a little C3PO freak out right before CJ just because,well…it is Chattajack after all.

As I look back on this year and my training goals and objectives, I am very happy with the outcome. My goal was never to become faster, but to be more efficient, to learn downwinding technique (which in North Carolina means learning to surf too,) to learn to handle the outrigger and to improve my forward paddle stroke. I am by no means finished with all those things, and honestly I hope I never am. I have made great, great progress.

Inland Paddler Learning Away the Fear

Most importantly, in working on those goals, I have faced some challenges and even fears I didn’t realize I harbored.

Getting a handle on those is worth far more to me than shaving off time or beating somebody to the finish line. And I’ll take it.