Chattajack Time, Ready or Not
If you are or ever have trained for the 31 mile “Inland Molokai to Oahu” that is the Chattajack race in Tennessee at the end of October, then you are probably starting to panic or have panicked right about now. We are about a month away from this iconic race that is grueling, sometimes even more grueling than imaginable, amazing, and full of all kinds of twists and turns, some quite literally, through the beautiful Tennessee River Gorge, from Chattanooga to the Hales Bar Dam at Nickajack Lake.
It is about this time in the process that doubts start to creep in. Can I really do it? What if there’s no current? What if there’s gale force wind (like last year) or Hell Fog (like five years ago) what if I really haven’t trained enough? I’ve had all those doubts in the four years I’ve prepared for this race. I managed to get through them all, trusting my training, trusting my strength, trusting my experience and what I’ve learned each year and persevering on.
But this year, I know that last one is definitely true.
And it is scaring the heck out of me.
Two injuries have plagued me this year. One early one at the Carolina Cup and another more recently. I’ve been patiently waiting for my leg to heal after an August paddle surfing accident sent me home from Wrightsville Beach with 27 stitches and orders to stay out of the water. I approached the wound and the healing process better than I have any previous injury….maybe because of age and experience. Maybe because I sustained the injury doing something I dearly love. Maybe because of the promise of a cool scar and a good story to go with it.
I did not expect it to keep me out of the water as long as it has
See, there was a bit of a complication. I will not be graphic, but some of the skin did not get enough blood flow when I was sewn up and that healing process has had to take place from the inside out – from deep down in the skin tissue right at the muscle. It’s required weekly trips to the wound care clinic where I am the youngest, and certainly the most active and healthy patient they have right now. They don’t know what to do with me really, nor do they get why, every week, I ask about getting back in the water. I managed to get a reluctant “okay, you can get in fresh water, but not the ocean” out of the doc when I explained I would hermetically seal my leg up in layers of Tegaderm film, which is a waterproof bandage -kind of like Saran Wrap that REALLY sticks- and a latex sleeve to cover it all up, nice and water tight.
See, there’s this RACE at the end of October, and I can’t miss it!
I think the doc got tired of hearing me say that.
Most of my forays out on the water since then have been teaching. And I have been careful not to get my leg wet, even when it’s all wrapped up like Thanksgiving leftovers. But I have noticed a definite loss of fitness. And the healing process takes its toll on you in its own right. I’ve been doing what I can to eat cleanly and rest. A lot. I often go to bed before it’s dark. And while I am taking good care of myself so that the healing process will continue, none of that will, in and of itself, get me across the finish line at Chattajack.
Training Works, and so Does Having a Good Coach
Cleared to train again, where on earth do I even start? Do I even try? Thoughts of pulling out of the race popped into my head. I’ve already missed three races. But, this year, just like last, I am paddling two-man outrigger with the best team mate ever, Dana. We recently paddled together in the Tempest OC2 and I worried I’d be letting her down. But she reminded me that we are just out there to have fun, to have a good story. Just paddling together in that Gorge….that is what it is all about.
She was right, of course. But still…
I was even afraid of broaching the subject with my friend and Paddle Monster Coach Larry Cain. Dunno why, maybe afraid he might tell me something I didn’t want to hear.
But The Mullet talked me into posting the question/issue on the Paddle Monster forum, reminding me that that is what it’s for.
And I am glad I did.
The response Larry sent back was encouraging, supportive, motivating and realistic.
And it is the prime example of why having a resource like Paddle Monster is invaluable, no matter what level racer you are.
Larry reminded me that yes, this year will be different, but with an adjustment in expectation, it will be no less rewarding and no less fun.
He got me to focus on what I can realistically do training wise for the next few weeks leading up to the race. And once I had that honed in, he gave me a plan. A plan that is reasonable, logical and doesn’t have me trying to go all out to make up time, risking hurting myself in the process.
So far this week, I have felt really good on that training plan. I got excited just programming all of the interval sessions into my Garmin Fenix and I can’t wait to get out there today, and tomorrow and Saturday.
And I am focusing on one training day at a time. Not the bigger picture. Making every session QUALITY.
The only thing that was hard to swallow in Coach Larry’s advice was the part where he said that the ocean has nothing to do with Chattajack, I miss not being in the salt water more than anyone can possibly know, but for the next 4.5 weeks, that will be my mantra.
It was precisely the motivation I needed.
No matter what the outcome on October 28, I will be happy.
It’s not about a repeat on the podium. It’s not about doing better than last year.
It’s about getting out there.
See you in the Gorge!