Travels with Paddles

a sea kayaking journal

Axel Schoevers (Photo: A. de Krook) Name:
Axel Schoevers
Rijswijk, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Sunday, September 09, 2012

11 cities 200km non-stop 10th edition

Writing about my experiences at the start of my paddling 'career' all through my first years of coaching resulted in an article in Sea Kayaker Magazine "Carrying the red lantern". Most of us start out as the slowest paddler and with learning forward paddling skills and lots of paddling we all hope one day to be able to keep up with the 'top guys', or at least never again be in the position of the 'slowest paddler'.

In 2004 I did my first 11-cities 200 km 'non-stop' sea kayak paddling event on inland waterways, finishing in 33 1/2 hours (time-limit 36 hours). For the whole time I found myself again to be the slowest paddler, my team mates (using wing paddles for this occasion) looking over their shoulders that I was still with them... Psychologically it was a horrendous experience. Physically I found it much easier then expected.

In 2011 I did it in 32 hours. This time paddling at my own speed and only linking-up with a team after about 100 km (teams are required to continue through the night), by which time groups of similar speeds have formed. This time the night bit was grueling because of sleep deprivation effects on motivation that left much room for improvement. Again, not so the physical part, but again how the mind, or at least my mind, deals with it.

This year then my third entry: 33 hours. For months ahead I was telling all that I only entered to improve the night bit and paddle the first 100 km to get there and the last 50 km to get back to my car. The night bit went excellent. The only thing I changed this time was not to eat a full hot meal in the evening but regularly eating small bits of food throughout. So not to put my body in sleep mode after a full meal.

I entered the event with Gerard as team member, his first 11-cities. Marian joined, or in hindsight I should say we joined Marian. She had just returned from her Iceland expedition with partner Paul and she felt in the best shape possible to join the event for her first time. I had another interesting learning experience and lots of time to think about it looking at Marian's back...

Paddling in the rear degrades my paddling to 'plowing'. Shorter stokes like it is that I want to be sprinting. No problems at any time in the 200K to close a gap, but never finding my steady lower cadence cruising speed when I am in the rear. That de-motivating 'voice in my head' telling me I am the slowest paddler...

For the sea kayaking I mostly do (dynamic water, coaching and guiding) I am using a 215cm paddle that feels right for me on the sea. For this flat water paddling I adjusted my paddle length to 218 cm lowering my cadence where there is less resistance from interfering effects (wind, waves, maneuvering). Paddling alongside Marian quickly put us ahead of the rest. With no other paddler on my horizon my paddling felt less effort and going faster. That part I already knew, for many, many years. Discussing this 'phenomena' with Gerard and Ad resulted in them independently advising me to paddle in the back for the rest of the 200K to sort it out... To achieve a relaxed cadence even when paddling in the rear. It is all in the mind.

While I arrived in high spirits at the Stavoren check point, having completed the night bit in good shape, Ad arrived to declare that he would stop his 3rd 11-cities there. A self-made decision to stop is as much an achievement as completing the event. Of the 36 that signed-up, 34? started and 30? completed the event.

The overall time is not so much impacted by ones paddling speed, but the more so how long and frequent the (short) breaks are. I can further improve on the breaks with less fiddling with clothing, equipment, lighting, GPS and other unnecessary 'clutter' to leave more time for always welcome short power naps. And a small (night) team reduces overall waiting-on-each-other times. Our achievements are only possible because of our shore support teams and the organizing committee and the volunteers at the check points. Thank you all!

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