The James River Rundown race is happening again this year, and if you enjoy the James River and human-powered watercraft I highly suggest you sign up. This year I believe they have the classic 100 miler as well as new additions of mellower 40 mile and 20 mile races. From the results last year we saw that it’s certainly possible to paddle the full 100 miles in under 18 hours, so you can still race and sleep in your own bed that night. For reference, I won the solo division of the 2014 race with a time of 17 hour and 13 minutes. In the past couple weeks I’ve gotten a couple emails about advice for the race, and figured I’d write a few things down that I learned from my experience last year. My experience comes from paddling a solo kayak in the race, but I’m sure some of these points will apply to canoeists as well.
Unless you’re making long-distance kayak/canoe races your primary hobby it’s pretty much impossible to fully train for a 100-mile event. It’s hard to find the time for regular 20 or 30-mile paddles, and suddenly training hard right before the race might just break your body down. Luckily this race is more than 90% mental and just a small bit physical fitness. Pretty much anyone could finish this race as long as they keep a consistent pace and stay aerobic the whole time.
The mental part comes in when you’re 50 miles into the race - tired, hot, and in the middle of a very wide river with no competitors in sight. The beginning is nice with morning fog rising off the water, and other racers nearby to chat with, but the field quickly thins out and you’ll probably be paddling alone for most of the race from that point on. I found it to be very meditative paddling alone, and if you embrace it the time will fly by, but certainly don’t stay focused on how much your body hurts. Also – don’t take too long a break from paddling! Once your body realizes that it’s being overworked it shuts down, and that’s a feeling you want at the finish line, but not while you’re racing.
Blisters & Hands
My hands were wrecked after the race. Obviously friction from paddling will easily do that, but it’s greatly exacerbated by water dripping down the paddle and thus softening your hands. The best option is to use a sea kayak paddle, which has rubber rings on the paddle shaft to prevent water from dripping down. The longer length also gives some space between your hands and the water. I used a whitewater paddle last year, and would have much preferred the above option.
Gloves also could be really handy to take away some of that friction. Obviously you’d want to bring a couple pairs since wet gloves aren’t the most comfortable. The last resort option is to periodically wrap the blistering part of your hand in duct tape. It only adheres for a short time, but offers some relief. Work on toughening your hands now.
Craft of Choice
There are two options for a racing boat – plastic or composite. The composite boats are stiffer and lighter and you’ll go faster in the flats. Plastic boats are a little more sluggish typically, but crush it through the rocky sections of the race. Most all of the top composite boats last year had to make some minor repairs during the race, and at least one or two flipped in the small rapids while trying to avoid rocks. Using a plastic sea kayak was a big advantage in those sections since I could easily power through rapids and slide off rocks. Hitting rocks is also a factor while paddling during the night where they tend to come out of nowhere.
Food and Water
Your body has plenty of fat to get you through multiple 100-mile races, but eating a little something every now and then gives your brain some easy to use glucose and it’ll keep you from feeling sluggish. Don’t eat too much at once though as it’ll upset your stomach. I aimed to eat a Clif Bar every hour by eating it in thirds. I had a timer that would countdown every 20 minutes, and the quick break would always come as a welcome relief. A little food and water are always something to look forward to. If you have a hydration bladder with a hose connected it’s super easy to route the hose through your PFD for easy access.
It looks like it’ll be pretty hot this year. Bring a good bit of water, but remember to always eat something with it or have a couple electrolyte tabs (like Nuun) since it’s possible to overhydrate during that period and dilute your blood sodium, inducing hyponatremia. It’s way easier to die being overhydrated than a little dehydrated. Also bring a small cloth that you can dip in the river and cool yourself off with.
Also keep your food accessible so you don’t need to get out of you craft to get to it – it takes a while to paddle to the bank of the river, and it’s much easier to eat and float on the go. Same goes for peeing, so figure out your plan for that if you’re in an enclosed boat.
You can follow your progress the whole time through a maps application on a smartphone if you wish. Bridges are good landmarks to know while you are paddling, but aside from the checkpoints all you need to do is paddle straight downstream for a really long time. If you come up on an island in the river following the main current is the best idea.
If there’s any moonlight out you can navigate the river at night without any type of light. And I mean headlight or white light. You should always have the red and green navigation light on at night, and it sounds like any type of red or green light will work although battery powered units like this (Clamp-on Bow Light) are portable and exactly what you would need for the race. Put the light on your stern so it doesn’t impede your vision.
Moonlight works to navigate, but if you commit to a headlamp or spotlight then you’ll ruin your night vision some and attract bugs to your face. That’s just something to keep in mind, but luckily the current in pretty gentle through the night sections.
Of course hats and sunglasses are going to be a lifesaver while you’re on the water, so don’t forget those. It also looks like the annual Batteau Festival will be ending on June 27th at Maidens again, so if you’re quick on the water you’ll be rewarded with a fine sight of colonial boats poling down the river while you paddle by.
Enjoy the race! It’s not every day that you get to paddle 100 miles of your home river. Keep an eye out for bald eagles and fish, and you may spot a beaver or two. Finally, it’s a huge accomplishment to paddle that far non-stop and something relatively few people get to experience. Thanks to Kevin Odberg & the James River Association for continuing this race.
Any questions? I'd be happy to answer them - just shoot me an email.
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