One of the things that made training for the UFC so difficult was there was no training routine out there to follow. If you want to train for a marathon, a long distance bike ride, or even a long distance swim, there are multiple books, online resources, and magazine articles for you to use as a guide. For most of these events you can talk to several people who have done them and they can provide some insight into what they found was the best training routine. Not so for a mutli-day endurance expedition canoe/kayak race. It is just not out there because I searched high and low for it. The fact that these events are multi-day and multi-dimensional makes it that much more difficult in developing a training schedule. First there is the training to get the body to withstand the demands of the event which includes paddling and walking ( remember, most of these events include a portage and the portage for the UFC is a 40 mile portage). Then there is the training to ensure the canoe/kayak skills (paddling, rolling, bracing, sailing, wave surfing, navigation, etc.) are as fine tuned as possible. Ultimately I ended up creating my own training routine that was a combination of concepts from marathon, canoe training, Ironman triathlon training, and ultra marathon training. I have attached the training log I kept to give some idea as to what training I did.
As you would guess, there are a lot of long distance paddling pieces. Even though I had a sail with my rig I took the approach that I needed to train like I was going to have to paddle the entire 1200 miles. I am glad I adopted this philosophy because that is about how it turned out. I think anyone thinking about the UFC needs to view the sail as just icing on the cake. Train like you will not have it and then if you are lucky enough to be able to use it, you are that much ahead. In addition to getting the body used to hours upon hours of paddling, the other important thing to figure out during the long distance paddling pieces is the fueling protocol. I think this is a highly individual thing and the only way to find out what works for each individual is trial and error. In running, bonking is bad but at least you can sit down and recover. In paddling, not so much. You bonk when you are paddling and you are left with sitting in your craft and hoping the wind is blowing the right way. If it isn’t, to bad, so sad, suck it up and start paddling or get blown out to sea. My worse case of this happen during one of my training paddles where I bonk during in the hottest part of the day, with no wind at all, and I had about two miles of open water paddling to get to my recovery spot. Those two miles were the hardest two miles I have ever paddled but I finally made it to shore and just crashed under a tree. I am not sure how long I laid there but it was long enough for me to get enough energy to pack my stuff up and get home. Once home I slept for 12 hours. In addition to doing long distance pieces I found the need to throw in some back to back long paddles to see what works best in speeding the recovery process. Most training routines have an easy or rest day right after the day of a long training piece. For these multi-day races the body has to be tested on the recovering overnight for another day of paddling that could equal or even be longer than the previous days paddling.
As with other sports, having a balance of speed work and strength work is important. I also tried to work in as much weight work as possible. This came in very handy due to the strong headwinds we faced during the UFC. Having good endurance was helpful but having the strength to power through the waves was just as important. This was an area where Rod’s body structure served him well as he was always able to go faster through heavy waves than I was. I would hate to think where I would have been if I had ignored trying to build up my strength.
The most difficult thing I encountered in training for the UFC wasn’t the workouts themselves — it was the hours of training alone and in the same waters. Being alone is something a contestant has to get used to since he or she may end up paddling a good portion of the UFC alone. With that said having someone to train with you for an hour or two sure helps pass the time. The more fun that can be incorporated into the training routine the better so thinking about different waters to do the long paddles in is well worth the time. The other aspect that I tried to work into my long paddles was paddling in different conditions. Bad weather, good weather, head winds, following seas, high temperatures, cold temperatures, upriver, downriver, open bay, open ocean, and surf. In addition to those conditions it is important to try and do them both during the day and at night. Waves sound very different at night and some people think the “water boogieman” comes out at night. A contestant of the UFC has to make friends with the night and feel comfortable paddling in some seas at night. If they don’t, they will not be able to finish the event. I have shared my training log not so much as a guide to follow but more of what worked for me. Since we have been blessed with different athletic abilities I feel an individual has to figure out the schedule that works best for their body. It has been said that half the challenge of these Watertribe events is getting to the start line. Training is definitely a big aspect of that challenge.