I have been training and racing for pretty much all of my adult life. I like to see what the body will take and to learn what improves performance and what doesn't. Over such a long time you get to build up quite a picture. But this trip was going to be the ultimate training session for me, I was intrigued to see how things would work out.
The first rule of racing is that you don't get a result if you don't cross the finish line and to that end I was conscious that I had to look after my body, especially in the early days, to ensure I could complete the distance.
Blisters: were inevitable, and by the end of the first week I was building up quite a collection. But this was expected and then it was just a case of caring for them until things settled down. I used zinc oxide tape and ordinary 'bodge' tape to cover them, I really didn't want to go through the skin.
It was also important to ensure that the paddle grips were smooth (though not slippy), any nicks or damage to the grip would cause problems - so the paddles got as much care as my hands. It all paid off; after the first couple of weeks I only saw one more blister, which came after not smoothing a nick in one of the grips soon enough.
Hands: the long days in the bad weather was not good for the skin on the hands and especially the fingers. On the challenging days my hands would be gripping the paddles tight all day, so tight that I would not be opening my figures with each stroke. Consequently no air would get to the underside of my fingers and by the end of the day they were square in section with white and wrinkled skin. Constantly wet for a full day was not good. So each night I took care to keep them dry and liberally coated them with an oily antiseptic creme. This worked well but meant that life could be a little surprising in the early morning when trying to grip the paddles going out through the surf!
Likewise a liberal daily coating of petroleum jelly in various tactical areas made life less chafing!
Keeping Dry: I took the time to test different paddling kit over the winter and then invested in some good kit from Kokatat. Keeping dry was important. If I was wet day after day it would be unpleasant and at worst would lead to persistent sores. 3 months of wet neoprene shoes was just not a good idea!
This strategy paid off well, I was snug and dry throughout - a little warm somedays perhaps but had no significant problems.
Sleep: If I had to change anything I would aim to get more sleep, much more. Mileage was linked to sleep. With less sleep decision making also became more woolly and indecisive and water conditions seemed more daunting and challenging. Less sleep = more scared basically! (And more mistakes)
Obviously sleep affects recovery and the longer mileage days usually followed the better sleep too.
Rest days: are strange things. Obviously rest is important. But taking a rest day or two is not as simple or as beneficial as it might initially seem. They need to be planned and worked around, but then I'm not going to give all the secrets away! Bad weather days provided many opportunities for rest.
The thing I was impressed with the most was how high daily hours and mileages could be sustained repeatedly. 6-8 hour days would follow each other relatively easily, a workload that back home would take a week would be 2 days worth here - though granted the intensity would be different. There was also a steady progression; what had seemed a struggle to complete in the early days became little more than a warm-up in the latter stages! Even I was impressed what an old body could maintain.
The biggest problems I had on the trip were two fold:
My wisdom teeth started erupting a few days before I set out and troubled me for the first 2 weeks or so. The biggest effect being how they affected my sleep, there wasn't really much I could do about this though, either before or during.
The second and more significant was a back problem. Like many people I suffer from a 'bad back' at times and made efforts to avoid aggravating this. Unfortunately the solo humping and dumping of a loaded boat inevitably caused problems; as did trying to help haul a swamped dingy up a beach. After that I learnt to steer well clear when I saw anybody struggling to push or pull anything! The back was sore for about 3 weeks and was painful in everything I did, on and off the water. Something to take steps to avoid.
There was also a problem with a rib, but I was expecting this and have been living with it for a long time. It was uncomfortable but didn't cause significant problems.
All in all I found it interesting to see what the body would take. And now I'm back home I'm intrigued to find out how the fitness resulting from the trip paddling compares to the training I would normally have done in the same time.
There are a few other things I found interesting, but then I have to save a few things for the book I am told...
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