I’m pretty sure I’ve never raced in a rain as heavy as what we had today. As we warmed up this morning, the sky to the west (upriver) was black. Less than a minute after the gun went off, we slammed head-on into the deluge, and it felt like smacking into a liquid wall. The rain came down in buckets for the entire race, and continued to do so through the awards ceremony, which was held under the nearby Interstate 430 bridge because it was the only shelter of any size available.
At this point, I really don’t know what my place was; counting the boats ahead of me was impossible in all the chaos, and the race organizers didn’t have the results posted promptly like they usually do because of the inclement weather. And it was very hard to hear them announce the award winners because of the traffic roaring overhead on I-430. My guess is that I was something like tenth place overall. (Results are posted and yes, Elmore came in 10th)
I do know that we had a very high-quality turnout from the Oklahoma City training center. Dylan Puckett, a junior (under 18) racer whom I’ve watched improve steadily over the last four editions of this race, edged everybody’s favorite world-class-country-boy-athlete, Mike Herbert, for the win. Maggie Hogan was the fastest lady, finishing not so very far behind the top men. For much of the race I actually thought I might run down Kaitlyn McElroy, who spent the race paddling alongside Arezou Motamedi a tantalizingly short distance ahead, but once we got into the last 1500 meters or so I knew it wasn’t happening.
What did happen for me is that I targeted the tandem surf ski paddled by Bill Cains and Phil Capel, because I knew they would be a little faster than I but also would offer a better wake ride than the skinny little K1s. I paddled hard to stay on their stern for the first half of the race, with Shaun Caven, the Oklahoma City coach and a former British national team member, hanging out on their right-side wake in his K1.
Then I got a break at the buoy turn: Phil and Bill had trouble getting their ultra-long boat around the buoy and nearly rammed the bank, and in doing so they trapped Shaun, who had been on the outside. I swept my boat around on their inside and put the hammer down to try to drop them.
I didn’t get to savor my opportunity seizure for long: somehow, Shaun had gotten himself back on track and within a couple of minutes was sitting on my right-side wake. I knew I had to push the pace, because there was no way I would beat him in a final-50-meter sprint. With some 400 meters left I tried to throw in a surge, but it didn’t shake Shaun, and a few seconds later he was sprinting away from me.
I knew he had me beat, but then Phil and Bill came charging into my peripheral vision on the left–those tough old guys had made it back from their awful buoy turn. With the last bit of energy I had, I managed to hold them off by a foot or two.
Shaun, who had gotten a good look at my stroke while sitting on my wake, told me I can improve it by keeping my elbows closer to my body and the blade closer to the boat. He also noted that at the end of a stroke I should lift my wrist ahead of my elbow. This seemed to contradict the injury-preventive “chicken wing” recovery that Brent Reitz talks about in his forward stroke video, but after trying out the changes that Shaun suggested I think the two concepts can coexist. Two weeks before the big race of the season is not the best time to make major changes to my stroke, but I’ll be thinking about what Shaun told me as I paddle this coming week.
(Thanks to Elmore for braving the elements and bringing us the story. Read more of his paddling exploits on his blog and thanks to “Arky_Treefrog” for all photos, more on Flickr. Also thanks to Andy Capel for hooking us up with Elmore and Arky. Watch the Paddle Arkansas Website to be ready for next year’s race.)