Updated: Oct 15, 2020
My last actual race was in January 2020, breathing in the mountain air as we raced in glorious sunshine around Lake Annecy in France. Less than 6 weeks later, the world was a very different place...
Gla Gla 2020 | Lake Annecy
Across every sporting calendar, events have been cancelled and postponed indefinitely. Athletes who have devoted their lives to achieving the ultimate dream of taking part in the Olympics have been left in limbo. Grass roots competitions that were the motivation for so many decimated, meticulously planned training schedules out the window.
When everything gets cancelled, its tough to find a reason to keep training. Since September 2019 myself and good friend and paddle-partner Skip Innes had been training hard having been accepted to race in the longest canoe race in the world, the Yukon 1000. This would see us stand up paddle board 1000 miles unsupported into the Artic Circle in under 10 days. For 7 months we were training hard, with a meticulously planned program from friend and personal trainer David Draper. Every minute in the gym, on the trails and on the water was designed to get us to the Yukon in July 2020 in the best shape possible. Indeed during this time I ignited my passion for sports nutrition and personal training and 'The SUP Coach' was born and my studies to qualify started. Then bang, its was all off (well, postponed hopefully until July 2021). My reason for training was pulled from under me, a goal I had focussed on so intensely, gone.
Our road to Yukon 1000 video, put together just as the UK went into lockdown - March 2020
Over lockdown I kept up the trail running and pulled together a 'ghetto gym' in the back garden (I'm sooo done now with TRX!), and as restrictions lifted it was great to get back out onto the water and into the gym but something was still missing. What was my goal now? How could I even have a goal when there is so much uncertainty in our day to day lives? How can we even think to plan beyond the next potential lockdown?
Enter the world of Virtual Racing
A few paddle friends had suggested joining them entering in some of the virtual races that started to spring up. Like in many other sports, the lack of actual races and events brought about a huge rise in virtual races, giving people from around the world a channel to come together and share a whole new experience. My first virtual race was taking part in the Molokai2Oahu race; where paddlers from around the world took part in a timed 16 mile race across a one week window of opportunity in August. To stay as true to the real event as possible, Sarah Thornley, Andrea Richardson and myself went for the ocean, paddling 16 miles along the South Coast of the UK. 16 miles later, exhausted after trying to chase down their OC-1's, I crawled up the beach in Pagham and was hooked :)
Moloka2Oahu - Hottest August Day since records began (UK)
Late to the party, I then joined in with the excellent Haywood Sports Virtual 5km Time Trial series at round 3 of 5. The great thing about virtual racing is it gives you a focus for your training and a fun way to track progress - I've worked hard over the past few weeks and seen my 5km times drop considerably, taking third place in round 4.
But where you place isn't really what virtual racing is all about; for sure, if you are competitive (like me!) its fun to compare your times to others (although its hardly a comparison with so many variables), but at its heart its about giving you a reason to get up, workout and push your fitness, ready for a race against yourself. I'm missing the buzz and nerves of being on a start line, but while we wait for some form of normal service to resume I encourage you all to try a virtual TT!
My Top 5 Virtual Event Tips
Most virtual races have a date range in which you must complete your attempt; don't leave it too the last day when you could be hit with bad weather or other issues! Do it early, and you can even have a second (or third) attempt.
Have a suitable tracking device; you can get apps most smart phones like Strava or the excellent Paddle Logger or a smart watch like a Garmin / Suunto / Apple Watch.
Check the virtual event rules; some will specify type of water (lake, river, ocean, anything goes), most will ask you not to use tides, river flows or weather to your advantage for example
Try doing your virtual event entry with friends (socially distancing of course!), it can really help push you!
Remember, this is all about having fun! Enjoy the challenge, don't stress out!
Why not sign up and take part in the Bray Watersports Winter Frostbite Virtual TT? Sign up here! We are also running a series of race training sessions on Saturday mornings throughout November at The SHAC. These will be open to anyone that has completed the SUP introduction course. Further details will be released soon, keep an eye out on the Surrey Hills Adventure Company website and follow @thesupcoach on Instagram for all the latest.