Paddle Healthy: 5 Training and Racing Tips to Improve Performance

Brandi Baksic has won countless races around the globe. As one of the top female paddlers in the world, a full-time firefighter, mom, wife and former triathlete, she knows how to train smart and make her time on the water count. In this installment of Paddle Healthy, Baksic gives you the five “do’s” of training that she uses to improve performance. —SC

“The following is what works for me. These recommendations are a compilation of the countless tidbits of information that I have used to tune me into the athlete that I was, am, and will be,” Baksic says. “These “do’s” have worked for me and I hope they will work for you.”

#1 DO TRAIN WITH A PARTNER
There are several reasons to train with a partner or group. Firstly, it is someone to hold you accountable on those lazy days when you really don’t want to paddle, but know you should. When you’ve made plans to meet, you gotta show up or risk being called out on Facebook for being a flake or a “loser.” Also, when you set a workout goal with your training partners you are more likely to complete a challenging workout or task than you would be if you were alone. Paddling 5 miles into the wind before you start the downwind is much easier with a partner. For some reason, suffering is always less painful when you have company. Secondly, paddling with others motivates you to paddle harder than you would if you were alone. Unless you don’t have a competitive bone in your body (and if that’s the case, why are you reading this?) it is inevitable that you are going to try to keep up with or pass your training partner. Personally, even though my training partners and I don’t actually say out loud that we are racing, “to the red bouy”, we all know who won and by how much. Because in the end, we can’t help but race and push each other. It’s a great way to judge our performances because we know who we should and shouldn’t beat. When I get beat by someone who I think I am faster than, it makes me go harder the next set. A little friendly competition in workouts can reap great rewards on the race course. Thirdly, training in a group setting is a great way to try new workouts. It is very easy to get bored doing your own workouts everyday, so paddle in a group and do their workout. It’s nice to train mindless sometimes. Just show up, do the work and go home.

#2 DO MIMIC RACES IN TRAINING
Sometimes we are lucky enough to live close to the race site. In this instance, then paddle the course before the event. In instances where it is a flat water race in a harbor or protected waterway, get to know where the fastest sections of water run. Typically, the deeper the water, the faster it moves. Knowing how and when the tide changes occur will also give you a heads up on water behavior. Learn where the wind gusts occur and what side of the waterway will keep you most protected from headwinds, and the best position to be in for the downwind sections. If the race is a beach start and/or finish then absolutely practice in and outs at that beach if possible. If it is not possible to practice at the race site beach then try to find a beach with a similar break. Whether it be a pounding beach break, a rolling point break, or a super backwashy beach, put the time in getting comfortable on a race board in the surf before race day. If the race course takes you into rough ocean conditions, then practice in similar conditions. If you want to do well in a downwind race, you’ve got to downwind train. Likewise with river racing. Paddling in conditions that mimic your race breed familiarity, and with familiarity comes confidence. As much as you may not want to go outside protected waters or practice in the waves for fear of falling in, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Yeah, that’s right, you fall in and you get wet, oh well. What’s the best thing that can happen? You become more comfortable with difficult conditions and more confident and now you can work on going fast. Paddle the course prerace day or even better, prerace week to gain familiarity, and when you can’t, follow a fast local who knows the course.

#3 DO INTERVALS
Intervals are a must do if you want to increase performance levels. Without getting too scientific (not that I really could if I wanted to) intervals increase endurance levels by increasing lactate threshold. I know right, what is lactate threshold? Well, as a past triathlon geek I have read countless articles on increasing muscular endurance and it all comes down to increasing lactate threshold. Simply stated, our muscles can only perform at high intensity for a certain amount of time before they fill with lactic acid and burn out. That burn out moment is the body’s lactate threshold. It is the point when muscles are debilitated due to a build up of lactic acid (lactate).

So, in theory, if we never developed lactic acid we could go on forever. Read about ultra marathon runner Dean Karnazes who defies all things natural in that his body starts reversing the production of lactic acid after prolonged exercise sessions. Although everyone’s body produces lactate at different rates, we can train our bodies to perform at high intensities for longer periods by incorporating intervals into our workouts. Intervals are workouts that are broken up into work periods, and rest periods. The idea is to work at high intensity for a given time or distance and follow it with a shorter rest period. A typical interval work out would be 4 minutes of work followed by a 2-minute recovery, then repeat several times. The amount of repititions will increase in time, and the rest periods will become shorter. Intervals train the body to work hard and recover quickly, and in turn end up increasing your lactate threshold. This means you can work hard for longer before the lactic acid enters the muscles and diminishes their output. At the end of the day, whether or not you understand all the technical stuff, do intervals because they work.

#4 HYDRATE DURING RACES
Hydrate during races and more specifically, hydrate with nutrition. Here’s the deal. Once again, in my tri geek days, I read something that has stuck with me, and I believe with all my heart after years of racing, this one statement: “you don’t slow down on purpose. When your muscles run out of glycogen stores they send messages to your brain to slow down.” I have no idea where I read it, but I believe it. I also read that our bodies hold enough glycogen to fuel our bodies at a relatively high intensity for about an hour. After that hour, you have to provide your muscles with sugar. For those two reasons, any race over 6 miles, I race with some sort of sports drink with calories. The muscles need to be fueled to perform. You are way better off wearing a hydration pack in a longer paddle than not wearing one and bonking. Bonking is basically that moment of complete blowout, when you can no longer continue with intensity. Once you bonk, there is no recovering, so carrying that cumbersome hydration pack is definitely worth it. Part two to wearing the pack is actually drinking from it. Drink, and drink often. Drink when you are not thirsty, keep the muscles hydrated and fueled, and they will be good to you.

#5 PRACTICE BUOY TURNS
This is a no brainer. Danny Ching practices buoy turns. You should too!

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