Adventure race training: hurdles

By Amy Russell 8 November 2013
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Team Australian Geographic Adventure discovers that a lack of practice makes you far from perfect.

I’M ASHAMED TO ADMIT that when it came to my Paddy Pallin Adventure Race preparation last month I dropped off the training wagon. Due to an injured teammate, a hectic work schedule, a frantic social life and a temporary home in a spectacular location, exercise well and truly fell by the wayside.

Regret for my lack of discipline hit me like a paddle to the face as I sat dejectedly in my kayak in the middle of the bay during my first session back following my busy-city-lady sabbatical. We had just paddled 1 km out and I was already feeling the burn. I hadn’t been in a single kayak since our initial sessions, but with Jo away in NZ, Josie and I abandoned The Ferry and pushed off solo.

Like a wide-eyed duckling suddenly separated from the brood, I flailed about in the water desperately seeking my paddling groove. Alas, it was nowhere to be found.

Josie, in true adventure-girl style, had spent the past month swallowing sea water and battling hectic swell in her training to become a surf lifesaver, so she was fighting fit. As I watched her up ahead slicing through the water like no-one’s business, her toned arms moving rhythmically like soldiers during a march, I couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that although our training had stalled because she had suffered from three torn ligaments and a chipped bone in her ankle, I was the one struggling to return to form.

“You okay Amy?” shouted Coach Ben through the early morning rain that had begun to pellet down. I hurriedly paddled towards him and he doubled back to meet me halfway. My lower back was aching as I fought to maintain the correct paddling posture.

As Ben has explained to the girls and I many times over, paddling is a whole body sport and you must engage your core and your legs as well as your arms. With each punch forward you should be pushing with the corresponding leg and you mustn’t sit ram-rod straight, but instead lean slightly forward.

Unfortunately, the leg room is a little more spacious in the single kayaks as opposed to the Ferry, and I wasn’t able to make my little legs reach the foot rest and therefore didn’t have a proper platform to push against with my lower body. This meant I wasn’t able to lean forward and my arms were doing all the work. I’m not sure if it was my tight muscles or if I’d shrunk in the wash since our previous lesson. Next week I must remember to bring some phone books to help me make the distance, I mused as Ben easily made his way towards me.

Just like a mother duck attending to her weakest link, he cajoled me along with encouraging words and helpful tips for my technique. “Just keep correcting your posture,” he instructed. “Each time you feel you’re losing your form, make a correction. Eventually it will happen automatically. And, take a break to stretch out those muscles. Don’t worry if you fall behind the group, there is no race here.”

This is what I love about training with the Northbridge Kayak team; their constant encouragement and gentle correction have you returning week after week, even if in the previous session you were moving slower than the sinister storm clouds creeping up overheard.

As I climbed shakily out of my kayak, having finally made it back to shore after an hour on the water, Megan congratulated Josie and I on our progress. “You girls have come so far since your first session, I’m so proud,” she cooed. Although I wondered briefly if she’d mistaken me for another blonde out on the bay, I accepted her praise. Even if this session I was slower than a wet week, at least I’d managed to keep in a straight line.