Chattajack Debrief: 2017 Hell Frozen Over Edition
Another Chattajack 31 for the Books
I am not going to write a long winded, mile by mile account of our race this year. I think I am still too cold for that. And besides, there are 600 or so stories in the naked Gorge, and we’d love to hear yours. (More on how to send us your Chattarecap below.) But I have been reflecting a lot on what went right and what I would have changed after experiencing this new kind of Chattasuck.
Chattajack weather is one of the things that makes this 31 – NO IT IS 32 MILES – race so challenging. This time of year in Chattanooga, you never know what you will get. There’s been Hell Fog, there’s been perfect sunny and warm Fall conditions, hellacious wind, current, no current, and this year, current, hellacious wind and pelting rain that was freezing at times. Wind is alway a factor and rarely if ever is it downwind. The water temperature, while in the high 60’s this year combined with a start air temp of 53. But the air temp plummeted to 41 if not lower over the course of the race. That means the combined air and water temps equalled 121 at the start then dropped to 109 at the finish. Not accounting for wind chill. Canada’s National Center for Cold Water Safety highly recommends wetsuits, if not drysuits when that number dips below 120.
What Didn’t Work – Kitwise
And for me, ignoring that number was my biggest mistake. Even though I had brought my drysuits, Season Five Atmos gear and neoprene pants, I worried that I would get too hot, So I opted for Virus Bioceramic tights, with a pair of fun, Kraken print tights over them, and a Virus X-form Stay Warm compression top. I wore Body Glove “toe shoes” on my feet. I put my Mocke PFD with the hydration bladder on, then my Season Five Geneva hoodie on over that – thinking that if I got too hot, I could easily shed the jacket without having to mess with the PFD. On its face, that was a good strategy. However it meant I could not zip the jacket up. I needed that jacket and never wanted to take it off. Taking off the PFD and repositioning it over the zipped up jacked would have meant taking more time off paddling and would have risked flipping the canoe.
Had I known what I know now, I either would have worn the Starboard SUP Skin style drysuit, or neoprene pants over the Virus tights and a Season Five quarter zip top over the compression top.
What Did Work- Kitwise
I detest gloves so I didn’t wear them. In the OC, your hands are always in the water and since the water was warmer than the air, my hands were fine. As were my feet. Putting wax on my paddle and using Joshua Tree Padders Salve all season long kept my hands nearly blister free. I started the race out wearing my favorite Maliko Run ball cap to keep the rain off my face and for good luck, but the wind almost whipped it off my head twice, so I ended up sitting on it for most of the race. In the pocket of my jacket, I had my Mountain Hardwear micro fleece beanie. I put that on and it was fantastic. Warm even when wet and it absorbed the dripping rain from my forehead.
The full vest PFD was a godsend. It added a much needed layer of insulation. The hydration sleeve in the back was great and the bellows pocket in the front meant easy access to my solid nutrition. I could get to everything I needed easily. As for nutrition, I had a 2L bladder full of GU Roctane loaded in the pack, and an extra under my bungees. We drank/ate every 15 minutes and that first bladder ran out at about Mile 29. I didn’t need the extra bladder, I ate a Perfect Bar at about Mile 24 and I was never hungry.
In my Spare Change bag at the finish line I had a set of Smartwool underwear, a Smartwool sweater, Virus Bioceramic track pants, Farm to Feet wool socks, my Bluesmith’s Kula hoodie and my Surfur changing coat. I also had sense to throw in my Rumpl puffy blanket. I was so, so, grateful for those things, plus access to the bathhouse and showers at the Hales Bar Marina, and John’s heated car. And yet, I still shivered for about 45 minutes after the race. I have never been so cold in all my life. Even warmed by the shower and dry clothes, moving was hard. Larry Cain had to help get me into John’s truck I was so out of it.
Strategy and Keys
That whole “The Mind Wins First” mantra thing? Yeah, it really works. The mental preparation for a race like this one may be even more important than the physical. The cold really affected my paddle technique. I was sloppy. That made me frustrated. I was worried about huli’ing because I knew what an energy suck and how dangerous in the hypothermic conditions it would be. So, repeating the Mullet’s key of Breath, Light, Quiet helped calm me down and get me focused. Smiling was important. And repeating some of the empowering things I’d written on my race flash cards was also a huge, huge, help. It may sound corny, but you cannot tell me it did not get me to the finish line. And, on the podium at that. There was no negative self talk. None.
That other mantra, “Love the Conditions?” Also a thing. When it was clear we would have to deal with bad weather, I started trying to think of that as being a race enhancement, if you will. It was going to make this year’s CJ even more epic. We’d all be epic for getting out there. And who doesn’t want to feel like that? Yes, it may suck and it may be hard but look what an accomplishment it will be. It was a hard sell at times, I will admit. But I figured if I said it enough to myself, I would believe it. When the start gun when off and we were doing nearly 8 miles per hour in cold, hard chop, with the wind and rain in our faces, and we settled into our rhythm, it was….empowering. When I started to tire as the race wore on, I kept thinking about that feeling and it worked. We were water warriors doing battle. We believed we’d be victorious. And we were.
Another thing that was huge for me – my dear friend Shawna Del Valle made us a small Hawaiian ti leaf lei for the canoe. I secured it around my speedcoach and looked at it often, especially when I was tired and near tears. The ti leaf is said to ward off evil spirits, and it’s used as shelter from wind and rain. It too was a source of strength, inspiration and love.
I had a compromised training season for this race because of my surf injury and then tendonitis in my rotator cuff. Listening to the advice of Coach Cain to lower expectations and concentrate on a revised race outcome and train accordingly was key. Training does work. Doing the cardio gym workouts from Suzie Cooney gave me the added boost I needed to jumpstart my body back into race mode. My average heart rate for the race was 141 or 80 percent of my max. I kinda can’t believe that. Especially since I had to sit on the couch for two months prior to the race. We came in second place in the finish line sprint. Eight seconds faster – had we decided we really wanted to sprint- and we would have won it.
Listening to my body and taking care to get enough rest was also huge. Getting the right help for the shoulder was essential. I am so, so grateful to Physical Therapist Todd Erbst and his advice. Restorative exercises, dry needling trigger point therapy and cupping kept me in the game. In fact, my shoulder never hurt during the race and it feels fantastic right now.
This race, as many have said before, is special. It gets into your soul. When you think it couldn’t get anymore challenging, it does. There is something so special about sharing that with old friends and new friends who share the elation, the struggle, the pain and even the tears with you. You never get to spend as much time with all those folks as you’d like. And when you get home, and you realize it’s over, there is an emptiness. I’m feeling it now.
At the same time, you understand that you now have permission to take some time off. To rest. To not think 24/7 about your next workout. You’ve earned a break. You can think about doing those things you’ve not wanted to do because, well, Chattajack. For me, I haven’t been in the ocean since August 11. I cannot wait to surf. I’m taking a “make up” trip to do some downwinding, hiking and general relaxing on The Valley Isle in a few weeks. I will eat poke. And Shave Ice. I will get back in the mountain bike and on the crag climbing. Slowly, the Chatta prefix will drop out of my vocabulary.
And then…I’ll start making goals for 2018 and the cycle will begin again.
Big, big thanks to Ben and Kim Friberg for again putting on a stellar race, and all the volunteers who helped and kept us all safe. Big mahalos to OC2 badass Dana Bitt for being such a great team mate, and to everyone who started Saturday – y’all are my heroes.
If you have a ChattaTale to tell and would like to submit it to the Distressed Mullet, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to attach photos!
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