Chattajack Anti-Freak Out Checklist

Editor’s Note: This is part of a Distressed Mullet series on on Chattajack Prep. Previous columns focused on Chatta-gear suggestions, what to do when Nature calls and upcoming posts will include advice for navigating on the Tennessee River during the October 22 “Inland Molokai to Oahu.”

Whatever we call it – being Chattajacked Up, Chatta-freaked, Chatta-cracked – it is bound to happen. Those moments of pure-tee terror. When the air suddenly grows cold and thin.  Maybe you can’t breathe. Sweat begins to bead on your forehead for no apparent reason.  Co-workers, friends and family are staring at you as if you have lost your mind.  And the worst?

No. One. Understands.

You are about to paddle 31 (2) miles down the Tennessee River Gorge.  On a paddleboard, outrigger, surfski or other paddle craft. For no apparent reason other than the glory of basking in the accomplishment. And maybe the chocolate milk. And the pass to eat what ever you want for a week.



The What If’s are not far behind. And once those start, look out. Self-sabotage is right around the corner.

These Chattattacks are likely to occur multiple times, and with more frequency as Oct. 22 nears.  A little nervousness is good. But the full on freak outs, well, not so much. They can waste precious energy, cause stress which could compromise your already taxed immune system, cause you to make stupid errors in things that could make a difference (like packing) and they will irritate the heck out of your support team- which will only add more unnecessary stress to the whole experience.

So, we’re here to help. Here’s some thoughts for minimizing the Chatta-jitters.

Read Suzie Cooney’s Chapter Seven


I know, I know…I sound like  a broken record, but she gets to the meat of the mental game of paddling in this chapter of her book, boiling it down in ways that make so much sense. It has been a HUGE help to me; the way I feel about my racing is greatly improved as a result of her sage advice.

Read it over, make notes, use the hi-liter. Her strategies for winning the paddling head game are so solid and useful for every race, not just Chattajack. Want the cliff notes? Well, not really the cliff notes, nothing takes the place of her comprehensive book, but there are good nuggets in this webinar on the topic.

Index It

This technique comes from Chapter Seven and it has helped me tremendously. Get a stack of index cards and write positive affirmations on them.  Maybe a matra, your favorite inspirational quote, but be sure to also include personal, pointed positive affirmations. Here are some examples:

  • I AM a Strong Paddler!
  • I WILL do this!
  • I AM a flatwater BEAST
  • Be Like Larry!

You get the point.

I keep the cards together, sometimes adding new ones for a specific race.  I carry them around with me wherever I go and when I start to feel the freak out coming on, I whip them out and go through them.  I even have an electronic version of the set. It’s kind of like making notecards for a final and cramming for the test. Only with positive, funny or reminder messages. Read them before you go to bed at night, when you get up in the morning and any time in between when you need to get a grip.  This simple technique will help calm you down.  And the more you read those affirmations, the more you will believe them


Have a Race Plan

Plan your race and race your plan. Having a plan of some sort is one of the most important tools in your race toolkit.

It will help you stay focused and calm and it will give you confidence in knowing that you have not only trained physically for Chattajack, but you are prepared mentally and intellectually, and logistically as well. And it will help you think ahead of time about how you will deal with the varied challenges that might be thrown at you on the course.

As an example – during the Colonial Sup race in New Bern in August, my race plan was simple, based on scouting the course the day before. Warm temperatures had caused a huge algae bloom in the creek where we started the race.  My outrigger rudder was not weed-shedding. During my course recon, I learned that the weeds could really slow me down. So, I did some research, got advice from some OC veterans and came up with a three-point race plan: 1. Paddle the less weedy course as best as possible. 2. Back-paddle and rotate the rudder to try to dislodge weeds  and 3. Wait until I was out of the clogged creek and into the river where weeds were not longer a problem to get in the water, remove the weeds by hand and then paddle hard to make up time. Knowing exactly how I was going to handle the weeds kept me from panicking when the OC slowed down right after my start.  I stayed calm and executed the plan perfectly.


A race plan can also include:

  • Gear checklists including kit for different weather conditions, extra paddle, extra GoPro Mounts, etc.
  • Pre-Race Checklist – what to remember before you get on the water; plans to scout the course before hand, etc.
  • Paddle Strategy – drafting or not drafting, how you will the fastest flowing water, how you will deal with wind, when and were to stop, when to eat; target heart rates, target pace, etc.
  • Nutrition Plan- what and when to eat and how to carry it.

If you can’t get out on the Tennessee before Chattajack, then talk to the locals, read the official website and Facebook page, get as much useful info as possible.  Then craft your strategy.

Be as detailed and elaborate as you want. It can be written down in a notebook or in an Evernote or Word file on your computer, or simply outlined in your mind, like my weed plan was.  But give it some serious thought. Then refer to it. Go over it. Then put it into action on race day. We recently learned that Ultimate Waterman Zane Schweitzer keeps a wire-bound notebook of all his race plans. He makes the plan before the race, adds to it and revises it based on conditions of the day, then goes back and adds notes on what actually happened during the race.  That way he has a record of  his preparation and how it worked out for the next time he does that same race.  It’s a great idea!




There is a fine line between crafting that race plan and then working yourself into a tizzy about everything that could possibly go wrong. Once you’ve got your strategy committed to paper, computer or memory, let it go. It’s there, you’ve got it. You know what you are going to do.  You are golden.

Do not, under any circumstances, obsess to distress over the following:  (I know, this is easier said than done.)

A. Dam releases and river flow rates

B. The weather

C. The Call of Nature

D. Suck Creek

You cannot do anything about A and B. Do not bookmark the Tennessee Valley River Authority website and do not download the dam release app.  Constantly checking these things will only increase your anxiety.  Accurate river flow won’t be available until right before race day, and even then, who knows? Working yourself up over what the TVA is doing days before the race is pointless.  Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES start using Maths to try to calculate your boosted rate of speed if you get this much release, or that much release.  Math cannot help you here!  Save yourself  the headache and the possible heart ache and just assume there will be no release from the dam and that you will get no push from the current. That way, if we get some, whoo hoo! Bonus! If we don’t, you won’t be caught short.  

Be prepared for weather the same way you would be for any other race or paddle. Include in your race plan several different clothing options for probable weather conditions. If necessary, decide what your weather threshold is for safety and comfort.  If conditions exceed that threshold, it is okay to do what you need to do.  It’s okay. Really.  

For C, read our Pee Primer and just let it go. 

Trust your training

As for D, if you have been doing the training, trust it. Don’t be so worried about making that 10 mile cut off that you don’t eat or drink, or that you go out too fast, or don’t enjoy the thrill of being out there with everyone in one of the most epic races of all time. Training works.  It really does.  Do not, at this point, be tempted in this last week before the race to go out and paddle 32 miles!! Take care of yourself and your body.

Get Enough Sleep 

And in that vein, rest. Don’t shrink on the Z’s.  More and more studies are showing that sleep is key to just about everything. Being rested will help you deal with stress. Eat healthy and eat well.  Take care of yourself!



A little meditation practice isn’t a bad idea either – even if it’s just five quiet five minutes breathing deeply. Breathing is the fastest and more effective way of getting centered and clearing the cobwebs.

Keep a security blanket

Maybe it’s a tiny Chewbacca doll.  Maybe it’s your favorite hoodie. For me, it’s the tee shirt from the race I am most proud of this year – the Paddle Imua on Maui. When I wear it I am reminded of that accomplishment and I feel empowered.  Whatever it is, if it makes you feel strong, reminds you of your strength, or just makes you feel better, keep it close at hand.


Got any good anti-freak out tips? Let us know in the comments!