I was at The Paddle Coach SUP racing training camp in Captiva Island Florida in April 2016 when coach Jessica Rando planted the seed to all of our fellow campers that we should all do the Chattajack 31 mile race in Chattanooga, Tennessee on October 22nd 2016.
31 MILES?? On a Paddle board?? Are you crazy?? Yes! Yes! And Yes! The Chattajack is a paddle board/Kayak/Outrigger race that runs through the Tennessee River Gorge. It is one that celebrates the effort of a paddle athlete makes in the pursuit of distance endurance.
It’s about the journey, not the destination
Coach Jessica Rando had set up an 8 week high intensity Chattajack training group. Twice a week (Monday’s and Wednesday’s) we were to meet in Port Credit (Toronto) for high intensity followed by our home work of distance paddles on the weekend. It was a huge commitment for me considering I lived two hours away. But the training was really what its all about and the time spent on the water preparing over those months is something I will never forget.
Finally the time had come to drive down to Tennessee from Toronto for the race and Jessica, her husband Del and I were on our way to Chattanooga where we were meeting the rest of our “SUP Camp” team at an apartment we had rented. Our drive was 14 hours of beautiful scenery and we had plenty of time to come up with a race plan and strategy.
Support Team is key
Coach Rando wasn’t racing she was our support and probably the worlds best Sherpa! In the morning of the day before the race, we drove the course and found good locations for her to cheer us on! In the afternoon we brought all of our gear down to Ross’s Landing for a warm up paddle/dress rehearsal and to get registered. Now it was getting real, no turning back now, I got my race bib and a belly full of butterflies. As a team we all had a great dinner together that night and the camaraderie was just what was needed to quell any nervous anticipation.
I woke up pretty calm surprisingly on race day. We made our way to Ross’s landing in freezing temps, had me a bunch of coffee to keep warm and before you know it it was go time. My first 10 Miles were amazing and I felt really good! Shortly after that I heard my name from behind me. I look back and there is my team mate and friend Allison! Boy was I happy to see her! We had planned to work together during the race and I was thrilled she caught up! We were hammering away when Al gal piped up and said “Have you peed yet?” I looked over at her with a big smile on my face “Heck yeah!!! Twice!
Did I mention earlier that I had a race plan? Well that was thrown out the window once that wind kicked in. Oh the wind gusts were insane! At Raccoon mountain they were pushing 40 km/h if not more. I just kept telling myself stay low (not on my knees) move forward on my board, choke down on my paddle and pick that cadence up and never stop paddling! It was wild how you could see the water change up a head praying those white caps were going to be in your favour. But it never was.
Somewhere around mile 23 my watch died and so did Allison’s and that’s when things really got challenging. I hated not knowing what my pace was or where I was distance wise. We would ask the support boats ” What mile are we?” They would shout out “around mile 27 your just about there!” Then a little while longer I’d ask another boat “Where are we?” They would say ” you see that point over there?? Well that’s mile 27″ REALLY??? I thought mile 27 was five miles back. I wanted to die! That final turn took forever “How are we still turning left? ”
The End in sight
All of sudden the most beautiful sight! Hale’s Bar was in the distance and it gave you a little extra boost of energy. the finish was in sight now! The sound of cow bells were becoming louder and louder. I literally had tears in my eyes coming around and seeing everyone cheering you on and seeing your coach and your team mates cheering. I was so overwhelmed! With a time of 7 hours and 31 minutes the race was finished! What a feeling it was getting off your board. I could barely walk, my hands wouldn’t work and I was mentally exhausted.
Having had some time to reflect on my Chattajack experience I’ve got to say I’ve learned a lot! I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for! 31 Miles is no walk in the park! It takes a lot of physical and metal strength and it’s one bad ass race! I’ve learned that you get what you put in. Training works! If you want something bad enough you’ll do what you can to get there. I’m very happy that I’ve successfully completed this epic race but now I’m ready to move onto new goals and challenges!